FAVOURITE ALBUMS OF 2020

Despite the weirdness and social and political fracturing of 2020, there were still plenty of great albums that saw the light of day – and that light was a salvation for many. You can check out our Post To Wire (alt-country, cosmic Americana & dark folk) Favourite Albums of 2020 HERE and Favourite AU & NZ Albums of 2020 HERE.

Here are our 40 favourite albums of the year, ranging from alt-country to electronic, ambient to indie rock, post-punk to soul.

* Full disclosure – I worked on the publicity campaigns for the Golden Fang and Buddy Glass albums

40. Khruangbin – Mordechai REVIEW

39. Jessica – The Space Between REVIEW

38. Choir Boy – Gathering Swans

37. Buddy Glass – Wow & Flutter

36. Darren Cross – Keeping Up? REVIEW

35. Cinder Well – No Summer

34. Arbor Labor Union – New Petal Instants

33. Califone – Echo Mine

32. Shopping – All Or Nothing

31. Baxter Dury – The Chancers

30. Luke Vibert – Presents: Amen Andrews

29. Cable Ties – Far Enough REVIEW

28. The Phoenix Foundation – Friend Ship

27. Blake Scott – Niscitam

26. Thurston Moore – By The Fire

25. Makaya McCraven – Gil Scott-Heron – We’re New Again: A Reimagining

24. Billy Nomates – Billy Nomates

23. Brian Eno & Roger Eno – Mixing Colours

22. Drive-By Truckers – The Unraveling REVIEW

21. The Bats – Foothills

20. Suicide Swans – Through The Years

19. Bill Callahan – Gold Record

18. Jeff Tweedy – Love Is King

17. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

16. Neil Young – Homegrown

15. Rose City Band – Summerlong

14. Golden Fang – Here. Now Here.

13. Protomartyr – Ultimate Success Today REVIEW

12. Courtney Marie Andrews – Old Flowers REVIEW

11. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Sideways To New Italy REVIEW

10. James Thomson – Golden Exile REVIEW

On our favourite AU/NZ album of 2020, Thomson delivers his most accomplished work to date… ‘Sunday Girl’ is the closest Thomson’s got to a pop song, ‘Roll Away The Stone’ is smoky, winding blues, while ‘See The Wheels’ could roll on forever with its effortless groove. ‘Fatal Ribbon Highway’ is a dreamy slow dance, cosmic, heavy-lidded and sparkling and just one example of the diversification Thomson has brought to his impressive songwriting on Golden Exile.

9 Arlo McKinley – Die Midwestern

A new name for us and what a way to announce your arrival. Restrained songwriting with some exceptional lyrical content, Die Midwestern is built on poetry of the finest quality, delivered in a wonderful roughed-up country voice.

8. Moodymann – Taken Away

We couldn’t stop listening to this when it came out. Like a mix of D’Angelo circa Black Messiah, soul-jazz and futuristic electronic space funk. It was all in the rhythms, the breaks and the soul of it all. Deep hypnosis par excellence.

7. SAULT – UNTITLED (Black Is)

An album (and its follow-up UNTITLED (Rise)) completely of it’s time politically and socially, yet timeless in its blend of soul, funk, r&b, trip hop and more.

6. RVG – Feral REVIEW

Feral found them presenting a fuller sound with even greater depth and clarity in the guitars and the spotlight still firmly on Romy Vager’s declamatory yelp and melancholic musings.

5 Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Reunions REVIEW

For us, Isbell was off his game on his last album The Nashville Sound but here he’s fully resumed his mantle of one of the finest songwriters of his generation. Lyrically and melodically there are gems galore right across Reunions. It was one of those albums that constantly inspired repeat listens throughout 2020.

4. Coriky – Coriky

Coriky are half of Fugazi (Ian Mackaye & Joe Lally) with Amy Farina (The Evens) and it’s the iconic DC band that they swerve closest to in the stop/start, quiet/loud dynamics and lyrical repetition, though it’s a less caustic, more intimate and organic vibe overall. Great drum sound on this damn catchy and gently visceral record.

3. Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death

The Irish quartet sought to find different angles to approach their second album after the success and touring of Dogrel. They were hugely successful too. Widening their palette, going for denser guitar textures and rhythms that dug deeper and with more insistency. The vocals were just as earnest if more detached, observational and aloof. The key success to the album was that they showed they weren’t one trick ponies and look to be in it for the creative long haul.

2. Bob Dylan – Rough And Rowdy Ways

Once again Bob brought the element of surprise with this immense piece of work. Bold, literary, graceful, funny and highly moving. We thought his muse may have taken an early retirement with the endless touring and American songbook albums taking up his creative real estate. But no, Bob was back, hunched over his typewriter, casting an eye over the last century of pop and political culture, weaving in heartache and devotion. Nobody can bring together universality and the minutiae quite like the master.

1. Young Jesus – Welcome To Conceptual Beach

An intoxicating blend of post-rock and indie rock that in my mind ranged threw up comparisons to Talk Talk, Lift To Experience, Talking Heads, Wild Beasts and Radiohead. This was an album that created a sonic world to escape to, with heady and evocative ideals and some incredible dynamics in the arrangements.

ALBUM REVIEW: Darren Cross – Keeping Up?

Darren Cross returns with a new album called Keeping Up? In recent years he’s explored folk noir with Jep and Dep, his own eclectic solo albums and a pair of instrumental acoustic folk albums under the moniker D.C Cross.

Here he orbits planet Gerling closer than he has since the band split back in in the late 00s. It’s still a totally different musical creature but the synthetic/humanistic/subtly anarchic blend that band explored at times is still rippling through Cross’ DNA.

There’s a cosmic nostalgia at play. Dreamy, fragmentary and hypnagogic in the feelings it portrays and the visage it conjures up, this is Kraftwerk disconnected from their machines and cast into an interstellar dream state. Hi-brow, lo-fi – allowing the machines to wonder and reflect. There’s a sense of suspended reality, a remove from the chaos of reality, pressing pause on the VCR, cleaning the hard drive, looking for a way to process and cope with the avalanche of data we consume and are unwittingly fed with each day.

Drum machines are treated like arhythmic heartbeats, lazily loping along with a melancholic funk in their step. Synths wash and cascade like ultra slo-mo and woozy waterfalls. There’s an overwhelmingly immersive quality to the music. Drug-like, womb-like – that intrinsic memory of holding your breath underwater as a child and feeling at peace in the aquatic cocoon.

Keeping Up? is a battle for optimism in the face of decreasing digital odds. It’s a non-smoking area for mental health and a dystopian glance back at the malaise of the industrial age.

NEW MUSIC: Empasse – Ultraviolet

Let’s kick off the new week with some really nice post-rock sounds out of Kirikiriroa (Hamilton) in New Zealand. If you dig the type of music created by Mogwai and Jakob then this will be your kind of thing. ‘Ultraviolet’ is moody, dark and ominous even when it’s not heavy. It’s cinematic too, but still operates in a compositional rock format.

Empasse is the work of Nick Johnston, a local government bureaucrat by day and musician by night. Some of Nick’s previous bands include post-rock band Sora Shima, and indie pop bands The Changing Same and Dynamo Go.  

Nick describes the Ultraviolet EP as a “soundtrack to a story that is not well known in New Zealand outside the Waikato Region where I live” – the story of the town of Rotowaro, a former mining village that was entirely removed in the 1980s to make way for an opencast coal mine. The mine fuelled the Huntly Power Station, the largest thermal power station in New Zealand which has been identified as responsible for over half of New Zealand’s carbon emissions from electricity generation. 

“Ultraviolet is about the damage and wounds that we cannot see – in this case, it is the rural communities that have battered over many generations to grow and power our larger cities, as well as the carbon emissions damaging the health of our planet.” 

NEW MUSIC: body / negative – Figure 8

Figure 8 is a haunting and dream-like piece of instrumental ambient composition from 22 year old queer, nonbinary ambient artist, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Andy Schiaffino from Los Angeles.

