2020 was supposed to be a year like no other… And, in many fucked up ways, it has lived up to that. Not in the way we would have expected, but it truly has been a year like no other.
Throughout this past year, the album has once again been an accompanying force to the events that have gone on. From offering escape as we were stuck at home, to soundtracking protests for equality and justice around the world, music has once again done what it does best, guide us on the tumultuous journey that often is life.
And while, dear reader, the past twelve months can truly go fuck themselves; we’d be remiss in not taking a moment to look back and shine a light to the albums that helped us through the last twelve months.
Whether they’ve brought a smile to our face, a dance party to our living room, or accompanied us as we time and time again sat in our rooms wishing the time would go away, these are the albums that our team couldn’t have spent the year without.
And while all of us over at RIOT truly hope next year is a better one, for all of us, please enjoy our look back at some of the things that have been special about the past twelve months. – ed
Carly Rae Jepsen // Dedicated Side B
Interscope – 21st May
It’s rare an artist lets us into their archives of cut tracks from an album, and usually if they do it’s just a couple of tracks on a special edition, but not Carly. Bringing together a huge collection of offcuts from her 2019 album Dedicated, Carly Rae Jepsen has once again done what she does best, put out an album of massive pop hits.
Surprise dropping the album as quarantine boredom really kicked in, Carly’s Dedicated Side B brought a hint of excitement, and occasionally romance, into our indoor lives, whisking us away from our indoor lives and dropping us into a forty-minute world of her making. PG
Stream Dedicated Side B over here
The Weeknd // After Hours
Republic Records – 20th March
It’s hard to go anywhere on the internet these days without coming across one of The Weeknd’s tracks. From the heavily 80’s tinged ‘Blinding Lights’ to ‘Starboy’ and beyond, there are few albums that have invaded day to day life as much as After Hours has this year.
And all for good reason, returning to true forms The Weekend has shown us that he is still one of the biggest solo musicians around. And while he has been majorly snubbed for 2020’s Grammy awards, After Hours is undoubtedly one of the biggest albums to cross our desks this year.
Stream After Hours over here
Another Sky // I Slept On The Floor
Fiction Records – 7th August
London band Another Sky came out of the blocks with a statement of intent on their debut album, I Slept On The Floor. Pairing unflappable alternative rock instrumentation with Catrin Vincent’s soaring vocals, the quartet have created a collection of tracks that are both achingly fragile and monstrously cinematic, often at the same time. Mental health, austerity and masculinity are all explored throughout the album’s twelve tracks, making for one of the most complete breakthrough releases of the year. A sleeper hit. MG
Stream I Slept on The Floor over here
Laura Marling // Song For Our Daughter
Chrysalis Records – 10 April
Originally scheduled for a Summer release, Laura took it upon herself to bring forward the release of her seventh album just as the lockdown took hold and everything was thrown upside down. Song For Our Daughter acted as a soothing balm for a world in a muddle, and stands up as one of Laura’s best in a back catalogue of fantastic records. Mercury Prize-nominated for the fourth time, Laura Marling is one of our finest, most reliable artists in decades. A magical escape from a difficult, unpredictable year. MG
Stream Songs For Our Daughter over here
Orlando Weeks // A Quickening
PIAS Recordings – 12th June
It often seems that the most affecting songwriting is that which documents the small yet magnificent details of life. Rather than grand, sweeping statements, it is the minutiae that we relate to the most. Orlando Weeks’ album A Quickening is an album composed entirely of said minutiae.
