2020 is a year most of us would rather forget.  I suspect the BBC won’t be making a “I heart 2020” anytime soon!

This year reminds me of a story one of my old bosses used to tell.  He was always telling stories, it used to drive me up the wall as I heard them so often, but this one always stuck in my memory.

It was about 2 sisters, one married a millionaire and moved away, the other married a starving artist and stayed at home.  They hadn’t seen each other for years and their kids hadn’t even met each other so they decided to meet up for Christmas.

On Christmas morning, the millionaire parents are excited waiting to see their child’s face when he sees what they’ve bought him – but they go downstairs and there he is surrounded by ripped wrapping paper strewn everywhere, with a face like thunder sitting in front of a PS5 (ok I updated it a bit, when he told it, it was an Atari VCS or a Sega Megadrive or something!) when they asked what’s wrong, “I distinctly asked santa for an XBox”.

One present after another, most kids would give their right arm for, but he finds fault.  Suddenly, they hear the other kid going “Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees” and they go through to see why. He’s jumping up and down and goes “I got an Orange, I haven’t had an Orange in over a year!”.

The moral of the tale being that whilst most people would probably think the child with millionaire parents is the lucky one, in reality he will never be happy because he doesn’t appreciate things.  If an orange puts a smile on your face (without doing anything rude with it!) then you should be able to get through life no matter what it throws at you.

So, whilst I could sit here wistfully looking at my camera, remembering how I’m usually choosing my favourite photos I’ve taken off over 100 bands at this time of year and be miserable, I prefer to focus on the good stuff – we are still here, and there were some cracking albums released this year!

These are the albums I’VE enjoyed this year.  Your mileage may vary, but if 1 or 2 have slipped your attention then they are definitely worth a listen.

And, whilst we are far from out of the woods yet, the fact that there’s even talk of “normality” returning by Easter is a glimmer of hope to hang on to.

So, let’s celebrate great music, and a possibility of gigs and festivals returning sooner rather than later.

Live Music Pix / New Music Online: Top 20 Albums of the Year

The Night We Raise by Korine
Korine is a Philadelphia based duo comprising of Morgy Ramone and Trey Frye. The pair blends new wave nostalgia with a modern pop sensibility, contrasting upbeat rhythms against sullen and emotionally evocative lyrics.
Storm Damage by Ben Watt
Ben Watt of course needs no introduction, as part of Everything But The Girl.  His first album in 4 years was well worth the wait.
Container by The Wants
The NME describe The Wants as “a menacing no-wave riot powered by coffee machines and aluminium sheets.“.  Gutted I missed their Leeds gig as I was ill.  I couldn’t do Manchester as I had another gig that night, so I booked a travelodge to see them in Leeds – lets just say there aren’t many bands I’d travel to Leeds for!  Hoping to catch them next time around,
A Hero’s Death by Fontaines D.C.
I must admit I never really got into their first album, though they were good live.  On first listen I wasn’t too keen on this album, but after a few listens it’s had many spins!
When We Stay Alive by Poliça
Superb album and she was great live at Gorilla Manchester back in March.
Forever Blue by A.A. Williams
Stunning album on Bella Union.
Live Fast Or Die by Maid Of Ace
A band I discovered via the sidebar in YouTube who several people have recommended to me since.  Cracking album!
Good Songs for Bad People by Drab City
When Simon Raymonde’s Bella Union label put out a band, you know they will probably be a bit special, and they certainly are.
Myopia by Agnes Obel
I saw Agnes Obel at Summer Sundae Weekender circa 2012 and she was utterly mesmerising.  This album is a real treat.
Sorceress by Jess Williamson
I used to absolutely loathe anything remotely country and western, but last year I got into Orville Peck, and this year Jess Williamson. An album well worth many spins.
Kompromat by I Like Trains
Great band, definitely one I want to catch live.
Alphabetland by X
I only discovered X via their work with Skating Polly (who appear in this video) I’m not sure if they are generally known in the UK but they managed to slip beneath my radar.  Great album well worth a listen.
Bedroom by Bdrmm
Bdrmm are a band from Hull/Leeds creating dreampop shoegaze – I discovered them relatively recently, but a check on my “mutual friends” who like them on facebook, shows that people of taste are already on to them.
The Night Chancers by Baxter Dury
Like father, like son, his music and lyrics never disappoint.
Post Neo Anti (Arte Povera In The Forest Of Symbols) by Close Lobsters
Close Lobsters formed in 1985 and had the track “Firestation towers” on the C-86 compilation.  This album sounds like it was created in that era, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Working Mens Club by Working Mens Club
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock all year (and in 2020 I wouldn’t blame you!) you are probably already aware of this incredible album.  An album so good that you will put it straight back on as soon as it’s finished.
Reb Fountain by Reb Fountain
New Zealand’s Reb Fountain have really put together an incredible album here.  Hearing it for the first time was one of the more joyful moments of 2020!
Klavirni Temna by Emika
As a long-time Emika fan this album was bound to end up amongst my favourite albums of the year.  A prolific artist, some of her albums are electronic music, others are solo piano, and this is one of the latter.  Her experimental synth album “Chaos Star” is also well worth a listen for the adventurous.
Honeymoon by Beach Bunny
One of the great dissapointments of 2020 (and there were many) was not seeing Beach Bunny as their June gig in Manchester was cancelled.  The album on the other hand hit the spot!
Darkest Dreams by Karków Loves Adana
Nothing beats discovering a band you like who already have a substantial back catalogue to delve into.  Of all the press releases I received this year, Kraków Loves Adana instantly stood out as a band I had to find out more about.

