A Healing Meditation on Life and Self: Why Nathaniel Rateliff’s And It’s Still Alright Is The Best Album of 2020
By Alivia Gore
I would like to preface this ramble with the statement that I am not qualified to make any determinations about music (what is good, what is bad,etc). I am merely a woman in her twenties who listened to 157,030 minutes of music across nearly every genre on Spotify in 2020. In short, I am a person with a lot of love for music and a lot of opinions.
I’m here to say that Nathaniel Rateliff’s And It’s Still Alright was the best album put out in 2020. Maybe even a contender for one of the best albums ever made (a bold claim, I am well aware). You may be questioning me, reader, saying, “oh but what about The Beatles’ discography?” and, “how dare you talk about an album from 2020 that isn’t Taylor Swift’s Folklore!” To you, I say this: hear me out, okay?
As someone largely ignorant to the aspects of work that go into making music and/or determine technical perfection, I believe that the very best music is set apart from not-so-great music in how it touches the listener. Rateliff’s recent release is special in that, from the gentle opening of “What A Drag” to the incredibly powerful and poignant cries of the final track “Rush On”, this album feels like a blue sky breeze on sunned skin. Rateliff’s affectionate use of warm acoustic guitar, rustic rustling shakers, and melancholy flowing chords creates an aura that is impossible to summarize with justice. The spirit in this album is not unlike the feeling of driving– open road under your tires with towering pines on either side and the windows down– or of standing next to a roaring shore while the wind whips your cheeks and dances in your hair, or of the montage in a film when the main character finally feels the peace of embracing the depths of the soul. In lesser words, it feels like the reconciliation of reality and life and selfhood.
The atmosphere of And It’s Still Alright is crafted not only by the melancholic twinges of guitar strings and honey smooth rumble of Rateliff’s vocals, but also by the main themes entwined into the songs: the acceptance of love lost, the reality of mortality, and the bittersweet patterns of growth in life. Rateliff captures the heart-aching beauty of being alive with his lyrics. I can’t rely on my own words to explain just what I mean, so I will give you, reader, a section of lyrics from the album’s title track, which I believe is the thesis for this poignant body of work:
I ain’t alright, you keep spinning out ahead
It was cold outside when I hit the ground
Said, I could sleep here, forget all the fear
It will take time to grow
Maybe I don’t know
Hey, tonight if you think about it
Remembering all the times that you pointed out
Say, the glass is clear but all this fear
Starts a-leaving a mark
Your idle hands are all that stands
From your time in the dark
But it’s still alright.
Life is beautiful in the heaviest (and often most brutal) of ways– and Rateliff’s album mirrors that bittersweet truth of being human.