Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Best Albums of 2020... So Far


2020. Damn. Enough said. And hey... the year is only halfway over.

Since the year has been rough on everyone, we decided to scale back a little and just go with our Top Five for this mid-year list. Each person selected & ranked their favorite albums so far, and then a track from each has been compiled in a Spotify playlist (it's all the way at the bottom of this post). As always, we look forward to hearing your thoughts and opinions. Please share your own Top Five with us and let us know if you discovered something cool here that you were previously unaware. Okay here we go - The Best Albums of 2020... So Far. - Bret & sarahQ



Bret Helm
Life on this Planet | Audra

05. Hilary Woods - Birthmarks
04. Myrkur - Folkesange
03. Moaning - Uneasy Laughter
01. Bill Fay - Countless Branches

About My #1: "Everyone knows it. It's self-evident. This world ain't safe in human hands." Eight years ago, Bill Fay's 'comeback' album, Life is People, topped my year-end list. Here we are now, in dire times, and I can only repeat what I said back then: if more people listened to Bill Fay, the world would be a better place.


Sarah Quarrie Helm
Life on this Planet

05. Mark Lanegan - Straight Songs of Sorrow
04. I Break Horses - Warnings
03. Lanterns on the Lake - Spook the Herd
02. Humanist - Humanist
01. Moaning - Uneasy Laughter

About My #1: As a child of the 80s & 90s and an overall awkward person, there are particular attributes that draw me in to an album. Post-punk, synth-pop, an overarching theme of anxious introspection? Sign me up! Moaning's second album Uneasy Laughter is appropriately titled for the music behind the cover. I am elated a new generation is carrying the torch and persisting with an aesthetic spanning Joy Division, The Cure, Clan of Xymox, Interpol and The Killers.


Keith Creighton
Seattle, Washington | Popdose

05. Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott - Manchester Calling
04. Niall Horan - Heartbreak Weather
03. Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia
02. Adam Lambert - Velvet
01. Wendy James - Queen High Straight

About My List: OK, I see why we've shifted to Top 5 for this go-round -- and while it might make it easier to post, it makes it much harder to narrow the list while still reflecting a quite exciting six months in music history. First, the short list. Wendy James is having quite the renaissance. Last year, Edsel celebrated Transvision Vamp with a lavish box set that cemented the band's place as bonafide pop and punk music legends. A few years prior, she released "The Price of the Ticket" which was an all-star post punk tour de force. And here, some 30 odd years since her peak of fame, she releases the defining masterpiece of her career -- a double album that blazes across just about every musical genre and sticks the landing 20 songs in a row. Not willing to pay $45 for the import on CD, I dropped $9.49 on the MP3 DL and wound up eventually springing for the CD (which is now $25 after tax/shipping) so I'm coming out about $10 ahead once it arrives (hence, not in the picture).

But as exciting as that all is, Adam Lambert finally dropped the five star album we were all hoping he'd someday make since his Idol heyday. Dua Lipa has been the queen of Corona with a barrage of inventive viral quarantine performance videos to promote her winning second album (which one reviewer aptly described as having four different Madonna eras on a single disc). Niall Horan proved he could be the Beatles to fellow One Direction'er Harry Styles' Bowie. His first solo album was what one would expect from a 1D solo record (sappy teen ballads), but his sophomore disc is a rocker. Watch his week-long string of performances and skits on Corden to see what ringer he is to be a new king of all media. And finally, the fact Paul Heaton is still churning out great albums in a non-stop 35 year streak is simply amazing (especially considering all the beer he's consumed at Liar's Bar). 

Had we had five more slots to dole out, things would have gotten quite exciting. Jessie Ware just dropped the sexiest futuristic 1970's dancefloor banger album since peak-era Chic. Lady Gaga's "Chromatica" absolutely slays. Carly Rae Jepsen's "Dedicated Side B" is as good as (if not better than) Side A. Neil Arthur's Blancmange dropped THREE albums so far this year, the latest, "Mindset", being his best since "Semi-Detached" was my top album of 2015. And then there's awesome new albums by Nada Surf, The Psychedelic Furs, The Airborne toxic Event, X and NME C86 darlings Close Lobsters (their first album in I think, 35 years). And all this before the 8-disc Prince boxset bulldozes my ears some September. 

