Garrett Lemons’s Top Albums of 2020

Best of 2020

I wanted to call this piece, “On The Surprise Joy of Raising Chickens and the Importance of the Small Things,” but that would really bury the lede that this is an End of the Year celebration list. Because, somehow, in the myriad of catastrophes, pandemics, elections, family feuds, break-ups, loss of friendships, and everything in between, 2020 still managed to deliver some immensely great music.

On December 21, 2019, I turned 30. I’d set out to conquer my first year in my thirties with some rather big goals that would really challenge and test me. I really wanted to propel myself into the future after a very challenging and difficult decade of depression and dreams deferred.

As a noted non-runner, I set out to complete a 5K, a 10K, a half-marathon, and a full marathon. Early in January, I completed the 5K having raised the most money of any runner to help a local non-profit combat human trafficking. I kept training. Hours after I crossed the finish line of my 10K in mid-March, somehow as fourth overall, my April half-marathon in Nashville was postponed to November due to COVID. My mid-October trip to Iceland to run a marathon (and finally show my dad one of my favorite places on earth) was also promptly canceled. Things were getting very real and overwhelming extremely fast.

Yet, I didn’t allow 2020 to break me. I kept running, putting all my focus into training for that November (now) marathon. I put in nearly 500 miles of running. Whether it was on an icy morning or a blistering Southern summer afternoon, I managed to keep myself on track and showing up. Running was my defense against the year. I could no longer go to the gym and lift or take my favorite spin class or swim laps. All I had was running. Leave it to 2020 to cancel the marathon four days before I ran it, because it did.

I set out to self-publish two books in 2020. I even briefly mentioned one of them when I did a write-up of seeing Thrice’s Vheissu tour. But publishing a memoir about depression in the midst of a pandemic felt unfinished. I met up bi-weekly with fellow writers on Zoom to “word war” for months on end, all of us trying to use the extra time we now had to try and work on our projects. Alas, I’m not Taylor Swift, and my final revision of the other book I planned to publish floundered under the weight of the year.

But I did start writing poetry again after over a decade of giving up verse. I can celebrate that. Poetry can capture the emotions and moments of 2020 far better than prose can for now while we are still living in the uncomfortable midst of it all. When everything is disjointed, poetry–just like music–still has the power to enshrine everything all at once.

In the wake of the unjust murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, I celebrated Juneteenth for the first (long overdue) time in my life. I read The New Jim Crow and many other books to try and learn. I finally had the (long overdue) mindset switch where I no longer wanted someone to explain it to me, but instead took the impetus to seek out the information for myself. I’m nowhere close to where I need to be, but I’m trying harder than ever before. For that, I am thankful.

Early in January, two of my friends and I had planned a trip to the Bahamas to celebrate one of their birthdays. We booked an hour-long session to swim with dolphins–the number one item on my bucket list and my second favorite animal. But as coronavirus began to ravage the populations of the world, the animal keepers wisely shut down the island to protect the animals. Our trip was canceled shortly thereafter by Delta. It’s hard to describe the feeling of losing this dream, but I’m sure there was something similar in the year for you as well.

But then, in the middle of the summer, my mom finally followed through on one of her dreams: owning chickens. This is a dream I’d been against, but only because I didn’t want to happen what was bound to inevitably happen. Long story short of it, I became an unabashed chicken person. Six months ago, I never would’ve thought that I would whip out my phone to show complete strangers pictures of my girls (or link them in “critical” writing). But all eight of them have personalities, voices, and characteristics that really bring me the simplest (and most pure) of joys.

I never thought chickens would be the instrument for learning, but they only highlight the importance of small joys in the midst of overwhelming hell. It’s the hours on Zoom with friends, laughing anyway. It’s reading your favorite fantasy series over from start to finish to experience a known comfort in the midst of the uncertainty. It’s the pride of getting a promotion at work because you’re willing to work hard even when the world feels like it’s collapsing.

And all the way through it, these artists provided most of my soundtrack.