There’s a David Lynch, otherworldly atmosphere to both the music and the video clip – like a ghostly ballroom soliloquy from a bygone era. The song is a cover of a cover — originally a children’s song on the educational cartoon ‘Schoolhouse Rock’, popularised by Elliott Smith’s cover of it on his Figure 8 LP. Here it’s given a similar treatment to artists such as The Caretaker and William Basinski.

The song appears on body / negative’s new album Fragments due October 23rd on LA label Track Number Records.

NEW MUSIC: Wax Chattels – Cede

PHOTO CREDIT: Ebru Yildiz

The Aotearoa/New Zealand trio Wax Chattels release the final single from their new album Clot, out September 25 via Flying Nun and Captured Tracks.

The vitriolic choruses of ‘Cede’ are in Amanda Cheng’s (bass/vocals) native language — Taiwanese Hokkien — and are an indignant confrontation about Cross-Strait relations and self-determination.

Amanda Cheng on ‘Cede’ — “I am angry. Saying “you don’t know who I am” in Taiwanese Hokkien is to say “you don’t get to tell me who I am”. You don’t just scream like this to put on an album — you scream like this because it’s the only thing you can do.

This song is an affront to the near-silent cultural genocide that’s taking place — the censorship, the militant threats — and the international community’s insistence on practicing diplomacy with economics at the front of mind. If it takes a loud song that’s half in an unfamiliar language for people to ask, “what’s that about?”, then so be it.”
 

Amanda Cheng on the video for ‘Cede‘ below — “I set out to make a video that was unenjoyable to watch; unhinging a domestic, ‘safe’ setting. To contrast the blunt lyrics, the thematic statements in the video are more subtle — there’s a geopolitical narrative there, but you’ll miss it.”

The video was directed by Amanda, with the helping hands of Annabel Kean and Callum Devlin of Sports Team.

PRE-ORDER AND SAVE CLOT

NEW MUSIC: Tristan Welch – Asset / Defect

Tristan Welch‘s track starts with a keening, searching feel. Slow vaporous tendrils reaching up and out into the aether. There’s an insistent quality to ‘Asset / Defect‘ but one that takes the uplifting route rather than a dark and foreboding path. As time ticks by, the sonic layers deepen and widen, with a dawning quality – the first rays rising slowly from the horizon.

Gradually the celestial peak is reached before Tristan retreats from the digital waves and a more tentative place of solitude takes centre-stage. Across 11 minutes he achieves what the best ambient and drone music does – take the listener on a journey, drawing them into a certain headspace.

Tristan Welch is a musician, artist and activist based in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. His focus is creating soundscapes via electric guitar, treated with electronics and loops that are drenched in reverb, delay, and distortion. He likes to call his compositions; heavy ambient movements.

TMSV – Abyss Watcher

Drum & Bass is still alive and well, though it resides in the underground for the most part. That’s where it belongs too. Whenever it’s poked its head above the electronic parapets it gets thrown to the commercial wolves and loses it’s heavy heart and deep soul.

TMSV (Tomas Roels) is one producer who is keeping it righteous and real and this new cut, the debut release Sub Merchants label, is a dark and dextrous beast of a track. It hits hard, drops deep and rolls like a thing of beauty. Apparently the track is going to be one a number of singles that will make up a full compilation EP exploring the contemporary evolution of jungle music. 

TMSV has already self-released ‘jungle vol.1-4’ EPs and a number of other singles.

NEW MUSIC: Siddharta Corsus – Lightstream

Sweet synth mantras and new age vibes percolate on this track from Siddharta Corsus, a Belgian/American living in Portugal.

‘Lightstream’, from his new album Constellations, sets the mood immediately with pulsing, bubbling percussive elements that invite warm melodic washes to the meditation. The rest of the album follows suit, drawing on kosmiche, computer game and Eastern influences, such as tablas, and an inner sense of calm where the spiritual and digital worlds entwine.