Feature: The 50 best albums of 2020

Well, it’s been a bit of a year, hasn’t it? Global pandemics, George Floyd, environmental issues, terrorism, dissatisfaction with those in charge, not least in the ongoing (it seems) fallout from the American Presidential election. None of that has stopped artists from all persuasions and genres making some fantastic music over the last 12 months. And here it is – our list of the year’s best.

A few caveats before we begin. A lot of these records could have been a lot higher. Or lower. We agonised about records we had to leave out, about records we needed to fit in. It’s not a comprehensive list of everything great that’s been out in 2020. For a start, our rule was that we had to have reviewed it during the year. That means a lot of great records passed us by because we didn’t have the writers to cover it. We’re sorry about that, really – if you are too, why not contact us and review albums for us as well?

Secondly, we are a group of…well, a lot, of writers all with different tastes. I couldn’t get close to fitting in all of the albums they wanted in either. Largely I went with ratings, votes and nominations along with our cross genre policy. It’s never going to be perfect, but actually, I think we’re pretty happy with what we’ve come up with in the end.

Let us know in the comments the albums we should have put in, or your albums of the year, or how we could have done it better even. Maybe. But do follow the spotify playlist and take a listen to OUR 50 best albums of the year anyway, and maybe give us a follow anyway on there. We’ve heaps of great stuff up on there already to dig into.

Without further ado …

50. Emmy The Great – APRIL /月音

Emmy the Great’s fourth album, APRIL /月音, is a love letter to the places she’s lived, visited or is living in, and sees a return to the more stripped back acoustic sounds of her earlier work.

It was a bit of a rushed job, the fastest she’s ever recorded, ironically as she was about to take a year off on maternity leave having finally had that baby she almost had on her debut album back in 2009. That doesn’t show through either in the quality of the recording or, more importantly, the quality of the songs. (David Bentley)

49. Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways

Dylan’s 39th studio album was perhaps so praised for being just as surprising and inventive as many younger songwriters gracing 2020’s ‘Best Of’ lists- remarkable for a musician long into the fifth decade of his career, even for his standards. Buoyant, bluesy numbers and mournful introspection; musings on mortality, jibes against death itself: Rough and Rowdy Ways was a familiarly thrilling, but refreshingly metamorphosed iteration of Dylan.

Plus, this is all without mentioning the historical, road-trip type odyssey of the 17-minute closer. (James Kilkenny)

48. Grimes – Miss Anthropocene

The songs are amongst the best of her career, standout tracks include ‘Violence’, ‘My Name Is Dark’ and ‘You’ll Miss Me When I’m Not Around’ which is centered around a buoyant bass riff.

Miss Anthropocene may not be the best entry point for Grimes but it is a rich accomplished album that may well be her masterpiece. (Jamie Gambino)

47. Frankie & The Witch Fingers – Monsters Eating People Eating Monsters

(Le Crowley)

46. The Lovely Eggs – I am Moron

Yep. It’s called I Am Moron. Whether that’s an indictment given some of the themes on the album (overblown music videos, inflated self-aggrandizing, Brexit) or just the band being playful is up for some ambiguity.

I’d like to think it’s more the playfulness of the group. That’s the tongue-in-cheek nature of The Lovely Eggs, with their psychedelic, often eccentric rock and roll. Not taking themselves overtly seriously because ultimately music should be fun, right?

Crossing that divide between art-rock and party music, The Lovely Eggs dayglo-psych work on I Am Moron is anything but “Still Second Rate.” It’s first class. (Benjii Jackson)

45. The Total Rejection – The Time Traveller’s 3rd Will and Testament

‘The Time Traveller’s 3rd Will And Testament’ builds on the raw sound of it’s predecessors with a riotous guitar assault of tremelo and wah wah abuse, while the drums seem possessed with the spirit of Keith Moon and the vocals are strained to breaking point and the Hammond organ wails. It’s thrilling stuff!

They’re not just willful noisemakers though as the songs themselves are stuffed with hooks and pop melodies aplenty. 

The Total Rejection make good time, scuffed up, messy rock and roll in the style of the likes of The Buff Medways. Turn it up loud, pour yourself a drink, and enjoy. (Richard Farnell)

44. White Horse – White Horse

As a concept, White Horse, the group and the album, was designed to capture some of the mysterious essence of travel on the open roads of the United States, the peculiar energy of the America between the coasts, in all its strange and wonderful glory. It’s a roman a clef, part tall tale, part “truth is stranger than fiction” escapades of two city guys out and about on the back roads of the United States.

