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.

NEWS: Ups and Downs Release New EP Another Country

The EP, featuring covers of iconic songs by Wire, XTC, The Comsat Angels, The Korgis and The Passions is out now via Basketcase Records/Redeye Worldwide

Australia’s favourite jangly guitar/paisley popsters Ups and Downs return with this five track EP of covers of much-loved new wave and post punk tunes from the ’80s!

They say the past is ‘another country’, and it is well worth revisiting as Ups and Downs lovingly reclaim alternative classics by XTC, Wire, The Passions and The Comsat Angels.

One of the EP highlights is the band’s gorgeous take on The Korgis hit ‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’ (written by James Warren). They perfectly capture the swoon and melancholic sway of the song, treating it with a gentle strum and shimmer. The icing on the cake comes in the form of legendary Australian-expat Rick Springfield who contributes a beautiful and yearning psychedelic guitar solo that adds a classic Beatles-esque feel to the recording.

Elsewhere the group convey the melodic rush of Wire’s infectious classic ‘Outdoor Miner’ with spirited headiness, they make XTC’s ‘Are You Receiving Me’ one of their own, find a tough-edged drive to The Comsat Angels’ ‘Independence Day’ and apply a darker and warmer moodiness to The Passions’ ‘I’m In Love With A German Film Star’, with sublime results.

The EP cover artwork has a fascinating back-story, as Darren Atkinson explains, “The girls on the cover were fans of Ups and Downs back in the late ‘80s and used to follow us around to gigs and send us presents. On one occasion they sent us a package that had photos of them dressed up as us, taking the piss out of various official promo shots,” he laughs.

TRACK LISTING

(1) Are You Receiving Me – (XTC, 1978)
XTC have influenced all of us over the years. Are You Receiving Me is a classic exploration of isolation and breakdown in communication. We kind of slowed it down and twisted it around a bit.” – Alex

(2) Independence Day – (The Comsat Angels, 1983)
It’s one of those touchstone songs that helped the band define its sound in the early days. It’s been part of our repertoire since just about day one. Its dark and angular nature continues to cast its shadow over what we do.” – John

(3) Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime – (The Korgis, 1980)
“It’s a beautifully sad song that continues to haunt me to this day. We’ve even iced the cake by getting a bona fide rock star, Rick Springfield, to play lead guitar on it. Rumour has it that Ups and Downs are Rick’s second favourite band after The Church and I’m OK with that.” – Greg

(4) I’m In Love With A German Film Star –  (The Passions, 1981)
We were early Passions fans and used to play this song live regularly in the 80s. We even used a photo of their album cover in our psychedelic live slide show. It’s a song that still moves me nearly 40 years after first hearing it.“- Peter

(5) Outdoor Miner – (Wire, 1978)
We started playing Outdoor Miner live in the late ’80s. I have no idea what the lyrics are about, yet the song is almost heartbreakingly melancholic. Wire have always been able to find beauty among the noise and chaos.” – Darren

NEWS: Simon Robert Gibson releases debut solo album

A well-known figure in the Sydney music scene, Simon is best known as a drummer with his musical outings stretching way back to the thriving indie-rock years of the Sydney music scene of the ‘90s.

A founding member of the much-loved Disneyfist and later Modern Giant, Simon was also an original member of the acclaimed Aerial Maps, along with his brother Adam Gibson.

Along the way Simon has played and recorded with many Australian bands, with long stints in legendary Half A Cow Records soul/popsters, Sneeze, plus Lazy Susan, the Simon Holmes-led outfit, Fragile, and his own later ensemble, The Coolites.

With a love of travel, surfing and adventure, Simon’s life has taken him down many a dusty road and to many a backstreet bar. This restless spirit saw him settle in Vietnam for almost a decade, a location where he found a home and where he played an instrumental role in a burgeoning rock scene whilst also working as a high school teacher and writing songs for a number of local bands. The majority of songs written in that period eventually ended up on the three releases for his surf-rock band The Coolites.

The next adventure was a move to Bali to follow his other life-long passion, surfing, a location which in turn led to a whole swathe of new songs …

The Great Ongoing, out now via Bandcamp, feels like a musical memoir, both in the words Gibson sings and the music in which he places them. These are top-shelf indie guitar songs, of both the freewheeling and introspective kind. Jangling guitars chime and occasionally bristle amid warm and wistful melodies. Horns and keyboards add a depth of sound and frame the songs in a way that recalls the melancholic poeticism of Australia’s finest – The Go-Betweens and the Triffids.

‘Now Often Feels Like Then’ casts an eye back over youthful experiences and endeavours, odes are sung to heroes such as Joe Strummer and Anthony Bourdain and day-to-day objects such as battered books, coffee & wine, motel signs and summer streets are littered throughout Gibson’s descriptive songs. The voices of his fellow musicians, Alannah Russack in particular, act as echoes and memories – an additional layer of sonic nostalgia.


“It’s really my one and only proper break-up song,” says Gibson. “I spoke most of the lyrics on my phone recorder just after things fell apart but I couldn’t face writing it until three months had passed. I found some Polaroid photos in a drawer that made me sit down and transcribe the bits on the phone and then write it. Even after I wrote it, I never played it,” he reveals. “I couldn’t face it for about another year…”
Simon Robert Gibson on the single ‘Three Months’


When pressed on the album’s themes, Gibson is quick to sum it up as his perspective on the important things in life. “I guess just the idea of staying positive, to keep moving, stay creative, surf, value friendships, accept that things change and enjoy the new whilst being proud of your past. Honour your own history and use it to build the future.”

Converting that positivity into something personal and creative is something that Gibson has wanted to bring to fruition via his own unique musical lens, for a while now. “People always saw me as a drummer, which is great, I love the drums, but I didn’t want to be just that. I wanted to use all those incredible experiences I’ve had through playing with so many awesome people and build something new from them.”

“I’ve been lucky enough to play with some of my favourite songwriters ever,” Gibson enthuses. “Tom Morgan, Nic Dalton, Simon Holmes, Alannah Russack, Pete Fenton, Paul Andrews, my brother Adam Gibson and a bunch more, I’ve always been a fan as much as a musician, and the time just felt right to make a statement under my own name. I love authenticity, things from the heart, songs that elevate day-to-day life to something more, and this bunch of songs seemed to have those things, and so I thought it was time to send them out in to the world.”

“I’ve had an incredible life to this point and I see the album as a bunch of snapshots of different aspects of my life that somehow come together and give some version of the whole. As my mum always said, “you’re a long time dead”, so you might as well do cool stuff when you have the chance!”

NEW MUSIC: Buddy Glass – No One Can Tell You You’re Wrong

Sydney songwriter Buddy Glass’ (Bruno Brayovic from Peabody) second album, Wow & Flutter (Glass Half Empty Records), is out now on vinyl, digital and streaming formats. In Mr Glass’ words:

Wow & Flutter was recorded by me in the back room of my house in Marrickville, on a TASCAM 4-track cassette recorder, in between dogs barking and babies crying. I had to buy cassettes online from Melbourne and bought and sold several 4-track machines until I found the right one. Tim Kevin, who recorded and mixed the first album, recorded a few extra bits and pieces and mixed it. The finished album is eight songs with a couple of different vibes.””There’s the more traditional singer-songwriter style of the first couple of tracks, ‘Promised Shoreline’ – a story about a couple whose faith is tested in life and death, and ‘The Spirit of a Small Town’ – a true account of the dark goings-on of my mother’s family and her birthplace in the south of Chile. But then the album settles into its second phase. The hypnotic, trance-inducing repetition of ‘The Bird’, ‘If You Sail Out’, ‘Wasted Habit’ and ‘Yuppie, Junkie, Athlete’. The album closes with ‘The Only’ – an epic checklist of modern malaises, combining the album’s two worlds into six minutes of 60s singer-songwriter-inspired folk-drone. Yeah, I know.””I hope you like Wow & Flutter. It took me a while but I think it’s worth it.” x BG

