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:
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
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 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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.