So here is where the introduction usually remembers how awful this past year was (is) and how it was only music that saved us from certain self-destruction. That feels kind of rote though doesn’t it? Especially after a year like two thousand and twenty the year of your Lord. So let’s skip that entire self-effacing charade.
Last Rites spent a lot of time as a crew digging deep into the roots, branches and seedlings of prog (metal and rock). We spent time endlessly talking about Rush and mourning the passing of Neil Peart. We spent time listening to Van Halen and mourning the passing of Eddie. Actually, we spent a lot of time mourning the passing of greats this year. But it was the togetherness and the collective exercise of working through that loss that brought us closer to musical truth.
And to put aside the negativity, death (wow did we lose some heroes) and destruction of 2020 for a minute there are plenty of things to be happy about. For starters, I got married. The pandemic afforded me the opportunity to spend more time with my family, get back to the slower lifestyle of country living and generally reflect on just how badly I have messed up more than a few aspects of my life. So another year goes by and we hopefully work on ourselves, improve, be better to both those we love and those we detest and inch closer towards understanding just what it all means.
Below are some albums that sounded super great over many, many listens. There were others of course. Many others even. The year was creepy in that it didn’t appear to be so stockpiled with absolutely jaw-dropping music but, like usual, it was. And that’s not just in metal (of course) but across the board.
Enjoy this list of tunes. Reach out if you have anything to add and as always, stay safe. Stay tuned for a special personal message at the very end of this whole pantomime.
Midnight Violence Rock ‘N Roll
20. Defeated Sanity – The Sanguinary Impetus
This album could pretty much end up (almost) anywhere on this list. It’s great. An exploration in brutal death metal that is brief, harrowing and altogether slam-happy. It’s great. Potentially their best. I hate myself for leaving here at number twenty but please don’t take that as meaning it’s the least of the greatest. It’s possible the greatest. Why don’t you be a big adult and decide for yourself?
19. The Spirit Cabinet – Bloodlines
Here’s a fun one that my buddy Ryan tipped me off to. In fact, he had to tip himself off to it because without PR this guy almost went completely unnoticed. Thankfully, it did not. This doomy piece of brilliance enjoyed many spins in 2020 and will hopefully continue that treatment through the rest of my life. Look, I didn’t even make a joke about how he sings!
18. Molassess – Through the Hollow
Speaking of albums I almost missed here comes Molassess. Were it not for our Great Leader (Captain) I would have never heard this release. Mostly due to my idiocy. Thankfully he wrote a lovely review and I pressed play on the Bandcamp embed and history was made. Eighteen is a very important number for us Jews and it’s no mistake that Through the Hollow occupies the space on this list synonymous with the word “life.”
17. Shards of Humanity – Cold Logic
Hello death metal my old friend. You’ve come to ruin me again. Last Rites has gone by “Generally Impressed With Riffs.” We even put it on a sticker! So when an album with this many riffs comes along you know that Jeremy Morse and Co. are going to LOVE it. And I do love it.
16. Circle of Ouroborus – Viimeinen Juoksu
“This journey of life is long, my friends. Endlessly long, in fact. We will forever endeavor to propel our bodies towards the horizon of death. We can do nothing else, for progress is our biological imperative. The overall journey, however, is broken up into smaller quests… Some of those quests will be full of color, strong emotions and heartbreaking joy beyond our comprehension… It’s th[e]se quivering quests that Circle of Ouroborus’ latest masterpiece is here to accompany.”
15. Devangelic – Ersetu
“Look, you clearly like metal. And you clearly thought the album cover was neat. And you clearly trust me to some extent. And finally, you clearly know that Devangelic is going to enhance your day, month, quarantine, life and certainly your death as you cross the River Hades to the Euphrates Gates of Zion.” Listen now.
14. Elder – Omens
Sometimes I find myself questioning where in the world Elder comes from. Then I remember that they come from Massachussetts and therefore all their influences are very, very obvious. But what isn’t obvious at first blush is how great they are. Elder albums can be spun endlessly and without tiring. Omens is another one of those great, timeless, endless loops of awesome music fronted by ethereal vocals.
