The raging COVID-19 pandemic didn’t stem the 2020 tide of new music — some inspired by the crisis as well as other events in a tumultuous year. Local Spins writers reveal their faves from a most unusual year.
Fiona Apple, The Weeknd, Phoebe Bridgers, The Strokes, Run the Jewels, Urfaust, Tower of Power.
Support our coverage of
West Michigan's music scene
That’s just a handful of the artists who didn’t let the COVID-19 pandemic keep them from releasing attention-worthy albums in 2020 — recordings that certainly perked up the ears of Local Spins writers who rated them among the best releases of the year.
Unfortunately, as is our tradition, we couldn’t cite our favorite concerts of the year because, well, we really had less than three months of bona fide touring to consider thanks to the quarantines and shutdowns.
As for me, I found myself during this tumultuous year leaning in to national releases by Black Pumas, The Jayhawks, Phoebe Bridgers and some previously unreleased Tom Petty tracks from “Wildflowers.” But my favorite album may have come from a much-beloved Michigan act: The War & Treaty, whose “Hearts Town” is rife with soulful charm.
What were your faves? Email us your picks for favorite 2020 albums (or songs) to email@example.com by 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 27, and we’ll post some of your “best of” lists along with picks made by some West Michigan musicians next week at Local Spins. – John Sinkevics
THE WRITERS’ PICKS: BEST MUSIC OF 2020TROY REIMINK (Local Spins writer, co-host of “New Standards” at 6 p.m. Sundays on WYCE-FM 88.1)
1. Fiona Apple, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” – How much credit for the consensus around “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” belonged to the work itself versus the strange reality into which it emerged back in April will be forever unanswerable. But the fifth album, and first in eight years, from our reigning Introvert Queen, recorded mostly at home with a small bubble of collaborators, was a wizened dispatch from a claustrophobic world we’d all come to know soon enough. Yet these songs are so dense with melody and ideas, so filled with their creator’s breath of life, so laden with intimate physicality and a sense of the dimensional spaces in which they were made, that they almost seem to leave dust trails as they move through time. And if they caught you at the right moment — let’s call it the “oh, this is really happening” phase of the pandemic — they probably left even deeper grooves on your heart.
2. Run the Jewels, “RTJ4” – Killer Mike and El-P — the duo of fortysomething rappers who perform as Run the Jewels — are four-for-four with albums that have aligned uncannily to moments of political upheaval in response to systemic racism. “RTJ4” arrived early this summer and seemed perfectly calibrated to protests that roiled in response to the killing of George Floyd. But RTJ didn’t anticipate history with any sagely old-guy prescience; they created art about the reality they already see, so much of which is depressingly predictable. The music, like the street-level energy it captures, is alive with scorching commentary, vivid production and, more uniquely, a fiercely articulated worldview crystallized by their decades-long accumulation of elder-statesmen authority.
3. Haim, “Women In Music, Part III” – Remember when music publications would run “women who rock” features? As if that was unusual? Perhaps that idea seems so antiquated today (not to mention condescending) because, for at least the past half-decade, the best indie and mainstream rock music has been made by women — like, by a long shot. The title of Haim’s third and best album seems to allude cheekily to a musical world that sisters Este, Danielle and Alana Haim have helped craft in their own image: a sun-glazed tapestry that romanticizes Lilith Fair alt-rock, peak Fleetwood Mac and cosmic Laurel Canyon folk. Bonus for vinyl buyers: it appends the magnificent 2019 singles “Summer Girl” and “Now I’m In It.”
Listen: “The Steps”
4. The 1975, “Notes On a Conditional Form” – Listening to and thinking about the 1975 makes me feel like a living version of that “How do you do, fellow kids?” meme of Steve Buscemi pretending to be a high school student, but so it goes. No act has done more in the last decade to contextualize the idea of a “rock band” as something congruent with the wilderness of online culture. “Notes on a Conditional Form,” their second Major Statement album in as many years, is sprawling and incomprehensibly sequenced, but the band’s wildly omnivorous palette has matured into a masterful grasp of genres as diffuse as punk, emo, Britpop, shoegaze, country, yacht rock, UK jungle and ambient electronica. Plus it contains their best-ever single, the reverb- and sax-drenched “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know),” which basically sounds like Hall and Oates singing about the internet — in other words, awesome.