This is an album that respects hip hop traditions, but presses forward with unique storytelling, rhyming and production, two masters of the art, forging new paths, and diminishing other so-called rappers in the process. Or, as White Horse puts it, “this album isn’t about the glory of the stage, it’s about the trauma of the paths taken to get to that moment.” Fortunately, we can experience the paths taken and forgo the trauma. Let the professionals take care of that. (MD Semel)

43. Bethlehem Casuals – The Tragedy of a Street Dog

You’ve got to love Bethlehem Casuals, haven’t you? The new album from the Manchester septet – The Tragedy of Street Dog, sees a concept record – a road to discovering where all the music in Manchester has gone. But wait concept fans, that’s not all. It’s from the perspective of a street dog.

Brilliant, ambitious and engaging concept record from Manchester Septet who mix up, blend and blur styles to make something that will live long in the memory. (Jim F)

42. Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Now

‘How I’m Feeling Now​’ is yet another masterful album with absolutely incredible production value, a terrific flow, and smart lyrical content. With ​How I’m Feeling Now and last year’s ​’Charli’​, it sure seems like the pop phenomenon is heading in a much bolder and unique direction, which is such a terrific thing to see. (Caillou Pettis)

41. Galaxians – Chemical Reaction

Tracks remind this listener of that other great disco album of the 21st century, that of the Scissor Sisters debut album, which had that infusion of pop and disco cred; but this is more akin to that band’s apex along with Moloko – a titanic female lead vocalist with cool production chops to match.

An instantly danceable album fit for parties for all ages, this may well be a hidden gem of the year. (Jamie Garwood)

40. J. Zunz – Hibiscus

The electronically-sewn, diverse sonics of J. Zunz (Lorena Quintanilla), Hibiscus are subversive in comparison to both her debut solo album, as well as Lorelle Meets the Obsolete, her main project alongside Alberto González.

The album makes a caustic drone a prominent feature, as an intense source of catharsis, while also impressing unique synth melodies upon the ear. There is also an organic and deeply rooted personal narrative unfolding throughout. All these considered; Hibiscus is one of the most cathartic, urgent, and individual releases of the year.

Read more about the album and J. Zunz here. (James Kilkenny)

39. Nothing – The Great Dismissal

‘The Great Dismal’ sees Nothing maintain their status as the top band in modern shoegaze. By increasing the volume settings on Palermo’s and Martin’s guitars from the levels they were at on ‘Dance on the Blacktop’ while simultaneously making the lead vocals even hookier and more melodic than they were on that album (and Will Yip’s work at the controls, alongside the band’s hardcore punk backgrounds, were doubtless key to the former attribute), they have delivered an album that manages to be even more immediately impactful than its predecessor.

Whether it stands the test of time or not is another matter, but at this stage in the game, I can say with complete confidence that this is the best shoegaze album to have been released this year. It contains a near-perfect blend of melody, heaviness, and well-honed songwriting.

This is a collection of ten remarkably enjoyable songs performed by a band who are actually now beginning to sound like they enjoy writing and playing music together. It should go down well with fans of My Bloody Valentine, Cheatahs, and Ringo Deathstarr. (Greg Hyde)

38. Einstürzende Neubauten – Alles in Allem

For me, Einstürzende Neubauten are one of the most innovative and enigmatic bands around, and getting to interview the magnificent Blixa Bargeld – a massive personal hero of mine – this year was humbling. This piece also became the highest read review in 2020 for Backseat Mafia.

Hallmarks of the Einstürzende Neubauten sound filter throughout ‘Alles in Allem‘, with sonic experimentation and bursts of melody underpinned by pounding percussion and rumbling bass. This band is always inventive, always creative, and deliver with such panache and joie de vivre. (Arun Kendall)

37. BC Camplight – Shortly After Take-off

BC Camplight, aka Brian Christinzio, returns with a new album “Shortly After Takeoff” on 24th April via Bella Union. It is the final chapter of his ‘Manchester Trilogy’, following 2015’s “How To Die In The North” and 2018’s “Deportation Blues”. All three albums were created after the native Philadelphian had moved to Manchester. It will be his fifth release and is fired by his ongoing battle with mental illness. Stylistically, it delivers synth-pop, singer-songwriter classicism, power pop and 50s rock’n’roll, but all wrapped up in Christinzio’s imaginative and innovative musical stylings, his distinctive, flexible vocals and an honest, introspective approach to storytelling.

