This is the third and penultimate instalment in God Is In The TV‘s Top 50 Albums of the Year, 2020, as voted for by our many contributors and editorial team. This part covers numbers 25 down to 11.
25) Fleet Foxes – Shore
Shore sees Robin Pecknold return to the territory of his debut record, melding sublime songwriting, soaring harmonies and lyrics of such empathetic warmth and generosity they’d make me puke if anyone else had written them. Exhibit A, ‘Sunblind’, the best song of the band’s career (yes, even better than ‘Mykonos’, ‘Your Protector’ or ‘White Winter Hymnal‘), an absolutely sublime, shimmering tribute to musical influences now long dead – “All that you’ve loaned won’t be kept inside a grave…In your rarefied air I feel sunblind”. Jesus, it’s fucking beautiful, transcendent, it should be number one across the planet and if everyone was drip-fed it for the next week COVID, Trump and the Tory government would all disappear and we’d get our bloody lives back. Sorry, got a bit carried away there. But it’s great. (Tim Russell)
24) Kidsmoke – A Vision in the Dark
The culmination of years of work and a super run of singles, Kidsmoke‘s debut album, A Vision in the Dark, is a delicious set of meticulously crafted, propulsive guitar pop songs that Wrexham based Kidsmoke have pieced together on a grand palette that’s as widescreen as the skies vast vista.
With the ghosts of the heritage of British and American guitar pop music of the ’80s and early ’90s flooding in, their skyward twin pronged melodies house infinitely bittersweet melodies supplied by frontman Lance Williams, James Stickels (bass/Vox) and Sophie Ballamy (guitar/Vox) as they clasp the faintest sense of hope through pain to their breasts. This is what Kidsmoke do, craft and burnish moments that capture the tiny glimmers of light in times of darkness and by God do we need it right now. A Vision in the Dark is an absolute triumph. (Bill Cummings)
23) Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song
Kelly Lee Owens displays her full panoramic range of emotions across her second album Inner Song. ‘On’ starts out as a cool, low key electropop song with Owens’ marvellous, softly spoken vocals over tappy, whirring and percussive synths. It then breaks down into a completely different, techy and bouncy second half. The transition is impressive. The unassuming way she incorporates vocals on this cut is a world away from the great whoosh you get from the choruses of ‘Re-Wild’ where Owens’ haunting layered harmonies are to die for. The pulsating percussion is brilliant and peculiar. On Inner Song, Owens reaffirms her abilities as a top flight ambient electronic artist and delivers several distinctive, emotionally charged tracks. (Matt Hobbs)
22) BDRMM – Bedroom
Each year there seems to be a band / artist or two who have been around for a while who suddenly move up to the next level. Last year, that was Weyes Blood; this year it was Bdrmm who suddenly had a hotly anticipated debut album on their hands after releasing a few singles since 2016.
In a difficult year for most, Bedroom recalled a simpler time. In fact, that time was 1991, the arguable peak of shoegaze music, a sound which they have taken and put through a 2020 filter so that it sounds like so much more than a copycat tribute to Ride or Pale Saints. Beginning the album with an instrumental followed by a song with a near-2 minute intro was a brave and interesting move, but it works really well and shows the band had the freedom to do as they pleased.
Bedroom is not the most instant album on this list, but there is something so addictive about it, it just gets under the skin. There are some fine artists around at this moment who have a similar aesthetic to Bdrmm (Nothing, Diiv, Whirr), but the material here is so strong that it just doesn’t matter that it isn’t a brand new sound. (Andy Page)
21) Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways
In June, after spending the last few years on Tin Pin Alley consumed by his best intentions towards Frank Sinatra and the American songbook, Bob Dylan released his first album of new material since 2012’s Tempest. When Ol’ Blue Eyes recorded September Of My Years in 1965 he had reflected upon his own mortality. He was 50 years of age at the time. With Rough and Rowdy Ways Dylan similarly muses upon the question of impermanence. But Bob Dylan will turn 80 next year and in another marked departure from Sinatra before him it is the death of the human race that occupies his thoughts. Yet for all of the apocalyptic imagery – perhaps most heightened on ‘Murder Most Foul’ – and his uncertainty about the future, on Rough and Rowdy Ways Dylan is at his most instinctive and self-assured. (Simon Godley)
20) Drive-By Truckers – The Unraveling
It’s the delivery that makes this album, and while it’s not a party album (no kidding!) there is the sense of possibility, and also the slightest hint of hope. And even in all the gloom and despair, they do it all beautifully. The album closer ‘Awaiting Resurrection‘ is like Mogwai jamming with Ry Cooder, with its southern gothic meets post-rock flavour. Let us hope that the results of the Presidential Election give everyone something to feel happier about, and that there is a more upbeat world to give Drive-By Truckers hope for their thirteenth album. (Ed Jupp)
19) Islet – Eyelet
Powys trio Islet‘s superlative third record Eyelet is coursing with perpetual motion and meditative depth of the undercurrents of water that flow through the Welsh hills of their home, elemental, hypnotic and spiritual, the cycle of life from birth to death.
