Right, first off, this is just a list of my favourite albums of the year. I make no claim to these being ‘the best’ albums of the 2020. I mean, clearly they are the best albums of the 2020 but I don’t want to start any arguments so lets just say they’re my ‘favourite albums’ and move on. Cool? Cool.
Before I started putting this list together I thought that the best way of summing up 2020 was, ‘Lots of really great stuff but not that much you could dance to’. In hindsight that isn’t exactly true, but there was definitely a shift in tone in the things I listened to this year. Lockdown, self-isolating, not going to a pub or a bar for almost a year; these are not the conditions for euphoric anthems to flourish. Quieter, more introspective stuff seemed more apposite a lot of the time. Not all the time though, ‘the heart needs bangers’, as William Wordsworth probably said while looking at a daffodil or something.
Anyway, this is my list. I hope you find a few things on it that bring you joy.
50. Mourn – Self Worth
Grunge came along at a time when my hormones were at their most impressionable. And while I don’t listen to much of what I listened to then now, when a band can capture the mood (the music’s and mine) of the time, I can’t help but be a bit nostalgic about the whole thing. Few bands manage it as well as Mourn did on Self Worth. Now, where did I put my doc martens?
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… Call You Back is two minutes and fifteen seconds of post-Babes In Toyland punk pop brilliance. Give that one a go, yeah?
49. Nazar – Guerrilla
Nazar describes his music as ‘rough kuduro’. It is (appropriately given it is a reflection on the Angolan civil war) heavy listening at times, but the spirit of kuduro that flows through the album prevents things ever getting too bleak to take. You could draw lazy comparisons with MIA or one moody electronic producer or another, but there isn’t much that sounds like this album.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… FIM-92 Stinger is oddly dance-able for a song named after a man-portable air-defense-system.
48. Dizzee Rascal – E3 AF
It has been quite the career for Dizzee Rascal, from being the teenager who made a Mercury Music Prize winning album to redefining the sound of British pop music, then falling out of the public gaze except for the occasional appearance on Ladbrokes adverts. But regardless of how much airplay he now gets, his most recent stuff has been brilliant. 2017’s Raskit was his best album since Boy In Da Corner and while E3 AF isn’t as consistent as it might be, the highs are really high.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… E3 AF has the best line-up of guests of any Dizzee album – D Double E, P Money, Ocean Wisdom – but it’s hard to look past Eastside that not only features Ghetts and Kano but also has a bassline for the ages.
47. Rival Consoles – Articulation
I don’t have the vocabulary or the expertise to explain why I like one electronic album more than another. Articulation is just that bit more (emotional?) than a lot of other stuff released this year. There’s a certain (Jon Hopkinsiness?) to the album that (connects with me somehow?).
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… go with album opener Vibrations on a String which is all (swoopy?) and (lovely?)
46. Caroline Rose – Superstar
Superstar is a very different animal to 2018’s Loner. The guitars and the angst are mostly out, replaced by synthesisers and classy pop ballads and, oh alright then, a bit more angst. Whether this is progression or experimentation is moot really as both albums are great and whatever comes next will be worth checking out.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… the last track on the album, I Took a Ride is absolutely glorious.
45. Immanuel Wilkins – Omega
Now that jazz is most often seen to be swallowing big chunks of hip hop, pop, R&B and anything else it can get its hands on, then regurgitating them into something new and interesting, it is increasingly unusual to see a line-up as old school as alto saxophone, bassist, pianist and drummer. And because of that, this is definitely the jazz album on my list least likely to convert people who normally avoid the genre. But if you do like your Coltraines and your Colemans, there is plenty here for you.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… Mary Turner – An American Tradition is, rightfully, difficult listening but brilliant too.
44. Μινέρβα – Konserva
If you remember The Hives (and the wave of bands that sounded a bit like The Hives) with fondness (and why wouldn’t you, eh?) then this group from Athens might be your new favourite band (see what I did there?). Μινέρβα aren’t the most forward-looking band on this list, sure, but sometimes you just want to hit the mosh pit.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… Δράμα is the set-opener to the best festival gig that you didn’t get to go to this summer.
43. Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song
It took me months to notice the opening track of this album was a Radiohead cover. “This sounds like something else,” I thought to myself for ages, too stupid to Google why that might be. Anyway, now I’ve sorted that in my brain, I am free to enjoy the album without confusion. And enjoy it I do. One minute all thoughtful, the next banging like nobody’s business. It’s cracking stuff.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… Have a listen to Jeanette, which is proper lovely.
