I mean… it was a year, wasn’t it?
As ever, just to be on this list means you’re a bona-fide winner as I had to leave out at least ten albums I like, including notables like BMTH and Tame Impala. But I wanted to keep the list as short as possible
18. Bury Tomorrow – Cannibal
A very traditionally metalcore album which is not a criticism – plenty here to make you want to punch the floor, essential in 2020, obviously. It feels like Bury Tomorrow are going more accessible without necessarily following trends, props for that. There are some lovely riffs, singy bits and breakdowns on here.
17. The Soft Pink Truth – Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase?
The title breaks down into the song title of each of the nine tracks here (apart from the last!) and from the fluttery wordsearch of Shall to the Kiasmosian fade of May Increase, this is very much a road trip album. To my ears it sounds like Steve Reich decided to make a house album and I like that. Of course it’s minimal house. Also props as I’ve been loving this band for a while now -> https://bzangygroink.co.uk/archives/2003/03/10/soft-pink-truth-sieg-uber-die-sonne-codec/
16. Deerhoof – Future Teenage Cave Artists
Wherein we find the Hoof in a more sombre mood, sounding both old and new as on the extremely panned The Loved One. If you’re a fan of Deerhoof, I doubt this album will put you off. If you’re not, you’ll find it off on its own little journey and that may miff you or you may wish to hop on. Me, I’d still like a Deerhoof number one record and there’s some stuff on here, like the frankly scary Sesame Streetesque Deerchildren that is almost there.
15. Another Sky – I Slept On The Floor
I like receiving art with no context. I like being ignorant of how it’s made what and why – I want to feel it first. When I first heard Another Sky, it was on Radio One and their song Fell In Love With The City. I loved it and for about five seconds, I thought it was a new Everything Everything track. So, I’m not gonna give you details about this band, though I know them. I’m just going to tell you that if you love epic pop songs that are not easy shapes / have easy themes, you should check this album out.
14. Khruangbin – Mordechai
By all rights, I should hate Khruangbin. They seem to hit every hipster tickbox. And yet… I love their music. At their best, as in Pelota, they bring me warm, summery Lalo Schifrin shivers. Even at their worst, they make you sit up and cock your head like a puzzled labradoodle. They remind you of the possibilities in music where some other artists show you only the limits.
13. Jack Garratt – Love, Death & Dancing
This is a collection of Garratt’s 2020 EPs but it’s also an album so fuckit. And it features one of my fave songs of 2020, the beautiful, horrible, sad, ridiculous Better. For that song alone, you should check this album out but I defy you to try not to harmonise along with Mara. And the lyrics of Circles just cut and cut and cut. A confrontational, intensely personal album that, like the best art of 2020, seems to mirror our collective journey into The Wrong Timeline.
12. Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
The only thing I can compare this album to is Roy Orbison and Serge Gainsbourg teaming up to produce a soundtrack for a Reed Morano film about a castaway prince. Yes. There’s a reach here, it’s all pop music but you have instant bangers like Without You next to dreampop whispers like Jason. It’s dazzling, it really is. What a fucking voice.
11. Field Music – Making A New World
A rambling, Brakhage of an album, all colours and lights and oh my and ‘what was that, in the corner?’ Drifts from Steely Dan to Buggles via Madness and just all kinds of wooly places. It’s ALL poppy. All of it.
10. Kvelertak – Splid
I fucking love Kverletak. When I first heard 1985, I knew they were a band for me and their follow up to their first album doesn’t disappoint. Stylistically, yeah, it’s hard rock but there are all kinds of shades here, it’s almost like a parallel reality where metal bands went hardcore punk rather than the other way around. Honestly, you’ll think I’m barmy for saying this but I hear as much Husker Du here as Sabbath. Shhh.. this is a punk album… don’t let those smooth guitar solo harmonies fool ya!
9. Aitch – Polaris
If you’ve listened to the charts any time this year, you will have heard Aitch and his flow. It seems he’s collabbed with everyone and it’s easy to see why from the opening bars of Safe To Say. His confidence and sheer ability shine through the eight tracks and, frankly, made me wish he’d bunged a couple more on. On the other hand, every track is SOLID, no hilarious skits, no fat to be trimmed from this lean, mean joint. And it passed the car test: my rear view looks like it’s shivering when this album’s on.
