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Year End Lists – Staff

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10. Young Fathers – Heavy Heavy

10[Official site] // [Spotify]

Young Fathers have never shied away from jubilation — see “Nest”, “Only God Knows”, and even Tape Two‘s cover art — but it’s never been as transparent as it is on Heavy Heavy. This album is joyful, heartfelt, affirming, powerful, and overwhelmingly sincere, miles past the conversation of irony at this point. It’s the sound of your second wind as you near the end of the longest hike you’ve ever been on, a mix of accomplishment, vigor and encouragement. Like their previous work, it incorporates a variety of genres and styles, a sort of psychedelic, noisy, and spiritual pop. It seems this may be a pivotal moment in their artistic evolution, as the bleeding and passionate heart of their music is no longer just being used to create a beautifully contrasting emotional dichotomy, but has taken over entirely, spinning all their previously identifiable influences into an even more unclassifiable tornado of percussion, keyboards, and particularly the human voice. Even their hooks have gotten stronger, with each song demonstrating masterful pop instincts, filled with rhythms that you’ll wish were stuck in your head for even longer.

None of this means that they have lost their edge. Just because this is the Young Fathers project you could probably play in front of your parents with the least complaints doesn’t mean the music isn’t fighting for something. What it means…

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30. Tenhi – Valkama

30[Official site] // [Spotify]

Looking back on this year’s biggest highlights, it’s apparent to me the folk genre has resonated the loudest with a handful of truly exemplary albums — all disparate in approach, but equal in their excellence. And so, with 2023 putting a spotlight on just how incredible this genre is, it seems only fitting that the Finnish legends should return and put their two-cents in on the matter. Serendipitously, I started listening to Tenhi in the same year the band decided to break their twelve-year recorded silence, affording me just enough time to get familiar with their incredible discography. To my surprise, given the length of time the band have been away from recording new music, Valkama effortlessly slots into the canon with minimal disruptions. This is because Valkama isn’t here to ruffle the status quo, but rather astutely refine the band’s modus operandi. Ultimately, it’s a tight discussion on whether this is better than Maaaet, but regardless of the hair-splitting, a band couldn’t hope to come back with a better-sounding album. Valkama‘s lush instrumentation, poignant atmosphere and gripping arrangements make it a stellar piece of work, but add Tenhi’s inimitable personality into the equation and you’ve got a very unique offering indeed. Valkama does have a couple of conditions in order to get the most from it — being that it’s seventy minutes long, and has to be heard in its…

50-31 | 30-1110-1

50. The National – Laugh Track

50[Official site] // [Spotify]

At the start of this decade, The National went through a rough patch, struggling with the new material they were working on. Perhaps those difficult times led to the placidness of First Two Pages of Frankenstein, but in hindsight, it was a necessary step in order to shake things off. As a result, Laugh Track, whose songs were mostly finished and recorded on tour at a much faster pace, ended up more diverse and energetic. The album doesn’t carry the heavy load its predecessor got almost crushed under. It’s the most alive The National have felt in years, and it feels like the members are excited again to work together on new music. –insomniac15

49. Fossilization – Leprous Daylight

49[Bandcamp] // [Spotify]

Frenetic tremolo picking, shotgun-sounding snare alongside cataclysmic blast beats, and guttural malevolence are ubiquitous throughout Fossilization’s premier LP. A logical progression from the Brazilian duo’s first EP and subsequent split release with Ritual Necromancy, those favoring the ‘death doom’ side of the spectrum will enjoy “Once Was God”‘s hostile opening deluge and the equitable balance of melody and malice found in “Oracle of Reversion” and Leprous Daylight‘s title track. Meanwhile, listeners preferring a ‘doom death’ alignment will appreciate the sludgy dissonance heard in “Eon” and especially “Wrought in the Abyss”‘ closing moments. An…

50-31 | 30-11 | 10-1

10. Rolo Tomassi – Where Myth Becomes Memory

a0047102255_16[Official site] // [Spotify]

On March 2, 2018, the heavy music/core-sphere collectively lost their minds over Rolo Tomassi’s coming-of-age release Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It — an album that purportedly elevated them from cult status to masters of their genre-spanning scene. I say ‘purportedly’ not because there is any doubt in my mind that this is true, but because on that same day, I was re-reviewing Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago for probably the third time, somehow unaware of Rolo Tomassi’s existence — let alone the fact that they were exploding in my backyard. Despite several interventions over the next few years by friends-who-care in an attempt to turn my attention towards this magnificently mathy/metallic/hardcore act, it was somehow 2022’s Where Myth Becomes Memory that marked my first real introduction to the band — and finally, I’d like to join my cohorts in saying: holy fucking shit. In other words, Rolo Tomassi has a new disciple.

