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Sunday 20 December 2020

2020: Two Lists

2020, it goes without saying, has been a year unlike any other. When the first lockdown kicked in back in March, schools were closed and everyone bar essential workers was told to stay at home, I briefly wondered if writing a music blog was suddenly a redundant activity, a bit futile and inadequate in the face of what was happening. The fear back in March was real, the scenes of people dying in hospital corridors in Italy coupled with rising case numbers and deaths and the sheer ineptitude of our government made everything else- even Brexit- seem inconsequential. In fact, as the weeks of lockdown turned into months and now almost a year of lockdowns and Tiers, music has been one of the things that has helped and despite our individual isolation has been one of the things that has brought us together. Anyone that has logged onto one of Sean Johnston's Emergency Broadcast Sessions and seen a community coming together in the chat function, enjoying hours of Sean DJing and chatting away will have seen how important music is as a release, as a connection and as simple escapist enjoyment. And despite everything there has been loads of great music made, written, recorded, produced and released this year. In some ways, I've enjoyed more new music this year than in many recent ones. 

Albums Of The Year

The best albums this year seem to have reflected the year (some of been made as a result of lockdown and time artists have had to create). There are masses of albums that have been floating around and that caught my ear. Before I get into the list proper, these ones have all been part of 2020- Wedge by Number, an exuberant post- punk, dance album with an ACR remix to boot, Julian Cope's Self Civil War (my last gig before lockdown, in February, was Julian at Gorilla), Steve Roach's Tomorrow, Rickard Javerling's 4The Orb's Abolition Of The Royal Familia (or at least parts of it), Youth and Jah Wobble's Acid Punk Dub Apocalypse (an album with multiple guest stars, including Hollie Cook, Alex Paterson, Blue Pearl and beats from Andrew Weatherall and Nina Walsh and which sounds good when it's playing but which I can't remember much about when it's not), Rose City Band's Summerlong (the latest Ripley Johnson project, cosmic country/ boogie, some of which is superbly out there, a blissed out version of Laurel Canyon), the nine remixes that made up Unloved's Why Not release (including a superb Richard Sen remix and dub plus outstanding remixes from Phil Kieran, Hardway Bros and The Vendetta Suite), a similar release by Joe Morris, nine remixes of his Balearic album from the year before compiled as Exotic Remixes, and a follow up to his The Malcontent Volume 1 by Duncan Grey (who drip fed us some great standalone songs throughout 2020 before giving us The Malcontent Volume 2). An honourable mention too to three albums that were made decades ago but only saw the light of day this year- Neil Young's legendary Homegrown, Rig's Perfect and Bushpilot's 23, three very different but better late than never albums.  I also loved A Man Called Adam's career spanning oddities and extras round up Love Forgotten, a digital only release that packs a huge amount into it's twenty songs. 

I know that I should have heard Working Men's Club by now and just haven't got round to it despite them appearing to be right up my alley. They're on my list, as are Sault who everyone else I know raves about and I just haven't dived in there yet. 

These are the twelve albums that have been the pick of 2020 at Bagging Area, in roughly this order even if finding a meaningful way to rank them is really tricky. The albums at the top of the list could be placed either way round depending on which I'm listening to at the time. 

12. Future Beat Alliance 'Beginner's Mind'

An immersive nine track trip taking in ambient, drones, acid and the melodic futurism of 2th century Detroit techno.

11. Kelly Lee Owens 'Inner Song'

A strong set of electronic songs and grooves from Kelly and a step on from her debut (which I loved). Corner Of My Sky, intense, weather beaten 2020 techno with John Cale's vocals stood out but everything else on it, from the banging grooves of Melt! to the bleary eyed soundscapes, sounded as good.  

10. GLOK 'Dissident remixes'

GLOK's 2019 record was as good as anything else out last year. The remix album was trailed by one of the final Andrew Weatherall remixes, a beautiful but low key, urban ambient remix of Cloud Cover. Across the rest of the record were some equally innovative versions from Richard Sen, C.A.R., Leaf, Minotaur Shock and others and from GLOK (Andy Bell himself). 

9. Brian and Roger Eno 'Mixing Colours'

A beautifully meditative set of treated piano pieces that drift out of the speakers and around the room. Made perfect sense back in May when I was raging about VE Day and contemplating turning fifty.

8. Richard Norris 'Elements'

Five long tracks made with modular synths, lovely pulses and washes of sound, hypnotic analogue sequences and gentle drones that built on his Abstractions records from 2019 and his excellent Music For Healing series from the spring and summer- deep listening for difficult days. Richard has made some of the defining sounds of 2020 for me. 

