Congratulations...you made it through to Christmas 2020. I'm thinking that unless your business was hand sanitiser or facemasks I'm pretty sure you will have had the same sort of year that I've had. That is to say, one of confusion, worry and not quite being able to believe what I was seeing/hearing/living or reading. BUT here we are. End of the weirdest year that most of us have experienced. EVER!
If there was any upside at all to the Pandemic (and I say that with respect to those that lost loved ones or contracted the illness themselves), it was that 2020 offered many of us the opportunity to listen to more music, read more books and watch more films. And, of course, Rachel and I got on with the task of rebuilding Vinyl Revolution.This top 50 would have looked very different without Covid19. At this point I want to say a huge thank you to all the medical staff, teachers and shop workers who most certainly weren't affored the luxury of time to burn and risked their lives to keep us alive. Pay rises all round, right...?
For most of 2020 I sent 3 musical recommendations a week to 2 of my closest musical buddies (hello Stuart and Pete). In return, they offered the same and more than a few of these selections are down to their impeccable tastes. It was a year of great new bands and surprisingly good returns from artists who looked as if their best works were far behind them. Surprises became the norm and even though we couldn't watch anyone at our favourite venues (hello Tunbridge Wells Forum and Prince Albert Brighton), music continued to give hope to many and reminded us all of its importance in our world.
So, here are my favourite 50 tracks of the year, split up into 5 separate blogs. Actually it's 51 tracks. But who's counting? After all, I'm sure you will agree with the sentiments of the additional track...
Happy Christmas and here's to 2021 being better for each and every one of us.
TOP 50 2020 BONUS BALL;
KAISER QUARTETT & JARVIS COCKER - RUNNING THE WORLD
Resurrected from Jarv's 2006 solo album, the German string quartet elevated this caustic song to another level completely. Maybe it was the situation we all found ourselves in, but suddenly this track made even more sense. Spoiler alert: Jarvis made a strong return in 2020 and will reappear again shortly...
50. BEN HOPKINS - LAUGH TRACK
A new name to me - and I admit to being unaware of past problems which have blighted Ben's career over the past 3 years. But, put simply, what a great moment this is! Evoking the spirit(s) of Broken Social Scene AND The Waterboys, Laugh Track swoops and soars in all the right places. Check out his 2020 album I Held My Breath Once For A Very Long Time for more evidence of his talent. Altogether now 'I'm tired of being tired'!!
49. FUTURE ISLANDS - BORN IN A WAR
The melodic oddballs returned with a strong album in 2020 and this was a standout track.Another band of outsiders who have made huge inroads into the mainstream over recent years, Born In A War is pure aching melancholy from a Vinyl Revolution favourite!
48. SLOW READERS CLUB - ALL THE IDOLS
Our love for SRC knows no limits since their fantastic in-store performance at Vinyl Revolution back in 2019. The band have been very busy in 2020 and released both a full length album and follow up EP. All The Idols is an anthemic moment from The Joy Of The Return and sees the band building on the promise of earlier albums. Nice work chaps! We'll have to get you to do another one at some point...
47. GUIDED BY VOICES - THANK YOU JANE
GBV remain the most productive band in indie rock, and although it's fair to say that not every track on their recent albums is a classic, songs like Thank You Jane (from the fizzing Mirrored Aztec album) reminds you just how good they can be. Both their 2020 albums are worthy of investigation, and by the time you read this there will probably be another one on the way!
46. MICHAEL STIPE & BIG RED MACHINE - NO TIME FOR LOVE LIKE NOW
A mouth-watering combination of The National's Aaron Dessner, Bon Iver AND the voice of R.E.M. made this song such a joy to behold. Moody and full of subtle shifts, No Time For Love... is a great summation of 2020 living and leaves you wanting more. Much more.
45. TEENAGE FANCLUB - HOME
More understated lovelieness from one of Scotland's finest bands, Home is a sly beast which worms its way into your head and then refuses to leave. Can't wait for the new album, due in 2021...