13. Enslaved – Utgard
Hello. Enslaved is probably my favorite heavy metal band. They are also probably one of my favorite bands. Up there with The Band and John Coltrane and Joe Henderson and Dinosaur Jr. Why? Because they are never, ever afraid to take risks, write unconventionally progressive tunes and flat out dominate that style no matter what it is they attempt. Utgard is another jaw-dropping mix of styles, experiments and some of the loveliest human beings on the planet. Live, Laugh, Love and definitely see Enslaved live as many times as you possible can.
12. Katalepsy – Terra Mortuus Est
“Katalepsy’s Terra Mortuus Est is ready to stand strong with the bro-power of slam metal alongside any of the contemporary greats. This album is not only proof of that fact, it’s proof positive. A double negative has led to proof positive.” I’ve seen this album ranked as high as number one on some people’s lists and I certainly do not take issue with that ranking. I think Katalepsy and scratch that itch for a lot of people and I very much hope you’re one of them.
11. Undergang – Aldrig i livet
I have long loved the sewerfest that is Undergang. In fact, when I married a lovely lady who had access to the EU I suggested moving to Copenhagen just so I could get a job with city works and watch them rehearse in the sewers. While I was never ready to call Misantropologi their best album (I’ll always have a sweet spot in my rectum for Døden Læger Alle Sår) I recognized the slight shift towards the more plodding, melodic take on putrid death metal that Undergang was beginning to spew. And it was very, very good. For Aldrig i livet the band pushed the needle even further in that direction and the results are just marvelous. As Cap said (gee I’m quoting him a lot, eh) this is “DISGUSTING MUSIC FOR DISGUSTING PEOPLE” and it is certainly very much that done very much right. I still don’t have the heart (or cajones or huevos) to call it their best but I wouldn’t begrudge you if you went ahead and did that.
ALSO: Can’t forget to note the subtle nod to some great Totalitär artwork though.
Jet Rock ‘N Roll
10. Cardinal Wyrm – Devotionals
If you have not heard this album yet you can go ahead and kick yourself in the face. Mostly because this album is flipping awesome. “Devotionals truly is a work of genre-bending art. A musical performance piece of desperation, hope and collective rallying. The band stated that their wish for this album was to dial it back to DIY roots. The result is an album that is masterful in composition, execution and packaging. The entirety of Devotionals is something to behold. Do as the band commands and remain independent and confident in your own space, and absolutely powerful in community. And, of course, let this album be the soundtrack of your staunch revolution.”
9. Pharmacist – Medical Renditions of Grinding Decomposition
I mean, you see the cover and the title. What do you want me to say about this? I could say the spicy thing: the best Carcass album of 2020 was not put out by Carcass. But that would be selling Pharmacist short because they are far more than some Carcass clone. They are a gory, deliciously rotten bowl of steaming hot death metal ready for you to cram into your face. There really isn’t a more fitting cover, sound or collection of tunes for 2020 than Medical Rendition of Grinding Decomposition. So go purchase the cassette or CD or vinyl or digital copy (whatever the hip cats are doing now) and spin it endlessly until your entrails fall out of your nose. You’ve earned it.
8. Katatonia – City Burials
“If it’s not clear: Katatonia has delivered us a wonderful gift in 2020. As the band builds in complexity and finds even more confidence in their subtleties, they become a band worthy of more deep-diving adventures. The comparison between City Burials and their earlier work reveals stark differences, and more importantly, some beautiful similarities, allowing the heart of Katatonia to continue beating long after humanity has destroyed this beautiful earth.”