Chronicling Weeks’ journey into fatherhood in reverse, A Quickening does that rarest of things – it makes you slow down. Composed of intimate, hushed moments, the album invites us to take it in at its own pace, rewarding us with a breathtakingly beautiful journey. LG
Aluna // Reinassance
Mad Decent – 28 August
Better known as one half of the production duo AlunaGeorge (from that Disclosure song), Aluna Francis was conscious of the obstacles in the way of her debut album as a black woman in house music. But in striking out on her own, Aluna brought us much more than house bangers and retro garage beats. With tinges of reggae, ska and afrobeat, all weaved together around Aluna’s idiosyncratic vocal performances, and some high-profile features from the likes of Princess Nokia to boot, Renaissance emerged as one of the year’s best late-summer anthems, and cemented Aluna as one of the UK’s most dynamic electronic talents in her own right. BK
Stream Reinassance over here
Boy Pablo // Wachito Rico
777 Music – 23 October
After bursting onto the indie scene with hit single, ‘Everytime’, Norwegian artist Boy Pablo’s long-awaited debut record finally arrived this year. Characterised by lo-fi vocals and swirling synth-lines, ‘Wachito Rico’ crosses pop and psychedelia, channelling the likes of Mac DeMarco and Rex Orange County via charming choruses and vibrant instrumentation. Filled with entertaining lyrical themes and incessantly funky melodies, ‘Wachito Rico’ is a vault of happiness within the trying times of 2020, centring around young love and good times. EH
Stream Wachito Rico over here
Rolling Blackouts C.F. // Sideways To New Italy
Ivy League Records – 5 June
Nostalgia-laden, better refined, and more propulsive than previous releases, the Aussie five-piece’s second LP cathartically examines the landscapes and interactions from the band’s personal histories, creating something akin to wistful optimism.
Sideways To New Italy marries the same antiquated indie algorithm to the quintet’s cinematic pop song writing style that made its predecessor a hit; three jangly guitars, sustained, intertwining, spiralling, and emoting with one another as primary melody makers. Rolling Coastal’s brand of sparse, understated vocals laden with introspection also return; albeit beefed up a bit. LG
Declan McKenna // Zeros
Columbia – 4 September
Declan McKenna burst onto the scene at 16 years old with a song about corruption in football. Saying he’s gone from strength to strength would be an understatement, and, following up on his debut effort, this year’s Zeroes sees the young savant take his urgent, socially conscious brand of rock-pop intergalactic. Packed with giant, prog-rock choruses and harmonies reminiscent of Meatloaf, Queen or (whisper it) Bowie, the Londoner is showing that he’s got places to be, and important things to say. We’re just glad to be along for the ride. BK
Stream Zeros over here
Boniface // Boniface
Transgressive Records – 14 February
Boniface‘s self-titled debut album drips with the angst and struggle of growing up different, and feeling out of place. It’s packed full of resonant, stirring choruses and glittering synth lines, and its lyricism has a close, biting quality which gives it the ability to make the mundane feel earth-shakingly important, and the earth-shakingly important feel relevant to anyone who might be listening. With Boniface, Micah Visser has conjured an album whose immediate poignancy demands attention, all while daring you not to stand up and jump around with each passing chorus. For a debut, that’s quite a feat. BK
Dream Wife // So When You Gonna…
Lucky Number – 3 July
Packing a punch, art-school-project-turned-punk-prodigies Dream Wife released their second studio album in July of this year. Having previously made a name for themselves producing gutsy, confrontational punk pop, the trio came together, this time to prove that you don’t have to shout to create an engaging political statement. So When You Gonna… provided a vehicle for the group to reveal a vulnerable side, with lyrics exploring themes of low self-esteem, loss and fragility, and proving their ability to contrast their typically brash and unapologetic tone. KE
The Districts // You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere
Fat Possum Records – 13 March
You know I’m Not Going Anywhere is a record of contradictions, lofty yet engaging. Experimental yet familiar. Expansive yet confessional. The album is an exercise in escapism; both sonically for the listener, and literally for the band themselves. The Districts are forging a strong catalogue and garnering a reputation for being fiercely consistent songwriters. Long may their streak continue. MG
Yves Tumor // Heaven to a Tortured Mind
Warp – 3 April
Miami-born, Italy-based artist Yves Tumor transcends labelling of just about any type. On the surface, they create electronically-informed rock tunes, but listen a little closer and you will find experimental RnB and lo-fi bedroom production lurking throughout their sophomore release on Warp Records, giving the LP an unpredictable and jagged feeling until its very end. With an ever-evolving image and sound this bold, stubbornly unique and visionary, Yves Tumor is fast becoming one of the most interesting artists of our time. MG
Stream Heaven To A Tortured Mind over here
Lady Gaga // Chromatica
Interscope – 29 May
As we said in our original review, it’s been a while since we’ve seen the quintessential, pioneering Gaga of old. There hasn’t been a meat dress in the news for the best part of a decade, and her constant reinventions have seen the Queen of Pop’s recent music take a more refined turn. But then came Chromatica. Over the course of its 16 tracks, we had the chance to mainline some pure, unadulterated, prime Gaga. There was dance-pop, retro flourishes and fictional planets, and some of the most refreshing, exhilarating pop released this year. Long may she reign. BK
Crack Cloud // Pain Olympics
Meat Machine – 17 July
Vancouver based collective Crack Cloud acts as a support system for its participants, providing a positive creative outlet for addiction-sufferers and mental health workers alike. On their debut album Pain Olympics, Crack Cloud send you on a manic musical and sensory journey.
