Music Suitcase: Favorite Albums of October 2020

Many of October’s best albums were politically driven, with the top 3 (and various others made) by artists who are also activists and organizers. We have a couple of great comeback albums here, and at least 6 albums by artists who’ve been making music for over 20 (and in some cases 40) years. October’s highlights also favor solo artists over bands.

Sa-Roc, The Sharecropper’s Daughter

The best hip hop album of 2020’s second half comes from the D.C.-born, Atlanta-based conscious rapper Assata Perkins. It’s got a dizzying flow, high-vocab verbal gymnastics and infectious beats too, and every single song is ablaze with wisdom and passion. Highlights: “Gold Leaf,” “The Black Renaissance,” “Forever,” “Something Real”

Jessica Smucker, Lucid Stories, Tentative Lies

Always musically enchanting and lyrically bewitching, this Lancaster, PA-based singer/songwriter and poet benefits from an expanded sonic palate and lots of smart production choices on her indelible third full-length album. Highlights: “When I Was The Weather,” “Beautiful Sin,” “The Sea”

Songhoy Blues, Optimisme

While retaining the rhythms and kaleidoscopic flavor of traditional Malian music, the band’s high-energy third album newly establishes them at the more guitar-driven and dynamic edge of the Saharan desert rock scene. Highlights: “Barre,” “Fey Fey,” “Dournia”

Adrianne Lenker, Songs

The Big Thief frontwoman made the most of the pandemic with an intricately woven, warm and intimate, largely finger-plucked acoustic third solo record that ranks amongst her most engaging work yet. Highlights: “Dragon Eyes,” “Anything,” “Zombie Girl”

Bruce Springsteen, Letter To You

The Boss reconvenes the E Street Band for his 19th album, an often exhilarating return to form replete with anthemic rockers reminiscent that fit among the best of his 80s catalogue, and some duskier singer/songwriter moments too. Highlights: “House of a Thousand Guitars,” “Rainmaker,” “Ghosts”

Midnight Oil, The Makarrata Project

Australia’s greatest rock band returns after 18 years for a collaboration with indigenous voices, with sovereignty and reparations at the center of their message. This EP / mini-album is a welcome addition to the canon. Highlights: “Wind in my Head,” “Change the Date,” “Uluru Statement from the Heart / Come On Down”

Sun Ra Arkestra, Swirling

The space jazz pioneer’s band returns after 21 years. Like their founder, they infuse playful and meandering compositions with cosmic purpose, to make even their wildest free jazz reveries both digestible and delicious. Highlights: “Seductive Fantasy,” “Angels and Demons at Play,” “Sea of Darkness / Darkness”

Darlingside, Fish Pond Fish

The formerly all-strings-and-vocals indie folk-rockers open up their sound via a more spacious recording setup (they used to literally cluster around a single microphone) and the addition of (excellent) drums. Adventurous, complex and lush. Highlights: “Crystal Caving,” “Ocean Bed,” “Mountain + Sea”

Gord Downie, Away Is Mine

The esteemed Tragically Hip frontman and Canadian national treasure’s posthumous 6th solo album is brave, beautiful and direct, and comes doubled — first half is electric and heavily produced; second disc is acoustic. Highlights: “About Blank,” “Hotel Worth,” “Untitled — Acoustic”

Open Mike Eagle, Anime, Trauma and Divorce

The self-described art rapper delivers his most personal album, often driven by pain and introspection but still full of playful, nerdy, self-deprecating humor. Produced by Jacknife Lee, Mike’s 7th album arrives with some of his best beats. Highlights: “Sweatpants Spiderman,” “Wtf is Self-Care,” “Death Parade”

Kevin Morby, Sundowner

Pulling back on the rock and roll and mostly setting his piano aside, the LA-based singer/songwriter focuses on an acoustic guitar-driven set that accentuates Cohen and Dylan as prime influences. Highlights: “Provisions,” “Jamie,” “Don’t Underestimate Midwest American Sun”

Bartees Strange, Live Forever

This D.C.-based artist blends art-pop, indie rock, alt-R&B and other diverse styles into something wholly his own and only asserts itself as a hip hop album, in the cultural sense, every three or four songs. One of a kind. Highlights: “Far,” “Boomer,” “In A Cab”

The Mountain Goats, Getting Into Knives

After a one-off quarantine album earlier this year, John Darnielle’s band re-enters the mix sounding refreshed and vitalized, on loose and relatively jaunty full-band effort. Lyrically, Darnielle’s storytelling still takes center stage. Highlights: “Picture of My Dress,” “As Many Candles As Possible,” “Bell Swamp Connection”

Touché Amoré, Lament

Frankly I’m a little shocked that the musical chops, emotional depth and lyricism of this LA post-hardcore band are enough to get me through the atonally scream-sung vocals, but here we are! Highlights: “Feign,” “Reminders,” “Come Heroine”

Elvis Costello, Hey Clockface

On a record wildly varied in style, shape and tone, his 30th-ish album is united only by the scrappy, unpredictable nature Costello showed in his youth, and the stately songcraft that define his storied career. Highlights: “No Flag,” “Hey Clockface / How Can You Face Me?,” “Byline”

clipping., Visions of Bodies Being Burned

The experimental industrial noise rap trio’s third full-length album is a thematic follow-up to their second, with more disturbing, supernatural horror-themed rap music. It’s very well done, and genuinely not for the faint of heart. Highlights: “Check The Lock,” “Say The Name,” “She Bad”

Osees, Metamorphosed

The prolific Bay Area psych rockers’ second album this autumn features three short blasts of punk-metal (outtakes from a previous album) and two very long progged out psych rock jams. Highlights: “Electric War,” “Weird and Wasted Connection,” “The Virologist”

While we’re here…

Did you enjoy this article? Awesome! It was written by a white guy privileged enough to have time listen to like 40 albums every month and write a blog as a passion project, for free.

If you white and you are also are privileged enough to have some time on your hands, or some money to donate, please check out some anti-racism resources and help fight the good fight.

Nerding out over music is fun, but let’s not forget that we live in a burning world that needs our help! Black lives matter.

Stef is a Bronx-bred, California-dwelling, 1977-born Libra-Aquarian lifelong music junkie. He is also a writer, improviser, singer, director and voice actor. .