Quietus Albums Of The Year 2020 (In Association With Norman Records)

These are our favourite albums of the last 12 months as voted for by Jennifer Lucy Allan, Bobby Barry, Aaron Bishop, Patrick Clarke, John Doran, Christian Eede, Noel Gardner, Fergal Kinney, Ella Kemp, Sean Kitching, Anthea Leyland, Peter Margasak, David McKenna, JR Moores, Luke Turner, Kez Whelan and Daryl Worthington. Illustration by Lisa Cradduck

How does the thing you love most survive a crisis? How can music, that force that has got you through a lifetime of personal neurosis, self-doubts, depressions, and impossible situations still retain its power against a situation that not only feels, but is, entirely beyond your control? This is something I’ve been thinking about in the days running up to writing this introduction to The Quietus’ favourite records of 2020. I’m sure I’m not alone in finding that the grim, unrelenting slog of coronavirus has had a profound impact on my relationship with music. Our situation over the past 12 months has been a combination of extreme emotions.

There’s been the surrealism of an unseen enemy causing national lockdowns, a pandemic dealt with in mind-boggling political ineptitude, even the visually bizarre sight of empty capital cities. Then of course the horror of mounting deaths, loved ones lost or severely incapacitated by long COVID. I doubt there is anyone reading this who hasn’t had a major life opportunity disrupted or destroyed by this cursed virus. Then the sheer mundanity of it, our horizons confined to, if we’re lucky, local streets, or just the walls of our own minds. The sheer volume of this situation has meant that culture has become slippery – who hasn’t read a page of a book and come to the end of it realising that they’ve not taken a word in, or sat in front of a film and had to constantly rewind to try and fill the gaps. The same has gone for albums – records have been loved for a moment, but then vanished into a forgetful black hole of anxiety.

Yet returning to the recorded output of 2020 has been a reminder that for all the distractions around us, this has been an astonishingly strong and diverse year for music. We’ll all have been listening out for different things in 2020, whether it’s records that engage directly and radically with the changes brought about by the Black Lives Matter movement, or confrontational sonics with which to armour the self against the idiocy of so much out there at the moment, or creativity from distant places to remind us of the positives of being part of a connected world, or simply sound in which to try and cleanse the mind of what is going on around us.

In 2020 of all years, a need for escapism is not to be sniffed at. All of these and more are to be found in this top year’s top 100. As we bring you this list we also have more positive news from tQHQ. For a while, it seemed as if the effective end of live music could put us into an existential crisis, with the collapse in ad revenues leading to the real possibility of having to dramatically scale back our operations. Thankfully, a grant from Arts Council England got us over the worst of the hump while also enabling us to set up a new subscriber system with the Steady platform.

We now have over 700 subscribers, which means we’re approaching the kind of stability we’ve only ever been able to dream of over the last 12 years, although we’re still some way off covering all of our costs. All of us at tQ would like to thank you to everyone who has signed up so far – it’s only thanks to your generosity that we’re going to be able to continue bringing you lists like this, and the editorial about all the artists in them, in the years to come. For anyone who’s not yet a subscriber, you can find out about all the perks you get by joining up here – so that’s exclusive essays, podcasts and specially commissioned new releases (a Sleaford Mods EP now, followed by a collaboration between JK Flesh and GNOD released for the winter solstice on 21st December). Subscribers can also listen to exclusive playlists of this very chart here. Sign up here and find all the content we’ve made thus far here.

And of course, when you’re reading through our albums of the year, if you can, do try and buy them, either via our friends at Norman Records or via the Bandcamp links where provided. As ever, most of our favourite music is made by artists who live hand-to-mouth outside of the mainstream, and they need your support. For now, thank you for reading, and we all at tQ hope you get some respite over the seasonal break and that better things might be in store for us all in 2021.
Luke Turner

This chart was voted for by Jennifer Lucy Allan, Bobby Barry, Aaron Bishop, Patrick Clarke, John Doran, Christian Eede, Noel Gardner, Fergal Kinney, Ella Kemp, Anthea Leyland, Peter Margasak, David McKenna, JR Moores, Luke Turner, Kez Whelan and Daryl Worthington

Pharaoh Overlord6Rocket Recordings

The unadulterated high-NRG synth finery of ‘Path Eternal’, which begins 6, is adulterated half a minute in by Aaron Turner’s vocals – thoroughly uncouth, ape-like grunts which evolve into a mildly studio-scrubbed version of his more familiar mode of delivery, essentially an amalgam of doom, death, black and industrial metal styles. ‘Without Song All Will Perish’ is illuminated by a fantastic synth riff which will, reasonably, attract comparisons to ABBA’s ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ but equally sounds like it could have been composed for some crack disco group’s string section circa the late ’70s.

Nyx NttAux Pieds De La NuitMelodic

Aidan Moffat has worn many hats over the years as lyricist/songwriter, collaborator and solo artist (mostly as L. Pierre), and here we see his composition rather than his writing foregrounded and developed. He’s given himself a broad palette here of samples, SFX, keyboards and objects, and it’s often difficult to hear which is which. And though the press release speaks of a clarity of production, actually it’s a lack of clarity which is perhaps this album’s greatest strength. Things clip and are saturated, often removing a known sound from its deserving context. The effect of this is to disorientate, to warp and unnerve.

Luminous BodiesNah Nah Nah Yeh Yeh YehBox

Opener ‘Sykes’ sounds like rock & roll as veritable apocalypse, and one that you can growl along to no less, while the planet drowns in a plague of locusts accompanied by a lung-collapsing deluge of disgusting riffs. Faster numbers like ‘Hey! You!’ and ‘The Lidless Eye’ are probably a hoot live, as long as you aren’t standing next to one of the violent psychopaths who are no doubt drawn to this group’s ugly aural shenanigans. On the stereo system at home, it’s the slow and lingering tracks like the grindsome closer ‘Gut Reaction’ that really creep into your soul and make you want to do revolting things.

Sun RaSwirlingStrut

No group in jazz history has embodied the communal spirit like the Arkestra. Most of its members have spent time living in the group’s residential headquarters in Philly’s Germantown neighbourhood – the Arkestra’s base for over four decades – and they’ve bought in to the band’s collective spirit, and their hardcore fans are the closest thing jazz has to Deadheads. In a way, this new album is a gift to the faithful and new adherents, beautifully conveying the vibe and orchestral depth of the Arkestra’s recent live shows.
96.

Potter PayperTraining Day 3Self-Released

This trilogy-completing mixtape marks the return of real road rap and sets the Barking-based rapper on a whole new career trajectory, having been released from prison only a few months prior. Debuting at number 3 in the UK’s albums chart, the achievement was bittersweet as he lost his grandmother during promotion for the project, which has only further motivated him to never go back to the life that made him who he is today, but to instead put those stories and lessons into his music.
95.

Magik Markers2020Drag City

Sometimes Magik Markers sound dead meaty. Elsewhere there’s a thinner and tinnier fragility. The ballads are dreamy while ensuring that the forbidden Twee Zone remains always a dot in the distance. The poppiest song has the roughest production. In each case it’s entirely possible that everything is about to fall apart at any given moment, and in the most glorious way imaginable. Nothing at all has been overthought. Basically if you took every Royal Trux song and mashed them all together, the resultant smug and scrappy mess wouldn’t equal one twentieth of the ragged glory of 2020 by Magik Markers. Magik Markers were my Royal Trux. And they still are.

WireMind HivePinkflag

Wire were always concerned with making music that “felt” of something: a band who could create strong if initially broad-brush impressions with their sound and message. On Mind Hive. there are gentle, rich and abrasive moments aplenty, and often in harness. The beautiful ‘Unrepentant’ brings Pink Floyd to mind, just before their music became unbearably stodgy and prim. The track’s long tail out is a glorious instrumental meandering coda that affirms the dreamy thoughtforms that make up the lyrics. By contrast, ‘Primed and Ready’ is a simple stomp driven by that chugging “Wire” beat,traversing some form of sonic path like a beautiful dinky toy propelled over a thick pile carpet, the light (cast by the chiming guitars) reflecting on its basic paintwork.

Aksak MaboulFiguresCrammed Discs

Totally pop, yet psychedelic enough to make one reconsider the ingestion of psychedelic drugs just to hear it in in such a state, replete with wonderful touches (such as elements of the systems music of Steve Reich or Philip Glass), Figures manages to contain elements from every phase of the band, whilst still having a contemporary edge. As in the very best attempts to merge disparate elements, the pop and avant elements perfectly compliment one another.

SatanToutes Ces HorreursThroatruiner

Satan have been going for ten years now, evolving from shrieking grindcore to a sound they call ‘possessed punk’ – a combo of full-throttle aggression, darkly chiming arpeggios and spidery lead lines. Toutes Ces Horreurs means ‘all these horrors’ if you want a further idea of what you’re letting yourself in for. ‘Confiture Pour Cochons’ is an unusual intro which blends a tribal folk sound with free-jazz sax and a spoken-word vocal. Then ‘La Guerre Lente’, with its surging chorus, arrives at a gallop, and the ‘Le Sang Du Poète’ hits at an even more blistering pace. ‘Triste Soeur’ fuses spiralling melodic sections with hypnotic riffing, while ‘Zone D’Inconfort’ clearly wraps hardcore punk in a black metal fog, veering into a blast beat spree midway through.

Haq123Evil Spirits Who Prowl About The World Seeking The Ruin Of SoulsSelf-Released

The premise of incredibly titled album opener ‘96% Warrior, 4% Barber’ is truly inspired and/or a direct appeal to my specific sense of humour: wobbly new age soundbaths, like Laraaji or someone, overlaid by encouraging phrases which turn out to be the motivational pablum shouted by (as I imagine to be the case here) parents on the touchlines of junior football matches. Which, on a release which also includes the lines, “I am a man of unclean lips and I live among people of unclean lips” and “Football, swingball, nerf, all the greats,” is but one of several highlights.

East ManProle Art ThreatPlanet Mu

Prole Art Threat, the second East Man album, is a showcase for a new crop of London grime MCs. Anthoney Hart detonates large, screwface bass drops and assembles mazy, minimalist rhythms while names including Darkos, Lyrical Strally and the brilliant Ny Ny chew your ear off. It’s a similar setup to Kevin Martin’s albums as The Bug, but more genre-focused, which is more than fine.

RegisHidden In This Is The Light That You MissDownwards

There is a certainty at play throughout Hidden In This Is The Light That You Miss, an absolute clarity of purpose. Each element seems in its right place, each moment feels considered without feeling overworked. It is, like the rest of O’Connor’s body of work, utterly contemporary and effortlessly relevant. Hidden doesn’t fall victim to the navel-gazing or rumination or over-reliance on past formulae that often plagues artists who’ve been in the game as long as O’Connor, but then, as far as new work is concerned, that’s never been his way.

NinesCrabs In A BucketWarner

Heralded as one of the UK’s finest rappers, if there was any indication needed as to the status of Nines in the rap game, as well as the anticipation behind his third studio album, Crabs In A Bucket, a quick look at Twitter’s timeline on the night before release day would’ve given you all the necessary evidence. The North West Londoner doesn’t saturate the market with content but such is the lyrical prowess of Nines that it seems, inadvertently or not, he’s set the bar for his features to reach even higher as the calibre of writing across the board is top tier. Acts such as Skrapz, Nafe Smallz, Roy Woods, Frosty and Tiggs da Author (among others) all put their best foot forward on Nines’ third album.

Jam CityPillowlandEarthly

Jam City’s second album, 2015’s Dream A Garden, was quite a shock to some fans of the formerly Night Slugs-affiliated DJ and producer when it arrived laden with his own vocals and a more overt use of guitars than heard on any of his previous more club-friendly material. Where that album’s political motivations were laid bare for all to see, its successor, Pillowland, finds the producer in more escapist territory. Tracks such as ‘They Eat The Young’ and ‘Sweetjoy’ see him channel stomping 70’s glam rock, while gorgeous, sprawling cuts such as ‘Cruel Joke’ and ‘Cherry House’ find a sweet spot between all-out pop balladry and the dayglo synths of ’80s soul and disco. It’s yet another mesmerising development for one of the ‘post-dubstep’ era’s most interesting figures.

Dale CornishThug AmbientSelf-Released

Yeah, sure, Dale Cornish’s latest is another excellent release in a catalogue full of excellent releases. But! There’s something else at play on Thug Ambient, his ode to “the reconstruction of club music, Nag Nag Nag, masculinity, Finland, and Vatican Shadow memes.” A good handful of the tracks here feel tighter, harder, more ready for the floor than they have in a bit, while all the things his fans have come to rely on – his cheeky sense of humour, a real mastery of space, Dale Cornish Brand (TM) claps and kicks – are very much present and accounted for.

PyrrhonAbscess TimeWILLOWTIP INC

Whilst their 2011 debut An Excellent Servant But A Terrible Master was cool, ever since 2014’s boundary pushing The Mother Of Virtues, Pyrrhon’s vivid, imaginative sound has fully transcended tech-death tropes and now seems to exist in its very own unique sphere amongst the wider metal spectrum. Sure, you can definitely hear elements of Obscura-era Gorguts skronk, Cephalic Carnage’s joyously anarchic approach to deathgrind and Human Remains levels of dizzying, hyperactive technicality in there, but nobody else really blends these influences together or creates a racket anywhere near as obtuse and idiosyncratic as Pyrrhon. That the wonky, relentless dirge of their new record’s opening title track recalls the beginning of Brutal Truth’s classic Need To Control feels very fitting, as if any contemporary band so whole-heartedly represents that album’s fearless, experimental spirit, it’s surely Pyrrhon.

Lucrecia DaltNo Era SólidaRVNG Intl.

Lucrecia Dalt’s background as a geotechnical engineer has greatly influenced her musical identity. Her 2018 album Anticlines, referring to a kind of geological formation, delved into properties of matter: glaciers moving and the alchemy of evaporating water. With No Era Sólida, she similarly brings together the sound of the earth with mechanised human interventions. ‘Coatlicue S.’ is a bleeping sonar, intermeshed with stones falling into an endless well. ‘Suprema’ also plays with an echo-effect, voices reverberating through the static of an excavation drill penetrating the strata.

Liv.eCouldn’t Wait To Tell You…In Real Life

The “You” referred to in the album’s title isn’t an external audience, but rather, Liv.e dedicates her debut to herself, using the twenty track run to indulge in the internal; learning from past mistakes, focusing on growth and trying to replace preoccupations with fleeting romance for longer lasting self love. Opening track ‘What’s The Real’ introduces us into her hazy sample-warped world, already in dialogue with herself, fictional characters and foreign species talking over one another, vying to occupy the same soundscape without undermining their contradictory desires. She draws out her delivery and layers her lyrics, shifting its pitch and evading harmony, asking herself, “Everybody’s got a love story, right?” Each voice has a different answer. “Well, not everybody,” says one in a whisper. “Yours must be a secret.”

Shit and ShineMalibu Liquor StoreRocket Recordings

There are moments of whimsical innocence on tracks like ‘Chervette’, with its jazzy flute and string arrangement. It could easily soundtrack a pleasant stroll in the park if it weren’t for Shit and Shine’s trademark digital debasement. Stuttering drums and needle-skip samples give the impression of a Steely Dan covers band made up of malfunctioning automatons. Album linchpin ‘Hillbilly Moonshine’ ramps up the dread again with ten-plus minutes of seedy motorik workout music, like a fever dream in which you’re jogging through the charred remains of skid row, chased by an unseen entity. Synths wobble, a dial tone beeps and faulty circuitry crackles and hisses. This is not the chainsaw guitar assault of August’s speaker-destroying Goat Yelling Like A Man but it’s no less unnerving.

The HomesickThe Big ExerciseSub Pop

It’s difficult to know where to start with The Big Exercise, such is its effervescence. One can simply revel in seemingly microscopic sleights of hand that imbue the record with a sum greater than its parts. There are gorgeous chord changes, such as on ‘Pawing’, where the bass hops along, lifting the achingly beautiful plucked guitar part in the bridge. Last December’s single, ‘I Celebrate My Fantasy’, has enough clever twists to fill a whole record. It’s so exciting to hear the clarinet and piano parts mirrored by the guitar lick that apes them, or be wooed by the clarinet’s reappearance, which signals the drop to the beautiful, almost religious refrain. Tracks like ‘Kaïn’ are full of tiny, precise workings that seem incongruous if highlighted but nevertheless fit together beautifully like the mechanisms of a watch.

LaylowTrinityDigital Mundo

Trinity is a concept album that follows Laylow, as protagonist, through a complex dance with a program called Trinity – a name borrowed from Carrie-Ann Moss’ character in The Matrix – which simulates (or stimulates) emotions. As well as being told through interludes, what’s striking about the story is the way it is echoed by the sounds on the album. The virtual, ‘digital’ world is reflected in extreme autotune tweaking, trap beats, luminous synths, and the glam stomp of ‘Megatron’ (an obvious nod to ‘Black Skinhead’) but also distortion and glitches – like the moment in ‘Dehors Dans La Nuit’ where it sounds like your headphone jack has popped half-way out of the socket.

GeldBeyond The FloorStatic Shock / Iron Lung

Geld’s second album dials down the psych tropes of 2018 debut LP Perfect Texture, but its Scando-Japano HC abandon is every bit as deranged and dangerous. Written and recorded on “pills, meth, booze, weed [and] DMT,” so says the sales spiel: if this is the case, this Melbourne foursome are the opposite of sloppy drunks, cabbaged stoners or too-gone tweakers, rather a destructive forward line dosed on black market medicine by a shadowy team doctor. Fully sick in-the-red guitar tone, sinister-but-groovy basslines, foaming provoked-animal vox from Al Smith, maybe some bestial black metal influence in there but it’s such a barrage yer just guessing really, and the memorable lyric “Pubs open in my mind.”

DatblyguCwm GwagleAnkstmusik

Datblygu’s complete disinterest in refining their approach – disappearing for nearly 20 years and returning even more scabrous and clanking than before – is heroic, but these songs are not slapped together. ‘A i Z’ slashes fizzy noise through spaghetti western electro, a flirtation with danceability later made flesh through the glorious motorhearted synth pop of ‘Cymryd Y Cyfan’. ‘Y Purdeb Noeth’ has cold wave keys that envelop like a shroud and ‘Bwrlwm Bro’ is a tumbling dubby post-punk piece that, by Datblygu’s standards, is practically prog in its complexity. Other songs are little more than piano or hand drums or harmonium over which the pair beckon you into their bizarro world.

Susan AlcornPedernalRelative Pitch

Pedal steel guitar virtuoso Susan Alcorn has been making music of lyric extravagance and spectral moodiness for decades, translating the instrumental fundamentals she learned from country music into improvised music — as well as the compositions of Astor Piazzolla and Olivier Messiaen. Finally, at age 67, she dropped her first album as a bandleader and it packs a lifetime of ideas within meticulously pitched arrangements that make the most of a spectacular band with guitarist Mary Halvorson, violinist Mark Feldman, bassist Mike Formanek, and drummer Ryan Sawyer. Some themes are jaunty, some exploratory, and others solemn, yet all of them evoke the splendour of rural and urban landscapes with a humanity that’s nothing short of breathtaking.

Memnon SaWorld SerpentHoly Mountain

World Serpent, the fourth album by Memnon Sa – the London producer Misha Hering – portends disaster. Its doomy, droning soundscapes are ambient music for the daubing of large pentangles in red on chilly marble floors. It’s an initiation ritual to an event that I would not want to attend. Or the event that we’re all, right now, attending? I listened to this for the first time on a Sunday, on my state-approved walk, and it was the first time during lockdown that music has felt entirely congruent to the low-level but ever present dread of the streets.

ArcaKiCK iXL

KiCK i is a head-spinning record, one in which pillars of absolute pop transcendence emerge from a kaleidoscopic and glitchy vortex of constantly shifting noise. It’s a chaotic, courageous and relentlessly forward-thinking album, one that finds Arca changing guise on every song. For all its boldness and experimentation, it’s also her most immediate and catchy album to date, and is at its very best when it dives headfirst into the irresistible, straight-up banger ‘KLK’, a collaboration with Rosalía. Taken as a whole, KiCK i presents Arca at both her most experimental and her most accessible, without compromising either extreme.


Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs PigsVisceralsRocket Recordings

For opener ‘Reducer’, the spotlight is on the cosmic lead guitar licks. ‘New Body’ grinds along antisocially like Swans or perhaps some kind of half-speed Jesus Lizard number. There’s a weird almost dubsteppy intermission with some spoken-word vocals involving an extended gastronomic metaphor. There’s maybe a thrash influence rearing its head elsewhere and some accessible growl-along choruses here and there. The crucial thing, however, is that the riffs are still heavier than Ray Winstone after a slap-up black pudding breakfast.

Dead MeatThe End Of Their World Is ComingSelf-released

Algiers’ There Is No Year (see elsewhere on this list) was an eerily prescient title for a record released in 2020, especially as their work has always engaged with the issues of racial and social injustice that have particularly come to the fore in the past months. Despite lockdown, the various members have been fiendishly busy with side-releases, of which this is a real highlight. Dead Meat is (mostly) Algiers’ Ryan Mahan, though bandmates Lee Tesche and Franklin James Fisher also feature. Released on a cassette that “chronicles a series of last rites rituals to the grotesque and decomposed corpse politic of the USA and its colonies,” this is a perfect blend of industrial marching songs, crazed sax skronk, and the martial turned to the cause of righteousness.

Harry PussySuperstarPalilalia

Spanning 15 songs on one 7″ by one of the greatest bands ever, these feral half-songs were recorded around 1993, and are all spikes and squalls and twangs – quick cuts between fury and space; groove and guts – totally life-affirming and completely fucking brilliant. Superstar includes a track called ‘Robert Ranks Reed (alphabetically)’, where Adris Hoyos screams and each Lou Reed album is given an A+ to C rating. The Blue Mask comes top. Essential.

Charli XCXhow i’m feeling nowAtlantic

Not only was how i’m feeling now produced and recorded entirely under quarantine by Charli XCX and her collaborators in just six weeks, she also let her fans in on every step of the process, live-streaming lyric-writing sessions, music video shoots and more. Having self-imposed a May 15 deadline for the album’s completion – which she only just made – in early April, she fleshed out the album night and day, barely giving herself any breaks. You might be forgiven for expecting how i’m feeling now to be a bit of a mess then, but instead it contains some of Charli’s finest bangers to date (‘anthems’, ‘pink diamond’), featuring the distinctive production of frequent collaborator A.G. Cook. Elsewhere, tracks like ‘forever’, ‘7 years’ and ‘enemy’ see Charli get to grips with her on-off relationship with her boyfriend that has been newly strengthened by the pair quarantining together.

Emma Ruth RundleMay Our Chambers Be FullSacred Bones

Lead single ‘Ancestral Recall’ delivers exactly what you’d expect from this pairing on paper. There are huge, emotive doom riffs complimented by Rundle’s soaring, majestic choruses and Thou vocalist Bryan Funck’s acerbic screech (which sounds notably more forceful and vitriolic here than it has recently). Tracks like ‘Out Of Existence’ combine the shimmering, earthy melodicism of Rundle’s old band Marriages with a much sludgier edge. That grungy flavour Thou explored on their Rhea Sylvia EP seems to run through a lot of the album and is a perfect fit for Rundle’s wounded, heartfelt hooks.

Jerskin FendrixWinterreiseUntitled Recs Ltd

The risk with an album this multi-faceted is that it could easily just descend into a muddle as its components clash into one another – like mixing too many colours of paint to get a sludgy brown. However, Jerskin Fendrix’s main success is how that doesn’t happen, how its pace is too blistering and his creativity too electric to ever get bogged down. He expresses himself in so many ways, in such a short space of time, but succeeds in more or less every single one. His beat-making is unique, his instrumentation prolific, and his lyric-writing witty and rich. For all of this, however, you’re still left wondering who, at the core, Jerskin Fendrix really is.

Mariam RezaeiSKEENFractal Meat Cuts

Entirely arranged on two turntables – Mariam Rezaei’s instrument of choice – SKEEN generates a visceral collage, recomposing varied sound sources, most of them contributed by friends and fellow travellers from the UK experimental scene. Such an approach is typical of her multifaceted output, grounded in a feeling for community and collaboration, whether as an improviser, as musical director of LBGT+ choir Northern Proud Voices or for her Noisestra project, which mobilised a collective of young turntablists from the local area, performing shows with prominent new music ensemble Apartment House.

NdiaNão Fales Nela Que A MentesPríncipe

Nídia is an artist whose name has come to be synonymous with Lisbon label Príncipe’s brand of kuduro and tarraxo club music, following her first release with them in 2015. Não Fales Nela Que A Mentes, her second album for the label, sees her push her sound further into the more experimental territory first explored on her 2017 debut LP, Nídia É Má, Nídia É Fudida. ‘Popo’ is an outstanding combination of laidback Atlanta trap and Afro-Portuguese sounds while ‘Raps’ features an earworm of a lead melody and knockout drums. Perhaps the highlight though is ‘Capacidades’ with its hollering vocal samples, accordion-aided lead melody and syncopated drums.

DeerhoofFuture Teenage Cave ArtistsJoyful Noise

An album imagining post-apocalyptic humans balefully trying to recall the world they once knew, recorded remotely with the band’s members in four different cities before the coronavirus pandemic was even a known threat, it’s fair to say the fifteenth Deerhoof record is somewhat prophetic. It’s also one of their best records to date, a fractured and strange LP that thrives on a sense of fragmentation, veering one way and another in terms of both melody and fidelity as the four members piece together their respective home recordings.

Antonina NowackaLamunanMondoj

Antonina Nowacka is one half of Polish duo WIDT. Lamunan is a solo vocal album, of recordings made in the geological outboard of a cave near a Javanese volcano, which she later assembled in a Polish fortress. It is wordless, echoing, ancient music, something brand new and impossibly old. Its simplicity makes it sing – the uncomplicated appeal of hearing one’s own voice echoed by the pre-human shapes of the earth.

Lorenzo SenniScacco MattoWarp

Maybe it’s a generational thing. But I had a proper old-man moment with this record on first listen. I’d downloaded the album onto the laptop that’s hooked into the big sound system in the living room. And in the time between pushing play and when the music began (about a nanosecond) I had forgotten all about pushing play on anything at all. The staccato attack of sharp sonics scared the absolute shit out of me. I jumped out of my skin, wondering where the hell this intense noise was coming from.

Closed CircuitsReturnerSelf-Released

Closed Circuits has been around for over a decade now, and has (this is the solo project of Portugal-based Chris Page) been reviewed on these pages before. Quite how I lost touch with such a wonderful artist is beyond me, but I’m now forever grateful that I saw a tweet by Dale Cornish recommending this record. A click to one of Closed Circuits’ tweets that said, “Want to hear some really niche music that sounds like #LeonardCohen being bothered by #Coil? Step right this way,” and another to Bandcamp, and I was sold. A week or so spent drifting through the back catalogue suggests that the end of my ignorance of his music was timely – this is Closed Circuits’ best record yet, all thoughtfully sombre, gothic electronic soul.

ClippingVisions Of Bodies Being BurnedSub Pop

Visions Of Bodies Being Burned‘s highpoint is ‘Looking Like Meat’. Jesus Christ it’s good. There are ticker tape hi hats pasted over fractured percussion, all hissing high-end and metallic timbres. The track, featuring Ho99o9, is dominated by a squashed, muscular, distorted bass synth that booms and jerks and twitches in all its pitch-shifted magnificence. The best aggressive electronic music transcends its digital form to become something sounding hyper-natural or even primeval, like it’s been unearthed from the subsoil; ‘Looking like Meat’ is no different.

Sufjan StevensThe AscensionAsthmatic Kitty

The Ascension feels like an attempt at rebalancing our perceptions of the Christian movement – if only in a small way – at a time when the fundamentalist right threatens to lead us towards armageddon driven by zeal, insanity and their own certainty. For all the synthetic otherworldliness, this record is unflinchingly honest in its assessment of the United States as well as a very personal and raw portrait of Stevens’ own humanity and fallibility. There’s no dogma, only equivocation. To hear free-thinking and self-awareness from an American follower of Christ is a blessed relief and offers reassurances that not everybody has lost their minds.

Yves TumorHeaven To A Tortured MindWarp

One of the abiding motifs of an Yves Tumor record is intense, almost spiritual transformation. The track ‘Medicine Burn’ leads us out of the sultry vocals and decadent horns of album opener ‘Gospel For A New Century’ and launches the listener into a visceral, charged battle between guitar and drums, each fighting for supremacy, with Tumor’s lyrics barely rising above it all. The words are almost spat out, gasping and exasperated: “Carry me away into your spirit.” Heaven To A Tortured Mind is not hesitant about the fact that it wants your body.

Risn MurphyRóisín MachineSkint

Every single one of Róisín Machine‘s songs implores you to dance, and in doing so implores you also to forget the human fragility of which you are so incessantly reminded. Vicariously through Róisín Murphy – be she god, machine, person, or something floating between them – we can forget our fragile bodies, losing ourselves in a blissful utopia, even if only for an hour.

Sun ArawRock SutraSun Ark

Rock Sutra sounds something like an 8-bit version of the soundtrack to Steely Dan’s Making Of Aja documentary. I don’t think that’s a wholly accurate way to describe this live-to-MIDI album, particularly not technically, but it’s the best I can do with something that sounds like nothing else.The swing in the jams combined with the boingy and bendy MIDI comes off like a shreds that accidentally went too well and they invented a new sub-genre by accident. ‘Roomboe’ sounds most wonky, and ‘Arrambe’ is more zoney – I can hear echoes of Stallones’ older material in its hollow vox. All this sounds sarcastic, or like I think it’s a joke, but it’s not stupid at all, it’s completely brilliant.

Delphine DoraL’Inattingiblethree:four

Those familiar with Delphine Dora’s work will know about the melodically and emotionally indeterminate spaces she inhabits but there’s plenty that is new here: she sings entirely in French for the first time, and the process of crafting (writing and editing) the 21 pieces has been more involved than the spontaneous approach she has previously favoured. Without becoming overburdened, Dora’s voice and piano are richly embellished.

Nate WooleySeven Storey Mountain VIPyroclastic

Dissecting the various episodes misses the holistic brilliance of the performance, which flows between meditative, ecstatic, and cathartic with uncanny power and richness. Susan Alcorn’s ghostly pedal steel guitar haunts skittering brushwork – percussionists Corsano, Ben Hall, and Ryan Sawyer all play on the album – setting a pregnant tone early in the piece, which builds organically toward a dense, furious crescendo, with the singing of Yoon Sun Choi, Mellisa Hughes, and Megan Schubert, reprising the Seeger tune, seeping out of the fading organ din. The singers then repeat a line from a different folk song, Bobbie McGee’s ‘Union Maid’, firmly and defiantly insisting, “You can’t scare me.” It’s a goddamned masterpiece that’s only grown more resonant with each spin.

More Eazeif i don’t let myself be happy now then when?Mondoj

Claire Rousay and More Eaze have both had a hugely productive 2020 in terms of solo releases, and If I don’t let myself be happy now then when?, their collaboration for the Mondoj label, sees them combine forces with eerily powerful results. Rousay and More Eaze (AKA Mari Maurice) created these pieces together at a time when both were transitioning and coming out as trans. The sense of working through what Maurice describes as a conflicting state of insecurity and empowerment is imprinted into the three tracks. Sweet, skeletal pop songs shyly withdraw into comforting background sound, fixations on the poetry in rattling objects, and fleeting moments of ecstasy appearing in the most unexpected places. It’d be easy to frame if i don’t let myself be happy… in terms of acousmatic music and sound art, but Claire Rousay and More Eaze have unearthed a raw poignancy in what can often be a coldly academic field. By sharing their moments of care and support to tape, they’ve provided a delicate escape for them, and everyone who listens.

Black CurseEndless WoundSephulcral Voice

Endless Wound is Black Curse’s debut, but with members of Spectral Voice, Blood Incantation, Primitive Man and Khemmis among their ranks, there’s no doubting their pedigree. Don’t mistake this for one of those hastily assembled “supergroups” however, as this band is as real as they come, with an enormous, caustic and bristling sound that stands alone from their other projects. It’s more comparable to a leaner, punchier Teitanblood, with moments of chaotic, all-out Revenge-esque blasting bolstered by thunderous double-kick grooves and punishingly thick, weighty doom passages. The faster sections are absolutely savage, with the sumptuously crisp production accentuating every skin-flaying snare hit and aggressively tremolo picked note, whilst the slower sections feel genuinely oppressive, the suffocating bass tone keeping a tight hold of you whilst the guitars seep out into a myriad of murky, desolate textures.

J HusBig ConspiracyBlack Butter

Big Conspiracy sees East London’s J Hus cutting a more introspective and thought-provoking figure than ever before. With a lot to talk about, and having had a lot of time to think, having been imprisoned for eight months for carrying a knife, he combines with long-time collaborator Jae5 (among others) on the follow up to his 2017 debut, Common Sense.

Sarah DavachiCantus, DescantLate Music

Sarah Davachi often mentions classic rock (Led Zeppelin, Yes, Fleetwood Mac) when discussing her organological interests, noting that the analogue instruments of the period produce unstable overtones due to their inherent imperfections. There are other affinities: the title of a second sung number, the whispery ‘Canyon Walls’, evokes the Los Angeles of fellow Canadians Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, and Davachi has knowingly referred to Cantus, Descant as a “concept album,” a term forever affiliated with the era. The concept, however, doesn’t derive from narrative – this is no Tommy – but from formal inquiry.

Jennifer WalsheA Late Anthology Of Early Music Vol. 1: Ancient To RenaissanceTetbind

The seventeen cuts on Ancient To Renaissance cover the period from the 2nd to the 16th century in chronological order and constitute a digest of the music’s rhythmic, harmonic, and structural evolution. In lock-step, we hear and feel the neural network’s comprehension of Walshe’s singing change. The algorithm goes down one path, makes errors, traces back. Tries another way, makes errors again. This hungry, obsessive dance repeats until the recomposition starts resembling Walshe’s true voice.
50.

BlmFlower ViolenceBox

The more I try to brainstorm Newcastle trio Blóm’s position in rock’s hellish landscape, the less they sound like anyone else within it. Certainly they remind me of other groups, are analogous to others, can be talked of in the same breath as more again – all of which is different from sounding like them. On the face of it, there’s nothing especially unusual about how Blóm set up: Helen Walkinshaw, Liz McDade and Erika Leaman on vocals, drums and bass respectively, their guitarless status adding sharp focus to the bottom-end sludginess of songs which have precedence in punk, noise rock, no wave and psychedelia. Yet Flower Violence, their five-song debut album on local label Box, seems to harbour its own distinct tics of rhythm, arrangement and instrumental interplay.
49.

Katie GatelyLoomHoundstooth

Despite being heavily informed by the loss of her mother to cancer in 2018, Katie Gately’s second album is not so much about grief, as made with grief. It is layered in every atom of the record, like a fifth element tying it all together. Part self-soothing machine, part banishing ritual, Loom is Gately’s most artistically refined offering. In its grim landscape amid the terrors of grieving, ailing, raging bodies and ravaging hyper anxious brain chemistry, an eerie transcendence looms large.

JunglepussyJp4Jagjaguwar

Still House PlantsFast EditBison

Listening to Fast Edit is an immediately startling experience. Jessica Hickie-Kallenbach’s voice has a burnished, tremulous tone pitched in an ecstatic mid-range, somewhere between Ari Up, Lewis Baloue, and June Tyson. She sounds by turns imperious and shamanic then soulful, entreating. Finlay Clark’s guitars and David Kennedy’s drumming seem to fall over each other, as if on the point of breaking, as if they are not really instruments at all but ordinary domestic objects – toasters and cheese graters, perhaps, a filing cabinet and a sewing machine – press-ganged into sounding. Sounds stutter and tumble, jitter and jerk. The listener is forever being thrown off-balance – by trips of time and metre, but also of style and sensibility.

Young KnivesBarbariansGADZOOK

Young Knives’ first album in seven years, as the title suggests, is about the depths of human depravity, a record littered with violence and horror, from street fights to brutal exectuions, inspired by John Gray’s infamously bleak book Straw Dogs. For all the horror of its subject matter, however, Barbarians is not an austere or oppressive album. It’s extremely entertaining, full of ricocheting industrial riffs, pummelling beats and thunderous electronic rushes, as melodramatic and pompous as it is dark.

Baxter DuryThe Night ChancersHeavenly

Baxter Dury’s oft-confused lust permeates the album, finding itself manifesting in various interesting forms, played off as vignettes (although there is an undeniable Baxter Dury-ish characterisation shining through in each). In ‘Carla’s Got A Boyfriend’, a jealous ex toys with thoughts of violent confrontation provoked by an incessant insecurity that sees the character wander through all sorts of needless accusations and mockings of Carla’s new lover. As with many moments across the album, it is difficult to clarify whether or not the female vocals that often form the choruses or refrains of songs are to represent the voice of a separate character within the narrative, or if they represent simply the desires of the production for a sweeter voice to break up Dury’s rambling cockney poetics.

TeleplasmisteTo Kiss Earth GoodbyeHouse Of Mythology

To Kiss Earth Goodbye is an entrancing, enveloping experience. Mark O Pilkington (previous form including Raagnagrok, Urthona and The Asterism) and Michael J York (from Coil to Shirley Collins via The Utopia Strong) seem to have been heading for this point for a long time, and the music they are now making sounds as though it was meant to be. It’s an album that is guaranteed to satisfy anyone who needs to be taken away from themselves, and off to a better place. And right now, that includes all of us.

Bill CallahanGold RecordDrag City

Something spectacular about this album is the ease with which Bill Callahan steps into a postmodern mode of narration, assuming different identities and inhabiting different bodies in order to uncover some kind of universal shared wisdom. Just as Kathy Acker played with plagiarism and pastiche by rewriting Cervantes’ Don Quixote, substituting each pronoun for ‘I’ in order to take a stab at self-definition, Callahan, with a little satire, inhabits the voices of others to maximise impact and set the scene (for example, the frank opening line “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” really cements the tone of the album).

Lamin FofanaBluesSelf-Released

Lamin Fofana’s exploratory sound design, evidenced in Blues and the full trilogy of records which it is a part of, situates a need for a thoughtful and grounded approach to the moving parts of contemporary electronic music and its wider relationship to the historical present – something only made more relevant as lockdown has brought nightlife to a standstill. In its stripped-back aloofness, one hears the rumble of a hardcore continuum embedded in a deftly crafted ambience, submerged under the tides of a white-washed mainstream.

Heather LeighGlory DaysBoomkat Editions

Heather Leigh is perhaps best known for her solo albums of pedal steel and collaborations with Peter Brötzmann, bu this record feels like a step into new territory. It’s certainly broad and bold in its sound and scope. ‘All I Do Is Lust’ is like the murmurings of a disco diva’s soul, drifting eternally bereft through a cobwebbed cellar in which pumped men once danced and fucked. Similarly, the clattering electronic rhythms underpinning Leigh’s housey vocal refrain in ‘Take Just A Little’ make it a prototype for a club banger that’ll never get to tickle the dancefloor.
40.

Dua LipaFuture NostalgiaWarner

Where Dua Lipa’s 2017 debut album arrived eight months past its release date, no such misfortune befell its follow-up, Future Nostalgia, which arrived a week ahead of schedule earlier this year as many countries entered their coronavirus lockdowns. Eschewing wishy-washy ballads entirely, Future Nostalgia opts for a more determined, self-assured journey through all manner of ’80s and ’90s pop disco sheen. It’s chock full of hooks and stylish pop bangers that centre one of 2020 pop music’s finest personalities – the kind of album where just about every track could be a hit single.
39.

DestroyerHave We MetMerge / Dead Oceans

A desolate narrative woven throughout Dan Bejar’s imagery often creates claustrophobic songs which, from the offset, are not for the faint-hearted. Bejar, our conduit in this realm, see-saws in his invitation to listeners to observe this place: “Just look at the world around, actually, no don’t look,” he intones on ‘The Raven’. This stark lament is continued when Bejar further implies that “the idea of the world is no good.” Despite this cautionary exclamation, it’s impossible to divert your attention away from the many atrocities that make-up Destroyer’s most dynamic record. Here, your chances of encountering the Boston Strangler are as good as coming across a gaggle of “chicken-shit singers paying their dues” or “another dead rich runaway.”
38.

DJ PythonMas AmableIncienso

New Yorker Brian Piñeyro, AKA DJ Python, regularly describes his sound as “deep reggaeton.” Past releases for labels such as Proibito and Dekmantel, as well as 2017 debut LP Dulce Compañia, have seen him blend the low-slung dembow rhythms of reggaeton with breakbeats and wistful melodies. It’s a deeply hypnotic combination that only grows more entrancing on his second album, Mas Amable. This is partly down to Piñeyro’s decision to pull the record together as a continuous piece. (The album has eight tracks but no separations between each.) Opening on five beatless minutes of lush synths and field recordings, Piñeyro soon finds a downtempo 92 BPM groove which he maintains for the remainder, the rhythms occasionally contorting as the LP enters a new movement.

Headie OneEdnaRelentless

It doesn’t matter if you joined Headie One’s journey at Headz Or Tailz or GANG, his debut studio album provides something that every drill and rap fan can salute. It also comes with many moments of introspection scattered between his unique punchlines, flows and storytelling ability. Not to mention the fact that he holds his own with established features such as Skepta, Mahalia and Future (who even jumps on a drill flow). The North London rapper effortlessly expands his sounds, showcasing his diversity throughout the 20-track experience.

Kylie MinogueDISCODarenote / BMG

Cards on the table, right up front: I believe Kylie Minogue is a pop genius. And before we go any further, it’s necessary to clarify exactly what is meant by that. The rockist, hippy notion of ‘genius’ involves the self-made auteur, toiling away at the coalface with their bare fingernails, carving out a monolithic monument to their own ego. In pop – which is where Kylie Minogue utterly excels – the skill set is different. Pop, by its very nature, is synthetic and collaborative, and therefore pop genius is about having a vision of exactly what you want, and knowing exactly who you need to work with (songwriters, producers, video directors, costume designers, choreographers) in order to create a heightened uber-self, a perfect pop THING to send out into the world.

Mary LattimoreSilver LaddersGhostly

There is no momentum or force that drives Silver Ladders onward. No direction in its stirrings of mood and sound that flutter and beat like a leaf caught between walls of wind. The beauty of the album is in that feeling of organic spontaneity, in the movements that suddenly depart and retreat into lightless caves before assimilating back into their icy harmonies. In Silver Ladders, Mary Lattimore brings the harp back down to earth still covered in clouds, but also threaded with veins of gloom that marble its silvery glow.
34.

Oranssi PazuzuMestarin KynsiNuclear Blast

Mestarin Kynsi‘s opener, ‘Ilmestys’, welcomes the listener with waves of throbbing synths and stark, repetitive rhythms like Cluster’s evil twin. ‘Kuulen Ääniä Maan Alta’ hides a thoroughly malevolent riff behind sparkling John Carpenter-style melodies and a stuttering, techno-inspired drum beat before it finally erupts into a blizzard of filth, but ‘Uusi Teknokratia’ is even more bizarre, as it dashes madly through cascades of erratic bleeps and pulsating keys, what sounds like a skipping Neurosis CD played at an uncomfortably high frequency, galaxies of twisted Lustmord-ian ambience and sparse dubby basslines, and a crazy lead passage that sounds like Ron Asheton cracking open the Ark of the Covenant and peeling out one final ear-bleeding solo before he melts away.

Shirley CollinsHeart’s EaseDomino

Critics often praise the purity of Collins’ commitment to folk music – that she honours the inherently political quality of folk music by preserving the word-of-mouth stories of the lives of ordinary people. Pregnancy, death, toiling at shit jobs – they all show up in the album. She gets described as hailing from another time, as if she were a herald from a wet bog under the reign of Robert the Magnificent, which really isn’t fair, and feels a little reductive. There are a handful of non-traditional tracks on Heart’s Ease, each surprising in its own way.
32.

AlgiersThere Is No YearMatador

Algiers’ previous record, 2017’s The Underside Of Power, was a doubling down on the dense wall of noise of its self-titled predecessor. There Is No Year isn’t exactly a retreat from that; the four-piece’s loosely post-punk template is still based around vocalist Franklin James Fisher raging against the dying light, as he fights to find space amongst the claustrophobia of his bandmates’ juddering industrial hisses and thuds. This time round, though, he’s starting to win the battle. His lyrics – taken entirely from a self-penned poem called ‘Misophonia’ – sound clearer than ever before.

Phantom PosseForever UndergroundOrchid Tapes

After several attempts, New York producer Eric Littmann – the Phantom Posse collective’s linchpin – has accidentally made an album for the times, a warped reverie of a soundtrack for empty urban landscapes. That’s what these fourteen cuts of disorientating ambience feel like, anyway – or does everything feel like that these days? Everything feels like that these days. Really, Forever Underground falls into a continuum we’ve enjoyed for decades now, drifting electronica working its way through hip-hop, Balearic house, glitch and dubstep, always a sense of gauzy nostalgia even as it’s pointing a way forward. It’s like Boards of Canada settling on a melody, or Burial – on acid! Hypnagogic, it used to be called.

Ana RoxanneBecause Of A FlowerKranky

Ana Roxanne’s origin story has two distinct phases. The first was when she was a child growing up in the Bay Area and encountered the video to Alicia Keys’ ‘Fallin” on MTV. The second came during a trip to India where a teacher introduced her to Hindustani music and singing. These worlds do not so much collide on Because Of A Flower as they do enter a fugue state of mutual empathy, held together by Roxanne’s voice which comes swirling in as if from blowing down from a forbidding mountain top. The effect is wildly, irresistibly esoteric. And yet the sense of wonder that infuses the project is merely one of several components.
29.

MxLxSerpentSelf-Released

MXLX, AKA Matt Loveridge, has mellowed, slightly. This is evident on ‘Fuckin’ Had it With You Lot’. A monotone synth drones on in the background as Loveridge rambles on about losing his confidence in people and being sick of it. The final third of the song grows to a distorted crescendo before abruptly stopping. Then the album’s standout moment kicks in. On ‘Being A Bomb’, MXLX just lets rips. It’s sheer noise from the beginning. Throughout Serpent, you could feel the tension bubbling under the surface, but Loveridge showed restraint to keep the songs from descending into chaos. On ‘Being A Bomb’ though, he just unleashes six minutes of pent up aggression and perfectly measured turmoil.

Meridian BrothersCumbia Siglo XXILes Disques Bongo Joe

One of Colombia’s greatest contemporary musicians, Eblis Alvarez’s latest album with his Meridian Brothers project is a kaleidoscopic, wholehearted exploration of his nation’s long tradition of Cumbia music, picking up where the genre’s 1980s re-invention at the hands of modernising groups like Grupo Folclórico, 2000 Voltios and Cumbia Siglo XX left off. Utilising ultra-modern production techniques, and inspiration from the methods of proto-electronic innovators like Kraftwerk, he’s created a record that is as infectious as it is innovative, a record that is full of movement, joy, history and colour.

Jeff ParkerSuite For Max BrownInternational Anthem

Jeff Parker’s last album, The New Breed, was a tribute to his father who passed away while the album was being made. This time, Parker dedicated new album, Suite For Max Brown, to his mother, Maxine. Tender riffs interplay with gentle tones to create an album that oozes with admiration. Given the subject matter, his mum, this makes perfect sense. But what sets Suite For Max Brown apart from similar releases is how honest and raw it feels. There are times when the project could have drifted into a schmaltzy affair, but Parker sticks to his avant-garde roots and delivers his strongest album to date.

Hen OgleddFree HumansWeird World

Free Humans is an ambitious, progressive, intelligent and experimental take on pop music, complete with jazz interludes, a nearly nine-minute penultimate number about the very real possibility of humanity’s extinction, an ode to a nine-foot giant, and a song that channels the primal spirit of the Loch Ness Monster. The references that crop up in the press release are not those you’d spot in your average pop band’s promotional campaign. The twelfth-century Christian mystic Hildegard von Bingen? Moral philosopher Mary Midgley? Backstreet’s Back this ain’t.
25.

UpsammyZoomDekmantel

There’s an interesting playfulness to the rhythms on upsammy’s debut album, which share a close lineage with the kind of bumpy IDM that you can frequently expect to hear in her DJ sets. Curious, fizzing melodies shine throughout, from the dubby ‘Extra Warm’ to the percussive, rolling energy of ‘Subsoil’ and chunky electro of ‘Overflowering’. I’ve long admired upsammy’s willingness to eschew obvious club functionality in the rhythms and melodies that typify her productions and DJ sets, and Zoom, her latest act in doing just that, is undoubtedly her best record yet.

Howie Lee7 Weapons SeriesMaloca

This release might also be Howie Lee’s jazziest and funkiest – heck, you’d have to conclude jazz-funkiest – one yet. ‘The Wriggled Wind’ starts off on an almost jazz-house tip and develops into something still more upbeat, lengthy drum-free periods trading places with some Herbie Hancock key-noodle. And then you have ‘The Border-Walking Monk’, whose robust syncopated drums and confident electro-grime bassline sounds more like something you might find on a label like Gobstopper.
23.

Beatrice DillonWorkaroundPAN

In a smart but not obtuse way, Beatrice Dillon’s tracks are woven through with the musical genres in which she has found inspiration, along with nods to the grid-like abstractions of visual art and the scored frameworks of Labanian dance. Locked in at 150bpm, swipes reminiscent of micro house are meshed with Afro-Caribbean polyrhythms and the tresillo beat of Latin America. Carefully placed (but not constant) gut-rattling deep bass dips in and out unexpectedly. There is dub without echo and there are grooves without things getting too wiggly. There are hints of jungle’s micro-engineered fragments being torn down and rebuilt – but with more space to catch your breath Workaround‘s assemblies have a human scale too.

Horse LordsThe Common TaskNorthern Spy

The Common Task has a liveliness and tempo that lends itself to running, dancing, speeding joyfully. It opens with ‘Fanfare For An Effective Freedom’, which feels like four concurrent tracks in unison, ripplingly overlaid against one another and resulting in a building, structured, wall of rhythm. This is really not like any other guitar music. Guitarist Owen Gardiner has lavishly praised krautrock band Neu! in the past, and you can see their shadow here and there – the punchy, disciplined minimalism, the gaps in sound and then tight, woven hits of noise.

Perfume GeniusSet My Heart On Fire ImmediatelyMatador

If you’ve had the pleasure of seeing Perfume Genius live or watched his meticulously choreographed music videos, you’ll know that Mike Hadreas’ body becomes an extension of the song. This physicality is palpable across Set My Heart On Fire Immediately. Here, the correlation between body and movement steers the songwriting into storied explorations of trauma, violation, love, singularity and celebration of self. This transforms roaring pop arrangements and intimate soundscapes into visceral multi-sensory experiences, making this Hadreas’ finest body of work to date.

AnnieDark HeartsAnnie Melody

It’s a bold move to release your first album in a decade in a year when promoting it is virtually impossible, and yet that’s what Annie has done. Though EPs and standalone singles have followed, Dark Hearts marks the Norwegian pop singer’s first full length album since 2009’s Don’t Stop. But then this version of Annie is very different from the artist who only five years ago was still releasing electro pop songs meant for the dance floor. Dark Hearts marks an astute shift away from the energy of the clubs, focusing instead on hazy synth pop.

Sex SwingType IIRocket Recordings

There is a cathartic religiosity to the music of Sex Swing. During this era of sorrow and anxiety, Sex Swing remind us of the restorative powers of rock. Julia Kristeva said that melancholia results when religion fails to rationalise the immensity of one’s loss. But Type II, with all its ritualised cathartic sound, can also be a last line of defence between you and infinite sorrow. It forges a protective layer of blissfully thick and psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll that lends you its strength and grasps you tight, preventing you from slipping deeper into that black abyss. This is violent and chaotic rock music that can help you make sense of the world.

Keeley ForsythDebrisLeaf

At first, Keeley Forsyth’s voice is the only thing you can hear. The title track immediately invites comparison to the timbral registers of Marianne Faithful and Nina Simone, and the vibrato characteristic of ANOHNI. Forsyth’s voice is front and centre of her debut release, supported with grace and deference of a compact but terrifically expressive musical mise en scène played by Sam Hobbs, Mark Creswell and Matthew Bourne; making it a beautiful balanced and confident entry into the music world.

SAULTUntitled (Rise)Forever Living Originals

Given all of the very important things to be said about SAULT (which are being written about elsewhere by people a lot more qualified than me to speak on these subjects) including their relationship to the Black Lives Matter movement and the renewed need to foreground the primacy of Black creators, especially in dance music, it feels almost gauche to speak of them in terms of comfort (and that’s mine or anyone else’s). It’s always a mistake to talk about music being timeless as it will always bear some kind of novel trace element in the production that will ultimately reveal its provenance, but SAULT smash away at temporal confines in a breathtaking and joyous manner. And who doesn’t need some comfort and joy right now because of illness or isolation or dreadful psychic pressure? When I listen to Untitled (Rise), I could be stepping the echoing flags and cobbles of D-Percussion, or queuing outside Electric Chair in Manchester, or ensconced in a grimy nook at Turnmills, or trying to attract the attention of the bar staff at the Blue Note in London. What does it remind you of? No doubt something entirely different, but no doubt with some great immediacy while representing something wonderful that you’d really like to experience again, right about now.

Richard SkeltonThese Charms May Be Sung Over A WoundPhantom Limb

It’s difficult to summarise Richard Skelton’s output, there being so much of it, but it might be useful to think of him as a composer who has often been preoccupied with stringed instruments both bowed and fretted. Here though, he has shifted gear somewhat and the bulk of this new work is built around sine and square waves. And it has the distinct feel of the digital. This is interesting given his interest in the natural world, decay and geology (in this case we are at the Scottish borders). And apparently the album title and track titles are translations of Anglo Saxon ‘Leechdoms’, making the pieces here quite literally charms to remedy sickness or injury.

DumaDumaNyege Nyege Tapes

Not everyone would think of Duma as a metal album – I’m not sure I do – but these are extreme sonics, and to the extent that the listener can extract recognisable emotions from the wreckage, it certainly feels like guts-on-the-table music. Concessions to dance(able) styles come and go, like the great hoofing kickdrums within ‘Sin Nature’, but often spill over into something more like digigrind meets noisecore, such as the weird, slippery ‘Kill Yourself Before They Kill You’.

Land TranceFirst SeanceDense Truth

One of the biggest reasons Land Trance are such a successful project is the cohesion that constituent members Benjamin D. Duvall of Ex-Easter Island Head and Andrew PM Hunt of Outfit have established when combining their two voices; you can hear the former’s psychedelic instincts being pushed further outside of the box by the latter’s driving spirit and his innovative approach to instrumentation. The result is an unfathomably gorgeous album, lush and layered with a powerful and personal core.

AutechreSIGNWarp

It might seem guileless to describe contemporary Autechre in traditional terms of beats, bass and melody. More often it’s a matter of timbre or texture, or something in between. But on SIGN, there’s a noticeable return to prominent tonal sounds not heard since 2010’s Oversteps. Indeed, SIGN‘s second track, ‘F7’, with its peal of squealing dew drops could have been cut from a similar cloth to that album, which is no bad thing. ‘gr4’, perhaps the prettiest track here, showcases see-sawing synths that keen like a string quartet. I don’t think I’ve been struck in such an emotionally direct way by an Autechre tune since ‘Pir’ on 1999’s EP7.
12.

Einstrzende NeubautenAlles In AllemPotomak

Alles In Allem, translated as ‘All In All’, is Einstürzende Neubauten’s most compulsively lisenable album to date. The group’s first full-length of new material since 2007’s Alles Wieder Offen, Alles In Allem finds Neubauten at their most melodic, lush and textured. The apocalyptic industrial of early masterpieces like Kollaps or Halber Mensch has been subbed out in favour of lush string arrangements, majestic synth melodies, and Blixa Bargeld’s refined singing. The elevation in the sophistication of its musicality has been a persistent theme for Neubauten since the late ’90s, and those that still fetishise the band for the pulverisations of its early albums are robbing themselves of the joys associated with Neubauten’s more compositionally inclined later career phase.

Alison CottonOnly Darkness NowBloxham Tapes / Cardinal Fuzz

Alison Cotton’s second LP contains mysteries that unwind at the pace of a season changing, a time lapse of a record. Consisting of one long track and four shorter pieces, this is an expressive and thoroughly absorbing album, which envelops the listener and takes them to places that seem both familiar and terrifying, halfway between inner and outer worlds. Like Laura Cannell, with whom she shares both instrumentation and a powerful ability to communicate the uneasy groans emerging from the earth, Cotton has tapped into a rich vein of music that seems urgent and essential.
10.

NazarGuerrillaHyperdub

Yes, one can identify a few constituent parts, trace the shadows of various influences here and there, but when consumed as a whole, Guerrilla is a singular experience. Through the feverish blur that lingers around most of the LP, snatches of the familiar are occasionally audible: footwork and breakbeat clearly inform much of the percussion, for example; tracks like ‘Fim-92 Stinger’ nod towards early house and techno, though their danceability is constantly disrupted by bursts of noise and dissonance; vocal samples and field recordings provide the record’s underlying humanity even as they’re warped and inverted beyond recognition.

Pa SalieuSend Them To CoventryWarner

Send Them To Coventry is an album bursting with life. Pa Salieu sounds confident and convincing whatever style he turns his hand to. Ragga-influenced ‘B***K’ sees Pa Salieu celebrating his skin tone, music and culture on a flute melody interspersed with grimey blips and snares. He joins up with singer Mahalia on the project’s final track, ‘Energy’, an ode to motivation and self-belief – “they just want your fall ’cause of jealousy/ Protect your energy,” he raps on the hook.
8.

Nadine ShahKitchen SinkInfectious

On her fourth full length release, Nadine Shah engages with the gendered politics of interpersonal arrangements, keeping her gaze fixed on the time pressures of maturing womanhood. Kitchen Sink is an album imbued with the outsider experience, filling the great pop cultural songbook with the missing stories of various othered perspectives, characters whose lives haven’t unfolded as imagined, expected, or socially prescribed. “Predominantly the album is about choice,” Shah says, “to respect everyone’s choice of how they live their lives.”
7.

SquarepusherBe Up A HelloWarp

Be Up A Hello is Tom Jenkinson’s strongest album for a decade and is easily up there with his best work. After the initial euphoric bounce of ‘Oberlove’ and ‘Hitsonu’, the album delves into classic territories. Wonky jazz and acid breakdowns all feature, making Be Up A Hello feel like a greatest hits album. And in a sense it is. In a perverse way, by using the same equipment he started out with, Be Up A Hello feels like his debut 2.0. He’s taking everything he’s learned over his 24-year career and putting it to use with his original gear, making for an album that has hints of nostalgia, but none of the awkwardness.

Duval TimothyHelpCarrying Colour

Help is an immersive, relaxed window into the landscape of contemporary music. Traversing minimal jazz, soulful R&B, edges of glitch, hip-hop sampling, voice modulation and ephemeral field recordings, it’s a welcome addition to Duval Timothy’s growing body of work. His minimalist take on the sprawl means nothing here is finished. Much is left in transit, on the edge, for a future-to-come, or a present that embraces the abiding possibility of the colourful everyday.

UKAEAEnergy Is ForeverHominid Sounds

Energy Is Forever is an album of aesthetic undulations, heavily influenced by the way Dan Jones chooses to foreground his collaborators. Still, he never loses the plot, unifying the record, at least in part, through a canny shuffling of his co-conspirators. In fact, the only tracks that don’t feature one or more of collaborators Amdeep Sanghera, Deyar Yasin, or Marion Andrau are ‘Vampire Moth’ and ‘Huntress’, and they, of course, feature Jones, a unifying factor in and of himself. It is his record, after all, which funnily enough, is often easy to forget, as he somehow slips into the background despite his sonic signature and bracing beats being all over the place. Welcome to UKAEA, your one-stop source for ego death, 2020.
4.

Lyra PramukFountainBedroom Community

Fountain, Lyra Pramuk’s captivating debut album, is composed completely of sounds fashioned from her own voice. There are songs, some with words, but primarily there are extralinguistic utterances that are processed, augmented, deformed, and re-organised technologically to create timbres and textures that bear little resemblance to anything human-made. The result is a conceptual and smart album that also refreshingly succeeds as an aesthetic object.
3.

Special InterestThe Passion OfNIGHT SCHOOL

If or when Special Interest find themselves regularly playing to audiences of several hundred or more, The Passion Of‘s penultimate track, ‘Street Pulse Beat’, feels like one which will come into its own. Its sonics are clashing, metallic, technoid-industrial, but there is an expansive wistfulness taking it as close as this group have come to a ballad (which is still not that close, to be fully clear). That is until Logout fires off the blasphemous curveball, “I go by many names/ Such as mistress, goddess, Allah, Jah/ And Jesus Fucking Christ!” I mean, it’s not that it wouldn’t be a wrench for this band to outgrow DIY punk culture, but you want to hear that shit proclaimed on the lip of a platform stretching 50 metres onto the pitch at a stadium gig, right?
2.

The Soft Pink TruthShall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase?Thrill Jockey

Shall We Go On Sinning is an album designed to both inspire calm as well as disrupt it; one continuous piece of music split into tracks to appease the streaming gods. In a tQ interview this year, Daniel explained that, to him, the album’s title – taken from Paul’s Letter to the Romans – boils down to, “Are we going to keep doing what we’ve always done and assume that change can happen? Like, why are we so stuck in our patterns?” In response, he has created a deeply humane, humanist record that seems to acknowledge both humankind’s ability to fuck up abysmally – over and over again, through both malignant action and placid inaction – and our need to come together, reject the status quo, and change as both individuals and as a community. My parents would approve.

Hey ColossusDances / CursesWrong Speed

Across this 75-minute double LP, Hey Colossus weave a rich sonic tapestry in which the wealth of ideas, clarity of vision and keen eye for detail makes for a highly rewarding, consistently unpredictable, and, at times, utterly transcendent experience. Dances / Curses – just like Four Bibles and The Guillotine before it – is neither a band flexing its technical muscles for the sake of it nor attempting to break into what remains of the mainstream music industry. It’s a distillation of the cumulative experience of a staunchly DIY band with nearly two decades of hard graft under their belt. It’s a honing of their considerable abilities in crafting a nuanced, detailed record that carries all of the weight, urgency and emotional pull of their early work while continuing to push inexorably forward into invigorating new territory.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today