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Albums of the Year 2020

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here today albums of 2020

The way a lot of listen to music changed this year. Sometimes it was the distraction of everyday events that kept us from focusing, and sometimes it’s because the discovery of gigs or festivals felt only like a distant memory. But what this year lacked in live events — or over compensated with streaming events — it made up for in quality albums. In no particular order, our albums of the year:

Fiona Apple
Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Fiona Apple reappeared after an eight year absence with a record that was worth every minute of the wait. Fetch the Bolt Cutters would be captivating for its rhythmic patterns alone, but Apple’s lyrics offer a unique, clever, and forceful representation for women who have grown up and grown tired of the bullshit of everyday living. 

Resistance Revival Chorus
This Joy

The vitality of Resistance Revival Chorus’s This Joy might not resonate if you haven’t had to take to the streets this year. But if you’ve been at all sensitive to the social events sweeping the globe this year, the 60+ member chorus chanting and singing about change, acts of resistance, and the imperative of community is down right inspiring. If the futility of 2020 has dragged you down, This Joy is a much-needed shot of energy.

Kelly Lee Owens
Inner Song

Inner Song has a deeply reassuring steadiness to it. Whether it’s an insistent pulse driving a song forward or electronic tones ricocheting off of one another, Kelly Lee Owens has an uncanny sense of pacing. And underscoring her instincts are the intermittent uses of her vocals, which, in their rarity, have only a greater impact  — to say nothing of her collaboration with John Cale, which is all the more singular for how it cuts against the rest of the album.

Hen Ogledd
Free Humans

What started out as a side project of Richard Dawson and avant-harpist Rhodri Davies eventually mutated into a proper four-piece in Hen Ogledd. Free Humans has the charm and weirdness of a 70s sci-fi tv movie, allowing the group to indulge their squelchy synth side while also producing some pure pop gems in “Trouble” and “Crimson Star”.

Kate NV
Room for the Moon

Kate NV followed up the retro electronic minimalism of для FOR with the surprise (at least to those who haven’t heard her play in Moscow-based post-punks Glintshake) of Room for the Moon, a homage to the disjointed pop of the 80s. Think Tin Drum-era Japan, but equally and more directly Japanese City Pop by way of conceptualism. Maybe Yellow Magic Orchestra without the synths. Either way, good stuff.

The Necks
Three

Although the Necks will always be a band that demand to be witnessed live, the lockdown did give us a chance to appreciate their recorded output. Three is structured almost in reverse of one of their live shows, starting out with an urgent, shamanic rattling, before evolving into the enigmatic soundscapes of scratches and laments produced by percussionist Tony Buck. Showcasing both their swagger and their introspection, Three has been a constant companion during 2020s long evenings.

Ulcerate
Stare Into Death And Be Still

Admittedly, our adventures in death metal are only occasional, but when a band makes music that is distinctively their own, they have our interest. Ulcerate have developed a brutal, dense, complex and very atmospheric sound over the last two decades. Their sixth album is their most approachable to date. You might find it difficult, but it’s worth the effort.

Adrianne Lenker
songs / instrumentals

On her new album Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief once again shows what a brilliant songwriter she is. Her latest double album, songs / instrumentals, was recorded in a one-room cabin “that felt like the inside of a guitar”. It’s her with an 8-track tape recorder, a bit of rain, some ambient sounds, and a broken heart. It is an honest and raw album that sounds like being there, a very moving experience.

Phoebe Bridgers
Punisher

Even though Phoebe Bridgers is only 25 years old, she has already found voice of her own. On her second solo album Phoebe Bridgers perfects the fine songwriting that was to be found on her debut album Stranger in the Alps. It’s a beautiful collection of songs. Intimate, funny, clever and melancholic.

Jackie Lynn
Jacqueline

We’re here for any work Haley Fohr has to share, but it’s especially exciting to see Jackie Lynn become a fully-fledged wierdo pop project. With Bitchin’ Bajas’ irresistible beats and Fohr’s distinctive voice, Jackie Lynn has now found a place as an adventurous electronica outfit to match the outlaw character in front of it.

Albums of the Year 2019

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Image result for cate le bon reward

Cate Le Bon
Reward

Having strayed from her signature guitar style into more textural, synth-based compositions, Cate Le Bon has found new ways to highlight her cool voice. Mostly down-tempo, occasionally punctuated by brass instruments, it’s a different approach but continues Le Bon’s quirky inclinations. We’re not entirely sure why this album is the album that made the world realize how wonderful she is, but are glad everyone else has caught up. 

Image result for kim gordon no home record

Kim Gordon
No Home Record

On her long-awaited solo debut, Kim Gordon taps into the Sonic Youth-style alt-rock that she built her career on. A little left-field but still catchy, Gordon calls on strong rhythms, whispered and raspy vocal deliveries, and a broader range of dynamics than much of her recent work. But when she does lean into the noise she’s so well versed in, it takes on weirdly soothing, meditative qualities.

Image result for lizzo cuz i love you album cover

Lizzo
Cuz I Love You

It was a good year for albums about the end of the world. But if you wanted an album that actually made you feel good about yourself, Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You was it. This was the album for Lizzo to lean fully into being a pop singer, and the result is full of celebration and killer hooks. Whether she’s telling a boy off, contemplating running the world, or just feeling herself for being fabulous, Lizzo’s party is the party we want to go to.

Image result for alexander tucker guild of the asbestos weaver

Alexander Tucker
Guild of the Asbestos Weaver

Anyone familiar with Tucker’s work as Grumbling Fur (together with Daniel O’Sullivan) will instantly recognise his signature kitchen-sink-sci-fi. On opener “Energy Alphas” a warm, buzzy bass drone weaves around Tucker’s plain-but-sweet chants and hissing drum machines. Formally minimalist but rich in texture (particularly with the treated strings that appear throughout the rest of the record), Guild of the Asbestos Weaver is a beautifully enigmatic haven.

Image result for jenny hval the practice of love

Jenny Hval
The Practice of Love

Jenny Hval’s latest work still features her airy, laid-back vocals and meditative synth-pop, but these are brought into a more conversational setting, juxtaposed with spoken word sections and snippets of interviews with other female artists. “High Alice” and “Ashes to Ashes” have that late night mixture of elation and anxiety previously found in “Female Vampire”, but the central and eponymous track somehow manages to achieve a similar effect by layering voices speaking over and against and through each other.

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Fat White Family
Serfs Up!

The excesses and controversies of the Family have always overshadowed their music, but since moving out of London and playing in several off-shoot bands, they are back armed with cartloads of bangers. Opener “Feet” is pure Pet Shop Boy histrionic dance anthem with a pounding synth line and a string section, whereas “Tastes Good With the Money” shows a lighter side, with a glam stomp and Baxter Dury channelling a cockney Serge Gainsburg.

Image result for aldous harding designer

Aldous Harding
Designer

If you listen to Designer distractedly it might simply come across as pleasant, but if you have ever seen Aldous Harding play live you’ll know there is a taught energy undercutting all her work. Wide open eyes, a twitch at the edges of the mouth, something off-kilter with the laid-back vocals. You can hear it in the broken shuffle of “Designer”, and in the quiet background noises of “Damn”.

Big Thief
U.F.O.F

The first of Big Thief’s ambitious two-album release for the year, U.F.O.F. has all of the delicate qualities associated with their work. What feels significant is that frontwoman Adrienne Lenker has found a way to convey intimacy beyond fragility. Still vulnerable, but with a new sense of strength, U.F.O.F. will pull you in as close as you’ll let it.

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