‘Shortly After Takeoff’ is an album of intense honesty, brilliant lyrics, gallows humour and killer melodies. It is not just BC Camplight’s best record, it’s one of the best records you’ll hear this year. It is a fantastically crafted collection of songs that lyrically and musically create an alternative, immersive reality which lets you explore what it is like to live with mental illness. (Mark Gannon)

36. A. Swayze & The Ghosts – Paid Salvation

As the first Australian/New Zealand band to make this list, it is great to see one coming from the oft-overlooked state of Tasmania. There were many other antipodean bands that just missed out and should be mentioned – Even As We Speak‘s Adelphi, Dead Famous People‘s Harry, Shadows by Underground Lovers, The Glow by DMA’s and work by The Church’s Steve Kilbey are but some of these – and I will be doing a special end of the year piece on Australian/New Zealand bands.

Paid Salvation‘ is a cathartic thunder of chiselling punk rock riffs hiding within it lyrics of profound intelligence and – dare it be said – sensitivity. All wrapped in a singalong packaging. And herein lies the majesty of this band. Like Fontaines D.C. (see below), this band re-excites one’s faith in the subversive and anarchic power of rock’n’roll. (Arun Kendall)

35. Larkin Poe – Self Made Man

Self Made Man is Larkin Poe at their ballsy bluesy best and their most eclectic and confident record to date. They have been on quite a journey in the past ten years, but it’s clear they have arrived.

This album is the perfect reflection of life’s trials and tribulations with moments of darkness and intensity juxtaposed with joy and relief. ‘Scorpion’ is as ferocious as its title suggests and is in an intense double-bill with the dirty riff of ‘Danger Angel’, while the exuberant hoedown of ‘Easy Street’ offers hope and recovery.

The duo have produced their last three albums and it’s clear that the more they take the wheel, the better they sound. (Rhiannon Law)

34. Out of the Woods – Birds and Beasts

A mesmerising fusing of organic folk, jazz and pop with the joyful sound and feel of nature soaked into the mix. A stunning set of songs about quiet contemplation and being at one with nature.

Grube has created a wonderfully soothing album, perfect during this time of crisis, which transports you into the middle of a forest, lying on a hammock strung between trees, swaying canopy overhead, at one with the flora and fauna and without a care in the world. The production is really subtle and very deftly handled and it is a lovely, lovely album from start to finish. (Mark Gannon)

33. The Orb – Abolition of the Royal Familia

This album scored a richly-deserved 9. A smorgasbord of all the trademark tricks they’ve honed over a thirty-year period. Dub reggae, lush ambient, sprinklings of trippy soundbites and collaborations with the uber-cool (Jello Biafra, Steve Hillage) make this an essential Orb album. Long may they continue! (Briandroid)

32. Roisin Murphy – Roisin Machine

A defiantly pumped fist of confidence followed by a high kick of elation, ‘Roisin Machine’ is wonderful to behold and an antidote to quite literally everything else in 2020.

Roisin Machine is a focused collection of agile anthems steeped in underground disco and house music. Produced with long-term collaborator and dance music pioneer Richard Barratt – aka DJ Parrot, aka Crooked Man – there’s a perfect balance between drama, art, soulful storytelling, introspection and innovation; braced with an encyclopedic standard of dance music bangers. (Benjamin Graye)

31. Khruangbin – Mordechai

When Khruangbin announced their third studio album, Mordechai, was to be released in mid-June following their brilliant earworm of a single with Leon Russell, “Texas Sun”, the whisper was, it’s more vocal; what’s the story there, with our favourite instrumental band? Fear not. Once more Khruangbin presented us with a bold, wide stylistic vision, which beckons you in rather than shouted out in a need to be loved, to be recognised. They slump against the adobe doorway, like Isabella Rosselini in Blue Velvet, smoke in their eyes. Come in. (Chris Sawle)

30. Andy Bell – The View From Halfway Down

Many singer-songwriters from big bands let it all hang out a little when they escape the clutches of their musical parent. “This is my art, ” they’ll proclaim; “mine.” And they’ll give voice to a few half-decent tunes and maybe that country-calypso number they’ve had knocking around on a TDK for y’know, years. For kicks. Cos my art is my art.

Andy Bell’s The View From Halfway Down is nothing of that ilk. By partway through “Heat Haze on Weyland Road”, the final of the eight tracks here, and although pretty eclectic in its stylistic reach, you realise he really hasn’t put a foot wrong throughout – not for a moment. There’s motorik, mod pop, psych-folk, electronica, Madchester touches, sometimes even all of the above, interwoven with each other within one tune – and it’s all cohesive.

