For all the talk of it being a shit year and one to forget there was a lot of great music. There was (probably) a lot of shit music too. I tried my best to avoid as much of that as I could but would always call it out if it crossed my path. Black cats need reporting and then no fuss whatsoever. You move on. It was such a good year for music that I didn’t even review two of the accepted BEST albums of the year – Fiona Apple and Bob Dylan both made spectacular records and returns and I decided I wanted to keep both of those song-collections for myself, ie: not write about them. So I didn’t. Maybe I’ll buckle and gush about them here someday in 2021. But for now I haven’t – so they’re not on the list. But I loved them. There are a few other albums that are great that I just didn’t get to – there are many I’m aware of but am still yet to hear. I’ll check them over the summer break. There are others that are high on your list or someone else’s list that I actually just didn’t like at all (probably). This is how it is with subjectivity. Reviews now are close to meaningless – but they’re a habit. I still get up and write them. I’m writing for no one most days. No pay. And I have no idea if there is an audience. I am writing for myself. If you are interested then I thank you.
Here below – in order of when I wrote them – are the Best Album Reviews I gave in 2020. That means some of these albums might have been released in 2019. It also means it’s not a ranked list of The Very Best just a bunch of my favourite albums I got to hear and ‘process’ this year. Think of it as a shortcut for you if you’re at all interested in rave reviews of ‘good’ albums. So, from January 3 of 2020 to December 20th or thereabouts, here are the albums I loved and said something about…
You click on the link for the full review (if you want).
It’s compositionally rich and a hugely rewarding listen for fans of jazz, soundtracks, contemporary classical, post-rock, ambient-metal, instrumental groove – pick your mood, any and all of these appear here.
This is such deep-pocket playing from a band that has been together for decades. The Coltrane tracks and tributes are brilliant, but you could hook into this without having any previous interest in ‘Trane. (Though why that could ever be the case I’ll never know). A brilliant, must-hear album that has me falling in love all over again with the very essence of Latin-Jazz too.
How he manages to combine strong political comment, plenty of humour and gorgeous melodies that seem to arrive beamed in from another era…well that’s always been Bird’s special magic trick. And here he’s as good as he’s ever been. And then just a little bit better yet. Roll on his even better best work next, no doubt…
From the lapping shores of The Old Mans Gait to the Paul Buchanan-esque spaciousness in the lush piano chords of the closing title track, this is a set of songs that is all about the contemplation, gentile moods. Gorgeous, wise, and as I said at the start, there’s always something intriguing about Tindersticks; about Staples’ delivery and lyrics and the production. Adult pop music that lives and breaths in its own space always. The world’s all the better for having it.
This won’t be for everyone. Which as always is what I like most about it. But as a fan of Gerrard and Preisner’s work, separately, this feels like a perfect – wonderful – collaboration. And Wania is a new name for me to work through now, knowing he’s added his delicate touch to many great albums across the last decade. This, for me, is nearly perfect music and in the stark opening days of 2020 it feels like the ultimate soundtrack.
Newman is masterful, yes. And his music for 1917 is up there with the very best of his work. If you’re a film-score fan it’s a must.
So in just 32 minutes, across ten songs, you could believe that Lynne had many of these tunes sitting waiting – for years – in the cupboard. Or that he went into this home studio for 2-3 days and just summoned the spirit of what he used to do. Either answer would suffice. And the best of the work here will only mean something to existing fans but it’s no let down at all. He shouldn’t sound this good. Vocally, and across all instruments, he’s in rude health. And the closer, Songbird, is as good as he’s ever been.
I can’t spot a single thing wrong with this. Is it derivative? Yes, brilliantly so. Has it ALL been done before? Yes, but never quite with this urgency. Does it have anything to say? Gloriously, it’s a no! Fucking brilliant.
This is such great playing from everyone – but Allen is really announcing herself here as a new voice in jazz. This is one of the best jazz records I’ve heard in ages. Just feel-good stuff that always feels like the correct choice to put on. Should win plenty of new fans, and anyone wanting a new jazz vibist, in particular, for their collection can look no further. Well, pair it up with Joel Ross’ KingMaker (from last year) and you’ve got a winning one-two knockout punch.
Where did Lauren Desberg come from? And what a talent! This is her third album as I understand it – but the first I’ve heard. And I’m hooked – instantly. There’s much to love here. Including the breezy feel of so much of the music, a clever ruse as there’s some big, deep, heavy thoughts hiding in these accessible, charming, lightweight-seeming ‘pop’ songs.
