Due to the pandemic, most if not all concerts were cancelled in 2020. With other types of stage related work opportunities also having dried up, it was a horrible year for musicians. Yet, paradoxically, it was a great year for music listeners.
The past year was absolutely peppered with brilliant record releases. Since you haven’t been spending a lot of money on concert tickets, I therefore suggest you buy albums instead, on vinyl or CD – or as a high quality digital download. Here are 10 more great albums from 2020 that absolutely need to be in your collection!
cabane – grande est la maison
This is not a Sean O’Hagan album, but you could have fooled me. Still, he is the arranger and has co-written two tracks with Thomas Jean Henri Van Cottom who is the main man behind the cabane moniker. The quality of the songwriting is excellent throughout, and vocals are handled by no other than Bonnie Prince Billy and Kate Stables (from This Is The Kit).
If you can find it, get the CD-R version as it starts with a track not available elsewhere.
Spencer Cullum – Spencer Cullum’s Coin Collection
The initial quartet of songs on this album are totally amazing and have a suppressed intensity not unlike Nick Drake or Duncan Browne. Although some momentum is lost with slightly meandering instrumental, ‘Dietrich Buxtehude’, and I could live without an Incredible String band cover as final track given the strength of original songwriting on display here, this album from Nashville’s Music City Center sideman and steel guitar player Spencer Cullum, originally hailing from England, is quite a find.
The music is restrained and beautiful and vocals are correspondingly subdued. The mixing feels almost proto-stereo with Cullum’s voice in the right channel and the backing in the left, making it feel as if someone is whispering in your ear if you listen in headphones.
Stephen EvEns – Employee of the Month
Stephen Gilchrist is a man of many talents. He has playd drums with Graham Coxon and even the Cardiacs, and also runs the Brixton Hill Studios. But on dark nights, he sometimes transforms into Stephen EvEns and puts out searingly sarcastic punk-pop records. On this release, the razorblades are a bit front-loaded, which might unfortunately scare away some listeners from the more restrained tracks, starting with forth track ‘Freak Show’ featuirng beautiful piano playing by William D Drake. From there on in, there are some great tunes to discover!
Seamus Fogarty – A Bag of Eyes
Fogarty’s new album has the kind of atmosphere that immediately makes me feel at home. An organic sound that is as much electronic as it is acoustic. Synthesizer meets banjo as if it were the most natural thing. It is also as much a folk pop album (think Meilyr Jones who also appears here) as an experimental excursion. Brian Eno sometimes comes to mind, although the dry humour on a track like ‘Nuns’ almost plays like a glitchy take on Kevin Ayers.
Green Seagull – Cloud Cover
Just like their debut, Green Seagull’s sophomore album is overflowing with late 60s psych tinged harmony pop of the highest order. Listening to this album is like stepping into a perfect time warp, everything is done with skill and precision, even the lyrics are in technicolor. While decidedly very retro, at the end of the day, an album is never better – or worse – than its songs. And the tunes here are absolutely cracking!
Oddfellow’s Casino – Burning! Burning!
Oddfellow’s Casino is a long running project by author and radio presenter David Bramwell from Brighton, helped out by various friends. Given that Bramwell actually is a member of a druidic order, more specifically the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, and the album covers a large range of the supernatural – this time loosely connected to fire – it might be easy to but this in the hauntology category. But what makes this album different is that, just like most previous Oddfellow’s Casino albums, is very much song based. So if you want your pop laced with pyschic children, rituals, poltergeists and standing stones, this is the way to go!
Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus – Songs of Yearning
If there is one thing my dear departed father told me was how to be an atheist. But what he didn’t manage to teach me was to listen to religious music, which he loved. It wasn’t until I discovered the Revolutionary Army of The Infant Jesus that I understood how to do that. ‘Songs of Yearning’ is their most consistent and haunting album since their reformation in 2015, after having been in hibernation since 1987. With songs in multiple languages, the album has a gorgeous pan-European feel and proves the deep cultural connection between England and the rest of Europe, that hints at just how big a mistake Brexit really is.
Rustin Man – Clockdust
When Paul Webb reappeared after a 17 year absence from the record business with a great introspective record that didn’t feel rusty at all, few probably expected him to follow up just a year later with an even better record. Yet here he is, and just as last year there is a Robert Wyattesque shimmer of melancholia over the whole thing which makes it irresistible for me.
Oh, yes, you are supposed to mention that Webb used to be the bassist in Talk Talk in reviews like this as well. So there you go!
Snails – Hard Wired
I loved debut album ‘Safe In Silence’ and their sophomore release proves they are no one-time wonders. From Bristol and with one foot in the Sarah Records take on twee, their music is open and welcoming. Yet, the more you listen, the more you discover undertones in the lyrics as well as the strength of their songwriting. A wonderful album that manages to attract at first listen but keeps on growing the more you listen.
Richard Wileman – Arcana
Wileman has been making great music as Karda Estra since the very dawn of the 21st century, but only started performing as a solo artist a couple of years ago. With this release, inspired by the Tarot, it feels like he is combining his more song-based folk approach with his more arranged and progressive band work. And the combination works brilliantly, resulting in an at times hummable yet haunting collection with great musical depth and emotional impact.