A little souvenir of a terrible year
(With apologies to the mighty The Sundays, here a few of the favorite things I’ve listened to, watched and read in this odd year)
Well what a year this has been. It’s been odd being cooped up for 3/4 of the year (but not as odd as the people doing all they can to keep the spread of Covid-19 not just going, but accelerating) and not going out to shows or movies and seeing friends but it has led to a prodigious amount of media consumption at home. It might not have been the best year in terms of the density of standout music, TV and movies but it’s been the best year to gorge on more of it than ever before. So here’s a bunch of stuff, if anyone cares, of my favorite things this year.
(There’s a Spotify playlist of the music here. As always thanks to the best music shop in the world, Piccadilly Records, for helping me discover the best new stuff.)
Normally it’s a top 10 but I’ve listened to too much stuff this year. So here’s my favorite 20 albums of 2020.
20. Georgia — Seeking Thrills
First album I bought this year. Played it to death. Smart, intelligence electronic pop music. Needs to be heard in a sweaty club (hopefully sometime soon…)
19. The Cool Greenhouse — The Cool Greenhouse
Came to this at the end of the year. A House meets The Fall. Wonderful.
18. Luke Abbott — Translate
Super intelligent, cinematic electronica.
17. Roisin Murphy — Roisin Machine
Exactly what I hoped from the lovechild of Roisin and Crooked Man. Really consistent disco record.
16. Suzanne Vallie — Love Lives Where Rules Die
The most gorgeous, widescreen breakup record. Fantastic songwriting and a killer voice.
15. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever — Sideways To New Italy
Proof that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The second album is more of the same from RBCF— great songs, jangly guitars. They are only two albums and an EP in but have yet to make a bad record
14. Silverbacks — Fad
Another great new Irish band. A slightly more experimental, post punk leaning cousin to Fontaines D.C.
13. Porridge Radio — Every Bad
Just a great record of off kilter pop songs with no filler. Gets better with every listen.
12. Bob Mould — Blue Hearts
If you know me, you know I love Bob. But this might be his best album in a decade, his most energetic and vital since the halcyon midpoint of Husker Du and certainly his most clearly political. If the election had gone wrong this was likely to be #1 and prescribed to be listened to every morning. Cannot wait to hear Mould, Narducy and Wurster blast this live.
11. Floodlights — From A View
This time, another great new Australian band. Sounds like Flying Nun’s greatest hits if they were being made today.
10. Doves — The Universal Want
So nervous about this comeback as the first two Doves records are two of my favorites of all time. This did not disappoint and is their best record since The Last Broadcast. More cinematic than ever.
9. Andrew Wasylyk — Fugitive Lights And Themes of Consolation
One of those leftfield electronic records that Piccadilly turned me on to. It’s a soundtrack to Eastern Scotland and sounds like the record John Barry or David Axelrod would make today.
8. Jehnny Beth — To Love Is To Live
Really ambitious record with a much broader sound than Savages. Wonderful co-production from the mighty Flood and Alan Moulder amongst others.
7. The Orielles — Disco Volador
Stereolab go disco via 1970s Italian cinema. That good.
6. Tim Burgess — I Love The New Sky
The new solo record from the man who kept many of us sane with his listening parties this year is his best yet. A brilliant set of very disparate songs that somehow hang together magically as an album (track listing is an undervalued art).
5. Sports Team — Deep Down Happy
It’s nothing new but boy is it well done. Indie pop is alive and well. ‘Here’s The Thing’ was one of 2020’s earworms. Feels like a greatest hits collection already which is no mean feat for a debut.
4. Fontaines D.C. — A Hero’s Death
The follow up to their fantastic debut released only 12 months earlier. And it’s somehow a better record with a much wider range of songwriting. A real grower.
3. Kelly Lee Owens — Inner Song
Dance music that makes you think as well as feel. Exponentially more ambitious than her debut both in sound and subject matter and all the better for it.
2. Sault — Untitled (Black Is)
The mysterious Sault released two albums this year and this is the better of two very good albums — it’s an almost perfect, and urgent, protest record. The sounds of gospel, jazz, soul and funk collide with the themes of injustice and systemic racism. Very much the soundtrack of 2020 (and sadly likely beyond).
1. Working Men’s Club — Working Men’s Club
This album is near the top of a lot of year end lists as it is a quite brilliant, vital record. Gets the top spot for me as it feels like it has been almost surgically designed for my taste due to its hybrid of New Order, electronica and post punk but somehow delivered in a way that is fresh sounding and has bags of attitude. Urgent and relentless and the record that keeps going back on the turntable. They are the new band that I’ve been the most excited about in ages. Syd Minsky-Sargeant is an amazing talent and Ross Orton’s production takes it to another level. Closing track ‘Angel’ is sublime.
(It’s also worth noting the huge and remarkable shift in sound (and lineup) that has been undertaken between last year’s version of WMC and this year’s. You sense Syd gets the axiom that ‘good enough is not enough’.)
New add this year to the lists as the Spotify-sation of music has led to more standalone EPs than singles. (These are very much in addition to the albums listed above and try not to include tracks that appear on them.)
10. Glok — Citadel EP
Andy Bell from RIDE’s electronica alter ego. Set of remixes of tracks from last year’s excellent ‘Dissident’ album, including a brilliant Weatherall remix of ‘Cloud Cover’.
9. Sinead O’Brien — Drowning In Blessings
The latest in a set of excellent EPs and singles from the Irish poet/musician. Smart and edgy as always but feels lime her most realized release to date.
8. Tomorrow Syndicate — Populous
Another fantastic single from the Polytechnic Youth label (along with Heavenly and Speedy Wunderground re-establishing the power of labels as curators)
7. Little Simz — Drop 6
Arguably better than ‘Gray Area’ which says a lot. Released out of nowhere at the start of the year. Her Mixcloud mix sessions have been a highlight of this year.
6. Pye Corner Audio — Where Things Are Hollow 2
Keeps getting better and better. Super intelligent, atmospheric electronica. The John Talabot remix is cracking.
5. Captain Mustache — Mentally Naked EP
‘Mentally Naked’ is one of the most fun songs of the year.
4. Skullcrusher — Skullcrusher
This year’s discovery — fantastic set of minimal alt-pop songs
3. Pale Blue — Breathe EP
‘I Walk Alone With Acid’ might be my favorite dance tracks of the year but the whole EP is great. A more minimal Factory Floor.
2. Lounge Society — Generation Game
From the excellent Speedy Wunderground label came this gem. Love the fact the track is cut in half on two sides of the 7" and somehow works better. Can’t wait for the album.
1. Andrew Weatherall— Pamela #1
Still can’t believe Andrew Weatherall passed away early this year. He left behind so much amazing music but this final release of his with long-time collaborator Nina Walsh on their new Pamela Records label was the best thing he’s made in ages.
Here’s the five I keep going back to:
5. Deutsche Elektronische Music 4
4. Nick Luscombe Presents Tokyo Dreaming
1. Late Night Tales: Khruangbin
As you’ll see later, I’ve been reading a load of music books this year which have led me to discover a lot of older artists that were off my radar. One recommendation from Jeff Barrett, the Heavenly Records founder, stood out: the remarkable ‘Any Way That You Want Me’ by Evie Sands. Absolutely gorgeous late night/early morning album.
So many good ones. Here are what I try to keep listening to, in no particular order:
My three favorite were all music based:
Focused on 1980 and the stories that defined the year in music: the deaths of Ian Curtis and Minnie Ripperton, the run of albums Grace Jones was on, etc. Just wonderful.
Ecstasy: The Battle of Rave
50% real life, 50% drama, the story of rave in the UK brilliantly told by the BBC
Transmissions: The Definitive Story of Joy Division and New Order
Maxine Peake narrates the story of two of the most important bands in my life. Great interviews, really well produced. Season One ends with Blue Monday. Cannot wait for Season Two.
Oh boy did we watch a lot of stuff this year. Here’s what is sticking at the end of the year.
Who knows if this might have changed if we were able to see them on the big screen but these are the ones that stood out watching at home.
7. Personal History of David Copperfield
6. White Riot
5. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
4. How To Stop A Recurring Dream
3. The Assistant
Slow burning brilliance about the systemic sexism of the workplace. As much about what is not seen and said as what is. Julia Garner is brilliant.
2. The Nest
An examination of family (I think) and as eerie as anything. Great performances from Carrie Coon and Jude Law. Beautifully directed by Sean Durkin and a stunning soundtrack by Richard Reed Parry.
Best Pixar film ever. Asks big questions. Layers of meaning. Want to keep rewatching. Absolutely magical.
There were some brilliant shows this year. Some of our favorites were:
Inside No 9
(How do they keep doing this series and making it better? The first episode of this year’s season set in a football referee’s changing room was jaw droppingly good and then it somehow kept getting better. Such ingenious, diverse storytelling)
(And when were lucky enough to see them the UK fix of Gogglebox, Grayson’s Art Club, The Salisbury Poisonings andThe Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty)
Reading more than ever but still not reading as much as I want to so there are some quite possibly glaring omissions from this list. I think I got my mix of fiction, non-fiction and ‘work’ books in a much better place although writing this suggests I was attracted to books that reminded me of ‘old life’ more than ever.
It’s also worth saying the new White Rabbit imprint has yet to release a duff book in its first year (just missing off the list were great books they published by Richard Russell, David Keenan and Annie Nightingale amongst others).
Anyway, the top 10:
10. Ramble by Adam Buxton
Very funny story of growing up in a very posh school in London and the formative years of his career
9. Sisters by Daisy Johnson
The best page turning psychological suspense thriller of the year.
8. Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener
The story of the not very unconscious bias of Silicon Valley.
7. Sing Backwards and Weep by Mark Lanegan
Unflinching memoir. Dark but there’s light — I think — at the end of it
6. The Glass Hotel by Emily St.John Mandel
Greed, guilt, loneliness and love. What a writer.
5, Summer by Ali Smith
The final book in her very timely Seasons quartet and maybe the best. Asks huge questions about what family really is and has the shadow of Covid at its heart. A remarkable series of books I’ll keep going back to.
4. Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
The fiction book that stayed with me. Incredibly timely with its themes of race, class and pandemics.
3. Fast Forward by Stephen Morris
The second volume of Stephen’s memoirs, this time focusing on the New Order years. Honest, revealing and very, very funny.
2. Believe In Magic: 30 Years of Heavenly Recordings by Robin Turner
A time capsule of some of the most brilliant music, events and people of the lat 30 years. Beautifully told stories and wonderfully designed full of memorabilia and photos.
1. Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan
I think I’ve given this book to more friends than any other. A wonderful story of what friendship really means, then and now
So there you have it. Be safe. Wear a mask. Think about your impact on others. Remember it’s chaos out there, so be kind.
“Fail we may, sail we must” — Andrew Weatherall (1963–2020)