Let’s go with the pos­i­tive. This year there has been a pletho­ra of amaz­ing new music from artists both well estab­lished and emerg­ing. For many peo­ple, lis­ten­ing to music has been a life­line to turn to in these trou­bled times. And with lock­down, some have been able to redis­cov­er the plea­sure of play­ing an album in its entire­ty instead of dip­ping into a playlist while dash­ing into work.

This isn’t a com­plete ‘favourites’ list. There is also Bob Dylan Rough and Row­dy Ways, BC Camp­light Short­ly After Take­off and Nadine Shah with Kitchen Sink. At the very least.

2020 albums and EPs

Stiller than still album cover Sylvette

Syl­vette Stiller than Still. This is the sec­ond album from Man­ches­ter band Syl­vette. They weave threads of dif­fer­ent gen­res, from clas­si­cal, elec­tron­i­ca and most def­i­nite­ly prog, with an eye for the poet­ic and the dra­mat­ic. Plus there’s the impec­ca­ble pro­duc­tion (co-pro­duced by Phil Cun­ning­ham of New Order and Jake Evans). I love their unusu­al sin­gle Kelpius, a chill­ing­ly beau­ti­ful number.

Khru­ang­bin Mordechai. This lat­est work fea­tures the Tex­an trio’s brand of retro chilled lounge-cool music but with a dif­fer­ence – there are more vocals for a start, which add a wel­come and more open, per­son­al feel. I love the funky Time (You and I) and sul­try Latin-influnced tracks Pelota and So We Won’t For­get.

Doves The Uni­ver­sal Want. After their extend­ed hia­tus and their 2019 live shows, along came their promised new album. Carousels and Pris­on­ers her­ald­ed that all was right in Doves’ world. The Uni­ver­sal Want was every­thing fans had hoped for with a raft of strong mate­r­i­al and Jimi Good­win’s yearn­ing vocals on top form. 

Luca Wild­ing To. The new EP by this unique Lon­don-based emerg­ing singer-song­writer fea­tures four mem­o­rable tunes, with his trade­mark emo­tive, falset­to vocals. The lyrics of Wilding’s songs are nev­er lin­ear, but rather thought­ful and intrigu­ing nar­ra­tives which hook you in, such as in the Latin-flavoured track Mas­ter. Inter­view here

Alex Maas Luca. The vocal­ist and bass play­er of Tex­an neo psych-rock band The Black Angels, Alex Maas, cre­ates folk-lean­ing songs of warmth but he also delves into Amer­i­ca’s bro­ken soul to cre­ate some pow­er­ful and some­what melan­cholic num­bers (such as The City and Amer­i­can Con­quest). This is his first solo album and a very per­son­al work, tak­ing him from his coun­try upbring­ing to recent fatherhood. 

Warm Digits

Warm Dig­its Flight of Ideas. The duo’s jit­tery elec­tron­i­ca com­bines with an impres­sive ros­ter of guest vocal­ists on this April release. The Orielles’ Esme Hand Hal­ford adds her dis­tinc­tive vocals to the uplift­ing Shake the Wheels Off. The Love­ly Eggs’ Hol­ly Ross deliv­ers post-punk swag­ger while Emma Pol­lock adds her expres­sive vocals to the psy­che­del­ic The View from Nowhere. Instru­men­tal I’m OK, You’re OK sounds some­what like Baltic Fleet. Review here

The Orielles Dis­co Volador. You nev­er know what direc­tion this band will take next. For Dis­co Volador, the Calder Val­ley indie band plun­der those funk/retro dance-floor num­bers for the back­bone of this lat­est album. There’s no lack of clas­sic Orielles’ charm – notably Esme’s sum­mery vocals and that wonky, play­ful feel, notably on Come Down on Jupiter and Bob­bi’s Sec­ond World.

Ele­phant Stone Hol­low. This album is like­ly to tick all the box­es for their fans, as it encom­pass­es all the ele­ments that ele­vate this indie-psych out­fit. Hol­low is a con­cept album adven­ture: the open­er Hol­low World sets the tone – a fug of rip­pling gui­tars morph into a beau­ti­ful, wist­ful and ecsta­t­ic track with a strong hook. And, in true con­cept album style, Ele­phant Stone get prog­gy – check out Land of the Dead. It adds up to a sat­is­fy­ing­ly genre-rich col­lec­tion of con­fi­dent and mem­o­rable mate­r­i­al and it’s their strongest album for years. Review here

Alababster de plume

Alabaster dePlume To Cy & Lee. Alabaster looked after two men with learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties as part of a char­i­ty in Man­ches­ter and wrote this folk / jazz-inspired music to help heal and calm them while he worked with them. First track Vis­it Croa­t­ia sets the tone: atmos­pher­ic and lan­guid, it quick­ly works its spell. A sur­pris­ing and unusu­al album, per­fect for tur­bu­lent times. Review here

The Lounge Society band

The Lounge Soci­ety Burn the Heather. A strong sec­ond sin­gle for the Heb­den-Bridge based band. Chop­py post punk gui­tars blend with a springy bass on this dancey track. But lis­ten to the lyrics and it’s all about an impor­tant local issue: Burn the Heather – the annu­al burn­ing of land in their Calder Val­ley locale for grouse hunt­ing, which in turn increas­es the chance of flood­ing vil­lages fur­ther down the val­ley. The tal­ent­ed young band are def­i­nite­ly one to watch for 2021. 

And for 2021…

The Besnard Lakes The Besnard Lakes Are the Last of the Great Thun­der­storm Warn­ings. The Mon­tre­al out­fit are unshack­led from their pre­vi­ous label and have tak­en their time to put togeth­er what I believe is their great­est album to date, release date 29 Jan­u­ary. Glo­ri­ous and hyp­not­ic with their sig­na­ture psy­che­del­ic flour­ish­es, this album is influ­enced by the death of Jace Lasek’s father and is a sooth­ing and redemp­tive work. Short ear­ly review here

KIN Wan­der & Lost This female led band are a mul­ti-tal­ent­ed ambi­ent-pop trio with three strong, and all very dif­fer­ent, sin­gles under their belt. Act­ing careers mean they’re accom­plished at pro­duc­ing cre­ative, fun lock­down videos too – such as the ones for L.O.V.E and Wan­der & Lost. I’m look­ing for­ward to see­ing what they do in 2021. Inter­view with Kin

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