SCM Music’s Top 50 Albums of 2020
Let’s be honest, you don’t need me lecturing you on how bad 2020 has been.
But when we think back on the months we spent inside our homes, let’s remember how vital the arts are. And in a world where music is treated more as a hobby than a career, or while musicians are still grossly underpaid, we all relied on it to get us through the toughest of times.
Despite everything that has happened, music in 2020 has been an absolute triumph. Every record on this list is great, and it was a real struggle to whittle it down to just 50, not something that happens every year. If the rest of the decade continues this way, artistically, we’re in for a real treat.
So, without further ado, here are the 50 best albums of 2020.
Honourable Mentions: Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor, Lady Gaga – Chromatica, Katie Von Schleicher – Consummation, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – KG, All Them Witches – Nothing as the Ideal.
Coming through with one of the most sonically eclectic records of 2020, The Koreatown Oddity’s biographical fourth solo studio record is a tale of trauma, adolescence, and even dark comedy. Detailing his life before, during and after a series of car accidents he was involved in as a child, Little Dominique’s Nosebleed is not only incredibly surreal, but also very gripping, with TKO’s twisted lyrics easily pulling the listener in.
Following a path first laid out my New Wave bands such as Level 42 and Tubeway Army, Private World’s Aleph is a calculated, pristine and shining debut record. The songs on this album feel factory made, but in the best way. Every drum beat is calculated, every synth lead perfectly tuned, and every song could be described as a robot feeling love for the first time. Even the saxophone solos are crystal clean. All this makes Aleph not only an exciting listen, but also an intriguing one.
After the (disappointingly) Alt-Rock Out of the Storm, Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee has slid towards Country music. Saint Cloud is indicative of this direction, with a smooth blend of classic sounds and even a bit of Elvis homage on ‘Lilacs’. Crutchfield sounds fresh and ready to take on the next stage of her career, flexing her vocal muscle all over this album, and producing some of her cleanest tracks to date.
On her latest studio album, Mary Lattimore once again crafts a truly wonderful set of Ambient songs. Much like Julianna Barwick, Lattimore does a lot with a little; expertly using harp, synths and effects (with a little guitar) to craft music to transport you to another world. Be that deep into space or down to the bottom of the ocean, Lattimore’s sheer talent and ear or oral beauty is the winning formula on Silver Ladders.
It’s hard to place why, but there’s something incredibly reassuring about Shirley Collins’ music. Her collection of songs in a Traditional English Folk style are both endearing and successfully conjure images of adventures on the high seas or in the English countryside. This escapism is brought to life by Collin’s frank, unaltered and wonderfully aged vocals. 60 years since she began her career, Collins is still giving us amazing music.
On Underneath, Code Orange pour all their energy into what can only be described as a fucking terrifying album. The blend of Metalcore, Industrial and Screamo all add together to not only create a harrowing aesthetic, but also some of Code Orange’s finest songs yet, such as ‘In Fear’ and ‘The Easy Way’. Combine all this together and you get Underneath, an album that doesn’t just scare, but seems to embody fear itself.
After Hours is easily Abel Tesfaye’s finest moment. Crafting an aesthetic inspired by movies like Uncut Gems, Joker, Casino and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, After Hours is an album full of decadence, self-destruction and sex. On top of this fascinating vibe, Tesfaye gives us some of the best tracks of his career, including the stunning title track, ‘Heartless’, ‘Blinding Lights’ and ‘In Your Eyes’.
Club AC30/Vinyl Junkie Recordings
Shoegaze is such an overplayed and overused genre. Yet somehow, on their self-titled fifth album, Texas’ Ringo Deathstarr manage to craft an immense, cinematic record based around the genre. Ringo Deathstarr sees the band creating their most fully formed set of tracks yet, with threatening yet mystifying auras and soundscapes, of course referencing the greats (MBV), but with a welcomingly unique spin.
Roping in some help from the likes of Weyes Blood and The Lemon Twigs, Tim Heidecker gives us 12 perfectly formed Country Rock tracks that can convert even the biggest sceptic of the genre (like myself). With lyrics that question the fragility of life, and lush instrumentals lined with harmonised vocals and beautiful brass sections, Fear of Death is wonderfully orchestral cynicism that we deserve in 2020.