As much as 2020 sucks on every conceivable level -- the music is utterly fantastic.


Rob Clark
Rockford, Illinois

05. Jehnny Beth - To Live Is To Love
04. Shopping - All or Nothing
03. John Moreland - LP5
02. Fiona Apple - Fetch the Bolt Cutters
01. David Bowie - Is It Any Wonder?

About My #1: It’s so good to hear these recently unearthed gems from Bowie’s Earthling period, a favorite of mine, released to celebrate what would have been his 73rd birthday. To me, the centerpiece of these half dozen tracks is the mind blowing version of “Stay” completely re-electrified by Reeves Gabrels. Close behind is a song that almost made the final cut of the Earthling album, “Baby Universal." The EP is nicely bookended with two very different versions of “The Man Who Sold the World” but, honestly, it’s great to hear ALL of these songs.


Sean Benham
Chicago, Illinois

05. Loving - If I Am Only My Thoughts
04. Ringo Deathstarr - Ringo Deathstarr
03. Nils Frahm - Empty
02. Pure X - Pure X
01. Memorex Memories - The Life of Riley

About My #1: I heard electronic musician Sean Harte of Memorex Memories a few years ago on Bandcamp. He released a very good ‘Pictures of Purple Skies’ just last Fall, but the follow up that was released recently, out did himself. Very conceptual and moody, with limited releases on cassette and vinyl. He posted quite a moving story behind the title ‘The Life of Riley’ on Bandcamp. This phrase being an inspiration behind his current work.


Jaymz Todd
Phoenix, Arizona

05. Bill Baird - Flower Children's Children's Children
04. Ellis - Born Again
03. Greg Dulli - Random Desire
02. Gil Scott Heron - We're New Again (A Reimagining by Makaya McCraven)
01. Jessie Ware - What's Your Pleasure?

About My Selections: Groovy Psychedelic Mash, Wondrous Dreampop Nuance, Refined Cinematic Grandeur, Fresh Reimagined Classic, Disco Fantasy Delight


John Magness
Uttoxeter, England

05. Ren Harvieu - Revel in the Drama
Ren Harvieu made her major label debut in 2012 and this is the followup. I found myself sitting next to her in a small bar in Camden early last year and didnt realise who she was until she got up and started singing. After rediscovering her, I went to a small gig where she played these songs to an audience of about 50 people. Half of the Magic Numbers were in her backing band and Romeo Stodart is heavily involved in this album. It was released on Bella Union which is owned and run by Simon Raymonde (ex Cocteaus) so the pedigree is impeccable. Also, it's really good.

04. Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher 
I read a review of this album, and as often happens, immediately heard one of the songs on 6Music. Apparently this is "the first great album of her career" and much anticipated.

03. The Strokes - The New Abnormal
When I first heard the single "At The Door" I wondered what on earth The Strokes were doing. However when you listen to the album you realise that finally the Strokes seem to have made a conscious effort to move on from their tried and tested formulae and done something really different and complex. In addition, the sleeve itself is quite unusual, comprising a PVC sleeve and the artwork based on a 1981 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat (another member of the 27 club his paintings now sell for SERIOUS money). Again you don't get this with CD. Finally anything with a Psychedelic Furs credit has to be worthy of further investigation.

02. Tennis - Swimmer
I first heard Tennis after listening to a playlist Tracey Thorn had put together. Sometimes you listen to an album and think that the artist in question might just have delivered the best work they will ever do. I didn't think they could improve on Yours Conditionally but they've delivered a fantastic album with Swimmer, and again I just don't see how they could improve on this. This ran Badly Drawn Boy close for my top spot and might still be in the mix come end of the year.