44. GRANDADDY - MINER AT THE DIAL-A-VIEW
A few years ago I was lucky enough to play a few dates supporting Grandaddy, who just happen to be one of my fave bands EVER! The sad and untimely passing of bassist Kevin Garcia has understandably stopped the band in its tracks, but this beautiful moment from the recently-released The Sophtware Slump...on a Wooden Piano highlights just how good they were and how great leader Jason Lytle remains.
43. WORKING MENS CLUB - ANGEL
One of two explosive highlights on the bands excellent self-titled debut album, Angel is something of a modern day anthem. Pulsing synths, spidery guitars and a propulsive rhythm take this song past the 10 minute mark and still I'm wanting more. Catching this band live in 2021 is going to be a MUST!
42. THE BESNARD LAKES - RAINDROPS
Another of those bands who turn up just when you need them the most, Raindrops is another persuasive slice of low-gear beauty. Falsetto vocals dominate a hypnotic tune which elevates TBL way above the competition. Just lovely!
41. NANA ADJOA - NATIONAL SONG
A standout moment from Nana's recent Big Dreaming Ants album, her seductive and careworn vocal blends seemlessly with skewed musical adventures. I can't recommend the album enough-and I'm sure this would be right up there on our shop playlist, should we still be part of the bricks and mortar world!
40. THE BATHERS - THE BELLE SISTERS
Strictly speaking the Pandemonia album was released way back in 1999 (yes, I know, incredible isn't it?!). BUT 2020 was the first time The Bathers sixth has ever been available on vinyl (take a bow you gorgeous folk at Marina Records in Hamburg). The Bathers have always dealt in sumptuous lounge-lizard soul and this track is one of many highlights of the Pandemonia record. Still considered to be one of Scotland's greatest ever undiscovered bands, their back catalogue is a rewarding discovery should you not be aware of them.
39. JARVIS COCKER - AM I MISSING SOMETHING?
Jarv's second appearance in this year's Top 50 comes from his excellent Beyond The Pale album. Like most of this record, Am I Missing Something? is an extended epic that hints at a little murder on the dancefloor. The lyrical mantra 'do something new or do something else' was of particular relevance to Vinyl Revolution. Nice work Jarvis, it's good to have you back.
38. OTHER LIVES - SOUND OF VIOLENCE
Taken from the bands fourth album For Their Love, Other Lives deal in lysergic landscapes where songs unfurl at their own unhurried pace. Sound of Violence is one such glorious example . Like swimming through molasses. Dive in!
37. PUBLIC ENEMY - PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER WON
They're back! And then some! Public Enemy returned in style in 2020 and this is one of the standout tracks from the bands re-energised What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? Run DMC and The Beastie Boys add weight to this blistering track, look out also for the 2020 redux of Fight The Power. Nice!
36. FANCLUBWALLET - CAR CRASH IN G MAJOR
A new band to me, Car Crash In G Major is one of those off-kilter pop tunes that I can't help but find irresistible. Muted trumpet sits proudly atop an acoustic reverie to the joys of death and destruction, this is a sly and addictive tune which never outstays its welcome. Look out because fanclubwallet are definitely ones to watch in 2021.
35. OH WONDER - DUST
Oh Wonder were another Vinyl Revolution go-to band when it came to choosing what to put on the decks in our shop. Their third album continues where 2017's Ultralife left off, that is to say it's full of impeccably crafted fluorescent pop tunes that just will not leave your head. Shame we could never get them for an instore...but there's certainly still plenty of time for that.
34. DEACON BLUE - CITY OF LOVE
Deacon Blue are like an old friend who you haven't seen in ages. I still recall watching the video for debut single Loaded on ITV'S The Chart Show back in the mid-eighties and instantly falling for it. City of Love is the titles track from their excellent 2020 album and contains all those hallmark DB traits, namely melody, positivity and the feeling these guys (still) really mean it. It also makes me miss Glasgow, one of my favourite cities on the planet!
