Any subscribers will have noticed a decline in the number of my posts this year. There are a few reasons for this. All of them have cumulatively contributed to a lack of activity. We’ve completed a fixer upper on an old Edwardian terraced house that has been about 18 month in the making. We’ve had fantastic builders, architects and engineers, we’ve been at the centre of this as clients and whilst we now have a home that exceeded what we thought possible, the drain on time and energy has been significant.
We’ve all succumbed to Covid. The long tail of the illness has really affected my ability to concentrate. Books weren’t getting read, I was listening to more playlists rather than seeking out individual albums for myself and the blog wasn’t getting much attention. I was listening to music for background as opposed to focussing critically on it. This felt like one too many things for my brain to divert horsepower toward.
Will this change in 2021? I don’t know. I’m completing this at the beginning of UK Lockdown 3. Writing about the Rough Trade albums of the month has dried up. No sooner had I started listening to one LP, then another two seemed piled up next to record player. I haven’t updated the Fall Peel session posts. Again in a world where so much was both simultaneously extraordinary and routine, having to do something repetitively seemed like a chore rather than a delight.
So here’s a list of the LP’s that I enjoyed in 2020 with a brief commentary where appropriate. I’ve also added the Bandcamp links where I am able. If you like the records and you are able to spare the nickels and dimes, then please support the artists. Times are tough with no live revenue for most of these musicians.
There are a few qualifiers that I’d like to add:
- You won’t see the Sault albums listed. I’ve loved them but can’t quite mentally differentiate between each. I would wholeheartedly recommend them as so many other people have done so too in the end of year poles. You can buy them here:
- I haven’t listed the Bruce Springsteen LP. I loved the early singles from it but haven’t got around to listening to it yet in full. Just my end of the year mood – no other reason. I’m sure that I will love it when I get round to hearing it
- The Matthew Halsall LP isn’t included either. It was released just as I moved house and the pressing that I received has a glitch in it. One for the coming weeks:
“Suddenly” – Caribou Dan Snaith never lets you down. Music for the dance floor, the kitchen and the home office.
“It Is What It Is” – Thundercat It took me a good year to get into Drunk and this is a similar slow burn yet curiously immediate too. Some of the excellent collaborations that Thundercat excels at – they have the effect of breaking up his more muso moments.
“Home” – Hania Rani Home is where the heart is, something we all found in 2020. Beautiful quiet stuff from an Erased Tapes alumni. On the cusp of jazz, folk and electronica.
“Storm Damage” – Ben Watt His Queen Elizabeth Hall gig may have been rescheduled 27 times this year but this has stood the test of time. A year round listen, brilliantly crafted, it is mature without being dull.
“Workaround” – Beatrice Dillon The Wire magazine album of the year, but don’t let that put you off. Maintaining a constant 150 BPM throughout with the components of the rhythm changing, this is lot more accessible than you’d think and sounds great on a decent hifi.
“Grae” – Moses Sumney A double album deeper dive into a similar pool as the debut Aromanticism. The most luxurious spa music if that isn’t damning with faint praise.
“Resonance” – Yumiko Monoka A re-release of Monoka’s sole album from 1987. Beautiful piano music which was part of the Japanese Environmental music scene, captured in the recent Kangyo Ongaku Box Set (which I wrote about here).
“songs/instrumentals” – Adrienne Lenker One album of songs and another of, er, instrumentals. The prolific Ms Lenker follows last years two stellar Big Thief LPs with this intimately recorded solo effort. I can recommend the Instrumentals album to any fans of the second LP of David Sylvian’s “Gone To Earth”. Music for a candlelit winter’s evening.
“Sixteen Oceans” – Four Tet Kieren Hebden has released a few albums online this year via Bandcamp. This is probably the most accessible, although it does hold back on some of his regular sonic innovations, such as harps, harpsichords and toy instruments.
“Inner Song” – Kelly Lee Owens An album of the year in a number of publications, it is easy to see why. When you have the confidence to open the record with an instrumental Radiohead track, you rope in your Welsh mates John Cale and Michael Sheen and you hold your nerve in this most difficult of years, there is a great deal to love and admire here.