These guys don’t do anything by halves – this record repeatedly lunges from vehement art-rock vocals to emotive, sweeping choirs and back again. The sheer amount of musical styles and structural U-turns packed into each song on Pain Olympics explains how Crack Cloud have managed to create such an impactful album in only 8 fervent tracks.
This is a record that is uncompromising in its eccentricity and experimentalism, but there is a beauty to that. Crack Cloud are not your average band, and they refuse to sacrifice their unconventionality by making conventional music. FH
Stream Pain Olympics over here or read our original reivew
Rina Sawayama // SAWAYAMA
Dirty Hit – 17 April
An exploration of family and identity, Rina Sawayama’s debut studio album can be best described as an intelligent and diverse offering which established the true prowess of the Japanese-British singer-songwriter. Showcasing a wide range of genres – often blending 2000s mainstream pop, nu metal, rock, R&B, and dance-pop among others – and rooting itself in very personal lyrical messages, the album lays the singer’s experiences in the context of two opposing cultures, allowing Rina to delve into her own sense of belonging while teasing out similar sentiments from listeners. With an overarching message of finding comfort and confidence in who you are, Rina used her debut record to snapshot the perfect imperfection of humanity and community.
Stream Sawayama over here
Taylor Swift // evermore
Republic Records – 11 December
Announced less than 24 hours before release, Evermore is Swift’s second surprise album of 2020, following July’s acoustic collection, Folklore. Delivered just two days shy of her 31st birthday (significant for Swift as the reverse of 13, her lucky number and birth date), Evermore plays to a more upbeat feel than its predecessor, and its tracks feel reminiscent of her much earlier, instrumental and country influenced work. Dramatically contrasting Lover in tone and creative, the record’s quieter sound gives it an intimate, personal feel, that acts to reward to her longstanding fans. KE
Car Seat Headrest // Making a Door Less Open
Matador Records – 1 May
More so than previous releases; Making A Door Less Open wears its lack of sonic cohesion as a badge of honour. From the acoustic soft-rock of ‘What’s With You Lately’, immediately to the frantic synth hook of ‘Life Worth Missing’. The uninitiated may find space to complain that the album fails to capture a singular sound. This, however, is where the true payoff lies; it’s in the realisation that the thread within these incohesive tracks is, in fact, frontman Will Toledo himself – once you invest in him, everything else makes perfect sense. MG
Poppy // I Disagree
Sumerian Records – 10 January
Previously bubblegum electric Poppy took a sharp and hard turn away from what she was comfortable with and known for, taking a huge risk by creating I Disagree, but damn did it pay off. This cathartic trailblazing album is teeming with anger and resentment, suggesting that if Poppy didn’t write those songs she might’ve just exploded into a pile of glitter.
I Disagree at heart is a metal album, with soaring guitar solos and angry yelled vocals, but it seems to have taken heavy electronic elements by force, combining them with her continuing essence of femininity, to create what we can only call a musical game changer.