33. ROLLING BLACKOUTS COASTAL FEVER - CARS IN SPACE
Another slice of infectious pop music, imbued with a deftness of touch that surprised many upon its release, Cars In Space is an elegant moment from the bands brilliantly crafted Sideways To New Italy album. Guitar melodies collide in a heavenly mess. If you haven't already discovered it - do it now!
32. HAMILTON LEITHAUSER - CROSS-SOUND FERRY (WALK ON TICKET)
Hamilton's debut solo album The Black Hours (he's also known as the vocalist in The Walkmen) remains a long-time favourite of mine. This track, taken from 2020's excellent The Loves Of Your Life is another blast of melodic bliss topped off with Hamilton's astonishing vocal dexterity. Like all great songsmiths, this guys' tunes just keep on giving...
31. BULL - GREEN
Taken from the bands Love Goo EP, Green is a glorious slab of nineties inspired fuzz pop. Lazy and with no particular place to be, the song exudes that 90's slacker vibe to perfection. But don't get me wrong as Bull are another very interesting proposition for the coming year. Good work, chaps.
30. SPOON - RAINY TAXI (BIG BEAT)
Spoon are another of my long-time loves and although 2020 was a relatively quiet year for the band, Rainy Taxi turned out to be another of their effortlessly catchy pop tunes. The band (who have now made nine albums!) continue to go from strength to strength and I'm hoping for record number ten in 2021...
29. THE CLIENTELE - CLOSER
The Clientele make the saddest songs sound uplifting and magnificent. This stand-alone single released during 2020 is another in a long line of autumnal beauties dreamt in a long-forgotten world. Check out the It's Art Dad collection (also released during 2020) for some of the bands earliest unreleased works.
28. REAL ESTATE & SYLVAN ESSO - PAPER CUP
One of the best tracks from the bands excellent The Main Thing album, Paper Cup is a long summer evening that refuses to end. Ably assisted by dreampop duo Sylvan Esso, this song is about as perfect as indie pop gets. Love it!
27. ANDY SHAUF - TRY AGAIN
Shamefully, Andy's was a new name to me until 2020. Try Again is one of several brilliantly crafted tunes on his fantastic Neon Skyline album. The music is heavenly but it's the man's knack for the small things in life that pepper his lyrics which make his creations such a joy to behold. Try him. You won't be disappointed!
26. BAXTER DURY - SLUMLORD
Baxter's 2020 album The Night Chancers was another exercise in subversive pop, where the pill gets sugared by the pretty tunes and neat production. Slumlord should have been a number one for the video alone, with the King of arch in his absolute element! Now becoming a household name in France, is Baxter shaping up to be the thinking man's Serge Gainsbourg?
25. ARLO PARKS - BLACK DOG
Despite everything, it's been a pretty good year for Arlo Parks. And Black Dog is an exceptional song which burrows deep. Subtle shades of Portishead abound on this smouldering track. Watch out for Arlo's debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams which is released in early 2021...
24. THE BETHS - I'M NOT GETTING EXCITED
A welcome two-minute blast of pop punk from those hallowed shores of New Zealand! Everything about this track is perfect and it even has a great video too! Check out the bands excellent 2020 Jump Rope Gazers album for vital doses of Covid-curing noise pop. Can't wait to see this band live...
23. RUSTIN MAN - CAROUSEL DAYS
Two albums in little more than one year have put Rustin Man (aka Paul Webb ex Talk Talk) firmly back on the map. Musically, Rustin Man resemble an old wooden box of ancient forgotten toys, redundant on their own but meaningful when viewed as a whole. Carousel Days is a walk on a broken down pier. It evokes a strange emotional response and is all the better for it.
22. MATT BERNINGER - SERPENTINE PRISON
On hiatus from his day job of singing with Vinyl Revolution faves The National, Matt's laconic debut solo album is a slow burning triumph from start to finish. This, the title track beautifully sums everything up with its aching melodies, tasteful production and stream of consciousness lyrics. We would have been hammering this one endlessly in the shop...