The Nameless Collective
With clear influence from past collectives OFWGKTA and Brockhampton, Halfway Off The Porch is one of the first releases from promising Hip Hop ground AG Club. With fresh, breezy beats and tight vocals with an added edge, which makes tracks like ‘Dusk/Dawn’ and ‘Hngover’ really stand out. This is a really promising record, and sets AG Club as one to watch when it comes to the Hip Hop and RnB scene.
On All or Nothing, Shopping create a record that echoes their sophomore record Why Choose? The songs are simplistic, reminiscent of that classic 80s Post-Punk sound, and carry much gravitas thanks to the production (handled by Edwyn Collins). The staccato guitar lines, fantastic layered and addictive bass lines all make All or Nothing perhaps the finest Shopping record. Highlights include ‘Initiative’, ‘For Your Pleasure’ and closer ‘Trust in Us’.
Back for their fourth instalment, Run the Jewels quickly attune to a year where speaking out as been more important than ever. RTJ prove they’re still relevant as they’re ever been; from the killer opener ‘Yankee & The Brave’ to Killer Mike’s chilling verse on ‘Walking in the Snow’ and great features from Josh Homme and Mavis Staples. While RTJ4 doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it’s a far more coherent project than RTJ3 and still shows that El and Mike can both run with the best of them.
Idles complete their album trilogy with Ultra Mono, an album bursting with raw energy and instrumentation that feels like a caveman whacking you around the head with his club. Tracks like ‘War’ and ‘Reigns’ are some of Idles’ most bombastic yet, while they group aren’t afraid to branch out instrumentally on ‘A Hymn’ or ‘Grounds’. All in all, Ultra Mono rounds off this era of Idles nicely.
While 2017-2019 doesn’t quite capture lightning in bottle in the same way the previous Against All Logic record did, Nicolas Jaar does a great job of crafting a collection of Aphex Twin-meets-Hip Hop inspired tracks on 2017-2019. While 2012-2017 captured the essence of Soul and House, 2017-2019 focuses more on the dark, digital aesthetics of the web, especially on opening track ‘Fantasy’ and the chilling yet insanely danceable ‘Deeeeeeefers’.
My Agenda takes the platform Dorian Electra built on Flamboyant and puts it on acid. Featuring cameos from (and you are reading this correctly) The Village People, Rebecca Black, Pussy Riot and more, My Agenda once again challenges and confronts gender norms. And while short, this record packs in rapid, powerful and features an array of genres including Hyperpop, Heavy Metal, and Dubstep.
With instrumentation that could have come from a Young Marble Giants record, and a voice reminiscent of Aldous Harding, Land of No Junction is an Indie-head’s wet dream. Aoife Nessa Frances’ songwriting is stripped back to the bare essentials, and haunting in a charmingly off-kilter way. She really flexes her songwriting muscle on higlhights ‘Geranium’, ‘Less Is More’ and the closer title track.
Over her last few records, it’s felt like Nadia Reid has quietly been honing her art. If that is the case, then Out Of my Province is her most accomplished work to date. While her style hasn’t necessarily changed too much, her songwriting feels fully formed, and the flourishes of horns and extra instrumentation only build on Reid’s base songwriting talent. For you Indiecana fans, make sure you give this a listen.
Despite being such a prolific artist, Nicolas Jaar always knows when it’s time to innovate. Having taken some time off from releasing records under his own name, Cenizas is an astounding return to form for Jaar. From the layers upon layers of voices on tracks such as ‘Vanish’ to the muted synth and distorted clarinet of ‘Agosto’, Cenizas is perhaps Jaar’s most solomn records to date, and re-establishes him as one of the most important voices in Electronic music.
P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd.
Phil Elverum returns with his first album under the Microphones moniker since 2003’s Mount Eerie. On Microphones in 2020, Elverum composes a 45 minute long autobiographical track, which details his experiences playing as The Microphones and acts like an oral history of the group. Under Elverum’s sung/spoken performance comes classic Microphones instrumentation, including erratic drums, beautifully panned guitar lines and overpowering effects.
Right from opener ‘Gospel for a New Century’, it’s clear that Heaven to a Tortured Mind is going to be one of the sassiest records of the year. With cuts like ‘Super Stars’, ‘Identity Trade’ and ‘Kerosene!’ Yves Tumor crafts a brilliant collection of Electro-Funk meets RnB hits that strikes both the heads and the feet. If you’re a fan of Contemporary Hip Hop, don’t let this record pass you by.