If you’ve never heard of Tim Ray there’s still a chance you’ve heard him. As a hired hand he’s played and arranged piano parts for everyone from Lyle Lovett to Aretha Franklin, via Jane Siberry and Bonnie Raitt, but maybe he’s not known as a jazzer. Never fear, not only does he have the chops indeed (he’s currently Tony Bennett’s musical director and a teacher at the famous Berklee College). This is a lovely modern jazz album full of nice surprises and great comfort-food playing.
From the woozy wonder of Ashtray Wasp’s shuffling snares and post-Underworld faded-glow to the arthouse version of dubstep’s best vestiges that shines, still, on Rough Sleeper and Truant, this 150-minute double disc of jaded, faded jewels is the answer to anyone that was curious and the blanks-filler to anyone (like me) that knew it was mostly all good but just didn’t snap up the many limited releases as they appeared over the last decade. To me, Burial will forever be the soundtrack to a walk home – from the pub or a visit to a mate’s place, for a late-late stroll with the dog – and from NYC’s ghostly vocals to Hiders’ ethereal-anthem feel there’s a mood for any moment here; valedictorian 80s rehash or moody-as-all-fuck circle-back on trip-hop’s darker moments (Subtemple). I’m happy to have this. To hear this. To live back inside this all once again.
Lisa Gerrard/Genesis Orchestra/Yordan Kamdzhalov, Gorecki – Symphony No. 3, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs:
The resolution of this piece is always a nearly emotionally overwhelming moment – and so it is with this new recordings.
This is a legendary performance – the band is tight, the set is full of little miracles and Ferry is all things to all people: camp and goth and a sincere balladeer and a devilish rocker and iconoclastic as all fuck. Somehow there was even more in the tank…
The score finds a repurposed use for Mehldau’s brilliant solo piano rendition of Radiohead’s Paranoid Android; here split into a couple of cues/codas. But the new pieces he’s written are lovely and have hints of Jacques Loussier’s stately grace (I’ve Been Stupid), and there’s even some of Paul McCartney’s melodicism on display (Four Minus Four Equals Zero evokes Junk). There’s a lovely solo piano instrumental of The Beatles’ And I Love Her as palinode. Most of the pieces here are just short cues – dazzling wee glimpses offered in 60 or 90 seconds. And mostly solo. Just piano. There are bits of baritone sax and percussion (Rommel) that give a Michael Nyman feel. And in another bit of McCartney-aping The ‘Inchworm’-like motif behind Raphael Says Goodbye reminds me of Wings’ Winter Rose. Gorgeous stuff. Did I mention I can’t wait to see the film?
The full impact of the songs on this album, their construction, the writing, the placement – of the words and the ordering of these sentiments – creeps up on you too. But it’s welcome. It’s crestfallen, dark, quite possibly – and maybe literally – depressing. But there’s that now-familiar balm. This band is good. This band cares. Its songs are such a vital strength in this world. So, yes, they’ve made their very best album. Again.
It’s an argument – subtly put – against the recording industry of today; a reminder of the care and craft that went into music; which in an era of streaming and Spotify and YouTube (and don’t get me wrong, access to music has never been better, never been easier, so there’s some pros in amongst the long con) seems somehow largely lost. Lose yourself then instead in these stunning performances of these well-known Brahms clarinet pieces.
This is one of the best trio jazz albums I’ve heard in an age – regardless of the age of the player at the helm. He’s arrived. No longer just a child prodigy. The adult version of Joey Alexander is already one of the modern greats.
It’s an exquisite trip through a windswept world of family nostalgia and heartland American standards. Also any album that features Jay Bellerose on drums is worth your time. Check this out and get lost in the strange new worlds of songs from the past. Gorgeous.
He’s been gone for over 20 years and very little in the way of official posthumous releases have been added to his canon, which is all the more reason to value this. And if this has caught your interest and serves as your introduction to his musical world then that’s more than fine. You’re about to be very well served indeed.
If this album had found me at the wrong time I might have dismissed it. Maybe in a year or two I will. But for now, for right now, this is one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard. It’s so utterly absurd. And so serious – all at once. That feels about right for 2020. Temperature taken. This is jazz now.
