It’s time to reveal the best or top albums this year, the records that have haunted us in our sleep, songs that we’ve sung in the shower, at the supermarket and at your mom’s 65th birthday. 2020 proved that incredible new music will always make its way to our ears, even in the toughest of times. Here’s a selection of the 10 most illuminating albums to come out of a dark year, handpicked by our staffers Ms Tammy (TW), Mr Berg (CB), DJ Pappaledig (DM), The Racoon (RR), DJ Återbruk (AJ), Mr Bloom (RB) and the Editor (JN).
It feels like Phoebe Bridgers has been around for quite some time. She tends to pop up here and there, for example in the collab Boygenius with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker, two other singer-songwriter-girlgeniuses (sorry…), or together with The National´s Matt Beringer in “Walking On A String” written for the Between Two Ferns-movie. But “Punisher” is only the second album, following the 2017 debut “Stranger in the Alps”. The debut was good, but the leap to the next album is huge. It´s hard to pin down and explain how, but the production is a bit blurrier, the songs less sharp in the edges and are allowed to move between genres (still within the “indie”-vein). These could all be bad things, but it´s not. It´s a record that hits you hard.
Already in second song “Garden Song” the tone is set with a cautious tone but lovely melody, and then follows indie-banger “Kyoto” with horns, big drums, and a massive chorus. “Chinese Satellites” is another favorite, where she almost whispers the song and allows the song to become bigger and bigger, still whispering. It´s an interesting contrast. One of my favorite aspects of the record is the kind of unassuming tone. That there are these epic, strong songs, but they are packaged and presented with delicacy and softness. One of the strongest songs on the record is “I Know The End”, a song that grows and grows, but just as it could go into full-U2-mode, it pulls back and becomes distorted and chaotic. With another producer or artist, several of the songs could become anthems, but the way it´s done now it´s just perfect. Just bloody perfect.
We know that 2020 sucked, but we got some really great records, and that is something to be thankful for. Let´s hope for a better 2021, and that we can see these brilliant artists, like Bridgers, perform their songs live. The songs from “Punisher” will definitely suit that setting, so let´s pray, vaccinate, stay at home and be smart, so we can have some concerts soon. We all deserve that!
Returning from a three-year hiatus after the triumph of 2017’s “Pyro”, REWS outlive the sophomore slump, the difficult second album syndrome, as they deliver their second success. From the searing “Birdsong” to the thickly-riffed “Razorblade” and the gritty, distorted grunge on “Love Hate Song”, this release absolutely reeks of confidence. It’s a soundtrack to a walk, or rocking out if you have the confidence to mosh while social distancing. This definitely won’t be the last we hear from REWS, and the album will certainly grab the attention of new and returning fans.
Every album from KLA so far has been different and very unique. That’s what makes their latest and fifth album as special as the ones that came before. For “Darkest Dreams” KLA used less guitar and piano parts and a more dreamy melancholic synthetic sound. It has this 80s vibe but with a gloomy atmosphere hovering above it all. The only constant throughout all their albums is Deniz’ dark and melancholic voice. It’s an evocative dream pop journey into one self. ”Who are you in this world?“ I could ask myself while listening to their heavy lyrics.
Every album is like a diary and sort of mirrors what the band sees, thinks and feels. That’s how and why they always evolve, try out new things, experiment and have no fear of staying true to themselves. KLA’s music isn’t primarily for us, but for them. It’s one of the rare bands where you actually feel their love, blood, sweat and tears by listening to their songs. Absolut passion!
There is no one like Fiona Apple and there is nothing like “Fetch The Bolt Cutters”; unparallel, unbounded, unexpected, un-bloody-believable! Fiona Apple sees no limitations in songwriting, no limitations in arrangement, no limitations in lyricism, no limitations in execution and she’ll be damned if there are any limitations in expression.
“Fetch The Bolt Cutter”s is a work of art; a masterpiece created within the walls, and sometimes using the walls, of her Venice Beach home. Seas of unconventional instrumentation and sound swim through from the mouth opening of ‘I Want You To Love Me’ to the toes of ‘On I Go’ with Apple’s vocal attacks demanding and soul captivating. Every listen is an eye-opening experience, identifying hidden gem details on your 50th listen. Fiona Apple takes the saying ‘music is everywhere’ and captures it in 51 minutes and 54 seconds of pure genius.
The beautiful harmony between synthesizers, guitars and Mikael Stanne’s vocals takes this album to a metal heaven. It is almost possible to feel the cold and dark from the Swedish west coast throughout this melodic masterpiece. Songs like The Dark Unbroken and Transient, Dark Tranquillity takes place at the very top of Sweden’s metal stage.
O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright, it seems she hangs upon the cheek of night! The record that defined this year. Unfortunately.
Released a couple of weeks prior to the pandemic lockdown, it’s a dark, gloomy, misanthropic album. So it matched this year perfectly. But while we in the real world had to handle a pandemic, Grimes explored a fantasy world – or dystopic future – where humans had to handle AI overlords. The music then; a dark soundscape reminding of but not at all sounding like The Cures “Disintegration”. Multi-layered, complex, sweeping electronica, solid beats, and Miss Boucher’s fairy-like voice guiding us through the darkness. Our modern-day Canadian Mozart couldn’t let me down even if she tried to, her genius shines through everything she creates and makes me excited about her next project, whatever direction she decides to go next. One thing is certain, she won’t be standing still but will move on to explore new horizons. If Grimes is dark liquid, this Norwegian Blue is pining for the fjords.
Well, I don’t want to call GBZ (or is it TGBATZ?) prophets, but releasing an album early on in January and starting with a song called “Welcome To the Great Indoors” as an opening track when we all were confined to our flats instead of hanging out at concerts or in bars pretty soon after, kind of does sound prophetic to me.
Anyhow, apart from some black prophetic magic apparently being involved in the songwriting process, these mangy Norwegians have once again put out a masterpiece of aggressive punk greatness with lots of hooks, melodies and wits (just listen to the spoken word interlude “Follow Your Dreams” and try NOT to laugh). Go listen to it. Now. And do it LOUD! (I would recommend checking them out live as they transform any venue in a sweaty moshpit within seconds, but you know … there’s that thing called Covid preventing us all from these kinds of joyful gatherings right now.)
“Visions of Bodies Being Burned“ is the second part of its predecessor ”There Existed an Addiction to Blood“ and explores the world of horrorscope. Diggs is a big fan of the movie genre, so with both his latest albums he experimented with typical horror elements. You don’t only hear references to horror classics as Candyman or Scream for example, but soundwise also elements such as the knocking on a wooden door, some clanging metal objects, the rattling of a chainsaw, animal noises and so on. On top of that Diggs with his voice manages to make songs sound dark, frightening and sometimes sad.
Listening to this album with eyes closed is like imagining one scary scene after the other. But while on one side it’s like a homage to classical horror movies it does feel very current and close also, because not only movies are scary, sometimes the world can be too with so many things still being wrong.
If you’re listening to all the albums of the list right now and think “that voice sounds familiar”, you’re right. The Good the Bad and the Zugly singer Ivar took over vocal duties in Kvelertak as well last year. And his punkish vibe fits these metal dudes perfectly as well.
I must confess that I didn’t really get into Kvelertak with their previous albums, but this one sparked my interest for them (not only because of their new singer, but he might have had something to do with it as well).
Starting with the highly melodic “Rogaland” and “Crack of Doom” (featuring Mastodon’s Troy Sanders and the first ever Kvelertak song that’s not sung in Norwegian), “Splid” is a turbulent ride between blackened punk and melodic (dare I say “prog”) metal. If you’d only listen to the hymnic parts of “Bråtebrann” and the blast beat infernos in “Ved bredden av Nihil”, you wouldn’t think that these songs were on the same album – or even played by the same band. But Kvelertak make it work and create a distinctive sound with lots of nuances in their own little “blackened Scandinavian prog metal punk” niche.
Revisiting their older albums once more, you can see (or rather hear) that their musical development eventually HAD to culminate in something like this. I’m looking forward to the follow-up album already!
Twice A Man literally knocks you cold with this dark and dreamlike album of beautiful pop and dark EBM influences. The vocals is deep and seamless with guest vocalist Karin My on the track “Fireflies”, “Breath” and “Modern World” and lifts the synthesizers to a state that brings shiver down the spine. “On The Other Side Of The Mirror” is for sure one of the best electronic albums of this year.