9. The Long Champs 'Straight To Audio'

A one man band from Wales (Lloyd Jones) making chuggy, trippy instrumentals that found favour with Andrew Weatherall's Convenanza and the Weatherall/ Johnston travelling disco A Love From Outer Space. Multiple, shimmering guitar tracks, washes of FX, slow motion dance beats and a style of upbeat shoegaze that transported me when things seemed irredeemably gloomy. 

8. Four Tet 'Sixteen Oceans'

Released as lockdown struck Kieran Hebden's latest record, three sides of vinyl plus a fourth of locked grooves, is a distillation of everything that he's good at. Teenage Birdsong came out in 2019, those skippy beats and lighter- than- air melodies pointing the way, and the rest of the album lived up to it. When I was hearing this in March it seemed like it made a stake to be the year's defining record and it hasn't diminished that much in the time between. A cut above most of the rest.

7. Rheinzand 'Rheinzand'

Rheinzand are a trio from Belgian who have made the darkest disco and the headiest sounds of 2020, a stunning twelve song record with a hot, sticky cover of Talking Heads' Slippery People and in Fourteen Again a song to keep picking up the needle and putting it back to the start. One of those albums that made you/ me forget everything and just focus on being in the music, in the moment. 

6. Daniel Avery and Alessandro Cortini 'Illusion Of Life'

This record sound tracked March for me and will forever be the music of lockdown 1- drones, industrial ambience, some intense and dense atmospheres and mesmerising waves of noise. It is beautiful and ominous and sometimes a really difficult record to pin down. These are the sounds that increasingly have been where I've headed as the year has gone on and if Daniel hadn't recorded another album in lockdown that just pips this one, this could easily be my album of the year. 

5. Sonic Boom 'All Things Being Equal'

Pete Kember's first new album in decades, an analogue synth based set of songs that are exactly what he's been doing for three decades but which sound like a new idea. The lead single, Just Imagine, is one of my favourite songs of this year and it sits among the hypnotic, beguiling, psychedelic trip of the rest of the record. When it's on the turntable it engulfs you and fills the room, Pete seeing through his own hallucinations to deliver a political message of kinds- the way you live your life matters.

4. Roisin Murphy 'Roisin Machine'
The glitterball, dancefloor dynamics of Roisin and DJ Parrot turned into album form, songs segueing into each other, tension and release, and Roisin's singular vision front and centre. Dazzling in places and dizzying in others, 2019's single Incapable and 2020's Something More showcasing the just- this- side- of- demented disco pop that she's made her own. If New Year's Eve parties were a thing, this record would be best slipped on at about 10.45pm and then played through to midnight. This performance was filmed in lockdown in Ibiza. 

3: A Certain Ratio 'Loco'
Loco, the first ACR album for twelve years, came out in September, a ten song record that seems to try to fit onto one disc everything that makes them who they are: post- punk veterans, 80s funk experimenters, late 80s/ early 90s acid house dance movers, a motorik Berlin- inspired pop group and writers of Mancunian love songs. It's a completely self- contained record- it sounds like them and could only have been made by them, and Jez, Donald and Martin sound revitalised. Sadly, it came only weeks after the tragic death of Denise Johnson, who had sung with the band since the early 90s and who sings on four of the songs on Loco. Along with her solo album which came out at the same time, it's a fitting tribute. 

2: Daniel Avery 'Love + Light' 
In lockdown Daniel shut himself away in his studio, a shipping container overlooking the Thames and made music. Ghostly ambient moods, intense sounds that ripple and shudder out of the speakers, late night/ post- club washes of calming noise, bleepy melodies that pull at the emotions and some blistering techno capable with a few heart- stopping moments. A gorgeous, immersive record that sounds like the respite we've all needed this year. 

1. Andy Bell 'The View From Halfway Down'
Andy stopped off from the Ride re- union and his cosmic adventures as GLOK to make a solo album and it hasn't been far from my turntable since it's release in the autumn. Opened by the late 80s guitar attack bliss of Love Comes In Waves and then followed by the rolling reverse groove and backwards vocals of Indica, the album is the perfect marriage of texture, sound and feel with songs- Skywalker is beautiful, sun kissed psychedelia, Cherry Cola is upwards looking, dreamy psyche- pop and album closer Heat Haze On Wayland Road is seven minutes of shoegaze updated for 2020, a Hooky- esque bassline and some achingly lovely synth sounds. 

Neither Album Nor Single But Something Else Entirely Releases Of The Year
Richard Norris 'Music For Healing 1- 12'

In between my albums and singles of 2020 there is a series of releases by Richard Norris, twelve twenty minute ambient/ deep listening tracks, recorded and released with the intention of giving people music to help them switch off and to cope with the stresses of the first lockdown. The twelves pieces are all beautiful, meditative, immersive pieces of work that are as much part of 2020 for me as anything else I've written about here- they are neither albums nor singles but something else entirely (although the twelve have been edited down to much shorter pieces and compiled as a CD which is highly recommended).  

