2020 has been – it's fair to say – a helluva year.
The COVID-19 pandemic has kept us all locked up for prolonged periods of time, while economic uncertainly has bulldozed the music industry.
With rolling news coverage becoming ever more dystopian, we can't blame people for switching off, for looking away.
That said, it does mean that you might have missed some superb releases, with plenty of phenomenal new music being released over this period.
Clash writers pick out 18 stellar releases that deserve your renewed attention…
– – –
grasshopper – ‘Scuttle’
Brighton based grasshopper’s (small g) debut album ‘Scuttle’ took eight year to make and saw the go from children with instruments to adults with something to say in the process. Borrowing from Joy Division and The Cure’s blueprint for post-punk. The Cure’s producer David M Allen produced ‘Scuttle’ too. The songs are full of foreboding and dread, but with a heavy dose of optimism. Effectively, it slaps.
This is something to scuttle to, not away from. (Nick Roseblade)
– – –
Dick Dent – ‘Life’s Hard’
For a number of years, I’ve been enjoying watching Dick Dent’s musical evolution. Dent is the bassist in criminally underrated The Death of Pop and one half of the DIY lo-fi slackers YOOFS. ‘Life’s Hard’ is his debut solo album. Unlike his previous output, the songs mostly feature Dent playing keyboards and singing genuinely touching ballads about love, loss and redemption.
The mix of delicate melodies and heady optimism make this more than another bedroom pop album and something you can get lost in. (Nick Roseblade)
– – –
Todd W. Emmert – ‘Unintentionally Marginalized’
Todd W. Emmert is prolific. Since ‘Unintentionally Marginalized’ was released on April 20th, Emmert has released four full length album and two singles, not to mention the three full albums and six singles released under the Loose Medicine project. He’s a machine. What’s more impressive is the lack of dip in quality.
‘Unintentionally Marginalized’ is about Emmert’s struggles with mental health issues. Instead of being dark and challenging it sounds like a slightly more upbeat Spacemen 3. (Nick Roseblade)
– – –
Pale World And Blackcloudsummoner – Pale World And Blackcloudsummoner
They say that art reflects the time is was made. This is true of the foreboding drones of Pale World and Blackcloudsummoner. These are two of the most exciting artists working in the UK’s underground music scene today.
Side A of this tape is an exercise in trepidation and unease where claustrophobia rules. The compositions are devoid of space and full of gas hisses and industrial clangs. Side B is the opposite. Here everything has room to breathe and expand.
This album feels like the soundtrack to lockdown, full of paranoid anxiety and gloriously hopeful motifs. (Nick Roseblade)
– – –
Number – ‘Binary’
Search term ‘Number Binary’ not returning any hits? Don’t be fooled by Google.
The electro-eclectics Ali Friend and Richard Thair from Red Snapper are back. Vivid retro aesthetics traversing from the Eno/Visconti/Bowie -style ‘Crocodile Pyle’ to the murky Bristolian ‘Tomtom’ are topped off with a stellar ensemble. The duet between Louisa Gerstein and Heloise Tunstall-Behrens (‘Nothing to Fear’), and John Metcalfe’s detaché in ‘Where You Sound’ are guaranteed goosebumps moments.
The grower of the year. (Eero Holi)
– – –
AG Club – ‘Halfway Off The Porch’
Listening to AG (Avant-Garde) Club’s debut record 'Halfway Off The Porch' gave that delicious feeling of being in on a secret. Born under Californian skies, the hip-hop collective have multimedia ambition and have proved themselves effortlessly cool.
In their makeshift studio, under the gaze of Odd Future posters, they have built the foundations of what promises to be an empire of self-belief and most importantly, self-expression. Their infectious, high-sheen lead single ‘Memphis’ has all the glory of reckless summer nights, but they’re not a one-trick pony.
‘Halfway Off The Porch’ is dominated by meditative, lo-fi hip-hops beats that prove their work is far more considered, and truly holds something special. (Sophie Walker)
– – –
BLACKSTARKIDS – ‘Surf’
It’s a crime that it has taken until BLACKSTARKIDS’ second record to get the recognition they deserve. The new Dirty Hit signees gained prominence after The 1975’s frontman Matty Healy pushed their disaffected, indie-driven grooves to the forefront.
‘SURF’ sees the Kansas trio cast their listless eyes up to the sky, capturing the truths of their generation through their synth-led style which dips into chilled, hip-hop beats. “We’re fucked up / We’re dysfunctional”, they promise on ‘HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER’, but it’s a charm that shouldn’t be ignored. (Sophie Walker)
– – –
Jaime Wyatt – ‘Neon Cross’
New York-based singer-songwriter Jaime Wyatt may well have the country album of the year on her hands here, and less than a handful of people have heard of it.