7. Malokarpatan – Krupinské ohne
“They’ve switched vocalists! Oh no!” That was actually my reaction kind of when I heard that Tremnohor had left the band (presumably to become a street vendor in the art of cured meats). When I was fortunate enough to stand in the physical (not mental mind you) shadow of Mr. Duvall and see this band LIVE at Brooklyn Bazaar in, well, Brooklyn, you could say that I was a bit enamored with their vocalist. His presence, mustache and sweet shades (along with his HADES shirt) were more than enough to capture the attention of a very young (thirty-seven) me. “But I was so much older than I’m younger than that now.” I’ve gotten over it. Why? Because Krupinské Ohne is totally rad and doesn’t end up sounding like Krolok v2.0 just because they share a vocalist. As I have previously said, Malokarpatan is a traditional heavy metal band masquerading as a black metal band. I mean that as a massive compliment. Their mix of styles and their unique output simply can’t be underrated. Plus, look at that flipping cover art! Seriously though, this album is tremendous and it’s great to see a band prosper after parting ways with what I had previously assumed was their heart and soul.
6. Undeath – Lesions of a Different Kind
Simply put, this is the greatest straight up, no frills, old school death metal album of 2020. Without a doubt. Plus – look at the cover! It’s awesome. When people want to know why you like something that involves screaming you show them this. And then kick them right in the testicles. “You will be hard pressed to find a better death metal release in 2020… You will be hard pressed to find a better way to spend a night in. So find your favorite puppy and curl up on the couch with a nice glass of sewage and sip until the wolves howl and the witches cackle. And don’t forget to put the Genesee on ice.” I still stand by that paragraph despite what is below. Undeath rules and represents all that is pure and wonderful about death metal and sweatpants and hi-top sneakers and posing for photographs in graveyards atop the gravestones of people you don’t even know. POSTURE FOR LIFE.
5. Eternal Champion – Ravening Iron
Eternal Champion is flat out awesome. So awesome that we spent hours at Last Rites HQ (secretly located way underground near the arctic circle… or is it?) debating which of their two full-length albums is their best. And guess what? I still have no idea. Ravening Iron and Armor of Ire are clearly somewhat different kinds of iron & steel heavy metal. But they are both equally, endlessly awesome. Epic, adventure-focused, sword-happy and fantasy-fueled Ravening Iron saw a more clean version of Eternal Champion turn our desires for battle into desires for headbanging adventures with our best buds, the bed of our El Camino laden with broadswords, beer and chain mail. If you’re fortunate to have friends you should put this album on and explore those adventures just waiting to be embarked upon.
4. Fates Warning – Long Day Goodnight
Fates Warning has hinted that the moody, mostly dark Long Day Good Night would be their final album. I prefer to say “hinted” because the reality of that statement is just simply too much to handle. Much like the depth of emotions explored across the more than one-hour and twelve minutes of music contained herein. As Captain pointed out, “[v]eteran Fates Warning fans really don’t need reviews to impact whether or not a new album will be added to an existing collection.” It’s true. We will buy pretty much anything the band puts out. And I agree wholeheartedly with him that Fates Warning has never put out a bad record. And they definitely haven’t put out a bad track with Bobby Jarzombek (aka Bobby Jarz) on the kit; meaning it was a great choice to use him for almost the entire album here. If Long Day Good Night proves to be the final album for Fates Warning it will be some final statement. If it doesn’t, then hooray for falsely reading in between the lines and please sir may we have some more. Fates Warning are the absolute kings of progressive metal and they will remain there regardless of future output. That is, in many ways, thanks to every single element that makes this album absolutely great.
3. Gorephilia – In the Eye of Nothing
In the past I’ve felt like I was living on an island in the middle of Jellyfish Lake over in Palau. Back in 2017 I told you that despite losing 50% of its members Gorephilia was slamming ahead in brutally tremendous fashion. And this year it took Cap to let you know that In the Eye of Nothing was a tremendous, tremendous take on the early Finnish death metal scene. And I really can’t say it any better, especially more simply, than Cap did: “Pure and simple: If you love death metal, you’ll need this here record.” It’s funny. When this list started Gorephilia was somewhere below fifteen. And it slowly, but surely climbed up. As each death metal album was pitted against the others Gorephilia continued to stand out with squeals, brutally jagged riffs and pure headsmash enough to bring it all the way up here to the Top 10. And that is the power of suggestion. In this case suggestion through brutal riffs, thundering double bass and throat-obliterating vocals good enough to merit the annoying “vokill” denomination. I’m not even sure that I’m tough enough to listen to this album. I mean, I ride a bicycle now instead of deadlifting. But I still feel PRETTY AWESOME and VERY ALIVE when I spin it. So that counts for something. Right?
