The Best Albums of 2020: Artists in Isolation

It's that time... the end of year wrap up of my favorite listens of the year. 2020 has been quite a unique year, where artists have had more time than ever to spend on their creative talents. And some of these gems have come in isolation. 

Folklore

On “Folklore,” Taylor Swift puts away childish things like pure pop clarity and scoring easy points. Her unexpected quarantine-era alliance with Aaron Dessner of the National deliberately and gorgeously blurs the crisp contours of her past songwriting. On “Folklore” she is swathed in acoustic instruments and Minimalistic patterns within patterns. And when she sings about lost love, she now admits that she shares both blame and regrets.

Fetch the Bolt Cutters

A triumph of willfulness, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” is Fiona Apple proclaiming she “won’t shut up” amid a percussive clatter she created at her home: banging on pots and pans, pushing her voice to extremes, letting her dog bark. The songs avenge and exorcise all sorts of slights and traumas, distant and recent, mixing spite with amusement. And they mutate as they go, mingling spoken words and melody and drawing at whim on rock, jazz, show tunes, choir harmonies, chants and cheers. Apple doesn’t forget or forgive; she just moves ahead. 

RTJ4

Run the Jewels — Killer Mike and El-P — uphold a worthy, now-vintage style of hip-hop, with densely and aggressively produced tracks and rhymes that are declaimed rather than moaned, for songs that address broader issues between boasts. The momentum hardly ever lets up on “RTJ4”; the problems it targets have been all too vivid in 2020.

Southside

What if the most innovative mainstream Nashville performer was also the most reverent of tradition? What if the guy who wrote great, smart party songs also excelled at devastating heartbreak anthems? What if careful, syllable-by-syllable songwriting held hands with clever concepts and intuitive, sticky melodies? What if the soft-focus blur preferred by the rest of the town didn’t make an album like this such a shock?

As always, you can find physical copies and place on hold through curbside pickup or checkout on Hoopla. 

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