Listen: “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)”
5. Perfume Genius, “Set My Heart On Fire Immediately” – I should know by now to drop everything whenever a new Perfume Genius record appears, but this one had to sneak up on me, and it’s become my end-of-year comfort album — interesting, considering Mike Hadreas’ fifth album is in part a shattering dissection of loneliness. #2020 amirite?! Hadreas’ confidently broadening indie-auteur skill set blooms fully in the doo-wop swagger of “On the Floor,” the anthemic grandeur of “Nothing at All,” the noisy majesty of “Describe,” the tenderness of “Jason.” Hearing “Set My Heart On Fire Immediately” is like getting all the hugs you’ve missed this year at once.
Listen: “On the Floor”
Honorable Mentions (roughly in order of preference): Phoebe Bridgers, “Punisher”; Hum, “Inlet”; Caribou, “Suddenly”; Sufjan Stevens, “The Ascension”; Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, “Reunions”; Bob Dylan, “Rough and Rowdy Ways”; Soccer Mommy, “Color Theory”; Bartees Strange, “Live Forever”; Grimes, “Miss Anthropocene”; Deftones, “Ohms”; Waxahatchee, “Saint Cloud”; Christine and the Queens, “La Vita Nuova” [EP]; Kelly Lee Owens, “Inner Song”
RICKY OLMOS (Local Spins writer, frontman for Neon Birdhouse, keyboardist for Joshua Powell)
1.Phoebe Bridges, “Punisher” – The current queen of sad songs, Phoebe Bridgers has had an impressive year, even in the midst of a pandemic, with a new record, an EP and a string of late-night television performances. The Los Angeles artist released “Punisher” this year, a delicate, bewitching work of haunting songs and arrangements.
2. Adrianne Lenker, “Songs” – When Big Thief’s spring tour was canceled, lead singer and primary songwriter Adrianne Lenker set off to a cabin in western Massachusetts and recorded two records in isolation. “Songs” is a sincere, longing record that touches the heart with its sentiments.
Listen: Zombie Girl
3.Fiona Apple, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” – A powerhouse of a record, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” sees Apple roar (along with the candid barks from her pets) in an unbridled fashion. Apple is at her most experimental musically and bold in her lyrical exploration.
4.Hayley Williams, “Petals for Armor” – As lead singer of Paramore, Hayley Williams has been in the public eye, belting over blaring rock rhythms since she was a teenager. On “Petals,” Williams mellows out the music, but keeps the same cocktail of angst and playfulness front and center in her songwriting.
Listen: “Find Me Here”
5.Haim, “Women in Music Pt. III” – The Haim sisters are on a meteoric rise, if they weren’t already. The trio has reignited the fire of rock ‘n’ roll with the trappings of indie, R&B and ’90s songwriter vibes. “WIMPIII” displays the group’s sun-bathed daydreams in the form of song.
Listen: “I Know Alone”
TRICIA WOOLFENDEN (Local Spins writer, co-host of ‘New Standards’ at 6 p.m. Sundays on WYCE-FM 88.1)
Here are the songs of 2020 that most captured my attention before pandemic-related angst mostly relegated me to the confines of nostalgia-fueled ’90s playlist doom.
1. The Weeknd, “Blinding Lights” from “After Hours” – Cardi B’s “WAP” may have been the pop culture lightning rod of the year (iMarKkeyz’s hilarious re-mix of Ben Shapiro’s pearl-clutching reading of the lyrics nearly deserves its own spot on this list) but the Weeknd’s pulsing 80s-inspired, TikTok-dominating synth track will be forever linked to 2020 and the early days of quarantine. Fun, fast and ruthlessly catchy.
2. Mitski, “Cop Car” from the “Turning” soundtrack – Fuzzy, grungy and vaguely terrifying, Mitski’s first new music since 2018’s “Be the Cowboy” is a perfect reminder of everything we love to love about the haunting and immensely talented singer-songwriter.
3. Torres, “Dressing America” from “Silver Tongue” – Moody country meets moody indie, this track–a particular standout from an overall solid album–is a lyrical gift: “You tend to keep your kitchen brimming/And when we all go home/The quiet’s enough to crack you up.” A beautiful ode to love and loneliness.
4. Fiona Apple, “I Want You to Love Me” from “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” – Sight unseen, I will conservatively guess that Fiona Apple’s fifth studio album appears in at least a quarter of the Local Spins’ best of lists here. For good reason, too–wild, weird and gripping, Apple’s art was just what we needed, when we needed it.
