Best Music of 2020
The less said about 2020 the better. With that in mind, here's me saying some stuff about 2020. This is a list of my 10 favourite albums of the year. I've done them in chronological order, not because I'm fundamentally opposed to ranked lists (I LOVE them) but because 1) it helps me remember what was going on in the world when each of these beauties was released 2) I couldn't decide on a favourite this year, they are all BRILLIANT.
The Best Albums of 2020
Walter Martin - The World at Night (Family Jukebox)
An album that didn't get a huge amount of exposure (certainly here in the UK), ex Walkmen and Jonathan Fire*Eater Walter Martin's fifth solo album is a masterclass in atmosphere and storytelling. Partly inspired by the loss of Martin's friend and bandmate Stewart Lupton, the album has a lovely balance between sadness and life affirming wonder, all underpinned with an abundance of woozy, cosiness provided by Martin's sleepy vocal style and a load of wintery brass. I started 2020 listening to this album repeatedly and when winter returned it returned to my "heavy rotation" list too. Thoroughly cockle warming.
BC Camplight - Shortly After Takeoff (Bella Union)
Brian Christinzio released his best album just as the pandemic was getting a grip on the UK. It's a pity we didn't get to see this material performed live (in a proper venue at least, BC Camplight did do a run of excellent streamed performances in the summer) but at least we had bone-fide classics like "I Only Drink When I'm Drunk" and "Back to Work" to see us through this horrorshow off a year.
Blóm - Flower Violence (Box Records)
A rowdy radge-fest, a refreshing combination of DIY punk and raw, doom metal this debut from North East trio Blóm is a masterclass in how to make a straight to the point album. From the wonderfully defiant "Meat" to the epic "Ubermensch" to "Be Kind" which juxtaposes a brutal riff with a surprisingly sincere ode to individuality and solidarity, Flower Violence is a killer introduction. No nonsense, just five songs and out.
Run the Jewels - RTJ4 (BMG)
An album that seemed like it was written as the soundtrack to 2020, specifically the murder of George Floyd and subsequent worldwide protest (the songs were actually written way before these latest - in a long line of - events which makes the content all the more infuriating). Run The Jewels' 4th album is their best yet: angry, minimal, thoroughly accessible and strangely kind of hopeful.
Wesley Gonzalez - Appalling Human (Moshi Moshi)
Wesley Gonzalez, ex indie underdog (his last outfit was Let's Wrestle) turned eccentric, outsider crooner, delivered the pop album of the year back in June. He managed to take elements of classic chart acts of the 80s (Prefab Sprout, Talk Talk, solo Marc Almond to name a few) and repackaged them for a modern audience, without the need for knowing winks or nudges. Magic.
JARV IS... - Beyond the Pale (Rough Trade)
After far too long away, Jarvis returned with this lean art-rock opus. Despite the sprawling lineup and lengthy tracks, this somehow seemed like Cocker's most straight forward and focussed work to date. Combining the teaser singles (which already felt like they'd gained legendary status) with songs that actually exceeded those high water marks like the rousing "Am I Missing Something?" and the gorgeously seedy "Swanky Modes". The evolution of Jarv continues.
J. Zunz - Hibiscus (Rocker Recordings)
Lorena Quintanilla's second album under the J. Zunz banner was a trip into a murky, industrial shadowland. Minimal, but by no means relaxing, the music on Hibiscus would better be described as nightmare inducing (the abrupt screaming end of "Júpiter" is particularly unsettling, like the ending of Mulholland Drive in musical form). There are some lighter moments (the angelic "White Labels" for example), but even those mostly descend into some sort of breakdown. Quintanilla's other band Lorelle Meets the Obsolete seems like a pleasant walk in the park in comparison. This is all high praise by the way.
Public Enemy - What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down? (Public Enemy/Def Jam)
2020 saw hip hop's undisputed kings come up with a late career high (after "splitting up" earlier in the year, a spat between Chuck D and Flavor Flav which turned out to be a hoax/publicity stunt that fooled the world). This is Public Enemy back to basics, no gimmicks required just biting and funny and full of political jabs. There's even some metal riffs and a revisited classic (the ever prescient "Fight The Power"). The perfect album to soundtrack the downfall of Trump.
Magana - You Are Not a Morning Person
This was a surprise album release from a Brooklyn musician who's been putting out music sporadically over the past four years (alongside playing bass in Mitski's much celebrated live band). You Are Not a Morning Person saw Jeni Magana complete a miraculous reinvention from low key DIY folky to leader of a bustling brassy ensemble. This is an eclectic mix going from Tom Waitsy ballad to full blown late era PJ Harvey battle cry, from ambitiously anthemic to delicate dark pop. A stunning debut.
Spectres - It's Never Going to Happen and This Is Why (Dark Habits)
Angry and dirty, the unsung heroes of Bristol's thriving music scene delivered another stellar album after a couple of years away. Their third LP sees a slight but noticeable shift away from their trademark sludgy sound to something sparser, at times sounding almost fugazi-like. Opening with a bang ("Idolise Us") and leaving us with a bleak epic ("I Was An Abattoir"), It's Never Going to Happen and This Is Why is wall to wall filth of the best possible variety. 2020 really needed a band like this.