Full of sincere heart to and dripping in neon-baked feeling that allows it to escape the boundaries that this genre label, in particular, can so often inflict on an up-and-coming project, Wyatt has created something confident, feminine, and a whole heap of fun to boot, and something worth everyone's time in checking out. (Mike Watkins)
– – –
Bishop Nehru – ‘Nehruvia: My Disregarded Thoughts’
Even if he hadn't collaborated with MF DOOM on standout single 'MEATHEAD' – and even if he didn't show those same sparkling, sparked-out grooves on songs of his own writing – Bishop Nehru would have executed a belter in his varied new record.
Sultry R&B, 80s hip hop throwbacks and catchy pop make this 23 year-old's ninth studio album a sprawling, decadent roadmap of ideas – all of them executed flawlessly. Add MF DOOM and you've got a modern classic. (Jess Atkinson)
– – –
The Wants – ‘Container’
Dancing at the end of the world is a sound coming through as a new strong niche genre of recent years – Charli XCX, Fusilier and even Johnny Marr are all at the Apocalyptic Disco. New York City's The Wants are there at the party too: their debut LP Container arrived in March on an industrial wave of krautrock, techno and dance rock.
A healthy handful of playlist-worthy tunes rise in between industrial interludes that writhe with almost unbearable tension. Darkly thrilling. (Jess Atkinson)
– – –
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – ‘Viscerals’
Many people favour Classical as their background concentrating music for its soothing cadence and lyric-less freedom. But hear me out: for blocking out the rest of the world and getting on with your work, the psych-doom of Pigsx7's newest record is just as good.
Hammering guitars and percussion are all-consuming without being confrontational and lyrics are so muffled and obscure as to be non-distracting, but tune in for a sec and you'll realise: Viscerals is also a fucking brilliant record. (Jess Atkinson)
– – –
Pip Millett – 'Lost In June'
With June here, Pip Millett's EP ‘Lost In June’, which was released in April, couldn't feel more succinct to the dissonance of the present world. But melting into her soulful and ephemeral voice within these eight tracks is a new kind of refuge.
While all of the tracks have a seductive juxtaposition of minimal composition that sets the stage perfectly for her rich vocals, ‘Ava’ takes the heat for me. It’s equal parts lullaby and tragedy, a symphony of emotion. Get lost in her new EP this June. (Rae Niwa)
– – –
Twiztid – ‘Mad Season’
Since stepping out from the Insane Clown Posse’s shadow. Twiztid have arguably gone on to be even more successful than their former label mates. ‘Mad Season’ is their latest effort. Dropping unannounced on 04/20 and featuring 12 tracks of Detroit hip-hop, including a rather surprising cover of Duran Duran’s ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’.
This may not be their finest album to date, but my God, it’s good! Stand out tracks: ‘Slo-Mo’ and ‘Follow Me’. (Mike Milenko)
– – –
Chike – ‘Boo Of The Booless’
Very rarely is there ever a consensus on records that comes out of Lagos’ carnivorous music scene, but Chike’s ‘Boo Of The Booless’ is not your run-of-the-mill LP.
Glistening with highlife’s potent vibrancy, the slow-burner introspection of lo-fi hip-hop, and the steady pacing of R&B, the debut album is a candid work of art scribbling the rise, plateau, and fall of love in an honest manner that can be tug at hearts anywhere in the world. (Wale Oloworekende)
– – –
Ellis – 'Born Again'
Canadian songwriter Ellis truly spreads her wings on 'Born Again', fusing her gift for indie pop melodies with some stark moments, reveling in the power pure honesty can hold.
Produced alongside Jake Aron at his home studio, 'Born Again' feels intimate and entirely unforced, the sound of someone bringing their vision into focus on their own terms. A real delight, it more than merits a second glance. (Robin Murray)
– – –
Elison 404 – ‘Pebbledash’
Penultimate track ‘Harvest Assembly’ demands ‘if you have something to say, go ahead and say it’. Elison 404 have taken their own advice, creating a fluid, visual album that stands as a clear contender for one of the UK’s most exciting releases in 2020 so far. (Shannon McDonagh)
– – –
Ojireme – ‘B4 I Breakdown' // INTERVIEW
After my breakdown I was just a new person. I had lost my confidence and my rhythm and was out of the loop out of everyday things. My life had changed a lot, so to return to music and try and feel that normality again was super hard. To normalise to something I used to do again was very strange.
When you’ve lost your confidence, you’re going to start questioning yourself more. That was something I’ve never felt in music, in the past if I was putting something out but was confident that I liked it, I would put it out. I didn’t appreciate the tape, only now it’s come out I appreciate and see the beauty in it.
All the reception has been positive, and I’ve not seen any negativity, it’s been lovely.
– – –
Join us on the ad-free creative social network Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks, exclusive content and access to Clash Live events and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.