5. Waxahatchee, “Fire” from “Saint Cloud” – I’m not crying; you’re crying. This one just slays me every time. Happy New Year, everyone!
DEVIN DELY (Local Spins writer)
1. Phoebe Bridgers, “Punisher” – Although “Punisher” is only Phoebe Bridgers’ second solo album, it’s far from her second release. She’s spent the years since her 2017 debut pouring into various side projects and collaborations with both contemporaries and veterans of the indie scene, establishing herself as a creative force to be reckoned with. The time honing her craft has paid off: “Punisher” is a huge creative leap that affirms Phoebe’s place as one of the best & most unique songwriters of her generation.
2. The Strokes, “The New Abnormal” – The Strokes refuse to be classified as has-beens, although for some reason critics have been trying to paint them as such for the past 15 years or so. “The New Abnormal” is not only a comeback album after a seven-year hiatus, it’s genuinely some of the band’s best work; songs like “Selfless,” “The Adults Are Talking” and “Ode To The Mets” prove their newer material can stand on its own and gives classics like “Someday” and “Reptilia” a run for their money.
3. Tame Impala, “The Slow Rush” – Following up the best album of your career is no easy task, especially when that album is one that is so universally celebrated. But easy tasks don’t seem to appeal to Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker. “The Slow Rush” is a continuation down the same line of thought as its predecessor, diving deeper into the rich psychedelic sea of “Currents” and adding its own flavor with more danceable songs like “Is It True” and “Borderline”.
4. Jacob Collier, “Djesse Vol. 3” – The modern-day Mozart’s third installment of his planned four-part album is absolutely mind-blowing from start to finish. Collier’s blend of jazz, soul, classical and pop elements is taken to another level this time around by the addition of more electronic instrumentation and a wider variety of features, including Daniel Caesar and Ty Dolla $ign.
5. Mac Miller, “Circles” – After Miller tragically died of an accidental drug overdose in 2018, producer Jon Brion took on the task of finishing the young rapper’s intended follow-up to his critically-acclaimed album “Swimming”. Knowing that Miller will never get to hear the end result of his efforts is quite sad, because it’s truly one of his best albums. The songs reveal a maturing artist looking inward and struggling to find purpose, and more than one track’s lyrics seem eerily predictive of his untimely death.
Honorable Mentions: Mt. Joy, “Rearrange Us”; Purity Ring, “WOMB”; Pinegrove, “Marigold”; Needtobreathe, “Out Of Body”; The 1975, “Notes on a Conditional Form”
Local or regional release of the year: Political Lizard, “Buttercup Bloodroot” – Political Lizard’s sophomore album is eclectic, fun and full of surprises. It’s a big step forward for the band and an indication that they’re growing as artists in a season where it’s incredibly difficult to do so.
JOHN SERBA (Local Spins writer, creator of johnserbaatlarge.com)
1. Urfaust, “Teufelsgeist”; The Spirit Cabinet, “Bloodlines”; Duivel, “Tirades Uit De Hel” — The two men of Dutch mystical conglomeration Urfaust, VRDRBR and IX (probably not their Christian names), enjoyed a prolific 2020, with the main gig and a pair of similarly essential side gigs all releasing extraordinary records begging compulsive repeat spins, each transporting the listener to distinct alchemical realms. Please allow me to be your guide through hell and space and all points in between. First, “Teufelsgeist,” an ambient mind-journey that finds the delectable sweet spot between harsh and lush. Synths roil and cascade, drums lurch and trudge, vocals croon and rage. It’s an elevating mind-expander AND a depressive mind-within-er, luring us outward as it drags us inward, and verily tearing us apart. I LOVE IT. The title translates to “devil’s spirit,” and it’s meant to be consumed simultaneously with Urfaust-branded gin, so ridiculously limited I didn’t even try to spend an exorbitant amount of money to get a bottle shipped from Germany. Turns out the album is plenty drunkening on its own. Next, “Bloodlines,” is from vocalist IX’s trad/doom metal project, which serenaded our riff-sensitive cockles with 2015’s exultant debut “Hystero Epileptic Possessed.” The new record pushes its predecessor’s transcendent Candlemass worship into fresher, weirder territory, which is saying a lot, because “Hystero” was plenty weird. Tempos slog and gallop and occasionally blast, riffs gouge and dig, IX’s richly eccentric voice wavers operatically as he rummages through lost occultic texts and his own anguish. “There’s nothing like losing yourself to a demon/We look into each other and our portraits gleam,” he howls. I’ll drink to that. Finally, “Tirades Uit De Hel,” the debut from one of drummer VRDRBR’s many projects, is a more straightforward black metal project, all tremolo-picked guitars and harsh gravelgargle vocals, until the keyboards worm through the sheets of noise, haunting us with ancient melodies chiming from demon realms. Pair Duivel with the similar unsound-mind vibes of Departure Chandelier (one of my 2019 faves who released a lovely new demo this year, “Dripping Papal Blood”) — and a chalice of blood to sup, but that probably goes without saying.
