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.

NEW MUSIC: Jessica – Pictures

Jessica (one half of Jep & Dep) has just released her brand new debut album The Space Between on Bandcamp and ‘Pictures’ is the second single from to be drawn from what is a beautifully ethereal and immersive collection of songs.

‘Pictures’ rides a hypnotic guitar line reminiscent of Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood before Jessica’s vocal takes centre-stage, unfurling and overlapping with itself as she wanders a shopping mall before taking refuge in a dreamy and futuristic karaoke bar.

We’ve got a full album review coming soon but for now, dive in for yourself over at Bandcamp.

NEW MUSIC: Black Rabbit George – Fingers Radio

File this one under psychedelic but it’s not of the manic garage rock or pop variety. ‘Fingers Radio‘ by the Gold Coast’s Black Rabbit George locks into a liquid bass and metronomic drum pattern right from the start and averts its gaze. That synchronicity and anchor allows Paul George (Tijuana Cartel) to wander vocally, like he’s negotiating a trip or a dream, drifting in blissed-out awe through a fog. Guitar lines intertwine and curl themselves around the rhythm section – a subtle blend of North African and Asian influences that dial straight into the psych feel of the track.

The utterly hypnotic single is the first taste of his new album Warren, due for release on August 28th.

“I spent a lot of time isolated at home toying with ideas I’ve had over the years. I’ve pretty much lived in the studio for the last 6 months, just toying with where I can take the things I’ve learnt and how they all make sense together. ‘Fingers Radio’ is one of the songs that came from these sessions.”

ALBUM REVIEW: Khruangbin – Mordechai

Khruangbin

Mordechai

Dead Oceans / Inertia

After a busy few years touring and riding the wave of attention that their last album Con Todo El Mundo brought them, Khruangbin retreated to their Texas studio to begin work on their third album. Earlier this year we got a mixed bag EP with Leon Bridges but that was a stop gap. Mordechai is the band spreading their wings wider and drawing together stronger thematic qualities.

The other noticeable change on Mordechai is that most tracks feature the vocals of bassist Laura Lee Ochoa. Previously they were predominately an instrumental trio but here they’re playing vocally-enriched songs without losing any of that wandering, free-spirited musicality that has defined them. Ochoa’s lyrics are fragmentary in nature, mantra-like and perfectly in keeping with the drift and hypnotism of the music. Thematically, many of the songs deal in the idea of memory – Time (You And I), One To Remember, So We Won’t Forget all deal in the concept of remembering. 

Musically, Ochoa, Mark Speer and drummer DJ Johnson cast their poly-sonic net even wider. From African and Asian guitar funk to Jamaican dub, cosmic jazz to tropical psychedelia, they pull from all manner of pan-global sounds. It’s still a thrilling concoction that sounds otherworldly, eternally infectious and upbeat in spite of its melancholic soul. 

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: Danny Barwick – Mine Too

Danny Barwick is a Perth-based producer and singer who wrote ‘Mine Too‘ and the other songs on his recently released EP Naddi on a two month backpacking trip around India. He began his career in 2012 as a drummer, recording and touring in several bands before taking up production.

Inspired by the likes of James Blake, Nick Cave, and Thom Yorke, Danny’s music merges acoustic instrumentation with experimental electronic production and that’s the most appealing thing about this track, the way he weaves together the organic and the synthetic elements, topping it off with a wonderfully smoky, late-night vocal that recalls King Krule.

NEW MUSIC: Ria Hall – Walk

39-RH_LWLUH_2400x2400_02

Here’s a recently released new track from NZ’s Ria Hall, written with Laughton Kora. It’s a great slice of Pacific reggae but one that rides a minimal and dark rhythm instead of hitting summer jam heights. That works in its favour. Don’t get me wrong, it still gathers momentum and swings along with a real hook to it but it’s definitely on the lowdown tip. Dig it!

‘Walk’ comes from Hall’s new album Manawa Wera which is out now on Loop Recordings.

 

NEW MUSIC: B. Hamilton – North San Juan

69905831_10156631608185592_6715542531095920640_o

This new track from the band B. Hamilton (Oakland, CA) has one hell of a chorus that bursts forth from bluesy soul verses like a tornado touching down and gathering up everything in its path in a swirling storm of epic rock.

‘North San Juan’ comes from their recently released album Nothing And Nowhere. On the song, songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist Ryan Christopher Parks Parks describes the fall out of 1960’s San Francisco’s “Summer of Love” in contemporary Northern California.

NEW MUSIC: Orchestra Gold – Maribayassa

a2528575703_10

The sounds of Africa have been explored, excavated and reissued with great enthusiasm in recent years – from the Soundways compilations to Soul Jazz’s Nigeria series and many more. The sound has filtered through into plenty of contemporary acts too – Goat come to mind with their mix of African, psych and Krautrock sounds and this Oakland CA USA group Orchestra Gold are another fine example, with singer/dancer Mariam Diakite and the arranger and guitar player Erich Huffaker, plus an all-star cast comprised of musicians from the Bay Area and Santa Cruz.

II is their third EP, following 0 and I which were released in April this year. Authentic sounds and production, endlessly rhythmic and infectious sounds!

For fans of Khruangbin and Goat.