Enough has been said of how shit 2020 has been. Now, facing a finale that is more of a whimper than a bang, we close out the year alone. Inevitably we will be trapped with many of the problems that have plagued us this year, unable to move on from its shadow for years. Very little of normal life has been left unscathed, with many of us losing jobs, moving home or facing other personal crises.
The one thing that we have all been able to hold on to and cherish is music. 2020 has brought more free time to many of us than we have ever had before, time to listen or make music. Whether you have been revisiting your favourites from years gone by or discovering new and exciting sounds, music has been one of the few uniting forces keeping us sane this year. After keeping our ears tuned to the best new music released in 2020, here is our selection of twenty of the very best from the year.
20. Baxter Dury- The Night Chancers
The gritty London underworld of Baxter Dury’s music has an appeal of wonderment and absurdity. The alternating synth and orchestral arrangements on this album seem to narrate a hedonistic night out featuring dirty pubs, seedy characters and plenty of self loathing.
19. Sorry- 925
North London band Sorry’s debut album lived up to the lofty expectations set by their stellar singles from the previous few years. The blend of alt-rock and some trip-hop influence that we already saw from the singles is still a main feature, but many of the best moments on the record come from the softer and more subtle songs that offer an insight into the artists behind the music.
18. Grimes- Miss Anthropocene
Five years away from her last full length album, Grimes returns with a darker and more mythical album. The layered vocals and art-pop characteristics are still there, but seem to be dropped into a new fantasy world that is in equal parts beautiful and disturbed.
17. The Strokes- The New Abnormal
Long time staple indie band and global hit, The Strokes are back after a seven year break from their last album. Whilst The New Abnormal received mixed feedback upon release, it can definitely be seen as a huge improvement on the band’s previous two records. Hopefully we will soon see a return to form from The Strokes, reminiscent of the peak of their powers during the naughties.
16. Dream Wife- So When You Gonna…
Ranging from riot grrl punk to some softer indie rock, Dream Wife have hit their stride with their second record, following their self titled debut in 2018. This newest album hones in on the bands best qualities and strikes a balance of high energy and high emotion, with many of the songs adopting political and socially conscious themes and lyrics throughout.
15. Crack Cloud- Pain Olympics
The Canadian collective’s second full length release is a punchy and energetic experience to say the least. Crack Cloud’s combination of art-rock and post-punk is perhaps not the only of its kind, but does deliver political messages with a stylish and often noisy flair.
14. Freddie Gibbs- Alfredo
After over a decade of releasing music Freddie Gibbs still hits as hard as ever, as is shown in his latest collaboration with legendary producer The Alchemist. A selection of well used samples and features only add to the quality of the Gibbs’ rapping and have resulted in one of the best hip-hop records of the year.
13. Rina Sawayama- Sawayama
Modern alternative pop icon, Rina Sawayama has delivered a solid sophomore record that draws on influences from across the world. Perhaps stepping out of her shell a bit it seems that the artist has really found her voice on this album, as she is not afraid to show how varied her taste in music is. More so than any other album on this list, with each track on Sawayama you really don’t know what is coming next.
12. Charli XCX- How I’m Feeling Now
Over the years Charli has cemented herself as a cult pop superstar with her gradual progression to making some of the best hyperpop going. Her latest lockdown induced project has a bit of everything that fans have come to expect after her recent releases. Also worth pointing out that this album features one of the best pop songs in recent years with ‘forever‘ .
11. Fiona Apple- Fetch the Bolt Cutters
The sporadic releases over the years from Fiona Apple have granted the artist an almost mythical appearance in the world of music. Always brilliant and independent, her latest release after an almost decade long hiatus has certainly reminded the world of her abilities. Apple has maintained her distinctive voice and continues to defy typical musical conventions, delivering a raw and charged record that highlights her songwriting ability.
10. Bill Callahan- Gold Record
The warm soundscapes of Bill Callahan offer the sounds of the frontier with a modern touch. Sometimes spoken word artist and sometimes folk singer, Callahan has continued his illustrious career with this latest project. Formerly releasing music under the title Smog, and then opting for a more personal and introspective sound, he is one of the great singer-songwriters of our time. Maintaining such a prolific output whilst keeping each project feeling fresh and distinct is no small feat, and one that only the likes of Bill Callahan could pull off.
9. Drab City- Good Songs for Bad People
A brand new band that have emerged in 2020 and impressed with their unique genre bending, highly stylised and cinematic music. The use of murky tones, glitchy beats and layered vocals creates a sordid atmosphere whilst simultaneously producing some of the catchiest tunes of the year. If one good thing has come out of 2020 it is definitely this new and exciting group who appeared from the shadows and blessed us with this dark and moody project.
8. Against All Logic- 2017-2019
The ultra talented New York based composer Nicholas Jaar is back releasing music under his alter-ego, delivering a densely layered album yet again. Releasing the second in what seems to be a series of works compiled over the past few years, Against All Logic is fast becoming one of the most impressive aliases in the world of electronic music. The constant switching between distorted club bangers and spacey ambient effects never feels forced or unnatural, a testament to musical abilities of Jaar.
