Sarah Harmer – Are You Gone
After a decade-long hiatus, Sarah Harmer made a triumphant return to our collective hearts early on in 2020. Are You Gone is something of a companion piece to her debut album You Were Here. Her sweet, folky lilt is a welcome sound to our ears — with poppy gems such as “Take Me Out”, “St. Peter’s Bay”, and “Squeaking Voices”, it’s a great album to which you can turn the lights low and cuddle up on the couch. It’s an album that provides a great soundtrack to the dawning dusk. Hopefully we finally get to see Harmer make her way East to play live at some point in 2021.
Rich Aucoin – United States
Aucoin’s latest effort is the product of a busy 2019, which saw him trekking through the US on a bicycle (from LA to New York), which in itself would provide some great inspiration and fodder, but to do it in the lead up to an election? Needless to say, his trek spawned what could easily be called Aucoin’s best work to date, with the commentary on US gun violence of “Reset”, which is this amped up arena-sized rocker; but it’s also led by an absolute banger in “Walls”, which is another huge jam with a techno-powered backbone. This album is packed with absolute gems, and the fact that it was one of my most-spun records in 2020, is 100% why it is one of my favourites of 2020.
A latecomer to the 2020 party, and one that for whatever reason didn’t immediately resonate, as earlier works such as Earthtones and Bahamas is Afie did. Fortunately, I did find the Sad Hunk decoder ring, and this has been an album that I’ve been jamming to now for the past number of weeks, and it has earned its place on my best of 2020. The guitar work here is intricate and alluring, and creates a groove that carries you all the way through Sad Hunk and will have you pressing repeat. Toss on “Own Alone”, or “Half Your Love” (which has a distinct Old Man Ludecke feel) and let these jams wash over you. While this album took a bit to grab me, when it finally did, it refused to let go. Now I need to go and track down an Espresso Wallace shirt for myself.
Caveboy – Night in the Park, Kiss in the Dark
A love affair between Caveboy and my ears was started by chance at the 2019 iteration of the Halifax Pop Explosion, as I arrived at the venue to see the headliner, only to be blown away by the sounds of Caveboy who were opening up. These Montreal singer-songwriters have found a way to craft updated ’80s era pop smashes, and crammed 10 neon-drenched, synth-fueled bangers onto this album. 2020 has certainly felt far longer than the standard 12 months, and while Night in the Park, Kiss in the Dark dropped at the end of January, it has been a beaming ray of sunshine through a rather dark year. Press play on any of “Obsessed”, “Landslide”, “Hide Your Love” (and really any of the other 7 tracks) and be prepared to fall in love. This album has been atop my regular rotation all year, and that won’t be stopping any time soon.
BackxWash – God Has Nothing To Do With This, Leave Him Out of It
Ashanti Mutina’s alter-ego Backxwash blew me away at the 2019 Halifax Pop Explosion, which largely focused on her previous banger of an album Deviancy. The prolific artist headed back to the lab to start work on the album that would be atop my best of 2020 list (if I were assigning a ranking), as it was easily the most visceral, soul-shaking, in-your-face album of the year. Where Deviancy had started to blaze a trail for Witch-Hop, God Has Nothing to Do With This, Leave Him Out of It married industrial, heavy metal with hip-hop, firmly impaling the ground with the Witch-Hop flag. This is an album that punches you in the ears in the best way possible, and hits as hard as any emerging or established emcee in the game. Backxwash has been blowing up the scene in 2020, and remains one of the most exciting acts to emerge in recent years. This is the album that demanded it be included on any and all best-of lists of 2020.
Like a Motorcycle – Dead Broke
This was one of the most anticipated albums of 2020 and was one of the easiest additions to my Best Of list, as it should be the album that places Like a Motorcycle on the radars of many a critic and music aficionado (if they somehow weren’t already). On stage, Like a Motorcycle are a force majeure, and rarely throttle back from their 110% intensity, but here they have managed to take that live energy and harness it in these tight 13 tracks. While we can’t cram ourselves into a dimly-lit room for a night of sweaty punk-rock, we can still pop on the headphones and indulge in some fantastic Like A Motorcycle magic. Do yourself a favour and fire up Dead Broke. If you need some convincing, check-out some gems in “Swept Out”, “Punk Two”, and “Sick Children”.
Pearl Jam – Gigaton
2020 has felt like an agonizing 24 months long, so much so that albums that dropped back in the first three months are largely forgotten. Gigaton is an album that I loved from the moment of that first play, as it sounds like vintage Pearl Jam. This album is a hard-driving outing that brought a semblance of familiarity to 2020, as this is every bit a rock album, with tracks such as “Superblood Wolfmoon”, “Never Destination”, and the fantastic “Seven O’Clock”. For a year as unprecedented as 2020 was, it was great to have this album to embrace.
Run the Jewels – RTJ4
If there was a year that needed RTJ4 this was it — the ugly underbelly of a nation was exposed and to no one’s surprise, the roots of injustice and racism ran far deeper than we could have imagined. This union of El-P and Killer Mike is one of the most essential acts in hip-hop today. The music acts as something of a trojan horse, where a lot of the tracks can be taken as bangers at face value, but once you start digging into the lyrical-content, you immediately see that it is a sharp and biting commentary on society. Things have calmed down, but nothing has really been resolved thus far. Hopefully 2020 marks the beginning of societal change, but rest assured Killer Mike and El-P will be ready to soundtrack the next revolution if this one fizzles out.
Local indie-rock act Beauts dropped their sophomore LP D’Alliance in early 2020, an album that sparkled with a hopeful brightness that was quickly pushed to the backburner by the global pandemic. As I thought back on the entire year, I nearly forgot that D’Alliance was released. In pressing play, I fell in love all over again with tunes such as “Good Measure”, “Receipts” and the lead single “Drifters, All” (which has a distinct Interpol vibe). This album is as complete an effort as an album can be. This is an album that I will be listening to well into the future.
The debut LP of former Hollerado front-man Menno Versteeg’s alter-ego Mav Karlo picks up right where his lo-fi EP Reno Tapes left off. The very same lyrical wit is front and center, but it’s a far more subtle and intimate affair as there is no supporting cast here. Menno has instead crafted a somewhat surprising solo debut that is loaded with heart and insight (see “Detonator”). It’s an album that sneaks up on you, as you’ll find yourself unconsciously humming or singing the tracks such as “Record High” (which was initially intended to be a Hollerado tune), “Strangers Like Us” and the darkly wry “Nurses And Priests”.