Country Perspective’s Top 10 Other Genre Albums of 2020

Country Perspective will be posting multiple best of albums lists this year to recognize the staggering amount of high quality album releases in 2020. It will ultimately conclude with Country Perspective’s Top 10 Albums of 2020, which will reflect all genres and crown this blog’s top award, Album of the Year.

Today I take a look at the top ten albums from all other genres in 2020. So this list was a bit of a crapshoot. As you can see before this list I had no problem formulating lists for country, hip hop and pop. Then I was left with a bunch of albums scattered across multiple genres and not enough in any of those categories to make a long enough list for each. Not to mention determining the genre that some of these albums felt like a rather pointlessly tiresome exercise. At the end of the day I don’t concern myself much with this anymore and just focus on if the music is good or not. So rather than just forego putting them on any list, I decided to make a list of the best of the rest outside of the three genres aforementioned. The whole point of these smaller lists is to cover more artists and specific niches, while also showcasing the variety of great albums talked about on this blog through 2020. Just throwing up my top ten albums of the year didn’t feel like it was wide-reaching enough. So on this list you’ll find R&B, indie, alternative, rock and more. Without further ado, here are Country Perspective’s Top 10 Other Genre Albums of 2020:

10. DUCKWRTH — SuperGood

Smooth, slick and funky are the three best words to describe this album. If you’re looking for lyrical prowess, this album won’t have it. Not to say the lyrics are bad. They’re solid, yet unspectacular as most of the lyrics deal with love and enjoying the party. But if you’re looking for some smooth beats, this album is overflowing with them. This is an album to move to and sing along with on a Saturday night. While it’s listed as hip-hop, this is far from a straight hip-hop record. No, I would describe this more along the lines of Tyler the Creator’s IGOR. This album is very much genre fluid, an enjoyable blend of hip-hop, R&B, soul, pop and disco. While I was a big fan of DUCKWRTH’s earlier material that was edgier and had an almost rock flavor to them, it’s clear this sound seems to suit him best.

9. CeeLo Green — CeeLo Green is Thomas Callaway

Dan Auerbach, David Ferguson and Easy Eye Sound just continue to churn out quality albums. CeeLo Green is known for such hits like “Crazy” as part of Gnarls Barkley and “Forget You” as a solo artist. But this album is much different than his popular material, as the glitz and glamour is all stripped away in favor of more subtle and smooth sounds. It’s an enjoyable mix of R&B, soul, pop, gospel and even some country. Many have described Green as a chameleon-like performer and I think this album exemplifies this more than any of his others. Green’s voice really excels in the more dramatic songs, as his dynamic voice can add the right amount of tension to build up the lyrics. If you’re into soul music or enjoy Green’s voice, this album is definitely worth your time.

8. The Mavericks — En Español 

This is definitely one of those times where I wish I had taken more Spanish classes. I know some of the language, but unfortunately not enough to understand and appreciate the lyrics of this album. So I can only analyze the other elements of this album and they’re top level as always from the eclectic and dynamic group. The instrumentation is flamboyant, colorful and vibrant, a beautiful mixture of country, pop, Tex Mex and a whole lot more. Raul Malo still has one of the best voices in music, as it still sounds as flawless as ever. So based on the two elements of this album I can understand, this is another great album from The Mavericks.

7. Khruangbin — Mordechai 

I find it difficult to get into instrumental music most of the time and even harder to review it. But Khruangbin is easily an exception to this rule. I had never heard of this group until their excellent collaborative Texas Sun EP with Leon Bridges earlier this year. I’m so glad I found them, as I’ve now listened to their entire catalog after hearing the EP. Even better that they’ve dropped even more music with new album Mordechai. While I wouldn’t put it at the level of their great, southwestern-flavored 2018 album Con Todo El Mundo, this album is another pretty damn good record from the trio. This album centers mostly around a groovy, psychedelic funk sound with tinges of disco and jam pop mixed in at times. The band also surprises by mixing in some vocals on this record and they actually work pretty well. Most importantly they don’t detract from the hypnotic sounds of the band, which will always be the focus and strength of the group. If you’re looking for a relaxing album, you will be hard-pressed to find one more chill than this one this year.