2. Wytch Hazel – III: Pentecost
If it wasn’t for curtains it would be Venetian blinds for us all. And if it wasn’t for Hällas it would be number one for Wytch Hazel. This album is a bonafide metal classic. As I previously said: “I would like to put this simply and without hyperbole: Wytch Hazel’s III:Pentecost will figure very high in my year-end voting. But what is year-end voting worth? Many of those albums rank highly only to go and fade into distant memories. This album will figure heavily in my life. It is a work of timeless brilliance that is not likely to become irrelevant in theme or composition. This album will not take much time to sink in. It won’t hide out on your shelf, waiting for the right time to be played. It’s more like love at first sight, but instead of love, it’s obsession, and instead of a sexual partner, it’s the warm embrace of heavy metal.”
1. Hällas – Conundrum
The amount that I adore this album cannot be understated. And to my colleagues that moved it to the non-metal list (which cost it the No. 1 slot on the team list) I say “hooey on you!.” This album remained my number one from the moment I heard it in early January. It’s tremendous. From my review: “[a]t this point, Hällas seems more like they are creating a cult rather than a single album, career or song. They’ve created a universe complete with multi-dimensional planes of existence, afterlife lore and plenty of hypnotizing rhythms and melodies. It’s a single universe experience on the level of Star Wars or Malazan. A universe in which certain creatures, planets and planes exist singularly and exclusively. Conundrum is the best example yet of Hällas creating a complete and compositionally cohesive record. The band seems like something that can never not be there, like something that has just always been part of our souls. And for those that get it, they believe fully in the vision, passion and endless surge for adventure at the core of Hällas’ music.”
Midnight Blood Pump
5. Muscipula – Little Chasm of Horrors
“So, musically, let’s take Bolt Thrower and some of the angular, creeping Finnish death metal bands and drop those 45RPM records on down to 33RPM—let those guitars just sliiiiiiiiiiiide into a slimy down-tuned demolition hammer of swampy death. Like an airboat that’s blown an engine, the tunes slowly knife through milky water; vines from overhang slapping the blade as dank water slowly leaks in. This music crawls—about as slowly as your great-grandfather trying to get out of his favorite La-Z-Boy after one too many boxes of Ensure. Sure, compare this band to some of the greats, but they are actually doing something quite their own, thanks to production values centering around a putrid vocal delivery.”
4. Engulfed – Vengeance of the Fallen
“Don’t miss out on this EP even if you’re the type of idiot that merely watches social media feeds for the latest band of the day. Engulfed is metal. Engulfed is death metal. And if they put out material on a more frequent basis they just might be the “it” band of January 15 to January 19 of 2021.You know, if Blood Incantation takes a fucking break for a god damn minute! RETHINK YOUR LIFE, idiot.”
3. Midnight Dice – Hypnotize
You see that sweet cover and amazing layout? You think an EP that has all that hard work from Lauren Gornik and Annick Giroux (two ladies I have previously praised) isn’t going to bring the fire? Well you bet your ass it does. If you are a fan of the screaming 80s style of heavy metal and you want to be a true metal warrior that headbangs in the face of hurricanes then you sure as shit better spin this EP. And spin it loudly. Midnight Dice is the truth of heavy metal power.
2. Septage – Septic Decadence
Yeah. I know. Second time I put a disgusting album cover on this list. You think I’m not upset about it? I’m actually not. Here’s another fun example of “band puts out Carcass EP better than Carcass EP.” But again, that’s selling Septage short. What you get here is the pure weight of it all. The entire mountain of deathy goodness falling upon you and beating you into a banana cream pie of submission. You are the goo, Septage is the acid. Become the acid, you putz.