Just when we needed it the most, Robin Pecknold and company dropped their fourth studio album. Shore feels like a drastic step away from records like Crack-Up. Pecknold quite clearly pulls from bands such as The Beach Boys and features some of the bands anthemic cuts, like ‘Can I Believe You’. From a singer like Pecknold who once obsessed over his fading youth, Shore feels like Fleet Foxes most mature album, with fantastic results.
There have been so many great Indie Singer/Songwriters to release albums in 2020, but few have the wit and sheer likeability that Squirrel Flower does. Over the 12 tracks on I Was Born Swimming, her debut album, Squirrel Flower crafts an aura of quiet discontent, passion and sentimentality. And under these lyrics come instrumentals crafted from 70s Soft Rock, classic Folk and the Shoegazier side of Indie music.
While her last record, Will, was a beautifully crafted, cold piece of Ambient, Julianna Barwick moves closer to the organic on Healing is a Miracle. Enlisting help from harpist Mary Lattimore, Sigur Rós guitarist Jónsi and producer Nosaj Thing, Healing is a Miracle is fantastically well crafted record that shows Barwick are ease with her sound and comfortable moving into new pastures.
On his debut solo album, Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien steps into the limelight with his blend of Indie, Electronic, Folk and rhythmically pleasing songs. Rarely do albums that pull from the Britpop era turn out as good as Earth. O’Brien takes to the frontman role like a fish to water, and his sprawling, densely layered compositions, such as ‘Shangri-La’ and ‘Brasil’ go down an absolute treat.
After sticking to their solid Indie Rock formula for the majority of the 2010s, Will Toledo and co. finally move to change up their sound. While Making a Door Less Open has it’s roots in the Punk and Indie Toledo is known for, it branches out into Electronica and Noise Rock. This change of direction is a much needed breath of fresh air for the band, and you can’t deny that Toledo can still write a fantastic hook, as demonstrated on ‘Hollywood’ and ‘Martin’.
Inner Song is the album where Kelly Lee Owens really comes into her own. Tracks such as ‘Melt!’, ‘Night.’ and ‘Corner of My Sky’ featuring John Cale show how Owens has honed in her craft for writing an absolute banger. Elsewhere, ‘On’ and ‘L.I.N.E.’ show her writing softer, heart warming songs, yet still with that cold edge. At 10 tracks, Inner Song is an all killer, no filler affair, and is not to be missed.
Part Europop Opus, part sonic tour around the city of Cardiff, Mirores showcases the former Pipette’s talent for presenting Pop music as an art form. Even if you don’t speak Welsh, you’ll fall in love with these songs bursting with political and cultural energy, such as ‘Peirianwaith Perffaith’ and the absolute banger of a title track. Elsewhere, Ani dabbles in elements of sound collage, spoken word and elements of Darkwave.
On The Slow Rush, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker is feeling nostalgic. Now on his fourth studio album, Parker reflects on memories of his past. From romanticising the bad moments on ‘Lost in Yesterday’, reflecting on being on the cusp of fame on ‘Borderline’ and letting go of past grudges on ‘Posthumous Forgiveness’. Set to Tame Imapala’s fusion of Pop, Indie and Disco, The Slow Rush is a brilliant album.
Take the glitch-laden electronics of Age of Adz and combine it with the cinematic experience of Illinois and you’ll have Sufjan Steven’s The Ascension. This album demands it’s listener’s attention from front to back, creating a world of politics, sex, love and religion, fittingly ending with the 13 minutes long ‘America’. This is easily one of Stevens’ most challenging listens, but it’s also one of his most rewarding.
You’ll be hard pressed to find an album as joyful and as colourful as Deerhoof’s fifteenth studio album. Future Teenage Cave Artists is dripping with excitement, and from the opening of title track, this album seamlessly flows from track to track, effortlessly packing innovation, fun and stellar songwriting into 11 two and a half to four minute songs. You don’t have to be a long term Deerhoof fan to get into this record, and would be a fool to miss out on one of the most innovative Rock records of 2020.