42. Guiss Guiss Bou Bes – Set Sela
If I am sure of one thing, it is that there are at least a dozen African albums that would have made this list if I knew where to look. (The fact that I have lumped Africa together as one thing in that sentence illustrates perfectly how ignorant I am on the matter – please, if you have websites you visit or if you can recommend some albums, give me a shout). Set Sela is so good, dance music turned up to eleven and twisted into something new (to me anyway).
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… as much as I would love to take the opportunity of there being a track called Lamp to do an ‘I love Lamp’ gag, it is Ndup that I love the most.
41. The Beths – Jump Rope Gazers
I missed The Beths’ debut when it came out but, thanks to my running an album recommendation competition all year, I caught up with them in time for the follow-up. Jump Rope Gazers is a little more pop than Future Me Hates Me at times but I’m not the sort of person to hold that against anyone.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… You’re going to listen to the whole album so you may as well start at the start with I’m Not Getting Excited.
40. En Attendant Ana – Julliet
I’m not averse to nicking a recommendation of somebody else’s end-of-year list, and this is from Graeme’s top 20 of 2020 (he tweets at @GLPNE73 if you would like to check out the rest of his list). As I have only been listening to it for a week, it’s placing in my top fifty is pretty arbitrary (though, let’s face it, so are most of them – trying to rank music is pretty futile).
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… I’m still finding my feet with this album but the opening track, Down the Hill, was what piqued my interest the first time I listened to it, so let’s go with that one.
39. Pulled By Magnets – Rose Golden Doorways
What would happen if you placed a doom rock band in a machine labelled ‘Yes, but make it do jazz now’? Would whatever the machine spat out sound like Pulled By Magnets? Not really, I suppose, but you’re closer to knowing what they sound like now than you were thirty seconds ago. Moody as fuck, in a nutshell. Experimental and unknowable. Seb Rochford does it again.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… In for a penny, in for a pound I say. Have a listen to Those Among Us, which puts a herd of stampeding zebus and an angle grinder into the machine with everything else.
38. Maarja Nuut & Ruum – World Inverted
Is this techno? I’m too old to know what is what any more. I’ve read it is, so let’s say it is and move on. World Inverted is… err… like… really good techno. If it is techno. It probably isn’t.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… The title track of the album, with its swirling (techno?) beats and its dual vocals looping over each other, is a little bit special.
37. Hachiku – I’ll Probably Be Asleep
I would be tempted to put this on the list just for the wonderful ‘knock-off greatest hits album’ feel of the cover alone, but happily the music is great too. I could say something trite about the music reflecting Anika Ostendorf’s own journey (born in the US, growing up in Germany, studying in London and Melbourne) but there would be some truth to it, musically speaking, so I’m going to leave it here in this apologetic form. You’ll know what I mean when you listen to it.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… the whole album is great but the opening track, I’ll Probably Be Asleep, is ridiculously good.
36. E.M.M.A. – Indigo Dream
It sounds like a back-handed compliment to describe this album as a soundtrack looking for a film but if I qualify that by saying Indigo Dream would work perfectly with any future Blade Runner projects anybody might be thinking about making you get an idea of the level of quality I’m talking about. Both futuristic and nostalgic, ethereal at times, but with a driving force through it that would match the sprawling narratives of the franchise perfectly. Anyway, enough about Blade Runner, I only mentioned it to set a mood. Concentrate on the album.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… Indigo Dream really does come into its own when seen as a single piece of music but if you insist on only listening to one track, get Gold on.
35. Lor – Sunlight
At only sixteen minutes long, Sunlight is arguably too short to qualify for a list of albums – though in the age of streaming anything does seem to go so I make no apologies for including it, And as Lor do more with those sixteen minutes than most bands do in an hour (and some manage in a career) I hope you will forgive me.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… bye bye sun francisco is the longest song on the album, and probably the fullest, but the real joy of Sunlight is the different paths the songs take.
34. Barbi Recanati – Ubicación en Tiempo Real
What little I know about this album I have learnt from stuff I have had to filter through Google translate, so I don’t feel massively qualified to pass any knowledge I have along. Let’s say, I like it, it’s good, and we are talking post-80s pop/rock anthems. If that appeals to you, give it a listen.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… Que No is probably my favourite on the album.
