By any reasonable measurement, 2020 has been a pretty grim year. The coronavirus pandemic, lockdowns, Brexit, British governmental incompetence, the killing of George Floyd, heightened injustices and inequalities, the culmination of Donald Trump’s four years of misrule and the toxic fallout from the US Presidential elections; all of these matters have contributed towards 12 months of what has often felt like constant horror and hardship.
Yet in the midst of this desperation and despair countless recording artists have continued to produce some really tremendous music of the very highest quality. Here at God Is In The TV we have looked back over 2020 and chosen the best 100 albums from the year as voted for by our many contributors and members of the editorial team.
We have already seen those albums that comprised the first half of this list. Now we move into the Top 50 and for the second instalment of this feature we focus upon numbers 50 down to 26, looking at each release in more detail.
50) Korine -New Arrangements
Korine signed to local Philly record label, Born Losers, in order to release their first full-length album, New Arrangements. Landing in stores on Halloween, three of the five tracks from the initial E.P. feature as well as five new compositions. Immediately upon queuing up the first track, ‘Captive’ and pressing ‘Play‘, you are drawn into their world. If no one told you this was a 21st Century release, I’m sure a bet would be lost. (Michael Mitchell)
49) Sly and the Family Drone – Walk It Dry
Recorded in the wake of Matt Cargill’s horrific injuries from a van accident, Walk It Dry by London noise merchants is a cathartic exercise in rebuilding from violence. The band’s fifth offering is also named after some particularly violent slang, and this album is nothing short of physical assault. For years, Sly and the Family Drone has gained a reputation as one of the most visceral and intense live acts around, with their recorded output coming close to matching the ritualistic brilliance of an audience with them. Walk It Dry, at moments captures this sensory overload.
While the trademark blasts of sinister drones, stalking industrial rhythms and shrieking sax found on 2019’s Gentle Persuaders still reverberate around this album, this is more direct, a more punchier take on their collapsing-jazz aesthetic. Nothing is sacred, here.
Walk It Dry is a sonic beating good enough to turn you into a masochist. (James Thornhill)
48) My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall II
Five years ago, My Morning Jacket released their seventh full length album, the resplendent, expansive The Waterfall II. At the time, Jim Jones made noises indicating that there was another long player already in the bag, waiting to be unleashed. For some reason, however, James rather bafflingly chose to sit on these often gorgeous songs until half a decade later. Beautifully soulful, and with the spirit of Gene Clark and James Taylor respectively (although there is some delightful pop in the shape of ‘Climbing The Ladder’ too, The Waterfall II is a triumph in every respect, and ‘Feel You’ might even be Jim James’s most emotionally affecting song yet. (Loz Etheridge)
47) Lyra Pramuk – Fountain
Fountain is arguably the most idiosyncratic album released in 2020. Listening to it without context will lead to listing the instruments surely involved in the creation – synths, drum machines, mellotrons – but therein lies a significant mistake. Fountain was created purely from Lyra Pramuk’s astonishing vocals, which have been digitally altered, processed and completely re-imagined until it sounds nothing like the human voice. Pramuk creates texture and timbre that is equal parts discordant and lilting This digital manipulation is an exercise in sonic experimentation but never wanders into dusty academia; instead it is thrilling artistic statement that offers a reimagination of the ambient form. The key triumph of Fountain is the way that its conceptual nature is never foregrounded to the point overshadowing everything else. Like the great experimental films we remember for their brilliant narratives, Fountain is a record you remember for its melody, tone and gloriously rhythmic soundscapes. (James Turrell)
46) Bohren & Der Club of Gore – Patchouli Blue
Bohren & Der Club of Gore’s music has often been described as a soundtrack for movies yet to be made, yet in 2020 their painfully slow, intensely dark music feels like a soundtrack for every day life. Patchouli Blue covers virtually no ground that the German trio have not covered in the last three decades and yet it feels much more relevant than any preceding release, from the ominous opening baseline of ‘Total Falsch’ onwards. The ‘ambient doom jazz’ tag often applied to them is off putting but highly accurate – this is mood music for months upon months of dread and isolation. (Jordan Dowling)
45) Jerry Joseph – The Beautiful Madness
The name of Jerry Joseph may not be immediately familiar to many but The Beautiful Madness – his first ever European release – should change all of that. In short, it is magnificent; a powerful, uncomfortable indictment upon these troubled times in which we now live, delivered to us in ten blistering songs performed by Joseph himself backed up by the Stiff Boys, aka Alabama’s finest, Drive-By Truckers. (Simon Godley)