Sam Wilkes, Live On The Green:
There are deep, buried worlds in this music. And all in just 32 minutes. It’s a marvel. A slowly twisting masterpiece. Okay, so I’ve possibly filled a third slot in that top ten and we’re not even quarter of the way through the year…There’s something very soothing, comforting about this music – it’s the new ambient, not just the new jazz. It’s the aural wallpaper we need right now. Or at least I should speak for myself. This is the aural wallpaper I need right now.
We’re lucky to have this – just as we were lucky to have Masekela’s earlier music and to still have the prolific Tony Allen carving out new spaces within familiar sounds. So lucky to have this. Rejoice!
Of course it was sad news shortly after the release of this album – R.I.P. Tony Allen
That’s very much what’s on offer here actually – a modern-day retelling of that wondrous trio that made early 60s masterpiece records on the trot like: Portrait in Jazz, Explorations, Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz For Debby.
Just wonderful stuff. Nine songs, 36 minutes. Perfect. No chaff. No duds. Just all class here. One of the finest farewells you could hope for – all the best to the sublime O’Jays.
Bamford’s one of the very best. And this is her best work to date. It’s also her straightest comedy special to date; where previously she’s performed to an audience of two (her parents) and filmed herself on the couch with her dogs or in a bowling alley, or performed what is very much a one woman show over a stand-up gig this – finally – is just a stand-up comedy show at a small/medium theatre. Oh, but it’s more than just a show. It’s knockout, virtuoso stuff.
This live document is better than could reasonably be expected. Yes, it’s just a souvenir for the already converted, something to accompany them in their preaching. But it’s good. It warms the heart a little and reminds of so many great songs for (and from) the head.
This is just a clinic. A must have. A must hear. Dynamite performances. And a whole new way of hearing old classics that is all at once respectful and innovative. It’s those new spaces that Kellaway carves out where you hear the joyous runs of a man who simply loves to play the piano. And he’s so well served by his backing musicians here. They know when to splash colours from their palettes and when to just sit back and roll out the background textures.
That a podcast could have a soundtrack is one thing – that it could be its own work of art and in the scheme of things just a very finite snapshot, well that’s such a Robert Plant way. Ever the elder statesman, scholar, and gent.
There’s something spiritually uplifting about this mini-album (9 songs, 29 minutes) and the calm charm of some of the melodies (Won’t You Celebrate With Me) is the perfect tonic. This is the jazz album that non-jazzers can dig. It’s the R’n’B album for people that ordinarily get bored with slow-jamz. It’s subtly quite dazzling. A wee gem that is perfect for right now.
This archival live set shows them in match-fit fighting form. Such a great band.
Daniel Lopatin, Uncut Gems [OST]:
But divorced from the film – as an album in its own right (even with a couple of bits of film banter) this tells its own story. The touchstone of Tangerine Dream remains. Vangelis too. Chuck in some Eno oscillations and bits and pieces of what made so many of John Carpenter’s movie scores so wonderful and you get the basic idea. But where some of those artist were somewhat clinical in their movie music Lopatin can’t help but imbue his film scores with the same heart that abounds in his Oneohtrix albums.
What a band this was. And what a creative mind and player David S. Ware was – he gave us plenty of course. And there’s obviously still more (like this) in the can. But what a towering loss.
Walking Proof is a wee masterclass – 37 minutes, 12 snapshots of quality songwriting that take you back to the 70s in feel and vibe as well as all decades since. There’s also moments that feel like Dixie Chicks’ best work (Move) and the closer, Scream, is the kind of lost-classic that Kathleen Edwards used to serve up.
He’s like a free-jazz Ralph Towner. And on the calming closer, Man Dies, he’s basically just like Ralph Towner, more folk-shaped than he’s ever been. It brings to mind Willy Vlautin’s (novel) writing. Parts of this album feel like they could soundtrack any sad film, yet to hear them – without any set images to work with – it’s an ultimately very happy experience. My favourite Orcutt album to date.
There’s a wonderful, lurking creep to this album – like a house mix without any focus at all on pulse – instead it’s about mood. You might never quite notice this album is there – until it’s not. Then you’ll be pining to hear it again. And again.
The sound of this record is sublime, the guestlist impressive and its highlights make it well worth checking out.
I’ve long been a fan of Lynne’s work and this is very near to career-best. I don’t know that we’ll ever see the film many of these songs were written for and around (it’s basically a soundtrack that now walks its own path and lives its own life) but that doesn’t really matter. Though Lynne’s acted before and no doubt will again, there’s enough of an artistic gift from just these songs. Listen to it as soon as you can. And then listen again. And again.
