Andy's top 10 local releases of 2020

Andy Downing
Hodgie photographed in 2019

10. Trek Manifest: I Appreciate Your Patience

The latest from the verbally adept rapper comes on like a church service, complete with a benediction,deeply personal testimonials and a celebratory closing track that hits like the church doors being flung open, allowing the sunlight to stream in. There’s a reason for this, too. Written in the wake of his mom’s death, the EP finds Manifest undergoing a similarly enlightening arc within his own life.

9. Blanket Boys: The Album

Blanket Boys singer and guitarist Lisa Brokaw said she was in a fractured state of mind writing this album, which is reflected in songs that read at times like breakup tunes. “I know I can be hard to love,” she sings on one song. “Prince of the Forest,” in turn, counters its genteel musical backdrop with some of the album’s most cutting words. “Looking for the cruelest thing to say,” Brokaw sings. “Always more comfortable pulling away.” These songs are worth sticking around for.

8. Dug & Happy Tooth: The Signal Glittering Inside the Storm

Colin Ward (Happy Tooth) and Doug Gamble (Dug) werethe last two musicians I interviewed in-person prior to the COVID-driven March shutdown. We sat outside at a Bexley Starbucks, just a stone’s throw from a house my family rented while our primary residence was renovated, and talked in part about just how strange things felt in that moment, sitting on the edge of some giant, bleak unknown. The rap duo’s latest plunges headlong into a more personal darkness, the two rhyming about everything from fears of intimacy and panic attacks to the ways the world can press down on us until it feels as though our bones could snap— a sensation with which many are all too familiar nowadays.

7. Joey Aich: Open Treehouse

The new full-length from the effortlessly charismatic Columbus rapper documents competing realities. In one, captured in songs like “Rossi on the Deck,” the MC can live a carefree existence. In the other, reflected on “Castle,” Aich attempts to wall himself off from failed policies and violence that have ravaged the Black community.“Black ... murders on HD cameras/It’s like we carrying all this baggage,” he raps, a few bars later adding, “I’m desensitized/I want to survive.” More than that, though, these entwined realities suggest he wants to live.

6. Kneeling in Piss: Music for Peasants and The Mob

On the more mutedMusic for Peasants, the pandemic forced Kneeling in Piss songwriter Alex Mussawir to return to the project’s earliest days, when he wrote and recorded on his own, accompanying himself on drum machine, keyboard and guitar. Released earlier in 2020, the comparatively rowdy The Mob captures the full, loose-knit collectivein more freewheeling form. Both are equally great.

5. Illogic: Autopilot

Though mostly written before 2020, the latest from the Columbus rapper crystalizes ideas that have long existed in the atmosphere, touching on internet misinformation (“Out of This World”) and society’s tendency to vilify individuals without confronting the circumstances that have shaped their path. “We frame behavior as Vader without understanding Anakin,” he raps on “Pick Pocketing,” referencing the boy who would grow to wear the black helmet.

4. snarls: Burst

Burst remains the perfect title for the debut full-length from this youthful quartet, capturing both the speed with which the buzzed-about band has launched itself into the national conversation, as well as the array of colorful, wild, instantly memorable pop-rock hooks that spring forth from this infectious, energetic album.

3. Hodgie: Black AF

Written and recorded in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, the Columbus rapper’s new EP explores the fractured dynamic between police and the Black community. “Boys will be boys/And toy guns is toys/Until the cops roll up and they shot him,” Hodgie raps on “Come Black Home,” which recalls the police killing of Cleveland youngster Tamir Rice. Heartbreaking, ferocious and essential.

2. Powers/Rolin Duo: self-titled

On their self-titled debut on Feeding Tube records, hammered dulcimer player Jen Powers and guitarist Matthew J. Rolin combine to create a hypnotic, immersive soundscape that sounds both exploratory and prescribed, like a life that takes numerous indeterminate turns and winds up precisely where it’s meant to in the end. 

1. Hello Emerson: How to Cook Everything

Throughout Hello Emerson’s excellent new album, singer and songwriter Sam Bodary, accompanied here by a small army of local players, doesn’t shy from tackling weighty subjects. But the record’s biggest strength might be in Bodary’s ability to transform small incidents into moments filled with world-shaking potential. Nowhere is this more clear than on “Seat 16B,” a song penned in the wake of a conversation with an airplane seatmate that gradually evolves into an epic leap of faith, complete with a choir of collaborators joining Bodary in singing, “There’s a first time for everything.” In a year filled with hardship, it’s that promise, that potential, that repeatedly brought me back to this record.