To The End of the World Together
You don’t need me to tell you that this year was a lot. Music helped me through so much of it. I was going to gigs right up until the world ground to a halt in what felt like an endless March – my last hurrah was an excellent show by Brighton’s Delta Sleep in Dublin literally the day the live music industry was put on ice. I had the feeling that it would be my last show for a very long time; and it was so. Even if, objectively speaking, nine months isn’t a long time, you know as well as I do that time ceased to have any real meaning once the Coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic, anyway.
Life goes on, though, and you learn to adapt. I’m ending 2020 in a better place than where I started it. On a personal level, it was a good year; the best I’ve had in a long time. I’ve made progress and accomplished things this year. The depression and anxiety I’ve spent most of my life dealing with haven’t gone away – such things never really do, and there were times where one or both threatened to overwhelm me, exacerbated by just how uncertain everything was – but I actually feel like I’ve achieved something approaching stability, and that’s something I was convinced was something that only happened to other people as recently as last year.
This all may seem unnecessarily personal for the preamble to my end-of-year lists on a site whose team I year after originally being an infrequent contributor as far back as an entire decade ago, but the point I’m trying to make is that I feared this would be a lost year, and that even the best music it had to offer would be the soundtrack only to what could have been. Instead, these songs and albums which follow were my musical highlights in a year where – and it feels weird saying this – I think I got my life together this year. It figures that it would happen during a fucking pandemic of all things, but I’ll take what I can get.
I had to make some tough calls when putting these together, which led to some great stuff being shut out, but these were the albums and songs that meant the most to me in what sometimes felt like an interminable year – as fantastic on a musical level as it was dire in just about every other respect. As for live music returning: it may be a little while off yet – socially distanced shows notwithstanding, of which I have attended a grand total of one (1) – but it will, and I’ll appreciate it as much as I ever have; maybe even a little more. It may even involve some of the creators of the music on these lists.
01. Bartees Strange – Live Forever
Just read my review, you’ll get it.
02. Glass Animals – Dreamland
The product of rebuilding and reinvention in the wake of tragedy; the results speak for themselves.
03. Touché Amoré – Lament
Post-hardcore lifers push themselves on a risk-taking fifth outing, with Ross Robinson at the helm.
04. Perfume Genius – Set My Heart on Fire Immediately
Just read my end of year piece, you’ll get it.
05. Algiers – There is No Year
I saw them live for the first time this year and that explosive show confirmed their latest album’s top 5 place. They recorded it.
06. Carla J. Easton – WEIRDO
Eclectic, multifaceted pop with a pronounced Scottish accent that absolutely slaps front-to-back.
07. Bright Eyes – Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was
The first album in nearly a decade from the Omaha trio is a timely reminder of why they were so missed.
08. Deftones – Ohms
Deftones and Terry Date working together for the first time in 17 years? There was no way this wasn’t going to be brilliant.
09. Caspian – On Circles
The best post-rock-adjacent band in the world, for my money – it’s a whole 15 years since their debut EP and they’ve never sounded better.
10. Owen Pallett – Island
Released out of the blue back in May, their fifth album is a masterclass in understated beauty.
11. Boniface – Boniface
Winnipeg’s Micah Visser makes a serious impact with their debut album of razor-sharp synthpop.
12. Oceanator – Things I Never Said
Apocalyptic themes abound on Elise Okusami’s wide-ranging debut as she caps off a banner year by signing to Polyvinyl Records.
13. Svalbard – When I Die, Will I Get Better?
Just read my Hindsight 2020 piece, you’ll get it.
14. Orchards – Lovecore
Brighton math-pop crew’s debut has more hooks than a tackle shop and a seriously impressive amount of replay value.
15. Bombay Bicycle Club – Everything Else Has Gone Wrong
The title track is about music providing an escape from the world, and if that doesn’t sum up this damn year, then I don’t know what does.
16. Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA
Japan-born, London-based artist reckons with her past on a thrilling debut that made headlines for being unfairly shut out of this year’s Mercury Prize.
17. of Montreal – UR FUN
Georgia’s Kevin Barnes continues to explore a diverse and engaging sound on his 16th album.
18. Everything Everything – RE-ANIMATOR
Mancunians sound suitably re-animated on John Congleton-produced fifth LP. I chatted to drummer Mike Spearman about it.
19. IDLES – Ultra Mono
Love them or loathe them, their muscular third album undeniably put this Bristol quintet on the map. Fuck you, I’m a lover.