If you like 80s influenced darkwave and synth music such as Depeche Mode, Cure, Human League and so on, it’s a no-brainer, you’ve got to check them out.

You could read my review here but to be honest you’d be better just listening to the album (and then work your way through their back catalogue).

And there were some gigs…

Gig of the Year: Pozi + Dry Cleaning
Ok, I only made it to about 5 gigs this year before everything gigwise went pear-shaped, but even in 2019 which was an abundant year for great gigs, it would still rank highly.

Both bands were really stunning, and well worth checking out once gigs start happening again.

Finally, one to check out next year:

One to Watch 2021: Lav
My daughter loves Billie Eilish, so I got her a day ticket for Leeds last year to go and see her.  I must admit I was underwhelmed, but my daughter loved her, which is what matters.

Why do I mention Billie Eilish?  Well, apparently she posted on her twitter that she wishes she had written one of Lav’s tunes!

The fact that Billie Eilish likes Lav and an oldie like me does too, makes me think she’s got broad enough appeal to be hugely successful.

The current single “Reds” I wasn’t sure about on first couple of listens, but once I got into it, I couldn’t stop listening, which is always a good sign.

She’s both hilarious and politically astute on Instagram too, so give her a follow.


Hopes for 2021

Last year I wrote: “In Previous Years, things I’ve hoped for in this section have actually come true! At the end of 2017 I said “I hope that Claudia Brucken performs live somewhere I can get to” and a few weeks later I received an email to say that her and Susanne were performing “A Secret Wish” as xPropaganda in London. What an amazing night that was!

At the end of 2018, I said that I hoped Emika would play in the UK again. Lo and behold, I saw her in December!

So now we are at the end of 2019, I need to wish wisely!

Obviously I’m hoping for 2020 UK tours from Skating Polly and Emika and Roots Manuva. Skating Polly have already said they are coming to Europe earlier next year (hopefully that will include the UK) and I believe Emika is hoping to come back too.

Also I really want Sade to tour again, and Cocteau Twins to reform. But then I say that every year.”

Needless to say, none of the 2020 hopes came true, though Sade did release her boxset, so who knows, maybe she will tour again soon?

Obviously my main hope for 2021 is that some kind of “normality” returns, and live music starts happening again properly.

How good will that first gig feel?

Thanks for reading, and all the best for 2021!