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Wally's Best of 2020

It might have been a dumpster fire of a year, but it was pretty decent for music. Here are some of my favorite albums!
26Their Dogs Were Astronauts

Honorable Mentions:
Search and Destroy by Ruston Kelly
Purple Moonlight Pages by R.A.P. Ferreira
Reluctant Hero by Killer be Killed
BRASS by Moor Mother and Billy Woods
Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Enter Shikari
Fluid Existential Inversions by Intronaut
Impossible Staircase by Andrew Judah
Rise Radiant by Caligula’s Horse
Dreamcatcher by Their Dogs Were Astronauts
Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic/ Cenozoic by The Ocean

I always enjoy when an album comes out of nowhere and surprises me. In truth, this list had already been hammered out when I discovered Mobius and, quite frankly, it’s blown me out of the water. Kala bumped its way onto this list because it does a brilliant job of weaving indian and asian melodies with the jolting polyrhythms of modern metal. The cherry on top, however, is vocalist Heli Andrea who does an incredible job of creating earworm melodies in both English and Sanskrit. Kala is appealing not because it does anything particularly genre-defying or revolutionary, but because it is an album on which a band sounds hungry. “Mukti” is hands down one of the best prog metal songs this year. This being only their second release, I look forward to what they put out in the future.
Favorite Song: Mukti
24Neptunian Maximalism

Eons is what I expect the apocalypse to sound like. Thunderous percussion boom in the distance. Sound washes over the landscape, the echoes of the earth groaning its final death heaves. Saxophones wail and growl like demons clawing their way out of the very chasm of Hell. There are moments on this that are just downright… evil. If this sounds hyperbolic, prove me wrong by checking this album out yourself. At two hours long, Eons can seem like an inaccessible, daunting album to approach, but it is so immersive that once you put it on, it’s hard to step away from. Little moments capture the listener’s ear as the band concocts a witches brew of jazz, asian folk music, and even drone metal. 2020 might have felt like the end of the world, but Eons is a glimpse at what it truly could have been.
Favorite Song: Nganga
23The Reticent
The Oubliette

What The Reticent have created with The Oubliette is a truly heartbreaking album about the effects of Alzheimer's disease. Told in seven chapters, and in part inspired by the lead singer Chris Hathcock’s own tragic loss to this disease, the album ventures through the stages of confusion, frustration, and ultimate deterioration that come from this brutal disease. Heavy metal riffs and shrieked black metal vocals are woven together with soft acoustic sections and sung vocals to mirror the moments of clarity or sadness among the terror of slowly losing one’s faculties. The inevitable tragic ending, in particular, is a beautiful end cap to the emotional rollercoaster that is The Oubliette. If you have recently lost someone to dementia or alzheimers I wouldn’t recommend this album to you.
Favorite Song: Stage Five: The Nightmare
22Clown Core

Excuse me sir/madam, could I have 17 minutes of your time to talk to you about Clown Core? No, not the band that paints their face and writes horror inspired hip-hop. Yes, the band that filmed themselves playing jazz inspired grindcore in a port-o-potty. Hold on! Don’t shut the door in my face! Look… I know it sounds silly, but that’s the exact reason why Van made the list while so many other albums faded into obscurity. The brilliance of Clown Core comes from its hilarity. This album is the best joke album you’ve ever heard. Helmed (presumably) by modern jazz and funk genius Louis Cole what this album does so incredibly is it lulls you into a false sense of security, before completely blind-siding you with a phat… sexy sax solo or an assault of blast beats. In a year of killer wasps, a pandemic, a trainwreck of a presidential stint, and fires that consumed almost half the United States… all that's left to do is send in the clowns.
Favorite Song: Computers
21Nine Inch Nails
Ghosts V: Together

Music has the wonderful ability to transport one to the exact time and place they first heard it. Whenever I play a song or an album, I find myself often reflecting on something occurring in my life at the time and, for a brief moment, I’m back there feeling and remembering how life was. When I think back on the beginning of quarantine, remembering the uncertainty and wonder and terror I felt as I huddled in my small apartment with my wife, this is going to be one of the albums I associate with that. Ghosts V: Together is exactly what this pandemic has felt like. Composed not so much of songs but of moments, this album is a meditation on loneliness and darkness, a collection of compositions that unsettle as much as they soothe. There is a level of anxiety that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are able to capture on this album that is unparalleled by most other music on this list.
Favorite Song: Hope We Can Again
20Armand Hammer