Some listeners have noted that Lianne La Havas constantly seems to be looked over when it comes to critical praise, despite releasing consistently solid material. With her self-titled third album, La Havas might finally be getting the attention she deserves. Lianne La Havas is a superb listen, especially when it comes to the underlying lyrical themes, album sequencing and the sheer musicality of the record. With influence from turn of the century Rock and RnB, as well as classic Soul and Folk, such as Al Green and Joni Mitchell, this is a record that shouldn’t be looked over.
Being released in February, it appears that Soccer Mommy predicted 2020 for most of us; stuck alone in our rooms with our thoughts. The topic of mental health is becoming more prominent in mainstream music, and Soccer Mommy does a fantastic job of talking about it on Color Theory. With a sound that would have most likely been described in the 90s as “Adult Alternative”, this record wistfully addresses the conflict inside one’s head with cautiously optimistic instrumentals and beautiful metaphors. Most notably on her opening 1, 2, 3 punch of ‘Bloodstream’, ‘Circle the Drain’ and ‘Royal Screw Up’.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’d sort of written them off after their lacklustre sophomore record. But on Women in Music Pt. III the essence of what made the group so good in the first place really shines through. The foundation of this record is built of two simple things; empowerment and damn fine songwriting. The band have never sounded stronger than they do on tracks like ‘I Know Alone’, ‘I’ve Been Down’ and ‘3am’, the last of which is pure Pop meets RnB goodness, and easily one of the best tracks of the year. Women in Music Pt. III is Haim’s best album yet and finally sees them fill the shoes they’ve been expected to wear since they hit the mainstream.
17. Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?
PMR/Friends Keep Secrets/Interscope/Virgin EMI
Synth-Pop is an as common genre in 2020 as it was at it’s peak in the 80s. But rarely does a modern Synth-Pop record hit as hard as Jessie Ware’s What’s Your Pleasure? Bangers. Bangers on every corner of this. From the sleek and sexy title track to proto-Metronomy ‘Adore You’ to the sharp ‘Soul Control’, this record is dripping in glamour and excess. But all this works incredibly well for Ware, who’s Soulful voice was made to sing over a Disco infused beat. For an artist who has previously rubbed shoulders with radio-friendly RnB and clean-cut Pop, it can’t be understated how much What’s Your Pleasure? stands head and shoulders over her other discography.
Rose Parade Recording Co.
While TJ Roberts had already established themselves as formidable force within the Welsh music scene with #1 (re-released last year as Best New Reissue) Love, Loss & Other Useless Things only solidifies that claim. Released on their own label, their sophomore record delves into the world of ‘Indiecana’, with notable influence from the likes of Wilco and Big Star. This is especially obvious on tracks such as ‘Passed Out on a Hollywood Star’, ‘The Redundancy Song’ and absolute belter ‘Boy Without a Band’. Elsewhere the band dip their toes into 80’s inspired anthems with ‘Somebody’s Someone’, a track that wouldn’t be out of place if played over Judd Nelson punching the air. Just like that, TJ Roberts have become one of the most exciting Rock bands in the U.K.
Dirty Science/Fat Beats
At a whopping 20 tracks (none of which are interludes), Miles could have quite easily become a record that became stale. But what rapper Blu and producer Exile create on a cinematic odyssey, branching into personal history, Pop Culture, Black power, and, most importantly, the colour blue, is nothing short of beautiful. Exile’s production is reminiscent of 2000’s Kanye, as well as the golden age of Hip-Hop. Each sample is cut beautifully, Exile managing to weed out an unlikely hook. Meanwhile, Blu doesn’t just drop bars; he brings layered, emotional and potent stories to the table. While the tracklisting might be intimidating, if you’re a Hip-Hop head you’ll quickly fall in love with Miles.
From a personal standpoint, I’ve never really taken to Perfume Genius. However, on Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, Blake Mills glides effortlessly through a myriad of genres. From Chamber Pop, to Art Rock to Disco to Shoegaze. But throughout this record, the themes of intimacy and love remain constant, as does Mills’ phenomenal vocal performance; at one moment soaring like an eagle, the next reaching his lower levels in a quiet prayer like state. Without making obvious comparisons, there’s an influence from Radiohead, Julia Holter, Cocteau Twins and more on this record. But down every avenue Mills finds himself at, he completely and utterly immerses himself in the genre, crafting flawless song after flawless song.