21. NEW ORDER - BE A REBEL
Sad as it is that Peter Hook is no longer a part of the band, it must be said that New Order have released some fantastic music since his departure. Be A Rebel was a 2020 stand-alone single and follows on nicely from their most recent album Music Complete. A killer tune set against Barney's devil-may-care lyrical mindset, this is another victory for bands making great comebacks in 2020.
20. WOODS - BEFORE THEY PASS BY
Another hypnotic summer swirl from one of music's best kept secrets. Woods 2020 album Strange To Explain arrived with little fanfare but is a joy from start to finish. Now about ten albums into their career, surely it can't be too long before the world finally starts to take notice of this hugely talented and melodic band.
19. NADA SURF - SO MUCH LOVE
Re-energised following the 15th aniversary of their classic Let Go album, (which co-incidentally is also on our seemingly endless list of albums we'd like to release on vinyl!), Nada Surf's ninth Never Not Together was another understated melodic gem. So Much Love sums up everything great about the band in one four-minute burst of optimism.
18.TRASHCAN SINATRAS - THE CLOSER YOU MOVE AWAY FROM ME
One of two new songs released by the Scottish stalwarts during 2020, The Closer You Move...is another in a very long line of autumnal beauties. The band have been releasing records for over thirty years now and are one of those groups I constantly refer back to. Even though someone else has beaten us to a new vinyl edition of 1993 classic-in-waiting I've Seen Everything, long may they reign!
17. PORRIDGE RADIO - GIVE/TAKE
Brighton based Porridge Radio returned with a strong 2020 album called Every Bad and Give/Take is one of several stand-out moments. Sparse and bleak, PE deal in the ugly stuff and are all the more enticing for it.
16. CLOSE LOBSTERS - GODLESS
Another of those spritely returns, Close Lobsters were one of the unsung heroes of literate and intelligent late eighties indie bands who deserved better. Or at least one million in the bank. 2020's fantastic comeback (wait for it) Post Neo Anti: Arte Povera In The Forest Of Symbols is an emphatic triumph that adds to their cannon of arch observations. And Godless is a poignant moment amongst many winners here.Thoroughly recommended!
15. KIWI JR. - WICKED WITCHES
Strangely enough, Kiwi Jr. remind me a little of prime-time circa 1988 Close Lobsters. The bands excellent Football Money album is surely one of the best Canadians-pretending-to-be-Kiwi's records released in 2020. And then some. Wicked Witches is a perfect pop single.Which makes it something of a pity it wasn't actually released as one. Great stuff.
14. THE POSIES - SIDEWAYS
The Posies have long been masters of the achingly melancholic and their 2020 return did not disappoint. Sideways is another slice of high octane rock that the band do so so well and I'm hoping there's a new album with (much) more of the same in 2021. Viva Stringfellow and Auer!!
13. SOCCER MOMMY - CIRCLE THE DRAIN
2020's Colour Theory (sorry, I'm British so that word definetly includes the letter 'u'!) was one of the surprises of the year for me. I'm sure we would have been playing this a lot instore on one of ther myriad colo(u)rs it was eventually released on! Circle The Drain places Sophie Allison in the top drawer of young US songwriters currently orbiting the globe. God, I FEEL OLD...!
12. TV PRIEST - DECORATION
This track leapt from 24 to number 12 a few days ago after I finally saw the brilliant video that accompanies it. Anyone who eats Cheerio's out of a toilet is alright by me. TV Priest are a revelation, a band I didn't think could exist in 2020. Musically on edge, lyrically on fire, everything nicely out of whack. Once upon a time I was in a band called Colourburst and when we had a singer called John Smith we aspired to make music just like this. 'And I'm through to the next round' indeed...can't wait for the album being born on Sub Pop in 2021.
