This is possibly THE biggest release week of 2020. I highlight ten albums below, at least a few of which are definite year-end list contenders, and there are a handful of others that deserve your attention too, including A$AP Ferg (ft. Marilyn Manson, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, and others), Mozzy, The Menzingers, Mil-Spec, Public Enemy, Dropdead (first in 22 years), Action Bronson, Lydia Loveless, Sad13, Sylvan Esso, Uada, niice., Anna Von Hausswolff, Tim Heidecker (ft. Weyes Blood), IDLES, Chrome Waves, Googie & Henry Canyons, Nappy Roots, Joji, The Ocean, Elzhi, Will Butler (Arcade Fire), Spatial Relations (The Antlers, Port St. Willow), Hen Ogledd (Richard Dawson), A Certain Ratio, Seth Bogart, Night Shop, Maxwell Stern, Attic Salt, Ziemba, Marie Davidson & L'Œil Nu, Realize, Profligate, Roger & Brian Eno, Ghost of Vroom (Mike Doughty of Soul Coughing), the Overo/Asthenia split, The Hives live at Third Man, the deluxe edition of Lil Wayne's The Carter V, Lou Reed's expanded New York reissue, and Prince's expanded Sign o' the Times reissue.

Read on for the ten I picked and let us know your favorites in the comments...

Spillage Village - Spilligion
Dreamville/Interscope

Spillage Village is the soulful Atlanta hip hop/R&B collective featuring EarthGang, J.I.D., 6LACK, Mereba, Jurdan Bryant, Hollywood JB and Benji, who debuted in the mid 2010s with a couple increasingly good EPs and the even better 2016 full-length Bears Like This Too Much. In the time since then, 6LACK's solo career blew up, and EarthGang and J.I.D. signed to Dreamville and continued to take off, as did Mereba who signed to Interscope. With enough newfound hype behind them to reframe this collective as a "supergroup," Spillage Village returned in 2020 with "End of Daze," one of the year's best songs (and videos) so far. It's a rich, melancholic blend of rap, R&B, and soul that looks at the injustice we've seen in the news every day this year with an equal amount of anger and exhaustion. That song set the bar high for Spilligion, and now the album is here and it very much delivers. As good as the music these members have recently released individually is, Spilligion may very well be the best thing any of them have done. "End of Daze" is a great example of what to expect from this album, a genre-clashing opus that was very much made for these times. Retro meets futuristic, electronic meets organic, multi-layered harmonies meet razor-sharp rapping, and anguish meets love and hope. It's an album that won't pretend everything is gonna be alright, but that won't let itself stay down either. It's inspiring, even spiritual music, and not in a way you'd ever call cloying. The large ensemble of musicians makes for a colossal, communal sound that you just can't get from a solo artist or a small combo, and they invite in well-matched guests like Chance the Rapper, Buddy, Lucky Daye, Gallant, Dungeon Family's Big Rube, and others to add even more ingredients to the album's sonic melting pot. It's an album that feels too big to be ignored, like their underrated debut often was. If you're not listening to Spillage Village at this point, you're truly missing out on one of modern music's most talented and compelling groups.

Svalbard - When I Die, Will I Get Better?
Translation Loss/Church Road

Svalbard's last album, 2018's great It's Hard to Have Hope, was a pulverizing offering of political post-hardcore that I once called "the UK answer to Touche Amore." Even then, Svalbard had a post-rocky side, but in the two years since then, they dove head-first into that side of them, and on When I Die, Will I Get Better? they sound more like the UK answer to Envy or Deafheaven. Even that description sells them short though; When I Die is not only grander and more atmospheric on an instrumental level, it's also got the band's most accessible and melodic (and best) songs yet. It's an album that totally defies genre, touching on post-hardcore, post-rock, post-metal, screamo, and dream pop but never falling neatly into any of those categories. And like its predecessor, When I Die's breathtaking music is matched by an unflinching message that flips a middle finger to injustice and abuse. It's an album that's powerful in every sense of the word, and a massive leap from anything in the band's already-great catalog. It's been a really great year for post-hardcore, but even with so many fantastic peers, When I Die, Will I Get Better? emerges as some of the best that modern-day post-hardcore has to offer.