44) Meilir Tomos – In Tune
This debut album by Meilir Tomos may have been a long time coming, but the end result is highly imaginative and all kinds of wonderful. His classical background may have been discarded officially but shows itself anyway, as he builds soundscapes and worlds with piano, as well as synths and guitar. Every artist worth their salt welcomes the world around them into their creativity and on In Tune Tomos makes merry with the everyday, a ye olde world typewriter, tray of gravel and Old Curiosity Shop oddities, adding textures and colour. The resulting work is an album which is a permanent companion, and one worth forming a very deep relationship with indeed. (Cath Holland)
43) Jehnny Beth – To Love Is to Live
Savages were a band who often spoke about sex, but seldom intimacy. Those aware of Jehnny Beth’s work in Savages may be taken aback by the, by comparison, open-diary approach of To Love Is To Live. Beth, now in her mid thirties, acknowledged in the Guardian recently that Savages was the loudest expression for searching for who she was in her twenties. To Love Is To Live feels like a cathartic pitstop in that ongoing journey, in a way that is much more direct and metaphor-free than before. Rock music like this is increasingly short supply – ambitious and emotionally unselfconscious, vulnerable and tender while not being afraid to bear its teeth. You’ll struggle to find a more virtuously cathartic record released this year.(Matt Hobbs)
42) GoGo Penguin – GoGo Penguin
GoGo Penguin are known for their glamorous, hooky Nu Jazz; addictive piano runs; off-kilter, forensically accurate drums and double bass which drills into the depths of your soul. On this self-titled record the song ‘Totem’ particularly stands out. The bass and drums get tied up in themselves, every note is precise, but it is difficult to determine where one bar starts and the next ends – the musical equivalent of an M.C. Escher painting. (Richard Wiggins)
41) Bill Callahan – Gold Record
What’s remarkable about Bill Callahan as he has got older is how completely at ease he has become with himself and his influences. Where a lot of Smog’s earlier work was prickly and self-conscious, in his later years Callahan has become an egoless conduit for neatly observed experience to flow through. On ‘Pigeons’ he advises newly-weds with a generous world wearniness. On ‘The Mackenzies’ an exchange with a neighbor about a malfunctioning car is elevated to poetry about serendipitous, interpersonal warmth and stumbling upon quiet grief. He revisits Smog staple, ‘Let’s Move To The Country’– the anxiety around settling into domesticity replaced with a grateful, knowing acceptance. A songwriter now in his mid-fifties – he has mastered eliciting profound emotional impact from the smallest possible detail. A true master of his craft. (Ben Lowes-Smith)
40) Duma – Duma
Duma’s self-titled debut LP came out in the summer on Kampala’s Nyege Nyege Tapes. A new project from Martin Khanja (aka Lord Spike Heart) and Sam Karugu, former members of bands Lust of a Dying Breed and Seeds of Datura from Nairobi, Duma deliver industrial breakcore infused with punk and thrash metal and the first track to be released, ‘Lionsblood’, is a pretty fierce slab of noise. Traditional song gets pulverised somewhere beneath an avalanche of twisted drums and thrash screaming. (Colin Bond)
39) Taylor Swift – Folklore
A low key, folk pop sound is easier to manage under isolation conditions than that of one of Taylor Swift’s typically highly collaborative releases. Much of the production on this LP comes from The National’s guitarist Aaron Dessner. Swift’s reflective, touching lyrical style has clearly been impacted by the pandemic, but ‘Mad Woman’, a song about the flack she gets online stood out to me as particularly strong. “It’s obvious that wanting me dead/ has really brought you two together.” If you’re after sincere, sensitive twee folk with plenty of heart then Folklore is a pleasing LP. (Richard Wiggins)
38) Modern Nature – Annual
A mini, but perfectly formed, album consisting of seven tracks, Annual is an expression in quiet contemplation with contemporary folk and jazz fusion influences throughout. Modern Nature feels cyclical and can be left to repeat, such is the beauty of the tracks and brevity of the record. Every note and beat has been painstakingly agonised over and it is clear that the gentility of the production has been crafted to bring you closer to the fine musicianship and pastoral sentiment. A fine second outing for Jack Cooper and co. (Matt Hobbs)
37) Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud
On her fifth album Saint Cloud, Katie Crutchfield aka Waxahatchee) eschews the fuzz and noise of her earlier releases and goes back to her roots to embrace a more Alt-country Americana focused album. Saint Cloud is a much more reflective clear-headed album than her previous works and sonically appears to reflect her decision to get sober. She steps out from the fug of distortion and in doing so sounds calmer and more at peace with the world. She also demonstrates her innate ability to write songs with a genuine emotional heft without the need for any “enhancements.” Crutchfield once sang “I’ll embrace all my vices” but freed from them she puts her poetic song writing front and centre.
