FINAL EDITION: Living to Listen’s Top 100 New Releases of 2020 (Plus a Top 40 of Reissues and Archival Discoveries)

Yep, this is it. Eight days into a very 2020-like 2021. But I gotta say again that, since, for reasons in addition to COVID-19 and the creep, this year was the worst of my life (that year in elementary when I got my ass kicked on the bus, at home plate on the playground, on the bus again, and in front of a small crowd at the park was close), MUSIC WAS ESSENTIAL, and if I hadn’t had access to any records prior to 2020, I still would have been in very high cotton. So many inspired, intelligent, defiant, creative, funny, funky, and artistically coherent slabs–an extension of my love of novels, I still listen to albums, and this roll call was proof I ain’t no dummy.

The Top 10 is my real Top 10. I was asked to submit it to a terrific Facebook group that produces poll results like the Village Voice Pazz & Jop Poll used to, and I thought on it very carefully–though some friends argue there’s no difference, these are the records that meant the most to me, that I needed the most, that powered me through a minimum of 10 horrible days, rather than the 10 greatest artistic albumic achievements of the year. 11-90? I did quite a bit of thinking about those as well, 10 at a time–then, today, came back and fussed with it to get it just right and include some late ’20 releases.

Apologies to these artists who were originally on my list months ago, and who here make the Top 100 (there are a good 50-75 more strong albums) but who I must have accidentally deleted while editing in the fall: the great Southern rocker Tyler Keith, the rejuvenated Dramarama, the delightful and fearless Billy Nomates, and the gutsy Ashley McBryde. They may never see this, and even if they do, they may not care–but it matters to me.

DIG IN. 2021’s breathin’ down your neck.

BOLDED ENTRIES = Records added (or restored) to the list.

  1. Kahil El’Zabar: America The Beautiful
  2. Run The Jewels: 4
  3. Mark Lomax II: The 400 Years Suite
  4. 79rs Gang: Expect the Unexpected
  5. Dezron Douglas & Brandee Younger: Force Majeure
  6. Bob Dylan: Rough and Rowdy Ways
  7. Fire! Orchestra: Actions
  8. SAULT: Untitled (Black Is)
  9. The Third Mind: The Third Mind
  10. Mars Williams: Presents an Ayler Xmas, Volume 4–Chicago vs. New York
  11. Watt, Kaiser, Golia, Peet, and Hanrahan: A Love Supreme Electric
  12. Spillage Village: Spilligion
  13. Body Count: Carnivore
  14. Jyoti: Mama You Can Bet!
  15. Mike & The Moonpies: Touch of You–The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart
  16. Boldy James & The Alchemist: The Price of Tea in China
  17. Roisin Murphy: Roisin Machine
  18. Serengeti & Kenny Segal: AJAI
  19. Kesha: High Road
  20. Neptunian Maximalism: Éons
  21. Various Artists: An Anthology of Experimental Music from Mexico
  1. Princess Nokia: Everything is Beautiful
  2. Anna Högberg Attack: lena 
  3. Shabaka and The Ancestors: We Are Sent Here by History
  4. Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters
  5. Bktherula: Nirvana
  6. Belle and Sebastian: What to Look for in Summer
  1. Rob Mazurek & Exploding Star Orchestra: Dimension Stardust
  2. Thiago Nassif: Mente
  3. Hamell on Trial: Pandemic Songs
  4. Goodie Mob: Survival Kit
  5. Lido Pimienta: Miss Colombia
  6. James Brandon Lewis and Chad Taylor: Live in Willisau
  7. Tee Grizzley: The Smartest
  8. Bettye LaVette: Blackbirds
  9. Elizabeth Cook: Aftermath
  10. Zeal & Ardor: Wake of a Nation (EP)
  11. Adulkt Life: Book of Curses
  12. Princess Nokia: Everything Sucks
  13. Florian Arbenz and Greg Osby: Reflections of The Eternal Line
  14. Little Simz: Drop 6 (EP)
  15. Dramarama: Color TV
  16. The Human Hearts: Day of The Tiles (EP)
  17. Charles McPherson: Jazz Dance Suites
  18. X: Alphabetland 
  19. Various Artists: Memphis Concrète Presents Sound in Geometry Series, Volume 1–On Triangles
  20. KeiyaA: Forever, Ya Girl
  21. Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra: If You Listen Carefully, The Music is Yours
  22. Various Artists: Music for Abandoned Cold War Places
  23. Cornershop: England is a Garden
  24. Moor Jewelry: True Opera
  25. Various Artists: New Improvised Music from Buenos Aires
  26. Mark Lomax II: The Last Concert–Ankh & The Tree of Live
  27. Don Vappie & Jazz Creole: The Blue Book of Storyville
  28. Mickey Guyton: Bridges (EP)
  29. Aesop Rock: Spirit World Field Guide
  30. Bobby Rush: Rawer Than Raw
  31. Moses Sumney: grae
  32. Carlos Nino and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson: Chicago Waves
  33. Billy Nomates: Billy Nomates
  34. Irreversible Entanglements: Who Sent You?
  35. Alicia Keys: ALICIA
  36. Moor Mother & Billy Woods: Brass
  37. K-Michelle: All Monsters are Human
  38. 75 Dollar Bill: Live at Tubby’s
  39. Luke Stewart: Luke Stewart Exposure Quintet
  40. SAULT: Untitled (Rise)
  41. Drakeo the Ruler: Quit Rappin’
  42. Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids: Shaman!
  43. Juice WRLD: Legends Never Die
  44. Black Thought: Streams of Thought 3–Cane and Abel
  45. Swamp Dogg: Sorry You Couldn’t Make It
  46. Ashley McBryde: Never Will
  47. Tyler Keith: The Last Drag
  48. City Girls: City on Lock
  49. Serengeti: With Greg from Deerhoof
  50. Dua Lipa: Future Nostalgia
  51. Asher Gamedze: Dialectic Soul
  52. Jinx Lennon: Border Schizo Fffolk Songs for the F****d
  53. Julianna Barwick: Healing is a Miracle
  54. No Age: Goons Be Gone
  55. James Brandon Lewis: Molecular 
  56. Junglepussy: Jp4
  57. JD Allen: Toys / Die Dreaming
  58. Hot Country Knights: The “K” is Silent
  59. Ill Scholars: Ill Scholars
  60. Cortex: Legal Tender
  61. Mr. Wrong: Create a Place
  62. Lori McKenna: The Balladeer
  63. The Necks: Three
  64. Chloe x Halle: Ungodly Hour
  65. Steve Earle: Ghosts of West Virginia
  66. Teodross Avery: Harlem Stories–The Music of Thelonious Monk
  67. Rina Sawayama: Sawayama
  68. Bette Smith: The Good, The Bad, and The Bette
  69. Kali Uchis: Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios)
  70. Al Bilali Soudan: Tombouctou
  71. Dehd: Flower of Devotion
  72. Jeff Parker: Suite for Max Brown
  73. Jeannie Seely: An American Classic


