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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.

LIVE REVIEW: The Necks, Christians Kirke (Alice), 19.10.18

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Photos by Victor Yakimov

Thirty years of playing together and 16 albums to their name, there are a few things you can comfortably expect from the Necks: each of their records will drastically differ from the previous one, they will elicit both fanatical devotion and uncomprehending boredom, and their live sets will always be magical. The Australian three-piece–consisting of Chris Abrahams (piano), Lloyd Swanton (double bass) and Tony Buck (drums)–on paper sounds like fairly traditional jazz trio, but they are further from this than any newcomer could imagine. Instead of solos, complicated time signatures or key changes, we have slowly developing repetitions that build on each other, closer to ambient or contemporary classical than to Coltrane.

After seeing the Necks play in the intimate Brorsons Kirke last year, Christians Kirke offers a markedly more theatrical setting, with its marble altarpiece, glass chandeliers and wooden galleries trimmed in gold.  The large bass amp sits immediately in front of the altar, but the spectacular quality of the setting belies the slow revelatory patience of the band. As Swanton tunes his bass the other two sit calmly in front of their instruments, eyes closed, waiting to find out who will make the first move tonight.

Once you know to expect it, the beginning and end of the Necks’ sets (they usually do two of around 45 minutes each, with an interval) become incredibly charged moments, and tonight it is Abrahams who stirs first, with some simple, searching piano chords. Swanton picks it up and distills this into a simple two chord repetition, a quiet but insistent hi hat dropping in from Buck.

The hypnotism that emerges from this makes the Necks a hard band to write about, the feeling lingers but the details are hard to pick out. This in fact is a quality that can emerge in the very moment of listening to them, and can in fact produce the opposite, sonic mirages. There are many times when, in the speed and intricacy of the piano arpeggios, I start to hear a single repeated note that sounds at first like the bass, only to see that Swanton is playing something completely different, or find myself hearing completely different instruments, saxophones or violins.

On this night the biggest surprise of that nature is produced by Buck, at the end of their second set. Just as the piano and bass begin to simmer down to a single repeated note, an astounding, monstrous chords emerges out of nothing: a small cymbal being dragged against the skin of the floor tom.

 

LIVE REVIEW: The Necks, Jazzhouse 05.12.17

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The Necks live at Brorsons Kirke in Copenhagen

It seems fitting that this, the end of the road for Jazzhouse, should take place in a church. The old venue in Niels Hemmingsens Gade has closed, and its requiem is being performed here, in Brorsons Kirke, by the Necks.

The Australian trio are often referred to as an improvisational jazz unit,  but don’t come expecting solos: their pieces typically emerge out of an initial fragment of piano or bass, from Chris Abrahams and Lloyd Swanton respectively, underpinned by the eery jangling of bells and cymbals that crowd the feet of percussionist and drummer Tony Buck. Small alterations will start to stack up until they reach a hypnotic intensity, such that the end can feel like been snatched back home after a long and strange journey.

The setting tonight is particularly conducive to the mix of concentration and wonder that the Necks are capable of producing. The band is softly lit in the centre of the small church, surrounded by the audience in warm, candle-lit gloom. On the other side of the room I see two older women, heads resting against each other, with closed eyes and beatific smiles, while on the other side of a room a kid in a baseball cap bobs his head like he’s at an industrial techno set.

Those two reactions help explain just why its hard to talk about the Necks’ music in a convincing way. There is a layer of abstraction to it that allows this huge divergence of interpretation. Tonight they play two sets of uninterrupted music, of roughly 45 minutes each, with an intermission in between.

The first slowly develops out of a beguiling, endless series of piano arpeggios that would put Lubomyr Melnyk to shame. This has the insistency of classical minimalism, but the bass and drums rescue it from an academic exercise and inject real pathos into the piece. At the same time Abrahams’ piano mutations feel closer to a DJ performing the perfectly beat-matched transition from one track to another, by subtly changing the emphasis in a chord.

The intense crescendos of the first set are replaced by a more brooding and searching second half, much closer to what you might have heard in the first couple of tracks from their latest album, Unfold. In this comparative quietness Buck’s percussion has a change to shine through more, especially towards the end when he manages to produce some banshee sounds from his kit by dragging a small cymbal against the skins of the drums.

There is a long pause at the end of the concert, as the last strains echo around the small church. Then the dream breaks, the lights go up, a cold December night comes grasping through the doors. So long Jazzhouse, and thanks for this, your last gift.

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