1. Blazon Rite – Dulce Bellum Inexpertis
For fans of Legionnaire, Brocas Helm, that one Lunar Shadow album (Far From Light) and Isen Torr the debut EP from Philadelphia’s Blazon Rite seems tailor made to fit their armor wearing endeavors. From cooking omelettes in the morning to vacuuming up those hard to get at hairs in the corner at night every activity will be enhanced by the heroic riffs and vocals on Dulce Bellum Inexpertis. The point is, your life might be as boring as the rest but it doesn’t have to feel that way. While vacuuming throw a fist up against those dust balls! Reach into your sheath an unleash the power of the spatula while flipping that Boca burger. There is no reason that your Geo Metro (do they still make those?) shouldn’t feel like a glorious steed clad in boiled leather and strapped with a quiver of arrows tipped with poison and meant for the heart of the evil empress. Your life is your life. You choose how to live it. Don’t be lame and not try to at least make it fun. Put on Blazon Rite and ENJOY YOUR LIFE.
Yes… we listen to that as well.
Motorcycle Leather Boy
20. Matthew Halsall – Salute to the Sun
It’s been quite a while since we’ve spoken about Matthew Halsall around here. At least publicly. I can assure you that behind the scenes a few of us (guess who) chat about him frequently. Halsall is everything from a master trumpeter to a record label owner (Gondwana Records) to a DJ. For Salute to the Sun he headed into earthy, primitive territory and made something that speaks to creation more than it does the forward-thinking nature of jazz. Improvisation at its best, this album shows just what can be accomplished when unmatched musicians are allowed to freely explore ideas centered around a theme without repercussion of having the tape stopped.
19. Chad Taylor Trio featuring Brian Settles and Neil Podgurski – The Daily Biological
I don’t want to tell you what I thought of when I saw this album title. Suffice it to say that the album far exceeded those expectations. The debut recording from this avant-garde jazz trio uses plenty of polyrhythms and contraindicative melodies to create energetic bursts and explosions of conversation between instruments wielded by old friends. When people tell you that instrumental music isn’t conversational you can point them towards this record for proof that it most certainly is.
18. Surrender – Surrender
Anything even somewhat associated with the band Crusades would have to figure on my radar. After about an entire year of releasing singles those three tracks joined others to make a self-titled full length that shows an endless amount of promise for the vocalists switch from hard, raw emo to something of a new wave revival. Get happy. Tap your feet and most importantly fire up the synths.
17. 36 & zaké – Stasis Sounds For Long-Distance Space Travel
Here is the place where I will admit that 2020 was a rough year in many regards. It required a lot of quiet time and a lot of ambient sounds and calm music to help the body relax and detox from things being said in the media and reported from around the world. When my brain needed to shut off there was nothing I reached for more than this album. Chillax, bro.
16. Busta Rhymes – Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God
So he lost early on the show Masked Performer. Just proves that the show is stupid. Busta Rhymes has always been great. But in the past few years (mostly since his verse on A Tribe Called Quests’ “Mobius” (2016) Busta has been on a quest to cement his name firmly in the quest for best all time. Extinction Level Event 2 is another feather in that cap. He’s simply on a different planet. In a year of very sneakily phenomenal hip hop (Benny the Butcher, Roc Marciano, Conway the Machine, Nas, etc.) Busta’s output stands on the shoulders of monuments.
15. William Ryan Fritch – The Letdown
Did you think I was going to talk about the other awesome album that William Fritch released this year? Because it’s really a toss up and either could be included here. What brings The Letdown to the front of the conversation is its vibe-centric composition. Eschewing the usual pomp that makes this writer so… happy The Letdown focuses largely on mood and the inclusion and interspersing of instruments not often juxtaposed so seamlessly. You will find moments of eerie terror, outrageous joy and some laid back passages. It’s an album for all seasons as long as those seasons are manic and unmedicated.
14. Henrik Palm – Poverty Metal
Svart is a label that is often brave when it comes to the artist on their roster. Betting the house on a member of In Solitude probably didn’t factor as brave for them. But what Henrik produced might have shocked even them. It is extreme, particularly when it comes to experimentation. The album can also be stark, jarring and abrasive. But when taken as a whole it’s a work that actually ends up being quite inviting (you know, in that way Shellac was at times). For the more adventurous Poverty Metal should be a perfect fit for your bedtime nightmares and waking terrors.