It’s been seven years since Islet released their last full-length studio album, and in that time they’ve released an EP, lost a member and relocated to Powys. So it should be no surprise that Eyelet feels like a new beginning. Gone are the rapid days of Celebrate This Place and Illuminated People. In their place, Islet glide by on serene, mystical Electronica, notably on tracks ‘Caterpiller’ and ‘Geese’. But that’s not to say that the Islet quirk as gone. There’s the pulsating synths of ‘Clouds’ and erratic and infectious percussion samples on ‘Good Grief’ and ‘Radal 10’, with Mark Damon Thomas crying “HIP HIP HIP HIP HOORAY” into the void on the latter. But by taking a pinch of serene and a pinch of erratic, Eyelet is Islet’s most satisfying and fully-formed album to date.
Located somewhere between “Nostalgic Rainy Day” playlists on YouTube and “Bandcamp recommends…” articles, you’ll find Morgan Powers. Armed with a MIDI Synth, a couple of guitars and, of course, double tracked vocals, Powers has quietly been racking up views and listens across the web with her charming brand of disarmingly sincere and intimate songwriting. Bugs in a Jar is a continuation of this highly successful formula, with Powers pulling you into her world with lyrics and spacious instrumentals, enough to crush your already tender heart. Tracks like ‘:P’ and ‘Eat Ur Heart Out’ have a way of cutting to your emotional core, with their themes of longing and love. While ‘Mariam’ and the title track capture the essence of youth through a plucky Indie Folk instrumental.
With all the shit that’s happened this year, we all needed a good Pop album or two. One of the first (and best) Pop albums of this year was Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia. Nearly all of these 11 tracks are bangers; from the Synth-Pop of the title track to the sensual ‘Pretty Please’ and the anthemic ‘Hallucinate’. Lipa manages to avoid falling into the 80s cliche that so many modern Pop artists have opted for in recent years, despite dipping her toe briefly into that pool. Instead, she blends elements of 70s Disco, 90s Europop and 00s Chart Pop with elements of Futurism. Listening to these tracks, there are hints of Madonna, Kylie, Girls Aloud, Victoria Beckham, Jamiroquai and more. It’s a completely mesmerising and highly enjoyable listen that’s completely danceable.
After having a very successful 2019, Big Thief were gearing up to tour their two record, U.F.O.F and Two Hands. Then COVID happened. Returning to Western Massachusetts following their tour cancellation, Big Thief frontwoman Adrienne Lenker shacked up with her sister, and, almost accidentally, ended up recording an album. Thank God she did though. Songs is a phenomenal listen; the literal definition of stripped back and lo-fi, emotion seeps from every pore of Lenker’s voice. The effect of a recent breakup (and a global pandemic) can be heard in every lyrics and every vocal melody. It’s also testament to Lenker’s talent as a guitar player. With every track mostly just comprising of guitar and vocals, they beautifully layered rhythms and melodies craft a soundscape that will transport you to another world. An insanely beautiful listen.
Like a slam poetry night meeting a freestyle Jazz jam, Purple Moonlight Pages is as much a collection of texts and experiences as it is an album. I’ve personally found the work of Milo/Scallops Hotel slightly lacking; just missing the mark of what it aimed to strike. But on this record, R.A.P. Ferreira pulls together these songs regarding the mundane, yet inspiring nature of every day life, while also commenting on race relations in the United States. With an influence from the likes of John Coltrane and A Tribe Called Quest, Ferreira casts these mesmerising bars, with delivery that’s closer to Beat Poetry, over a poignant and hypnotically spiritual Jazz and Electronic spiritual beats. The sheer ingenuity of this record feels overlooked, and Ferreira deserves all the props for creating one of the most forward thinking and fascinating Rap albums of 2020.
Half Colombian Pop record and half Folk concept, Lido Pimienta’s sophomore record Miss Colombia is a sonic delight. In the first part, Pimienta gives us a collection of fantastic Synthpop songs; from the granduer of the opener ‘Para Transcribir (SOL)’ with it’s beautiful soaring brass parts, to ‘No Pude’, a track with an infectiously glitchy beat and an impassioned vocal performance from Pimienta. Around the halfway mark on the album, we get a spoken word interlude from Rafael Cassianni Cassianni, before the second half launches into a collection of Colombian Folk inspired tracks. Still, Pimienta’s vocals remain hauntingly ominous, riding over the traditional instrumentation, most notably on the song ‘Pelo Cucu’. The two sides of this album are so alike and yet so different, and any music nerd will truly appreciate how this record flips between genres. Throughout Pimienta shines, creating an album that’s both true to herself, and musically wonderful.