HM: Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
HM: Big Sean – Detroit 2
HM: Selena Gomez – Rare
HM: Halsey – Manic
HM: Miley Cyrus – Plastic Hearts
30. Lauv – How I’m Feeling
29. Jenny Dee – Dancing From A Distance
28. The Chicks – Gaslighter
27. All Time Low – Wake Up, Sunshine
26. Rina Sawayama – Sawayama
25. Katie Pruitt – Expectations
24. Lecrae – Restoration
23. The Used – Heartwork
22. This Will Destroy You – Vespertine
21. Silverstein – A Beautiful Place To Drown
20. Jason Isbell – Reunions
19. The Dangerous Summer – All That Is Left of the Blue Sky
18. Megan Thee Stallion – Good News
17. Anti-Flag – 20/20 Vision
16. Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor
15. Lady Gaga – Chromatica
14. Ruston Kelly – Shape & Destroy
13. The Airborne Toxic Event – Hollywood Park
12. Mandy Moore – Silver Landings
11. Barely Civil – I’ll Figure This Out

10. Taylor Swift – evermore

The second surprise Taylor Swift album of 2020 is the album I’ve least connected with of (who I am now realizing is) my second favorite artist currently making music since Fearless. However, that is not to say that there aren’t career highlights (“marjorie” and “tolerate it”) and an immense appreciate for her insane talent.

9. Sam Hunt – Southside

At first, this album did not connect with me. Maybe it was the way that there were three years of miscellaneous singles hodge-podged into an EP’s worth of new songs, but nothing about this album worked. Which was pretty devastating as Montevallo is one of my favorite pop-country albums of all time. However, six months later, as the fall began to descend into winter, something about it clicked. I find that sitting with music and returning to it, especially with artists that you’ve previously connecte with, is always worth the time.

8. ManDancing – The Good Sweat

This album caught me by surprse. I don’t even remember how I even came across it, but man, am I thankful I did. Early Manchester Orchestra meets Foxing and I am all in. Don’t sleep on this album/band, any readers actually reading this. You won’t be sorry.

7. Chris Stapleton – Starting Over

The king of making me want to sit around a bonfire and sip whiskey just does not miss.

6. Ellie Goulding – Brightest Blue

It’s no secret that I adore Ellie. But, if you read my review of the EG.0 EP and Brightest Blue, you are probably surprised by it’s placement here. This is another album that took sitting with for months for it to finally unfold and become an album I could sit with and love. She is a tour-de-force and I cannot wait to see where she goes from here. Her albums got me through the depression of my twenties, and I hope her story continues to inspire me as life continues on.

5. Caspian – On Circles

This is the only album that doesn’t make me think of COVID-19. It makes me think of the first time I listened to it, snuggled under flannel sheets and letting myself sink into the music. Caspian simply outdid themselves here.

4. Spanish Love Songs – Brave Faces Everyone

This damn album. In reality, the top four of this list could all be in a four-way tie for first. This is a pandemic, election year millennial anthem start to finish.

3. Touche Amore – Lament

Somehow, in this community, as a mewithoutYou and La Dispute fan, I made it to the fall of 2020 without listening to Touche Amore. Y’all really failed me on this one. This album resonated with me instantly in a way that few albums have. It managed to infuse 2020 with an angsty hope that summarizes how I’ve tried to face every day.

2. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

This was a lock for album of the year until one Taylor Alison Swift uncharacteristically surprise dropped an album. Dua Lipa’s explosion to the top of the pop world is beyond warranted with a voice like hers. However, with Future Nostalgia, she brought the joy of pop music to the forefront in a year where joy was hard to find. Put on this album, feel that bass, and try not to dance. It is impossible to understatement how important this album, and others like it, are for our mental health in times like this.

”Physical” is the undisputed song of the year, though. What an absolute powerhouse of a pop performance.

1. Taylor Swift – folklore

What more is there to say when you look at her career? She did that and brought surprise and excitement to a year missing both of those things. “Peace” may be the second best song of her career, and “Betty” finally brought back a country flair that I’ve been missing from her. But “My Tears Ricochet” and “This Is Me Trying” and I really can go on and on about this beautiful, haunting work. If this is the first time you’ve fallen in love with Taylor (somehow), this isn’t the first time she’s struck lightning in a bottle.

Over the last year on Chorus, I’ve made a few very public mistakes as a moderator. I’ve owned up to them and apologized to the people involved, but I wanted to apologize to anyone who observed along the way. I’m trying to be better and outside stressors led to me acting in unacceptable ways.

I appreciate Jason allowing me to take on more of a writing role this year (even if it just let me write about Son, I Loved You At Your Darkest) This community has always found ways to keep me discovering new music. New joys. New friends. I joined a Pokemon draft league and our laughter and competition has been a light in the darkness this year.

May 2021 be better. May we be better. Find your chickens.