2. Midnight, “Rebirth by Blasphemy” — This major rager from Cleveland’s most gleefully ignorant Venomotorheaders is an exquisite blend of stinging punk and hooky New Wave of British Heavy Metal sensibilities. Most deadly trax of mayhemic hell: “Devil’s Excrement,” “F—ing Speed and Darkness,” “Rising Scum,” “Raw Attack.” The soundtrack to ruptured woofers and a ticket for going 90 in a 35.
3. Oranssi Pazuzu, “Mestarin kynsi” — Finnish metal band releases highly eccentric record — it happens about 200 times a year. But few entangle and entrance us like Oranssi Pazuzu and their highly specific brand of lunatic acid prog. Fifth platter “Mestarin kynsi” is the noisiest, most astringent Krautrock record ever made, a psychedelic mindwarping helltrip and high-suction whirlpool of chaotic keys, guitars and vocals driven by emphatic rhythms. If I were about to be devoured by a black hole, I’d listen to this record. But sometimes I listen to it just for fun.
4. Sodom, “Genesis XIX” — The reigning terrors of Teutonic thrash grunt out album number (checks notes) 16, for f—s sake, and it’s a vital slab consisting of frantic post-polka beats and riffs riffs riffs, just relentless, impenitent, unforgiving speed-mosh, reckless hellfire spat out by angry old farts. Consider my expectations met: founder “Onkel” Tom Angelripper called up former guitarist Frank Blackfire, who played on my two favorite Sodom records (“Persecution Mania” and “Agent Orange”), to rejoin this near-40-year institution of pain. It’s a bit more slashy thrash than the last couple Sodoms, and has two, maybe three songs that test the attention span, but hell, so did every Motorhead record post-1991, and those were summarily great. Only Sodom could write an acid-spitting cut like “Glock ‘n’ Roll” or concoct a six-and-a-half-minute epic banger and mystify the world by titling it “Waldo and Pigpen.” This is the soundtrack to drinking 17 watery beers and crushing the cans and throwing them in the corner and pumping your fists and headbanging in your recliner then feeling like crap the next day because you’re old.
5. Enslaved, “Utgard” — Fifteen albums into a prolific career, and this Norwegian coterie continues to unapologetically progress, far beyond its origin in black metal’s second wave. This record tempers some of the Pink Floydisms of its 2010s output and immediately grips us tight with a trio of rousing, quintessentially Enslaved kickoff tracks — “Fires in the Dark,” “Jettegryta” and “Sequence” — that meld aggressiveness, musicianship and melody within complex, unconventional arrangements. In other words, this is Enslaved being Enslaved to the extent of its very Enslavedness, sonically distinctive, more than a little eggheaded in all the best ways, and pushing metal forward, forward, forward.
ROSS BOISSONEAU (Local Spins writer)
1. Tower of Power, “Step Up” – The second of two albums written and recorded over the last few years when the band was on a break from its touring schedule is the better of the two. Actually, it’s one of the best TOP albums ever over the band’s half-century of soulful funk workouts. Dazzling horns (as always), top-notch vocals from former singer Ray Greene, current lead vocalist Marcus Scott and bandleader Mimi Castillo, and feisty, festive tunes make this a winner.
2. Steve Hackett, “Selling England By The Pound & Spectral Mornings Live at Hammersmith” – When his “Seconds Out” anniversary tour was scuttled by the pandemic, guitarist extraordinaire Hackett busied himself in the studio, producing this live document of the tour that touched down last year at 20Monroe Live, as well as penning his autobiography and writing and recording the upcoming acoustic album “Under A Mediterranean Sky.” This album includes live performances of the entirety of “Selling England,” perhaps the best-loved Genesis album of all time, as well as Hackett’s third solo release. The band is tight and engaging, and Hackett is simply one of the finest guitarists around.
