10 stellar albums that rocked 2020

Terrible times, great art. The cliche sadly and wonderfully lived up to its promise on these 10 albums that dominated my speakers in 2020.
 
Anjimile. (Photo by Leah Corbett)
“Giver Taker,” Anjimile 
A set of songs melted and molded together in a crucible, Boston-via-Texas artist Anjimile wrote much of this record during recovery after struggles with alcohol and while coming to terms with identifying as a trans, nonbinary person. The results range from deeply dark to shot through with joy on tracks that sometimes stand alone as introspective folk and sometimes layer that folk with electronica washes or snaking guitar lines.
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Sadie Dupuis. Photo by Natalie Piserchio, courtesy artist management
“Haunted Painting,” Sad13
Sadie Dupuis loves pop. The singer-songwriter-guitarist who records as Sad13 when not working with her Northampton-based band Speedy Ortiz also knows life is a hellscape of chaos and cruelty. These two things — sweet-as-candy bits and the madness of our modern moment — come together with purpose here: menace mixed with bits of discotheque dance music, power pop, twee indie and just the right amount of noise rock.
“Jump Rope Gazers,” the Beths
This album from the New Zealand heroes has all the hooks and pop of “Haunted Painting” but skips noise rock in favor of double the power pop. Imagine if a young Cheap Trick got fuzzed out and had some legit pain to write about.
Pearl Jam’s, “Gigaton.” Photo from pearljam.com
“Gigaton,” Pearl Jam
How about a Pearl Jam & Beths & Sad13 tour in 2021? Saying an artist’s new record is “a return to form” and “boundary pushing” is generally meaningless music critic frabba jabba. But here’s how it works on “Gigaton”: Album opener “Who Ever Said” could have kicked off 1993’s “Vs.” if not for a bridge that begins with cool contemplation and ends with an expected, necessary crescendo of rock guitar; “Dance of the Clairvoyants” also recalls the band’s commercial peak while dipping into indie rock disco.
“Shamir,” Shamir 
The remarkably prolific 25-year-old artist already released a beast of an album early in 2020 — garage and alt rock record “Cataclysm.” In the fall, the self-titled “Shamir” arrived with a sound that flirted with mainstream pop. But, even as he tallies up synths and earworm choruses, he keeps the weirdness of his past work.
Boston hip-hop artist Jazzmyn Red. Photo by Katii Tornick, courtesy of artist
“REDvolution,” Jazzmyn Red
On this new EP, Boston’s very own Jazzmyn Red delivers a history lesson, sermon on justice and set of bold hooks. It can be intense. It can also be buoyant, defiant, forward-looking and wonderfully catchy as on empowerment anthem “We Gon Make It.”
“Emily Wolfe,” Emily Wolfe
Emily Wolfe is a guitar hero. The Austin-raised musician has a distinct, modern style mined from classic influences and full of subtle shredding and overdriven squall. But Wolfe is a songwriter first. Exhibit A: Wolfe smartly, passionately slams the patriarchy on “Holy Roller,” a track equal parts garage rock and club banger.
The Ballroom Thieves – Calin “Callie” Peters (vocals, cello, bass), Martin Earley (vocals, guitar), and Devin Mauch (vocals, percussion)Courtesy photo
“Unlovely,” the Ballroom Thieves 
On its third LP, the Stonehill College-born trio returns to past sounds (Laurel Canyon rock, Celtic folk, the tiniest flirtation with ’70s metal) and pushed forward with, well, so much: heaps of hot soul horns, raging guitar lines, pure pop melodies, vocals from Motown, gospel and doo-wop traditions, love and anger, politics and personal stories, homages to “Mr. Sandman” and the White Stripes, songs for Mavis Staples fans and New Pornographer devotees and “American Beauty” disciples.
“Lianne La Havas,” Lianne La Havas
A quiet storm of a record that chronicles a breakup or a fight for artistic independence or maybe both.  A song cycle, a unified piece of art pulled together by La Havas’ coos and shouts and high vocals backed up by a band that zig zags between cool jazz, ambient indie rock and funky soul.
“Trouble No More: 50th Anniversary Collection,” Allman Brothers
The box set provides a 61-track overview of the band’s journey from its first informal jam on Muddy Waters’ “Trouble No More” to the group’s revamped take on the blues cut at the final show at the Beacon Theatre. The package will turn casual fans on to gems such as “Please Call Home” (forget “Melissa,” this ballad features Gregg Allman at his most tender and tortured) and 1979 instrumental boogie “Pegasus” (proof the band could still make magic even as it fell apart) and 2000’s “Loan Me A Dime” (where Derek Trucks and Jimmy Herring prove every bit as inventive and transcendent as founding guitarists Duane Allman and Dickey Betts).

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