01. Badly Drawn Boy - Banana Skin Shoes
BDB's first new album in 8 years, rubbish album title notwithstanding, is a real return to form. Since the outstanding Hour of Bewilderbeast and the soundtrack to About a Boy, his career seems in many respects to be a series of diminishing returns. To a certain extent I got this album out of a sense of sentiment rather than any high expectation, but for the past 3 weeks I've really enjoyed it. It encompasses a variety of musical styles including Northern Soul (at least to my ear). It also has one of those great gatefold sleeves which demonstrates why vinyl remains the best medium to enjoy music.


Jesse Deitermann | DJ Dreampop Jesse
Phoenix, Arizona

05. Little Dragon - New Me, Same Us
04. Ride - Clouds in the Mirror
03. Jetstream Pony - Jetstream Pony
02. Orlando Weeks - A Quickening
01. Tim Burgess - I Love the New Sky

About My #1: I have chosen Tim Burgess' new solo as my favourite album so far - not as a surprise to some - as Tim's songwriting has an appeal to me. Many mash words together but Tim has a way a lot like my other absolute faves - Stuart (Belle and Sebastian) and Kip (Pains of Being Pure at Heart) - subtle and cheeky.


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Sunday, February 9, 2020

Planet Rotations #268

Like all music lovers, we love to share what we're listening to and discover some new things from friends. This week Sarah and I chose 6 albums / singles - some old, some new - to feature. We also added a song selection from each to our ongoing Planet Rotations 2020 Playlist (link at bottom of post). What's been on your playlist this past week? Let us know in the comments below, or interact at the Life on this Planet Facebook.


(text version below image)


Bret's 6
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Castles Made of Sand
from Axis: Bold as Love (1967)

The Smashing Pumpkins - Rhinoceros
from Gish (1991)

James - Lullaby
from Laid (1993)

Suede - By the Sea
from Coming Up (1996)

Dead Can Dance - A Passage in Time
from Dead Can Dance (1984)

Pearl Jam - Dance of the Clairvoyants
from Gigaton (2020) - out March 27th


Sarah's 6
Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood - Summer Wine
from Nancy & Lee (1968)

The Killers - Bling (Confession of a King)
from Sam's Town (2006)

Kacey Musgraves - Follow Your Arrow
from Same Trailer Different Park (2013)

The New Pornographers - Champions of Red Wine
from Brill Bruisers (2014)

case / lang / veirs - Atomic Number
from case / lang / veirs (2016)

Orville Peck - Winds Change
from Pony (2019)

Listen to our ongoing Planet Rotations Playlist!



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Sunday, February 2, 2020

Planet Rotations #267

Like all music lovers, we love to share what we're listening to and discover some new things from friends. This week Sarah and I chose 6 albums / singles - some old, some new - to feature. We also added a song selection from each to our ongoing Planet Rotations 2020 Playlist (link at bottom of post). What's been on your playlist this past week? Let us know in the comments below, or interact at the Life on this Planet Facebook.


(text version below image)


Bret's 6
The Psychedelic Furs - Don't Believe
from Made of Rain (2020) - out May 1st

Sturgill Simpson - Make Art Not Friends
from SOUND & FURY (2019)

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Alabama Pines
from Here We Rest (2011)

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Something to Love
from The Nashville Sound (2017)

New Order - Ceremony
from Substance (1987)

Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart
from Substance (1988)


Sarah's 6
Conjure One - Tears from the Moon feat. Sinead O'Connor
from Conjure One (2002)

Sufjan Stevens - I Walked
from The Age of Adz (2010)

Jenny Lewis - Just One of the Guys
from The Voyager (2014)

Amanda Shires - Leave it Alone
from To the Sunset (2018)

Girl in Red - We Fell in Love in October
from We Fell in Love in October / Forget Her single (2018)

Vivian Girls - Lonely Girl
from Memory (2019)

Listen to our ongoing Planet Rotations Playlist!



If you're a vinyl enthusiast, check out our feature on the Spin Clean Vinyl Record Cleaning Machine (click image below)

Follow us on Facebook / Twitter / YouTube