As with most Fiona Apple records, it’s the lyrics that make Fetch the Bolt Cutters such a fantastic record. After a tumultuous few years with MeToo, the Weinstein effect and uncovering the toxic nature of the entertainment industry, Fetch the Bolt Cutters grabs life by the balls and demands control. Tracks such as a ‘Under the Table’ with it’s infectious hook of “Kick me under the table all you want/I won’t shut up, I won’t shut up” sums up the albums of mantra of speaking up in a world that wants you to be quiet. Elsewhere ‘Shameika’ and the title track discuss fighting instead uniting in a common cause, and taking control of a situation, while ‘Ladies’ is a rallying call to arms. Underneath Apple’s fantastic imagery comes off-kilter instrumentals of piano, organs, drums and… dogs barking. It’s a fantastic listen that will certainly please Apple’s existing fanbase and pull in new fans with poet lyrics and unique composition.
Following her highly infectious and acclaimed Am I a Girl? in 2018, Poppy has really used the tracks ‘Play Destroy’ and ‘X’ as jumping off points. I Disagree is the perfect blend of Thrash Metal and Electropop. While obviously a unique and unexpected blend, Poppy and her producers make it work, with tracks such as ‘Anything Like Me’, ‘Sick of the Sun’ and ‘I Disagree’ effortlessly blending and shifting between the two genres. Elsewhere, highlight ‘BLOODMONEY’ is pure Thrash Metal and Industrial Metal goodness, with Poppy sadistically laughing over an fantastically glitchy guitar solo. Opener ‘Concrete’ contains one of the finest lyrical moments on the record: “Bury me six-feet deep, cover me in concrete, turn me into a street!” The quick change near the back-end of the track from Thrash to Electropop is one of the finest musical moments of 2020 without question. These vocal features come back around near the end of ‘Don’t Go Outside’, tying the themes of the record up nicely, something Poppy is learning to do exceptionally well. There’s no telling which direction Poppy will go next, but I Disagree sits as her crowning achievement so far.
There’s something so impressively fluid about King Krule’s Man Alive! When an artist wants to capture “punk sensibilities” it usually comes across as crass, forced, or just downright boring. But when Archy Marshall combines it with dark Jazz vibes and a tortured vocal performance, it makes for something really great. Man Alive! is a morose record; it feels like the soundtrack to the life of a stoner who is really into Free Jazz, Modernist paintings and nihilism. And honestly? It’s slaps. This character portrait of an album shows some of Marshall’s finest work to date, such as the incredibly downbeat ‘Stoned Again’, the sound of someone giving up, or ‘Airport Antenatal Airplane’, a song that captures the bliss of being high but aware that a bad comedown isn’t far away. Throughout all of this, Marshall’s half sung, half spoken delivery feels incredibly earnest and open. The truth is though is that Man Alive! is hard to categorise, and that’s what helps make it so appealing. The closest analogy I could give to this record is if Frank Ocean wrote Blonde, but was British, angry and played the saxophone.
Dirty Hit/Avex Trax
SAWAYAMA is the album that seems to have taken the internet by storm in 2020. Rina Sawayama’s full-length debut is incredible self-portrait. Sawayama talks candidly about youth, friends, her Japanese heritage, racism, capitalism and philosophy, over instrumentals clearly influenced by her youth. There’s a little bit of Justin Timberlake here… A little bit of Christina Aguilera there… Korn, Evanesence, Britney Spears… a Year 2K flashback that rides in just as the aesthetic appears to be back in fashion. But even when jumping from Arena Rock to Chart Pop, SAWAYAMA is an incredibly holistic experience, each track complimenting the next. From incredibly decadent opener to ‘Dynasty’, with it’s wailing guitars and fantastic vocal line, to the one-two-three punch of bangers ‘XS’, ‘STFU!’ and ‘Comme des Garçons (Like the Boys)’. Following this you have the heartfelt ‘Bad Friend’ and carefree and joyous ‘Paradisin” where Sawayama discusses her childhood years. Closer ‘Snakeskin’ is another where Sawayama gets to show off what she can do, vocally, while also acting as wonderfully climactic closer. Despite there being 13 tracks on this thing, SAWAYAMA desperately leaves the listeners wanting more. It’s easily one of the finest, more forward thinking albums to come out in 2020, with some of the most infectious songs.