8. Crack Cloud – Pain Olympics
I can see the Wire and other post-punk comparisons but there’s also something Devo here, something XTC and Kimya Dawson too. That may sound like an ungodly melange but this album is cohesively weird, a neat trick I could never pull off. If you like your pop lumpy and bumpy and actually about something, check out this album.
7. The Koreatown Oddity – Little Dominique’s Nosebleed
This album is like one of those painting’s where there’s a vista populated by tiny figures and, curious, you approach to try and see the faces. TKO relates tale after tale about where he’s from, who he was, what happened to him and, ultimately, where he thinks we should go. His lyrics are precise and conjure powerful imagery, some of the runs remind me of old Del or Camp Lo whereas the beats have that kind of Digable Planets blissed-out buzz.
6. Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song
If you’re looking for a cookie-cutter dancey/edm-ish album, this isn’t the album for you. Owens between dreamy, ethereal almost-hymns like L.I.N.E to out and out tech bangers like Night and she is equally comfortable, equally moving. Just lovely.
5. Enter Shikari – Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible
Look, by now you’ve made your mind up about Shikari. You’re either one of their legion of dedicated fans or are snidely dismissive of one of the standout political bands of their generation. But just give this album a go, Shikari are pushing themselves way out of their comfort zones and yeah, a couple of times that doesn’t work for but I am fucking glad they’re still at least trying. They could easily just turn out dancefloor certainties like T.I.N.A. and not bother with the wilder cuts like Elegy but I love that they do.
4. Beatrice Dillon – Workaround
This is the album that I hope every modular workout I watch at 3am on YouTube is and never delivers. (Is Clouds named for the Mutable Instruments module? I suspect so.) This is flowing, evolving electronic music that isn’t afraid of extremes. Bouncing off her varied collaborators, Dillon never uses eclecticism as a replacement for depth, her timbral juxtapositions are sometimes playful, sometimes startling but always, always meaningful. I wish I could make electronic music this good but, sadly, I’m not talented enough.
3. Lomelda – Hannah
This album just crept up on me and stabbed me in the heart. At points it’s so small and still and quiet and then other songs soar and open up like an old Far or Pedro The Lion track. Always intimate without being cloying or intrusive, it’s a line that Lomelda revels in cartwheeling down, laugh-crying all the time. A cathartic fucking confessional hug of an album.
2. Igorrr – Spirituality And Distortion
Easily my favourite metal album of the year and also my favourite folk and electronic album. Regular readers will know that I love everything that Gautier Serre is involved in because of his absolute refusal to stay genre-bound. He’s been doing this orgiastic bricolage for years and, let’s be fucking honest about it, where Igorrr leads, Poppy and Bring Me and more traditional musicians will eventually follow. If they dare.
It’s a piece of piss to be avant garde, to be the critics’ darling by making unlistenable dross. To be this bold, this experimental and still deliver certified bangers like Very Noise, Camel Dancefloor and Himalaya Massive Ritual… it is genius.
1. Lauv – ~how i’m feeling~
This album brought me to tears repeatedly this year. Because, you know, I feel stuff? Like, I don’t check if I should feel it, I just feel it. Whether it’s a line that reminds me about my dead father or another that reminds me it’s seventeen days since I’ve seen another human being in this fuck of a year. Lauv has this way of pushing my buttons that other big, shiny chart pop doesn’t.
When I hear Feelings, I find myself in it, the confusion, the longing, the eternal ambiguity of love. It’s in there, the frustration but also the understanding that we can’t help the pain. God, if I’d written this song, I would die happy. It’s a perfect, three-chord-trick pop song.
This is a long album but it’s full of pop gems; Drugs & The Internet, Fuck I’m Lonely, Feelings, I’m So Tired, Tattoos Together and the horribly prophetic For Now and Modern Loneliness.
You really could not get a more 2020 album.