Deftones - Ohms
Reprise/Warner

With 'White Pony' producer Terry Date involved and with Deftones' influence resonating throughout today's underground rock scene, the anticipation for Ohms was high and it very much delivers. You can read my full review of it here.

Sufjan Stevens - The Ascension
Asthmatic Kitty

Sufjan doesn't return to things so much as he reinvents them and explores new territory in the process. That's what he did on Carrie & Lowell and it's also what he does on the new The Ascension, which you can read my full review of here.

Fleet Foxes - Shore
ANTI- Records

Robin Pecknold freely admits he let the hype surrounding his band lead to an anxiety-filled career, but as he watched the world burn this year, his personal anxieties took a backseat to global ones, and he came out with the most relaxed Fleet Foxes album yet. You can read my full review here.

Bob Mould - Blue Hearts
Merge

As we've written a handful of times (like when we included 2012's Silver Age in our list of 20 essential Merge Records releases that aren’t ‘Funeral’ or ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’), the current Bob Mould band lineup with bassist Jason Narducy (Split Single) and drummer Jon Wurster (Superchunk) is one of the most exciting combos Bob's been part of in his entire 40-year career. With Blue Hearts, he's now five albums in eight years deep with this band -- which is well past the amount of output he made with Sugar and almost as much as he made with Husker Du -- and this current era has seen him churning out the kinds of rippers that sit perfectly alongside classics from Copper Blue and Flip Your Wig, as they often do in Bob Mould's setlists at live shows. (Remember those?) Their last album, 2019's Sunshine Rock, was still cut from that same cloth but it was a little lighter and incorporated string arrangements, adding a baroque pop twist to Bob Mould's classic indie/punk sound. Since then, the world caught on fire, and Bob's now back just one year later with the angriest, hardest, most direct batch of songs he's written in a very long time. Blue Hearts opens with the acoustic "Heart On My Sleeve," a protest folk song about climate change, and from there he grabs the electric, stomps on the distortion pedal, invites Jon and Jason into the room, and delivers 13 ragers that stop at nothing to attack the politicians who are allowing the world to collapse around them. "These fuckers tried to kill me once," Bob -- an openly gay man -- says, referring to the way the AIDS epidemic was handled by the government when Husker Du was a band. "They didn't do it. They scared me. I didn't do enough. Guess what? I'm back, and we're back here again. And I'm not going to sit quietly this time and worry about alienating anyone." The music on Blue Hearts sounds as fired up as Bob does in that quote, and the result is an impassioned album that the world could really use right now. Its message is urgent, and the music sounds as inspired as Bob sounded half a lifetime ago.

BERWYN - DEMOTAPE/VEGA
Heritage

Multi-talented UK artist BERWYN is a rapper, singer, producer, and instrumentalist, and he first caught our ears when he appeared on four songs off XL Recordings co-founder Richard Russell's new Everything Is Recorded album and then again when he was commissioned to do an official remix of Headie One and Fred Again's "GANG," and his talent became even clearer when he released his debut solo single "GLORY." That song now joins ten other tracks on BERWYN's debut full-length DEMOTAPE/VEGA, which continues to make good on the promise he's been showing all year. The songs fall somewhere between the crackling R&B of early James Blake, The xx's minimal pop, and the mournful UK hip hop of someone like the aforementioned Headie One, and BERWYN sews these sounds together seamlessly and makes them his own in the process. The album can be deeply personal as well as boldly political, and in both circumstances, BERWYN's powerful delivery leaves you hanging on every word.

