It’s safe to say 2020 was the worst year on record for many in the United States. With hundreds of thousands dead from COVID-19, it’s hard to think of much else sometimes. While I’m not confident that the pandemic will be resolved quickly, efficiently, or without significantly more loss of life, there have been some silver linings to 2020. Quarantine has taken me out of the usual routine and given me some fresh perspectives. In addition to enabling me to get outside backpacking A LOT more than usual, I have also picked up practicing the guitar, learning half a dozen songs, and writing a few of my own. Operations at Soundscape City have been limited to a handful of socially distanced recording sessions and mixing due to the coronavirus.
Below is a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite releases this year. Thank you very much to all those musicians who released albums in 2020 despite losing income on touring and gigging. I hope you find some new gems on this list!
Pacific Northwest Releases
Greet the Sea – Whatever Intended
It’s been 5 years since Greet the Sea’s last release, and it was well worth the wait for Whatever Intended. Focusing more on catchy songwriting, the band still remains true to their roots utilizing atmospheric post-rock textures and math-rock inspired guitar work. They even venture into some heavier moments like on the track Heavy Breathing. This band is so Seattle it makes me smile.
Coastlands – Death
Coastlands continues to darken their sound trudging deeper and deeper into the realm of metal. Death sees the band fully embracing the genre. They even add screaming vocals with a guest appearance by Dustin Coffman to one of my favorite tracks on the album, Dead Friends.
Eastern Sunz – Fuel for a Fool’s Errand
I might be a bit late to the Eastern Sunz party. They seem to have been around for a while and I just started listening to them. Regardless, Fuel for a Fool’s Errand was one of my favorite hip hop albums of the year, and their scathing political commentary is backlit by some stellar production.
Ghost Frog – Astral Arcade
I first met Ghost Frog assisting Eric Broestl at Big Red Studio when they were working on their last album Cosmic Bowling. The new Astral Arcade was years in the making, and Ghost Frog’s finest release to date. I love the combination of psychedelic rock with pacific northwest grunge, and Eric’s phenomenal mixing job really puts the finishing touches on these sludgy earworms.
Korgy & Bass – Agrocrag
Drum & bass.
Korgy & Bass keep distilling their sound into groovier and harder hitting productions while maintaining their focus on spontaneity, creativity, and improvisation. Agrocrag is my favorite K&B album so far, and it combines a gritty 90s hip hop aesthetic with more modern EDM tricks and even some references to dubstep. I guarantee you haven’t heard this music before. If only I could’ve seen Barra and Alex perform Agrocrag live this year…
Soft Kill – Dead Kids R.I.P. City
I’ve been venturing into more 80s territory in my listening tastes lately, and it’s not a secret that many bands have been mimicking that 80s sound as well. Soft Kill’s Dead Kids R.I.P. City combines 80s synths and drums with a good dose of shoegaze guitars. It’s certainly not a new sound, but to be able to pull this sound off so well is impressive (and the songs are catchy to boot).
Laura Viers – My Echo
The duo of Laura Viers and Tucker Martine felt like the famous power couple of Portland if there ever was one. Well, turns out they’re humans, too, and they are getting (got?) a divorce. My Echo is Viers’ coming to terms with her divorce from Martine, and if anything it’s a testament that personal pain is a great motivator for amazing art.
Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
While more straightforward and less experimental than the breakout album No Shape, Mike Hadreas has put a premium on catchy songwriting for his latest release. Set My Heart On Fire Immediately takes what made No Shape popular and doubles-down on that sound. If you liked his last album, you’ll probably like this one. If you didn’t, you probably won’t.
Floating Room – Tired and True
One of the shining examples of the weird and quirky art rock that Portland is known for, Floating Room has been steadily pivoting away from the shoegaze that characterized Maya Stoner’s early releases and moving toward a more poppy sound with less reverb and punchier production.
Sunbathe – Somewhere in Between
After the Portland staple of indie-rock, Genders, broke up, Maggie Morris started her new project, Sunbathe. Her first album as Sunbathe felt like a clear departure from Genders. Maybe it was an attempt to demarcate what was Genders and what is Sunbathe. On her latest album, Somewhere in Between, I hear more of the textures and melodies that made Genders so great, and it’s a welcome return to form for Morris’ fantastic songwriting with a strong dose of garage pop, psychedelic rock, and shoegaze.
Hailaker – Holding (UK)
IDLES – Ultramono (Bristol, UK)
Soccer Mommy – color theory (Nashville, TN)
Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud (Philadelphia, PA)
Tricot – 10 (Japan)
Nation of Language – Introduction, Presence (New York, NY)
Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher (Los Angeles, CA)
Gleemer – Down Through (Fort Collins, CO)
The Beths – Jump Rope Gazers (Auckland, NZ)
Son Lux – Tomorrows Vol. I (New York, NY)