TDF Albums of the year 2020
We gave the old list thing a miss last year as there are so many to choose from. In 2018 we gave you our nine favourite albums, this year we're feeling generous and letting you have a couple more recommendations. Once again, like everything, we don't do the "best" albums, these are our favourites of 2020.
Alt music in 2020 incorporated a lot of nostalgia from past decades, some nuanced, some less subtle. The New Abnormal from The Strokes - their first release in seven years - falls into the latter category. The album is a timeless crowd-pleaser, and unapologetically chock full of 80s references. “And the 80s bands, where did they go?” lead singer Julian Casablancas sings on ‘Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus’ which happens to have a synth hook that would fit right in on any 80s hit. Opener ‘The Adults Are Talking’ has a similar beat to Joe Jackson’s ‘Steppin’ Out.’ Lead single ‘Bad Decisions’ is a fun combination of Modern English’s ‘I Melt With You’ and Billy Idol’s ‘Dancing With Myself’. The chorus of ‘Eternal Summer’ recalls ‘The Ghost in You’ from the Psychedelic Furs. Idol, his Generation X bandmate Tony James and the Psychedelic Furs have writing credits on the album. It may be hard to believe, but the prophetic title of The New Abnormal was chosen way before the strange COVID times of 2020. Rather, Casablancas has said that the title came from something California governor Jerry Brown said in 2018 about the Malibu fires. (Mara Levy)
In the mid-90s, after only releasing one EP (G-Stoned) and a collection of their groundbreaking remix projects (K&D Sessions), the kings of downbeat trip-hop and electro dub, Kruder and Dorfmeister assembled pieces for their first album and then somehow forgot about it, caught up in DJ-ing, remixing and developing solo projects like Tosca and Peace Orchestra. The original DAT tapes were only recently uncovered and 25 years after it was recorded their first album finally sees the light of day. Created on what is primitive technology by today's standards (an ATARI Mega ST4), the minimalist deep dub rhythms, beats and vocal samples propel the listener back to the authentic sound of mid-nineties while still sounding completely fresh. (Noel Megahey)
You're the biggest pop star on the planet. You've not long released your last mega-successful album, Lover. You're in lockdown in the midst of a pandemic. Pop quiz: what are you gonna do? Well if you're Taylor you're going to exchange messages with a producer well out of your wheelhouse (aka Aaron Dessner) and rope in a producer you know well (aka Jack Antoff), and then make the best album of your career, in secret, and release to the world just when everyone really needs it. 'Cardigan', 'Betty', 'Mirrorball', 'This Is Me Trying', the immediate classics are spread throughout the 16 tracks here, with some of Taylor's best songwriting on show. The topper? The reduced production on the album makes space for Taylor's voice, her secret weapon, and it powers folklore. Actually, the topper? The Long Pond Studio Sessions, acoustic takes of each track. Oh, and evermore. What a 2020 for Swifties. For everyone. (The Digital Fix team)
Well this is no surprise. It's an open secret that Jason Isbell has big love here at TDF, especially when he's with the 400 Unit. And Reunions didn't disappoint. There's the rawness of 'Be Afraid', the beauty of 'Dreamsicle', and the rollicking home truths of 'What've I Done To Help'. There are multiple layers of power to Isbell's songs; from the lyrics, at times personal and insightful, other times widening their worldview to talk almost directly to listeners. Then there's the layering of sounds, songs building to a finish, often with Isbell's guitar winding its way through the song, looking for the space to solo. After a run of bona fide classics, back to 2013's Southeastern at least, where does the Alabama native and his band of master musicians go from here. Cannot wait to find out. (Max Mazonowicz)
Indie rocker beabadoobee (aka Bea Kristi) effortlessly makes old new again on her debut full-lengther Fake it Flowers. The 20-year-old’s hazy, somewhat grungy sound - delicate vocals and a catchy melody paired with harder guitars and fuzzy production - certainly can hold its own next to songs by 90s female rockers Juliana Hatfield and Dolores O'Riordan. Lead single and ode to teen angst ‘Care’ was an infectious hit on Alt radio. ‘Worth It,’ about being unfaithful, also has a hooky chorus and power guitars. ‘Sorry’ is full of emotional swells. And ‘How Was Your Day’ has a sweet, homemade demo feel, reminding listeners that the album was mostly written and partially recorded in Kristi’s bedroom during the COVID lockdown.