Tracks like ‘Can’t Do Much’ and ‘Ruby Falls’ are imbued with raw emotional honesty. She returns to themes that she has addressed in the past but here each song is given the space to breathe. Throughout Saint Cloud, her prowess as a great songwriter and storyteller is evident for all to see. It could be her finest album to date. Sobriety certainly suits her. (Andy VonPip)
36) Video Age – Pleasure Line
Video Age just wants you to have a good time and feel this way for always. The first time I heard this album, it reminded me of Antipodean boundary pushers Tame Impala, the smooth chords, building a soundscape that just wants to love you, without needing anything in return. But also contains elements similar to the sheer brilliance of Nile Rodgers, with shades of Black Eyed Peas funk along the way. Overselling you say? Well, turn on, tune in, and be prepared for this tsunami.
An aura of ’80s vibrancy, killer colours and a time when style woke from its slumber coats this album’s content and is far better for it. With a guitarist who is surely inspired by the technique of Nile Rodgers making his entrance, I could listen to this for hours. If you’re thinking this sound’s too full-on for a lazy afternoon spent in the summer sun, then fear not as the slightly more subdued. A true work of brilliance. (Nick James)
35) The Strokes – The New Abnormal
Everyone is a little wiser 19 years down the line from Is This It. Edges softened, addictions relented, and they have returned to looking more like only 19 months have passed rather than nearly two decades.
There are so many pastiches of the 1980’s now and yet The Strokes have been ploughing this furrow for a while, but this is as fresh as a daisy and could have come out in 2001 which would have made Is This It a 1982 album, slap bang in the post punk afterglow. Maybe they do own a time machine. (Jim Auton)
34) Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas
One of the successes of this self-titled album is how Lianne La Havas has been unafraid to collaborate with lots of different mixers and performers to give a distinctive feel to each track. Nick Hakim‘s presence is felt on ‘Please Don’t Make Me Cry’ due to his signature production of hip-hop chopped beats, distant echo techniques and dreaminess. ‘Sour Flower’ ends with a rapid drum jam from Mark Guiliana, the drummer on David Bowie‘s Blackstar. In the track, La Havas has “flown a hundred thousand miles to get back to (her home town) Brixton” after a long absence and is enjoying her independence again. The title is also a cute ode to her late grandmother because the phrase about being self-reliant, and dealing with your own problems, was a common remark she made. (Matt Hobbs)
33) Bruce Springsteen – Letter To YouIt is up there with some of his best records, and contains songs that seem likely to join the already impressive Springsteen songbook. ‘House Of A Thousand Guitars‘ and ‘Power Of Prayer‘ would be album highlights on a lesser artist’s album, here, they are two of many great songs that show he is still in fine form both in terms of song-writing and vocal ability, and show just how much of his back catalogue is timeless.
In a year where almost no-one expected things to turn out the way they have, a good, solid Bruce Springsteen album is a cause for joy. The fact that this is an excellent album even by Springsteen’s own high standards is reason for celebration. Long may he run. (Ed Jupp)
32) Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
Kevin Parker returned this year with the fourth Tame Impala studio album. Having teased with the excellent ‘Patience’ single last year, Parker had the confidence to both leave that track off the record and hide the extraordinary Supertramp-on-acid stomp of ‘It Might Be Time’ towards the end of the track list.
It’s true that The Slow Rush wasn’t a massive departure from the Tame Impala sound that we have come to know and love, with the usual psychedelic grooviness present and correct, but Parker pulled together an irresistible set of songs that pulled the listener back time and time again.
