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.

40 FAVOURITE ALBUMS OF 2017

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If anything, their music inhabits even darker territory, the songs collapsing in on themselves as they chug and career along – The Terminals, Antiseptic

In this day and age of accessibility and cultural saturation, it can be hard to unearth music you like, and at the same time discover new music outside the mainstream or the most prominent online access points. Digging through the detritus and overload, I’ve found that more and more I lock onto albums that give a little extra. They create their own world of music for the 30-60 minutes you spend with them. They make you wonder how the artists wrote the songs, how they composed the music. I was drawn to imperfect performances, atmosphere over precision (though The War On Drugs manage to exemplify both), melody, energy, intelligence and rhythm.

My favourite album of the year probably won’t feature on any other list you read (though hopefully it does). The Terminals, from NZ, released a record that mainlines a sense of musical nostalgia in my synapses, harkening back to the music of my teens and early 20’s in the NZ underground. The legacy of Flying Nun, alternative rock and darkly emotive music from a couple of islands at the end of the Earth. In my review I said “The Terminals have never been creatively stronger than they are on Antiseptic. It’s their finest album and the sound of musicians digging deep and exploring a lifetime of musical influences and experiences without concession to anything outside of their own ideas and instruments.”

Elsewhere you’ll find all manner of musical styles, from eccentric folk to kraut-tronica, country to ragged suburban punk rock, gothic 80s synth to skronking saxophone. Dig deep and enjoy.

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1. The Terminals – Antiseptic REVIEW

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2. Aldous Harding – Party REVIEW

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3. Kevin Morby – City Music

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4. Thurston Moore – Rock N Roll Consciousness REVIEW

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5. The Tall Grass – Down The Unmarked Road REVIEW

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6. Protomartyr – Relatives In Descent REVIEW

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7. Jep and Dep – They’veBeenCalled REVIEW

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8. Underground Lovers – Staring At You, Staring At Me REVIEW

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9. The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding REVIEW

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10. Suicide Swans – Augusta

11. Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator

12. Ryan Adams – Prisoner REVIEW

13. Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band – Dreaming In The Non-Dream

14. Jen Cloher – Jen Cloher REVIEW

15. Omni – Multi-Task

16. David Rawlings – Poor David’s Almanack

17. Traveller – Western Movies

18. Daniel Romano – Modern Pressure

19. The Texas Gentlemen – TX Jelly

20. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

21. Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys – Rot

22. Hollow Everdaze – Cartoons REVIEW

23. Feral Ohms – Feral Ohms

24. Mogwai – Every Country’s Sun

25. Pissed Jeans – Why Love Now REVIEW

26. Colin Stetson – All This I Do For Glory

27. Laura Marling – Semper Femina

28. Trevor Sensor – Andy Warhol’s Dream

29. The Singing Skies – Head In The Trees, Heart On The Ground REVIEW

30. Mount Kimbie – Love What Survives

31. Chomper – Medicine Mountain

32. Ricardo Villalobos – Empirical House

33. The Afghan Whigs – In Spades REVIEW

34. Marty Stuart – Way Out West REVIEW

35. Chain And The Gang – Best Of Crime Rock REVIEW

36. Karl Blau – Out Her Space REVIEW

37. Chris Robinson Brotherhood – Barefoot In The Head REVIEW

38. Destroyer – ken REVIEW

39. John Maus – Screen Memories

40. Gold Class – Drum REVIEW

Favourite Albums of 2016

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And yet again the brain-scrambling exercise of narrowing down our favourite albums released in 2016 has been successfully navigated. Much gnashing of teeth ensued, spreadsheet cells shifted frequently and the dust surrounding the shallow process of rating albums against one another has finally settled.

Over at Post To Wire, our Americana music site, we’ve already ranked our 40 favourite albums that fall under that wide stylistic umbrella but here is our all-encompassing master list of our 50 favourite albums across all genres. We’ve still got a list of 40 recommended albums to listen to, that on any day may also make this list, but the cutoff has to happen sometime. Over time some of these entries will also shift around and increase/decrease in our level of appraisal but to my ears the top 20 is pretty rock solid. Dive on in and we’ll see you in 2017.