To celebrate the release of the new album he’s also released a video clip for the new single ‘No One Can Tell You You’re Wrong’, of which he says:

“It takes a lot of courage to follow a dream. To disown everything around you and make your way through life doing what you really want to do. You might have to step on some necks. People and relationships will fall (or will be felled) by the side of the road. This song is about and for those who have that conviction and ambition. I don’t.”

“The video was made not long before my cat Nina passed away. It looks like it was an homage to her, and I guess it now kinda is, especially as she looks towards the setting sun in the final scene. The footage I got of her was just meant to be practice for the app I’m using to film, but upon revisiting it, I thought the shots really captured just how gentle and beautiful she was, so I kept it.”

“The other part of the split frame is just me driving down New Canterbury Rd from Petersham to Dulwich Hill. If you look closely early on, I managed to get one of the street lights just as it starts to flicker on. I was pretty happy with that.”
BG

NEW MUSIC: Golden Fang – Spooner’s Lookout

Sydney’s Golden Fang release the second single from their new album here. now here. (produced by Jay Whalley of Frenzal Rhomb)

Golden Fang, a melodic guitar band that captures the joys and contradictions of life in Sydney’s Inner West, are an indie rock group in the truest sense – independently releasing their own unique blend of rock music since 2014.

Cast an ear back across the last three decades and you’ll hear the influence of the Pixies, The Drones and Straitjacket Fits mixing sonically with the dirty grooves of the Bad Seeds and The Cruel Sea. Like local Sydney acts such as Peabody, Bluebottle Kiss and Crow, Golden Fang are a band that know how to harness poetry and visceral rock ’n’ roll.

Following the album’s first single ‘Don’t Take Your God To Town’, Golden Fang stretch out on the glorious slow-building ‘Spooner’s Lookout’. The song begins on a wistful, acoustic note before sonic layers are added and the rest of the band charges into full view, a musical vista of angular guitars and rock-solid drums blossoming before the listener’s ears.

Singer, songwriter Carl Redfern says of the song, “Though the songs not really about the place, A friend sent me a photo taken off the sign post for Spooners Lookout in the Blue Mountains with just the note ‘Looners Spookout’ (which will be a song at some point in the future). The photo lived on my wall for years it always made me smile and I never really ever wondered where the place actually was. Then, not that long ago I was in the Blue Mountains and discovered the lookout and I was struck by a powerful sense of melancholy as I was reminded of my friend who had been so important to me but was then lost to me not long after I got that photo. It’s basically a long lost love song.”

In terms of the approach the band too to the writing and arranging of ‘Spooner’s Lookout’, bassist Justin Tauber says, “We like to keep things simple in the Fang. Carl’s writing and Teo’s guitar playing are really laconic and direct. So, when Carl brought ‘Spooner’s Lookout’ into the rehearsal room, it was unusual in that there were a lot of different parts to the song,” he explains. “It presented an opportunity for us to stretch ourselves a little, and explore the dynamic and emotional range of the band. There’s memory and love and even a little regret in this song. You don’t expect that from a garage band, but I think we’re all grown ups and we know what that’s like. So I’m really happy how this one turned out.”

NEWS: Golden Fang release the first single from their new album

Sydney band Golden Fang announce the release of ‘Don’t Take Your God To Town’, the first single from their fourth studio album, Here. Now Here. (produced by Jay Whalley of Frenzal Rhomb), due out on August 7th, 2020.

Golden Fang, a melodic guitar band that captures the joys and contradictions of life in Sydney’s Inner West, are an indie rock group in the truest sense – independently releasing their own unique blend of rock music since 2014.