Not to downplay his talents, but I’ve personally always found Freddie Gibbs to be at his strongest when working with a dedicated producer. His first collaboration with Madlib, Piñata, stands heads and shoulders above his latest solo projects, You Only Live 2twice and Freddie. While I was underwhelmed Bandana, there’s no denying that Gibbs has found a kindred spirit in Daniel Alan Maman AKA The Alchemist. Alfredo is a game changing Hip Hop record. Alchemist has his hands deep in the vaults rummaging around for obscure Soul samples, film clips and old-school Folk cuts, weaving them together always with an infectious drum beat to craft these dark, mesmerising soundtracks. With some of the finest examples coming through on ‘Look At Me’, ‘Baby $hit’ and ‘Scottie Beam’. Gibbs, meanwhile, brings his absolute A-game to the project, spitting some fire lines that perfectly soundtrack that this year has been. Gibbs talks about police brutality and genocide next to name dropping Joe Exotic and Scottie Pippin, referencing the Netflix shows Tiger King and The Last Dance. Elsewhere, cameo appearances from Rick Ross, Tyler, the Creator, Benny the Butcher and Conway the Machine only make this thing slap harder, helping the colour the songs further. But even without them, Gibbs and Alchemist really came through on this album.
Few albums capture a moment better than Charli XCX’s How I’m Feeling Now. The title is perfect; recorded in the midst of a global lockdown in her L.A. home, this record quickly follows XCX’s 2019 record Charli, an album packed with collaborations and larger than life Pop bangers. In a way, How I’m Feeling Now is the polar opposite to that. In isolation, XCX crafted an album where she is the centre of attention, with no real collaborations, and production largely handled by the likes of A.G. Cook of PC Music and Dylan Brady of 100 Gecs. The result is an album that expands into adventurous musical ground and has XCX giving some of her most introspective vocal performances yet. Take the song ‘Forever’, a Hyper Pop song where XCX is calling out for those she loves who she can’t get to. Elsewhere the track ‘party 4 u’ also focuses on friendship, with the distant sounds of an arena ground playing out the track out, like a long lost dream. Closing tracks ‘anthems’ and ‘visions’ are Hyper Pop meets Rave meets Noise music, with XCX longing for parties and the heat of other human bodies in a club. Even taking tracks like ‘claws’, ‘detonate’ and ‘enemy’ out of the context of the album, they’re some of XCX’s best tracks in recent years, with her and her producers crafting these fantastic hooks. If every cloud has a silver lining, then How I’m Feeling Now is the silver lining of 2020’s lockdown.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been totally hyped for Punisher. As some of you might remember, I really enjoyed 2019’s Better Oblivion Community Center, while Stranger in the Alps made it onto my End of the Decade list. Entering lockdown, singles ‘Garden Song’ and ‘Kyoto’ were on constant repeat, the latter especially acting as a beacon of Indie hope in the world of darkness. When Punisher first dropped, I was initially unsure. It’s such an understated record, void of big moments, many of which were found on Stranger in the Alps, such as ‘Motion Sickness’ and ‘Smoke Signals’. But on repeated listens, the majesty of this record revealed itself to me. Punisher is an incredibly, incredibly detailed record; Bridgers has added story into every lyric, with every line being precious. The title track in particular standing out, with Bridgers singing about her obsession with a particular musician, who one can assume is Elliott Smith. ‘ICU’ is an intense analysis of a post-breakup friendship, ‘Halloween’ is a haunting (no pun intended) look at the human psyche during the holiday of the same name, while ‘Savior Complex’ literally makes me cry. Instrumentally, Bridgers and has created a record wrapped in little details, creating these intense, insular Folk songs, which eventually burst into a Indie Rock finale in the form of ‘I Know the End’, perhaps one of the finest closing tracks of all time. Punisher is an incredibly beautiful record, and should go down as a modern classic.
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