A running joke in 2020 is that time has lost all meaning. Because many of us are still suck in Covid-related holding patterns, days tend to run into seemingly similar months, and months into seemingly similar seasons.
And yet, fall still feels different.
As the weather turns colder around this time of the year, our listening habits change. The party-hearty jams of summer give way to the more melancholy headphone music of autumn. That’s certainly where my head is at as I look ahead to the next few months. The albums I’m most excited about hearing — or writing about, since I’ve already heard many of these records — tend to draw me inward, either via insightful lyrics or exploratory soundscapes. Listening to this music just makes me want to huddle under a warm blanket and brace against the coming chill.
Bill Callahan – Gold Record (September 4)
One of the great living American singer-songwriters has been on a prolific streak lately. His affecting 2019 effort, his first in five years, Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest, clocked in at a robust 20 tracks spread out over 63 minutes, his longest album to date. And he had a lot left in the tank after that, judging by the forthcoming Gold Record. Callahan has been previewing the LP with a new single released each week, and every song has been a master class in Callahan’s unique artistic sensibility — laconic, hushed, sly, meditative, and uncommonly still and centered. Also, Bill seems really happy these days! As he sings on the impossibly lovely “Another Song,” “We will finish our songs another day / And watch the light as it fades away / Lonesome in a pleasant way / I guess the light that is gone belongs to yesterday.”
A.G. Cook – Apple (September 18)
If this English musician, songwriter, producer, and founder of PC Music had merely worked on other people’s records in 2020, he would have had a very momentous year. But Cook — who co-executive produced Charli XCX’s How I’m Feeling Now and Jonsi’s upcoming Shiver — has also put out a career’s worth of music under his own name with the staggering seven-disc 7G, a 49-track summation statement that touches on a variety of pop, rock, and electronic music tentpoles. As if that wasn’t enough to digest — I’m still working my way through it, in part because I keep discovering new favorite songs — this wunderkind is putting out yet another album in 2020, a relatively succinct collection called Apple. If you can get past how much more productive this person has been than you during the pandemic, you won’t find an artist working right now who either takes more shots or has a higher completion percentage.
Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension (September 25)
In one way, Stevens has been as prolific as ever in the past few years, whether he’s writing an Oscar-nominated song for Call Me By Your Name or putting together one-of-a-kind experiments like Aporia, a New Age curveball that came out earlier this year that was made in collaboration with his stepfather, Lowell Brams. However, in terms of “proper” Sufjan records, The Ascension feels like the first since 2015’s landmark gut punch, Carrie & Lowell. Though judging by the sprawling 12-minute single “America,” I wonder if this album’s true predecessor is 2010’s truly bonkers (and in my view very underrated) The Age Of Adz. While Stevens has been sure to show off other sides of his persona lately — the sensitive folkie, the orchestral pop mastermind — I’m hoping the time is ripe for him to display the “the mad scientist” side of his personality.
Bartees Strange – Live Forever (October 2)
In the punk/emo corner of the indie world, the full-length debut by this Washington D.C. based singer-songwriter is possibly the most anticipated album of the fall. Striking out earlier this year with the EP Say Goodbye To Pretty Boy, a five-track collection of reimagined covers of songs by The National, Bartees Strange achieves the full flower of his artistic personality with Live Forever, veering between rousing synth-rock anthems like “Mustang” and blurry indie-soul slow burners like “Kelly Rowland” (named after Beyonce’s sidekick in Destiny Child) that sounds like a cross between Frank Ocean and Death Cab For Cutie. The album’s fluid yet cohesive mix of influences — which reflects the Oklahoma native’s upbringing as a church-going At The Drive-In fan equally well versed in gospel, R&B and hardcore — add up to one of the year’s most promising indie-rock debuts.
Rilo Kiley – Rilo Kiley (October 2)
In 1999, the venerable and oft-brilliant L.A. indie band Rilo Kiley recorded a self-titled album that they sold at shows. While technically their first LP, this album soon fell into obscurity after the initial pressing. Then came the subsequent release of 2001’s Take Offs And Landings, Rilo Kiley’s first release on the indie label Barsuk and the band’s officially recognized debut. However, this self-titled record — which derives partly from a demo funded by none other than Dave Foley of Newsradio and The Kids In The Hall fame — is finally getting a reissue. While technically an old record, it hasn’t been heard by many people, which essentially makes it a “new” old record.