Singles/Songs / Remixes/ EPs Of The Year

I'm not sure what even constitutes a single anymore and it probably doesn't matter. Anyway, a top forty five, the number most associated with the single format (apologies to anything I've missed and there will be something).

45. Fireflies 'The Machine Stops'
44. Joe Morris 'The New Dawn Will Come' EP
43. Stray Harmonix 'Mountain Of One'
42. Apiento and Tepper '17- 44- 58' EP
41. A.M.O.R. 'The Decline And Fall Of A Mountain Of Rimowa'
40. Fontaines DC 'A Hero's Death'
39. Rich Lane 'Barry Island'
38. Michael Son of Michael 'Babylonian Beaches' Rude Audio Remix
37. Pye Corner Audio 'Where Things Are Hollow 2' EP
36. Golden Fang AsTRiD
35. Doves 'Carousels'
34. Sink Ya Teeth 'Somewhere Else'
33. The Orielles 'Bobbi's Secret World' Confidence Man Remix
32. Thurston Moore 'Hashish'
31. Sinead O'Connor 'Trouble Of The World'
30. Roisin Murphy 'Something More' Crooked Man Remixes
29. Massey v Sir Horatio 'Music Control'
28. Leo Mas and Fabrice ft. Sally Rodgers 'This Unspoken Love' and dub mix
27. Rich Lane 'Prusik' (Live From The Woods) from the Knots EP.
26. Dreems 'Shark Attack' EP
25. Night Noise 'Dancing In Space' EP
24. Fjordfunk 'It's All Black' Hardway Bros Remix
23. Woodleigh Research Facility 'Woodleigh's Lament' 
22. Number 'Wedge' A Certain Ratio v Number (ACR Rework)
21. Dan Wainwright 'Raindance' EP especially the pagan house of A Blessing
20. Duncan Grey 'Steve Killage'
19. The Avalanches ft. Jamie Xx, Neneh Cherry and CLYPSO 'Wherever You Go'
18. Richard Norris 'Golden Waves' EP
17. Woodleigh Research Facility 'Medieval Dub'
16. The Venetians 'Son Sur Son' Andrew Weatherall Remixes
15. Django Django 'Marble Skies' Andrew Weatherall Remix (from 2018 but unreleased until this year).
14. Cantoma 'Closer' Apiento remix 

13. The Orb 'The Weekend It Rained Forever (The Ravens Have Left The Tower)'
An album track but I'm sneaking it in here because it shows what Dr. Alex Paterson can still do when he gets everything exactly right- a long, meandering, slightly spooky ambient future classic, Blade Runner and pouring rain, and another track that chimed in tune with lockdown in March. 

12. Moon Duo 'Planet Caravan'
A ten minute long cover of a 1970 Black Sabbath song that is the pinnacle of chilled out, take your time guitar playing and whispered vocals. From a Sacred Bones compilation. 

11. Andy Bell 'Chery Cola' Pye Corner Audio Remix
The album song made even better, layers of cosmic synths and the ending, where it breaks down into folky acoustic guitar, is sublime. 

10. Andy Bell 'Love Comes In Waves'
Shimmering guitar lines beamed in direct from 1989 and a vocal that surfs over the top. Euphoric guitar pop. Summer 2020.

9. Woodleigh Research Facility 'Monthly EP Series'
These should probably be presented above with Richard Norris's Music For Healing series. In January Andrew Weatherall and Nina Walsh began a series of digital only, three track EPs to be released monthly throughout 2020. Events overtook them but the releases kept coming and there are some magnificent pieces of music contained within the folders- a few highlights include Birthday Three from January, Fume Homage a month later, Somnium from March, the tracks from the autumn with Joe Duggan's poetry over the top (Downhill and Play Bingo With Me), the Karra Mesh EP in May and July's Substation Glow and from the latest release The Fallen. 

8. Bicep 'Atlas'
I slept on this a bit at first, thinking it was just another Bicep track, but its peaks, the ebb and flow, the rippling toplines, rattling drums, snatches of vocal and happy/ sad house music have been coming around again and again since it came out in March.

7. Formerlover 'Correction Dub'
A bonkers but enthralling collision of dub and Nigerian rhythms by Justin Robertson with his wife Sofia on vocals, speaking/ singing about domination and suchlike. 

6. Aimes 'A Star... In The Sky' plus Hardway Bros remix'
Massive sounding sci fi chuggy dance music with a bouncing bassline and portentous vocal sample. Ridiculously good and with Saturn and Jupiter about to be in close conjunction in the sky next week well timed for pulling out again.  