Billy Woods is on a roll. Last year’s Hiding Places stormed to the top of my list, an incredible piece of hip-hop that confirmed Billy Woods as one of the smartest lyricists and storytellers of our time. Shrines finds Billy Woods paired with Elucid, an equally impressive pen-man, trading punches over dizzy, tumbling beats. The genius of this album is that both MCs know how to turn a phrase, and the result is an album so chaulkful of wordplay and literary references that one would probably need a degree in literature and an appendix just to catch them all. Shrines is a poignant, angry album. Billy and Elucid spit so much venom I wouldn’t be surprised if the vinyl showed up soaking wet and the anger is justified. Released around the time anger over racial injustice and police brutality boiled to a head, this album serves as a brutal commentary on what growing up in a system and nation that dehumanizes the black community does to a person that’s had enough.
Favorite Song: Leopards
West of Eden

This is probably one of the strangest albums on the list. Listening to West of Eden is like walking through the swinging doors of some 19th century Rocky Mountain saloon and finding yourself thrust into a dance club somewhere along Colfax. HMLTD’s music is a combination of post punk, country, and EDM and somehow it works. There’s a swagger to the album that is infectious. It doesn’t give you any room to really question whether or not it’s going to work, it just does. West of Eden captures both the glitz and the sex of a dance party, while still perfectly zooming in on the grime and the ugliness of bodies heaped on top of each other, gyrating and groping. It’s glitzy, it’s campy, and vulnerably human. This album is a dance party… sure… but beneath the sheen on the skin is the reek of the sweat.
Favorite Song: To the Door
18Jeff Rosenstock

Every year I like to identify an album I affectionately dub the best “Summer Album” of the year. The album might not be the deepest or most complex compilation of songs, but it makes you feel good. It reminds you of sitting up at the reservoir, basking in the midday sun, or driving through the curving mountain roads as the sun sets. No Dream is that album this year. Jeff Rosenstock has created another solid entry of pop punk songs that are going to take you back to when the airwaves were ruled by Third Eye Blind and Blink-182. These songs are fun, but beneath the fun, upbeat lyrics there’s a sarcastic anger that serves as the perfect cynical commentary for life in 2020.
Favorite Song: Ohio Tpke
17Our Oceans
While Time Disappears

The sound of this album is so hard to pin down. While Time Disappears takes cues from math rock, alternative, and dare I say… musicals? The end result is an album that feels absolutely theatrical. Vocalist Tymon Kruidenier’s Rush-esq melodies float above his impressive fretwork, the subtle but satisfying bass playing of Robin Zielhorst, and the jittering drumwork of Yuma van Eekelen. Emotionally raw and sonically polished, this album is a tragic tale of lust, rejection, self-doubt, and ultimately acceptance.
Favorite Song: Unravel
16Kairon IRSE!

If I were to sum up this album in one word it would be “drugs”. This album is drugs. It’s floating among warm, sweeping guitar lines. It’s being propelled through distant galaxies by jazzy, playful drumming. It’s bouncing on groovy bass lines made out of syrup. This album is as fun as it is meditative. It knows when to jam (as heard on songs like “Retrograde”) and when to slow down, immersing the listener in swells of static sound beneath the mantra of “Breathe in/breathe out” (as heard on “Altair Descends”). This album is a beautiful piece of psychedelic noise rock, and great for a day when you just want to watch the clouds dance above you.
Favorite Song: Psionic Static
15Tigran Hamasyan
The Call Within

I’ve had Tigran Hamasyan on my radar for a while now, but it wasn’t until The Call Within that I think I truly understood what he was doing with his music. This album is a mind-bending combination of jazz and progressive metal. Tigran uses his piano to create beautiful melodies as much as he uses it as a percussive instrument. Piano lines sweep effortlessly between frantic and lush, and the result is a musical soundscape that teeters between beautiful and energetic. Oh… and stankiest lick of the year goes to “Our Film”. It’s probably the funkiest groove I’ve heard in the past couple years. George Clinton would ascend to the mothership if he heard that one.
Favorite Song: Leviathan 21
14Open Mike Eagle
Anime, Trauma and Divorce

Man, in a time where every artists was locked in their house dealing with isolation, anxiety, and loss, Open Mike Eagle has constructed the most depressing album of the year. The follow up to the sleepwalking Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, this album is a nightmare… and it rightfully should be. OME’s life has quite literally fallen to ruin (I won’t trouble you to go through all of it but if you want to hear him chronicle it just listen to “Everything Ends Last Year”... that song actually hurts). The result is a lofi hip-hop album that’s raw, heartbreaking, and yet somehow still filled with OME’s strange, exuberant humor (see “The Black Mirror Episode”). In a way, isn’t that the only way to approach the hard parts of life?
Favorite Song: The Edge of New Clothes
13Higher Power
27 Miles Underwater