With a potential Grammy win on the way and more releases on the way, 2020 is Poppy’s year, and we are just living in it. CS
Pottery // Welcome To Bobby’s Motel
Partisan Records – 26 June
On Pottery’s debut, Welcome to Bobby’s Motel, you never know what’s around the next corner. An electrifying mix of insistent drawling, funky riffs and manic drums are slammed together and embedded within exuberant, relentless and palpitating percussion – a Talking Heads for 2020. DW
Willie J Healy // Twin Heavy
Yala Music – 7 August
The three years since Willie J Healey released his lovelorn debut has seen the songwriter cultivate a more mature, confident outlook in his songs. Tracks such as ‘Songs For Joanna’ and ‘Why You Gotta Do It’ are sung from a position of wisdom, with ‘True Stereo’ and ‘For You’ hitting a genuine crooner-esque swagger. Having made himself at home at one of the UK’s most promising Indie startups – Yala! Records – Healey is now primed for a career of longevity, with an ever-growing songbook under his belt. DW
Jadu Heart // Hyper romance
VLF Records – 25 September
Hyper Romance has elements of the shimmering lo-fi indie electro that has defined the, self-producing Bristol based duo’s previous creative outputs, spliced with ventures into the enigmatic realms of psych-rock. The juxtaposing combination provides a heady, mesmerising and reflective take on modern love that grips your heart and infects your brain. DW
Stream Hyper Romance over here
Fontaines D.C. // A Hero’s Death
Partisan Records – 31 July
Departing from their signature anxiety-inducing post-punk sound, the second studio album, A Hero’s Death, from Irish post-punk band Fontaines D.C is fearless and funny in equal parts. With a dream-like and psychedelic vibe, that takes influence from the likes of Suicide, The Beach Boys, Beach House, the universally acclaimed album is a balancing act where narrative arcs are concerned. According to lead singer Grian Chatten, the album’s name – which was inspired by a line in a play by Irish writer Brendan Behan- indicates the search for balance sincerity and insincerity, happiness and depression. Having establishing this new sound, the quintet will take it on the road with a European tour in mid-2021. MP
Sports Team // Deep Down Happy
Island Records – 5 June
In the space of approximately two years, Sports Team have become one of the most talked-about bands around. Their much-anticipated debut record Deep Down Happy, which was released in June, plays like a whistle-stop tour of everything that’s exciting about the six-piece.
Opening with the explosive ‘Lander’, throughout which guitarist Robert Knaggs takes the lead vocals for the first time ever, this album signals the band’s desire to continue moving forwards, challenging the listener’s expectations of what a Sports Team record should sound like. Previously released singles like ‘Camel Crew’ and ‘Here’s The Thing’ blend with newer material like ‘Born Sugar’ to give a taste of every stage of Sports Team’s career so far, resulting in a surprisingly poignant album.
With its rowdy choruses and raucous guitar solos, Deep Down Happy is a time capsule, perfectly illustrating the guitar music renaissance taking place in the UK over the past couple of years. FH
Hayley Williams // Petals For Armor
Atlantic Records – 8 May
Petals For Armor is vulnerable, reflective, sorrowful, joyful, full of regret and teeming with self growth. Hayley Williams brings you along on her journey of self discovery as her debut solo album progresses, starting with expressing repressed and painful emotions, and finishing with a celebration of love and blooming.
The album was created as she wanted, slowly releasing 3 Eps, and it’s true, every aspect of this album feels personal as if it is Hayley’s way of unveiling herself as vulnerable and flawed, just like everyone else
As a result it explores experimental and unusual production aspects that give it touches of Radiohead, Solange and Bjork in a way that’s extremely enjoyable, progressing into funk-kissed electric pop hits.
If you haven’t listened to Petals For Armor yet you’re missing out, simply through the variation of musical style in this album it is guaranteed that you’ll find a song that resonates with you. CS
Georgia // Seeking Thrills
Domino Records – 10 January
Nominated for the 2020 Mercury Prize, London artist Georgia’s sophomore record feels like a breath of fresh air amongst the hoard of guitar bands currently dominating the alternative music scene. Melancholy and optimism, subtlety and vibrance; Georgia finds constant contrasts, resulting in an emotive body of work exploring the ups and downs of love. The ultimate soundtrack to late night drives, Seeking Thrills is an escapist pop wonderland, bouncing between big dancefloor beats and strikingly dreamy synth-scapes. EH
Stream Seeking Thrills over here
Megan Thee Stallion // Good News
300 Entertainment – 20 November
2020’s been a year of contrasts for Megan Thee Stallion. The twenty five year old has seen some of the largest achievements of her career so far, releasing her debut album, becoming arguably one of the biggest faces in American rap. But at the same time 2020 saw her shot twice in the foot in what Megan herself has described as one of the worst experiences of her life.
Good News kicks off addressing this. Album opener ‘Shots Fired’ was penned as a scathing dress down of her assailant, Lanez, drawing parallels between her shooting and the general lack of protection of black women in America.
Megan, though, doesn’t let the album linger on this, launching at breakneck speed through the rest of its seventeen tracks, pulling in features, and crucially showing us that she is destined for greatness.
Good News grounds itself in the power Megan has, not just as a rapper, but as a black woman. And while ‘Savage’ may have initially propelled Megan’s breakthrough, Good News has cemented her as one of the year’s finest.
