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KXT’s Favorite Albums of 2020 23

Where to even begin for this year?

First of all, you’ve made it this far. Pat yourself on the back, because little did you know, you’re made of stronger stuff than you thought. That’s worth celebrating.

Second, COVID has yet to put a damper on the creative spirit, and right up there with our heroes working the front lines of the pandemic, we are grateful to our favorite musicians for saving this oft-dreadful year from being a complete wash. 2020’s musical offerings are plentiful and speak to every wild and disparate vibe this year has inspired: the good, the bad, and to put it bluntly – the boomerang effect of all of the above, turned up to 11.

From the crop of emerging artists to the pool of Grammy nominees, from the talent from right here in our own backyard and beyond, compare and see which favorites of yours made it to the lists of the KXT DJs, who whittled down their top 5 album picks of 2020 here.

-Gini Mascorro

Brad Dolbeer

Assistant Program Director and host of KXT Mornings

Devon Gilfillian – Black Hole Rainbow

When we booked him to open up our 10th birthday concert at the Rustic with Grace Potter, we knew he was a strong talent. His debut album Black Hole Rainbow did not disappoint. We’re looking forward to a long career from this Nashville artist.

Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters

Taking eight years between albums is usually a career killer for an artist, but Fiona Apple came back in 2020 with one of her strongest albums ever, Fetch The Bolt Cutters (the title taken from a British-Irish TV series “The Fall”).

Kathleen Edwards – Total Freedom

After an eight-year hiatus, Kathleen Edwards came back in 2020 with Total Freedom. She’s always been a favorite of mine and when she got off the music train back in 2012 to open a restaurant, I figured she was done. What a surprise when I heard she was coming back.

Bob Dylan – Rough And Rowdy Ways

His 39th album between 1962 and 2020. When I heard there was a new Dylan album coming, I wasn’t surprised, but I had no idea of the phenomenal material that was coming my way. The lead “single” was a haunting 16+ minute epic, “Murder Most Foul”. As strong an album as he has ever made, Rough And Rowdy Ways showed me Bob ain’t quite done yet…

Amy Miller

KXT Program Director and host of The KXT Local Show

Tame Impala – The Slow Rush

The vibe-iest record of the year! The Slow Rush is Tame Impala’s best album yet. Not only will this synth-driven album put you in a trance, but it has some super-catchy melodies that show Kevin Parker is really evolving as a songwriter.

Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas

La Havas takes us through heartache with such class. This is an album that gets better with each listen and there are a few stand out gems where her voice really shines including “Bittersweet,” “Paper Thin” and “Sour Flower.”

Bright Eyes – Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was

I could be a bit biased with this release since I’ve been waiting nearly 10 years for a new Bright Eyes album, but Conor Oberst and band certainly didn’t disappoint with this one. It’s classic Bright Eyes, with songs centered around Oberst’s lyrics, which could easily stand alone as unaccompanied poems.

Mac Miller – Circles

Mac Miller started work on this album before his death in 2018 and it was completed by producer Jon Brion before its release in January. The album’s tone is different from the ones before it – a bit more solemn and laid back, and to me it’s a masterpiece. In fact, I’d recommend this as a good starter album to anyone who has been hesitant about diving into the beautiful world of Mac Miller.

Sylvan Esso – Free Love

The duo released their most Sylvan Esso-sounding album this year with Free Love. I still can’t get enough of this album no matter how many times I listen. Amelia Meath’s sweet voice shines on each track and the band proves they are equally capable of creating beautifully stripped down and minimalist songs (“Free”) and propulsive dance tunes (“Ferris Wheel”).

Gini Mascorro

KXT Music Director and host of What’s New

Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death

The whole album, particularly the title track, has been instrumental in helping me wade through the emotional muck of 2020. Any other year, it’d be steeped in irony.

Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

Watching the artistic evolution of multi-Grammy nominee Phoebe Bridgers has been a joy to witness – whether she’s collaborating or following her own muse. And we’ll definitely be following her for years to come.

Lous And The Yakuza – Gore

Not being able to travel this year makes me want to load up my playlist with bewitching chanteuses who take me to another place in my wanderlust-filled headspace. How does one say “be still my heart” in French?

The Mavericks – En Espanol

Crooner Raul Malo & co. can always be counted upon to elevate and soothe the soul. With the band’s first-ever Spanish language album, they’re showing how it’s done. Again.

Fantastic Negrito – Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?

Yes, but what an excellent collection of songs to lose it to. The musical mind of this two-time Grammy winner and current nominee never ceases to astound.

Jackson Wisdorf

Host/Operations & Production Coordinator at KXT

Khruangbin – Modechai

In a pandemic and can’t travel abroad anywhere? No worries! Just throw on this record and transport yourself to all the different corners of the globe our Houston-based friends draw inspiration from.