The talk of Amos’ legendary shows is a feature of so many fan forums and there are bootlegs galore as well as official releases too – but this tantalising snapshot from when her career was just getting going is well worth your time, for fans of that first album in particular. Great sound quality. A must.
There’s so much to like here – a reminder of Taylor in his prime. Though recent recordings and performances suggest that prime has never left. No matter, it’s a thrill to have and hear this. Brilliant music.
I’ve long loved the musical worlds that Deantoni Parks builds and then seemingly obliterates. And SILVER CHORD is an addictive, startling, comforting, creepy, mesmerising listening experience.
A wonderful record.
It’s a frankly perfect set of songs – in terms of the selection, the placement and the treatments. There’s an intensity and energy here that might almost suggest Wasser cares more about these songs than her own. That’s not true. She cares about them as if they were her own. And in these renditions they are of course hers. And you can give no higher compliment to a cover.
The album is bubbling over with ideas and tremendous playing – it’s one for jazz fans but it might also make jazz-fans out of a few people that have claimed to never feel or hear a flavour they love from briefly dipping a finger in that jar.
You can hear Three as the band returning, bit by bit to the separate vestiges within its roots – starting out in full noise – and very nearly rocking out – as has been the case on more recent records. Then we return to the middle-years of the group, the ambient, crepuscular mood/swing music they made across the late 1990s and early 2000s. Finally we go back to their version of jazz, something they started with in the mid/late-80s.
He was only 48 at the time of this concert and the accident that took his career, and nine years later, his life. This concert brims with what-could-have-been. He was simply one of the greatest to ever grace a stage, he wrote and performed some of the best songs you could ever hope to hear.
Black Lives Matter. We might always have known this – we might never have shown this enough. The time is now for this music anyway – because it’s great, because it’s true heart and soul and poetry, because it’s innovation but never for the sake of it, only as an angle towards something pure. But under the lens right now in an uncertain world the timing of this album seems even more potent.
There was no happiness for Neil Young in this record. Nothing for him to want to remember at the time. So he put it in a cupboard. It’s our luck and joy as devotees that he felt it was time to open that cupboard door. His already remarkable run across the 1970s sounds even richer for us now having and hearing this.
It’s like that golden run of Al Green records all over again. It’s everything that got you hooked on this sort of sound to begin with – and of course it’s a reminder that Bryant was deep in there, his fingerprints all over your great record collection.
Rudresh Mahanthappa, Hero Trio:
He makes new shapes. He reminds you of old wonders. And he and his band are effortlessly inventive here. This is brilliant.
Don Covay, Anthology – His First Recordings:
This is one to play over and again, teach your friends about Covay, bask in his sound, find new favourites every time, 29 songs to choose from here. It makes a wonderful soul soundtrack for any day of the week, any time of day; timeless good fun music.
Three wonderful musicians at the top of their game.
Gorgeous heartfelt stuff here. A lovely record.
Secrets Are The Best Stories is a career high point for Kurt Elling. And sure, it’s one of several. But I would still hope that’s really saying something. Kurt sure is. Which is why I love this record so very much.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you already know so much by James Brown – so I don’t need to say much more about this beyond recommending you add it to your collection. It’s an amazing setlist, and Brown is just on fire. His showmanship oozing from ever pore. Also, the nine minute funk workout on Mother Popcorn is just everything, everything! Maceo blowing his horn, Prince’s whole career in microcosm, JB stammering “good gahd!”, that soul shriek, it’s enough to leave you in a quivering mess, a cold sweat…
There’s a deceptively simple surface-glide and sheen to this album but go deep – a track like Moth, say – and there’s keyboard horns mixing with the real thing, skittering percussion flitting like skimmed stones over the watery bed of the song. There’s so much great stuff happening in just 38 minutes. I’m reminded of Sam Gendel’s recent tearing down and rebuilding of jazz. And like that album this one begs the use of the repeat-button.
This is modern jazz at its very best – the cap doffed to their musical fathers and grandfathers, their own voices so obviously on offer here. This is the sound of greatness that has been worked at and continues to be worked with; this is the sound of the best jazz album I’ve heard in some time. This is the sound of four master musicians that would never rest easy, will always be searching and discovering, finding and shearing. This is the sound of an instant classic searing itself into your soul, burning its way into and towards your heart and mind; from theirs to you.