Stream Good News over here
Beabadoobee // Fake It Flowers
Dirty Hit – 16 October
With indie banger after indie banger under her belt, Filipino-British singer Beabadoobee undoubtedly established herself as one of the best rising acts in 2020. Her critically acclaimed record drove the 20-year-old singer’s lo-fi bedroom pop sonics in a new direction, by taking a more guitar-driven approach that fit snugly into the alternative rock space. Announced in mid-July 2020 with lead single ‘Care’, following shortly after, the album which debuted at number 8 on the UK Albums Chart also found Beabadoobee being ranked as the Top New Rock Artist of 2020 by Billboard. MP
Dua Lipa // Future Nostalgia
Warner Records – 27 March
If one album has become weirdly prescient during the course of this year, it’s this one. Released in March, it was impossible back then to imagine how depressingly relevant the formerly nonsensical phrase “Future Nostalgia” would become. Dua Lipa’s sophomore effort pulses with nods to ‘80s synth-pop and dance, while its bitingly relevant lyricism makes it both a part anthem and a feminist rallying cry. In a year filled with so many outstanding albums by women, it’s impressive that this one has kept its place on our musical rotation for so long. Oh, to be back in the heady days of the ‘80s. Or even February this year. Future Nostalgia has helped us cope. BK
The Big Moon // Walking Like We Do
Fiction Records – 10 January
Coming off the back of their 2017 Mercury Prize nominated debut, The Big Moon raised their own sky-high standards with their second release. With a tracklist that offers the creeping bassline of ‘Don’t Think’, and the lush harmonies of ‘Barcelona’, via ‘Your Light’ – one of the year’s great indie-pop earworms, the release of Walking Like We Do marked The Big Moon as more than just buzz merchants, but a real career act. MG
bdrmm // Bedroom
Sonic Cathedral Recordings – 3 July
We first came across bdrmm when they played The Victoria in Dalston last winter, where Ryan Smith & co created room-filling reverb-heavy soundscapes that transported every member of the audience to a place of giddying euphoria. The Hull 5-piece took the somewhat ballsy decision to drop an album after just a couple of months of press attention. And talk about a pay-off. Bedroom reads like a diary of early twenties angst – with naïve riffs dancing over menacing chords that loom throughout. As with the best examples of Shoegaze, each of the ten items on the track list are a vessel of pure feeling, sitting in the intersection where accessible pop meets abstract sound design. MG
HAIM // Women in Music Pt. III
Polydor Records – 26 June
HAIM’s music has matured a long way since Days Are Gone, and it shows quite clearly on the innovative Women In Music Pt. III. HAIM have found a way to be confident and cool whilst also being soft and fun, leading the way in regards to the way we view femininity.
Women In Music Pt. III feels like running down Hollywood Boulevard at the end of summer with your friends, nostalgic and bittersweet but with underlying tension you know needs to be addressed. It transports you to a place that seems familiar but uniquely exciting.
HAIM said it themselves, this is a great year to a woman in music. CS
Mura Masa // R.Y.C.