Moor Mother - Circuit City
Don Giovanni

Earlier this year, the poet, MC, avant-garde musician, and activist Moor Mother's free jazz group Irreversible Entanglements released the fantastic album Who Sent You?, and now all of the other members of Irreversible Entanglements (saxophonist Keir Neuringer, trumpeter Aquiles Navarro, bassist Luke Stewart, and drummer Tcheser Holmes) have joined Moor Mother and a few other musicians (Steve Montenegro, Madam Data and Elon Battle) on her new solo album, Circuit City. The album was conceived as the soundtrack to Moor Mother's theatrical production of the same name, which Moor Mother wrote "to address and eliminate systemic problems associated with the injustice of housing rights, public vs. private ownership, and technology." While Who Sent You? often sounds like it's on a journey with no particular destination in mind, Circuit City is a lot more direct. It has as much in common with a musical performance as it does with a protest rally, and like the latter, Moor Mother drills her message into your brain with repeated slogans, sending chills down your spine with each syllable. As she speaks, the band creates a stirring jazz backdrop. Moor Mother's electronic-tinged solo work is great too, but it's a real treat to hear her words come to life over something as natural and human as the music on Circuit City.

14 trapdoors - Eileen
Hitmaker Music Group

Griselda has been putting Buffalo rap on the map lately but they’re not the only exciting rap group coming out of that city right now. 14 trapdoors is the trio of rapper/producers Short Moscato, Wza and Bendyface, and their new album Eileen is yet another fine Buffalo rap album. It was entirely produced by frequent Griselda collaborator Camoflauge Monk and it features Griselda's Benny the Butcher, Benny's Black Soprano Family groupmate Rick Hyde, Detroit-based Griselda signee Boldy James, and another '90s-obsessed Buffalo rapper, Che Noir (who recently released a great Apollo Brown-produced album) -- as well as Smoke DZA, Skyzoo, Royce Da 5'9", and more -- but 14 trapdoors aren't just another group of Griselda soundalikes. They've got a much more abstract, third-eye-open style that recalls early 2000s alt-rap like Deltron 3030 and the Def Jux crew or more modern psych-rap like Flatbush Zombies. When they clash with the colder, harder sound of artists like Benny, Boldy, and Che, it makes for a thrilling meeting of the minds, and Camoflauge Monk knows exactly how to sew it all together. Eileen is already their third project of 2020, and if you listen to all of it, it seems like they're only getting better and further diversifying their sound.

Thurston Moore - By the Fire
Daydream Library

Bob Mould isn't the only Our Band Could Be Your Life-r with a new album out today; Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore has got one too. Thurston recorded some of the album with The Thurston Moore Group -- his former Sonic Youth bandmate Steve Shelley on drums, My Bloody Valentine's Deb Googe on bass and backing vocals, and James Sedwards on guitar -- along with contributions from Wobbly (aka Jon Leidecker of Negativland) on electronics and Jem Doulton on drums, and he did some tracks solo with just guitar and vocals. He actually finished it in March, just as the pandemic was escalating on a global scale, and though nobody has any idea when he'll be able to take it on tour, he says he wanted to make sure he got it out in 2020. "By The Fire is music in flames. 2020 is our time for radical change and collective awareness," read a statement from Thurston and Daydream Library accompanying the album. "This recording offers songs as flames of rainbow energy, where the power of love becomes our call. These are love songs in a time where creativity is our dignity, our demonstration against the forces of oppression." It's no surprise that the guy who co-wrote "Youth Against Fascism" in 1992 would have an album for these times, and even though it was written before chaos fully ensued, we were already on the brink of it, so it's no surprise that Thurston's message resonates so strongly now. Musically, By the Fire reminds me of Sonic Youth's Washing Machine / A Thousand Leaves era. It's still a rock album, but it's heavy on lengthy, meditative jams like those albums were, and Thurston still knows how to hypnotize like few others. Sonic Youth may have broken up almost a decade ago, but their unparalleled style lives on through the members' prolific, consistently great solo careers, and By the Fire is the latest album to prove that these musicians never cease to amaze.

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