Best Albums of 2020

2020 (among many much more important things) was the year when Bandcamp became a lifestyle, and a focal point for distinguishing algorithmic pacification from active patronage. It was a safety net for artists whose last remaining stream of funding had been cancelled. It is an exemplar of how art can operate in future, for those who hope to subsist by their passion, and those who simply want to share their art with the world in a way that puts the art first. Although my list here is not “about” Bandcamp, I want to encourage everyone to think about their role in music, since the algorithmic subscriber has effectively become the source of income for the exploiters. I  have been harping on about this all year, and will continue to use this harsh rhetoric to try to get the point across. A passive consumer of the algorithm is actively feeding exploitation. Establish a connection with the art you love. Nurture and explore. Purchase what you enjoy, because it will make a difference to the future of the artist who made it. The only subscription model that supports art today is direct patronage (like Patreon and Bandcamp subscriptions). If subscription “works for you”, then subscribe to artists rather than those who exploit artists. And if that all seems too weird, then just buy some good music.

That said, on to the list.

Likwid Continual Space Motion – Earthbound

One hour and forty seven minutes of monument to broken beats and much that informed the divergence of this strain from all that proceeded it. There is no other word for it than “monumental”. The most important broken beat album since 4 Hero’s Creating Patterns, 19 years later. It really doesn’t lend itself to words, as words always fall short of something it is doing well. I can’t offer any higher praise. Best album of the year, and possibly of the decade or century. Masterpiece #1 of 2020.

Rian Treanor – File Under UK Metaplasm

Given the height of praise for LCSM, it must be hard to follow, right? Well, for many of the same reasons, this is right up in that same praise bracket. Although the end results diverge, they are both amalgamations that bring together strains in the best completely novel ways. Once you’ve heard this, it becomes a new reference for everything that is happening. Especially if you are paying any attention to what is happening in Africa and the UK, and reflect a bit on the influences from Chicago and Detroit, this is clearly global music. Where LCSM unifies past and present, Rian Treanor unifies space. Masterpiece #2 of 2020.

The Transcendence Orchestra – Feeling The Spirit

Not sure this is a masterpiece per se, but it is an absolutely wonderful album, and I will be listening to it for a very long time. It has earned itself a place beside the best ambient albums in my collection. While I have followed everything The Transcendence Orchestra have done quite closely, this is the peak of what they’ve achieved so far. And while it is its own whole, it hints at new directions. Some of this picks up where Coil’s ambience left off, but with a unique flavour, and that is probably the best stretch of a comparison I could make, as it does so many other things as well. One thing I notice when I listen to this album is that the tracks are distinct, but they work so well together that I scarcely realise the first one has finished when I reach the end of the album.

Pole – Fading

I believe I have all of Pole’s albums, and am certainly not one to see the first two or three as the canon and everything else as the rest (as I think may be common), but in any case I see this as the best album he’s created since the first two, and perhaps even better than them. It is brilliant. Everything you know about Pole is here, but it’s all under new direction. It’s not really different, but it is impeccable Pole. This is one that will stay in “rotation” for years.

LEYA – Flood Dream

With many thanks to Actress for the tip, this album opened up a world of music from LEYA and Eartheater to me, which has drifted rapidly from discovery to immersion. The remixers alone may add some weight to the recommendation, with both Actress and Drew McDowall (formerly of Coil) adding their interpretations. But the originals stand their ground, and if there is any criticism to be found of this album it’s that the best tracks are so outstanding that some of the others become less memorable. Nevertheless, the whole album is what you will probably choose to listen to once you make this connection. Detuned harp wasn’t really on my radar for 2020, but I will have an emptier 2021 if it transpires without it.

Bass Clef – Maze Greys

I couldn’t say it better my friend Brendan, “Like your brain just found a previously unknown room in its house which is vast, well-lit, and contains a massive chaise longue.” A completely novel thing that demands and rewards immersion.

Legowelt – Pancakes With Mist

Danny Wolfers released so many good albums this year, you would think it would be hard to pick one. I must have bought at least 100 of his new tracks, which is incomprehensible, but probably accurate. However, this is the clear album choice among these, if you must pick only one (I would encourage you to do more). There is scarcely a duff moment in all that work, but this album is so great. I only included one track here as reference because there was no way I could single out two or three from the rest. My kids once mistook this track for Drecxiya, which I think says it all.

Gan Gan Garmana Kacapi Suling – Javasounds Vol. 7

I have had a peripheral interest in Gamalan since I first learned about Reich’s early influences 20ish years ago, but it is fair to say that I never pursued it until now, and that recent interest was largely pushed along after hearing the Gamalan Degung track that featured in the Netflix short film, “John was trying to contact aliens”.

So I went on a bit of Gamalan binge. It is one of the most pure forms of music, wearing its connections to the trance-like states it can inspire on its sleeve. And this is the best new Gamalan I’ve found in 2020.

Linkwood & Other Lands – Face the Facts

Other Lands and associated acts have been a major musical presence this year, so picking one album is difficult, but this collaboration with Linkwood really stands out. It sounds like itself but still covers a fairly wide range, and some of the tracks boil over with sincerity and funk. 

His Name Is Alive – Return To Never (Home Recordings 1979 – 1986 Vol 2) and Ghost Tape EXP

The second and prelude-to-third volumes of Warren Defever’s tape archive releases – some made when he was as young as ten, but largely his high school years before His Name Is Alive arrived on 4AD. Beautiful droney effected guitar on tape. Unfathomable that he made all of this at such a young age, and that they were made before most of the things they remind us of today. The Ghost Tape EXP cassette is still available, so act fast if you want this music for tape on tape.

Five honourable mentions

Reggie Dokes‘ Deep House Remix of Teyana Taylor-Still, which is probably my favourite house track of the year.

Polypores, who had many great albums this year, including the recent WF 11 – Tempus album.

Plant43‘s Storm Control includes two of his best tracks – the title track which is what we expect of him but definitely one of his best, and the surprising downtempo Sparks in the Grey Light, which I absolutely adore.

Eartheater‘s Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin. Probably lacking the highs or Trinity, but making up for that with consistency and breadth.

Jordan JCZ‘s jams on Patreon.