Polydor Records – 17 January
Raw Youth Collage delivers exactly as the title promises. The album is a scrapbook-style exploration of adolescence, in both its romanticism and clumsiness. R.Y.C marks a stark change in sound from Alex Crossan’s previous slick, dance-inspired output; with a glitchy unease from the very start of the tracklist inducing a kind of jagged claustrophobia. With collaborations from the likes of Clairo, Georgia, Tirzah and Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell, Mura Masa has become a gatekeeper in his own right for the UK’s alternative music scene; a Mark Ronson figure for the M-CAT generation. R.Y.C. as a whole is a masterful left turn in the discography of one of Britain’s most talented young artists. MG
Working Men’s Club // Working Men’s Club
Heavenly Recordings – 2 October
Having completely restructured as a group following 2019’s breakthrough hit ‘Bad Blood’, Working Men’s Club threatened to disappear into obscurity as quickly as they had arrived. The release of their eponymous debut album, however, put any doubts to bed before the opening track even reaches its chorus. Each song on the Yorkshire band’s debut hits with undeniable purpose & poise, and a groove that assaults the listener with its immediacy. Taking elements of post-punk, new wave and Italo house and mutating them through the vision of a working class teenager, Working Men’s Club are the dark horses who will mercilessly win over new fans when festival season restarts – whenever that may be. It’s rare that a debut album lands with this kind of self-assurance, and Working Men’s Club has every chance of being the catalyst for something bigger within UK music. Whether this is the birth of a legend, or a star that will implode within itself at any moment; this is a special release and you will benefit from giving it your attention. MG
Stream Working Men’s Club over here
Phoebe Bridgers // Punisher
Dead Oceans – 18 June
June’s introduction to “sad girl summer” Punisher paints Phoebe Bridgers as a modern-day witch, creating spell-binding eerie synth and guitar-led tracks, as she explores life’s complexities in her signature melancholy and refreshingly blunt lyrics in tracks like ‘Halloween.’ Singing about a dead relationship, Bridgers reflects on the heartbreak sharing, “I hate living by the hospital / The sirens go all night / Used to joke that if they woke you up / Somebody better be dying.” The track is hauntingly beautiful, utilizing Bridgers’ wallowing vocals and harsh realizations, singing “Baby it’s Halloween, we can be anything,” as Oberst joins in like a ghost, repeating, “whatever you want.” The duet is bittersweet, playing on the duality of being both heartwarming and devastating. Sometimes a bit of melancholia can be helpful, natural, therapeutic. And Punisher brought us exactly that, just when it was most needed.
Run The Jewels // RTJ4
BMG – 3 June
2020 has been a year of turbulence. Anyone with a phone, anyone who turns on the news, anyone who even talks to somebody else knows it to be true. Protests erupted across the globe. People were outraged, and rightly so, and George Floyd’s death became a lightning rod for any and all racial tensions. Questions were being asked, people were finally sitting up and paying attention, and amidst all of this, Run The Jewels dropped their 4th album, RTJ4. Strangely, and depressingly, if you think about it, RTJ4 wasn’t even written in reaction to the 2020 protests; most of these songs were recorded in late 2019. So, tracks like ‘walking in the snow’ feel disturbingly prophetic, not least when Killer Mike literally raps “I can’t breathe”.
Elsewhere, lead single ‘ooh la la’ will leave you grinning, with an infectious piano loop, courtesy of DJ Premier. And album closer ‘a few words for the firing squad (radiation)’ is absolutely outstanding. An incisive meditation on grief turns into a sermon on martyrdom: Killer Mike is worried he could become “another Malcolm, […] another Martin”. The track is a go hard or go home for the ages, a rallying cry for anyone listening who has ever been discriminated against. RTJ4 may well be the most vital album released this year. LG
Porridge // Every Bad
Secretly Canadian – 13 March
2020 has seen Porridge Radio reach a place in public consciousness where they are impossible to ignore; garnering critical acclaim across the music press and picking up a nomination for this year’s Mercury Prize. Formed in 2015 – and originally the solo project of Dana Margolin – their extensive collection of Bandcamp songs maps their progression from the low-fi and unassuming to the polished and complex formula that comes to fruition on their second album Every Bad.
Luckily for us, the fundamentals of what makes Porridge Radio singular have remained unchanged throughout the increase in members, resources and anticipation between each new release. Every Bad is a dynamic, contemplative album that Margolin explains was a cathartic approach to ‘figuring out how I want to exist in relation to others, and how to process my own feelings, how to be vulnerable.’ Each track offers a new topic for contemplation, neatly delivered in succinct yet powerful lyricism.
Released through Secretly Canadian, the LP is a pure, refined form of personal expression from a band that have fully realised their genre-defining potential. Its venerable rawness demands attention and reflection, and verges on comforting (in that it reassures you that you’re not the only person that wants to scream sometimes). This is as far from background noise as possible. DW
Perfume Genius // Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
Domino Records – 27 March
It’s a strange burden that we place on queer artists. Much like artists of any minority, they are forced to act as a spokesperson not just for themselves, but for an entire subculture.
It is with this heavy burden on his shoulders that Mike Hadreas enters his fifth studio album as Perfume Genius; and yet it is this weight that makes the album transcendental. It’s been 3 years since his last full-length, 2017’s No Shape, which was ostensibly Hadreas’ breakthrough into the mainstream – after all, he won a Grammy with it. So Set My Heart On Fire Immediately could have been many things. It could have been a homogenisation of the artist’s sound, courting the mainstream. Or he could have retreated into the stark, bare songwriting of his early career.