Cast an ear back across the last three decades and you’ll hear the influence of the Pixies, The Drones and Straitjacket Fits mixing sonically with the dirty grooves of the Bad Seeds and The Cruel Sea. Like local Sydney acts such as Peabody, Bluebottle Kiss and Crow, Golden Fang are a band that know how to harness poetry and visceral rock ’n’ roll.

Receiving its world premiere on UK indie website Backseat Mafia, ‘Don’t Take Your God To Town’ announces its arrival with clanging guitar chords and a primitive rhythm before it blossoms into sweet and reticent vocal and guitar melodies. Musically there’s both a tumbling swagger and a haunting shoegaze quality, courtesy of the guest vocals of artist Donna Amini, that gives it a beguiling, contradictory sound.

‘Don’t Take Your God To Town’ is in tune with bands such as the Pixies, Nick Cave and even a touch of the Tindersticks – you get the picture: intelligent, driving music with a touch of gothic grit and a hint of late night smoky bars, a squinting eye and clenched teeth. Melodic malevolence at its finest. Golden Fangs indeed.”
– 
Arun Kendall (Backseat Mafia)

Of the song, singer/guitarist Carl Redfern says, “‘Don’t Take Your God To Town’ was a song that took me a while to write. It started out specifically being about a dysfunctional personal relationship but eventually ended up being less specifically a dark groove and meditation on the feeling of dread and hopelessness I, and I’m sure many people, feel when looking at the seemingly endless parade of grifters and corrupt fanatics that infest social media and public life. The abandonment of reason in the denial of climate change, the horror-show of border policing and the sobering realisation that “we’ve” lost all these battles.”

From the melancholic, melodic classicism of opener ‘Clouds Go Round’ to the gritty power-pop of ‘Bad Actors’, the cowbell suburban hoedown of ‘Cowboy For Love’ (a love song dedication to good friend and confidant of the band – Jo Meares) to the punk rockabilly rave of ‘Jonny Your Money’s No Good’ and on through the dark gothic dissonance of ‘Tonight We’re Gonna Party Like It’s Dunedin 1989’ and the wandering autumnal psychedelia of ‘Gold Chains And Card Games’ – the range and depth on display across Here. Now Here. marks it as a cohesive statement of modern Australian guitar rock.

In recording sessions at his Pet Food Factory studio in Marrickville, NSW, during Australia’s black summer of 2020, producer Jay Whalley (of Frenzal Rhomb)has captured the sound of a band that doesn’t hide its rough edges. It celebrates the energy and swagger of their live shows and the artful belligerence of Redfern’s lyrics and delivery. The earthy quality of his voice and questioning lyrics add a layer of irreverence and intimacy to the music as it weaves and crashes around him.

“It’s the first album we’ve done where the line up has had a sense of stability about it and where we were writing and working on the songs with an eventual album being the main focus while putting the songs together,” explains Redfern. “For Here. Now Here. we allowed ourselves a bit more time so that we could get things as we wanted them rather than how they ended up on the day! In that regard I think we can say it’s our most considered album.”

“Musically the album has a harder or darker edge than our previous work but draws water from some of the same wells as we have on previous albums with songs about anxiety, personal reflection and nostalgia with a healthy dash of humour thrown in. We cycle through lots of songs pull them to pieces, chop them up and mould them till we’re left with a collection of tunes that everyone is happy with. We’re kind of like a rock n roll Rotary Club,” grins Redfern.

SPECIAL SOUNDS FOR STRANGE TIMES: Romy Vager (RVG)

Over the last few months, one of the things many people have been turning to during periods of isolation during the pandemic is music. Music for distraction, companionship, solace and joy. Whatever the reason, putting on a favourite album or discovering something new that pulls you in and hits the spot, intellectually or emotionally, can be a great and wonderful experience. In this series we check in with musicians, journalists and broadcasters to see what has inspired repeat listening and provided some special sounds for these strange times.