Where Myth Becomes Memory represents the ideal intersection between beauty and aggression. Listeners who can rightfully declare themselves fans already know this, but I’m still marvelling at the way the band effortlessly swivels between the shimmering and resplendent (consider “Almost Always”, replete with its breathtaking pianos and rapturous crescendo) and the nakedly aggressive (those blood-curdling shrieks in “Cloaked”). Rolo Tomassi have reached a point in their songwriting where these…

50-31 | 30-11 | 10-1

30. Weyes Blood – And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow

a4032822447_10[Official site] // [Spotify]

In spite of my overwhelming and undying appreciation for single-paragraph reviews, few things are more stressful than having to explain why an album is good in one sentence. Of course, you could just say: “it’s good”… but that’s boring and, frankly, unconvincing. You could go the opposite route and use fancy words like “enchanting” or “grandiose”, but that’s just…too much. You could, instead, simply repeat the album title: “and in the darkness, hearts aglow”…but that’s…ugh, fine, that’s kind of perfect here. Weyes Blood’s music may be good, enchanting and grandiose, but Natalie Mering’s latest record adds some surprising splashes of darkness to her palette. The album’s themes of loss and loneliness construct a sense of cohesion the slightly subdued theatricality more than welcomes. It’s an experience best experienced more than once, twice or thrice until each note subtly assumes the moment in the spotlight it deserves.

Even though this spotlight may be dim due to the surrounding darkness, “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody” and “Twin Flame” present wonderfully memorable choruses that demand attention and repeated listens alike. However, the album’s most impressive cut comes in the form of “God Turn Me Into a Flower”: a subdued number that bathes Mering’s gorgeous voice in equally gorgeous doses of ambience, and takes its time unfolding into a truly magical meditation on loss. While I…

50-31 | 30-1110-1

50. Crippled Black Phoenix – Banefyre

[Official site] // [Spotify]

2022! What a year, huh? It feels like the tide has finally washed ashore all those records that were created during that long hibernation period that was the Covid pandemic. Crippled Black Phoenix are no different, and Banefyre‘s one hour and a half running time is good proof that the British squad have done their homework. Now with full-time singer Joel Segerstedt sharing vocal duties with Belinda Kordic instead of featured singers (which was a great idea by the way!), the band struck back this year with a behemoth of an album. Banefyre sounds BIG and mighty, all without losing the Phoenix’s prowess for mesmerizing melodies and suspenseful build-ups that have become the band’s seal. This is, no doubt, an imposing album — but also an incredibly rewarding experience if you have the time and the will to let it flood your senses. And I know you do; otherwise, why would you be reading this list in the first place?! –Dewinged

49. Orville Peck – Bronco

Bronco_orville_peck-topaz-enhance[Official site] // [Spotify]

“Consensus” means that I have to write about my personal album of the year as if it belongs in the 49th spot. Bronco sands down the weirder edges of Orville Peck’s debut album in favor of grandiose songwriting that makes full use of…

50-31 | 30-11 | 10-1

10. The Killers – Pressure Machine

[Official site] // [Spotify]

How did we get here, to The Killers dropping one of the most conceptually sound, consistently affecting albums of 2021? If the solid-but-safe Imploding the Mirage was a whisper of a shift in their sound towards a revitalised version of their classic-rock worship, Pressure Machine is a whole fucking sea change, a tidal wave reshaping the entire geometry and geography of The Killers’ landscape.

God only knows what Brandon Flowers has been through in the intervening years. It’s hard to believe the man whose lyrics seemed like they were written with fridge magnets is the same one sculpting the journey of Pressure Machine. With a semi-self-aware Springsteenian eye for detail, he shifts his focus to the imperfect lives of damaged people in a small town that resembles the one he was born in, a gambit that pays off in the form of a portrait that will be achingly recognisable to anyone from a similar place. The album wanders along discursive paths, touching on the glamourisation and demonisation of teenage beauty (“the chute opens, bull draws blood, and the gift is accepted by God”), the opioid crisis (anyone who thinks Flowers narrates this album from a remove missed the righteous anger that creeps into his voice singing “somebody’s been keeping secrets, in this quiet town”) and the sacrifice it takes to simply get up day…

50-31 | 30-11 | 10-1

30. Alora Crucible – Thymiamatascension

[Bandcamp] // [Spotify]

Toby Driver is still the most reliable Renaissance man of our times, and his latest project a majestic netherscape of translucent haze and dreamless sleep. In many ways, it’s been a while coming: while Driver’s albums as Kayo Dot play out as vivid forays into esoteric fantasies, there’s something out of time and almost ritualistic in his sparser solo outings. They Are The Shield is an obvious touchstone, but his rather overlooked dance piece Ichneumonidae sums up the quality in question, too: something graceful and expansive unto itself, but so clearly estranged from familiar reality that it carries a distinct sense of claustrophobia. It’s cleansing and alienating in equal measure, “ritualistic” in steady rate at which it metes out demands and dividends for a patient listener, and eerily beautiful and meticulously detailed each step of the way. As far as Sounds go, that ain’t too shabby a foundation.