It’s pretty, it’s trippy; it’s essential and fun and exploratory. (Chris Sawle)

29. Magnetic Fields – Quickies

Quickies is an exhibition of how the true master craftsperson can compress all their skill and mastery into a single, quick stroke.

Quickies is somewhat childish. Not in an immature way, but in a Midnight Gospel way (if you haven’t seen Duncan Trussell’s psychedelically existential cartoon yet, do it). The songs are incredibly short, the longest track clocks in at 2:35, yet most -if not all- are so well-developed that you don’t need them to be longer. (Dustin Zozaya)

28. The Janitors – Noisolation Sessions Volume 1

(Le Crowley)

27. Bastien Keb – The Killing Of Eugene Peeps

If 2020 is anything beyond the ‘rona, musically I think it could well end up being the year of the solo, multi-instrumentalist, multivalent vision. Bastien Keb’s The Killing Of Eugene Peeps is a soundtrack and a collection of songs; is Eugene our narrator, watching now from the other side of the final curtain? Christ, don’t ask me; I think that’s for each one of us to ponder.

It’s an album that hits the previously uncharted sweet spot between Americana, 60s’ European soundtracks and hiphop – well, uncharted by all but Bastien; he must be a fascinating person to have an all-back-to-mine with, around the stereo in reverence. It’s sad, it’s knowing, it’s groovy as hell. It’s much more than an imaginary soundtrack; it’s a novel. (Chris Sawle)

26. Mint Fields – Sentimiento Mundial

Mint Field are a shoegazing and psychedelic fans’ dream; they sound like they’ve come out a time machine that’s waltzed through both genres’ finest eras and with Sentimiento Mundial. You might have heard it all before, but very rarely is it this good. (Brad Sked)

25. Enslaved – Utgard

With ‘Utgard’, Enslaved have created a mixture of their collective talents and musical influences to produce and album that is startling in its complexity and hugely impressive with the musicianship. To be doing this after 30 years in the game is testament to their talent and craftsmanship.

Enslaved are looking behind the mirror, tracing the origins of the well-known fables of the northern world back into each and every one of us. A band that have always been more than a black metal band endlessly turning out the usual and expected. Enslaved are happier when pushing the boundaries especially into the progressive zone. ‘Utgard’ demonstrates that expertly. (Craig Young)

24. The Wolfhounds – Electric Music

I wrote in a review earlier this year that you can’t keep a good genre down; necessarily, it follows that you can’t keep a great band down. And a great illustration of this would be East London’s The Wolfhounds, who released their third long-player since reforming, and seventh overall, in June. 

You want some proper noise, some dischord, to remember what Sonic Youth and Steve Albini taught you oh, so long ago? Look no further. You can also draw a line back from Callahan’s lyrical documentation to another London lad, Ray Davies, whose gaze was as pin-sharp and documented both the small and the big ‘P’ political through a multiplicity of ordinary lives, lived extraordinarily. 

It would be tempting here to resort to cliche and say this album is full of vital postcards from the edge; were it not that these are actually postcards from dead centre, from the blackened, bruised heart of the UK plc in this goddam year of our Lord. (Chris Sawle)

23. Thundercat – It Is What It Is

Is there anyone since the turn of the new millennium as influential as Stephen Lee Bruner, a.k.a Thundercat?

Proudly toted as a corner of the Brainfeeder family, Thundercat’s influence can be heard throughout some of the more soulful releases of 21st-century hip-hop and R&B, from Frank Ocean and Tyler The Creator to Childish Gambino and Rich Brian – the crossover of Motown disco, jazz and the flower-power elements of 70’s psychedelic folk.

This was the album that was to solidify Thundercat’s status as a pivotal member of the hip-hop and R&B community; from accomplished multi-instrumentalist to superstar. (Benjii Jackson)

22. Serengeti – The Gentle Fall

The Gentle Fall is like beat-era poetry, accompanied by sparse musical arrangements, and some of the best writing of Serengeti’s career.

