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
Modern Studies The Weight of the Sun. These songs are a sinuous mix of folk with elements of psychedelia, pop and prog, and all combined with the shimmering vocals of Emily Scott and Rob St John. The opener, Photograph, is 4 mins 17 seconds of dreamy ‘down in the woods’ mystical folk, I’m reminded of Stevie Winwood and Traffic.
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 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
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 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