13. Gwenifer Raymond – Strange Lights over Garth Mountain
In this case the album cover gives you a pretty great idea of what to expect from the multi-talented genius of Gwenifer Raymond. Sparse and primitive her music channels the heart of Appalachia via the United Kingdom in a way that only Tompkins Square records could truly understand. Strange Lights twists and turns like a roiling serpent angry at its history and drenched in the blood of its earthly domain. At times haunting and at times mystically emotional, Gwenifer Raymond has outdone her already brilliant self here in 2020.
12. Alvaro Rojas – Gran Kasa
When you have true friends like Dan and Captain you and your friends get together and make a spreadsheet of all the great jazz you need to check out over the year. Sometimes that spreadsheet includes some really awesome music that defies the straight jazz label. Alvaro Rojas is essentially a prog-jazz composer and Gran Kasa is one hell of an exploration of world music with plenty of chamber elements. Thanks to the funding from the Canada Council for the Arts (Canada!) for helping fund this beautiful record.
11. Molchat Doma – Монумент
These Belarusian beauties got famous in the way most people can only do through plastic surgery – they got famous via memes on Reddit. But they have since become much more than a meme. Their 2020 release Monument is loaded with drum machines, synthesizers, killer vocals and some thoroughly perfect timeless production filters. One view of them live in Ljubljiana and you’ll understand just why they got so huge so quickly. And if that’s not enough for you take a spin through Монумент and try not to wiggle your way into beautiful goth happiness.
Wild Beast Vibrator
10. Ambrose Akinmusire – On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment
Being nominated for a Grammy doesn’t instantly mean that you will be included on this list. In fact, it’s usually quite the opposite. But when it comes to Ambrose Akinmusire all bets are off. Featuring a full bouquet of eleven unique new [mostly] instrumental compositions and a bevy of all stars sitting in On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment truly welcomes the world to the universe of Ambrose. While the album might sound unique or jarring to those who haven’t checked in on the jazz universe it might also sound like a refreshing departure from the less accessible, perhaps less thrilling world of jazz they heard ten years ago. Life is different now. Jazz isn’t merely improvisational but it’s also emotional. Harkening back to the more fixed compositional styles of Mingus and Brubeck, Akinmusire composes work that is searing in intensity (often with spoken word) yet joyful in its output. If you’re not yet a fan or initiated please discover that this is a great place to jump in.
9. Airbag – A Day at the Beach
Oh look. A bunch of teddy bears hid their heads in the sand. You have to wonder what they did wrong to deserve this self-inflicted punishment. As an adult who still holds onto his childhood stuffed animals I feel a personal responsibility to find the answer. The bad news is that the answer wasn’t in the lyrics on this record. We can only assume that it’s a live picture of music writers who did not realize Airbag was excellent hiding in the sand in shame. That makes the most sense. Also, given the situation in the world in re: pandemic the safest place for your head would actually be under the sand. So maybe it’s a great idea. I’m not really sure. The point here is that Airbag is rad. Just a tremendous prog band led by a man with a beautiful voice. A band not afraid to let the bass guitar shine and not afraid to point out the importance of having a good time with your friends while you smell the salty fresh spray of the ocean. So if you have friends do that. If not, which honestly seems more likely, put this album on and pretend. Either way, if Airbag’s A Day at the Beach is playing you will find some enjoyment in this lifetime.
8. Death Bells – New Signs of Life
“A Different Kind of Happy” was among my favorite tracks of the year. A tremendous new wave bounce with tenor vocals and clever lyrics made it an instant standout. In fact, it saved the entire album from a cursory toss aside by me. Which would have been immensely stupid (but not out of character) of me. New Signs of Life, an appropriate name for a first album on a new label, features all the brilliant throwback touches aimed straight at my heart. They’ve got catchy rhythms, saxophone, singable lyrics and an overall sheen of drug-induced happy over the whole thing. Oh, and a singer that does not hide his accent while singing. I really love that and you should too. New signs of life approaching! They might be alien but they are absolutely going to get you shaking those hips and tapping those feetsies.