3. The Brecker Brothers, “Live and Unreleased” – Recorded 30 years ago but just released earlier this year, this live date by the Brecker Brothers Band showcases the sound of 70s-80s funk fusion. Trumpet legend Randy Brecker and his late saxophonist brother, the equally legendary Michael Brecker, were at the top of their game on this European tour. Both are in great form as soloists, while the rhythm section shines as well. A welcome blast from the past.
4. Martin Wind, “White Noise” – A trio date for guitar (Philip Catherine), trumpet (Ack van Rooyen), and leader Wind’s bass. Soft, spacious and spare, Catherine’s playing is gorgeous, while van Rooyen’s trumpet and flugelhorn are lyrical and similarly transcendent. Wind keeps things grounded, his melodic bottom end supplying all the support needed.
5. Rick Wakeman, “Christmas Variations” – A holiday release? Well, yes. Wakeman has seemingly lived by the mantra “More is better,” with grandiose productions such as “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” or the live premiere of “King Arthur” – on ice (!). But last year’s “Christmas Portraits” and this year’s “Christmas Variations” show a more relaxed Wakeman, less concerned with dazzling listeners (though there’s still some of that here) than with putting his own stamp on mostly-familiar holiday fare. Not necessarily acoustic, though the focus is on piano more than synth; the latter is used more for atmosphere and the occasional solo line.
6. Soft Machine, “Live at the Baked Potato” – Soft Machine’s discography shows a band that was constantly morphing: As members came and went, its sound and approach changed as well, from early psychedelic rock experiments to progressive Canterbury rock to flat-out fusion. Today’s version, which includes three members who called the band home in the 70s, is up to the task of representing its best work, with some fiery guitar work from John Etheridge. “Live at the Baked Potato” shows a Soft Machine that is alive and well in Los Angeles.
7. Laila Biali, “Out Of Dust” – Canadian chanteuse Laila Biali has worked with Sting, Chris Botti and Paula Cole, whose work Biali’s bears a similarity to. “Out of Dust” is the kind of polished pop one might expect of someone with a background in both classical and jazz. Strong melodies and exquisite singing leave the listener wanting more.
8. Mannheimer Schlagwerk featuring Markus Reuter, “Sun Trance” – This long-form composition exists somewhere between the German multi-instrumentalist’s work with Tony Levin and Pat Mastelloto in Stick Men and Mark Wingfield in TEAR and the music of composers such as Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Terry Riley. If that sounds esoteric, well, it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s unapproachable. Listen for bass clarinet among the tuned percussion in these engaging soundscapes.
9. The Ed Palermo Big Band, “Run For Your Life, The Great UnAmerican Songbook Volume III” – Zappa enthusiast Palermo turns once again to the British Invasion, with interpretations of music by the Beatles, the Hollies, Procol Harum, Jethro Tull, and, oh yes, Frank Zappa. A zesty big band with violin, electric keyboards, even electric sitar, there is humor in the arrangements, but it’s all held together with world-class playing. And you haven’t lived till you’ve heard “Strawberry Fields” mashed up with Zappa’s “Shove It Right In.”
10. Incognito, “We’re In This Thing Together” – OK, this is just a single, but wow, what a single. Leader Bluey Maunick employed pretty much the entire Incognito roster for a charity single to benefit the UK’s National Health Service and bring a little hope during the pandemic. The 18 performers (seemingly half of them singers) produced and performed their parts in isolation, then it was seamlessly stitched together. It’s got it all: Bouncy, funky rhythms, an engaging melody, a tasty guitar solo by Francisco Sales, and a message as well.
NICK MORAN (Local Spins writer)
1. “RTJ4,” Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels have always used their music to challenge problematic societal norms, but “RTJ4” especially proves that the complexities of difficult dialogue can be reflected in experimental rap. Between machine-gun deliveries and eclectic, industrial instrumentation, the album not only shatters the genre box around it, but forces listeners to have an introspective relationship with the work and the rest of the world.
2. “Alfredo,” Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist – Listening to “Alfredo” gives listeners a free pass to feel like a certified badass for 35 minutes. Freddie Gibbs is unapologetically suave, proving once again that he deserves respect as an endless stream of rap inspiration. Behind each verse, The Alchemist knows when to let Gibbs fly and when to find ways to let the beat grab listeners. Features like Tyler, the Creator and Benny the Butcher sweeten the pot, but even without, “Alfredo” is a five-course meal in and of itself.
