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The POP Stream's TOP 10 VINYL LP's OF 2020

The Neon Skyline takes place over the span of one night. The story goes like this: Our narrator heads to a bar where he hears that his ex is back in town. From there, he spirals through the course of their relationship from young love to jealous arguments to dreams of starting over. He eventually runs into her and they go their separate ways. But by this point, late in the album, you’ve learned that reconciliation was never the point. In the climactic “Thirteen Hours,” Shauf drifts through a flashback that doesn’t focus on the fight that brought out their true nature, or the injury that landed one of them in the hospital. Instead, the key lyric is about a simple facial expression that suggested how things could never be the same again.

The mood—wistfulness giving way to self-deprecation, deep insight cut with awful puns—is both familiar and endearing. -Pitchfork

With a cast of female vocalists guiding and redirecting the songs, the National’s eighth album is their largest, longest, and most daring.

On nearly every song Berninger is accompanied and sometimes silenced by a rotation of featured female vocalists who step in to offer perspective, commentary, and dissent. It’s perhaps yet another lesson internalized from Leonard Cohen, whose songs regularly called on a chorus of women as their voice of reason. And like Cohen, the National have recruited some of the best singers out, among them Lisa Hannigan, Mina Tindle, Kate Stables, Sharon Van Etten, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, whose spotlight “Dust Swirls in Strange Light” benches Berninger all together. Most revelatory of all is Gail Ann Dorsey, David Bowie’s longtime bassist and backing singer, who heralds the album’s new direction midway through opener “You Had Your Soul With You.” Her extraordinary voice of saffron arrives like a divine intervention, instantly parting a track that had previously been National-by-numbers.

The ex-Brooklynites are among the smallest handful of ’00s bands to close out the ’10s with a higher stock than what they entered with; theirs is one of the richest dynamics in indie rock. But for all they’re good at, every album has been first and foremost a litmus test on singer Matt Berninger. To enjoy the National, you’ve got to enjoy him. -Pitchfork

Open Up Your Head begins with "Transplant", a song that finds lead singer-guitarist-songwriter Henry Camamile getting dumped at a noisy club and not quite being able to hear all of his girlfriend's explanation. Throughout 14 tracks, Camamile goes through denial, bargaining, muses on how excellent she was. He decides that she is the only one out there for him, and finally declares that he's ready to move on. It's easy to take these songs individually as pretty typical rock song romance tracks, but it seems fair to treat this as a concept album as well.

Open Up Your Head is a catchy record from the jump and easy to like. But the band's strong songwriting and interesting arrangements grew on me, as did Camamile's nuanced lyrics. Fans of power-pop and indie rock will find this album enormously appealing if they can get past the big, glossy production that clearly wants to push Sea Girls out to radio in their native UK and beyond. -popMATTERS

Uniquely, a third of the twelve-track disc was released as singles; “Natural Affair,” “Foghorn Town,” “Try Hard Fool,” and “Pulp of Youth” were all released over a month before the album. Natural Affair might be their most complete album to date – amazing production and depth, tracks 1 through 12 all offer an amazing listen with poetic lyrics and dynamic instrumentals.

On an album that exemplifies the Growlers' new funky sound, “Die and Live Forever” might be the funkiest, as its upbeat rhythm simply makes the song fun. This track highlights the importance of brotherhood, opening with “You might not like it man, but I’m your brother, I ain’t goin nowhere. Sorry for everything, my brother, know that I care.” With six studio albums, six EP’s, numerous singles, and fourteen years together, The Growlers know a thing or two about sticking together, as the song’s chorus reads: “Love together, suffer together, laugh and cry together, live and die remember, die and live forever.” The song is the last track of the album; an excellent message to close out their third major release in four years. -WhipRadio

On his fourth album, singer-songwriter Robin Pecknold refines and hones Fleet Foxes’ crisp folk-rock sound, crafting another musically adventurous album that is warm and newly full of grace.

Shore, the fourth album from Fleet Foxes, brings gratitude back into the fold as Pecknold ascends to a graceful new plateau. The record’s mood is born largely from existential worries and the shadow of death, common concerns of Pecknold, who, now 34, has spent his career transforming anxiety into euphoria with towering, wall-of-sound choruses that belie the unease that inspires them. Career-making songs like the barnstorming “Helplessness Blues” were strengthened by a sense of overcoming despair, the feeling that we could all stare down obsolescence and say, That’s OK, I’m OK. Distress does not disappear entirely on Shore; it’s just accepted and worn, making for an album that is musically adventurous and spiritually forgiving, like it’s constantly breathing in fresh air. -Pitchfork

The third album from the trio is far and away their best. Intimate, multidimensional, and wide-ranging, the songwriting shines with personality and a great curiosity for melody and style.

The biting satire of the album’s title is something of a red herring for its explicitly personal content. In interviews, each sister has described a personal trauma that she brought to the studio. Alana has spoken of the grief she suffered when a best friend passed away at age 20, and Este has talked about the low points of living with Type 1 diabetes. Most felt is Danielle’s deep depression; she traces its origin to when her partner (and co-producer) Ariel Rechtshaid was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2015.