Alora Crucible does a marvellous job of taking the most palatable side of this atmosphere along with Driver’s exemplary solo violin arrangements, transposing both over a delicately synth-padded, dryly guitared new age palette. Primarily instrumental and never more than understated, its composition retains obvious depth, but the subdued (and quite lovely!) tones of Driver’s chamber arrangements together with his serene dynamics make for the closest thing to easy listening he’s put his name to. Don’t get hung up…

50-31 | 30-11 | 10-1

50. Coevality – Multiple Personalities

[Official site] // [Spotify]

Multiple Personalities — and, well, Coevality in general — came out of nowhere and hit me like a ton of bricks at the beginning of the year. The first release of an otherwise unknown band, Multiple Personalities harnesses big Cynic energy sans robot vocals and with more of the wandering cosmic spirit you see in the album’s artwork. A wholly instrumental experience curated and performed by only the trio comprising Coevality — guitarist Jon Reicher, bassist Derrick Elliott, and drummer Andy Prado — all of whom move boulders in terraforming a composite prog landscape on Multiple Personalities.

While that’s feat enough on its own, it really is worth hammering home just how tactfully interwoven and interlaced Multiple Personalities is without becoming an immemorable headache. In fact, it’s quite the opposite — with theme and melody always blazing the trail and making it a memorable journey that’s easy to recall and revisit. And with so many exciting variations strung along in each piece of the composition, there’s always something new and interesting to uncover on each return trip as the unconscious mind follows the familiar and the conscious digs into sidewinding paths of fretless bass, frenetic drumming, and fascinating guitar. –AtomicWaste

49. CHVRCHES – Screen Violence

[Official site] // [Spotify]

Screen Violence is too damn…

After taking a year off thanks to some asshole bats, the SMA’s have returned to provide you with coverage of 2021 in the world of music. It is here – not Pitchfork or some other cheap imitation – that you will learn what the best and worst albums of the year were. Honestly, I’m not even sure what you all did in 2020…did you trust Spotify’s most-streamed or something? I feel terrible that I left such a large void in your collective understanding of music last year, not to mention your 2020 holiday dinner table talks, so I’m going to attempt to make up for it by making this the best SMA’s ever!!! With a record TEN award categories, this just might be the most memorable online, music-related, year-end, blog-formatted, categorized, award-ceremony-styled thing that you read this November/December!

Binge Worthy: The Office Review — Kelly O'Hara

Alright, alright. I know this is a very exciting development for everyone, so let’s pause and take a moment to rein in your excitement, collect yourself, and continue reading. I completely understand if this might take a while, so to help you catch your breath let’s review all previous SMA Album of the Year winners:

2014 - Low Roar: 0
2015 - Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell
2016 - Yellowcard: Yellowcard 
*2017 - Manchester Orchestra: A Black Mile to the Surface
2018 - mewithoutYou: [Untitled]
2019 - Lana Del Rey: Norman Fucking Rockwell!
*2020 - Honey Harper: Starmaker 


50-31 | 30-11 | 10-1

10. Ichiko Aoba – Windswept Adan

[Official site] // [Spotify]

This album could be Ichiko Aoba’s identity crisis, though on the subtlest of terms. I could be projecting. There just seems to be less of… her on it; but, in all fairness, that’s contingent on the singer being personally defined by a voice and permeable space, not also the denser surrounding arrangements and instrumental narratives. Which might be a bit unreasonable. While I’ve mostly known Aoba’s music to feel cloistered — burrowed in contentment, mostly alone — this album is one of a select few cases where the singer achieves a sort of induced wanderlust, though still often doubling back on the realization of self. “Prologue” sounds like meditating mid-air in a failed zeppelin as it disintegrates in slow motion, and pardon the silly specificity. “Pilgrimage” sounds like a world’s worth of joy failing to directly resolve a deep, esoteric personal anguish, and instead fortifying the gaps around it. “Dawn in the Adan” is resilient, and one of the more grounded pieces, even as Aoba’s voice soars. It’s weird to say this as someone who’s made a bit of a hobby of overanalyzing songs, but Windswept Adan is somewhat of a rare case, where superfluous words can indeed do a disservice (more so than I’d normally admit, anyway). I don’t want to talk about it much, as I’d much rather listen to it; and, I don’t…

50-31 | 30-11 | 10-1

30. Mac Miller – Circles

[Official site] // [Spotify]

