That Was The Damn Year That Was

So…. 2020, that was something wasn’t it? Everything was coloured by the pandemic and lockdown, so even if the records below had nothing directly to do with it our responses to them were shaped by it. On the plus side, being a prisoner in your own home did give you a chance to listen to a lot of music.

Future Nostalgia – Dua Lipa

What’s Your Pleasure? – Jessie Ware

Róisín Machine – Róisín Murphy

Seeking Thrills – Georgia
In a year when none of us could go out clubbing it was a cruel irony that the best albums were dance records which, as a result, came across like hymns to a lost world. But being denied the communal joy of a nightclub didn’t make them any less great, even if dancing around your living room didn’t have quite the same thrill. Whether you like swishy disco beats or ravey techno these albums had something for everybody who loves club music, and it was a pleasure to hear some proper fat basslines. Though there was barely a cigarette paper’s width of quality between them I’d give the slight edge to Dua Lipa for the way she channeled 80s dancepop and imperial-phase Madonna with an album that was wall-to-wall catchy bangers.

Fetch The Bolt Cutters – Fiona Apple
Though recorded before the plague arrived this seemed to hit the zeitgeist right between the eyes. Its primitive, percussive sound captured the claustrophobic stress of the year and its title track — “Fetch the bolt cutters, I’ve been in here too long” — became a meme about breaking out of the shitty situation we were in. A fierce record that grabbed you by the shoulders and gave you a good shake, it sounded like it was a cathartic experience to make as much as it was to listen to.

Untitled (Black Is)/Untitled (Rise) – Sault
The other big story of the year was the growth of Black Lives Matter into a global movement following the death murder of George Floyd. In that context, the speed with which Sault put out two double albums seemed like they were directly responding to it, and the mystery surrounding who Sault actually are gave them the feel of urgent messages from the underground. With a clenched fist on its cover, Black Is was the more angry and defiant-sounding, while the praying hands of Rise were on a more uplifting record, and both were also proud celebrations of black culture in the way they painted with the full palette of black music from Afropop to soul, disco, spoken word, and Hip-Hop. A pair of astonishingly rich albums.

How I’m Feeling Now – Charli XCX
Folklore/Evermore – Taylor Swift
Three albums conceived and recorded during lockdown — one very publicly on social media and the others in strict secrecy – that were different sides of how we reacted to being stuck at home: Charli’s was all anxious and jittery nervous energy that bounced off the walls, and Taylor’s felt like curling up under a blanket with a mug of hot chocolate. Charli showed what a risk-taking ball of creative energy she is even under hothouse conditions, while Taylor stepped away from the big pop machine of her career for some gentle and beautifully-crafted story songs. Of the two I probably spent more time relaxing in Taylor’s cozy world, but remain thrilled by Charli’s adventures in 21st century pop.

Women In Music Pt. III – Haim
I’ve mostly been a bit meh on Haim in the past, finding their breezy, summery rock to be OK but not all that engaging. But they really upped their game and found several new gears on their excellent third album. The trio have all being dealing with various types of shit recently and it shows in the more personal depth of the songs and there’s a willingness to mess up their sound with new and rougher elements that gives it an edge they’ve not had before (at least to my ears). They still write fantastic pop hooks and sound effortlessly Californian but now the weather forecast is a bit more mixed.

Other records I loved in 2020 but was too busy moving house to write about:
Song For Our Daughter — Laura Marling
The Slow Rush — Tame Impala
Far From Home — Aubrie Sellers
Grae — Moses Sumney
Heavy Light — U.S. Girls
Girlhood — Girlhood