Streaming Consciously: The Sixteen Sweetest Albums of 20SickDream
20SickDream has been a trying year, filled with epic levels of tragedy on all fronts.
We’ve discussed that a lot over the first six months of The Wudder’s existence.
But I’m here.
Let's instead focus on the blessing of those two facts, as we count the days until this turrible year finally expires, hoping nobody else expires before we turn the page.
It was a year in which we lost more phenomenal musical artists than we could count.
We did gain a lot of great music, including some vital work from some we lost.
We thank them for their service, both those here in the flesh and those now in spirit.
Here is our Sweet Sixteen albums of 20SickDream:
16) PJ Harvey-The Hope Six Demolition Project
We can't front, this is a bottom half, maybe even bottom third album among Polly Jean’s catalog. It’s still Polly Jean though, which means good enough to make the list.
15) Lucinda Williams-The Ghost Of Highway 20
It’s Lucinda but the specter of later-period Springsteen haunts this record. It’s part Ghost of Tom Joad, part Nebraska. This album containing mostly music originally cut during the sessions for Where The Spirit Meets The Bone, is more stark and dusty than that 2014 double-album. Feels more fitting by the day though.
14) Maren Morris-Hero
“Can I get a Hallelujah, can I get an Amen, it’s like the Holy Ghost running thru you, when I’ve been playing the Highway FM.” Yes, we know. The Wudder is typically much more of a hip-hop/rock-n-roll/soul-oriented site in terms of musical coverage. Still, when a beautifully big-voiced, Young Loretta Lynn-sounding woman sings over some hard-cracking drums, slide guitar harmonies, all while testifying to the supernatural powers of being possessed by music, name-dropping our man Hank Senior in the process? Yeah, I guess that’s my church as well. We even got us a country gig after hearing this too, just to keep up a bit better. Keep an eye out on the road for this nineties baby in her 80’s Mercedes.
13) Childish Gambino-“Awaken, My Love”
Wait, WTF just happened?!?
Never dug Childish Gambino as a rapper. Never thought much of Donald Glover as a stand-up comedian. Was so-so on him as a comedic sitcom actor. Then came the miracle that was his star/show-running tour-de-force Atlanta on FX. That quickly became the best new (and possibly current overall) show on TV. Then as I’m churning out this list, the former cornball MC drops the rapping, starts singing and drops a true-blue funkadelic-ized album, just under the wire that I'd be remiss not to include in this list? That's an even more shocking development than the show.
12) Leonard Cohen-You Want It Darker
Leonard Cohen dropping “You Want It Darker” in late October, then dying the day Donald Trump gets elected President is the most Leonard Cohen thing of all time. His once thin voice only got better and added gravitas in old age. The title track alone, one of his best songs ever, would be worth the price of admission.
11) Kanye West-The Life of Pablo
This was a very tough year for Kanye West, personally and professionally. We hope he gets the help he apparently needs. We know what “exhaustion” is code language for out in Hollywood but are also acutely aware of the ravages of real mental illness. So we’ll spare parsing thru why The Life Of Pablo wasn’t exactly his finest hour creatively either. There was still plenty of great ideas and he (probably by accident) gave us a new blueprint for the work-in-progress album, something that sorta makes sense in this digital era. Shoot, everything you see on this site is essentially a work-in-progress we reserve the right to change at any time. Yeezy taught me. Thank you Yeezy. Stay out of the spotlight for a bit, get yourself together and come back to continue blazing trails when you get better. Peace.
10) Schoolboy Q-The Blank Face LP
How did a dude from a crew called Black Hippy manage to go on to become one of the most nihilistic narrators that this rap game has ever had? I don’t have the answers to those questions. And neither, apparently, does our boy Q. But like Brother Ray used to say, even while walking around blind, he's gonna make it do what it do. So while he and we try to figure it out, might as well all try to enjoy ourselves while weathering the storm of this wintry mix, the results of which are now his new best album (at least until the next fix).
9) NxWorries-Yes Lawd!
Anderson .Paak was likely already the year’s MVP before dropped a full-scale second helping of dopeness within the same calendar year, this one an album collaboration with producer Knxwledge. That just made it a runaway. Sky’s the limit from here.
8) Kendrick Lamar: Untitled, Unmastered
This is essentially an odds-and-sods placeholder album, filled with leftover tracks from 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly, along with some demos recorded while on the road behind it. And yet it’s Kendrick, so it’s still gonna be among the top-shelf stuff released this year, similar to how Incesticide was during the middle of Nirvana’s run, 20+ years ago. If that wasn’t enough, Kendrick also showed up and showed out on three other great albums on this list, just to remind us he’s still the king right now.