I worry, listening to and writing about Circles, that I contribute unhelpfully to the celebration and mythologisation of the young, dead artist. I was never a particularly big Mac Miller fan — total discretion, I’m still not — but I think that, like much of the rapper’s expansive, largely unreleased catalogue (ask Rowan), Circles has much to offer. This is in spite of Miller’s death, not because of it. Ideally, Miller would still be alive; he would not have succumbed to his addiction; Circles would have received some kind of follow-up. As his (unfortunate) finale, however, the album feels remarkably conclusive. Not because it stands out in any particular way from the rest of his discography, but rather, because it doesn’t. That is, Circles doesn’t feel, necessarily, like the end of Mac Miller. Chronologically, yes (unless someone were to sort through the hundreds of unofficial loosies [expect, maybe, a wave of fan-made mixtapes]). Ultimately, though, as a continuation of Miller’s gradual shift into funk-inspired R&B, Circles does not (like many posthumous albums) feel at all out of place, or like an awkward cap on what the artist was doing, or where he was going. Its magic is that it could and does work either way. There’s significant comfort in that. –BlushfulHippocrene

29. Ulcerate – Stare Into Death and Be Still

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50. Marilyn Manson – We Are Chaos

[Official site] // [Spotify]

One of the biggest surprises of the year, We Are Chaos sees Marilyn Manson entering a new chapter in his life, reinventing himself as a glitter Goth cowboy. Filled with mature reflections and a newfound peace of mind, the frontman seems at his most relaxed in his skin so far. His partnership with Shooter Jennings brought the best in him, often covering the bluesy mindset of The Pale Emperor with a sweet country flavor. Overall, the results are miles away from most of his albums, yet this unexpected twist came together with a rejuvenation. Whereas a bit hard to digest for a fair number of fans, the LP is actually a major grower featuring some of his most layered tracks in a long time. There is something for everyone here, as each song boasts a catchy groove — whether aggressive or mellow — and the storytelling is kept to the point, making for an enjoyable record. –Raul Stanciu

49. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud

[Official site] // [Spotify]

To me, Katie Crutchfield’s career floundered after Cerulean Salt, a record I was obsessed with upon its release, especially the affecting closer “You’re Damaged”. Saint Cloud, then, represents a revitalization of the Waxahatchee brand for me as well as for Crutchfield, recently sober and in love with…

2020 hasn’t been a great year for much of anything… music was no exception. This is my favorite of what they decided to release during this dumpster fire. 2021 might be marginally better in the same way getting punched in the face a second time isn’t nearly as jarring as the first punch you didn’t see coming. Drink up!


50. Ulver – Flowers of Evil

Genre: Electronic/Art Pop

Recommended Track: Little Boy

**A laid back extension of their ’80s goth/synthpop style with more guitars and steady rhythms pretty much from beginning to end. While the unpredictable shifts in tone and experimentation from The Assassination of Julius Caesar is missed, this is still a solid effort from the wolves of Norway. Flowers of Evil is a dark yet inviting “pop” album and a highlight of 2020 music. — TalonsOfFire

Until now, it never felt like Ulver had created the same album twice. On Flowers of Evil, though, they pick up right where The Assassination of Julius Caesar left off, except with less experimentation and no real surprises. Having said that, I’ve always liked Ulver more when they use vocals and I’m also a big Depeche Mode fan. This album is 90s-era Depeche Mode with a bit of an Ulver twist. 

49. Within The Ruins – Black Heart

Genre: Technical Death Metal / Metalcore

Recommended Track: Domination

**Although not as great as their magnum opus Phenomena, this album doesn’t trail too

Urban Dictionary: Class of 2020

Category I:  Welcome

It’s the conclusion of yet another interesting year in this, um, “unique” corner of the internet. Our site’s aesthetics may be firmly entrenched in 2010, but this “best of” feature ushers 2020 out of our collective memories. For many of us that brings immense relief, even if most of the same issues that plagued this year will follow us right into January. Still, there are reasons for optimism as we delve further into this still young decade. One of them is how music stepped up to the plate in a time of crisis. It’s during humanity’s most trying times that art seems to give us the most hope, and from invigorating protest music to pensive quarantine albums, musicians acted like first responders to our emotional needs in 2020.

Everyone’s way of navigating this crazy, chaotic year was different – a fingerprint consisting of our own unique challenges. Personally, I found myself relating to mellow folk (and even country!) as an escape from the psychological stresses caused by the pandemic and its consequences, but it’s just as understandable for others to have taken solace in elated pop, metal, or woke hip-hop (and there’s a little of each here!). It was all we could do not to sink into despair, basically. That’s part of the reason I decided to, at least temporarily, retire my Sowing’s Music Awards shtick (2014-2019, RIP) – replete with its “worst album” and “biggest disappointment” categories…

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