With 2020 shaping up as one of the strangest years in a generation, here’s to filling in the gaps with 31 albums that have flown under the radar.
Albums. There’s just so many of them. And good ones, too.
Quite simply, there is an excuse if some nuggets of gold pass us by; we just can’t keep up.
Piecing together our monthly Albums Club is hard enough, as most writers could have as many as three albums they wish to cover every month. There’s not only the time to listen to new music but for us, it’s time to write about it, too.
With these factors at play and the backlog becomes somewhat of a burden.
So, with this in mind, we thought it was best to fill in the gaps and give recognition to those albums produced by artists who have’t yet featured on these pages in 2020, whether it be through one of our albums clubs or a feature article.
Above all, though, we very much hope this is a chance for you to discover a new found love. Because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Discovering new music?
While we all share a degree of sympathy for artists at grassroots level, in truth given the current financial landscape in the arts, many of those artists have day jobs to fund their existence with music explored primarily as a labour of love.
Not all the time, of course, but this is the case in a lot of instances.
Many of the artists featuring below have, at some point or another, existed on the back of the art in which they create. Yes, some of them have – for the want of a better term – made a career out of music. It’s their primary source of income.
With the financial decay enveloping the arts all across the world, it’s our role as music writers to project what we love and hopefully these desires resonate with those who are willing to give new music a chance.
Ultimately, that’s what features like this are all about.
So, with that we say discovering. And before you ask. Why not 20, 30, or 35? Why 31?
Well, that’s the great thing about art – there’s always room for one more.
Undoubtedly, there are many more new albums that have slipped the net, it’s always going to be like that.
It’s the reason we keep coming back for more.
Sarah Mary Chadwick: Please Daddy
New Zealand born Melbourne-based Sarah Mary Chadwick parted with five releases last decade, not including two B-sides of odds and ends oeuvres.
Following from last year’s The Queen Who Stole the Sky, the blinding run of form continues with Please Daddy – a gloomy tale of death that gushes with grief and anxiety for those of us who get left behind.
Chadwick finds a space between singing and parting with her morose, and sometimes dark humoured, diatribes in a spoken-word fashion. It’s a haven she occupies with ease, as fleeting, sparse instrumentation floats and disappears with ephemeral grace.
Throughout there are shades of Dirty Three and Low.
Okay, so what the fuck is this?
Unground veteran Chicago rapper, Serengeti, and Los Angeles producer, Kenny Segal, ‘collab’ to piece together one of the finest representation of hip-hop committed to tape in a long time with Ajai – an album inspired by consumerism and designer clobber that is as rare as rocking horse shit.
The album is split between two characters. First there’s the album’s namesake, Ajai, an Indian man who lives for exclusive drops and merchandise collaborations and goes to absurd lengths to procure his desired products.
Those well versed in Serengeti‘s body-of-work will be familiar with the album’s second character, Kenny Dennis, a semi-retired white rapper who has his own demons and equally astounding yarns to spin.
And that’s where we’ll leave it, because this story needs no spoilers. This utterly absurd and equally thrilling tale simply needs to be heard to be believed.
So what the fuck is this? It’s the best hip-hop album made in this decade and in fact, over the last couple of years.
Wrekmeister Harmonies: We Love to Look at the Carnage
Led by J.R. Robinson, Chicago-based Wrekmeister Harmonies have been making a raw hybrid of chamber-doom for a long time now.
With their latest long-player, We Love to Look at the Carnage, it may just been the project’s darkest and all encompassing effort yet.
Notwithstanding the immeasurable morose themes of death and the existential burdens which follow losing those closest to you, Robinson orchestrates a rich brooding framework of surly strings and drawn out drones that are eerily quiet and elusive.
We Love to Look at the Carnage is a storm that casts long shadows, equating to one of the most cathartic listens one will experience this year.
Jeff Parker: Suite for Max Brown
Tortoise guitarist, Jeff Parker, returns with what was the first warning shot of 2020.
His latest album, Suite For Max Brown—dedicated to his late mother—bursts with far-reaching fusions of jazz and ambience. It’s an all-encompassing listen that can be consumed intensely with headphones or is equally as hitting in the tranquil milieus as background noise.
Fusion Swirl has a drumbeat beat so fucking good (probably the best of the year) that it features later on in the album during Go Away.
There’s plenty of that Tortoise noodling throughout Suite for Max Brown, which is accompanied by the spiritual essence of blues, early hip-hop and, of course, jazz.
An album enriched with multi-layered vistas of sound.
Six Organs of Admittance: Companion Rises
Ahh Ben Chasny. Arriving three years after the brilliant Burning the Threshold, with his Six Organs Of Admittance project, the fine run of form continues with Companion Rises. An album that feels like a journey where one emerges from the fog.
On Companion Rises, Chasny channels his early under-the-floor-boards lo-fi styles, intertwining these characteristics with his new found affection for hi-fi melody.
He’s always had an uncanny ability for heart-stopping melody but on the back of Burning the Threshold and his New Bums project with Skygreen Leopards‘ Donovan Quinn, Chasny has introduced it more and more with Six Organs Of Admittance.
Chasny has always had a knack for gorgeous arrangements and with Companion Rises he’s carved out some of his best.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a better folk record all year.
Hamilton Leithauser: The Loves of Your Life
Glassnote Music LLC
The Walkmen main man returns with his third release post-Walkmen and second solo album in The Loves of Your Life.
It’s a family affair of sorts and a fun one at that, with Hamilton Leithauser‘s wife and child providing backing vocals throughout the self-produced album.
One never thought a song titled Garbage Man could bring a tear to the eye, but with Leithauser‘s husky-toned Rod Stewart-esque howls that can carry across an ocean, well, he manages to bring the house down.
Whilst not as immediate as his 2014 solo debut in Black Hours, The Loves of Your Life has a beautiful slow-burning quality.
Those who persist will be rewarded in spades.
Activity: Unmask Whoever
From the first note of In Motion, the opening number from Activity‘s Unmask Whoever, it’s evident that you have cottoned onto something spellbindingly wonderful.
To be frank, there’s not enough column inches here to talk about Unmask Whoever. An album with echoes of Sonic Youth‘s melodic endeavours and the whirring atmospherics reminiscent of Autolux.
This is no pastiche, though. Activity provide their own spirit and swagger, conjuring up a haunting reverb, seething synth and syncopated rhythms.
With Unmask Whoever, the New York-based four-piece have produced an album that explodes with a unique dynamism. It’s one of the finest debut releases for quite some time and head and shoulders the greatest debut this year.
Nothing will beat it.
Rebecca Foon: Waxing Moon
Canadian cellist, Rebecca Foon (Esmerine, Saltland, A Silver Mt. Zion, Set Fire to Flames, Hrsta), returns with one of her most influential releases yet with Waxing Moon.
On Waxing Moon, Foon carves out slow methodical hymnal pieces that ooze from the vaults. If anything, it’s music tailor-made for churches. If Jarboe perfected the art of slowcore then it would probably sound something like this.
While the compositions are tender, rich and sparse, there’s also influences of dream-pop that resonate on Waxing Moon. Look no further than Wide Open Eyes, which is the most accessible cut from the album and probably one of the most gorgeous tracks you’ll hold an ear to this year.
Moses Boyd: Dark Matter
London drummer and vital cog in the London jazz scene, Moses Boyd, unleashes one of the most captivating listens of 2020 so far with Dark Matter.
Boyd has scoured the corners of the earth for influences and what a world tour it is, throwing jazz, blues, soul, R&B and improv’ into a melting pot that brims with a homely aroma of the most palatable of sonic broths.
Dark Matter is a spatial adventure drawing inspiration from yesteryear and injecting a modern day verve and virtuosity. Is it a streamlined representation of Sun-Ra?
Who knows, but it sounds fresh and alive.
Brooke Bentham: Everyday Nothing
For all the hype surrounding Porridge Radio (fair enough, too), London singer-songwriter, Brooke Bentham, has released a modern day sleeper classic with her debut album, Everyday Nothing.
Produced by Billy Ryder-Jones, Bentham showcases an ability to squeeze every last drop from simplicity. The lyrics throughout Everyday Nothing are very inward with a contemplative sadness oozing from each track.
Then there’s Men I Don’t Know. Sonically, you probably won’t hear a better tune all year, all told.
Ryder-Jones must take great credit for his work behind the studio glass here. His ability to produce otherworldly sonic fairy dust is an underrated quality of his and on Everyday Nothing there’s an abundance of it.
So far in 2020, this is perhaps the most underrated release by a British singer-songwriter.
After a succession of EPs and mixes throughout the last ten years on the brilliant Illian Tape label (also home to the great Skee Mask), Italian producer, Andrea, begins the new decade with his debut album, Ritorno.
Andrea throws a fresh bucket of paint at the wall with Ritorno, an album designed for the large rooms and towering sound systems of club land. There’s fluttering ambience, crushing break beat and skinny techno. It’s a radiating journey through the most technical and far-reaching aspects of electronic music.
It’s been quite the year so far for electronic music and with Ritorna, Andrea is perhaps the shining beacon of all things beats, thus far.
The Necks: Three
Northern Spy Records
Legendary Australian improv’ jazz trio, The Necks, unleash their twenty-first album in what is a three track sixty-sixty minute voyage of textural splendour.
The vast and visceral passage of Three starts with the weightless percussive sprawl of Bloom. Twenty-two minutes of something raging with a moody gale-force intensity.
The gentle rattling and luminous soundscapes of Lovelock follows – a composition dedicated to former Celibate Rifles and football tragic, Damien Lovelock, who sadly past away last August.
Then there’s the seductive offering in Further. Every brilliant album needs to finish with a track that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and with Further The Necks are only too willing to dispense. A mysterious dreamscape finale designed for quiet spaces and lonely nights.
Three comprises of tracks that further illuminate the wide array of sounds The Necks have mastered since their inception in 1989.
A band that is truly not for this word.
Algiers: There Is No Year
After the jagged visceral offerings of 2017’s The Underside of Power, the best was still yet to come for Algiers and with There Is No Year, it feels like that moment is here.
With politics and the malaise-riddled world still firmly in the band’s ire, the polemic outrage Algiers spit is more venomous on There Is No Year.
They’ve always been an unbalanced listen but that’s the point. Algiers have never made it easy for their cult of followers and that’s exactly the way it should be. It’s art dripping with purity.
Franklin James Fisher hasn’t given a better performance yet. His vocals, soulful, primitive, melodic and bleeding with a subtle rage.
On There Is No Year the equilibrium of thematic and sonic ideals are perfect.
Ital Tek: Outland
After a somewhat meandering affair with 2018’s Bodied, Brighton producer Alan Myson (Ital Tek) is back with his latest effort in Outland.
Once immersed in the post-dubstep pantheon occupied by many other British producers of the mid ’00s, on Outland Ital Tek takes yet another sonic leap, flexing the muscles with brawny beats and twitchy sub-bass intended to grapple the mind and usher you onto the dance floor.
Ital Tek never makes the same record twice and here wavering melodic shards of sound are best described as IDM circa 2020. An artist constantly exploration new avenues within the frameworks of experimental music, making Ital Tek‘s body of work some journey.
Needless to say, Outland is a fine addition.
Envy: The Fallen Crimson
Tokyo veterans, Envy, return with a new line-up and an equally re-invigorated sound with their latest album, The Fallen Crimson.
Here, Envy cherry-pick from emo, metal, punk and hardcore to concoct a sprawling unique drama that has been unmatched so far in 2020. Striking a lovely balance between aggression and tenderness, Envy‘s songs glide through blue skies one minute, only to crash into a mountain the next.
Envy have always focused on extremes, which has always made them an intriguing proposition. The Fallen Crimson is no different, but where previous releases may have suffered from peaks and troughs the same can’t be said here.
It’s one of their finest releases yet.
Gold Cage: Social Crutch
There have been several dazzling debut albums released this year (some featuring in this column) and you can add Gold Cage‘s Social Crutch to the esteemed list.
The debut full-length from the Los Angeles three-piece (singer/bassist Mony Katz, singer/guitarist Cole Devine, and drummer Sage Ross) brims with high-grade song craft from dreamy guitar-scapes and crossover vocals that sink deep into the pores and flow effortlessly through your bloodstream.
The tempos aren’t a world away from the earlier recordings Low gave us in the ’90s, but with Social Crutch, Gold Cage enmesh these sensibilities with spacious dream-pop creating a glacial atmosphere of sound that is assured and destined to stay with you for a long time.
Shabaka and The Ancestors: We Are Sent Here By History
An Impulse! Records
Sons Of Kemet and The Comet Is Coming‘s Shabaka Hutchings teams up with South African-based band, The Ancestors, in his latest dose of jazz futurism with We Are Sent Here By History.
Although still immersed in the psychedelic sprawls of The Comet Is Coming and the raw freak-outs of Sons of Kemet, Shabaka and The Ancestors‘ main focus is a series of impassioned sonic poetry amid shuddering rhythm sections and hypnotic high-octane musicianship. Poet, Siyabonga Mthembu is very much at the heart of this sonic rumble.
Mthembu‘s musings explore the ideas of a collapsing system, rebuilding it and re-writing the narrative on our own terms. It’s a prescient snapshot of these times and with a global pandemic still rife, there will be no better time to adopt such principles.
TORRES: Silver Tongue
TORRES (Mackenzie Scott) returns with her latest and self-produced fourth album, Silver Tongue – her first for Merge Records.
TORRES has also written blindingly brilliant songs, but this level of intensity hasn’t always been maintained throughout her records. In some ways one could argue that Scott is the victim of success.
Not with Silver Tongue, however. Scott finds a haunting poise, unleashing her most honest record yet with an ethereal backdrop of instrumentation that swirls and is instantly engaging.
There are no misses here, undoubtedly all hits and clocking in at thirty-six minutes, Scott has crafted a gnarly, moody album brimming with raw emotion.
A punkier version of Lana Del Rey? We’ll let you be the judge. In any case, Silver Tongue is TORRES‘ finest release to date.
Craven Faults: Erratics & Unconformities
The Leaf Label
Yorkshire-based producer, Craven Faults, presents his latest explorations with debut long-player, Erratics & Unconformities.
Inspired by jaunts across post-industrial Yorkshire, Erratics & Unconformities is a methodical expedition, filled with atmospheric modular synths and subtle tinges of rural psychadelia underpinned by glistening drones and shadowy nightscapes.
You won’t find a better beat all year than on opening track, Vacca Wall.
Clocking in at over an hour, the album’s production is immense, coercing you into a web that has been woven with intricate detail. If anything, Erratics & Unconformities feels like the perfect companion on an eerie winter night driving across the Pennines.
Walter Martin: The World at Night
While his Walkmen counterpart in Hamilton Leithauser may gain most of the plaudits in 2020, don’t underestimate the impact of Walter Martin‘s latest long-player, The World at Night.
Martin‘s story telling holds no doubts and it’s easy to see why, along with being a musician, he writes television commercials. His mental nimbleness for wordplay and yarn spinning is achingly beautiful (look no further than The Solider).
While aesthetically, it’s not a world away from Leithauser‘s latest album, ironically, the pair of albums are a good foil for one another.
Those who like to indulge in audio books, ditch them for forty minutes – The World at Night and Walter Martin have this well and truly covered.
Johanna Warren: Chaotic Good
Wax Nine Records
Portland-based Johanna Warren makes a much welcomed return, following-up from 2016’s Gemini with her finest album yet in Chaotic Good.
Warren tells stories through a frighteningly dark lens, with her characters striking similar resemblances to that we were used to hearing from Elliott Smith. In fact, the parallels are quite scary.
If Grouper‘s Liz Harris ever wanted to partake in conventional song writing then she probably would sound something like this. Lyrically, though, Warren stands on her own.
A truly inspiring wordsmith in her own right and as singer-songwriters go in 2020, there won’t be too many better albums than Chaotic Good.
Ratboys: Printer’s Devil
They’ve been described as post-country (what the fuck is that?), however Chicago’s Ratboys provide a poignant blend of power-pop with a 90’s homage college-rock swing.
The quartet, (Julia Steiner – vocals/guitars, Dave Sagan – guitars, Sean Neumann – bass and Marcus Nuccio drums) return with their third album and easily their best yet in Printer’s Devil.
Subtle nods to Kristin Hersh and Throwing Muses can be heard with melodies that are syrup-sweet and hooks that hit you in the heart.
Printer’s Devil comprises of tracks that serve well as highway journey companions that make you smile incessantly.
Fans of Speedy Ortiz? Here’s to a new poison.
Melenas: Dias Raros
Trouble In Mind
Following their 2017 eponymous debut, Pamplona, Spain’s Melenas bring us a summer time gem in Dias Raros – their first album on the Trouble In Mind label.
On Dias Raros, Melenas unleash an inoffensive brand of psych-pop with a charming Spanish flavour.
The back end of the album is the strongest point, but that’s by no means discounting its first half. It’s an all-purpose album that could either be consumed by watching the break of day or being a companion for a sunset serenade.
There’s a striking blend of psych and dream-pop that forms the patchwork of Dias Raros.
There’s a nonchalance and honesty to Melenas‘ music and quite often that’s when the best albums are produced.
Triple Crown Records
Having released two EPs midway through the last decade, Michigan four-piece, Dogleg (Alex Stoitsiadis – vocals/guitars, Parker Grissom – guitars, Chase Macinski – bass, Jacob Hanlon – drums) arrive with their stunning debut, Melee.
Bathing in 90’s post-hardcore reverence, Melee, quite frankly, blows away the competition. I mean, any album that starts with a track named Kawasaki Backflip can’t be anything other than awe-inspiring.
And Melee continues the trend, with white-knuckled bangers jam-packed with pummelling choruses and riffs-to-sky euphoria. It’s not hysterical or dramatic. The fault-line fury projected through each instrument cuts with raw vigour and verve.
Guitars might be a dirty word these days, but Dogleg give the middle-finger salute to such proclamations. This is outrage-to-the heavens delight akin to what Husker Dü achieved during the mid-80’s.
Fans of Cloud Nothings and Metz take note. You’ve just found your new favourite band.
Shabazz Palaces: The Don of Diamond Dreams
Shabazz Palaces are to hip-hop what Low are to rock ‘n’ roll.
Vendors of a futuristic brand of hip-hop expanding on the building blocks of ’80s conscious rap, The Don of Diamond Dreams is Shabazz Palaces at their fiercest.
Aesthetically, The Don of Diamond Dreams bursts with spatial inflections of jazz and foggy synths that create a sensual ambience. The cheeky ironic digs at their contemporaries still remain and are in fact better than ever, growing the conscious of this project and expelling a new found wisdom.
Hip-hop to have candle light dinners to? I honestly couldn’t think of a better soundtrack, but in saying that, the best results are engaging with The Don of Diamond Dreams with a set of headphones.
The subtleties on this album are what make it.
Bill Fay: Countless Branches
English song-smith, Bill Fay, has experienced his most fruitful period as a recording artists, releasing three albums over the past eight years, adding to the other trio of albums he released prior to that.
With Countless Branches, Faye‘s sterling run of form continues, with ten tracks that are beautifully sculptured and not outstaying their welcome, with the album clocking in at just over the half an hour mark, noting including the seven bonus tracks of course.
His lyrics have always been close to the bone and here Fay‘s political scope has never cut deeper, particularly with opening track, In Human Hands.
Fragile beauty has always been a world that Fay has revelled in and on Countless Branches, he continues to refine and tug at the heartstrings of his listeners.
Despite the uncertain times, a world with new Bill Fay music always feels like a better one.
Deerhoof: Future Teenage Cave Artists
Joyful Noise Recordings
Listening to Deerhoof is like trying to locate pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that are scattered all across the room. For me, they’ve always had a tough time translating their ridiculous wild live performances to tape but on Future Teenage Cave Artists it doesn’t feel that way.
Here, the weirdness seems balanced. Like an organised chaos which you couldn’t say about any other Deerhoof album. It’s incoherently coherent. Worlds are finally aligned as Satomi Matsuzaki‘s syrupy melodies compliment Greg Saunier‘s thumping elastic rhythms.
With Future Teenage Cave Artists, Deerhoof have injected and mongreslised that 70s weird folk phase with a sinister vigour.
And the result is a band that has never sound better.
Savage Mansion: Weird Country
Lost Map Records
Glasgow collective, the awesomely coined Savage Mansion, return with their second album, Weird Country – their follow-up to 2018’s debut, Revision Ballads. With Weird Country it feels like one of the finds of 2020, so far.
There’s nothing groundbreaking or genre-bending here. When the music is honest and the musicianship is rock-solid, there doesn’t need to be.
Dripping with gorgeous melodies and equally luscious arrangements – but with moments where the sound is cranked up, dancing between countrified jams and shredding indie-rockers – from front to back, Weird Country is a splendid journey.
Think of Pavement in slow motion with a bit of Wilco thrown in for good measure.
Weird Country contains a stellar batch of songs that have been drenched in the sun.
Land Trance: First Séance
Land Trance is the new collaboration between Liverpool-based musicians Andrew P.M Hunt (Outfit) and Benjamin D. Duvall (Ex-Easter Island Head, Whistling Arrow) and here they give us their brilliant debut album, First Séance.
Recorded in various locations, including a space overlooking Concert Square, First Séance is a pulsating affair, ignited by humid drones and quiet melodic ambience. The influences behind these recordings are far-reaching, spearheaded by the album’s epicentre that is Chilean Miners.
First Séance is a rapid journey, exploring every corner of the experimental music landscape. Fans of Fennesz and the swathe of artists under the Kranky label, this one is certainly for you.
Drive-By Truckers: The Unraveling
Like their 2016 album, American Flag, the themes of immigration, equality, and politics are once again the platform for the Drive-By Truckers on The Unraveling, with Trump-era America firmly in the band’s ire.
In tandem, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley bring to life the everyday pressures of the beleaguered working class through their own unique way of storytelling and – like always – are perfectly flanked by their trademark southern fried riff-a-rolla.
Drive-By Truckers have never made a bad album and with The Unraveling they don’t buck that trend.
Without question, they are simply one of the most powerful voices in rock music today.
Windy & Carl: Allegiance and Conviction
After an eight year absence, Dearborn, Michigan duo, Windy & Carl, return with Allegiance and Conviction – their thirteenth album.
Windy & Carl have always found created multilayered cinematic snapshots of sound, shrouded in glacial, luscious drones.
On Allegiance and Conviction, Windy Weber‘s spoken word narratives provide a fresh outlook for the duo. Alongside the swelling drones and melody, it works wonders.
The album’s six compositions are something to escape to. Some may suggest it’s the perfect isolation record and these musings aren’t far off the mark.
Stick on a set of headphones and enjoy the spatial landscapes in the world of Windy & Carl.