Osees – Protean Threat

John Dwyer and company knocked it out of the park with Protean Threat. Yet another adventure into the world of space-y/prog-y/krautrock-inspired jams, with some old fashioned Thee Oh Sees-styled, garage-punk attitude thrown in there for safe measure.

Boldy James – The Price of Tea in China

The Price of Tea in China is the most immersive hip-hop album I’ve heard this year. Throughout its 38-minute run time, in a series of twelve separate-yet-connected vignettes, the writing, flow, and production (shoutout Alchemist!) intertwine to transport you into the world of underground Detroit with such incredible detail. Even if you’ve never been to the Motor City (me), listening to T.P.O.T.I.C. makes you feel like you’ve been there the whole time.

Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Everyone knew it would be on the list, and not much else to say other than, Fiona Apple absolutely killed it with F.T.B.C. If you (somehow) haven’t, do yourself a favor, and experience it.

Thundercat – It Is What It Is

On his fourth-studio record, Thundercat skillfully progresses his style of jazz-funk- fusion with RnB and hip-hop influences to create a work of art that seems to take the scariness out of digging for answers in one’s own grief-filled heart.

**Honorable Mention**Paint – Spiritual Vegas

The sophomore release from Allah-Las’ guitarist Pedrum Siadatian, stands out, to me, for its ability to bring about some rays of late-sixties-tinged, psychedelic-sunshine in a year that has been mostly dark.

Eric Bright

Director of Radio Operations for KERA 90.1 FM and KXT 91.7 FM

Run the Jewels – RTJ4

I got this record after listening to a podcast interview with Killer Mike and El P. It’s raw, honest, compelling, meaningful and terrific.

Luluc – Dreamboat

Beautifully melancholy, with just the right hint of hope.

Waxahatchee – St. Cloud

I can identify with Katie Crutchfield’s struggle chronicled in the songs on St. Cloud. I love this record. The sound, the words, the voice…all of it.

Nathaniel Rateliff – And It’s Still Alright

A little more subdued than a Night Sweats record. Intelligent songs full of clever turns of phrase with cool instrumentation.

Taylor Swift – Folklore

My favorite thing she’s ever done, and I can’t stop listening to it.

Jeff Penfield

KERA Manager of Radio Operations and a KXT weekend host

Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters

Any album Fiona Apple releases is highly anticipated and this one was no different with another taste of her unique style and sharp lyrics.

Taylor Swift – Folklore

Taylor Swift teamed up with The National’s Aaron Dessner to write and produce one of her most exploratory albums ever, putting a new twist on her normally more pop-leaning catalogue.

Declan McKenna – Zeros

Declan McKenna is quickly becoming one of the strongest voices for Gen Z, recording protest songs with a classic glam rock twist on his latest album.  

Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas

Not only did Lianne La Havas self-title this album, she produced it as well, twisting and bending a variety of music styles together to create one of the more inventive sounds of the year.

Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

No one is quite as adept as Phoebe Bridgers at putting pain into words. For her sophomore album, she expanded upon the dark folk she established on her debut album Stranger In The Alps.

Nilufer Arsala

KXT weekend host and the Technical Director for Think with Krys Boyd on KERA

Chicano Batman – Invisible People

I heard Chicano Batman takeover the Latin Alternative and from that moment I was hooked. This album instantly became part of my personal 2020 soundtrack and I’ve probably listened to it about a thousand times.

Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

This album came out at just the right time to be played on repeat during quarantine. It was the perfect album to get lost in and I ended up revisiting Fiona Apple’s whole discography because of this album. Spoiler Alert: It’s all still fantastic!

Deep Sea Diver – Impossible Weight

Lead singer and guitarist Jessica Dobson is a powerhouse and the title track, “Impossible Weight” (feat. Sharon Van Etten) is the perfect song to belt out at the top of your lungs while driving down the highway.

Bartees Strange – Live Forever

I just discovered Bartees Strange and I am so impressed! Live Forever is Strange’s genre-bending first album and follows an EP of Nationals covers titled Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy that he released back in March. Live Forever is a mix of rock, rap, southern blues styles, R&B, industrial and more all wrapped up in one fun package. Fun Fact – Bartees Strange grew up in Mustang, Oklahoma, which is just a hop, skip and a jump away from where I was raised. The song “Mustang” perfectly captures that angsty ‘get me outta here’ feeling of wanting to break out of your hometown.

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Reunions

I’ve been a fan of Jason Isbell since he was in the Drive-By Truckers and it’s been wonderful to watch him grow as an artist. Isbell’s voice is gravely, smooth and familiar while singing lyrics to songs that live somewhere between rock and country. He has a wonderful way of pulling the listener right into the song and the emotions he’s trying to convey.