Music Suitcase: Favorite Albums of September 2020

This was a rock-oriented month for me, with a variety of styles are represented here, from punk to indie folk to West African desert-blues to psych rock, and even a little metal. September also mostly favored established bands over new ones, as 2020 so often has.

Idles, Ultra Mono

The Bristol, UK band’s third album is full of progressive, inclusive anthems, indictments of fascists and classists both British and international, and the gospel of self-love. The sheer force of this album is staggering, even as the band makes smart production choices and expands its sound. Highlights: “Model Village,” “Grounds,” “Danke”

Fleet Foxes, Shore

Robin Pecknold and company’s surprise 4th album is an intentionally bright, comforting record for tough times — still adventurous, but smoother and less challenging than 2017’s Crack-Up. Pecknold performs almost everything on this one, his graceful harmonies filling each song with warmth and wonder. Highlights: “A Long Way Past The Past,” “Quiet Air/Gioia,” “Thymia”

Afel Bocoum, Lindé

The 65-year-old stalwart of Mali’s desert-blues scene’s new solo album is full of trenchant protest music that is nevertheless uplifting and and encouraging in its sound — polyrhythmic, rolling, often lilting, often hypnotic — and benefits from clever production by Damon Albarn. Highlights: “Dakamana,” “Fari Njungu,” “Kakilena”

Osees, Protean Threat

The now renamed prolific Californian band Thee Oh Sees pulls way back on the prog-metal influences of recent efforts, trading much of that for dynamic, staccato avant-punk in the first half and easing into delicious psych rock in the second. Highlights: “Dreary Nonsense,” “If I Had My Way,” “Gong of Catastrophe”

Everything Everything, Re-Animator

This Machester band’s 5th album sees a fundamentally eccentric art pop outfit reining in its natural chaos to produce a much more tightly crafted musical statement: In this case, an exciting, often Radiohead-inspired indie rock album with a ton of operatic pop flair. Highlights: “Arch Enemy,” “Black Hyena,” “Moonlight”

Throwing Muses, Sun Racket

How lucky are all we 90s indie rock kids that Kristin Hersh has only gotten louder, wilder and punchier with age? On their third album of the 21st century, her band keeps the swirl and sludge of its signature sound and manages to intensify it as well. Highlights: “Dark Blue,” “Bystander,” “Frosting”

Daniel Romano’s Outfit, How Ill Thy World Is Ordered

Much more direct than some of his previous work, despite the hyper-literate and sometimes archaic lyricism, Romano makes full use of his still new Outfit for a brighter, more energetic sound as he explores a variety of indie pop, psych rock, blues and country tunes. Highlights: “First Yoke,” “Joys Too Often Hollow,” “No More Disheartened By the Dawn”

Deradoorian, Find The Sun

A seasoned collaborator on high profile projects, former Dirty Projectors bassist Angel Deradoorian’s third full-length solo record infuses lo fi indie rock touched with exotic scales and textures to anchor the direct, transparent mysticism of her lyrics. Highlights: “Saturnine Night,” “Monk’s Robes,” “Sun”

Bill Callahan, Gold Record

With a similar sound to 2019’s Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest, the indie veteran seems to’ve decided that his sparsely arranged, intimate folk is all the vehicle he needs for his warm, poignant and often wry storytelling, and these songs agree. Highlights: “The MacKenzies,” “Pigeons,” “Ry Cooder”

Bob Mould, Blue Hearts

The punk and post-punk veteran rages as hard, and sounds as vital on his 13th solo album as if Hüsker Dü never ended, and even the slower songs are wonderfully anthemic. Passionate, political and vital. Highlights: “American Crisis,” “Baby Needs A Cookie,” “Little Pieces”

Sufjan Stevens, The Ascension

Diving headlong into electronic instrumentation, the indie folk veteran’s characteristic introspection, gentle vocal stylings, and thematic ambitiousness remain strong and compelling. Highlights: “Ursa Major,” “Video Game,” “Goodbye To All That”

Thurston Moore, By The Fire

Achieving the long-form art rock epic he’s attempted for years with the help of an extended runtime (82 min), the former Sonic Youth frontman delivers elegantly structured songs in the first half, and has room to get weird and extra-spacious in the second. Highlights: “Hashish,” “Breath,” “They Believe In Love (When They Look At You)”

Tricky, Fall To Pieces

Two singers, Martha Ztakwoska and Oh Land, give voice to the pain of a heartbroken father mourning his daughter, on Tricky’s first album since that tragic event a year and a half ago. The artist’s grieving is devastatingly frank and untheatrical, and present in every song. Highlights: “Close Now,” “Running Off,” “I’m In The Doorway”

Lomelda, Hannah

Hannah Reed’s fourth album centers itself in quiet, intimate, soul-searching lo-fi but veers, just as vulnerably, into its wildside of asymmetrical rhythms and jagged experimentation at all the right moments. Highlights: “Hannah Sun,” “Wonder,” “Tommy Dread”

The Flaming Lips, American Head

The long-running space rockers crank up the loose, billowy psychedelia on their music here even as their songs take on a more grounded and visceral quality than usual, on an album largely focused on death and drugs. Highlights: “Assassins of Youth,” “Brother Eye,” “You N Me Sellin’ Weed”

Sally Anne Morgan, Thread

The debut solo album of this seasoned North Carolina singer, fiddler and banjo player grounds itself firmly in Appalachian folk, but defies genre norms with its meandering compositions and instrumental reveries. Highlights: “Polly on the Shore,” “Garden Song,” “Sheep Shaped”

Matt Costa, Yellow Coat

Reasonably sad but often soothing, Matt Costa’s sixth set is a break-up album with a more forgiving perspective than many. Bittersweet love songs, and songs about love itself, share the stage with those about lessons learned from lost love. Highlights: “Make That Change,” “Let Love Heal,” “When the Avalanche Comes”

Sinead O’Brien, Drowning in Blessings

You could spend most her debut EP’s 15 minutes deciding whether this is avant-punk music, or rather a poetry album set to post-punk accompaniment, but the clearest conclusion is that this Limerick, Ireland artist is a voice to be reckoned with. Highlights: “Drowning in Blessings,” “Roman Ruins,” “Strangers in Danger”

Deftones, Ohms

My metal days are mostly behind me, but I can apparently still enjoy the hard-driving, emotive, ultimately life-affirming alt-metal that this long-running Sacramento band brings to the table. Highlights: “Urantia,” “Genesis,” “Ohms”

Hey, by the way…

Did you enjoy this article? Cool. 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.

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Stefan Wenger

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. .