20. Spanish Love Songs – Brave Faces Everyone
The battered and bruised third album from these Los Angelenos is a strangely prescient listen filled with emotionally lacerating lyrics and a resolute drive to keep going even when things are at their bleakest.
01. Bartees Strange – “Stone Meadows”
This has had my #1 slot sewn up since the moment I heard it – a searingly powerful song that manages to resonate even now, it expresses Bartees Strange’s musical, lyrical and vocal range to stunning effect.
02. ME REX – “Tannika Pacts”
Myles McCabe is fond of writing songs with too many words in them and pairing them with instantly memorable hooks. This is a superb example of that.
03. Glass Animals – “Space Ghost Coast to Coast”
One of vocalist Dave Bayley’s old classmates would later try to shoot up a school – on an album that plumbed uncomfortably dark depths, this is among its most unflinching.
04. Perfume Genius – “Nothing at All”
My favourite song on a record I’d argue is Mike Hadreas’s finest work yet – I consider the eruption of its second and final chorus to be the single best moment of this musical year.
05. Oceanator – “I Would Find You”
Elise Okusami’s debut contains several epics – this one, an ode to resilience and connection in the midst of turmoil is an extremely 2020 song and something I kept returning to.
06. Bright Eyes – “Mariana Trench”
Down in the Weeds…’s lead single proper was adorned with colourful arrangements and a star turn from drummer Jon Theodore, showcasing a reinvigorated Bright Eyes in full flight.
07. Touché Amoré – “Reminders”
Just read my end of year piece, you’ll get it.
08. Orchards – “Vacancy”
You’ll need serious help extricating this song from your head once heard – on an album that wove together intricacy and immediacy, this was among its highlights.
09. Caspian – “Collapser”
The scorched-earth centrepiece of On Circles captured the Massachusetts sextet at arguably their heaviest; in and out in four-and-a-half minutes and leaving destruction in its wake.
10. Carla J. Easton – “Spun Out”
Multiple songs from WEIRDO could have ended up here, but this glitchy gem is the best of the bunch, with a chorus so big and loud that it could be seen and heard from space.
11. Shawn Wasabi – “the snack that smiles back” (feat. raychel jay)
I couldn’t get enough of the artist otherwise known as Shawn Serrano’s debut album MANGOTALE when it dropped in the summer, and this is one of its standouts, built around a delectable extended metaphor and a pitch-perfect guest spot from raychel jay.
12. Foreignfox – “Exit Frame”
This Dunfermline band hopefully have their debut album coming next year – judging by this booze-soaked juggernaut of a song, it’s going to be great.
13. Owen Pallett – “Lewis Gets Fucked Into Space”
Their new album Island is best experienced as a whole, but I’d been waiting to hear this song since this acoustic session for an Austrian radio station last year and it didn’t disappoint.
14. Algiers – “There Is No Year”
The electrifying opening and title track of their latest album – I get flashbacks to this absolutely going off at the aforementioned Dublin show every time I listen: per Franklin James Fisher, “I reckon that’s the best version of that song we ever done.” One of the best gigs I’d been to in ages; it had to end up somewhere in this list.
15. Svalbard – “The Currency of Beauty”
A scathing indictment of the male gaze, their latest album’s penultimate track finds the Bristol band letting loose, with Serena Cherry and Liam Phelan trading vocals atop the majestic black metal/shoegaze squall that powers one of the most spine-tingling pieces of music this year had to offer.
16. James Vincent McMorrow – “Gone”
The Dublin artist cues up the release of his fifth album, slated for early next year, with a song that flexes his pop muscles while leaning into smooth R&B and showing off his signature falsetto with a chorus that’s begging to be roared back at him when he takes the new material out on tour.
17. Deftones – “This Link is Dead”
Ohms pulled together threads from across the Sacramento band’s output, and shades of their 2003 self-titled album are all over this song as it goes straight for the throat, with an awe-inspiring vocal performance from Chino Moreno the cherry on top.
18. Boniface – “It’s a Joke”
Buoyed by an irresistible hook, this is a relatively deep cut from the closing third of Micah Visser’s self-titled debut that hits the sweet spot between bombast and drive to deliver widescreen pop thrills.
19. Rina Sawayama – “Tokyo Love Hotel”
SAWAYAMA is another album that offered several songs I could have included here, but this floored me on first listen and has stuck with me since – no shortage of great moments on the record but this was the highlight.
20. of Montreal – “Polyaneurism”
A boisterous pop song exploring a knotty polyamorous relationship with Kevin Barnes’s typical lyrical candour present and accounted for.