2020 has been the year I was on top of new releases. It’s a mixture of being the first full year I’ve spent working in the music industry, and being stuck at home all the time with only long walks to keep me entertained. The result is that this was the first year of my life I felt equipped to make one of these lists… Until we got to the beginning of December and I had several existential crises about not being able to listen to all music, ever (special s/o to my gf for helping me through these and putting up with me sending her a different iteration of this list every few days). What follows are the opinions of someone who really, REALLY loves music. Someone who delights in listening to pretty much every bit of promo they are sent, someone who values the contributions of tiny artists as much as the main names on the scene (and also someone who has really got into noise metal this year so, ah, approach some of these with caution). Without further ado, may I present what I believe to be the best thing to get us through this shit heap of a year: some sick music.
Fluid Existential Inversions by Intronaut: Epic prog metal from a band who would have made the top ten if their lyrics didn’t suck so bad.
Vespertine by This Will Destroy You: Architecturally-inspired ambience to be listened to in the mornings.
Inner Song by Kelly Lee Owens: Beautiful, introverted electronic album from an artist everyone should be keeping an eye on.
II by Honey Joy: A heart wrenching bruise of a punk album. So close to making the top ten.
10. Type II by Sex Swing
Appearing on my Louder list of underrated releases (read it here: https://www.loudersound.com/features/the-10-best-albums-of-2020-you-havent-heard), I am actually pretty baffled as to why these guys are still so relatively unknown. This album pounds at you as if you’ve just insulted its mother, grabs you and doesn’t let you go until the final resounding beat is over. It sounds like a train approaching you excruciatingly slowly as you lie tied to the tracks, unable to move. Violent, relentless, unmissable.
9. Mestarin kynsi by Oranssi Pazuzu
Ooft, starting the list off with two of the heaviest albums of the year is a power move. This one’s more like a fever dream (and my friend once said it reminded him of the boat ride in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) – mixing psychedelia with black metal and the most gnarly vocals I’ve ever had the pleasure of coming across. Oranssi Pazuzu have always been weird as heck, and it’s reassuring that, even in times like these, we can still count on them to produce the most unhinged metal album of the year.
8. Grae by Moses Sumney
Ah, a normie opinion! Finally! This album kicks ass. Moses Sumney is one of the most essential vocalists on the scene today and he proves it with this double release, illustrating his ease of storytelling through song and the creation of an atmosphere which can be slipped on at any time of the day. There’s a variety of moods which we slide through on this album, but it’s the lead single ‘Virile’ which really gets me every time. Toxic masculinity really is bullshit, isn’t it?
7. Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers
Sex, death, physical displacement and mental illness – Phoebe Bridgers is one of the most relatable artists out there for any queers growing up in the 21st century. This album is heart wrenching in all the right places, and I’ve had it on repeat pretty much since it came out. It’s one of those records where you get more from it with each subsequent listen. Album closer ‘I Know The End’ is possibly my song of the year; it’s a reckoning of apocalyptic scale culminating in a cathartic scream from Bridgers. It’s the sound of 2020. (You can read my review for Bring the Noise here: https://www.bringthenoiseuk.com/202006/reviews/music-reviews/album-review-phoebe-bridgers-punisher)
6. Orphne by maud the moth
From the moment I received this promo, Orphne was an instant favourite of mine. This album soundtracked so many strolls around the woods near my house in the early days of lockdown that I can pinpoint exactly which tree I was admiring at certain points in its runtime. It’s esoteric neo-classical music at its best, with a lyric sheet to pour over for days. Maud the moth equates the difficulties navigating the world as a woman with a wander through the abandoned halls of a mansion, calls upon classical imagery to discuss timeless themes of identity and femininity, and creates a ghost story with eerie vocals and big, brassy drumming. It’s an outstanding listen. (You can read my full review for Bring the Noise here: https://www.bringthenoiseuk.com/202006/reviews/music-reviews/album-review-maud-the-moth-orphne and read my interviews with her here: https://www.bringthenoiseuk.com/202007/features/interviews/music-interview-maud-the-moth and here: http://thebechdelbitch.com/interview-with-maud-the-moth-as-she-releases-orphne-one-of-the-best-albums-of-2020/)