11. NAP EYES - MARK ZUCKERBERG
Nap Eyes excellent 2020 album Snapshot of a Beginner is full of slightly off-kilter pop tunes held together by the skewed logic of Nigel Chapman's lyrics. These are all quite excellent. To be honest, it was quite a shock to know that parents are still calling their kids 'Nigel'. Being a fan of XTC, this name holds special resonance for the likes of me. Anyways, Mark Zuckerberg is a peerless pop tune. What does he do with all that sand...?
Excitingly, we have finally reached the Top 10!
Now, there is one album that I have absolutely loved this year which isn't available on Spotify (or any digital platform that I am aware of). But it's so good I just have to mention it!
Back in 1990, those languid Liverpudlian's It's Immaterial released a criminally ignored album called Song. Recorded with Blue Nile's producer Calum Malcolm the band suffered from a faultering record label and general indifference to sophistictaed pop such as theirs during the rise of all things baggy and Madchester.
A couple of years later the band reconveined with Calum and sketched out ten new songs. But Siren Records finally shut for good and the songs existed in an otherwordly limbo for nearly thirty years. Following several false starts the album finally appeared, and boy, was it worth the wait! Continuing on from where the previous album left off, House For Sale is a medative and beautiful collection of unhurried tunes, set against singer John Campbell's eye for the odd little details found in the everyday lives of people everywhere.
It's well worth seeking out, so please try and find it!
Now I've got that out of my system, it's time to delve deeper into the best tracks of 2020!
10. PHOEBE BRIDGERS - KYOTO
Possesser of one of the finest voices in indie rock right now, Phoebe Bridgers' Kyoto is a standout track from her 2020 album Punisher. This record is more of a challange than recent efforts but time spent with it will reap rewards. Quickly building up an impressive body of albums it will be interesting to see where she goes next...
9. CORNERSHOP - SAINT MARIE UNDER CANON
Yet another of 2020's surprising returns, Cornershop reappeared with the excellent England Is A Garden album from which this track proudly hails. Melodic, funky in a glam rock seventies way, the album is crammed with delights that work for both the head, the heart and the dancefloor. Perfect!
8. THURSTON MOORE - SIREN
A stunning twelve minute opus from the Sonic Youth man's excellent 2020 album By The Fire, the mesmeric Siren glides across a breathtaking vista of detuned guitars and melodic clouds. Someone needs to make a film that can showcase the full beauty of this track. Breathtaking, and then some...
7. ELECTRIC SOFT PARADE - LEFT BEHIND
Taken from the epic Stages album, Left Behind is the bastard son of Teenage Fanclub and Noel Harrison's Windmills Of Your Mind! The White brothers have long been masters of the ambitious chord sequence and gorgeous vocal harmony. And Stages is full of them. But this time songs are given the space to unfold and there is an old-fashioned quality to the excellent arrangements. Think Harry Nilsson and Brian Wilson sharing a couple of cocktails in a seedy New York hotel bar in 1973. Recommeded for those who like their pop music to come with built in future proofing. Nice one, Tom and Alex.
6. BC CAMPLIGHT - BACK TO WORK
Another fautless BC Camplight album which highlights all the requisite heartbreak and inner turmoil that we have long come to associate with Brian Christinzio. Back to Work shouldn't work...but somehow it does. I could have picked any of the tracks from those found on Shortly After Takeoff , but this will do very nicely, thank you.
5. THE GORSTEY LEA STREET CHOIR - LOWBORN & STARGAZING
Here's a feel-good story for you...Back in the early 1990's I was playing London gigs with my band Violet Trade. Every night of the week, many unsigned bands travelled to London from all over the country in the starry-eyed hope of finding a record company scout who might just take a fancy to the music they were making. One of the bands we became friends with was called The Great Divide, a lovable six-piece from Birmingham who supported some of my favourites of the time such as Band of Holy Joy and Pele, both of which are other forgotten gems. But that's another story. Great Divide's lead singer Michael Clapham was a ball of positive energy and I kept in touch with him for a couple of years whilst we both pursued new bands and a journey towards the centre of the music industry. Inevitably though, we lost touch around 1995...
