The best unknown albums of the year
With the 2021 Grammys right around the corner, it only seems appropriate to acknowledge those artists who time and again fail to garner national recognition. The fact is, artists like Wilco and Andrew Bird are nowhere near as marketable as Justin Bieber or Dua Lipa, so instead, here is my completely arbitrary list of unknown and unrecognized albums from 2020.
Honorable Mentions: Likewise by Frances Quinlan, Piano Salt by Angie McMahon and Love Is The King by Jeff Tweedy.
5. Twelfth – Old 97’s
Twelfth is just a damn good rock album. It has a little bit of everything that you’d want and expect out of a seasoned band like Old 97’s: an angsty unifying anthem in “The Dropouts”, a heartwarming love ballad in “I Like You Better” and a blatant rock chant in “Turn Off The TV”.
Sporting a cover featuring NFL quarterback Roger Staubach, it should be no surprise that this album absolutely rocks.
4. What Is There – Delta Spirit
Delta Spirits first album in six years is exactly what you’d expect from a veteran singer-songwriter like Matthew Logan Vasquez. A member of Indie Supergroup Middle Brother, Vasquez has been busy recording and touring for his 2019 solo album Light’n Up, having seemingly taken some time off from touring with Delta Spirit.
But the band is back! “The Pressure’”, “It Ain’t Easy”, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”, “Home Again” and honestly, the entire record should immediately be added to whatever spunky name you’ve labeled your most recent playlist.
3. Saint Cloud – Waxahatchee
I’ve listened to this album so many times I forgot it was only released this year. Waxahatchee—also known as Katie Crutchfield—has released her greatest album to date.
Saint Cloud finds a way to mix folk and rock under a new designation, one that simply cannot be categorized as folk-rock;I’m not sure exactly what to call it. Highlighted by songs such as “Can’t Do Much”, “The Eye”, “Hell”, “Fire” and “Lilacs”, this album is an instant addition to any indie fan’s collection.
2. The Baby – Samia
Of all the albums on this list, this is the one that deserves a Grammy. Samia’s debut album The Baby is perfect in every way, shape and form. It’s hard to find a compliment that doesn’t sound trite or common, The Baby is best described as beautifully miserable and uncomfortably comforting.
Samia’s discography is littered with critically-acclaimed singles and EPs, but there is no doubt that The Baby is the best of a predictably long and successful music career.
Of all the albums on this list, this is the one I suggest the most . A mix of pop, rock and adolescent existentialism, Samia’s debut album is the best album on this list.
1. Serpentine Prison – Matt Berninger
Serpentine Prison is the first solo album by Matt Berninger—lead singer of indie-rock band The National—and is undoubtedly superior to anything his band has released in years. Contrary to his global success amongst the indie-rock community, Berninger time and again writes of struggle, anxiety and heartache.
Although the album is not particularly groundbreaking, I highly prefer it over Sleep Well Beast and I Am Easy To Find—the last two albums from The National—as great as those two records are.
And although it definitely can be argued that Serpentine Prison is simply a replica of a National album without the other lads, I beg to differ.
The National can tend to feel overwhelming at times, releasing complicated rock-opera-esque albums about how love is supposed to tie into the human condition. Berninger’s album is different; it feels personal, direct and—at times—visceral.
“One More Second” is just about my favourite song of the year and you are more than welcome to play it at my funeral. The entire album is heartbreakingly beautiful and wonderfully hopeless.
If you too are into sad middle-aged dad rock, there is no better record to spin. Although it may not be the best album on this list, it is by far my favourite.