7. Yves Tumor- Heaven to a Tortured Mind
Pioneer of American experimental music Yves Tumor’s latest album continues the amazing stretch of music and visuals released by the artist. The telltale signs of their work can be found here; a smorgasbord of just about every musical style imaginable moulded into a weirdly romantic experimental R&B record. As well as producing this level of quality that fans have only come to expect from such a talent, Tumor has further developed their sound and opted for a more direct sound on Heaven to a Tortured Mind, with more clear cut themes in each song and a consistent groove that occasional sampling only adds to.
6. Phoebe Bridgers- Punisher
Phoebe Bridgers is quickly becoming one the most popular names in indie music with her abstract singer-songwriting style that resonates with fans across the globe. Launching from the outer periphery of many to a somewhat mainstream position, Bridgers has stayed true to herself and continues to produce some of the best lyrics of recent times. Punisher is the artist’s best work yet, as she utilises subtle instrumentation to create a haunted world that envelops the listener. Whilst her music is often fairly melancholic and the subject matter is sometimes sad, there is a pleasant optimism in Bridgers’ voice that gives her music such a real human voice and represents the real emotional struggles that listeners will be able to relate to.
5. Jessie Ware- What’s Your Pleasure
Hands down the most fun album of the year, Jessie Ware has created a modern disco masterpiece with her latest effort. Often in the past finding herself in and around the UK top 40 throughout the mid 2010s, Ware has found a style that works wonders with her voice and musical style. The bassline and synth heavy album is an absolute toe tapper from start to finish and does not feature one bad song or dull moment. The London based artist has never sounded better than on What’s Your Pleasure and has definitely been one of the biggest surprises (musically at least) of the year. It’s safe to say that after such a strong album Ware has hit her stride as an artist and we are excited to see what we can expect from her in the future.
4. Fontaines DC- A Hero’s Death
The Dublin based indie band have done the unthinkable and have, at least, matched the greatness of their debut record Dogrel, only a year after its release. Such an achievement is astonishing in itself, with not one bad song being release over two full length studio albums. Considering that there has only been a year between the releases the change in themes between the records is stark. Switching their gaze from their surrounding to within themselves, Fontaines DC sound more torn both emotionally and artistically than ever. Much of A Hero’s Death takes a slower pace, opting for introspection and serenity over the high energy shouting of personal mantras that we saw on Dogrel. In this one year the band have lived an entire lifetime, as they have gone from a local band to touring the world it is fair to say that this record is a kind of story of change for the boys, delivered with their usual Irish charm.
3. King Krule- Man Alive!
Archy Marshall could be argued as being one of the voices of a generation, capturing the hearts and minds of many young music fans for years now since his debut album back in 2013. Since 6 Feet Beneath the Moon came out, King Krule has matured immeasurably as an artist. Many fans will feel that, to some extent, they have matured with him. Growing up through such a turbulent time, from adolescents to adulthood it is comforting to have such a musician who can translate those feelings of loss and confusion into such beautiful and sometimes dark songs. Man Alive features less empty space and depressingly bleak tones as The Ooz, which is not to say that it is either better or worse, but this new record is certainly more uplifting. Man Alive enraptures life in modern Britain and all of the good and bad that comes with it. Marshall proposes a more well rounded outlook, taking the positives and negatives in equal measure and learning to see the beauty in life.
2. Nadine Shah- Kitchen Sink
Yet another amazingly talented voice in British music right now is Nadine Shah. Not many other artists could draw on their roots as a second generation immigrant in an increasingly divided and xenophobic country, or at least not with such dramatic effect. Shah demonstrates on Kitchen Sink that the culture of immigrants in Britain is inseparable from British culture itself. The blend of influences from the Middle East and the North of England create the perfect backing for Shah’s brilliantly grandiose vocals to beacon over. Some of her past releases have stood out from the crowd and drawn in listeners with her brooding and often political songs, but none have stood out to this extent. Shah has truly produced a social commentary on the UK that is second to none here, drawing on her personal experience and wider events such as Brexit, Grenfell and the generally polarising political specturm.
1. Working Men’s Club- Working Men’s Club
Bursting onto the scene with a blend of hard hitting rave and post-punk, no other band today can boast the same explosive energy as Working Men’s Club. Clearly driven by a genuine love for the music that they draw on for influence, the young group have blown all expectations out of the water with their rampant debut record. Each song is a racing journey from the monotony of small town British life to the pure ecstatic release of energy that music brings to communities that are often forgotten by popular movements and the politicians of London. The North Yorkshire group have painted a picture of modern Britain that seeks utopia but inevitably falls victim to the same mistakes of past generations, stagnating and being left behind. However, the tone of the record is not a somber one, quite the opposite, on this spectacular debut Working Men’s Club stand up and refuse to fall victim to the bleakness of it all. Choosing artistic expressions over the mundanity of the everyday is freeing, as is felt in the mammoth closing track, Angel, which is a 12 minute rollercoaster of highs and lows that encapsulates not only the record but life as a young person in the UK today.
Words by Ewan Blacklaw