33. Melenas – Dias Raros
It turns out that the spirit of 1980s indie music is alive and well in Pamplona. I couldn’t tell you the difference between Postcard records and C86 but if you like stuff in that sort of ballpark this should be right up your… ballpark.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… 29 Grados has a very nice Spooky-era Lush vocals. (and yes, Spooky was released in 1992, not the 80s, I know, I know)
32. Sweeping Promises – Hunger for a Way Out
The first few seconds of the album let you know a lot of what is about to occur – Joy Division, The Buzzcocks, Magazine, and Wire influences are all present and correct. So how does this album end up sounding so fresh given how many time those influences have been recycled since the 1970s? I dunno, but it does.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… The album opening title track is as perfect a two-and-almost-a-half minutes of post-punk pop you are going to hear this year.
31. Frances Quinlan – Likewise
Songs that progress all rambly, like perfect short stories? Yes please. Vocals that break your heart with their beauty but still somehow sound like a close friend talking to you? Go on then, yes, some of that too, thank you.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so.., It’s hard to look past Piltdown Man which meanders along beautifully just in one long wonderful verse, but if you are only listening to one track, try Your Reply. You are going to have to listen to both of them now, aren’t you? Ruse: successful. Tick.
30. This Is The Kit – Off Off On
Occasionally a new album comes out and the response to it ripples across my twitter feed for a day or two. This was one of those albums, so I don’t feel I need to convince anyone to listen to it. You all love it already. It’s great though, isn’t it?
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… This Is What You Did would probably be in my top ten songs of the year, if I was going to do that, which I’m not, because the album list has taken me a very, very, very long time to write. But if I was…
29. Flohio – No Panic No Pain
Flohio has been hotly tipped and consistently brilliant for several years now without ever quite crossing over to the mainstream. 2021 might be the year it happens. If it is, you heard it here
first the millionth time.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… Flash bangs particularly nicely, so maybe go with that one.
28. Nathan Fake – Blizzards
I’ve loved this since Fat Roland recommended it during the Best Music Recommender in the World competition. I sometimes wonder if he hadn’t cheated so much whether he might have won the whole competition. Fine, I’ve wondered it three times. Four if you count this time.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… It has to be Cry Me A Blizzard, doesn’t it? I thought it was ‘bloopy goodness’ when I heard it in July and nothing has altered my thinking that since.
27. Klô Pelgag – Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs
From it’s mournful Clanger opening to the fading synth buzz at its end, Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs never fails to bring the eerily beautiful to… your ears? No. I lost it there. Sorry. This isn’t an easy album to describe. I could say she is the French-Canadian Kate Bush but it would be a) Lazy, and b) not especially accurate. What I’m trying to say is that is a stunningly beautiful album that deserves an audience far beyond Quebec.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… Rémora is as good a place as any to start, I reckon, fading in and out of orchestral bits and damn this album is hard to describe.
26. The Koreatown Oddity – Little Dominiques Nosebleed
An autobiography of sorts but not, you know, massively dull like most of the book ones are. Is that fair? Mostly. For every good autobiography there are seventeen about the childhood of some rugby player or other (spoiler, at school they played rugby). Sorry, got distracted there. Little Dominiques Nosebleed is chaotic at times, a patchwork of voices and sounds, but it is never less than brilliant.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… I’m probably going to have to insist you start at the start with this one, what with the album having a narrative and everything, so listen to Lookin Back from the Future.
25. Daughters of Reykjavik – Soft Spot
At times reminiscent of the 90s hip hop of Cibo Matto and Luscious Jackson (at other times nothing like that at all and highlighting perfectly the laziness of that comparison). Are these nine rappers the Icelandic Wu Tang Clan? No. That is a lazy comparison too. Man, I’m really making a mess of this, aren’t I? Do I want to do a weak joke about rappers with Ice in their name while I’m here, you know, because Iceland is cold? Blimey.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… A Song to Kill Boys To – great title, great song.
24. Elah Hale – Room 206 EP
With nine songs and a run time of twenty eight minutes, labelling this an EP feels like false modesty. Pink Moon is only twenty eight minutes long and nobody calls that an EP. Not every album needs to be an hour long. Especially when they are this good. Words like ‘twenty first century’ ‘soul’ ‘Brooklyn’ and ‘superb’ spring to mind, but I can’t find a way of putting them in a sentence that doesn’t sound a bit naff.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… My House is great (but we are approaching the top 20 now, at some point it would be polite to listen to more than one song on each album. I’ve spent ages writing this.)
