Ah 2020 – what a year! So much fun had by all. Really, we don’t know where to start! Oh wait, no…it was completely shit.
But amongst all the absolute nonsense the past 12 months has thrown at us, a plethora of glorious bands and artists have managed to keep their heads above the water, and deliver some utterly breathtaking records.
From out-of-the-blue album drops (Fleet Foxes, Taylor Swift), to the return of firm favourites (Laura Marling, Bob Dylan) and long-awaited comebacks (Bright Eyes, Kathleen Edwards), we have been so fortunate that so many artists have supplied us with the opportunity to escape this idiotic world and enter another, if only for a brief period.
Below are TFFT’s Favourite Albums Of The Year – 2020….
Everything Else Has Gone Wrong is the most emotionally mature album released by Bombay Bicycle Club. While this record is more subdued than the others, it’s awash with texture and layered beats that prove time can be a positive catalyst for revival. When everything else has gone wrong, we can rest easy knowing that these guys have our backs with the good tunes.
The development of Rateliff’s musicianship and voice becomes apparent on this record. This lies somewhere further on than his previous solo work. Rateliff’s voice as an instrument shines through and his guitar is used well to keep much of the instrumentation deceptively simple, quite the accomplishment considering the additional instruments on the record.
This record will provide endless release for fans. The depth created by Song For Our Daughter is the most welcome vacuum for listeners to fall into. It is a momentary light that we will always remember.
Cacophonous, monstrous and mellifluous in equal parts, it serves to highlight the Frankenstein nature of this project; an unstable harmony exists in the compound, created out of an exhilarating collection of ingredients. In these weird existential times, here is a record that seems to have been made just for them.
Writing an album this deeply personal can be a challenge, especially when you potentially risk re-traumatising yourself over your past selves and what they went through, but Bridgers has demonstrated that she doesn’t just write love songs, she writes about everything that surrounds love, the darkness that comes with it, the pain it can evoke and the price you have to pay to have it.
Rough And Rowdy Ways
Ray LaMontagne can’t be compared to any other artist, as no one else completely captures and conveys both raw emotion and sincerity like he does. As a songwriter, his lyrics and soft guitar tones never fail to create an atmosphere you wish you could live in forever. His voice is familiar and wholesome, and will continue to enchant audiences with this new record.
Ever wonder if there could be an artist with the musical energy of Maggie Rogers, the lyrical genius of Lucy Dacus, and the rich harmonies of The Staves? Enter Francesca Blanchard. With her smooth vocals, witty lyricism, and unique folk-pop sound, this French-American songwriter is not one to miss. In this genre-defying tour de force, Blanchard builds from her folk foundations to create an open, airy space, where synth pads are cut with acoustic guitar, and raw harmonies are woven into the automated voices of technology.
The record is the first to have been produced by Lianne La Havas. It is a self-titled, self-belief fuelled lesson in self-ownership. A musical wonderland, featuring a soul-infused, graceful cover of Radiohead’s ‘Weird Fishes’, throughout this record Lianne La Havas asserts herself as the strong artist that she may not have believed herself to be on her previous two albums. La Havas’ intricately executed voice layering and immense guitar playing gives her an edge. There is little better in music that an artist believing in the sound they are creating. Lianne La Havas is a straight up no frills celebration of talent and musicality.
This is an album that reminds you it is ok not to be ok. This is an album for the times we are living in, an album of solidarity and a near flawless one at that. She may not have meant it to be taken this way, but Andrews summed it up perfectly in the record’s accompanying notes: “This album is about loving and caring for the person you know you can’t be with.” Well, quite.
Taylor Swift has matured into an artist for all ages. The days of being popular appear to be less important because this album demonstrates her ability to convey the effects of solitude and time for reflection. She certainly hasn’t wasted her lockdown.
The true brilliance of this album comes once you have a deeper understanding of it. Scratch the surface of the catchy hooks and driving rhythms and you discover a softer, vulnerable underbelly. Seeds of lyrics about the most mundane of topics (birds on a feeder, the online street view of an old house) grow into living, breathing stories. And like the best short stories, Edward’s lyrics show you a glimpse of real lives; a vignette of a memory, the middle of the tale, and leave so much to the imagination – what else is going on in this person’s world?
Instrumentally, Down In the Weeds is dazzling. Complete with a full orchestra, the whine of pedal steel, and the familiar intimacy of Oberst’s nasal croak, the record harkens back to the earlier days of Bright Eyes, while also creating a new kind of cacophonous – yet monumental – soundscape that fits eerily with the times. Apocalyptic and intimate, hallucinogenic and prophetic, Down In The Weeds, Where The World Once Was creates a world evocative of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” where existential dread looms beneath every word, and joy arrives in stimulant-fuelled fits. It may have taken nine years, but Down In The Weeds was well worth the wait.
Every Feeling On A Loop is about healing, and the record itself has a healing effect. There’s something about the intimacy in Josiah’s vocals when he sings, “The world’s not going to end if you do not get your way, my friend,” that feels like an old friend embracing you after years spent apart. The instrumentation has a similar effect, wrapping the listener in a quilt of colorful textures, lush musical arrangements, and rich harmonies. Cellos, horns, and tambourines light up the record, creating scenes of reconciliation, heartache, and self-love on his road to recovery. Every Feeling On A Loop has the grandiose sweep of a Sufjan Stevens record with the accessibility of The Lumineers. Filled to the brim with exuberance, euphoria, and love, Johnson’s lust for life radiates through the album.
Exploring grief, reincarnation, and the frivolity of human life through metaphysical adventures and hallucinogenic trips, Holy Smokes Future Jokes is definitely the most bizarre contemporary folk album I’ve heard in a while. And I have to say, there’s a nice balance of philosophical waxings and utter nonsense. It kind of feels like a solipsistic alt-rock project born out of a 19 year old dude’s basement after he saw that Doors documentary. But in a good way! (Also with a higher budget).
Vulnerable, expansive, and bright, Shore may be the Fleet Foxes’ most impressive work to date. But in all its majestic glory, it speaks to a simple human need: the safety of shore – the comfort of seeing even a glimpse of land from rough waters.
It seems lockdown has been productive for some. The halting of live music has obviously been a blow to the majority, but Adrianne Lenker has been able to turn her idle hands to new music. Lenker evidently has more than just idle hands, she’s got music coming out of her pores.
Keaton Henson writes music that makes you feel guilty for listening to it. It feels almost too personal, like you read a page from his diary left open on the countertop. And you feel even worse if you know how shy he is in real life, steering clear of social media, rarely agreeing to interviews, and appearing viscerally anxious when performing in front of crowds. Yet his music is startlingly candid. Completely open in his explorations of mental illness, self-doubt, and loss, Keaton Henson has a capacity for complete humility that few songwriters can achieve. And his latest album, Monument, may be his most gut-wrenching work yet.
Finally, to celebrate the music from each of these incredible 20 records, we’ve put together an ‘Albums Of The Year 2020’ playlist, for you to spin all the way through to the New Year and beyond…