2020 Music* Review
*ok so music and a little bit more, too
Another year, another review. As part of the tradition, I’m cutting this down further from the previous year to keep it a bit brief. I’m hardly using Medium as a publishing platform these days, but all my previous reviews are still available: 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016.
This is probably the only real element of popular contemporary culture that I stay really up-to-date on, primarily because of how much I love discovering new sounds. It, therefore, follows that the bulk of this post will be devoted to music.
My Top Albums of 2020
You’ll hear this a lot from me, but all 5 of these albums feel like they’re defining a contemporary genre for me, and I can’t say how many times I have and will listen to each of these albums the full way through. I’ll try to summarize these in a sentence or so, to keep it short and sweet.
Jason Isbell’s a master of whatever the hell “Americana” is these days and he and his band have put out another important album that feels like it’s been overshadowed much of this year.
Rina Sawayama’s “SAWAYAMA” feels simultaneously at the retro cutting edge of pop music while also casting sarcastic stones from its exterior.
Didn’t realize how much I missed Fiona Apple until she put out this masterpiece of an album. It was worth the wait.
Beach Bunny’s “Honeymoon” exemplifies perfectly everything I love about the genre the group has continued to define in the last few years, and they don’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.
Okay so Bad Bunny released three ablums in 2020. “YHLQMDLG” is his first and, in my opinion, best. It’s absolutely full of hits from start to finish, whereas his other two have a few really great songs and then several that don’t match up to this early-2020 force.
Favorite Music Videos of 2020
Only a few of us maybe even care about music videos anymore. Here are some of my favorites from this year. Not ranking them, just wanted to share a few that stood out. No summaries here, and most of these are pretty mainstream (sorry!) and likely you already know them.
Bad Bunny — Yo Perreo Sola
BENEE — KOOL
REI AMI — DICTATOR
The Strokes — The Adults Are Talking
Doja Cat — Say So
Artist of the Year: Arlo Parks
Okay so Arlo Parks hasn’t yet technically put out an album. She’s got such an interesting vibe and voice and her melodies are such earworms, so I’m excited that she’s announced her debut album is to come in 2021, Collapsed in Sunbeams.
There’s just something about her music so far that builds up these languid dreams then yanks the listener out, like a very-close flash of lightening during a summer shower.
Plus, she’s already done an (at home) Tiny Desk Concert with NPR (below). I can’t wait to catch her in concert as soon as I’m able to go outside without the fear of respiratory plague endangering me and my loved ones.
Favorite Comic Books of 2020
This year was a weird year for comics for me, since my comic book experience is highly connected to my local comic book shops, which have been pretty much closed all year. I opted out of Marvel Unlimited this year because I was kind of tired of the content I was getting (and also budget cuts due to COVID-19+unemployment demanded it). However, I did spend some cash on some good comic books regardless. Here are three comics from 2020 that I read this year that I really enjoyed:
Sophie Yanow — The Contradictions
Okay so technically fully collected and published in 2020 so I’m counting it. I was really excited to finally get this book in my hands after reading Sophie’s online postings preceding it. It’s a wonderfully beautiful exploration of love, strangeness, and loneliness and I cannot recommend it enough.
Buy it on Bookshop, here!
James Tynion IV + Werther Dell’Edera+Miquel Muerto — Something is Killing the Children
This one is technically on-going so the story isn’t yet complete but so far it’s a really interesting, visually stunning, and quite disturbing action horror comic.
Volume 1 is available on Bookshop here!
Simon Spurrier+Aaron Campbell+Matias Bergara+Marcio Takara — John Constantine: Hellblazer
I’ve always been a fan of the troubled character of John Constantine, and this segment of the 2020 run was a great mix of heavy conscience, magic, and the occult that I have thoroughly enjoyed so far.
Volume 1 is available on Bookshop here!
Last year I included a small conclusory segment on some of the writing I did myself, and I’m going to lightly repeat that here.
Most of my Medium followers follow me because they read the Medium publication for MilitiaWatch, either out of interest or hate (err, “intel”, I guess). Writing this year was kept to a minimum as I maintained a focus on research and data over writing, but I wanted to highlight one article:
Most read (and also maybe one of the higher-hour articles I’ve written):
Zello, Operator: Militias' use of Zello
This piece is intended as a piece to go alongside Micah Loewinger's co-created On the Media/MilitiaWatch radio piece…
This story was written in coordination with On The Media’s Micah Loewinger, and is a partner article to this radio piece from the same week.
I would also be remiss not to mention the first report I wrote with the Armed Conflict Location Event Data project (ACLED) on US-based militia groups around the election, which was one of ACLED’s most-read articles of 2020. The report, “Standing By: Right-Wing Militia Groups & the US Election” is available to read and download here.
Last year I was still in graduate school and had a whole slew of interesting paper topics I was working on, but now I’ve got at least one ongoing project right now, which is on the international and intersecting use of memes among far-right organizations, a project for which I am part of a small team. Earlier this year, we put out an article at the Global Network on Extremism & Technology (GNET):