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The Best Albums of Winter 2020

Normally, this would be the place where I’d offer a couple of words that attempt to provide some kind of narrative for the albums in this list. But I think you’ll understand when I say: That feels really, really absurd right now. We’re all in a very different place than we were on January 1st. I spend most of my time these days wondering when it will be cool for me to leave my apartment again—and, when that time comes, if there will even be any places left for me to go. So to try to offer some pat words about how music is a “cure-all” would ring a little false.

The records in this list aren’t going to change what’s happening outside all of our doors right now. But if you put any one of them on, you can give yourself the gift of forgetting, even if it’s just for 30 or 40 minutes. You can focus on a drum pattern, or a sick riff, or the sound of another human’s voice as they pull off an impressive turn of phrase. When the album is over, all of the other stuff will still be there. But while it’s playing, you can listen to songs that—whether they’re played on a guitar or a synth or a laptop—were made by another human being who, somewhere in the world, is probably feeling a lot of the same things you’re feeling in this moment.

Then, they present a series of amazing tracks from some stellar artists. Here are two I picked up:

Jazz artist Jeremy Cunningham’s The Weather Up There is about how one death can impact an entire family. Centered on his brother’s 2008 murder, the Chicago-based Cunningham weaves recorded notes from various family members through an album full of experimental, airy, and somber jazz…The Weather Up There captures the sound of grief—one of the most elusive emotions of them all.

Obviously I’m going to be drawn to this work, and Jeremy’s drumming is sublime.

…detailing Douglas’ struggles with alcohol addiction and subsequent recovery. And while you’d think that would be heavy subject matter, the opposite is true. Douglas is such a graceful writer, and their singing and guitar playing is so tender, that Lo actually soothes like a balm: Douglas’ hushed, gentle voice doesn’t back away from depicting darkness, but it also reassures you that everything will be OK in the end.

It might be easier to write like this when you represent an organization whose business is transacting in meangingful music for the majority benefit of the artists. But it’s still a great example for us all. If you are in fact doing good work, then empathy and honesty are the best marketing.

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