“Despite the uncertainty of life I wouldn’t give up.” – Death Bells
7. Arabs in Aspic – Madness & Magic
Like most people who read end of the year lists you likely scrolled to number one and worked backwards. Thus you already know that Last Rites has been deeply enamored with prog this year. Arabs in Aspic being another one of the flipping GEMS that crawled across our desks as we devoured the Karisma Records catalog. Moody, dark, brilliant and altogether mysteriously magickal this album taught many of us just how much we missed crawling into the underbrush searching for witches and goblins when we were young. As a singer once crooned, “When I was a boy I saw things that no one else could see. Why am I so blind at 22?” Well, Arabs in Aspic helped us find our vision and they certainly helped us find that glorious wonder and the positivity that comes with the spirit of adventure and belief. Anything is possible if you have the right soundtrack. Choose this one.
I vow to thee, my scream.
Lugubrum – Plage Chomage
Reviewing this amazing album with Cap was one of the most fun moments I’ve had at Last Rites. Actually, Ask 2 Idiots in general was the most fun I had here. Thus, we will blurb this album in the same style.
Five Words Cosmically Linked To This Album: Gumshoe, Sanitarium, Cathedral, Drips, Carrots
A Sentence: Lugubrum is to carrots as rabbits are to N, N-Dimethyltryptamine. So that’s an analogy and not a sentence. Guess what? The cosmos shame you for your boring accuracy that have robbed you of both your childhood and your good looks. We stole them. And we broadcast them on the 6EQUJ5 signal right back into the everloving center of nowhere (which, coincidentally is just to the left of Sagittarius). Your shoes are untied. But you’re also not wearing shoes. That’s the kind of WOW! that you need to get inside of if you want Lugubrum to ride you like the waves of vomit splashing into Jim Lovell on Apollo 8 more than one hundred thousand miles from earth. If you don’t dig then you don’t. Move on. But if you do then hop on board the spacecraft and zoom off with us. The royal we.
5. Dropdead – Dropdead 2020
Why is Dropdead on my non-metal list, you ask? Probably because I separated out the punk because punk is even more serious business than metal. Is that true? I’m not really sure. But what I do know is that Dropdead has figured strongly in my development as a human growing up in New England where squat houses and dank basements hosted more than a few punk shows we didn’t tell the authorities about. And here in 2020 the boys are back spitting the same absolute brilliance that they knew all along. Ahead of their time lyrically, musically and technologically (but in reverse) Dropdead continue to just kick absolute ass, take no prisoners and worry zilch about making money off the whole damn thing. And remember, there’s nothing less punk than trying to define punk so don’t even try. Just accept this music as the truth (maybe my truth) and blow out your fucking storm windows by blasting it.
4. Wobbler – Dwellers of the Deep
Oh sweet 2020 the year of the Church of Prog here at Last Rites. Maybe it was the fact that Lone Watie finally put himself into a position in life where he could spend slightly more time with us and fewer hours healing the world and doing great things. As our resident prog expert he was certainly at the helm for much of it. But it is a mystery how Wobbler because maybe the most spun album of 2020 for a few of us. We went hard on From Somewhere to Silence when word of a new record was revealed and we went even harder on Dwellers of the Deep. Sure it helped that the artwork was remarkable and that the layout in the vinyl featured the source materials. Sure it helped that they released a video that showed just how beautifully weird they are. But what helped mostly was the release of this pristine forty-five minutes of progressive, adventurous, experimental loveliness full of keyboard riffs, jogging bass lines and vocals soaring forth from the pipes of the aptly named Andreas Wettergreen Strømman Prestmo. Wobbler is pretty much perfect (for those of you that love this stuff) and for those of you that don’t Wobbler would be a great intro to the world of having some meaning in your life for once. Would certainly make your parents happier than whatever it is you chose to do for a living.