  1. Various Artists: Daora–Underground Sounds of Urban Brazil
  2. Wussy: Ghosts
  3. Uncle Victor Chukwu: Akalaka / The Power
  4. Luiz Carlos Vinhas: O Som Psicodelico De LCV
  5. Charles Mingus: Mingus @ Bremen 1964 & 1975
  6. Thelonious Monk: Palo Alto
  7. Sonny Rollins: Rollins in Holland
  8. Sharhabil Ahmed: The King of Sudanese Jazz
  9. Oneness of Juju: African Rhythms 1970-1982
  10. King Ubu Orchestru: Concert at Town Hall—Binaurality Live
  11. Various Artists: Hanging Tree Guitars
  12. Pylon: Pylon Box
  13. Lee Scratch Perry w / Seskain Molenga & Kalo Kawongolo: Roots from the Congo
  14. Various Artists: How the River Ganges Flows: Sublime Masterpieces of Indian Violin 1933-1952
  15. Hallelujah Chicken Run Band: Take One
  16. Various Artists: Saint Etienne Presents Songs for the Fountain Coffee Room
  17. Milford Graves & Don Pullen: The Complete Yale Concert
  18. Various Artists: Sumer is Icumen In–The Pagan Sound of British and Irish Folk 1966-1975
  19. Junior Byles: Beat Down Babylon
  20. Various Artists: Soul Love Now–The Black Fire Records Story 1975-1993
  21. Various Artists: Turn Me Loose, White Man, Or, Appropriating Culture–How to Listen to American Music 1900-1960 (Allen Lowe, compiler)
  22. Various Artists: Southeast of Saturn–Michigan Shoegaze / Dream Pop / Space Rock
  23. Various Artists: Excavated Shellac–An Alternate History of the World’s Music
  24. The Awakening: Hear, Sense, and Feel
  25. Black Unity Trio: Al-Fatihah
  26. Peter Stampfel & The Bottlecaps: Demo ’84
  27. Lon Moshe and The Southern Freedom Arkestra: Love is Where the Spirit Lies
  28. Various Artists: Stone Crush–Memphis Modern Soul 1977-1987
  29. Various Artists: Soul Jazz Records Presents Black Riot–Early Jungle, Rave, and Hardcore
  30. Prince: Sign ‘o The Times (Deluxe Edition)
  31. Various Artists: Cool Cats Invasion (Highlife, Juju, and Palm Wine Music from Nigeria and Ghana)
  32. Little Richard: Southern Child
  33. Fela: Perambulator
  34. Various Artists: Black Ark Players / Black Ark in Dub
  35. Hiroshi Yoshimura: Green
  36. Milton Nascimento: Maria Maria
  37. Riley (featuring Gary Stewart): Grandma’s Roadhouse
  38. The Ibrahim Khalil Shihab Quartet: Spring
  39. Walter Bishop, Jr.: Coral Keys
  40. Horace Tapscott: Ancestral Echoes

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