Islet have often ventured forth into the frontiers of sound on record or on stage since they were hailed as the pioneers of No Wave in 2009. Yet the suspicion remained that they hadn’t quite distilled that energy – that body moving, heart-swelling, boundless imagination and unexpected experimentation of their live shows – down into a record, that is until now.
Eschewing the art noise of their debut album Illuminated People, instead it depicts their growth as a unit building upon the psyche textures of 2016’s Liquid Half Moon EP and experimentation of Mark Thomas’s solo project Farm Hand. It pushes further than they have before, its crisp electronic sweeps, its bubbling percussive beats, its evocative vocals from Emma, with hints of the work of Arthur Russell, Brian Eno, Kate Bush, Jenny Hval and Animal Collective reaching the place where pop music meets experimentation and is patched together again. Eyelet embraces avant-pop with a vivid clarity as glistening as a diamond on the bed of the ocean. (Bill Cummings)
18) Plants and Animals – The Jungle
Initial thoughts upon playing The Jungle, the fifth full length release by Montreal’s Plants And Animals, were mostly dominated by “Well, this has lots of great tunes, but why on earth have they chosen to kick it off with the weakest track?” After a while though, and particularly if you play the album while driving, that introductory title track develops a fiendishly hypnotic ambience, turning it into a pulsating, addictive, (almost) instrumental number with wonky bass sounds not dissimilar to that of Tom Waits‘s ‘Diamonds On My Windshield‘, although that’s where the similarity ends.
If Parc Avenue, the band’s debut album, was a likeable mix of rock, folk And psychedelia, then The Jungle continues their substantial leap forward since that 2008 introduction, breaking new ground and sees the band really finding their feet as commercial songwriters. Quite simply, The Jungle is an outstanding record, and a must for anyone who misses peak era Talking Heads. Superb. (Loz Etheridge)
17) Crack Cloud – Pain Olympics
Vancouver artistic collective Crack Cloud are an ever-changing team whose many, many members include survivors of and support workers in Canada’s spiralling opiate crisis. For several years they’ve used creative media, including music, as a means to recovery, building a community around this work, combining their talents to focus on the future. Pain Olympics would be an inspiring stepping-off point for any band. In the hands of Crack Cloud, it’s an even more compelling debut and is, as the back cover states, entirely “based on true shit.”
‘Genre-defying’ is now a cliché often used to describe music that is a bit inconsistent, incoherent or, to put it another way, music that does not yet fit into the listener’s understanding of the world which made it. Do a quick search on Crack Cloud and you will see a lot of Gang Of Four, Talking Heads and Psychic TV references, but going into this album I’d suggest you ditch comparisons altogether. Crack Cloud are like fire in a vacuum, filling the void with pure, unpredictable energy. Yes, the songs here are clearly a product of the experiences of addiction and the long road to rehabilitation but the group has been clean for several years and it would be reductive to define Pain Olympics in these terms. Redemption songs for the traumatised and tired they are not. There is no agenda here except the expression of artistic drive. It may be based on a philosophy, but Crack Cloud are not here to proselytise. (Trev Elkin)
16) Run The Jewels – RTJ4
Run the Jewels are one of the very few musicians who write lyrics that I can actually hear, that actually give me chills. This album feels like we might just make it out of 2020 as long as we can somehow muster the energy that this album was created with. Killer Mike implores listeners to “LOOK AT ALL THESE SLAVE MASTERS POSING ON YOUR DOLLAR” and I don’t think I’ve come across a sentence this year that so neatly epitomises the disparity between the rich and poor that has grown greater throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, that sums up the BLM riots, that should speak to the majority of people if they were to lose their working-class Tory pride, if they were to drop their racist prejudices, if they were to get with the programme.