The new album IS melancholy. But it also expresses yearning. And, at the same time, in its embrace of longing and in its detail, it affirms life. It is poetry, it is the blues, it is jazz, it is Americana, and it is hip hop, stripped to its essence: the words of an artist who is a master of his craft, accompanied by a lone acoustic guitar. (MD Semel)

21. The Lemon Twigs – Songs for the General Public

Brian and Michael D’Addario’s third album references 70’s prog, is doused with punk pleasantries, and lovingly pastiches Queen’s Somebody to Love. The two have evidently grown and stretched their musical limbs to effective heights; ever strengthened by their beloved interpretation of Beatles-y melodicism, in cuts like The One and Hog.

Following the critical scorn of their previous album, Songs for the General Public was sublimely focused, yet still monumentally ambitious. (James Kilkenny)

20. Doves – The Universal Want

It was great to see this colossal band back after 13 years and it was wonderful to speak to the charming and erudite guitarist Jez Williams about the band and the album.

The Universal Want‘ is an album to immerse yourselves in: it’s a reward that keeps on giving with its sweeping choruses and mesmerising soundscapes. This is a band that is not afraid to experiment sonically and yet always deliver celestial, shimmering songs that are strong on melody. (Arun Kendall)

19. BOB – You Can Stop That for a Start

BOB finally release what would have been their 1992 album, and show what could have been as they steadfastly refuse to be forgotten. And with a set of indie gems like this, how could they?

BOB’s music stands as testament to the quality complimentary songwriting talents of Simon Armstrong and Richard Blackborow (a writing partnership as well matched as Lennon / McCartney or Morrissey / Marr). Across the 28 songs found here almost every one could be a single in it’s own right and the album as a whole should go a long way to proving BOB were a force to be reckoned with. (Richard Farnell)

18. Bing & Ruth – Species

Not the duo the name might suggest, Bing & Ruth is the musically exploratory moniker for New Yorker David Moore. He debuted for 4AD with the rewarding depths of No Home For the Mind, an album at once studied and precisely composed – it is reported that the work was composed on some 17 pianos across America – yet also captured quickly, two days only in the recording in a home town church.

And Species is his latest; for although other musicians are involved here, the blend, the very weave of David’s work is so very interlaced, so conjoined, that you’ll have to listen hard and deep to unpick fellow travellers of some 15 years, double bassist and a clarinettist Jeff Ratner and Jeremy Viner, from that weave – luckily, this is exactly what you should do, what you must do. Listen. Deep. It’s an exploration mainly of the drone-melodic potential of the Farfisa organ and it’s rapturous, immersive, revelatory.

A music and a vision without end, all stemming from the most humble yet so transformative of premises: “Three people in a room making sound together.” Essential. (Chris Sawle)

17. Trivium – What the Dead Men Say

Trivium have created an album for all fans of metal by creating an album that spans the full metal genre, be it black, death, melodic or just plain heavy. It may have taken then 15 plus years but here is a Trivium as intended. Brutal, heavy and blistering.

This is an album for all metal fans be it heavy, thrash, black, death, melodic its all here. Its extremely well played and very well produced the Trivium boys have every right to be proud. They have created an album that I think they want to hear as metal fans themselves while putting them back in the metal elite and shutting up their critics once and for all. Trivium can do it all and do it well. (Craig Young)

16. Richard Wileman – Arcana

UK musician Richard Wileman has been making spooky gothic, mostly instrumental music for more than 20 years under the name Karda Estra. In more recent years he’s made a few albums under his own name, the latest being Arcana.

Released in September of this year and loosely based on the Tarot, Arcana is a work of rare beauty. I’ll admit I’d never heard of him or his work until very recently, but the connection was made via Believer’s Roast, the label created by Kavus Torabi (Cardiacs, Gong, Utopia Strong). Since then it’s barely been out of my ears.

Using organic instruments like classical guitar, clarinet and dulcimer, Wileman invokes a wonderful gothic foreboding, reminiscent of Hammer Horror, Wicker Man paganistic ritual and fragile folklore. The ethereal vocals of Amy Fry lift things further into a twisted dream world, part fairy tale and part black mass.

I rarely give a 9, but this album’s mix of Hammer Horror, Wicker Man and melodic arrangements and orchestration stood out from the pack. Unusual instrumentation, haunting vocals and an eerie atmosphere that permeates the whole thing, even during the upbeat numbers, like a creaking floorboard. I doubt it’ll ever leave my playlist. Standout track – The Hanged Man. (Briandroid)

15. Key Out – Anthropomorphia

There were a number of possible entries from the home of the ubiquitous Half a Cow Records, a Sydney based label that has attracted some of the most amazing talent in the Australian music scene ( and mention must be made of others – both on the roster and not – Wilding, The Finalists, Warmer, Marveline, The Wednesday Night, The Electorate, Golden Fang, Jo Meares, PJ Orr, The Nagging Doubts, Buddy Glass ). Mention must be made of Even As We Speak‘s Adelphi which just missed out being on this list.