The James Hunter Six, Nick of Time:
I weep when I think there are people alive that claim to love music and don’t know anything from this guy and his band. I’d get angry, but it’s just too easy to enjoy this album over and over and to go on a three-day bender playing anything and everything James Hunter has ever released. Such good oil.
I just feel like this is super funny and wise and has the added bonus of being responsible as well as heartfelt. Good, good content.
Some of Hamilton’s very best. And given he’s a player that prides himself of control and taste, of never playing too much or too often, I would hope that’s really saying something. This is class-act trio-jazz.
Nina Simone, Fodder on My Wings [Reissue]:
Fodder On My Wings is the sound of a musician freeing themselves – mentally and musically – having a lot of fun showcasing their undeniable talents. It’s joyous and strange and weird and so perfectly imperfect. It’s time, too, is now.
There’s a gentle master at work here. And the result is hypnotic. Utterly beautiful. So cautious and controlled – but with moments where the celestial architecture of Arvo Pärt, Harold Budd and Laraaji has been deeply contemplated. There’s a wild spirit that flows through this considered, thoughtful music.
A wonderful record filled with talent and top tunes.
It’s my hope that more people find GREEN now. It’s really been one of the wonders of my musical world in recent times. There’s such a timelessness to it. Thanks so much for the work you gave us Hiroshi Yoshimura. And for the work you do Light In The Attic.
Nathan Salsburg, Landwerk:
This is beautiful stuff. I’m knocked for six by it. And it’s my new favourite for right now. Requires deep listening. And won’t of course be for everyone. Even better!
I can’t stop playing this. I love the time-warp of listening to this over and over. Music that is both so utterly self-conscious and not at all self-aware – or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way – it works for me. Apparently Bruner is still alive and kicking and making music. So I look forward to hearing anything new from him one day. And I’ll be likely disappointed if it doesn’t sound exactly like this.
Margo Price, That’s How Rumors Get Started:
Margo Price just owns the space where her songs sit – great songwriting, confident, charming delivery, killer band (Simpson, James Gadson, Benmont Tench) and all of it is worthy, all of it is magnificent. She is constantly moving on and up with every recording and I think her Rumors is her new gold standard. The other two albums are brilliant too, they remain brilliant, great to revisit, crucial to go back to if you’re starting here. But it’s about the journey. And I can already hear glimpses of where she might go next. She’s becoming Emmylou Harris-like in her ability to just sing the absolute piss out of anything. But the writing might be her absolute strength even. She’s got Jim Harris and Denis Johnson in her heart and soul I reckon. And when she needs to she cuts right to the heart of the matter, as on this album’s closer, I’d Die For You.
What Johnston had you couldn’t teach. How he arrived at it is a price too steep for anyone to want to pay. And Tweedy’s ability here, to walk the straightest of lines and stay in support, is hugely admirable. This is a must for fans to here. And a fitting finale.
Lana Del Rey, Norman Fucking Rockwell!:
Is this my Mea culpa as review? Well, okay…if it needs to be, or reads as if it is, then that’s fine with me. All I wanted to say here is that one of my favourite things has just happened: I not only found a great new album – it happens to have come from a musical talent I had previously ignored/written off. That’s a profound experience when it happens. When you open yourself up to the beauty of the music and the full we-always-told-you-so rage of the fans. Thanks for catching up, they’ll laugh. You’re not actually wanted in our gang. That’s also fine. I reckon Norman Fucking Rockwell is its own reward. The Next Best American Record, Lana Del Rey sings and says here. On one of the best American records I’ve heard in a while. That’s the reward right there.
This is masterclass stuff. An album to curl up with. An album that’ll sweep you off your feet, that’ll make the world seem a little better for just an hour or so.
The lost-deep-in-dance vibe does eventually arrive, as with the closer, I Need Another. By the time that arrives you’ll likely need another spin of this very fine record from this very fine producer.
Virtual Shadow Ensemble, KEEP YOUR DISTANCE!:
There’s no gimmick involved – this is a showcase for what creative minds and hearts can make. Virtual Shadow Ensemble has created something very deep and profound here. In just 26 minutes they guide us through centuries.