3. Zephaniah Ohora – Listening to the Music
In an older world this album would be called Listenin’ to the Music. But this ain’t those times and this ain’t your momma’s country western. For his first album, This Highway, Zephaniah seemed to conjure his own version of Willy Nelson as he spun emotional tunes about heartbreak and country nights. For Listening to the Music he takes that spirits and blends it with Merle Haggard, a touch of Waylon and plenty of Patsy Cline. Let’s call it pan-country style. The fact that this album isn’t a smash hit in Nashville and pumping out of all the jukeboxes at your local honky tonk is testament to just how far the pop invasion of the country music industry has come. But if you’re looking for some good old down home country music with plenty of twang written by a guy that looks like Adam Driver went method then look no further. This album is for you and your pickup and your dog and probably your beer and also your drugs and your family and the generations that came before you and those that will come after you.
2. The Psychedelic Furs – Made to Rain
It’s truly amazing to me that after a decade or whatever as a person who writes about music “seriously” I am putting words to internet paper about The Psychedelic Furs. As a band they put out a criminal amount of music. Seven albums (the first four 10/10 brilliant perfection) and then radio silence (as The Psychedelic Furs) until 2020. (The band, at least Butler, his brother Tim and Richard Fortus of Pale Divine (now of Guns N Roses) and the incomparable Frank Ferrer made [great] music as Love Spit Love.) So what could we really expect? Well, for starters I don’t think anyone expected the raw emotions evoked by the absolutely brilliant cover art which is legitimate art. I don’t think anyone expected the rawness of the actual emotion contained between those cardboard images either. Made of Rain opens somewhat chaotically for a band normally associated with groove and pop. Tremolo rules as the album rolls into form presenting emotion over hooks and British sarcasm as a substitute for saccharin lyrics about the hazards of love and loss. All in all Made of Rain turns out to be one of the best albums ever put out by The Psychedelic Furs and maybe even the best by the instantly recognizable Richard Lofthouse Butler. More than simply a comeback album, Made of Rain is a brilliant piece of artwork in an of itself. It stands alone, even in 2020 as a testament to the music that made art today what it is. The inspiration has awoken to become a leader once again.
1. Choir Boy – Gathering Swans
The most scared I’ve been in 2020 was when I thought that the crew here would vote to put Hällas on the non-metal list making me pit Conundrum against Choir Boy’s Gathering Swans. While I can’t tell you who would have won I can definitely tell you who would have lost. I would have lost. But enough about Hällas, right? Because this is all about Choir Boy. For starters, it’s been a very long time since I heard a singer in this genresphere (a word I made up because dream pop, new wave, dark wave, post punk, etc. need a catchall) with such an ensnaring, love-at-first-hear type voice. Adam Klopp channels the spirit of just about every genre hero across the forty-one minutes of this album evoking emotions even scientists didn’t know humans have. And the band heaps bravery in here by the boat load. You think doo-wop style 1950s bass vocals saying “sweet candy I want a candy uh uh” wouldn’t fit? You’d be wrong and I’d punch you. Because it’s PERFECT. You think that putting a photograph of yourself brushing your teeth as the promo photo wouldn’t entice people to listen? Think again. It works. Every single thing about Choir Boy is, as I said before, Perfect. While it was their Part Time Punks session that introduced me (and Cap) to Choir Boy it’s going to be Gathering Swans that forever ties them to the core of my being. I’m not sure what words I can use to tell you that you absolutely have to listen to this album. Would you like me to speak about the wonderful production? Would you like me to tell you about Jeff Kleinman’s moody synth and saxophone work that keeps the album glued together like a perfect wound? Or would you prefer to hear about Michael Paulson channeling Johnny Marr and Robert Smith in ways that you never knew would so deeply haunt you? Finally, I could tell you that Chaz Costello’s bass bounces, thumps and rhythmically causes your body to move in ways you thought only yogi masters could?
I could ramble endlessly about any of those subjects but the best advice I could give you would be to listen to this album on repeat until your insides melt and your heart melds with your brain. Please. Do it for the sake of the world.
And with that, dear reader, my journey at Last Rites ends. As Mayakovsky said, “the love boat smashed up on the dreary routine.” And thus ends my tour of duty. Be well. Enjoy music. Be excellent to each other and always find ways to think, act and live outside the box.