Anthropomorphia‘ is a stunning album: elegant and poised with a shimmering sheen and sense of deep connection to the geography it was created in. There is a gentleness and a deep sense of poise throughout this album: dream pop of the highest order. Key Out have proven themselves as good as any of their contemporary Australians that are currently making a global impact. (Arun Kendall)

14. ONO – Red Summer

Both malevolent and moving, ONO’s transgressive history lessons on Red Summer accomplish both unlikely moments of groove with ominous moments of experimental gospel, crafting a breathtaking genre-bending work.

As front person travis (spelt intentionally with a lower case T) focuses his narration on the collective’s hometown, racial violence and a long-standing history of slave ownership from 1619 (the album’s opener, “20th August 1619), Haitian operations and sexual abuse during the Vietnam war; an experience the vocalist accounts first hand, the musicality manages to veer between transgressive and, god forbid, groovy. (Benjii Jackson)

13. Anna Järvinen – Vestigia Terrent

Anna’s songwriting, which is as dazzling as ever. “Psalm” is a new anthem, reminiscent of her “Lilla Anna”, while “Stockholm”, with its endearing whistled melody, is a new classic in the contemporary folk-pop songbook – it sounds like flying over a blooming Swedish capital.

Overall it’s a fantastic demonstration of the best the Swedish scene can produce.

A dazzling collaboration with Dungen for Swedish chamber-pop diva. (Lorenzo Righetto)

12. Hen Ogledd – Free Humans

Free Humans, the new record from Hen Ogledd, is a record that just falls into place: the punch lines come on time; the vocal chemistry is so natural, so refreshingly free of rock twang; and each carefully fumbled solo carries the authentic stamp of true pop perfection.

And that’s ‘Free Humans’, just like the best banter a surreal rollercoaster of ‘what ifs’ and ‘imagine that’s’. It’s a record that just falls into place: the punch lines come on time; the vocal chemistry is so natural, so refreshingly free of rock twang; and each carefully fumbled solo carries the authentic stamp of true pop perfection. Some will want to seek explanations if there are such things, others will want to just get lost in Hen Ogledd’s inexplicably wonderful world. With ‘Free Humans’, Hen Ogledd are reaching out to you and me. (John Parry)

11. Biffy Clyro – A Celebration of Endings

Biffy Clyro reach for the stars with new album A Celebration of Endings, and they achieve what could turn out to be a career high.

Released on 14th Floor Records, ‘A Celebration of Endings’ is the beautiful glimmer of hope that soundtracks a lost British festival season in a way only ‘the biff’ know how. Amalgamating interesting song structures, stadium destined anthems, intricate vocal arrangements and inventive rhythm section work (take a bow Ben and James Johnston), it is truly the album that seems to have it all. (Chloe Ross)

Vacant Lots – Interzone

10. The Vacant Lots – Interzone

Interzone is the third full-length album by New York’s electro post-punk duo The Vacant Lots (Jared Artaud and Brian MacFadyen): a genre-blending synthesis of dance and psych made for secluded listeners and all night partygoers, meant for headphones and the club.

Created with aid from Alan Vega’s Arp synthesier and mixed by Maurizio Baggio (Boy Harsher), it continues the bands mission of “minimal means maximum effect”to create an industrial amalgam of icy electronics and cold beats with detached vocals and hard hitting guitars, delving into escapism, isolation, relationship conflicts, and decay with nods to William S. Burroughs and a Joy Division song along the way. “Interzone is like existing between two zones,” Jared says. “Interzone doesn’t mean one thing. It can mean different things to different people depending on their interpretation. Working on this album was a constant struggle reconciling internal conflicts with all that’s going on externally in the world. Interzone in one word is duality. We don’t want to waste people’s time and we want people to play it over and over. Our mantra is ‘is it bulletproof? 8 songs. 30 minutes. It’s about intention and vision.” 

(Le Crowley)

Fair Mothers – In Monochrome

9. Fair Mothers – In Monochrome

Fair Mothers is the nom-de-musique of Aberdeenshire musician Kevin Allan who is, I think, in possession of a close to uniquely candid and unblinking alt.folk aesthetic. In Monochrome is his second LP this year, following the Valentine’s Day release of Separate Lives; and it’s dark, yes, but not without hope for redemption: “In Monochrome really signals a search to regain contact with feeling,” he says. It’s also unflinching and visionary. 