Wanna hear what growing up in the early 90’s-2000’s was like? Higher Power plan to take you back there. 27 Miles Underwater is the bastard child of acts like the Deftones, Glassjaw, Sum 41, and even early Hoobastank. This album sounds like every skate/ski/snowboard movie from the time. It stomps around the pit with a can of whoop-ass and a pissed off attitude, and it’s dishin’ it out to anyone dumb enough to give ‘em the side eye. Even though it makes no attempt to do anything new with the genre it still manages to sound fresh. Nostalgia could be the reason why I love this one so much… or it could be that this just plain and simple kicks ass.
Favorite Song: Rewire (101)
12King Krule
Man Alive!

Titled (supposedly) off the phrase sailors would call out after coming upon a shipwreck and finding a survivor, this album feels exactly as that sounds. Archy Marshall (King Krule) comes across as waterlogged and exhausted, hauled up onto a ship after his own has been blown to smithereens and sent floating down to the depths of the ocean. His bluesy guitar work drips with melancholy and there’s a desperation to the way he growls and plays that just makes you want to wrap him in a towel, grab him a warm glass of tea, and tell him it’s going to be alright. In many ways I feel like this album is necessary for everyone to hear this year. Sure, life may be dreary. It may feel like you’ve been treading water for a while. But don’t forget you’re not alone.
Favorite Song: Alone, Omen 3
Spirituality and Distortion

There was a period of time this year where I hit a music wall. I think it was right around the time we were quarantined. It got to the point where I couldn’t even listen to music anymore (I know… crazy right?). I even remember sitting down with my wife one day and saying “I’m just not enjoying music right now.” Then, this album came out. Igorrr has never been one to pull punches with his music and this album is no exception. Further honing his amalgamation of baroque music, accordions, blast beats, and breakcore with the return of powerhouse vocalists Laurent Lunoir and Laure Le Prunenec, not to mention the inhuman drumming of Sylvain Bouvier, this album is enough madness to shock you out of any sort of slump. Seriously, I actually burst out laughing multiple times listening to this (see “Kung-fu Chevre”).
Favorite Song: Himalaya Massive Ritual

I think I just need to start this off by saying “this is a Deftones album”. If you don’t like the Deftones, you might as well just stop here and scroll on. They aren’t doing anything new. There isn’t anything on here that you haven’t heard them do to some extent before. This might sound like a dismissal, but it really isn’t. There’s a reason why so many bands recently (Bring Me the Horizon, Loathe, Vexes to name a few) have tried to capitalize on their sound. The reality is that the Deftones are the best alternative metal band that’s ever existed. Almost all of their albums are heralded with some sort of critical acclaim, and there’s a good reason for it. The Deftones’ music exists on this razor's edge between beautiful and grotesque, between anger and lust. OHMS just happens to be one of their “better” albums.
Favorite Song: This Link is Dead
9Aesop Rock
Spirit World Field Guide

Aesop Rock is one of the most gifted lyricists of all time. Seriously, I really have a hard time wrapping my brain around how he hears a beat and then constructs his rhymes around them. His music isn’t accessible, but that’s the gift of it. Every time you listen to it your brain gets a little closer to moving at the speed at which the words flit from his mouth, and as a result catch something new with each listen. On top of continuing to be one of the best in the game, Aesop has stitched together some of his best beats ever. If that’s what you need to focus on first before digging into his lyrics, do it. This adventure into the Spirit World is not for the faint of the heart, but the journey is oh so satisfying.
Favorite Song: Holy Waterfall
8Melted Bodies
Enjoy Yourself

In a year where Mr.Bungle released a “new album” (a rerecording of their early thrash metal album), this is the best Mr.Bungle album to come out this year. That might sound sacreligious, but it’s true. Melted Bodies are absolutely rabid on this one, and the result is a monstrosity created by some mad scientist who frankenstein’d Dead Kennedys, System of a Down, and Dillinger Escape Plan together. This album sets its hooks in on the opening ripper “Eat Cops” and doesn’t let go until the echoes of the final descent into chaos of closer “Meat Cleanse”. Once the world opens back up these guys are going to literally reduce the crowd to melted bodies.
Favorite Song: 99 Scents
7Good Tiger
Raised in a Doomsday Cult

