As always, I entered this year determined to listen to as many albums as I could find, yet even with national lockdowns and furlough galore, I didn’t quite live up to my expectations. That said, there are a handful of albums that I have either enjoyed for a great portion of 2020 or returned to throughout. If we are talking objectively here, they are not necessarily the BEST releases, but they are my own personal favourites. So, in fact in a way, they ARE the best. But you know what I’m getting at here – never wanting to rate albums as good or bad, these are simply a list of albums that I myself have enjoyed a lot this year.
Of course it’s not all about the full album or EP, there are simply some stand alone tracks that have blessed my ears this year and eventually I will go forward and listen to their respective album. All in due course. There are also some albums I was lucky enough to review, unfortunately these pieces never saw the light of day, so I would like to share them here along with a brief summary of my Top 10 albums and go-to tracks of 2020. Without further ado, in no particular order we have the long awaited albums of the year:
HMLTD – West of Eden
The first quarter of 2020 was more or less dedicated to listening to this album in all of its theatrical, glamour rock glory. It is unconventional and kind of angry, yet not without its sweet moments. Tracks like ‘Mikey’s Song’ and ‘Blank Slate’ remain in my head for days, but I definitely recommend giving this album a full listen from start to finish to really appreciate the true art of this band’s debut. A key part of my 2020 collection without a doubt.
Talk Show – These People EP
Earlier in the year I got back in to writing for other sites again and the Talk Show EP was one of the first that really hit the nail on the head. It is a quick, concise look in to the band’s talents, from the ferocity of ‘Stress’ to the sweet gothic romance of ‘Banshee’. There is not one track I don’t like on this EP which is easy to say about a four track collection, but these guys really killed it.
Silverbacks – Fad
Another album that I happened to review was Dublin band Silverbacks’ debut album Fad. Enjoyed a bunch of fresh music this year it seems. I remember really taking my time with this one and going over it again and again before reviewing, and many more times after. It is one of those albums that remains on theme and in sound, while exploring the varying talents amongst the band and I just blammin love it okay?
Dream Wife – So When You Gonna…
This was one of the albums I was most anticipating and oh boy it did NOT disappoint. I was lucky enough to get a press copy of this, ready for my review to go to print for one of the sites I used to write for, however it just never happened. Hey ho, better late then never, I will add the review at the end of this post for anyone interested in reading it. For a TL;DR version, – it just really rocks.
Laura Marling – Song For Our Daughter
Okay, I will hold my hands up and say that it took me til 2020 to really check in with Laura Marling. I have always been aware of her and enjoyed what I have heard, but had never really got to know her. Then this album kind of changed everything. Lead single ‘Held Down’ got my attention right away and sure, if it wasn’t for me reviewing it I may not have given it the attention it truly deserved – so thank goodness for that, huh? It is just pure beauty and the range of her vocals – so delicate yet so powerful – just ugh. Yeah, probably my favourite album of the year if I am honest.
The Magic Gang – Death of the Party
This one may also be my favourite of the year. This band – they are just everything I have ever loved in music and I’m pretty sure if they were around when I was 15 I would just be so obsessed. Even more so than the Sam who had their album on repeat for more or less an entire shift at work when it first came out. As much as I hate to say it, I don’t think they are exactly groundbreaking but they are just one of those bands who bring me such joy, whether it be listening to their music at home or seeing them live – they just do it for me. I am only gutted I didn’t get the super cool limited vinyl they released but I will live I suppose.
Bombay Bicycle Club – Everything Else Has Gone Wrong
I mean, if there was ever an album title to sum up the year, this one really takes top prize. I actually have a strong memory of listening to the title track on the way to my last shift at my temp job, before I had another job lined up – I was welling up in the middle of Southampton high street – makes me laugh when I look back on it though so it is okay. Kinda sweet that I also managed to see BBC at a small show earlier this year. My first time seeing them and it was so lowkey and just the best. This album has just the right mix of early sounds and brand new styles and I cannot fault it at all.