Mary Lattimore – Silver Ladders (October 9)
For years, the most famous California-based harpist in indie rock was Joanna Newsom. But, now, incredibly there is another harpist on the scene — Mary Lattimore, a classically trained musician who has lent her ear-bending, out-there sounds to records by Kurt Vile and Thurston Moore, among others. Lattimore’s own albums — which can mix stately, almost classical-sounding melodies with disquieting, avant-garde art-pop passages — have also achieved a higher profile in recent years. The forthcoming Silver Ladders is poised to make the biggest splash yet. The stunning early single “Sometimes He’s In My Dreams” unspools an eerie soundscape that perfectly evokes the uncertainty and loneliness of the 2020 quarantine lifestyle.
Garcia Peoples – Nightcap At Wits’ End (October 9)
This NYC band has been among my favorite practitioners of “indie jam,” that amorphous sorta-genre comprised of guitar-rock bands that draw equally from ’90s indie and improvisational music derived from jazz, prog. and jamband scenes. Their most recent studio album, One Step Behind, found them stretching out more than ever on the mammoth 32-minute title track. The forthcoming Nightcap At Wits’ End is a return to more succinct songs, though the band’s penchant for exploring unexpected song structures, luminous instrumental tones, and unpredictable jammy interludes continues to run rampant even in the confines of otherwise tight and tuneful rock songs.
Gunn-Truscinski Duo – Soundkeeper (October 9)
On his own, the excellent guitarist Steve Gunn has gradually moved in a more conventional singer-songwriter direction, developing into a fine vocalist on richly layered acoustic albums like 2019’s The Unseen In Between. However, as one half of Gunn-Truscinski Duo, his fruitful collaboration with drummer John Truscinski, he continues to push his music in noisier, more abstract and thoroughly mind-blowing directions. The group’s upcoming album, the 72-minute Soundkeeper, is among their most sprawling releases, with the title track alone clocking in at more than 16 minutes, moving through waves of feedback and drone toward explosions of beauty and transcendence.
Matt Berninger – Serpentine Prison (October 16)
While the lead singer of The National has branched out on his own before — shout-out to 2015’s underrated Return To The Moon, by his lecherous synth-pop duo El Vy — Serpentine Prison marks his official solo debut. Pairing him with soul great Booker T. Jones, the leader of the incredible Stax house band Booker T. And The MG’s, might seem on paper like a bit of a stretch. But any possible confusion instantly melts away once this slinky, late-night reverie of a record kicks in, as Berninger’s wizened purr slides perfectly into a series of low-key roadhouse soundscapes. Anyone who got into The National because an algorithm pointed them there from Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen will welcome Berninger’s full-on embrace of his middle-aged romantic crooner status.
Kevin Morby – Sundowner (October 16)
The previous albums by this prolific indie star have felt like a cock-eyed tour of classic-rock history, with Morby working within aesthetic frameworks reminiscent of Bob Dylan (Harlem River), Lou Reed (City Music), and (my personal favorite) messianic quasi-religious ’70s rock (Singing Saw). His latest record, Sundowner, is a culmination of those albums, marking a homecoming to his native Kansas City and a return to his DIY roots. Working in collaboration with producer Brad Cook — who also memorably oversaw one of the 2020’s best albums, Saint Cloud, by Morby’s partner, Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee — Morby played most of the instruments himself for Sundowner, recreating the intimacy of his demos. The result is one of Morby’s best and most intense records.
Sky Ferreira – Masochism (TBD)
Call me an optimist, but I’m holding out hope that the long, looooong awaited followup to 2013’s Night Time, My Time will finally drop in the fall of 2020. After all, this has been a pretty extraordinary year for music already. Fiona Apple came back. Bright Eyes came back. Why not Sky Ferreira? A Pitchfork profile heralded her “return” way back in March of 2019. Later that year, she promised that the album would drop before the end of the ’10s. Presumably, Ferreira is giving this eternally gestating masterwork the perfectionist treatment. Hopefully, being stuck in quarantine like the rest of us has expedited this process. P.S. This also goes for The Wrens and their long, looooong, loooooooooong delayed followup to The Meadowlands.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.