Best Music of 2020 - EPs, Singles and Lockdown Treats
As a little appendix to my list of favourite albums of 2020, here are some of the other things which I thoroughly enjoyed.
NNAMDÏ - Black Plight
NNAMDÏ 's BRAT (also released this year) was a fine album but, for my money, Black Plight is where it's at. Three passionate, direct tracks released right as the BLM movement was sweeping the world. Black Plight is rawer, angrier and more emotive than it's sister album and sees NNAMDÏ working with a completely different set of rules. Less of the downbeat, vocoder-funk and more METAL. I'd recommend that everyone checked them both out but this one was my favourite.
Cate Le Bon and Group Listening - Here It Comes Again
Cate le Bon's Reward was one of my favourite albums of 2019 (and it's only going up in my estimation since then) so any excuse to milk some more joy out it. Here we see Group Listening (a band featuring long time Le Bon collaborator Stephen Black and Paul Jones) reimagining some of those songs, forcing you to re-evaluate them or maybe look at them from a new angle. Often these tracks are sparser, more synth based or easier listening than the sax soaked originals. "Miami" still sounds like an absolute stone cold classic.
Mark Peters & Clem Leek - Thesis 19
Mark Peters solo work has been some of my favourite music of the last few years and this collaboration with Clem Leek for the Thesis Project is right up there with his best stuff. The nine minute "Overhill" is the stand out track here. Delicate piano sounds and Peters' swirling atmospherics intertwine perfectly as the song progresses. Stunning stuff.
Megadead - Audio Visual Metro Computers
Hard to choose a favourite between the two quality EPs put out by Megadead this year. Audio Visual Metro Computers and Screams, Banging etc both saw Megadead aka Benjamin Shaw's working at the top of his game, experimenting in the fields of ambient, electronica and dub and most importantly, writing beautiful music. I think his latest release (Audio Visual Metro Computers) just about pips it, so if you're unfamiliar with Shaw's work, start with that one and then work backwards. You're in for a self deprecating treat.
Bdrmm - The Bedroom Tapes
It's been a rollercoaster year for this Hull five piece. By my reckoning they've released an album, this EP, a single, a live album and a few tasty remixes to great critical acclaim. It would obviously have been nice (for them, and us) if they'd been allowed to tour any of this stuff, but this EP is a decent consolation. It comprises four ace live recordings and three remixes, including 2 versions of "A Reason To Celebrate" which I'm pretty sure is one of the best songs by anyone, ever.
Islet - Golden Top EP
Another band that released a very good full LP in 2020 (the Welsh Music Prize nominated Eyelet) but I'm picking out their EP of album offcuts. These apparently didn't fit the mood of the parent LP, but here they work perfectly together. Slower, more ambient and atmospheric than Eyelet but perfectly at home here.
Angel Bat Dawid - Transition East
2020 saw the Chicago experimental jazz musician release a few quality records (including the ferocious "LIVE" album), but Transition East was my favourite of the bunch. A brace of tracks which sees Dawid at her most accessible and engaging. "Transition East" is pulsing chill-out at its finest, the b side "No Space Fo Us" is more free form with a Ethiopiques kind of feel. Short and sweet.
Shy-Talk - Chauvinism / Didn't They Do Well
It absolutely rocks and it absolutely came with a "magnificent dog wearing sunglasses" ornament.
Benefits - Various tracks
Benefits' evolution has been an interesting thing. Starting off as a sort of electro/raucous DIY project (with subtle hints of Kingsley Chapman's previous bands and a bit of Sleaford Mods), the band have gradually given less and less of a shite about the traditional concepts and constraints of the "music biz". So much so that on the last few tracks they've drip fed into the world, the music (in its traditional sense) is almost undefinable, or at the very least playing second fiddle to very angry monologues. At the end of the year Benefits sounded like no other band around. A Cold War Steve collage in audio form.
Du Blonde - Medicated
Next year will be the year for Du Blonde (their third, self released, self produced album comes out in the Spring), but it's worth getting a bit excited about this teaser single featuring long time Du Blonde fan Shirley Manson. The music hints at a return to the poppier, rockier sounds of 2015's classic album Welcome Back To Milk with simple guitar riffs, timeless melodies and biting lyrics.
Kesha - Potato Song (Cuz I Want To)
Best pop song of the year by a country mile, silly but righteous. I don't really know anything about Kesha but this song is a delight. Just perfect.
Martha - Move to Durham and Never Leave
Bandcamp Friday has been one of the few genuine triumphs of 2020. This compilation was put out on bandcamp Friday and then apparently deleted for EVER! 15 demos and cover versions which shine a different light on the masters of pop punk. Highlights include a fragile, stripped back version of "The Void" and an unusually synthy take on The Mountain Goats "Alphonse Mambo". There's something for everyone.
John MOuse - The Goat
These tracks were eventually compiled into an album, and a very good one at that, but The Goat started life as a lockdown project, drip fed at regular intervals on bandcamp. Daft-pop gems ("Le Pigeon", "Kerplunk Sticks") sit alongside horribly dark short stories ("The Raven Argonette"), all tied together by the Cardiff musician's poetic, dry wit.
Ivan The Tolerable and Friends - Covid-19 Party Hits!
Oli Heffernan released an excellent (remote) collaborative LP with Mike Watt back in August, and whilst that record does predate the pandemic he did put out two other lockdown projects. First there was the Out of Season (Pocket Version) which was Heffernan's attempt at doing something close to a live performance that would usually promote a new LP. Then there was the sprawling 27 track Covid-19 Party Hits! which was recorded between March and May and mixes psychedelic ambient noodlings with some inspired/brave choices for cover versions (John Barry, The Beatles, Spacemen 3 and Donovan).
Little Simz - Drop 6 EP
One of the first things I heard that was recorded and released during lockdown that directly addressed some of the issues (and wasn't boring acoustic nonsense). Lo-fi, low key and minimal, "might bang, might not" and "you should call mum" are right up there with her best work.