“Kitchen Sink” – Nadine Shah It feels like 2020 has conspired against Nadine Shah more than most. Losing her mum in the north east whilst she lived in locked down London was a personal tragedy. This sounded like a record that would grow even more when played live and a cancelled tour must have hit particularly hard. This was a Mercury Prize LP in my book.
“England Is A Garden” – Cornershop Tjinder and Ben continue to capture the communal feel of the Black Country in the 70s and 80s and yet are utterly contemporary. The sun’s shining over Blakenhall, let’s head to Dosa Hut.
“That’s How Rumours Get Started” – Margo Price In a year when Jason Isbell releases another excellent album, this is my favourite country LP. That’s saying something and it’s because Margo is taking a confident step in a different direction, whilst not losing sight of where she is coming from.
“A Heart So White” – Jonny Nash and Suzanne Kraft A Bandcamp Friday purchase, I’ve not seen this one crop up in any end of year lists. For any Nils Frahm or Sylvian fans, this melding of piano and guitar is sonically perfect.
“The Unravelling” – Drive-By Truckers The boys continue to try to make sense of a country that makes no sense to them and many others. A compadre to American Band, as Patterson Hood says, you can stick your thoughts and prayers up your ass.
“Utility” – Barker A pick from late 2019 which I only bought this year, (as recommended by Electronic Sound magazine – what a nice smelling magazine). Propulsive but with minimal percussion, it sits nicely alongside Beatrice Dillon’s Turnaround. If you are of a certain age and yearn for the Orbital like electronica from the 90s, this could well scratch that itch.
“Viscerals” – Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs I’ve just counted up my Pigs and I’ve got it right – Pigs x 7. This isn’t subtle but if you are craving some volume in your life and you haven’t quite gotten over Sabbath splitting up, then these guys from the North East are for you.
“Sideways to New Italy” – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever It isn’t original, but what is these days but this marriage of the Go-Betweens and Teenage Fanclub was ideal for the brief heady days of the strangest summer.
“Dark Matter” – Moses Boyd The run of quality LPs from the young stars of British Jazz continues. One half of Binker and Moses, this more urban and more accessible. Moses is a fantastic percussionist and has a keen knowledge of what is going on as was evident during BBC4 625 jazz evening.
“Illusion of Time” – Daniel Avery and Alessandro Cortini This pipped Avery’s Love and Light. Veering between the ghostly and discordant, this collaboration between the British electronic musician and NIN’s Cortini is more concise and therefore gets the nod. Listen with the lights off at your peril.
“Off Off On” – This Is The Kit Kate Staples and the gang pick up where they left off from Moonshine Freeze. Beautifully recorded, impeccable songwriting that never puts a foot wrong.
“Mirage” – Ben Lukas Boysen Yet more great stuff from Erased Tapes. A broader sound than much of what the label puts out, not as thrilling as Nils Frahm but still much to get your teeth into.
“Mutable Set” – Blake Mills If anyone is looking for something that brings to mind late period Talk Talk/Mark Hollis then look no further. Mills gentle guitar style sits within an intimate transportative soundscape.
“The Sleepers” – Hattie Cooke Spun Out Of Control is a label that I’ve got hooked on via Bandcamp Fridays. Their catalogue mostly focuses on soundtracks to imaginary movies of a sci-fi/80s horror/Stranger Things ilk. Hollie Cooke stands out for the quality of her music plus the amount of works she has put in to establishing a platform for artists in the Covid affected environment. The music is electronic, direct and pushes those nostalgic Commodore 64 buttons that a bloke of my age remembers.
“Strange Gravity” – Strange Gravity A collaboration between my friend Williem Vincent (originally of Derry, now of Crouch End) and Grant Strang. Initiated remotely during lockdown and finished when the shutter came up (before they went back down again!), this is a classy piece of work. It moves away from the mostly acoustic troubadour work of Rising Slowly and introduces more electronics. Think Leonard Cohen’s later but sprightlier moments or the Pet Shop Boys with their ironic conical hats on and you are heading in the right direction.
“The Lost Art of Wandering” – Raymond Richards I didn’t discover this until the week of Christmas and then couldn’t stop playing it. Perfect for wintery afternoons, the swelling pedal steel captures the wide wild vistas that so many of us are missing at the moment.
