The Best Albums Of 2020 So Far
Well, we’ve made it. We’re at the halfway point of 2020, one of the wildest years on record. It’s crazy to think back to January 1, awaking bleary-eyed from a New Year’s Eve party, looking forward to all our plans for the next 12 months. THAT DIDN’T LAST LONG, DID IT?!
But, thankfully, music has been here to keep us (relatively) sane. In fact, 2020 has been a pretty killer year for rock and metal, with new releases from established names and downright legends through to newer bands exploding out the underground with braver, more adventurous sounds.
We’ve rummaged through the past six months of reviews and picked out the 25 best albums of the year so far. We’ve also included the Pigsx7 album, which got 3Ks in the magazine, but on reflection it’s better than that.
Here’s what you might have missed this year.
All Time Low – Wake Up Sunshine
We said: “Brief stints away from the band have benefitted them enormously, and the overwhelming feeling you’re left with after hearing the likes of Clumsy, Favorite Place (featuring The Band CAMINO) and Wake Up, Sunshine’s title-track is that All Time Low are on the form of their career here. Not only that, but it’s a feeling that doesn’t wear off, and such is the enthusiasm contained within, this is an album that will bring joy to its listeners time and time again. Long may these ‘stupid boys making basement noise’ keep doing what they’re doing.”
Boston Manor – GLUE
We said: “Ideas are only as effective as their delivery system, though, so it’s a good thing there is a raft of adhesive earworms that shimmer in moments of reflection (Stuck In The Mud) and lash out in times of anger (Only1). Being so musically and thematically rich, GLUE will be a lot of things to a lot of people, and therefore act as an enduring monument to being young and looking ahead in a world that doesn’t always seem to have, or want, a future. This is an album that simultaneously makes you sad and glad to be alive. Treasure it. Use it.”
Brian Fallon – Local Honey
We said: “At just eight tracks long, Local Honey doesn’t stick around nearly long enough. That’s certainly not a charge you’d level against a release you don’t enjoy, which Brian is still yet to make. As well as being excellent, Local Honey is evidence that the man himself is able to adjust his songwriting to his circumstances without compromising in its quality. It all makes for a seriously sweet listen that reaffirms the Jersey boy as a storyteller and songwriter par excellence.”
Code Orange – Underneath
We said: “This is what makes Underneath so thrilling and hard-hitting: you don’t know where the blows are coming from next, because it ducks and dives like nothing you’ve come across before. Just when it’s almost too much, they deliver Sulfur Surrounding and The Easy Way, two songs that use giant choruses to balance the intensity of Autumn And Carbine or the hateful Back Inside The Glass. Throughout, a singular focus on that hardness of which Jami spoke, on pulling themselves up by their bootstraps – in terms of creativity, darkness, musical skill and blunt force – gives the album the power and terrifying know-how of an SAS squaddie. And while one can make comparisons – to Nine Inch Nails, to the untethered nihilism of Slipknot’s debut, to the artful extremity of The Dillinger Escape Plan – Underneath is its own species of wild animal.”
END – Splinters From An Ever Changing Face
We said: “If recent events have left you searching for a soundtrack to fit the times, hardcore supergroup END might just have provided it. Splinters From An Ever-Changing Face – their debut full-length following aptly-titled EP The Unforgiving Arms Of God – is a primal howl of distilled rage and anxiety. It sounds like a year’s worth of catharsis fed through a distortion pedal and shaped into a dense, destructive wrecking ball of noise.”
Enter Shikari – Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible
We said: “By contrast, Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible is a far wilder, bumpier ride. While The Spark had a vacuum-packed orderliness to its future-gazing, this feels more like we’re hurtling through space on a rocket we’ve long forgotten how to drive. Produced by Rou himself, it’s a record that brings together moments as diverse as the glorious, sunshiny pop-punk of Crossing The Rubicon, and the freakish Waltzing Off The Face Of The Earth (I. Crescendo), with its dystopian carnival of horns. There’s even a four-minute classical arrangement, Elegy For Extinction, which was recorded with the City Of Prague Symphony Orchestra. It’s a collision of ideas and experimentation more ambitious than anything the band have attempted on one record before.”
Green Day – Father Of All…
We said: “In many ways, Green Day have thrown out the rulebook on a sound they’ve spent more than three decades perfecting. They’ve often proven themselves to be an unpredictable bunch by nature (a fact that’s not quite as celebrated as it should be), and Father Of All… is just another sign of a band who have always done things their way refusing to do what’s expected of them. And it’s a hella mega good time from start to finish.”
Hayley Williams – Petals For Armor
We said: “The original plan for Petals For Armor was for it to be released in three parts over several months – a trio of EPs each with five tracks. Part one arrived in February as expected. But before part two was due, most of the world was under quarantine. In response, Hayley slowed down the roll-out even further: the next five songs came out one week at a time. It afforded her the space to retread the ideas and conversations behind each song with her fans through social media with even greater care. Something that she clearly believed was important. It’s a sign of how close to the bone the singer feels she went this time around. In doing so, she’s presented a journey that’s as raw as it is captivating.”