Instead, he has done neither, expanding his sound into a widescreen vision of modern pop, and all of the sub-genres and influences within. Perfume Genius spent his 3 years in between albums performing as part of a critically-acclaimed dance troupe, and in fact it is this that seems to be the driving influence on this album. These songs have a physicality to them, as if Hadreas’ body itself is making this music. As such, there is a real feeling of catharsis – he is at once vulnerable and conquering. Across these 13 tracks, Perfume Genius is laid bare, and as an audience we feel both trusted and privileged. LG
Sorry // 925
Domino Records – 27 March
Sorry are familiar chiefly as a singles band, and this is front and centre throughout their debut 925. The LP was trailed by six tracks, and these appear largely unchanged in the running order. Sorry’s firepower lies in these songs – ‘Starstruck’ and ‘More’ have more hooks than they know what to do with, and this twisted take on pop is their calling card. Every sound feels percussive, and the result is infectiously bombastic. Their principal mode of attack is warped gutter-pop, all grimy earworms and unsettling lyrics.
There’s another side to their songwriting, though, rearing its head on cuts like ‘Rosie’ and ‘Heather’. A childlike innocence here, a dreamy feel – or as far from nightmareish as Sorry get. ‘Rosie’ is a perfect example; seemingly simplistic, but actually a deceptively moving yarn. Mention must also be given to the woozy, processed saxophone on this one; not many bands tour with a saxophonist, but Sorry treat it as every other creative leap they take – making it seem perfectly pedestrian, and necessary.
Lorenz’ is an intriguing voice: an innocent, nearly naïve delivery, but just below the surface lies a sinister realism. Trysts with washed-up rockstars, and tales of the most dysfunctional of relationships are just part of the lyrical wallpaper. She’s always addressing someone, just out of frame, with a keening, longing reliance. Considering that she cuts an intimidating figure, she presents as remarkably vulnerable on record.
925 is one of the stranger pop albums you’ll hear all year, but buried underneath layers of unusual production are some of the most alluringly odd earworms in recent memory. Sorry have produced a fantastically off-kilter LP, and are one of the most exciting bands in circulation right now. FH
Charli XCX // How I’m Feeling Now
Atlantic Records – 15 May
Like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, one genre thrived off the shitshow that was 2020 and emerged victorious: pop. Making its strongest comeback since the early noughties, feel-good pop music replaced angsty rock or angry rap as the soundtrack to boredom, breakdowns, and long-awaited reunions. And, while this year has seen the release of a wealth of top-notch pop records, Charli XCX’s hyper-pop masterpiece how i’m feeling now was the album that we all so desperately needed.
Written in the space of just a few weeks during the spring lockdown, how i’m feeling now was truly a collaborative effort. Charli’s fans were heavily involved in the whole creative process, from sending in homemade beats to having their say in the album artwork. Producers such as 100 Gecs’ Dylan Brady also lent a helping hand, contributing to the warped, electronic sound on tracks like ‘claws’.
Although, on the surface, the manic beats and abundance of autotune make the record seem like a fast-paced and light-hearted party playlist, how i’m feeling now actually contains moments of reflection and darkness. Blink and you will miss them, but lyrics such as “I don’t trust myself at all/ Why should you trust me?” betray a vulnerability that adds depth to the trademark playfulness of Charli XCX’s music. The album reaches its most emotional point on ‘enemy’, which sees Charli confess her insecurities and includes a snippet of conversation with her therapist: “I think [it’s] a tough journey to be on whilst you’re around a lot of people… I feel like I’m learning that about myself and I don’t fully really understand it yet.”
Whether you’re a long-time Charli XCX fan or have simply jumped on board this year, how i’m feeling now has something for everyone. The nostalgia of ‘party 4 u’, the only song on the record to have been written in pre-Covid times, runs seamlessly into the infectious energy of ‘anthems’, perfectly encapsulating the highs and lows of this bizarre year. From its unconventional inception to its intensely personal lyrics and giddy instrumentals, this really is 2020 in an album. For this reason, there was no other title on this list that felt as worthy of crowning our Album of the Year as how i’m feeling now. FH
Words by Chloe Spinks, Daisy Woodley, Ellie Potts, Ben Kitto, Fran Hall, Kate Eldridge, Louis Griffin, Malvika Padin, Matt Ganfield and Patrick Gunning