Best Music of 2020 Day 5: Most Disappointing Releases

Of course, every year so many albums are released, and some inevitably fail to live up to our expectations. I like to write about this music because I think it’s a productive way to reflect on my aesthetic choices and preferences and thereby learn more about myself. It’s important to remember: music criticism always says more about the listener than the artist.

I introduced “exceptional tracks” to this list last year, and I think I will start to make a tradition of it this year. Both of the following albums contain individual songs that impressed me in spite of their respective album’s disappointing features.

Most Disappointing Releases of 2019

Warp Records / 2020

Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind

Yves Tumor’s departure from off-the-wall electronic experimentation into more streamlined Pop song craft is to me as upsetting as it is expected. They showed signs of just such a change on 2018’s Safe in the Hands of Love, which concomitantly disappointed me to a lesser extent than this album, and now it seems they have fully committed to this Funk Revival sound, throwing out the eerie Techno environments, the Dark Ambient horror soundtracks, and the weird Vaporwavey interludes of pre-Warp Yves Tumor. Funk is great, and Yves Tumor’s Funk is great, but this album is so much less interesting than what they were making four years ago. That said, some production brilliance and impeccable sampling shines through on the tracks below, and I’d certainly recommend them to my friends as some of the best songs of the year.

Exceptional Tracks: “Identity Trade,” “Romanticist,” “Dream Palette,” “Folie Imposée,”

Matador Records / 2020

Car Seat Headrest – Making a Door Less Open

Even as a guitar-driven band, Car Seat Headrest has always pushed the envelope to remain relevant in spite of the guitar’s fall from importance over the last quarter century. So I can’t say I’m surprised that Will Toledo decided to make a synth-pop album, and I’m certainly not disappointed with that aspect of Making a Door Less Open. But I do think this record lacks the thematic cohesion and consistent quality of songwriting one may find on the band’s previous studio albums. It feels like a handful of Grade A singles buffered by electronic sketches that serve very little thematic purpose. The exception (with respect to the sketches) is “What’s With You Lately,” a concept track that ranks among the best Toledo has even written (and probably the only CSH song he hasn’t performed). And it fits with the theme of the album perfectly–indeed perhaps it is the theme of the album: the absence of Toledo. Not literally, nor as a character, but as a touching, expressive, personal voice. This is a purposeful artistic act, and it works better on some tracks than others.

Exceptional Tracks: “Can’t Cool Me Down,” “Hollywood,” “Martin,” “What’s With You Lately”

By Isak McCune

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