RVG have always garnered great reviews but they’ve hit the jackpot with the recent release of their album Feral, gaining stellar reviews locally and internationally. Romy Vager, the creative force behind RVG (Romy Vager Group) kindly took the time to give us an insight into what records she’s been listening to and loving over the last few months.

Read our review of Feral.

“On Feral, Vager’s dissection of how it feels to be sidelined and disenfranchised is treated poetically and ultimately there’s a sense of hope and resilience that rises from the near perfect musical backdrop.”

Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains (2019)

“I’ve been forced to watch my friends enjoy ceaseless feasts of schadenfreude”. That’s a magic line, it’s a line Leonard Cohen could’ve written. The whole album is killer but those first three tracks, they’re like Harry Dean Stanton smoking bongs with the four horsemen of the apocalypse. 

I really also love the song ‘She’s Making Friends, I’m Turning Stranger’. I feel that one in my soul. Sometimes it feels as if some people are Eloi and some are Morlocks and there’s not a lot anyone can do about it. 

Daisy Chainsaw – Eleventeen (1992)

I’ve been listening to this again because it reminds me of a dear friend who passed away recently and who I always thought was the personification of this record. She liked this band and I feel the connection to her when I play it. Music’s good for that. I love how unhinged this record sounds. It’s like nothing else. I love the childlike language of it. It’s like a fucked up Alice In Wonderland but in a good way, not in a Tim Burton way. 

The Kinks – Face To Face (1966)

I keep thinking about when we were in London, we went to listen to Ray Davies in conversation at Rough Trade. You had to buy his new record to speak to him afterwards so instead we just stood in the corner and silently stared at him. We were in awe. I mean there was THE Ray Davies. He’s better than the fucking Beatles! 

Every Kinks record before 1974 is my favourite record but Face to Face is hitting me the hardest in quarantine. ‘Too Much on my Mind’ is the song I keep singing to myself in the shower. I love the simplicity of it, it’s beautiful and it’s true.

Sleaford Mods – Eton Alive (2019)

“He’s dead, yeah, he died. Can’t you remember? That’s what you’re here for”. I love that delivery. Adelaidians have a similar deadpan reaction to death as British people do. People from the East Coast are taken back by it. I guess that’s why they think we’re all serial killers.

This record has barely left the turntable since December of last year. One thing I’ve learnt about punk music, if you don’t have a touch of humility and tenderness then it’s just vanity and posturing. Unrelated but there’s a line from The Residents that says “ignorance of your culture is not considered cool”. I can almost hear that sentence in Jason’s voice. I love this band. 

NEW MUSIC: Buddy Glass – Wasted Habit

Sydney songwriter Buddy Glass (Bruno from Peabody) is back with a brand new single and video, his first since he released his self-titled solo album in 2014. ‘Wasted Habit’ comes from his forthcoming new album Wow & Flutter, due out September 4th on Glass Half Empty Records.

‘Wasted Habit’ is a hard-strummed acoustic and densely fuzzed out electric shakedown. There’s desperation and anxiety in the frantic twitch and thrash of its sound, like clinging on for dear life as you hurtle towards the inevitable.

“I recorded the vast majority of the album on 4-track cassette in the back room of my house in Marrickville, in between dogs barking and babies crying – but this track was done on a digital 8-track machine I’ve had for over 20 years.”

Buddy Glass on ‘Wasted Habit’:

“It’s a song about knowing the outcome of a situation before it happens, but nothing you try to say or do stops you from taking the steps necessary to fulfill that outcome, even when that means a raw deal for everyone involved. It’s like being in a car crash but also witnessing it from the outside. It’s essentially about determinism over free will. The video clip features me flailing and dancing around in a cat mask in a David Lynch-style room. My friend said it was like Ian Curtis trying to dance like Peter Garrett. I hope that’s accurate.”