The Good Tiger have been on my radar for quite a long time now, but with Raised in a Doomsday Cult, the supergroup has elevated their craft to something extra special, resulting in a collection of their best songs to date. One of my favorite things about this band is that they’ve been able to exist in so many different worlds and sounds, and this album sees them perfecting their infectious mix of math rock drumming, post-hardcore riffs, and sweeping prog croons. Whether it’s ballads (see the rainy day-esq “1252”) or mosh pit thrashers (see “Animal Mother”) these guys have really dialed in their sound and the result is something that you’ll be stuck singing along with long after the music has faded.
Favorite Song: Ghost Vomit
6Pure Reason Revolution

There are a lot of different definitions of what constitutes “heaviness” when it comes to an album. Some albums are considered “heavy” when they contain highly distorted, low riffs played side by side with guttural vocals. Some albums are heavy because of the context they were written in or the content of the music. This album is the later, a concept about the emotions co-lead singer Jon Courtney felt at the birth of his daughter. While this moment should have been one of over-abundant joy, the moment quickly soured as he and his partner were informed that, because she was born extremely prematurely and couldn’t breathe properly, she teetered between life and death. This album reflects those emotions, soaring through beautiful melodies and heavy rock riffs over the course of the album and, most times, within the actual songs themselves.There is a happy ending to the story, but the raw emotion of this album is where its heaviness comes from.
Favorite Song: Eupnea
5Martin Grech
Hush Mortal Core

Every time I return to this album I’m blown away by how fantastic it is. In fact, as I’m doing these album write-ups I actually bumped it up higher on the list because there is just so much to love about this thing. From the very orchestral opener, “Maelstrom Spark,” to the jazzy, monumentally huge “The Death of All Logic,” this album is a masterclass on how to write music. Grech does a brilliant job of introducing and then embellishing on themes throughout not just songs but the album as a whole. Even his vocal melodies, which are very reminiscent to Sting’s (see “Sadness is a Story of Beauty Only a Dancer Can Tell”), seem to do something different from what you’d expect, adding to the complexity of this brilliant piece of art. Hush Mortal Core is, in itself, a journey through birth, existence, and eventual death. By the end you feel like you’ve experienced something incredible, something almost cosmic.
Favorite Track: Mothflower
4Run the Jewels

This album could not have been released at a more poignant time. And yes, I understand that the group released it “early” because they felt that its message spoke louder than anything they could have articulated after the murder of George Floyd. Listening to this album while watching the riots, police brutality, and civil unrest that followed was almost an unreal experience, especially considering Killer Mike’s prophetic verse on “walking in the snow.” This album is exactly what we’ve come to expect from the duo. Killer Mike and El-P joust back and forth over the forty minutes of this album, demonstrating pretty efficiently why they are considered one of the hottest hip-hop acts today.
The Long Dream I

Ambitious. That’s the word I would use to describe this album. The Long Dream I feels more like a mid-career album from some guys who have been making progressive metal for half their life, not the sophomore album to a group of baby faced twenty-somethings. Intended as the first part in a double album release, the album is an emotional juggernaut, propelled into the stratosphere by vocalist Charlie Powlett’s immaculate voice. The musicianship is second to none on this as well, and the result is a high energy metal album with roots in post metal and post hardcore as well. The real crux of this album is the use of a theme that appears first in “Introduction” and then reprises beautifully on “In Reverie” and finally “Introvection”. This album is so powerful and has been one for me to lean on when I’ve felt the weight of this past year on my shoulders.
2Protest the Hero

It hurts me to say it, considering this is one of my favorite bands of all time, but I had counted Protest the Hero down and out. Volition, their last full length album was released seven years ago and the EP that popped up between then and now was ultimately a dud. Their lead singer underwent vocal cord surgery and let’s face it, PtH wouldn’t be the same without Rody. But like a prize fighter, these boys have risen from the mat and delivered not just a strong album, but one of their best.
Favorite Track: Rivet

Virus is my favorite album of this year. Hands down. And if I’m being honest, it might be one of my favorites from the past decade. This might be the quickest I’ve ever been to call something a “perfect” album, but here we are. Virus is monumental, a sonic masterpiece that’s gripping from start to finish. The sequel to the band’s 2018 release, Vektor (which is good in its own right), Virus tells the story of Patient 21’s as he transforms into the loathsome Cockroach King, his brutal and violent rise to power, and his soul-crushing demise. If that’s not the perfect idea for a progressive metal album, I don’t know what is.
Favorite Track: Carousel
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