5. Sonic Boom 'Just Imagine'
I mentioned this in the album review above but it's such a wonderful, tripped out, wiggy song, Pete asking us to imagine being a tree/ simplicity/ being truly free as the analogies rhythms and synths whirr by.

4. Andrew Weatherall 'Unknown Plunderer/ End Times Sound
This pair of deep cuts, experimental end of the world dub with spaced out sound effects and some guitar from beyond the solar system by Andy Bell (him again), were released on February 21st, four days after Andrew died, a piece of timing no- one expected or wanted. The two tracks demonstrate why he was such a gifted producer and why he is so missed.

3. Green Gartside 'Tangled Man/ Wishing Well'
This came out of nowhere on 7" in the summer, a gorgeous pair of covers of songs by British folk singer Anne Briggs, the golden voice of Green Gartside reborn with some sumptuous dubby folk- pop music. I love it when a single blindsides me and this did exactly that. 

2. Andrew Weatherall 'The Moton 5' EP
Four slices of Lord Sabre's customary, easy brilliance, not least in the title track of this EP which glides in with a propulsive bassline, a mechanical rhythm and some very moody synths. The strings that come in at two minutes add some drama to the chug and then it all then glides on, seemingly endlessly but actually only for another five minutes. The Moton 5.2 strips it down and delivers an alternate take. The 12" EP came out in April, two months after he passed and sounds like what he always promised on his Music's Not For Everyone radio show for NTS- tomorrow's music today. 

1. Daniel Avery 'Lone Swordsman'

On the morning of February 17th Daniel Avery was in his metal box studio when he heard of the death of his friend and mentor Andrew Weatherall. He captured his feelings in this piece of music, four minutes of emotional, instrumental dance music that captures the spirit of the man and how many people felt with him suddenly gone- a breakbeat, some synths, an unfolding chord sequence and what appear to be the root notes of Smokebelch occasionally peaking through. In a year where emotions have often been very close to the surface, Daniel made a piece of music that is simple and minimal but layered and nuanced and extremely moving. Proof as well that music helps, and that when times are hard music is often the answer. 


Jake Sniper said...

Another excellent list, two thirds of your album list are in my top albums (still having trouble narrowing it down) and lots for me to explore on the singles etc list. It's been a truly odd year,but music has pulled me through some low moments.

John Medd said...

Some great choices in there, Adam; I'll get a few playlists out of these, that's for sure!
I've really enjoyed your writing and photography this year and look forward to more in '21.

Walter said...

There some excellent choices in your lists that will appear in my list as well. As you said - music helped me to stand the hard times this year. All the best to you and your family - stay all well.

drew said...

Great list Adam.

Khayem said...

Excellent lists, Adam. A few of these I bought this year on the back of your original posts/recommendation and I'm glad I did, so I'll definitely be checking out a few more that I haven't yet got around to. Thanks for a truly outstanding year of posts, too, always varied but a real personal insight into the craziness of 2020 and the power or music that I could really get behind. I'd echo John's comments as well about your photography - I look forward to the daily pic as much as the posts and the music selections. Thanks again, I hope you and your family have the best possible festive period, under the circumstances. Cheers, Khayem

C said...

SA, thank you for another year of blogging which has introduced me to a lot of great new music. I too remember that feeling at the beginning of the pandemic about whether or not it seemed to trivial to blog, also how to pitch things, get the tone right etc. - we were still in shock I guess, conscious of being insensitive - but I'm so glad everyone carried on! Just seeing daily posts really helps to ground things - a reassuring constant in these everchanging times, and the importance of music has definitely been highlighted.
Fab photos from you too as has been said already!

Rickyotter said...

A superb list Adam, a lot of it mirroring my own listening in this strange year. And that's probably a testament to your year of blogging - so many great recommendations have led me into great discoveries and further rabbit holes down which to wander. In a year when music has provided much of the stability, comfort and joy, that's been a real gift, so thank you

Echorich said...

Fantastic lists Adam! Love seeing so much crossover with my list and very interesting where we have the artist in common but went for a different track. I must say I deserve some credit for getting your Top album choices right! I will reveal mine in a couple days.

Swiss Adam said...

Thanks everyone, comments and praise from fellow bloggers and regular readers mean a lot.

Brian said...

Roisin Murphy, Kelly Lee Owens, Andy Bell and Green are a few from a handful I know and enjoy, but there are so many here where I need some educating. Seeing some of the same names pop up at Drew's, Echorich's and Walter's places. About time for me to jump on the bandwagon. Thanks for taking the time, Adam. These lists get me through the dark days after the holidays.