‘Instant Destiny’ was a beautifully delicate thing, ‘Borderline’ sounded like a smash hit and ‘Lost In Yesterday’ was so catchy that it romped to number 89 in the charts, which these days is some kind of result! (Andy Page)
31) Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension
If Carrie & Lowell was Sufjan Stevens at his simplest and most accessible, The Ascension is a leap in the opposite direction. Not only has he returned to long-form, high concept compositions, he has re-embraced a style of glitchy, progressive synth music that he has not dabbled in since 2010’s The Age of Adz. This time round though he has arrived at a more refined, less scattershot approach, throwing out the guitar and strings entirely and focusing on a smaller, cohesive set of sounds. It is far better realised than The Age of Adz which is impressive as unusually for Stevens, these songs were written and recorded at pace with little outside interference. (Richard Wiggins)
30) Tom Aspaul – Black Country Disco
Black Country Disco feels like the credits rolling on a fantastical joy ride through a painful chapter of someone’s life, it’s upbeat with a positive outlook and it’s the kind of happiness that has to be earned, and earn it he did.
It made me smile, it made me cry, it made me dance and it did it all while being polished with stunning attention to detail and a beautiful art style. It even managed to tell a cohesive story with no filler tracks in sight. The tracks make perfect sense in sequence but they are also each strong enough to stand on their own merits. This may be my album of the year. (Lloyd Best)
At the forefront of the bedroom pop trend of recent years that includes Adult Mom and this year’s Beabadoobee, Sophie Allison, under her Soccer Mommy moniker, creates defiantly lyrical, lo-fi indie with increasing melodic confidence. Allison’s lyrics contend with traditional indie-pop themes – depression, heartache, isolation – but are delivered without elaborate words or vocals. She prefers instead beautifully crafted but direct language, and unshowy vocals that find melody in simplicity. Her direct use of language contains within it stark themes and disquieting images as she ruminates on emotional instability and mental illness; “half-hearted calm, the way I’ve felt since I was thirteen/Cause I may not feel it now, covered up the wounds with my long sleeves/But I know it’s waiting there, swimming through my bloodstream/And it’s gonna come for me.” Color Theory is the record of an artist developing a clarity and fully forming vision of who she is. (James Turrell)
28) Jarv Is… – Beyond The Pale
Make no mistake, this is not a solo project but a band, even if it (effectively) bears Jarvis Cocker’s name. It also isn’t Pulp – watching him and the rest of Jarv Is perform most of these songs last year (where the sole Pulp song they performed was ‘His ‘n’ Hers’), it was clear how much they stand as a band and how they have the songs to do so. First single ‘Must I Evolve?’ pretty much sets out Jarv Is’ stall like a manifesto – and who else could get away with a line like “Dragging my knuckles – listening to Frankie Knuckles”? Meanwhile ‘House Music All Night Long’ is a cousin to ‘Sorted For E’s And Whizz.’ A fantastic record, dark and intriguing, that is a fantastic new chapter for Mr. Cocker and his new collaborators. (Ed Jupp)
27) Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Now
Charli XCX’s songs are often bound together by highs and lows. She contrasts the euphoria of nights out with the following day’s comedowns. She adapts this theme to the loneliness of pandemic-induced isolation, pairing a sense of longing with looking forward to future good times. She set a goal to complete an album from scratch in six weeks, and she’s engaged her fans by soliciting their input throughout. How I’m Feeling Now is a response to the unprecedented situation we’re in, and it’s a poignant, emotionally-connected and powerful statement. (Jonathan Wright)
26) Backxwash – God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It
God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It is the debut album of Zambian rapper BACKXWASH. It’s a raw and aggressive, mostly self-produced album with a level of honesty that is commendable and a showcase of skill that sets the bar high. The title track and the first on the album is a brutal, unforgiving look at poor mental health and thoughts of suicide. It’s a strong opener that sets the stage perfectly for what’s to come, an unrelenting look at some of society’s ugliest attitudes. This is one cohesive piece of work. It should be listened to from start to finish like chapters in a book. The songs continue to flow from one to the other, fitting together as one intricate puzzle. The whole project feels like a therapy session, a reverse-religious exorcism of the worst parts of BACKXWASH’s trauma, laid bare for us all to see. It’s not an easy listen but the album is powerful and deserves your time. (Lloyd Best)