And what I loved most about this was just as I realised, about two-thirds of the way through, that it was – in some way – the American Prayer of its time, that Jim Morrison spoken-word recording that was assembled a few years after his death was so crucial to many of us even if it was nonsense, Del Rey namechecks Jim. Reduces his legacy to rubble. Points out that he was a doggerel master. Leaves him hanging there at the end of a poem (Tess DiPietro) as basically a laughing stock. I loved that. And think the comparison – that Violet is the American Prayer of this age – is still largely relevant. On point even.
Like Billie Holiday or Karen Carpenter or Emmylou Harris, Aoife has a voice to save you. To take you away. To make you feel less pressured in this cruel, strange world.
Clint Mansell and Clint Walsh, Berlin:
Mansell’s been one of my favourite film composers across the last two decades. The best of his work defies works and categorisation. It’s simply stunning. The best of what’s on offer here comes close to that as well.
Frisell could release a new album every two months and I’d be there in the queue to hear it as soon as possible. But certainly Valentine has him both large-and-in-charge and subtly simmering. That he’s so effortlessly in control of both functions, and that you can only ever feel the switch rather than see and hear it as some telegraphed manoeuvre remains the wizard-proof of his magic; remains the best sort of mystery.
Emma Swift has not only knocked it out of the park with her vocal performance. She’s been the lighting director – directing a special lightening for these versions in fact.
I listen to this and marvel. Yes, the songs were there. They were always there. But an actor can but stand on their mark. The right light needs to shine to make it all feel worthwhile. Blonde On The Tracks will have its own worth for some while.
This is everything I hoped it might be. And more – just for existing.
Omega is a simply stunning set of brave, bold new jazz tunes from some of the best players working today. There’s a palpable political energy to this and there just also happens to be some utterly mesmeric, exquisite playing. Do give it many spins.
This is like the best-ever campfire set of songs. Intimate and lovely. The Parkingtons move between stringed instruments to keep the fire of these songs stoked and their harmonies sit just perfectly while Donelly’s voice remains a joy. She caresses these songs. Looks after them. Takes care of them. They once – and probably for many years in several ways – took care of her, looked after her. This album is an exquisite return-favour.
This is after all a continuation of one of the all-time great U-turns. Driving back down the highway of song Callahan now seems to be waving and smiling and freely picking up hitchhikers where once he was smoking and drinking at the wheel, giving the finger to the many that never deserved it and reserving the biggest one for himself in the rear-view mirror.
And to me it’s a career-best. Up there, instantly, with Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi. And with some traces of the places they’ve flitted in and around across the last decade and a half. What a weird, and wonderful joyride that was. Joy is hard to find now but the ride is not quite done. I’m thankful to have them still at the wheel.
And both versions of the songs and both albums still shine through for me. It feels like a blanket, a shield, a comfort. Warm reminder. Safely held.
This is a gem of an EP – full flavour in half the time. And just another wee missive from one of the towering giants of guitar; this one almost a message in a bottle. But then, in the truly commercial sense, that’s what they’ve always been. We’re so lucky. He’s so great.
This is a brilliant, vital set of songs from a just slick-enough unit. I’m way more into this than I ever might have dreamed.
It all makes for a perfect and welcome collaboration. And Mixing Colours – released early in 2020 – found its place on my stereo, its music draping itself around the walls in the rooms of my house almost immediately. It didn’t know there was unease in the world when it was birthed but it’s come to be one of the finest soundtracks for the pandemic world.
Getting Sober has such warmth and heart to it. This is Darren’s finest set of recordings. And you need to hear it.
I’m so happy to have Phantom Dots – it’s like an old friend sent a lovely long email detailing that they were happy and sane and still the same. And I’m reading it and re-reading it. Over and again.
Diana Krall, This Dream of You:
I’ve read plenty of reviews calling this album a disappointment. I don’t hear that at all. I hear her at or near her very best. And the songs here are utterly gorgeous, wise selections and perfect versions of them.
Mould never seemed to ever go off his game. And if he did – and that would be nit picking – his last decade has just been so fucking solid. Blue Hearts just pops. Big time.
Loveless has been doing good work well before this. But right now she’s released her finest album and it’s a record I’m instantly putting near the very top of my list of 2020’s best things that have happened.
This is the sort of music that feels like an eternal gift. You sit and wonder how musicians, artists, creative people, can know the right chord to strike, and how long to hold it and where to aim it and how it will hit and help and never hurt. And you wonder what it takes from them in giving this gift. I hope the toll isn’t too large at all. Julianna Barwick has made an album of 2020. An album for 2020. An album no doubt about 2020. But I know – already it’s one for all time as well.