6. John Moreland — LP5

LP5 is another fantastic album from John Moreland. He’s always been a great songwriter since his first album, but it’s the recognition to grow and experiment with his sound starting with his last album that’s taken him to a whole new level in my mind. Too many singer-songwriter artists think they have to stick to a stripped-down, folk-y sound for their lyrics to be taken seriously. At the same time, drum machines are dismissed as “not real instruments” used by pop stars. Well with LP5, Moreland proves both these claims to be moot.

5. Tame Impala — The Slow Rush

The Slow Rush sees Tame Impala once again delivers a memorably great album. But it’s also hard not to see this album is a few missteps away from equaling the brilliance of Currents. It lacks focus in a few spots and there’s one song that just isn’t needed. But this is also a bit nitpicking admittedly. The production from Kevin Parker is once again deeply rich and textured, engulfing you with it’s fantastic details. The songwriting mostly hits and the hooks are some of the best from Parker. You really couldn’t ask for much more from an album like The Slow Rush.

4. AC/DC — POWER UP

POWER UP showcases this group at their best. There’s anthemic, blaring riffs, strong hooks and powerful vocals. This record is a fantastic swan song and a perfect way for a legendary band to take their final bow. The entire band is on their A game and you couldn’t ask for better performances from these guys. I’ve seen some say this one of the group’s best albums and I can absolutely buy this argument. Personally I wouldn’t put it in my top three, but maybe top five. Regardless, I find this album to be quite poetic. Everybody thought this group was done when Bon Scott passed, but then they made their career-defining album in Back In Black. And everybody again thought they were done when Malcolm Young passed amidst other group issues. But once again they have surpassed expectations and made a damn great album.

3. Sturgill Simpson — Cuttin’ Grass – Volume 1

Now I expected this album to be good. Sturgill Simpson’s love and appreciation for bluegrass has always shined through. But man I did not expect this album to be this good. The melody on this album is so damn infectious, making old songs sound completely new and giving real vibrancy to his previously unrecorded Sunday Valley songs. Simpson is clearly in his element on Cuttin’ Grass – Vol. 1. He takes to bluegrass like a duck takes to water. Who knows what direction he will go on his fifth and supposedly final studio album and who knows when he’ll release Volume 2 of Cuttin’ Grass. In a tumultuous year, the best thing to do is sit back and enjoy this wonderful surprise from Simpson.

2. Tennis — Swimmer

With Swimmer, Tennis delivers an excellent album about love. It’s quickly became one of my favorite love albums. And this isn’t rash hyperbole on my end. I’m being serious when I say that this album truly delivers a heartfelt, genuine and truly touching take on true love. Love albums and love song are an absolute dime-a-dozen. They’re churned out every day. Most only focus on the surface level of love and the flip-side with heartbreak. What they don’t ever seem to focus on are the little things, the nitty gritty of relationships that aren’t easy to convey in an informative and interesting way. But that takes brilliant songwriting with equally high-quality production that aids it. Tennis delivers this.

1. The Weeknd — After Hours

After Hours is a phenomenal achievement by The Weeknd. This album is a rich, cinematic experience of love, losing it, fighting to regain it and ultimately reaching the realistic conclusion of realizing that it’s lost. The production team absolutely nails every emotion on this album and takes the lyricism to a whole new level. The juxtaposition of the breezy, mixed cocktail of genres (R&B, pop, hip-hop, dream pop, 80s) feels perfect on this album of frenetic, dark emotions that permeate throughout it. This is without a doubt one of the best albums of 2020.

Album Review — Tennis’ ‘Swimmer’

I have to admit I wasn’t that familiar with the husband-wife duo of Tennis before hearing their new album Swimmer. I had heard of Tennis in passing and a few songs here and there. And man I wish I had listened to the music of Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley sooner. But I picked a great album to start with, as Swimmer is one of the most beautiful albums I’ve heard on love in the modern era. I like to think of this album as a more grown-up version of Country Perspective’s top album of 2020, Carly Rae Jepsen’s Dedicated. Swimmer though is very much in the dream pop lane, taking influences from twee pop, soft rock and yacht rock too.

