Writer’s Pick 2020: Best Local Albums

Remember that year we barely left the house and spent much of our time retreating to devices for solace? Oh yeah, we’re still living through it with no conceivable end in sight (just yet). But just to put a timestamp around the gem that was 2020, here’s some stellar local albums that helped get us through. We’re including some artists from (or with ties to) Detroit metro, because, after all, SE Michigan is just one big family.

Tim Haldeman & Frank Rosaly

Community High grad and virtuoso saxophonist Tim Haldeman had standing gigs at the Blue LLama Jazz Club and other metro Detroit clubs before the pandemic hit. Hopefully he’s still able to teach music virtually during quarantine. His Open Water As A Child (2018) was a brilliant activist flourish. Here he’s paired (again) with an old Chicago cohort and accomplished drummer, Frank Rosaly (currently residing in Amsterdam). Concrete proof jazz ain’t dead.

Dani Darling

Heralded as a “band to watch” by the Metro Times back in January (and by Current in 2018), Ann Arbor native Dani Darling was poised to make noise this year, pandemic be damned. She is a versatile, ethereal songwriter with enormous potential. As seen on virtual sessions at Grove Studios, Dani has a unique energy when performing live. Expect a full length soon and an engaging stage set whenever the COVID fog lifts.

Athletic Mic League

Don’t call it a comeback. While AML’s individual members found success in solo careers in other parts of the country, the Ann Arbor-based crew hadn’t released a proper album since 2004; one-time member DJ Haircut (Mayer Hawthorne) hit it big in LA and 14KT is a well-regarded producer. The hey-day of the Firefly Club is long since gone, but this 7-track oeuvre was more than welcome. Grand Cee, 14KT, Buff1, 3Steez, VaughnTego and Wes Taylor all put in work here. “Hold My Hand” is a true standout cut and one of the best hip-hop songs of the year.


JR JR are big time, you can hear their music on Chase Bank commercials. Royal Oak natives Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein cut their teeth in the metro Detroit music scene. Zott still resides in Detroit while Epstein is now in LA. In addition to a slew of singles, the duo had a busy year with this reflectively light (and nod to The Counting Crows) EP as well as a basketball-themed EP, Swish. Zott and Epstein are big Pistons fans and wanted to commemorate the return of the NBA over the summer. The pair performed at Sonic Lunch in 2016 and have a solid fanbase in Washtenaw County.


Detroit’s Elzhi is one of hip-hop’s top-tier lyricists and conceptual songwriters. He’s also a fan of the Blind Pig and graced these very pages back in 2016 (after the release of his last album Lead Poison). The former Slum Village member is at his signature best on “Light One, Write One,” and returns to his penchant for vivid storyboarding on “THUGGed Out Zombies.” While he splits time between Detroit and LA, Elzhi always pays homage to his Michigan roots as evidenced by the breezily nostalgic, “Ferndale.”

Also notable albums include:

Waxahatchee, Saint Cloud, One Be Lo, C-Section, Leonard Simpson Duo, LSD, Boldy James & The Alchemist, The Price Of Tea In China, Michigander, Let Down [EP]

Read M.F.’s Quarantine Top 10 here.

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