This is lovely, contemplative stuff. It’s been one of my favourite to play over and again this year. So hugely recommended. Gorgeous interplay.
I’m loving this record. It’s been one of my slow-burn favourites of 2020. A strange year calls for mercurial music. Reb’s made some of her best work here. We’re lucky to have this. It’s soul music, heart music and head music all in one. It’s a special record from a special musical talent.
The Bobby Lees, Skin Suit:
I know I’ve just found my feel good hit for this summer.
This is both timely reminder and perfect intro-point. If you’ve only ever heard the name and/or some of the hits dive into this exquisite performance. The great thing about this newly discovered gem is if you’re already a fan you’re going to have to hear this too. It’s so, so good.
Inappropriate, is a tough and hilarious comedy hour that is jam-packed with laughs but really changes the things that are funny in this world. Hill does not shy from being self-effacing. She doesn’t flinch in exposing the toxic and frankly stupid things men say – nor from presenting herself as the butt of some of the jokes. It’s a masterclass in fact.
I think it’s a gem of a record. One for first-timers as much as the already on-board. Simply great jazz playing here. Made all the more interesting by its recent discovery.
It’s a happy collision of the need to knock something out quickly and the mega talents of all involved. It’s a brisk fun-ride through some modern rockabilly stompers. It’s deceptively simple in fact.
People say they aren’t really hip-hop. And I say neither am I. People say they’re just privileged white boys. And I say, dur! Same!
This is fun. And really beautifully played throughout. All three players are so good here – together and alone – but it’s the drummer’s 80th. It’s his party. And he brings with him the music that he helped to first usher into the world. The music that made him. And continues to define his perfect touch.
I’m grateful for all that he has given of himself to – and through – music across the last two decades. I always look forward to more. But this collection is a great one-stop; the perfect introduction for the person in your life that is not already listening to the very best Rhian has offered. And a stopgap collection until the next new piece arrives. It is, in summary, a sublime snapshot of some of the best he has had to offer. A gift that keeps on giving.
Morricone (R.I.P.) was the greatest film composer of all time and his work continues on in perpetuity – new versions of familiar favourites were arriving each month in the final years of his life. But there’ll be dozens of tributes across this year and next. HAUSER’s small offering here is beautiful. Perfect. A reminder of the cinema magic the Maestro created. And this would serve well as a starter-kit – if, god forbid, there’s someone in your life that doesn’t see – or has not yet heard – the fuss then you could do far worse than start here. This – because of the source material – is utterly sublime.
This is thrilling and interesting and if it’s not both then it’s always one of those things at the very least. Which is the best that you can ask for with any music, jazz or otherwise. I’ve come to care about Kid A more for what it enabled than what it is. And here it continues to be a gift and its continuance forever giving.
Songs From Home is such a comfort. From such a great player. This is one of my new favourites for this year. And no doubt on from here. Wherever we get to next, and if we make it, I’ll be taking a copy of Songs From Home with me for as long as I can carry it.
Oneohtrix Point Never, Magic Oneohtrix Point Never:
There’s something so bewilderingly calming about how Daniel Lopatin constructs and creates his music. That, then, in the end is the Oneohtrix Point Never magic.
Four to the floor with the best snare sound in rock, blues-drenched guitar solos that have nothing maudlin or sorrowful about them and just a pack of fist-pumping anthems, lined up and waiting for a stadium that now might never answer their call. That’s all it is and all it ever was and I fucking love it – and the band – for that.
It’s fucking stunning.
This is a slight album – six songs, 30+ minutes, and a covers-project of course. But I feel like this is a significant return from Lambchop. I’m very happy to have and hear this.
Harper shows here a wonderful musical empathy consistent with the best modern film composers. Someone give him that gig. He’s done enough here to show he might be on the cusp of a major career-pivot. Winter Is For Lovers is beautiful. And I never thought I’d say that about a Ben Harper album. There.
No one ever sang anything quite as she did.
She’s a cartoon character. Totally. But I reckon she can spit lines. Really good, potent, funny ones. And I’m here for that.
I love this album – as I’ve loved many Theo Parrish records and EPs previously. But Waddaji seems to go deeper towards funk (thanks to Amp Fiddler sitting in) and enjoys itself more in the summer-daze jazzy moments (Hennyweed Buckdance). There’s something for everyone here but this never sounds like it isn’t all from the one musical mind. I don’t know if this is one of Parrish’s best – it probably is – but it’s certainly one of my favourites.