Yore – Yore
So this is a self titled debut of a new project and when it came through my inbox I wasn’t expecting something so up my street. I have spoken about this to death on my blog but I still cannot express just how much this album is a bit of me. I listen to it so regularly and love it with all my being every time. Gross, I know. My favourite thing about it is the collaboration, each song feeling like something different, yet such a perfect flow – super chilled out and I hate that I am about to say this, but SO VIBEY.
Grimes – Miss Anthropocene
Of course a Grimes album made it to my top 10, and yes, I am wearing a Grimes jumper as I type this. I was a little sceptical to start with, particularly after my initial response to Art Angels (which I grew to love by the way) but this album found its way to my heart for sure. Even songs I wasn’t sure I liked at first are firm favourites of mine. ‘Delete Forever’ was one I would skip at first, but now I bop to it every time. I don’t feel like I need to explain my reasoning for this album being in my top 10 but actually if I hadn’t bought the vinyl after seeing the limited pink edition at Vinilo, I may not have paid it so much time, so hats off to local independent record stores!
Khruangbin and Leon Bridges – Texas Sun EP
I remember being gifted a Khruangbin record on a whim years ago and it going down an absolute treat. I always loved being known by someone so well that they could just pick out something new for me, but then I am quite impressionable so in reality it isn’t really that impressive, sorry pal! That being said, that moment sparked something in me to enjoy releases such as this one. I love the combination of Khruangbin and Leon Bridges; I’m fairly certain I had the title track in my head for the majority of that first lockdown. Let’s hope hearing it in the future won’t bring too many flashbacks, eh?
There were of course some honourable singles such as ‘Hot Like Jungle’ by Pottery, that I did in fact wake up singing along to the other night – it really has permeated my brain in many ways. While it isn’t a 2020 release, Jerkcurb’s album Air Con Eden has played a very prominent part in my music listening this year, and is definitely up there in my all time favourites. We of course cannot forget to mention Caribou’s ‘Never Come Back’ and anything that Dua Lipa put out to be honest. Other highlights include ‘Idontknow’ by Jamie xx and Soccer Mommy’s ‘bloodstream’, not forgetting Marika Hackman’s cover of ‘Realiti’ and of course, where would we be with ‘WAP’? Also a big shout out to Wesley Gonzalez who provides me with favourite tracks a plenty, worth noting that his album Appalling Human is also way up there in my favourites of the year – who even has a firm top 10 anyway – can you tell that I’ve written this in a hurry? There are so many to mention that I have made a little playlist of my favourite tracks of the year – lord knows I’ve still forgotten something, but it’s 2020, so let’s be forgiving.
I am so excited to hear more new music next year, but before I go, here are a couple of my reviews that got forgotten:
Dream Wife – So When You Gonna…
Born from a love of performing, and uplifting one another, it is no surprise that Dream Wife are a band that set out to make music with a sense of empowerment. Their second album So When You Gonna… takes their stand for girl power further, with open conversations of sexuality and consent, as well as topics such as abortion and miscarriage.
One of the most prominent messages in the run up to the album’s release is the representation of womxn in the music industry, particularly the small percentage of female producers. Lead single ‘Sports!’ comes in, all energy and bravados laid out on the table while lyrics suggest living by your own rules. It is full of adrenaline and encouragement, in line with singer Rakel Mjöll’s comment that this album is “an invitation, a challenge, a call to action”.
Second single ‘Hasta La Vista’ follows with a different tone altogether; not only is Mjöll’s magnificent vocal range at play already, but also the sweet plinky rhythm of Alice Go’s guitar, compared to the raging force it displays in ‘Sports!’. A delicate harmony and steady pace make for a much more lighthearted melody. Dream Wife continue to take on many different sounds throughout the album, from dream pop to punk to electro groove. At the core of it all are those messages of empowerment.