3. “Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez,” Gorillaz – Gorillaz have had to battle an identity crisis throughout their last few studio albums, but their shift to their experimental “Song Machine” series lets musical leaders guide them through genres outside of their reach. “The Pink Phantom” is a wavy ballad led by a monarch in Elton John, and tracks like “Momentary Bliss” with slowthai and Slaves and “Opium” with EARTHGANG give features the ability to soar over tracks that feel magically energetic.
4. “Music Makes Me High / Take Care In Your Dreaming,” The Avalanches – A train of singles and EPs from The Avalanches have given fans a reason to rejoice, but “Take Care In Your Dreaming” is mystical, classy and punchy all at once. Between the delicate piano riff and bubbly backing percussion, the dance between rapped verses and hazy choruses builds a glowing neon world that lives in sound. The sense of ambiance here should be the gold standard for any track, but to pair it with an intriguing delivery packs an inspiring touch, especially when surrounded with an assortment of strong singles.
5. “It Is What It Is,” Thundercat – “It Is What It Is” is a blended collection of talent and genres at the steady hand of Thundercat, who has been breaking down walls both with his own music and as a reliable feature for years. He goes from “Black Qualls,” which is full of funky flourishes and harmonic riffs, to a sexy, soulful and silly “Dragonball Durag” five tracks later. Each song brings something new and fresh to the table, which together provides a spread that flexes Thundercat’s creative prowess.
Local Album of the Year: “Funky Town,” The Ryne Experience – Smooth and velvety, “Funky Town” strikes a beautiful balance of providing a range of listeners with something to latch onto while delivering deeply personal performances. The album feels like home with all of its cozy, complex layers — an absolutely worthy addition to both local and national playlists.
DEVIN ANDERSON (Local Spins writer)
1. Dan Reeder, “Every Which Way” – Folk wizard Dan Reeder has flown largely under the radar, even after signing to John Prine’s Oh Boy Records in 2003. Perhaps it’s the vulgarity of songs like “Kung Fu is My Fighting Style” and “Porn Song,” or maybe it’s because Reeder has been in Germany painting for the last 30 years. Either way, his idiosyncratic world view and remarkable approach to harmony have captured the majority of my musical attention this year. Nearly everything seen and heard from Reeder is homemade and DIY, right down to his microphone preamps and misshapen guitars. Jam-packed with short and sweet folk-pop musings, “Every Which Way” belongs in the “three chords and the truth” hall of fame.
2. Dirty Projectors, “5EPs” – David Longstreth’s years-long balancing act between baroque folk and funky synth pop is more artful and catchy than ever with Dirty Projectors’ “5EPs.” Doled out throughout 2020 in five batches, the band’s touring members are spotlighted as vocalists and co-writers. Each EP on its own might be worthy of listmaking. However, the EP featuring Felicia Douglass on lead vocals is an unquestionable high point– with vocal loops and 808 blasts meet infectious hooks on “Lose Your Love” and “Self Design.” Longstreth stretches out with some esoteric, “loco” acoustic ballads in the deeper half of the album.
3. May Erlewine & the Woody Goss Trio, “Anyway” – Fans of May Erlewine might find it difficult to imagine a warmer side of the Michigan folk singer, but here, Vulfpeck keyboardist Woody Goss seems to have teased it out. The live-to-tape approach to the production of “Anyway” makes it feel like an old classic. Erlewine’s pure and honest songwriting soars with Goss’ minimal, delicate arrangements and a rhythm section that would do Motown and Laurel Canyon proud. “Days Go By” and the title track are timeless standouts.
4. Mini Trees, “Slip Away” – Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Lexi Vega’s Mini Trees is indie alt-rock perfection. Vega’s melancholic voice and image-evoking lyrics fit brilliantly with some seriously groovy lofi production. Look no further than this EP’s title track to find the gorgeously written and seriously hip embodiment of West coast indie music in 2020.
5. Earth Radio, “Reanimate” – I’ll know life has gotten somewhat back to normal when I can go see Earth Radio live at Founders. The Grand Rapids band’s spacey experiments in funk, rock, soul and jazz are as beautiful as they are befuddling. “Reanimate” features moods to move to (“Dance Like Me”), warm soul (“Chicka (Blah-Blah)”) and on “Evolve,” an anthemic “virtual choir” of the band’s fans. There’s some tremendous playing, just try to keep up.
Copyright 2020, Spins on Music LLC