It’s Haim as we haven’t quite heard them before: not just eminently proficient musicians, entertainers, and “women in music,” but full of flaws and contradictions, becoming something much greater. -Pitchfork

On her marvelous second album, Phoebe Bridgers defines her songwriting: candid, multi-dimensional, slyly psychedelic, and full of heart. Her music has become a world unto itself.

This impulse toward the candid, the multi-dimensional, has also come to define the sound of Bridgers’ music. Self-produced with Tony Berg and Ethan Gruska, these songs are starkly drawn and colorfully embellished, produced in service of each individual story. Punisher’s first single, “Garden Song,” is a marvel not only for how seamlessly its lyrics bind fantasies and nightmares, burning houses and blooming flowers, but also for how each element of its slyly psychedelic arrangement travels along with her words. The fingerpicked riff is played on a guitar that seems to be dissolving; a low, male voice comes in like a record playing at the wrong speed; a steady pulse seems to rise from somewhere deep in your headphones.

The record glows with this strange self-sufficiency, an instinct to push forward against bad odds. It’s a daunting proposition, and before she knows where she’s going, she’s on her way.

Like golden rays peeking through autumn mist, synths ripple and intertwine with reverb shuffles and delayed split-coil notes on "False Direction," the opener to Dayglow's über confident Fuzzybrain. Austin's best kept secret, Sloan Struble's debut already amassed over 5 million Spotify plays, and while the UT dropout and Texas native credits that to playlist algorithms, there's more to unpack on this eight-track gem. Having taught himself the basics of GarageBand at age 10, the now 20-year-old credits himself as the sole songwriter, producer, performer, and mixer here, yielding impressive results. Single "Can I Call You Tonight?" blasts into the stratosphere as his voice echoes like astral feedback. Synths and guitar slink wrap "Hot Rod" in bright ribbon pop, but flips the over-romanticized iconography for self-aware innocence, conceding, "Maybe I'm not all that you thought / ... / Maybe you're not such a hot rod." This time around he's added not only "Nicknames" but another new single called "Listerine." It's a classic indie rock song with both the chill of Real Estate and the liveliness of COIN. Beyond expert bedroom pop, the album fits into a broader spectrum where sun-kissed indie tiptoes into electro pop. "Dear Friend" and "Junior Varsity" gleams with Struble's songwriting potential, wherein his youthful ennui caresses genuine emotion. -The Austin Chronicle

On his fourth album, Kevin Parker takes a breath and eases into a smoother psychedelic sound. Even without the adrenaline-filled highs, the compositions are as rich and thoughtful as ever.

On Tame Impala’s fourth album, Parker addresses the eternal enemy of perfectionists everywhere: time. He struggled with it himself, considering The Slow Rush arrives five years after Currents, the album that made his one-man band more famous than he could’ve imagined. Parker has toured arenas, headlined mega-festivals, worked with Travis Scott and Kanye West, more or less ditched the skinny scarves, and had the rare honor of being covered by Rihanna (and making her dance like this). He intended to release The Slow Rush just before headlining Coachella last April, but he didn’t feel like it was ready yet. You could sense that flux in the album rollout: First single “Patience” hinted at a yacht-rock direction but ultimately didn’t make the cut; second single “Borderline” was trimmed and beefed up for the LP; and the whole thing was remastered following a November 2019 listening party, where he couldn’t stop noticing things he wanted to tweak. Given time, Parker will tinker.

The effect is something like multiple YouTube videos accidentally playing at once, a restless mind making gorgeous chaos—the work of a true perfectionist. -Pitchfork

With a shift in tone and tempo, Katie Crutchfield creates a vivid modern classic of folk and Americana. It’s the sound of a cherished songwriter thawing out under the sun.

With Katie Crutchfield’s fifth solo album comes the spring, its essence bottled so powerfully you could name a perfume after it: Saint Cloud, by Waxahatchee. Its sensory trigger has the power to replace the memory of whatever you call this atrophic season happening around us. Instead, Saint Cloud is all lilacs and creek beds, Memphis skylines and Manhattan subways, love and sobriety, the sound of a cherished songwriter thawing out under the sun.

Because Saint Cloud is so fresh and budding on the outside, Crutchfield can hide her anger and fear inside it. This new contrast gives great dimension to her storytelling, allowing all the sourness and rot at the fringes of her songs to come and go at will. “War” takes on a rambling ’60s Dylan feel, that lets her talk about how she’s prone to “come in hot” and “fill up the room,” but she’s quick to add—as we all do in heated moments—that it has “nothing to do with you.” The trauma buried at the heart of “Arkadelphia” is so palpable that the slow-burn tempo makes it glow white. She sings softly, “If we make pleasant conversation/I hope you can’t see what’s burning in me.” Crutchfield is still the patron saint of emotional chaos, but her songs suggest that she’s becoming more of a protector, a homebody, looking to take everything out of storage and either throw it away or keep it safe in a home.

This record feels like you’re in possession of a family heirloom. -Pitchfork


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