October is finally in full swing, which means a few things: The election is less than a month away, the year is quickly coming to a close and it’s officially spooky season. But before you launch yourself fully into decorating the house with pumpkins and skeletons, let’s look back on the month that was. In September, we were delighted to hear tons of new music, including several rock albums for the books. Here are the best rock albums from September 2020, listed alphabetically.
Last year, Lomelda (aka Texas-born, L.A.-based singer/songwriter Hannah Read) released an out-of-the-blue album called M for Empathy. As its title suggests, the 11-song project explored empathy in all its forms through various sung stories and mini vignettes. But the album was lacking something—perhaps time: At only 16-minutes-long, it felt like we didn’t really receive the full scope of Read’s studies on the topic. Thankfully, there’s Hannah, Read’s charming M for Empathy follow-up that arrived last month on Double Double Whammy. Where M for Empathy was shadowy and finicky at times, Hannah is more assured and robust (though it wouldn’t be “robust” compared to most other rock music today—Read’s voice is as hushed and restrained as ever). Hannah again finds Read thinking about empathy, compassion and human understanding. But this time, there’s more for the listener to unpack. —Ellen Johnson
When singer/songwriter David Bazan started doing living room tours back in 2008, he quickly proved that radical downsizing was a viable way forward for musical performance. Along with the wider proliferation of house shows, it seems like small was well on its way to becoming the new big. What strange timing, then, that the sophomore effort by Lo Tom finds Bazan sounding right at home within arrangements that recapture the grandeur of Big Rock. If there’s anyone suited to maintain a sense of discreet poise while the music around him practically explodes in bombast, it’s Bazan, whose earnest soul-searching is retrofitted with a shiny new scaffolding courtesy of one-time Pedro The Lion/Headphones bandmate TW Walsh, along with guitarist Jason Martin and drummer Trey Many. —Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
Lydia Loveless is working through a few things on her new album. Daughter is her first new release in four years, during which time Loveless got divorced, moved from Ohio to North Carolina and was frank on social media about her mental health, and also having been sexually harassed by someone in the orbit of her former record label. So there’s a lot to cover on her fifth LP. She hasn’t lost her knack for writing brutally candid songs: Loveless is as frank as ever on these 10 tracks. She has, however, learned to pull back from the flame-thrower vocal sensibility of her earlier material. Loveless has a massive, powerful voice that she uses to great effect, though the effect is even greater, and hits even harder, when she blends it with a measure of restraint instead of going full-bore all the time. Singing with greater nuance also helps put the focus on her lyrics, which can be flat-out wrenching. Loveless sings with a mix of remorse and dismay on “Wringer,” a divorce song where the opening lines refer to dividing up possessions: “You give the sweetest kisses, dear,” she sings on the refrain. “But you leave the stinger.” —Eric R. Danton
Sadie Dupuis has had a hand in almost every creative aspect of the music industry—between playing in her indie rock band Speedy Ortiz, collaborating with Lizzo, running Wax Nine Records and combining music with advocacy, she’s done it all. Now, Dupuis is back with her first solo album since 2016’s Slugger under the moniker Sad13. The writing process for Dupuis’ new album Haunted Painting started after she witnessed an apparition at a Seattle art gallery, but she dives into ideas larger than her own haunting experiences. “What was it like to come of age in such a cruel place?” Dupuis sings on “The Crow.” The album leans on a loose horror theme, between the vampiric video for early single “Oops….!” and Dupuis presenting as a self-proclaimed “frontdemon.” Despite the concept, lyrics like those on “The Crow” feel aware of their place at this moment amid a tense political climate and months spent in pandemic isolation. —Lexi Lane
Tim Heidecker and Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering have chosen an alarmingly on-the-nose year to release a mostly sunlit album about death. Although the duo and a host of collaborators recorded Fear of Death in 2019, the absurdity of the album’s release amid a global pandemic, overdue uprisings against police brutality, raging West Coast wildfires and the 2020 election cycle only amplifies these songs’ often upbeat morbidity. Heidecker and Mering certainly aren’t strangers to the absurd and its accompanying hilarity. Over Heidecker’s 20-or-so-year career, he’s developed a distinctly surreal, ironic brand of hipster humor through the cult Adult Swim shows Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and Decker. Even before Mering jumped to the forefront of the chamber-rock pack with last year’s apocalypse-themed instant classic Titanic Rising, she was singing about how bizarre the world’s end will look. Both also share a passion for ’70s soft rock, as do some of their Fear of Death collaborators. —Max Freedman