Soft and rolling piano plays in opener “I’ll Haunt You.” It’s a song about confessional, professing love. The instrumentation gives it an appropriately hypnotic feel and is a good introduction of what you can expect through this album. I really enjoy the bouncy snare drum that interplays throughout “Need Your Love.” Tennis makes an excellent choice in speeding up the pace when Moore is protesting her lover, yet the melody immediately slows down once she admits she needs his love. This really gives a good sense into the divided mindset of someone who loves someone but is also living in doubt with them at the same time, as both the words and sounds play perfectly off each other.

“How to Forgive” is about disguising how you feel around the person you love and being consumed by the questions in your head about the relationship. “How could I disguise the way that I’m feeling?/I’ve got my reasons, I could give you a million/I’d move on if I could only remember/All that it takes is just an act of surrender” are the money lines that really drive home the mood of this song. That very last line in particular gives such an insightful glimpse into the fear of giving one’s self up to another in a relationship and letting go of that control. Moore’s delivery of these lines really drives the emotion of them across.

“Runner” focuses on the raw passion of the relationship, going down to the beads of sweat that are running down their necks. Once again I have to praise how the production shifts so appropriately with the changing moods within the song, going more methodical and relaxing when Moore is reflecting on the passion, and then the pace shifts to a more frenetic, escalating excitement when she starts to exclaim over the sweat that pours out of her. With this kind of synchronization between the words and production of the song, it makes it instantly connectable with such a vivid picture being painted in my head.

“Echoes” and “Swimmer” are two songs that need to be discussed together for two reasons. For one I couldn’t really discern what exactly they were about, but I’m glad it forced me to actually read what Moore said about writing these songs because the inspiration behind them are the kind of stories I like to hear about from songwriters. That leads me to the second point of why these two songs should be discussed together and that’s because they each center around death.

“Echoes” is about Moore suffering a seizure in a grocery store, leading her husband Riley to believe she was dead at first. Moore also described the ordeal as an out of body experience and how after she came to later that it strengthened their bond even more. “Swimmer” is about the couple spreading the ashes of Riley’s father in the ocean and Moore observing the dichotomy of the sadness of them spreading his ashes versus looking back at the shore and seeing people laughing and having a good time. The message ultimately both songs convey is how reflecting on mortality can cause one to have greater appreciation for your loved ones; out of sadness can come happiness, strength and a greater awareness. It is death that gives life such meaning and therefore love too. You can’t get any stronger songwriting than this.

“Tender as a Tomb” immediately invites you in with it’s warm and tropical sound. It’s a song that gets lost in the overwhelming joy one can experience when in love, engulfing themselves in the emotion, casting away all reason and doubt in the process. “Late Night” features some really clever songwriting around a biblical reference: “Like Mary Magdalene, I’m on my knees again/But if you see me as a saint/You’d be mistaken/Late night turning into morning blue/It took such a long time to make up my own mind about you.” It not only describes her surrendering herself to the sexual pleasure of this relationship, but the emotional aspect too. She’s both literally and figuratively giving herself up to her love. It’s gripping and fantastic songwriting by Moore and Riley.

The album closes with “Matrimony II,” an excellent choice to end with, as it kind of reflects on everything that this album covers, leading to the ultimate act of love: marriage. It goes over the vows and how she changed her name for him, how all these little acts and feelings slowly built up to this moment of true love. What impresses me how well this is expressed in the lyrics without “going Hallmark” or overly cliché. Matched with an equally happy sounding melody, this song makes you leave the album with a smile. I know I did.

With Swimmer, Tennis delivers an excellent album about love. It’s quickly became one of my favorite love albums. And this isn’t rash hyperbole on my end. I’m being serious when I say that this album truly delivers a heartfelt, genuine and truly touching take on true love. Love albums and love song are an absolute dime-a-dozen. They’re churned out every day. Most only focus on the surface level of love and the flip-side with heartbreak. What they don’t ever seem to focus on are the little things, the nitty gritty of relationships that aren’t easy to convey in an informative and interesting way. But that takes brilliant songwriting with equally high-quality production that aids it. Tennis delivers this.