23. NNAMDÏ – Brat
Personally, I think the word smorgasbord is over used as a metaphor for variety. It’s just a cold buffet. They don’t even have sausage rolls most of the time. It should be reserved for occasions where things are varied but also very much of one mood (for example, mostly pickled fish and eggs). Anyway, Brat is something of a smorgasbord, innit? A bit Frank-Ocean-vocodery at times, more singer-songwriter at others, some rock influences here, a bit of hip hop there, but all NNAMDÏ all the time. And also like smorgasbord, it’s very tasty (ie it sounds brilliant – I’m muddling my metaphors a bit here – sorry.) Does that make sense? No? Listen to the album then.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… Glass Casket is perhaps not the best song to illustrate what the rest of the album sounds like, but I like it, so… that one.
22. Josephine Foster – No Harm Done
Sounding like it has arrived from 1850, steeped in church music and delivered in a very distinctive voice, this album probably won’t be for everyone. But my oh my is it beautiful. I don’t like to chuck words like ‘spiritual’ around casually, but blimey. Just blimey.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… It will only take about thirty seconds of Freemason Drag for you to decide whether you think you are listening to fingernails on a chalkboard or somebody with a voice so beautiful it will break your heart in new and interesting ways. Hopefully the latter, yeah?
21. Denai Moore – Modern Dread
This was one of those albums that get really good reviews on release but miss out on the end-of-year lists. If it had been released a month earlier it may have picked up a Mercury nomination – its post-Massive Attack-ish kind-of sound is the sort of thing that the judges like. Anyway, it didn’t, but it definitely deserves a bit more attention, because it is dead good and that.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… try Hail. You’ll like that one. I promise.
20. Georgia – Seeking Thrills
This was nominated for the Mercury, of course (and I know at least one of you think it shouldn’t have been – hello, Fran). It is, imo, a great album on two levels. Firstly, it is an album steeped in club culture that is both upbeat and free of the male gaze (which is hugely refreshing for those of us who have spent a lifetime being forced to listen to creepy men telling ‘chicks’ to ‘move their bodies’ every five minutes. Secondly, and in a way even more importantly, the songs are really really good.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… Don’t let the fact that Never Let You Go was released as a single in 2019 distract you from its brilliance please and thank you.
19. Hen Ogledd – Free Humans
‘Wonky pop music’ (their description, not mine) from musicians more often found doing folk music-y things. There is so much to recommend about this album – the way the voices from different regions combine, the infectious sense of fun, the songs (obvs) – but it is that wonkiness that is its calling card.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… If anything else has summed up the ennui of Brexit better than Farewell I am yet to hear it.
18. Hinds – The Prettiest Curse
With The Prettiest Cure, Hinds seemed to roll their own sound with generous helpings of MGMT, Gorki’s and Super Furry Animals to create a new, wonderfully joyous, thing. Can we say pop masterpiece? Yes. Yes we can.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… Almost impossible to pick one song from the album, but I really enjoy the swear in Riding Solo, so let’s go with that one.
17. Berwyn – Demotape/Vega
It’s probably too early to declare Berwyn the East London Frank Ocean (the name of the album is a decent clue to how early in his career we are, and he may end up going in a very different direction) but it wouldn’t be hyperbolic. This album is incredible.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… You may have already heard Trap Phone (You may have already heard every album on this list – I never know whether to assume you have or haven’t) but if you haven’t, you know, no time like the present etc
16. Kassa Overall – I Think I’m Good
What even is jazz in 2020? Anything it wants, mate. Anything it wants. At times this album sounds like Aphex Twin, at others it is closer to hip hop or to… errr… is the album actually as much hip hop as it is jazz… I don’t know… I think genre might be bullshit, mate. Sorry
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… Find Me is a lovely moody thing that while objectively is jazz, I think, also sort of isn’t.
15. Deyah – Care City
Welsh hip hop hasn’t had the best of journeys. It started off ok, with bands like Tystion bringing a punk sensibility to the genre that (however badly their sound has aged) set up foundations that could be built on. But within years, the (intentionally?) awful Goldie Lookin’ Chain came along, stole all the column inches and pretty much made the idea of Welsh Hip Hip a punchline in most people’s eyes. The winner of this year’s Welsh Music Prize will hopefully start to put things right.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… Start with Okoposire, three minutes with more ideas in them than a certain comedy rap bands entire career had.
14. The Big Moon – Walking Like We Do
Due to it being released in January, and it being chock-a-block with huge singalong songs that really hit the spot when you are doing the washing up at half-ten after a day full of home-schooling and generally not leaving the house, this is probably the album I have listened to the most this year.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… In many ways, Walking Like We Do is the acceptable face of post-Britpop indie in the 21st Century. Holy Roller is the big anthem toward the end of the album that closes the Glastonbury set, or something.
