This Kentucky singer-songwriter’s debut, Old Time Feeling, was my favorite album of 2020, and she captured my heart once again with her second record. This one is more of a rock album, as Goodman plays with a terrific group, often sounding like a talented bar band playing in a backwoods roadhouse. (At least, that’s how I picture it.) Another critic mentioned “shoegaze” when describing Goodman’s music, which struck me as a peculiar choice of musical terms. But I understand where that idea came from: There are times when Goodman and her backing band get into a groove, repeating a riff as if hypnotized or reveling in the waves of sound. A similar intensity and focus come through in Goodman’s voice, evoking the mountain music of her home state as well as its deeper roots in British folk. Goodman’s lyrics are poetic and passionate. I enjoyed hearing her conversation with Marc Maron on his WTF podcast, and then when she performed a top-notch show at Schubas, her strong personality was on display during her delightful storytelling in between the songs. The centerpiece of this album is a pair of haunting tracks, “If You Were Someone I Loved” and “You Were Someone I Loved.” Or is it one song divided into two parts? Together, they form a moving plea for empathy—and a demand to help neighbors and friends who are in crisis and despair.
Versions of Modern Performance
I find it thrilling to hear young people here in Chicago (in this case, a trio of young women) making vital new music with instruments that might seem almost old-fashioned and out of style: guitars and drums. Horsegirl’s music sounds a bit like old post-punk, but there’s a fresh quality to this combination of catchy vocal melodies, absurdist lyrics, and surging, swelling guitars—as well as the record’s moody interludes, featuring simple piano and ambient touches of art rock. As the album title suggests, these are versions of how rock music can be performed today. It doesn’t all have to sound like slick pop music. Horsegirl offers further evidence that the kids really are all right.
In These Times
This is the best new jazz music I’ve heard in ages. Now, I must confess that I don’t listen to nearly as much new jazz as I should, so take that proclamation with a grain of salt. But this album confirms that Makaya McCraven, a Chicago drummer and producer who has dabbled in hip-hop and other styles of music, is an outstanding composer and arranger. The textures and moods shift from track to track, but every song is evocative and memorable. While working on other projects over the past seven years, McCraven saved up some of his best original compositions for this album, and it shows. I love it from beginning to end.
The Boys With the Perpetual Nervousness
The Third Wave of…
This Scottish-Spanish duo makes perfectly executed power pop, very reminiscent of bands like Teenage Fanclub, with chiming guitars and lovely harmony vocals. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, but it’s really catchy.
Angel Olsen hasn’t abandoned her roots as a folk singer, but she continues evolving and exploring. On this album, she sounds more soulful than ever, channeling grief and personal discovery into emotionally powerful songs.
Before he died in February, Dallas Good wrote a description of his band’s latest album, commenting: “The Sadies don’t really fit tidily into any genre, or even sub-genre. We aren’t really ‘pre or post’ anything and we don’t have the right hair-cuts or hats for any particular scene. Can’t really call us modern or retro either. We certainly don’t claim to have re-invented the wheel. We just are. And have been for a very long time. So, all that matters is the music itself.” On Colder Streams, the Sadies stuck with their tried-and-true formula. And they succeeded once again, crafting yet another collection of great songs. Although his vocals were as understated as ever, Dallas had a gift for delivering a memorable melody with seemingly no effort. And as always, it was a joy to hear his guitar riffs intertwined with those of his brother, Travis. I mourned Dallas Good’s death while listening to Colder Streams, struck by lyrics such as: “When I search for answers, questions are all I find.” But think of this album is a celebration of great music, not an epitaph.
Ever since Nora O’Connor’s wonderful album Til the Dawn was released in 2004, I’d been hoping she would record another one. In the meantime, I saw her perform many times with the Flat Five or as a solo artist or as a guest with other musicians. My hopes finally came true this year, and her new record lived up to my expectations: a beautiful set of alt-country, Americana, and pop music with a bit of a 1970s West Coast vibe (via Chicago, of course).
That beautiful voice, singing another set of beautiful songs. Louisville singer-songwriter Joan Shelley has expanded her sound, moving beyond acoustic guitar and fleshing out her arrangements with a full band, sometimes substituting piano for guitar. But the tunes still sound like Joan Shelley, with a soothing stillness at their core.
Oneida sometimes makes experimental and almost abstract music, but the band is as direct as ever on this album, which is filled with punchy rock songs, guitar riffs, propulsive drumming, and catchy melodies. It’s one of the long-running cult band’s most accessible records.
In recent years, Jeff Tweedy released some solo albums, as well as records by a band he called Tweedy. His latest album with Wilco feels like a hybrid of his solo work and the full band: The songs are mostly rooted in acoustic guitar, but Wilco’s masterful musicians add many grace notes as they flesh out the arrangements on live takes in the Loft studio. Wilco has been making good albums all along, but this is the best in a while, with
Tweedy returning to his alt-country roots for a big batch of 21 memorable songs.
Runners-up, in alphabetical order:
Arcade Fire, We
Big Thief, Dragon Warm New Mountain I Believe in You
Andrew Bird, Inside Problems
Bitchin Bajas, Bajascillators
Naima Bock, Giant Palm
Nora Brown, Long Time to Be Gone
Bill Callahan, YTILAER
Ceramic Animal, Sweet Unknown
Cola, Deep in View
Crystal Eyes, The Sweetness Restored
Dehd, Blue Skies
Drive-By Truckers, Welcome 2 Club XIII
Guided By Voices, Tremblers and Goggles by Rank
I Was a King, Follow Me Home
Julia Jacklin, Pre Pleasure
Damien Jurado, Reggae Film Star
Cate Le Bon, Pompeii
MJ Lenderman, Boat Songs
Cass McCombs, Heartmind
Mdou Moctar, Niger EP Vol. 2
Kevin Morby, This Is a Photograph
Nina Nastasia, Riderless Horse
Partner Look, By the Book
Plains, I Walked With You a Ways
Porridge Radio, Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky
Ty Segall, “Hello, Hi”
The Smile, A Light for Attracting Attention
Kelley Stoltz, The Stylist
Kelley Stoltz, Transnational Series Volume 1 (EP)
Superchunk, Wild Loneliness
Sharon Van Etten, We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong
Spiritualized, Everything Was Beautiful
Spoon, Lucifer on the Sofa
Laura Veirs, Found Light
Wet Leg, Wet Leg
Weyes Blood, And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow