Friday, 18 December 2020

Emma’s Top Ten Albums of 2020

2020 has been overwhelming rubbish, hasn’t it? It’s been a weird ol’ year for new music although there hasn’t exactly been a lack of it. I started the year – pre-COVID but also through the beginning of lockdown and working from home (when I could listen to whatever I wanted as I worked) – being excited to discover new artists. According to my ‘Spotify Wrapped’ this year, I discovered over 600 new artists which is pretty good going, especially without going to gigs. Of course, I was also looking forward to hearing new albums from many of my existing favourite artists this year.

Unfortunately, it got to a point over the summer and beyond where I just wasn’t that enthused about listening to music in general – new or otherwise. (I listened to a lot of podcasts instead.) I also went through a period of not really feeling inspired to write reviews, even if I was enjoying an album, so I hope to rectify that somewhat with my end of year list (and honourable mentions). It’s worth pointing out that I still have albums that came out this year on my metaphorical ‘need to listen to properly list’ but I guess there’s always going to be more albums to listen to in a year and I will check them out when I can.

I’m afraid I haven’t been organised enough this year to put together a top ten EPs list as I have done in previous years. I do, however, want to give a little shout out to some of my favourites:

Ghosts, Guilt & Grandparents by Toodles & The Hectic Pity
Lobotany by Cheerbleederz
Whichever, Whatever by Expert Timing
The Bin Collection by Mitch, Please
Proper Confessions by Brightview

There are also some great albums that didn’t quite make my top ten but are certainly worth a mention here:

5 Years Behind by THICK
Cause A Stir by Charmpit
Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers
Jump Rope Gazers by The Beths
Dream Nails by Dream Nails

Now onto the really good stuff… without further ado, here are my top ten albums of 2020:

10. The Spaces In Between by Arterials

Perhaps it’s due to my increasing frustration at the state of the world, from people’s selfish panic buying to littering of single-use face masks and my overwhelming climate anxiety, but I’ve really enjoyed listening to somewhat heavier and angrier music this year than I previously would have. It’s a real good stress reliever. The Spaces In Between by Hamburg, Germany’s Arterials is certainly on the more singalong fists-in-the-air side of melodic hardcore but, whatever you want to label it, it sure packs a punch. With subject matter ranging from friendship, politics and climate change, there’s a lot of food for thought on The Space In Between and I think, particularly in 2020, having songs that really make you think and feel something are important now more than ever. I’m also gutted to have not been able to hear these songs played live at Booze Cruise Festival in the summer, maybe next year…

Favourite song: Pump The Brakes

9. Me, Myself And Something Else by Call Me Malcolm

Despite the ongoing pandemic, this year has been a big one for Kent DIY ska punks Call Me Malcolm. They returned with their third album, Me, Myself And Something Else in May – the follow-up to 2018’s CPRW favourite I Was Broken When You Got Here. It was self-released here in UK but was also released in the US through the amazing Wiretap Records. Understandably, they’ve been getting increasingly popular across the pond and I’m sure they’d have a tour booked and announced for 2021 (perhaps with Kill Lincoln) had this year gone a little differently. As for the album itself, it picks off where Broken left off with deep, hard-hitting lyrics tackling anxiety and depression that are accompanied by some of the catchiest horn lines and riffs in ska punk. I want nothing more than to dance like crazy and sing along to these new songs at our beloved New Cross Inn as Malcolm are a band best served live. Like many things, I’ll just have to wait and settle for bopping around my living room.

Favourite song: Also, Spiders

8. Untenable by Bad Moves

Bad Moves, from Washington, D.C., were a new discovery for me this year. I was intrigued to check out Untenable, which was released on Don Giovanni Records in June, when I saw several people raving about it on Twitter. The folks at Specialist Subject Records also talked about it on their podcast, Flick Through, and Erica’s love for the band was more than enough encouragement for me to give the album a listen. Untenable is twelve infectiously catchy, upbeat and feel-good – for the most part – tunes that I guess could be best described as indie punk or power pop. The vocals come from all four members of the band throughout the album and bring so much energy and enthusiasm to the table. It truly feels like a bunch of best friends just having the most fun making music together and all while managing to deliver a slick and intricate piece of musicianship.

Favourite song: Working For Free

7. The Distance Between by Arms & Hearts

This is probably the album that was most fresh in my mind when it came to deciding on this list. Arms & Hearts has been a firm favourite of mine for a number of years and their debut album was at least one thing I was looking forward to in 2020. Released in November, I knew that The Distance Between by the Manchester-based acoustic punk troubadour was certain to make an appearance here from the first time I listened to it – it was just that good. It is clearly a leap forward from their previous releases – which were by no means bad – and for a band that was essentially a solo project, the album has very full sound. At times, it feels like a melodic punk band rather than one man and an acoustic guitar. The Distance Between has some pretty dark and emotional subject matter but it’s a hugely cathartic listening experience from start to finish.

Favourite song: Kerouac On A Minimum Wage

6. Get Your Retaliation In First by 3dBs Down

What a surprise gem of an album this was! Colin and I know 3dBs Down as being Paul BeSharp’s favourite band of all time and we’ve had the pleasure of seeing them live a few times in recent years, despite not knowing them ‘back in the day’. Get Your Retaliation In First is the band’s first new music for 15 years (!) and I don’t doubt for a second that it was well worth the wait for long-time fans. I first heard this album when Colin was listening to an advanced copy in preparation for writing his review of it and I remember turning to him after just a couple of tracks and saying ‘This is really good’. It’s so distinctly unlike anything else that I’m not even sure how I would describe this album. There’s a bit of ska in there but this is not really a ska punk album, there are some super catchy melodies, singalong moments and incredibly earwormy harmonies threaded throughout but it’s not quite pop punk. I suppose it’s just a brilliant album and needs no further defining.

Favourite song: Idiot Ignorant Evil

5. Seamless by Pardon Us

Congratulations to Pardon Us for being the first band to appear on my end of year albums list for two years running! 2019’s Wait, which was also the band’s debut full-length, was a really great album and I think they may have surpassed it with the follow-up, Seamless, which was released in August this year on the always excellent Everything Sucks Music. The Liverpudlian three-piece play blisteringly fast paced pop punk music – there are twelve songs on Seamless and all of them are under three minutes long – with a strong political and humanitarian message. To paraphrase from my full review of the album, Seamless is a top notch album packed with catchy melodies and intelligent, thoughtful lyrical content that is hugely relevant to the world we live in. Basically, it has something for everyone.

Favourite song: Still Needs Singing

4. Show Me The Blueprints. by Days N Daze

I’ve always been a fan of punk music of the folk variety and one of my very favourite ‘folk punk’ albums of 2020 comes from Houston, Texas’ long-running band Days N Daze. Show Me The Blueprints. was released in May and it is the band’s eighth full-length as well as their debut release with the legendary Fat Wreck Chords. I’m not sure if it’s the label’s influence specifically but I would say that this album is perhaps more accessible to punk fans that are not necessarily likely to listen to a band with instruments such as a banjo in their ensemble. It’s still got the raw heart and soul of their previous material but is perhaps a little more well-crafted. Both Jesse Sendejas and Whitney Flynn’s vocals are brilliant throughout – often providing backing harmonies for one another – as they each sing of their own experiences dealing with addiction and their struggles with mental health. Of course, the melodies and instrumentation throughout the album are excellent but it’s the lyrics that really pulled me into this album and earned it this spot high up in my list.

Favourite song: Saboteurs

3. You Or Someone You Know by Worriers

When You Or Someone You Know by Worriers was released at the beginning of March, I didn’t know that my two (or was it three?) opportunities to see them live for the first time would soon be washed away when 2020’s hopes and dreams went down the drain. I also didn’t know that this album would come to be about so much more than just, ahem, the end of the world – or at least the climate changing, political meltdown end of the world as opposed to the global health crisis end of the world that 2020 has become. This is not a heavy, or even the most typically punk sounding, album but it has such a huge sound with hooky guitar melodies, dreamy keys and just the most incredible vocals and lyrics. Lauren Denitzio has one of my favourite voices in punk rock and their delivery is always so powerful regardless of the volume in which they are projecting. The album is on the one hand melancholic and on the other optimistic, either way it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling to listen to again and again.

Favourite song: What Comes Next?

2. Brave Faces Everyone by Spanish Love Songs

It would be a pretty fair observation to describe my adoration of emotional punk rockers Spanish Love Songs over the past few years as something close to an obsession. I was obviously excited for Brave Faces Everyone, which was released way back in February, although I was also fairly apprehensive. It couldn’t possibly live up to 2018’s Schmaltz. Could it? Well, now having listening to it an awful lot this year, I can honestly say that I think this is even better than Schmaltz. Similar to You Or Someone You Know by Worriers, this is an album that has taken on a new meaning as this year progressed – ‘“It won’t be this bleak forever.” Yeah right. “It won’t be this bleak forever.” I hope you’re right.’ Brave Faces Everyone has undoubtedly made the seemingly never ending dystopia of 2020 that bit more bearable. It’s heart-wrenchingly emotive from start to finish, not least because it’s relatable for any twenty or thirty something with a conscience, but also makes you want to throw your fist in the air and scream your lungs out. It’s an album to be listened to front to back and then all over again. And if that doesn’t make for a great album then I don’t know what does.

Favourite song: Optimism (As A Radical Life Choice)

1. Life, Death And Everything In Between by Stöj Snak

No surprises here! If you happened to read my essay of a review of Life, Death And Everything In Between by Danish folk punks Stöj Snak just a few months ago then I’m sure you saw this coming, such was my outpouring of passion for these twelve songs. Earlier this year I thought it was going to be tough for anything to top Spanish Love Songs but then Stöj Snak returned in October. Life, Death And Everything In Between is the band’s second full-length album that I’ve been waiting four long years for – to be honest, I wasn’t really sure it would actually be released this year. From the acapella opening track Reasons To Smile, through to raucous yet melodic fast-paced numbers such as Trees, This Condition and and Fire and not one, not two, but three tracks of epic proportions – Bliss Point, Songs About Beliefs and album closer and title track, Life, Death And Everything In Between – this album delivers on so many levels. Niels Højgaard Sørensen’s lyricism is so captivating that I find listening to his songs as enticing as a really, really good book. There are so many intricate touches interwoven throughout this album, it’s clear that the process of writing and recording it was not at all rushed. Everything has been considered and, I said it in my original review and I’ll say it again here, I consider this album to be a masterpiece. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Please, if you haven’t already, go away and listen to Life, Death And Everything In Between. If you have listened to it before, just listen to it again!

Favourite song: Songs About Beliefs

Thank you to all the bands mentioned above for making this year a hell of a lot more enjoyable. 2021 should hopefully be better than 2020 in many ways but it’s still going to be tough to beat some of the very best albums that this year has brought us.

This top ten was written by Emma Prew.

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