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U92 Year-End Review: The Best Albums of 2020 (10-6)

10. Okay Kaya - Watch This Liquid Pour Itself (Jagjaguwar)

Just from the cover, you could probably guess that “Watch This Liquid Pour Itself” by Okay Kaya probably won’t be your run of the mill singer/songwriter album. Said cover presents this naturalistic, green tinted, night-vision photograph of the singer (real name Kaya Wilkins) with a sort of blank look of curiosity on her face, as though she is an animal studying another creature for signs that they may be a threat. This pointed imagery ends up being the perfect parallel for an album whose most consistent themes are anxiety, longing, confusion, and, most crucially, isolation. Wilkins writing here is immediately idiosyncratic, from the vulgar first lines of opener “Baby Little Tween” (“I ride the mood, baby little tween, mood riding, riding on your d**k”) to strange but genuinely heartfelt metaphors like those heard on “Symbiosis” (“I can be algae, you can be fungi, we’ll call it symbiosis, it’s a trade off baby”). Between the sex jam for people who aren’t into sex, the upbeat ditty about life in the psych ward, and the closer which finds Kaya alone (well, with her parasite) in the zero-interaction ramen bar, the songs here are humorous and surreal but never in a way that’s insincere or detached. On this record, Okay Kaya creates a unique and timely listen about the necessity for human social interaction even when such things freak you out. Speaking personally as an introvert living in the year 2020, it hits close to home. - Griffin McMorrow

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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

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U92 Year-End Review: The Best Albums of 2020 (20-16)

20. Sufjan Stevens - The Ascension (Asthmatic Kitty)

On this highly anticipated release from one of the most celebrated songwriters of his generation, Sufjan Stevens comes back after a five year gap (not including collaborative projects like “Aporia” and “The Decalogue”) to deliver one of the most immensely cathartic and gargantuan musical experiences this year has had to offer. Acting somewhat as a spiritual successor to his fan favorite record “The Age of Adz," this record is a deeply introspective album that sees Stevens tackle faith, career, love, idolization, and a myriad of other topics. These themes are brought to the forefront with some career-highlight writing from Stevens. Meanwhile, his return to electronic and synthetic composition provides an ethereal canvas to each and every track. While sharing fundamental similarities to the formerly mentioned “Age of Adz," the synthetic makeup here is approached with a cynical and pessimistic edge that bolsters Stevens’ performances. Yet again Sufjan Stevens delivers an emotionally cathartic (dare I say cinematic?) experience that proves to be one of the best comebacks of 2020. - Tristen Rodriguez

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U92 Year-End Review: The Best Albums of 2020 (25-21)

25. Bright Eyes - Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was (Dead Oceans)

On “Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was,” Bright Eyes takes many sonic cues, including mid-2000s rock, the orchestral flourishes of power-pop, ragtime, and a hint of glam rock to top off the indie ballads for which the band is known. The result is a reflective album that feels both mature and fresh. There’s a nihilistic mention of some of the worst parts of life delivered through infectious melodies, yet there’s rarely a brooding moment. Instead there's often a determination to meet the challenges head on despite the cruelty of it all. This is perhaps best embodied in tracks like “Dance and Sing” and lead single “Mariana Trench." Overall this is a rather bombastic album from the veteran group with a Phil-Spector-like quality to it that often manages to be frivolous and fun to listen to despite the weight of its themes and lyricism. - Mason Lee

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U92 Year-End Review: The Best Albums of 2020 (30-26)

We continue our series in records from 2020 that made an unbearable year slightly less so, featuring a group from North Carolina, a rising voice in pop music, and music that frames internet toxicity. 

30. Wednesday - I Tried Describing You to Someone (Ordinal Records)

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Welcome to Wireless Online

If you are a long-time listener of U92, you will likely have some familiarity with the station's long-running on-again-off-again mini-zine, Wireless. 

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