Songs like ‘Homesick’ and ‘So When You Gonna…’ embrace sexuality while relaying the importance of consent. The former with alluring vocals and exclamations, revelling in the sensuality of it all. Meanwhile, the namesake single is much more demanding, again referring to that ‘call to action’ mentality. It is thrilling, engaging and hits a peak of pure ecstasy. An overlaying commentary adds a certain touch of humour to it all, along with the tongue in cheek “too bad they were a bad kisser”. It brings a fun air to the band’s statement of “self empowerment through grabbing the moment”, while “communicating desire and wholehearted consent”.
Dream Wife are not afraid to speak about the things that many womxn go through, even the topics that society deem more difficult. This is represented strongly in latest single ‘Temporary’, which tells the heartbreak, yet strength of someone going through multiple miscarriages, and then being pregnant again. Indie summer vibes offset these sorrowful themes, but in doing so holds that sense of hope, and again encouragement – to keep looking forward and to talk about these things more.
The album closes with ‘After The Rain’, a ballad tackling the right to abortion, with lyrics that call back to ‘Somebody’ from their debut – “It’s my choice, my life…my body, my right”. This time there is more emotional strain in the vocals than ferocity; more tenderness, with the piano practically singing along. In short, So When You Gonna… tackles it all flawlessly, both in its sound and themes. A well rounded and exciting follow up to Dream Wife’s self titled debut, transitioning seamlessly between the sweet and raw moments of life.
Suburban Living – How To Be Human
The latest album from Philadelphia four piece, Suburban Living sets out to tell existential tales in a sweet haze of dream pop. How To Be Human has been a long time in the making, with fears that it might not even come out at all after a house fire put everything on hold. Two years later however, we have the LP, oozing with a dreamy air of shoegaze and delectable synth pop.
‘Falling Water’ opens the album with a shimmering, ethereal sound that would sit well in a classic sci-fi. A drum beat leads into a dreamy soundscape, while the buzz of guitar strikes a heavier note. Emotional strain intensifies with lyrics “I gotta get away from here, somehow”, bringing the need for escape to the fore. A hint of pipes layer on top of the drums and guitar and synth, building up to a deep prospective sound.
Lead single ‘Main Street’ holds anticipation in its beat, an atmospheric number that floats along a simple guitar pattern. Telling a story of what every city is to every individual, it creates a sense of somewhere physical to go. Somewhere to take a breath from one’s own imagination. It’s a happy place but there is a sense of the character feeling numb, or perhaps they’re at ease, just floating in the city of their own making. Whatever it may be, it feels open to interpretation, as if the song is in its own way a ‘main street’ for each listener.
A strong resemblance of dark gothic romance comes across in this album, which is especially true of ‘Glow’ with its deep synth and whining guitar. Hazy vocals lend a sense of thoughts swimming in the mind, while the music takes charge with an upward curve. ‘Indigo Kids’ continues this sound with a drawn out instrumental that follows an introduction of sparkling keys. The guitar in this track particularly calls out to The Cure, pushing the album’s 80s feel. It comes as a love song with a sense of longing and pining for something, for someone. A notion of what could be; a potential love and promise for something special.
The synth and piano continue on with gritty bass and swarming sounds. How To Be Human generally takes a slow pace, which at times does result in a lack of momentum. Fortunately the album falls short of fading into the background. Instead it lulls the listener in, like sweet nothings whispered gently in the ear of the beholder.
Those 80s vibes come in even stronger with ‘Once You Go’ as deep, bassy synth and computer game sounds come to boot. It has a certain feel of all to do with Stranger Things while alluding to the idea of alien lifeforms depicted in the album’s artwork. This track serves as an extended outro with an air of food for thought; time to process thoughts and feelings as the album comes to an end.
How To Be Human reeks of nostalgia for previous eras in music in terms of inspiration. Still it merges with modern sounds to put it in place with the music of today. This LP was released on May 22nd via Egghunt Records.