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U92 Year-End Review: The Best Albums of 2020 (15-11)

15. The Soft Pink Truth - Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase? (Thrill Jockey)

“Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase?” by The Soft Pink Truth is the latest album from Drew Daniel who otherwise acts as one one half of electronic duo Matmos. One of the most joyful projects to come out this year, this album acted as a respite for me and many others who listened, I'm sure. The project began as a response to the rise of far-right authoritarianism and neofascism around the globe, including in Daniel’s home country. Instead of an angry reaction, the music was created as a way to spread joy and a sense of community for those who suffer under oppressive systems. A highly collaborative effort (similar to the Matmos release from this year), this album pulls the listener in with moments of mystery and true bliss without ever reaching any emotional lows. Meant as an album in two acts (Shall We Go On Sinning/ So That Grace May Increase), the moods present a swing from dreamlike ambience to grooving techno and dance inducing R&B, the project is in constant motion. Acoustic instruments aplenty lead to a light atmosphere, all leading up to the final sonic and emotional climax of penultimate track “Grace." As a well formulated and flowing piece of music, “Shall We Go On Sinning…” provided me with many a blissful escape during what has been the most drab year of my existence. - Anthony Wells

14. Ka - Descendents of Cain (Iron Works Records)
Ka - Descendants of Cain
A subdued and magnificent odyssey of consciousness and reflection, "Descendants of Cain" is super imposed by a collection of harrowingly beautiful beats. The album effortlessly achieves to be a captivating and introspective window into the early life of rapper Ka (real name Kaseem Ryan) while growing up in the neighborhood of Brownsville in Brooklyn. Ka weaves his tumultuous story with references, samples, snippets, and references to the biblical tragedy of Cain and Abel. Ka here continues to showcase his impeccable poetry with a limitless repertoire of ear grabbing bars that rightfully puts him in the conversation as one of hip hop’s best rappers, both in the contemporary landscape and of all time. Ka has created something truly special here and in turn has my personal vote for the best hip hop album this year and possibly best album of the year in general. And for those who are as of yet unfamiliar with this artist, do yourself a favor and listen to this and delve into the rest of his discography; you won’t regret it. - Tristen Rodriguez

13. Billy Woods & Moor Mother - BRASS (Backwoodz Studios)
Billy Woods & Moore Mother - Brass
Billy Woods and Moor Mother, fresh off of collaborating on Armand Hammer’s critically acclaimed Shrines earlier this year, released this latest album BRASS just three weeks before the year was over and properly wrecked my personal “Best-Of” list. While Woods has been busy in his own right (releasing two incredible collaborative albums this year), experimental musician and poet Moor Mother simply cannot sit still. This is one of over half a dozen releases from her throughout 2020, and the range and consistency she brings to each project is absolutely astonishing. I would feel comfortable putting any of them in this position. Nonetheless, BRASS has won my favor hands down. The chemistry between the two artists on this record is remarkable. Moor Mother raps with a vengeance and is absolutely relentless with her lines, while Billy Woods is more measured but matches her step for step. The topics are par for the course for both parties, talking on race and life (inseparable for both) throughout the album, but with a new voracity and freshness. An extensive list of features including John Forte, ELUCID, Franklin James Fisher (Algiers), Navy Blue, and Fielded. Overall, the sound is dark and consuming. A close friend of mine described it as "subdued but unsettling, creating a sense of uneasiness that pairs with the feeling that the album is one long piece without much forward movement in each song." I wish I could say more about this album, but given the short amount of time I’ve been able to spend with it, all I can say is that it’s a necessary listen for anyone even mildly interested in underground hip hop. These are two unstoppable forces at top form.
[TL;DR this album is fr*ckin bonkers pls listen :)] - Anthony Wells

12. Cindy Lee - What's Tonight to Eternity (W. 25th/Superior Viaduct)
Cindy Lee - What's Tonight to Eternity
“What’s Tonight to Eternity” is the fifth album by Cindy Lee, the solo musical project and drag persona of Patrick Flegel, who formerly fronted the legendary Canadian indie rock band Women. Lee blends dreamy, vintage-sounding pop crooning with an instrumental palate that is equal parts haunting and hypnotic. Reverb-laden, watery, and ice-cold production maintain this eerie atmosphere throughout the album’s nine tracks, but the appearances of piercing guitars, swelling synth lines, dramatic strings, and spooky harpsichord underscore Cindy Lee’s sonic and emotional range alongside lyrics that touch on love, abuse, revenge, mourning, and religious imagery. In “I Want You to Suffer," one of the records most seminal tracks, confessional lyrics are accompanied alternatingly by foot-tapping 1960's pop bliss and cathartic, ear-splitting noise. This sonic balancing act is representative of the rest of the track list. The stilted slow dance sound of “One Second to Toe the Line” and the sublime and emotive dream pop of “Just for Loving You I Pay the Price” beckon the listener to get lost in the sound, but moments like the chilling spoken word outro of “Lucifer Stand” and the noisy guitars of “Speaking from Above” once again position them face-to-face with the sobering darkness of this record. Overall, "What’s Tonight to Eternity" is a musical feat and easily my personal favorite release of 2020. - Noah Spencer

11. Charli XCX - how i'm feeling now (Warner Records UK)
Charlie XCX - how i'm feeling now
Here Charli XCX follows up last year's self-titled hyperpop masterpiece with what may go down as the defining album of life in quarantine. Announced, written, and recorded entirely within a matter of weeks, “how i’m feeling now” was made with a small team of close friends and producers, making the record a far cry from Charli’s collaboration focused previous effort. The project does maintain much of the sound Charli had been working with since 2016s “Vroom Vroom”, however, here it feels like a far cry from the club ready bangers of the past; these tracks feel more personal and intimate as Charli makes good on the titles promise and gives listeners an unfiltered peek into how she was feeling just a few months into quarantine, making for a uniquely personal pop album. Perhaps, the best single example of this albums timely strengths comes with the track “c2.0," a remix of previously release standout track “Click.” That song was about rolling up to the club with your friends, feeling confident and badass. In “c2.0,” Charli reminisces on those times with her “clique” ending the track with the repeated hook “I miss them, I miss them, I miss them” if that doesn’t sum up life in quarantine, I don’t know what does. - Griffin McMorrow

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