The beats handled by the masterful EL-P certainly add to the impact of Killer Mike’s words on this record. The duo are unafraid to look to other genres to take influence and incorporate into their music. Elements of rock, grunge and acid-house can all be heard on this record (‘Pulling The Pin’ features Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age). The record contains a level of self-awareness that conjures a paranoid atmosphere of sleeping with one eye shut, of strength and intelligence, and it flows. Not to mention that the fact that there isn’t a single dud track on the record. It’s all killer no filler. (Kate Haresnape)
15) Ani Glass – Mirores
The main star of the LP, of course, is the voice of Ani Glass, proving not only powerful but versatile too, equally wondrous at a whisper or at full pelt. Opening track ‘The Ballad of a Good City’ sees her nearing operatic power, but the title track ‘Minores’ feels as intimate as a breathless voice close up to your ear, coasting along on Human League-like dayglo innocence, managing to be uplifting and melancholy all at the same time.
Other highlights? The darker sounding ‘Peirianwaith Perffaith’ and ‘IBT’ with the aforementioned choir caught in joyous song, a rejuvenating half time entertainment, or the more freeform and poignant ‘Cariad’, would all qualify. This is a strikingly confident debut from an artist who isn’t afraid to strike out into unknown territory but still has a hand on the wheel of accessibility at all times. Which is just how we tend to like them. Smashing stuff. (Ben Willmott)
14) Sault – Untitled (Black Is)
“We present our first ‘Untitled’ album to mark the moment in time where we as Black People, and of Black Origin are fighting for our lives…Change is happening…We are focused.”
So reads the release statement from anonymous UK collective Sault on the release of Untitled (Black Is) an album for which the word zeitgeist was created. In an era where a pandemic is sweeping the globe, as a backdrop to George Floyd’s murder igniting worldwide condemnation (and action) against systemic racial abuse, discrimination and oppression, it is hard to find a more vital album.
To a soulful aural collage of gospel, jazz, hip hop, trip hop, funk and future RnB Sault is saying “enough is enough” with radio-friendly jams. If not paying attention to the message these tunes can easily infiltrate any conversation as exceptional tunes in their own right.
Initially bubbling under the radar, Sault has released four albums since 2019, all of which are album of the year contenders and in many ways 2020’s other release Untitled (Rise) is as strong an album, but (Black Is) is a political message perfect for now, but right for an on-going struggle.
‘Guns Down Don’t Shot’ has the power to stop you in your tracks, while ‘Wildfires’ soulful female vocals singing lines like ‘It was murder’ and ‘I’ve never been scared, even through the tears’ are beyond emotive in context of on-going murders of Black people by police.
Classic but forward thinking, Sault bring to the UK music landscape the same game-changing vibes as Massive Attack in 1989. The most important UK album of the year!(James Thornhill)
13) Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?
Jessie Ware has created a stylish album that successfully celebrates so much of what makes dance music so gripping. From ’70s/early ’80s disco giants (Chic, Evelyn “Champagne” King and Taana Gardner), to the those classic ’90s dance singles released on Deconstruction, to Pet Shop Boys at their most stirring and the disco-chasing side of George Michael. She transcends her influences because the songwriting and her performances are so sharp. There’s poise and command in her delivery as she swoons around this luxurious and sophisticated album. The grooves are captivating and everything is well-balanced and tied together with immaculate precision, with an additional boost from the glow of her infectious optimism. (Jonathan Wright)
12) Sorry – 925
North London gadabouts Sorry have created the perfect soundtrack to the lockdown by creating a collage of alternative, grunge, pop, ballroom, indie, country croon and lip curling cynicism, innocent love songs and dry humorous stories.
The seedy underbelly of city life, the characters and cartoonish caricatures that inhabit the pubs, clubs, side streets and minds. Asha and Louis paint a garish, Kubrick storyboard, a Royston Vasey in North London. The washed-up rock n roll star, the wannabee film star girl at the bar, the lovesick admirer from afar, Rosie, Heather, the obsessed fan, stalker even. (Jim Auton)
11) Fontaines DC – A Hero’s Death
This album is dark. There is light but it is in the cracks in the blind, the sun breaking through a bank of grey clouds. ‘I Don’t Belong’, ‘A Hero’s Death’ and ‘No’ suggests negativity. However, when your mood is in the lower registers, the morning is not quite here, an eerie half light is painting the still water green, Fontaines D.C. are a monochrome blue tint. Comforting and caressing the soul before the dawn.
Melancholy does not have to be downcast, demure, or downtrodden. It can understand. It can voice your inner thoughts and echo.
They were gonna be big, they are, but they have moved on from wishing on that star. By not concerning themselves with what they needed to do, they concentrated on what they wanted to do, what they felt they had to do instinctively. They could never be anything but themselves. (Jim Auton)