It taps into a vein of alt.folk that includes shadowier aesthetic traditions: the awesome sadness of Mt Eerie; the eerieness of Comus, some of the rawer early moments of Micah P Hinson. It’s entirely itself. Its flaws only increase its perfection. Enough of me. You really should be spending a little time now ordering this great, unflinching, emotionally frayed, sublime record. (Chris Sawle)

Rival Consoles – Articulation

8. Rival Consoles – Articulation

‘Articulation’ is music on a grand scale, intelligent but spirited and capable of speaking to anyone.

Electronic music can often be stunningly complex, deeply beat laden and dripping in atmosphere but Ryan Lee West (aka Rival Consoles) has always focused on the person rather than the possibilities. Now comes ‘Articulation’ his new album released via Erased Tapes on 31st July and the latest episode in his quest to create modern compositions with a real human touch.

This time around he approached the challenge in a very different way to his previous record, 2018’s much praised and loved ‘Persona’, using drawings and sketches to imagine and develop each tune. The result is an album that through its surging melodies and sensitive rhythms paints you pictures and tells you stories. (John Parry)

Jabee – This World is So Fragile & Cruel I’m Glad I Got You

7. Jabee – This World Is So Fragile & Cruel I’m Glad I Got You

Jabee’s stunning new album is his most fully realized project yet, a harrowing journey of despair and of hope.

‘This World Is So Fragile & Cruel I’m Glad I Got You’, a lean, tightly organized record is the best of his career. It’s an emotionally powerful album that also seems like his most autobiographical, self-reflective and deepest work. Everything about the project was done with great intention, from the cover art, to the color of the vinyl for the wax edition, to the order of the songs. The album feels even more autobiographical, and more emotionally searing than Jabee’s past projects; in some places, it’s harrowing. It is a record that will make you think and feel. Jabee says that the album wasn’t difficult to make: “I’ve been dealing with these things my whole life. Everything that I’ve been through made me who I am. I am a little nervous, about the release, though. You never know how people will react to your new music.”

Even the album’s cover was designed with thought and attention to detail. The cover is a collage that depicts Jabee’s family, Douglas High School in Oklahoma City, the Civil Rights icon Clara Luper, who was from Oklahoma, and Julius Jones, a friend, who has been on Oklahoma’s death row for twenty years. (MD Semel)

Cabane – Grande Est La Maison

6. Cabane – Grande Est La Maison

Cabane is the work of Belgian artist Thomas Jean Henri: meditative, soothing chamber-folk from the long-standing collaborative project – a lockdown soundtrack.

Developed over the course of five years, the record reflects the multimedia nature of Henri’s art: the songs are neat, clear but also deeply rich in tone and arrangement, as in a photograph. Soothing and contemplative, the songs were a desperate anchor to whatever feels human in months of isolation. (Lorenzo Righetto)

Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death

5. Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death

Fontaines D.C. are one of the most exciting new bands around, in my opinion and have brought back a sense of danger and excitement to indie music. There is a raw poetic brilliance delivered in a punk style.

A Hero’s Death‘ is not a complete reboot of Fontaines D.C after a stunning debut in 2019’s ‘Dogrel’, nor is it a rejection of what made their debut so good. It is a natural progression: it shows an ascendancy and growth while maintaining the sharp and visceral poetic vision that is at the core of the band. There is a maturity and complexity that makes this such a completely satisfying and coherent release. (Arun Kendall)

The Bats – Foothills

4. The Bats – Foothills

It is really pleasing to see an antipodean release score so high, and the fact that it is released by the influential Flying Nun Records/Dunedin scene is all the more exciting, after such a long time producing such amazing music.

For aficionados of the Dunedin scene in the eighties (and certainly I’ve waxed lyrical about this golden age incessantly), ‘Foothills’ an exciting album.

It is incredible that the band has maintained the same lineup for 38 years and there has been a singular thread of brilliance running through the decades. Central figure Robert Scott says of making the album:

Time marches on… finally, we found a gap in our busy lives and chose a week to convene. We found a house that is usually inhabited by ski field workers — Kowai Bush, near Springfield about an hour west of Christchurch and of course nestled in the foothills of the mighty Southern Alps. The songs had been written, demo’d and arranged for some time, but still with a little room for trying things out in the studio. Many carloads arrived at the house, full of amps guitars and recording gear, we set up camp and soon made it feel like home; coloured lights, a log fire, and home cooked meals in the kitchen. We worked fast, and within a few days had all the basic backing tracks done, live together in one room, the way we like to do it – it’s all about ‘the feel’ for songs like ours.