Grade: 10/10

Album Review — Kishi Bashi’s ‘Omoiyari’

One of the best kept secrets in music today is Kishi Bashi. I stumbled upon him by accident with his last album Sonderlust, an album that grabbed my attention and refused to let go. With his new album Omoiyari, he does just the same. Opening track “Penny Rabbit and Summer Bear” feels so sweet and summery, as Bashi shows off his amazing violin skills. Yet the song is about lovers separated by the ocean and war. You see the album centers around the stories of the Japanese-Americans who were unfairly placed in internment camps in the United States when WWII broke out. And this song is really a microcosm of the songs on this album: so happy sounding, yet the subjects of the song are the exact opposite.

“F Delano” is what you think it is when you listen to it closely: it’s saying fuck President Franklin Roosevelt, who ordered the Japanese-Americans into internment camps. It’s pretty funny to hear a song centered around dissing a dead president, but in this case there’s a justified level of seriousness. Bashi appropriately ends the song asking you the listener to be the final judge of Roosevelt’s actions: “Was he right?/Innocence without a proper fight?”

“Marigolds” has one of the beautiful openings to a song I’ve heard in some time. The plucky and smooth sounds of the string section gives the song a heavenly, floating-like feeling that you really just need to hear for yourself. I can’t do it justice. The song is about a man yearning to know the woman he loves years before the war, when times were simpler and happier and they could live the life together he envisions in his dreams. I particularly love the delivery from Bashi on the line “I want to fall off the edge with you,” as it show that urgency and passion of the love expressed in the song.

“A Song for You” is about a man vowing that all the fighting he’s doing in the war is for his love. But it’s implied that she passed before he could reunite, as he could never send that photograph that was always meant for her. I really enjoy the guitar licks in the bridge, as they’re well-placed and gives the song a nice punch. ”

“Angeline” features some of the best lyrics on the album, as they not only do a great job of telling the story, but the emotions of despair and wanting of a man who was basically arrested for being a Japanese-American and sentenced to work in a mine for seven years. All the while he’s separated from his woman, Angeline. The best lines of this song make you not only picture, but feel what this man is suffering: “Seven year until I’m free, workin’ off this prison fee/My fingers smell like kerosene in a mine in Tennessee/Every day I hold my breath, every hour I wish for death/Angeline, she’s settled west away from Tennessee.”

“Summer of ’42” once again showcases how great of a violinist Kishi Bashi is, with the epic, rising sounds of the violin constantly building through the song. It’s a song recalling the lost love of a past summer and the passion shared by the couple. It’s probably the happiest track on the album, as I find it impossible to not feel happy listening to it. The lyrics and the sound just come together so satisfyingly well. What a beautiful song, but then again I feel like a broken record saying that with the songs on this album.

“Theme from Jerome (Forgotten Words)” has a dark and menacing open that gives way to a subdued and somber tone. Bashi sings part of this song in Japanese (also part of “Violin Tsunami”) and it’s a nice and fitting moment on this album. “A Meal for Leaves” is an instrumental track, so I really don’t have anything to say other than it fits the rest of the album in terms of sound.  “Violin Tsumani” is what the name implies: Kishi Bashi gives us a shit ton of violin on this song and with his skills on the violin, this makes for a fantastic song. No offense to Bashi’s songwriting on this track, but I kind of ignore it and get lost in the violin play. This song shows why he’s one of the best violinists you’ll hear in music today.

The final song on the album is “Annie, Heart Thief of the Sea” and it’s basically a folk country song. I could easily picture Old Crow Medicine Show singing this. The song is about a man finally being free after the war, but his heart his broken because his wife has long been dead and now she’s forever taken his heart as a result. It’s a catchy and fun to singalong with, but also a tragic, yet beautiful profession of love that tugs at the heart strings. It’s a fantastic song that encapsulates the album and the artistry of Bashi.

Omoiyari is a wonderful album full of beautiful lyrics and sounds that cover an important topic in American history that more people show know about. Why Kishi Bashi is not more covered by music journalists I’ll never know, but this music reviewer is telling you that if you have not heard the music of Kishi Bashi, you need to do so.

Grade: 9/10

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6QgbhA8sNM&list=PLoB11Z8A5Nz9DOAiKaVqnJ3RlHDfHy8om