Kristi began recording music as beabadoobee in 2017. Since then she has seen a swift rise, starting with 'Coffee', which gathered hundreds of thousands of streams in a matter of days through a fan-uploaded video. Last year Canadian rapper Powfu sampled the track on his hit 'death bed (coffee for you head)'. TikTok took the song to viral levels. Fake It Flowers is appealing to fans across generations: Gen Xers will like it because it sounds super familiar and their Gen Z children will like it because they first discovered beabadoobee on social media. (ML)
Barbados born British saxophone player Shabaka Hutchings is one of the UK's most creative players and a huge inspiration to the current generation of young black London Jazz musicians. Whether it's The Comet Is Coming, The Sons of Kemet or this collaboration with South African musicians, his varied crossover jazz using unconventional line-ups pushes musical boundaries with works that are politically charged and socially engaged. A dire warning from history of the abuses of mankind that will lead to an apocalyptic eradication of the species, We Are Sent Here by History is a dark and brooding work, but no less charged in the trance-like rhythmic drive, deep basslines and thunderous beats, with Shabaka's soaring alto sax infusing the dream-like chanted poetic narrative with remarkable feeling and force. (NM)
It wasn't supposed to be like this. For all the plaudits and year-end lists that Dua Lipa has ended up on, this isn't an album made for listening to alone. This is a throwback album, eleven dancefloor bangers, designed to soundtrack your night out. The British artist throws everything at this, and somehow, amazingly, it all sticks. From the retro nods of 'Physical' through the melodies, beats, and phrasing of everything else, this is a fantastic album. Where Dua's debut felt a touch forced, this flows, peaks early and never slows down. Despite not being how it was made to be listened to, it turns out that this is the perfect album for 2020. Oh, and time was found for Club Future Nostalgia, an alternative version of dance tracks. Right, back to 'Levitating'. (TDF)
One of the dark horses of 2020, Autonomy went somewhat under the radar until its release, and even now, despite a raft of glowing reviews, it's still too unknown for our liking. It's stuffed full of searingly honest songs like 'Pretty' and 'Mr Wonderful', dealing with a mix of childhood bullying and its consequences ("Am I Pretty?" was written at the end of every diary entry of a ten-year-old Stephane), and controlling/abusive relationships in adulthood. The Nashville singer-songwriter is unafraid to say what needs airing, as on 'Joy Of Jesus' and 'Daddy's Disappointment'. Autonomy is full of lyrics with real stories and experiences, all coated in some wonderful aural delights. (MM)
I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME (aka iDKHOW) is a band out of time. Their name (stylized without punctuation) comes from a quote from the movie Back to the Future. Their curated, mysterious backstory is that they are a band from the 60s, 70s and 80s that has only recently “resurfaced”. It’s hard to pigeonhole the fun and flamboyant time machine that is RAZZMATAZZ, but the long-awaited debut full length from duo Dallon Weekes and Ryan Seaman is certainly the razzle and dazzle we needed. There is a heavy Bowie influence on the danceable, new wave opener ‘Leave Me Alone.’ ‘Nobody Likes the Opening Band’ stands out as a fun, theatrical and self-aware song featuring just piano, vocals and a tambourine. ‘Kiss Goodnight’ is a dreamy synth ballad. Don’t miss the sax solos on “Lights Go Down’ and title track ‘Razzmatazz’!
Be glad to have found iDKHOW, who heavily borrow sounds and feelings from past eras and twist them into something incredibly modern and different from your standard alt-rock fare. (ML)
There's a fine line between jazz fusion and prog rock, and the distinction is blurred ever further as musicians who have grown up listening to prog and heavy rock bands are now feeding those influences back in a fascinating way into the contemporary jazz. None more strikingly than here where crushing Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple-like chords are speeded up and filtered through the sensibility and unconventional rhythms of the Armenian folk music influences that also feature in the dextrous piano playing of Tigran Hamasyan. His latest album The Call Within takes that unique blend to a new level from the jaw-droppingly complex and propulsive rhythms of the opening track 'Levitation 21' and the furious pace scarcely lets up throughout the remainder of this extraordinary album. (NM)
Five years. FIVE YEARS! Oh Cam, why make us wait so long. Anyhow, never mind that, it was worth it. Modern classic 'Diane' aside, Cam's second album is full of pure Cam, and by that we mean pure enjoyment. Whether it's quieter moments ('Redwood Tree', 'Forgetting You'), getting down and dancing ('Classic', the title track), being epic ('Til There's Nothing Left'), or pure vulnerability ('Girl Like Me') this is an album for all time. (MM)