In times of uncertainty and change, there is nothing more constant and reassuring than a new album from New Zealand’s legendary The Bats. Like a guiding star in the firmament, The Bats have a steady and consistent hold in the musical pantheon – giving direction and a steady path. ‘Foothills’ is simply brilliant – it is, in other words, what you would expect from The Bats album. ‘Foothills’ is a delicate, melodic album filled with beautiful observations on life delivered in The Bats’ trademark jingle-jangle, sparkling style with grace and poise. It is a musical reflection of New Zealand itself: distinct, innovating and wonderous. (Arun Kendall)

Yair Elazar Glotman & Mats Erlandsson – Emanate

3. Yair Elazar Glotman & Mats Erlandsson – Emanate

FatCat’s boutique experimental classical imprint 130701 currently has a consistency to match any label you care to think of. Amongst a year of brilliant releases – Olivier Alary & Johannes Malfatti’s u,i was also jaw-dropping – Yair Elazar Glotman & Mats Erlandsson’s Emanate explored the duo’s conception of ‘displaced sound’, combining electronic and acoustic sound sources; a music that sounds neither clearly electronic or acoustic, existing instead in liminal space.

They said: “In our oversaturated digital age, we’re frequently led to make snap judgements. Technological advances were supposed to free up creative thinking, but this flood has instead led to an erosion of our creativity and attention. 

“In many ways, the idea of a longform music is unsuited to and out of phase with these times. And yet, there is recent evidence of a reaction against this … witness the rise of the practise of mindfulness and the cultural elements of a ‘slow living’ movement; the huge success of Max Richter’s marathon Sleep project; and the emergence of an expansive musical niche intended to function not as ambient backdrop to other activities but as a deep listening, intensive immersion.”  

Let’s allow the purity of the high musicianly concept its validity, while we ourselves step down into an emotional response to this album. It’s wonderfully recorded and pressed, for those vinyl buffs; it’s measured; it has a human warmth, while not losing sight of sonic and creative expansion. It blisses. It’s fucking beautiful.

This album, frankly, is a must-have for aficionados of A Winged Victory For the Sullen, yet who also wish for a little of that apricity that floods through Stars of the Lid’s Ad Aspera Ad AstraThe Tired Sounds of …, et al. It’s amniotic, it’s hypnotic, it’s moving; it leaves me fulfilled yet craving more. Again, I say; again. (Chris Sawle).

Erland Cooper – Hether Blether

2. Erland Cooper – Hether Blether

Part instrumental, with the strings often drawing out raw emotion from the music, this sort of folk based cinematic music that’s surrounded by stories from the locals, sounds of the Islands and, on occasion, Cooper himself. It’s as if Cooper is presenting through the three albums the Islands rather than himself, and there’s a realisation that although its his art, he’s actually only a small part of it.

Such is the emotional brevity of the music, that sometimes the stories and songs become a side-show. Rather than distract, it merely makes the listener revisit, and delve into them further, past the almost indecipherable titles and into their world. The ‘songs’ that feature Cooper in full flow, such as single Peedie Breaks demand attention but don’t stand out.

Although much of the album plays out in similar mode, the textures and melodies that roll over you, decorated largely with strings but enhanced with a choral figure here and a piano there – listen to the devastatingly lovely title track for the best example, means its a journey of an album rather than a set of songs.

Without doubt, the final album in Erland Coopers trilogy about the Orkney Islands is the most affecting and beautiful album of 2020. (Jim F)

Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
  1. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

As evidenced by the ubiquitously high placing of Punisher amongst various publications, Phoebe Bridgers’ latest record is almost unanimously 2020’s most loved, and potentially greatest album; helping many through the year’s travails. This is for good reason, beyond that in fact.

A profoundly personal collection of tracks, Bridgers’ spins her reflective yarns with incomparable poeticism across Punisher. Although accompanied by various artists, Bridgers’ own songwriting and performative prowess never dull: be it the stupefying vocals of ICU, the intersecting vocals with Conor Oberst on Halloween, Bridgers’ incessantly sharp, beautifully folk tinged guitar work (especially on Graceland Too; banjo also joining the track with sheer grace), or the symphonic, freewheeling finales of Graceland Too and I Know The End. (James Kilkenny)

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