There are far too many posthumous Jimi Hendrix releases. In a sea of so many extra live albums and studio outtakes Live in Maui is actually a great buzz. It’s yet another reminder, 50 years on from his passing, that we were blessed to even have him come and visit us on this earth for as long as he did.
Somewhere there’s a summer holiday where people are poolside, books are being read, daytime naps are encouraged and the stereo is always playing Khruangbin. And I want to go to there!
Master players offering up the very best versions of themselves – three of the best bandleaders, composers and players all combining here for something that is exactly as stunning as anyone could hope.
One of the year’s absolute very best. A musical epiphany.
I think what I love most about James, outside of the absolute sincerity, the velvet slow-burn fire of his voice, is the way he so subtly integrates moments of blues and gospel feel (Miss Me When I’m Gone), of arena-pop balladry (Saint James) and after-hours soul-groove (Take Me Home) to make a sound that is all his own. It isn’t ever jazz but you know he can be as jazzy as he needs to be, it’s not quite pure funk ever but you know he can channel that. It’s just classy. And he remains a class act.
Ghosts V: Together is weirdly lovely, it’s comforting in its eeriness, it’s familiar and yet it arrives when we are questioning many things. Also, all this review really wants to say is that this is fucking good.
This is the business card. You hand this out to hook others in. It should work. Marling is a legend in the making.
It’s a subtle snapshot of what the band does best. But also it’s just a fun set of songs to kick back with; to have on in any state, at any time. A brilliant summer compilation awaits.
M. Ward, Think of Spring:
There’s nothing to not love here. This is my new favourite album of 2020. Songs I’ve loved for years in so many versions, not just Billie’s – I’m talking But Beautiful, I’m A Fool To Want You, I’ll Be Around and You Don’t Know What Love Is – suddenly feel brand new again. Like when they stopped me in my tracks the first, second and third times that I heard them. They’ve been part of my life’s journey for so many years. I’m suddenly given a new way to look at them, to listen to them and understand them.
I’m doing okay, but not very well” Pernice sings. As Manilow wrote it. What a perfect sentiment for the privileged classes bemoaning 2020’s mild disruptions. “No crisis arises/My life goes along as it should/It’s all very nice, but not very good”. Some miserable sods are about to get fucking seen right here! Ready To Take A Chance Again is rendered harrowing-af by Pernice and his gently plucked guitar. Could we not believe Manilow singing about there being someone else who cares when he was more Liberace than Tim Buckley?
So many questions. I’m not saying Joe solves as many as he raises but what he does do here is serve up some great songs and he does them in the way he can – which is to strip all artifice and find the art. So I’m loving this. Time seemed to give Mandy a second change already– placement in a couple of movies, some punked-up pisstake covers too. But Pernice picking out just a corner-crust of its melody and plaintively singing the song as if torn from a page of his own autobiography is something truly special. I’m really here for Looks Like We Made It and the title track and Tryin’ To Get The Feeling Again. Big songs made small. Over the top tunes rendered lovely, earnest. This will baffle some listeners maybe more than the originals ever did. I like that aspect too.
They’re a unique marvel.
Brian Eno was my most listened to artist in 2020, Spotify tells me. Mostly that was the ambient albums and of course that lovely new collaboration with his brother Roger. And it was some of his angrier, art-punk too. But it was also this. This wonderful compilation of thoughtful film pieces – Ship In A Bottle from The Lovely Bones, Blood Red from BBC Arena’s doco on Francis Bacon, the glorious Prophecy Theme from Dune – I’m thinking always of both the music and the movies when I listen to these pieces in this order and in this way. I’m thinking always of the enormity of Eno’s contribution. The deceptive simplicity of his conceptualisation. Film Music 1976 – 2020 was worth waiting for. It’s been building my whole life; that’s the timespan that he’s actually been building these pieces in. It’s exquisite. Subtly moving. It’s up there with Morricone in terms of Happy Place music for me.
There are loads of album reviews from 2020 that I didn’t’ feature here – some of them are solid raves as well, but these are the albums that I really loved and also managed to write a few words about. Plenty here. I tried to listen widely. Hopefully there’s something in here for you. Or for you to recommend to someone you know. Strange year, 2020. But don’t ever believe or let anyone tell you that there wasn’t any good music.
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