Fast-forward to 2020, I write a review of The Pale Fountains Longshot For Your Love vinyl re-issue for the ever-excellent Marina Records imprint and what do you know? Mike re-appears and springs a great big 'hello' on my blog page. And so we talk. And talk some more. He still loves music as much as I do and after many years of neither writing or performing, Mike and his buddy Russ have formed Gorstey Lea Street Choir. And you know what? It's wonderful! Lowborn & Stargazing is just the begining. Check out all 4 tracks on Extended Play One for proof of this.I'm reliably informed there is a lot more to come from GLSC, so strap yoursleves in and get ready for the ride of your life.
It's good to have you back Mike. Here's to 2021...
4. DESTROYER - CRIMSON TIDE
I've always felt sorry for bands who release great albums at the beginning of the year because, inevitably, they get forgoten in end of year round-ups such as this. BUT, I've been thowing tunes into a 2020 playlist since the first week of January so there was no way I was going to forget this little beauty!
Destroyer are another of my fave long-time bands, and Have We Met is a brilliant return for Dan Bejar's arch pop stylings. Crimson Tide should have been a number one single but we live in strange times so let's just say that this album should be on your Christmas list if you don't already own it. Rest assured I would have been boring you stupid with it in the shop!!
3. THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS - WRONG TRAIN
I have to admit to being a little worried when I heard that The Psychedelic Furs were reforming to make a new album. I hold their other records in such high esteem that a blot on the landscape was the last thing anyone needed. But how wrong my fears turned out to be! Made of Rain is prime-time Furs and Wrong Train is one of their best songs ever! How great it is to hear Richard Butler's brilliantly world-worn voice again. When all this Covid lark is over one of the first things I'm going to do is to buy tickets to one of the bands live dates.
The Psychedelic Furs are officially back.
2. DISQ - DAILY ROUTINE
Sounding like a pillow-fight between Pavement and The Undertones which ended up turning a bit nasty, Daily Routine is a sublime slacker pop tune which comes wrapped in a glorious detuned guitar sheen and suitably stupid video. With youth most certainly on their side, debut album Collector is a sharp collection of deconstructed indie rock. Disq are ones to watch in 2021. That is so long they didn't really die whilst making that video for this single...
TRUMPETS BLARE!!! NATIONS HOLD THEIR BREATH!! IT . IS. TIME!!
VINYL REVOLUTION TRACK (AND ALBUM) OF THE YEAR....
1. THE FLAMING LIPS - DINOSAURS ON THE MOUNTAIN (FROM AMERICAN HEAD)
I've always loved The Flaming Lips when they're at their most pop. The last few years have seen the band investigate various out-there musical styles and it's fair to say their version of the pop song has been left on the shelf in favour of crazy prog concepts and strange covers albums. But this is what we love about the band, abrupt left-hand turns are their thing. When you worship the Lips you have to be ready for surprises!
But it was great to hear American Head and realise that Wayne Coyne and co had returned to orbit the pop world again. The album is rich with melodic hooks and comes across as a genuinely affecting listen. Steven Drozd has turned in some of his prettiest tunes in decades to aid Wayne's recollections of a frazzled family youth spent doing drugs and trying (not always successfully) to avoid the Grim Reaper.
Taken as a whole the album is a loose concept but you can pick out any track and wallow in its infinite melancholy. Standouts are Dinosaurs on the Mountain (chosen here as our track of the year), Flowers of Neptune 6 and the tear-jerking Mother Don't Be Sad. But for the very best effect, take the whole tab of this lysergic album in one sitting and let it reveal to you some strange and exotic new colours. Your life will never be the same again...
Vinyl Revolution salute The Flaming Lips. 16 albums in and still out there on their own in deepest space.
Happy New Year y'all!