5. Without the Eyes by CLT DRP
This band are going far. I am predicting this now. The sound produced on this record is unlike anything I’ve heard before, combining electronic music and feminist punk in new and exciting ways. The way the lyrics are crafted are clever and nuanced, and it speaks to the new generation of feminists looking to improve on past mistakes. Riot Act podcast read out the final paragraph of my Distorted Sound review, which I do think sums it up perfectly, even though I do say so myself…
“This nuanced take on the feminist punk genre is unlike anything we’ve seen before; it speaks to the current wave of feminists growing up, looking at the past and seeing where mistakes have been made. It counters those mistakes with acceptance, perseverance, and an urge to do better. And it makes a hell of a lot of noise whilst doing so. They don’t just reinvent the wheel, they tear it apart and build it back together with honest, poetic lyrics from the weirdest spoken word night you’ve ever been to. It’s noisy and off putting, but it’s also compelling and intriguing. It will keep battering you until the very last second, and it’s some of the most important music around right now.” (Read the review here: https://distortedsoundmag.com/album-review-without-the-eyes-clt-drp/ and listen to the podcast here: https://open.spotify.com/episode/4LhQ7Yw7HHxW1SkJ3XHNJM?si=mj9jgkrTRh6dUrj9WqYtfw)
4. Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple
I mean, of course this album is on here. Apple’s unique brand of raw poetic cabaret folk (I am not entirely sure how to even describe it) has captured the attention of music lovers the world over. Fiona takes absolutely no prisoners on this album, exposing her shitty exes, bullies and rapists alike, in a curious and accepting tone of voice which says “this is all kind of beneath me now I guess”. There are so many jaw-dropping moments on this album, and pretty much every track is a killer. ‘Heavy Balloon’ and the title track hold some of the best lyrics of the year, and while I wouldn’t necessarily give this a 10/10 (hot take, Pitchfork), this is undoubtedly up there with the most essential releases of the year.
3. Take a Chance on Rock ‘n’ Roll by Couch Slut
How do you beat an album like FTBC? By taking some of the gnarliest, loudest riffs and screeching about sexual violence over the top of them. Couch Slut have rallied for their third release and made one of the most unrelenting albums I’ve ever listened to. This is their most accessible release, and they benefit from the hooks (if you can call them that) amidst all the noise and anger. This record sounds like a hooker in the backstreets of New York is stabbing you to death with a high heel and I. Am. Here. For. It. Watch this space for a chat with guitarist Amy coming soon.
2. SAWAYAMA by Rina Sawayama
Okay, here we have a curveball. I am selective about my pop, but when I like it, I really like it, and this album blows me away every time. SAWAYAMA is an album which catapulted Rina into the public eye, with its expert mixing of nu-metal, 2000s RnB and familial trauma. I’m not kidding – never have I ever heard an album which sounds more like the aftereffects of a heady therapy session laid bare, especially not in the pop sphere. After I was bitterly disappointed by the Lady Gaga release from the summer, this album reminded me that pop can be great, can be fun and deep at the same time, and can also be weird as heck. ‘XS’ is another track of the year for me.
1. Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm! by Vile Creature
And here we have it, lads. It’s the number one spot, and if you know me irl, you’ve definitely already heard me gush about how much I love this album made by a tiny doom metal band from Ontario who share loads of cat photos on their social media. Listening to this album makes me feel like I’ve tapped into a wider community of queer metalheads all over the world (i.e. my people) and, during the worst months of summer lockdown, it helped me feel less alone. The way the album as a whole is crafted is incredibly satisfying, with lyrical and musical themes repeated and mirrored throughout. It is an album which utterly accepts the dire state of the world, and urges you to keep on living, despite it all. It’s defiant in the face of adversity and reminds you that being happy in 2020 is a form of resistance itself. Also, undisputed champion of the best cover art of the year. Plant me deep within the darkness/With grace and mercy I shall bloom.
Here’s the full playlist of all the albums I considered for this list! It’s a long ‘un, but if you’re interested in what I’ve been enjoying this year (including some which didn’t quite make the cut in the end) – check it out!