It’s been a tough year, but so many of us were kept going by the phenomenal amount of music released over the past 12 months. We won’t claim any of these to be the ‘best’ – music is not a competition, especially in 2020 – but the following were all on constant rotation at Spectral Nights HQ.
Released on the day we started our own lockdown (a full week and a half before the British prime minister decided to issue a stay-at-home order…), ‘Lovecore’ became the soundtrack to those early spring days in isolation. Fun, mathy rock with melodies you’re humming for days and lyrics that reflect mental health struggles and social issues. The opener is called ‘Sincerely Overwhelmed’ – the most fitting title for this year?
Of course Bright Eyes would return for their first album in nine years just while the world started to collapse… . The beautiful string arrangements were there, the poetic, sometimes abstract lyrics and Conor’s vocals were better than ever as the band tackled issues including ageing (dis?)gracefully, divorce and death: ‘Life’s a solitary song, no-one to clap or sing along. It sounds so sweet and then it’s gone so suddenly’.
I LIKE TRAINS hadn’t released a full-length record in eight years before ‘Kompromat’. Named after the Russian term for compromising material, the dire state of politics both sides of the Atlantic inspired the band to pick up their instruments again and rally against the constant lies, corruption and division we are fed by those in power (‘I am the President, I am the overfed, bigoted son of an immigrant’). The historical lessons and post-rock atmospherics were replaced with something more timely and industrial. It’s a snapshot of what we’ve allowed politics to become…
Phoebe Bridgers has appeared near the top of pretty much every other Albums of 2020 list we’ve seen so we don’t really need to say much more. She sounded more confident, kept her dark sense of humour intact and ‘Kyoto’ was everywhere during the summer. For bonus points, the record featured a booklet of illustrations by Chris Riddell and an accompanying short story by Carmen Maria Machado.
Bartees Strange – ‘Live Forever’
Bartees Strange’s debut record packed in so many genres into its eleven electrifying songs – from emotional Antlers-style tenderness to synth-pop that recalls early Bloc Party and hard-hitting Death Grips-style beats – all while Bartees reflects on his experiences growing up as a black man in an overwhelmingly white, racist town on the outskirts of Oklahoma. It’s powerful and potent stuff from a real talent.
We also enjoyed the records released by Biffy Clyro, Ailbhe Reddy, Dua Lipa, Clipping, Tugboat Captain, Adrianne Lenker, Everything Everything, Dana Gavanski, Idles, Hazel English, The Cribs, Pillow Queens, Doves, Black Foxxes, Ex Oh, Frances Quinlan, Touche Amore, Mansions, Jarv Is, Slow Pulp, Into It. Over It., Dream Nails, Land of Talk, Anna Burch, Sorry, Disq, Squirrel Flower, Porridge Radio, Good Good Blood and Beach Slang – and many more besides.