7) Bruno Mars-24K Magic
We weren't crazy about Bruno when he first came out but he gains a little bit more respect each time out. This time he really goes for broke, basically attempting to give us his Off The Wall. Does it scale those kinds of heights? Not quite. But it’s definitely strong enough that you’re gonna be hearing singles off of it all next year. At some point everybody has to come out and tell it like it is: the boy good!
Did this album and the accompanying visual album come out this year? It feels like it happened a lifetime ago. Yet the reverberations of Queen Bey’s most cohesive artistic statement yet, will be felt for years to come, in our ears, as well as in the Carter family home. Meanwhile among online root-for-the-underdog types, particularly some of my more okayplayery fam from #ThatSite, some foolishly suggested Solange’s recent album is better than her big sister’s. Remind me to laugh at y’all about that later.
5) YG-Still Brazy
Underestimate YG’s talent, intellect or perspective at your peril. I thought for sure he couldn’t duplicate the cinematic and cohesive collection of bangers with beats spread complements of DJ Mustard, his childhood friend with whom he fell out with prior to the making of this album. But he raised the bar on this one. It kept me going on the ride from LA to Philly in late-June/early-July. This album is his 2Pac moment in ‘YG Against The World’, with another West Coast legend-in-the-making producer Terrace Martin providing the updated LA gangster-rap sound bed underneath. It’s also better than any album Pac ever made but we won’t get into all that right now. Let’s hope the author of “F.D.T.” can pass thru this upcoming nightmare of an administration without further repercussions from our petty Twitter troll president-elect. No matter what happens from here, YG has earned every ounce of our respect.
4) Anderson .Paak-Malibu
Much like Blackstar, Malibu is a January entry that nearly held off the competition all year to go down as the year’s best album. Unlike anyone else, Anderson .Paak is the only person to manage to drop a second great album before the year ended. He’s the only true potential challenger to Kendrick’s throne in terms of talent, stage show and artistry among the generation of hip-hop acts to debut in this millennium.
3) David Bowie-Blackstar
Bowie’s death four days after the release of this album obviously colors the listening experience but does not inform our decision to rank it here. This is Bowie’s best album since 1983’s Let’s Dance. “Lazarus” is a Top 20 Bowie song, which is saying something around these parts. Bowie was said to be listening to a lot of ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ and ‘Black Messiah’ as he worked on this along with his off-Broadway show. And why not? Those two albums were the best two albums made the year before this dropped and when it came to knowing the time or keeping up with the cultural zeitgeist, David Bowie never stopped. Speaking of time, this is the sound of a true artist to the end, knowing he's about to be out of it. The results are so high it makes my brain whirl.
2) Chance The Rapper-Coloring Book
In one of the darkest years in recent memory, this joyful noise that you can play top to bottom on repeat, helped things burn a little brighter. Chance started the year by killing his verse on “Ultralight Beam” on Kanye’s album but took things to a more satisfying conclusion on his own: lyrically, musically, and yes, spiritually. While under the spell of this album, it’s hard not to feel like it’s the best thing to come out this year and one that will hold a place in our heart for years to come.
1) A Tribe Called Quest-We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
This is no nostalgia pick. This is no belated Phife Dawg tribute. We already did that a couple times this year before we even got started here on this site. We wanted to wait a month or so before even weighing in on this one, just to let the fact that this album even happened fully sink in. But we can call it now. Tribe For The Win. Before three weeks ago, we were vacillating back and forth for months between Malibu, Coloring Book and Blackstar. This made our job easy. It’s Tribe’s best work since at least 1993 without question. We’re not even ruling out its potential to be Tribe's best, but obviously it’s way to early to commit to that heresy.
20SickDream Honorable Mention Six-Pack:
-De La Soul-And The Anonymous Nobody
-Solange-A Seat At The Table
-Radiohead-Moon Shaped Pool
-Rae Sremmurd-Sremm Life 2
-Iggy Pop-Post-Pop Depression
Apologies, We Didn't Process Your Album In Time To Qualify:
The Weeknd, E-40, The Rolling Stones, Common, Some Great Rock Album Which We Still Can't Seem To Find
Looking Back On Our 20 Best Albums Of 2015:
1) D’Angelo-Black Messiah
2) Earl Sweatshirt-I Don’t Go Outside, I Don’t Like Shit
3) Kendrick Lamar-To Pimp A Butterfly
4) Janet Jackson-Unbreakable
5) Snoop Dogg-Bush
6) Kamasi Washington-The Epic
7) Czarface-Every Hero Needs A Villian
8) Thundercat-The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam
9) Dr. Dre-Compton
10) Keith Richards-Crosseyed Heart
11) Jazmine Sullivan-Reality Show
14) The Internet-Ego Death
15) Rae Sremmurd-Sremm Life
16) The Weeknd-Beauty And The Madness
17) Kurt Vile-Believe I’m Going Down
18) Raekwon-Fly International Luxurious Art
19) Vince Staples-Summertime ‘06
20) Best Coast-California Nights