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1  Arbor Labor Union – I Hear You

This was an album that slowly but surely dug its way into my ears and heart with its churning blend of Velvet Underground jangle and drone, the freewheeling sensibilities of some of my favourite recent guitarists such as Steve Gunn and Chris Forsyth, post-punk angles and disdain for perfection, a voice that hurls and breaks like Protomartyr and Pissed Jeans and a dusty back-roads vibe on 90s Dinosaur Jr and Smashing Pumpkins that combined to make I Hear You an unhurried and endlessly absorbing album of guitar rock.

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2  Tindersticks – The Waiting Room

The UK group made a splendid return to form in 2016 with The Waiting Room. By taking a less-is-more approach they’ve mastered a sense of graceful musical levitation where songs drift by and hang in the air on the back of Stuart Staples’ soulful, rich and austere voice and backed by the band’s blend of post-rock, soundtracks, late-night jazz stylings, uber-stoned echoes of dancehall and sophisticated funk. Nothing else sounded like it this year. In ‘Hey Lucinda’ they produced one of our favourite songs of 2016.

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3  Witch Hats – Deliverance

The Melbourne quartet continue to refine their sound and they came closest to perfecting it on Deliverance. Their dark, lurching rock ‘n’ roll is awash with howling dirges and claustrophobic angst. The bass is deep and heavy, anchoring the songs as they stagger off into Stooges proto-punk, and nihilistic post-punk. The key is the melodies that still burn a hole in the gothic, swampy vibe. They’re firmly in the realm of The Clash, The Drones and The Gun Club yet they’ve dug their own hook-laden hole and decorated it with all manner of exceptional dark pop and bruised, gutter-punk blues.

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4  Drive-By Truckers – American Band

Hood, Cooley and band have built an epic back catalogue of albums over the last two decades and American Band is right up there with their very best. It rocks, it soothes and it was the most poetically prescient album of the year. It touched on modern America and the cultural, economic, political and societal struggles it still wrestles with. The band balanced education, commentary and incisive critique with country rock ‘n’ roll and weary yet defiant melancholy.

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5  Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

Cave returns with his most affecting and intimate sounding album, after his family was struck by tragedy when his son died after falling from a cliff. The album was already underway when that happened but the weight of it hangs across the songs like a heavy, ghostly mist as Cave sings of drug addicts in Tijuana hotel rooms and a myriad of other characters flirting with the netherworld. It’s a hard listen emotionally as the relentless soundscapes conjured up by The Bad Seeds navigate the ominous and darkened waters yet ultimately they allow slivers of light to relieve some of the sadness and tragedy. Skeleton Tree is essential and moving music par excellence.

6  Dinosaur Jr – Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not

7  David Bowie – Blackstar

8  Richmond Fontaine – You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To

9  The Felice Brothers – Life In The Dark

10  Case/Lang/Veirs – Case/Lang/Veirs

11  Kyle Craft – Dolls Of Highland

12  Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker

13  The Drones – Feelin Kinda Free

14  Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

15  Jason Walker – All-Night Ghost Town

16  Davey Craddock – City West

17  Eleanor Friedberger – New View

18  Steve Gunn – Eyes On The Line

19  Ryley Walker – Golden Sings That Haven’t Been Sung

20  The Field – Follower

21  Lucinda Williams – The Ghosts Of Highway 20

22  William Crighton – William Crighton

23  Jonny Fritz – Sweet Creep

24  Big Smoke – Time Is Golden

25  Darren Cross – _Xantastic

26  Robert Ellis – Robert Ellis

27  The Goon Sax – Up To Anything

28  Karl Blau – Introducing Karl Blau

29  Okkervil River – Away

30  Cian Nugent – Night Fiction

31  Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Maths

32  William Tyler – Modern Country

33  Cass McCombs – Mangy Love

34  The Renderers – In The Sodium Light

35  Lambchop – FLOTUS

36  Oren Ambarchi – Hubris

37  Andy Stott – Too Many Voices

38  Lower Plenty – Sister Sister

39  Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band – The Rarity Of Experience

40  A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

41  Will Wood – Magpie Brain & Other Stories

42  Underworld – Barbara Barbara, We Face An Uncertain Future

43  Luther Dickinson – Blues & Ballads

44  Chook Race – Around The House

45  Sonic Youth – Spinhead Sessions

46  The Men – Devil Music

47  Kevin Morby – Singing Saw

48  Parquet Courts – Human Performance

49  Ghost Wave – Radio Norfolk

50  Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial