1. Working Men’s Club – Valleys
The line – which also happened to be the first of what would prove to be this writer’s track and album of the year – that says more than any other about 2020 had to be “trapped inside a town / inside my mind.” Working Men’s Club’s combination of old influences – acid house. New Order, Velvet Underground – seen through the fresh eyes and ears of twenty somethings, seemed hopeful and yet resolved, two qualities that were in short supply elsewhere.
2. The Nix – Hyena
‘The Sausage Studio Sessions’ by The Nix features all manner of people who had passed through the doors of the Hackney studio at some point in 2019. but this was our favourite moment. You know when your mum organises a ball in your honour because it’s your birthday and you don’t want to go so you get a hyena that “smells like death” to go in your place.
3. Leah Kardos – Heavy Hand
Dense textures ooze all over this wonderful piece from Leah Kardos’s Bird Rib album, that sounds like Miles Davis and Luke Vibert decided to have a quick jam. Being complex and rich and accessible and instant all at the same time is something few artists ever achieve, but this is an exercise in doing all that and making it sound easy too.
4. KJ & The Fox – Never Gone Hill
If this were a chart of catchiness alone, the second single from KJ & The Fox would top it by miles. With a gentle message of being prepared to let life’s pleasures go when the time is right, some nicely weird guitar noises and an earworm of a chorus, this was one of the tunes that – ironically enough – you just had to keep revisiting.
5. She’s Got Spies – Super Sniffer Dogs
Grim humour was very much what was required for much of the year and She’s Got Spies has it in spades, especially on this imaginary – but, we suspect, not that imaginary – tale of a heavy policed civic festival somewhere in East End where there’s the promise of a sniffer dog for every attendee. “You can smell Billingsgate from here….”
6. Wagon Christ – Bleep Me Out
Luke Vibert managed to get four albums out this year – well, those are the ones we heard about anyway – and just about anything on any of them could have made this list
7. Sugarcane – Midland Girls
Gentle and melancholy, Sugarcane’s mission to inject some of the exotic concoctions of bossa into British songwriting is an ingenious one on paper, and even more so once consigned to tape. The full album from Robin French and chums is expected in 2021, and odds on it’s a corker.
8. Article 54 – Not Going Out Tonight
“Forget everything you planned,” suggest the lyrics of this pandemic anthem, “stay at home and wash your hands.” That’s pretty much what we did, too. The sound of society collapsing, set to a funky disco beat.
9. Jake Slazenger – Dub Chicken
Planet Mu, the label of master electronica maestro Mike Paradinas, celebrated a quarter of a century in business this year. But rather than use the now celebrated label, he chose to drop an album of previously unheard cheeky warped jazz funk classics from his Jake Slazenger alter ego on Bandcamp one afternoon, sending those who loved his previous albums on Warp and others into spasms of delight. Advantage Slazenger!
10. LE JUNK – Level 3
Brutal video and equally brutal, stripped down pop from East London’s one man groove machine LE JUNK, an irresistible presence throughout the year.
Main photograph of Working Men’s Club: Andy Nichols