“ACR Loco” – A Certain Ratio Nice to have you back guys. A joyous sound that was sadly tempered by the tragic loss of Denise Johnson. Looks forwards and backwards simultaneously and begs to be heard live.
“Can I Sit With You” – Sunny War A four track EP that dropped via Bandcamp at the start of lockdown. Just Sunny, her rich voice and a couple of guitars with a smattering of percussion. It’s more than enough.
“Opika” – Dekula Band From Tanzania via Stockholm, this album is a pure delight. Music to gladden the spirits and move the feet.
“Straight Songs Of Sorrow” – Mark Lanegan Released in the same year as Lanegan’s unputdownable memoir, Read Backwards and Weep, this wraps up all that we love about Dark Mark. Maybe a tad overlong but we get every facet of his solo career plus THAT voice, which gets better with the years.
“Some Kind Of Peace” – Olafur Arnalds An Erased Tapes alumni, Some Kind Of Peace was recorded in Arnalds harbourside studio in Reykjavik. It is no grand departure from his previous work, but is an excellent starting point for anyone looking for a way in. Beautiful and reflective, it’s a very 2020 record.
“Breathe Deep” – Oscar Jerome I first heard this in the summer when Moses Boyd was sitting in on Gilles Peterson’s 6Music show. He’s part of Kokoroko and wrote Abusey Junction, one of my favourite songs of 2019. Breathe Deep is very accessible and continues the string of excellent LPs by young British jazz artists.
“Capel Y Craig – Improvisations” Toby Hay & David Ian Roberts I’m not sure what to add beyond what Richard Williams wrote in his Blue Moment blog. Three tracks recorded in a Welsh chapel, the building is very much a part of the music. Late night, lights down.
“Youkounkoun EP” – Falle Nioke A collaboration with Ghost Culture, this is a perfect melding of West Africa music from Guinea with British electronica via James Greenwood aka Ghost Culture. Like nothing else that you will hear this year or next.
“The Weather Up Here” – Jeremy Cunningham Another Bandcamp recommendation, Cunningham responds to the death of his brother with help from some Tortoise alumni. Having suffered recent significant losses myself, I easily identified with Cunningham. Beautiful, challenging and touching – often simultaneously.
“Big Vicious” – Avishai Cohen I’m not sure why but I didn’t really dip my toes into the ECM pool much this year. It is possibly because the UK scene feels a little more vibrant, youthful and a contrast to the Covid world. That said, Avishai Cohen (the trumpeter not the bass player) has created something that feels much more contemporary. A spare sound with more of a traditional rock line up, this offered something different and welcome.
Nubya Garcia – Source Nubia’s debut on Concord records is fully formed drawing on the experience gained from playing with so many of the UK scene, who form much of the supporting cast for Source. Rhythmically diverse (such as the dub title track) and with a fuller sound than her 5ive debut, this is one of the pick of the bunch of recent London jazz LPs.
Glad to see you back – sorry to hear you got Covid – I wish you a safe recovery.
And glad your house project is done
Lots of your albums feature on my list – but plenty for me to listen to – starting with Barker, never heard of them but from your description sound intriguing
My favourites were Sault/Tiña/Wire/Nadine Shah/Laura Marling/Kelly Lee Owens/The Wants/Working Mens Club/Public Practice/The Big Moon
And Xmas brought me BillyNoMates/Fiona Apple/Rheinzand which are all great
If you haven’t heard them and want individual tracks, Hippy Elite and No by BillyNoMates; Fetch The Bolt Cutters and Under The Table by Fiona Apple and Obey by Rheinzand are good places to start
Also played to death Texas Sun by Khrugbain and Leon Bridges
I’m excited about The Weather Station’s new record – listen to Robber by them on Spotify – it’s great and sounds like Sensual World -era Kate Bush
Anyway have a happy and safe 2021 – I’ve given up on the rough Trade albums – far too many were being sent straight back!!
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Thanks for your kind words Jim. I swither on the album of the month thing. I was done with it in the autumn and just had a run of Olafur Arnalds, Mark Lanegan and Viagra Boys which are all fine by me. I’ll check out the ones you’ve noted above. I liked some of the Rheinzand album but felt it a bit samey.
The Texas Sun thing is lovely. I actually forgot it was released this year. If I’d have remembered, it would definitely have made the list.
Hope 2021 treats you well.