13. Alison Cotton – Only Darkness Now
In that experimental hidey hole where contemporary classical meets folk sits Alison Cotton with her mind-bending sounds. You aren’t going to want to put this on when your nan comes round for tea (unless she likes this kind of music, of course – I wouldn’t want to stereotype nans) but for quite contemplation time on your own, it is blummin’ perfect.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… If you only listen to one twenty-minute long psychedelic folk song played on a viola this year, make sure it is Behind the Spiderweb Gates
12. Ian William Craig – Red Sun Through Smoke
More contemporary classical stuff for you, this time recorded as a forest fire approached Ian William Craig’s house. The results are as jolly as you might think given those circumstances, but also moving and affecting (Are those words synonymous? If so, please offer a suggestion for the more physical sensation I was grasping for in the latter one).
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… The distorted vulnerablity of The Smokefallen will give you an idea of whether you want more or not.
11. Oddisee – The Odd Cure
Fran (of Picky Bastards) recommended this earlier in the year and he was bang on the money too. It’s an album that captures the mood of 2020’s rolling lockdowns so well that even the skits between songs work.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… I was tempted to suggest Call Grandma, which is possibly the most heart-warming skit ever made, but listen to Shoot Your Shot (and also Call Grandma, and also the whole album).
10. Thanya Iyer – Kind
The highest of three Canadian albums on my list and therefore my best Canadian album of the year (not that that means anything, I just thought I’d mention it in case Rob is reading and would like to correct me). Kind is hard to describe without using words that are more usually reserved for qualified compliments. Quiet, gentle, kind. But don’t mistake Kind’s kindness for weakness. This is a beautiful album that rewards the patient listener.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… Start at the start with I Woke Up (In the Water).
9. Collectress – Different Geographies
If you had told me twelve months ago that my top ten albums of 2020 would include an experimental chamber collective, I would have been relatively surprised. Not massively, because I am a pretty cool guy who is unafraid to try new things, but definitely a bit surprised. I like to think of Different Geographies as being a bit like a Holst’s planet suite but one where all the planets are imaginary and none of them are arseholes. Does that make sense? Probably not. Think of tracking shots over impossibly beautiful new planets and the music that might accompany that. That’s probably closer to the truth. Stop expecting me to be able to describe chamber music, dude. I’m well out of my comfort zone here.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… It’s hard to pick one piece out of something that is intended to be listened to together, but try Mauswerk for a taster.
8. Julianna Barwick – Healing is a Miracle
OK. I want you to imagine Cocteau Twins as an elastic band. Are you doing that? Right. Think of Four-Calendar Café as that elastic band at rest and Blue Bell Knoll as it being stretched until it was nice and twangy. Yes? Good. Because one way of thinking about Healing is a Miracle is to see it as that elastic band stretched as far as it can be without snapping, all ethereal and impossibly beautiful. Almost pure sound, but with definitive ‘song’ elements. Good for you too. Healing is a Miracle is a half hour escape from 2020 whenever you need it. A bath for the mind and the soul.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… I’m sorry but I insist you listen to all of them. Give yourself half an hour to absorb it. You’re worth it.
7. Nat Vazer – Is This Offensive and Loud?
I was late to this album, which came out in May, and I only found a couple of weeks ago by Googling ‘best albums australia 2020’. I have listened to it a lot in the time between now and then though, and place it in my top ten of the year with confidence.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… Better Now might be my favourite song of the year. That final swoop, with its “So tell me Evelyn / How can I make it all stop and go away, just go away / When there’s a billionaire clown in a white house / Who doesn’t give a fuck, who always gets the final say” is (lyrically and musically) the perfect summation of the useless fury that has dogged us all these last four garbage fire filled years.
6. Half Waif – The Caretaker.
Have you ever tried to describe fifty albums in one go? It’s too much. I don’t even want to think about how many times I have typed the word ‘good’. The Caretaker is really really really really really really really good. It doesn’t sound like Radiohead but has an aura of something that might have been a different way Radiohead might have gone if they had been Half Waif instead of being Radiohead. Look, I know that makes no sense, but as I say, fifty albums. I can’t describe them all well. It’s not like I’m getting paid to do this.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… Ordinary Talk is absolutely extraordinary.
5. Marlowe – Marlowe 2
I hadn’t heard Marlowe before Nick Rayney recommended their first album during the Best Music Recommender in the World competition. Thanks to Nick, their second album went straight on my playlist when it was released. It hasn’t really left it since.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… There isn’t a duff track on the album, but if you are hearing it for the first time there is no better introduction than Spring Kick.
4. Hania Rani – Home
Nothing stopped me in my tracks this year like Leaving did. You know when music affects you so strongly that you end up staring at the speakers stupidly, as if looking at where it is coming from might help you begin to grasp what it is doing to you? That. It’s another album on the list that is probably best described as classical. I hope I’m not getting old. I probably am.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… It has to be Leaving. Those looped vocals will leave you lost.
3. Lomelda – Hannah
Hannah Read (who records as Lomelda) has a voice that seems to place emotions directly into your brain. There’s a vulnerability to it, yes, but it is more than that, because it isn’t a voice that says, ‘listen to my pain’ but ‘would you like to add your pain to this?’ Cathartic is the word I might use, if I was more confident of its meaning. And Lomelda is more than just a voice, obvs, these songs would break your heart if I sang them (ok, that’s maybe too far, but you know what I mean.) Together they make a truly astonishing album
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… Kisses is the first track on the album, which makes it the best place to start as you are going to listen to the whole thing anyway.
2. Open Mike Eagle – Anime, Trauma and Divorce
O. M. G. the lyrics on this album are good. Ridiculously so. Smart, wise, and frequently brilliantly funny. I could list dozens of them here but, no spoilers, if you haven’t listened to the album already you need to hear them first hand. Anime, Trauma and Divorce weaves the events of the worst year of his life (getting divorced, losing his tv show, his band splitting up) with clever pop culture references, social commentary and… oh boy am I making this album sound a lot less fun than it is. It’s a blast. Go listen.
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… Listen. To. The Whole. Album. Or listen to Wtf is Self Care, which is brilliant in uncountable ways, and then listen to the whole old album.
1. Tom Aspaul – Black Country Disco
Like Anime, Trauma and Divorce, Black Country Disco maps out a low point in its creator’s life (this time self-doubt, the death of a friend, and the break-up of a long-term relationship) but manages to create something joyful out of the pain. This time with 28 minutes of perfect pop.
One of the (many) extraordinary things about the album is the way it uses the Black Country as a background to the songs. The first line of the first song is, ‘Born in Wolverhampton’ and throughout the album place is essential to the stories behind the lyrics. Whether it is the train announcement of Euston, song titles like 01902 or W.M. or lines like, “Can you feel it? / When you’re driving down the M6 on your own?” the Black Country is ever present. It’s bold because the West Midlands has never been associated with glamour in the public mindset; but Aspaul recognises this, and communicates perfectly, the glamour that mingles with the grit in all British cities if you look for it. “I like those grey skies / I like those neon lights / I’m going out tonight / In the W.M” he sings on W.M. and I’m back in the mindset of those nights years ago, getting ready with friends before heading to the Dorchester.
Which isn’t to say he is portraying Wolverhampton as something more special than it is. With his tongue firmly in his cheek he notes, “we’re gonna take a ride on the Midland Metro / Line 1, ‘cos there’s only one line”. The point isn’t that Wolverhampton is any more special than anywhere else but that everywhere is special in its own way. And anyway, the city is only the supporting character. Tom Aspaul is the lead. It is his heartbreak, love, and lust that drive the narrative of the songs. I’m fixating on the Black Country part of Black Country Disco because it’s so rare to see where I grew up being portrayed as anything other than a punchline.
And we haven’t even got to the music yet. First off, yes, it is a disco album. The choruses are big. The basslines are syncopated. You will be expected to dance. That isn’t going to be a problem is it?
Or, if the thought of disco does give you the fear, think of Black Country Disco as the latest in a long line of classic British pop albums that for one reason or another couldn’t have existed without disco: Penthouse and Pavement, The Lexicon of Love, F.L.M., Introspective, Chorus, Different Class, Dummy, Guerrilla, Boy in da Corner, Chemistry, Jigsaw, La Roux, In Our Heads, Cashmere, Grey Area…
Ben, I’m only going to listen to one track on this album, so… I’m repeating myself here but LISTEN TO THE WHOLE ALBUM. THE WHOLE ALBUM. THIS IS MY FAVOURITE ALBUM OF THE YEAR. DO ME THE COURTESY OF LISTENING. TO. THE. WHOLE. ALBUM. THANK YOU.
That’s it. Thanks for reading. If you think I have missed anything out (and I’m sure I have) let me know in the comments why don’t you? Ooooh yeah, constructive conversations and that.