Higher Power – 27 Miles Underwater
We said: “Alongside these formidable musical chops, the band also boast a genuinely arresting vocalist. Yes, the improbably named Jimmy Wizard serves up piercing screams, but more interesting is his use of airy melodies, particularly on Lost In Static. And that’s before we mention his lyrics. Things get pretty dark, with songs like Low Season casting him as a spectator of his own unravelling; more often than not, this is one particular Jimmy that feels like he’s getting eaten by the world. ‘I’m losing to myself more,’ he sings again and again towards the end of Passenger, as the song simmers down before one final, brilliant explosion. It’s a genuinely stunning moment: an ice-cold realisation working away amid all the burning noise surrounding it.”
Irist – Order Of The Mind
We said: “The result is a barrage of killer blows that frequently surprise and never outstay their welcome. There are floating melodies and atmospheric passages to temper these bursts of aggression throughout, but even at their quietest, there’s an intensity to Irist that never lets up. Watch these ones, because they’re ready to explode.”
Kvelertak – Splid
We said: “As if you couldn’t guess, this is an album that has plenty of range, which Kvelertak ably cover and make theirs throughout. Superbly produced by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou (who recorded the band’s first two albums, as well as working with Every Time I Die, The Dillinger Escape Plan and Code Orange, among countless other proponents of heaviness), Splid features a variety of styles, from classic rock stomp to punky racket, from driving-force metal to spacious goth-rock, in a way that would likely be disjointed were it crafted by a lesser band. Mastodon’s Troy Sanders pops up to provide vocals on the reassuringly insistent Crack Of Doom, while a section of the monstrous Necrosoft attempts to break the world record for the fastest piece of music ever recorded. Best of all, during the frantic Bråtenbrann someone yells, ‘Air guitar, come on!’ before the band unpack the kind of solo that could peel paint from a car.”
Lamb Of God – Lamb Of God
We said: “Critics will inevitably draw comparisons with the earlier landmarks in their career (2003’s raging As The Palaces Burn, 2006’s monumental Sacrament) seeing the continued shift away from much of those classics’ painstaking architecture and sprawling grandiosity as a failure. They miss the point. Having now endured so many miles of the hard grind of life on the road – long stretches scarred by controversy, insobriety and incarceration – Lamb Of God are not the band they once were. Those were the sounds of then. This is the now.”
Loathe – I Let It In And It Took Everything
We said: “Intro track Theme sets out the album’s stall early on, its ethereal soundscape creating a beguiling sense of intrigue, before the aptly-titled Aggressive Evolution properly gets things going, as the band switch from vast sounding post-rock to chugging, dissonant metal with consummate ease. The background effects remain as the instruments come in, but they transition into dark, harrowing sounds that enhance the glorious collision of Kadeem France’s growls and guitarist/vocalist Erik Bickerstaffe’s singing. Kadeem’s evolution into a seasoned vocalist with incredible skill via both vicious screams and a superb, strong melodic singing voice augments this record’s more ambient moments throughout its 14 tracks, and in the process, it shows further glimmers of genuine star quality from the frontman.”
Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts V/Ghosts VI
In 2008 Trent Reznor side-stepped the machinations of the music business by self-releasing Ghosts I-V – a collection of improvised music aimed squarely at NIN die-hards. Volumes V and VI – both released simultaneously on March 26 – are more accessible offerings, possibly due to the fact that the music emerged as a result of the frontman’s own fractured emotional reaction to the global pandemic. Whether they should be listened to as a single piece of work depends on your own mood, but the titles Trent has attributed to each volume tells you all you need to know: V offers a modicum of comfort in sound, while VI is tense and, at times, utterly terrifying. A genuine soundtrack to the ‘new normal’.
Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin Kynsi
We said: “The rasping vocals of frontman Jun-His feel more prevalent this time round, locking in a malevolent metal edge even as the electronic textures of Kuulen Ääniä Maan Alta explore industrial borderlands. This blown-out, bad-trip soundscape is a sensory assault that will alter your perception of what black metal can do entirely.”
Orthodox – Let It Take Its Course
We said: “A revenge-fantasy concept album written in response to abuse suffered by frontman Adam Easterling’s loved ones, it seethes with the violence of Code Orange, as well as the chaotic grandeur of early Slipknot. From the lurching savagery of Obsinity, through the nu-metal-inflected smash of I Can Show You God, to the lunatic intensity of the title-track, this is primarily music for dark catharsis, and it’s truly effective.”
Ozzy Osbourne – Ordinary Man
We said: “By Ozzy’s own admission, this isn’t “technically the best album [he’s] ever made”. But as the thing that got him back on his feet and doing what he loves because it feels good, after his fall, his pneumonia, two cancelled tours and the better part of a year stuck at home recovering and feeling gloomy, it’s a joyous one. This is an album to celebrate. There’s life in the old dog yet, and what’s more he’s learned some new tricks, which can only be applauded at this point. Ordinary Man might end up being the full-stop on an extraordinary career. Let’s hope that’s not the case, but if it is, Ozzy is going out with as much fire and passion as he started with 50 years ago.”
Pearl Jam – Gigaton
We said: “Inevitably, any new Pearl Jam album will be held in an incapacitating headlock of a comparison with Ten, Vs. and Vitalogy – records that exist as much now as cultural artefacts as they do classic albums. But here’s what Gigaton can lay claim to: it’s Pearl Jam’s most incensed album since 2006. It’s their most musically inventive since 1998. And, by virtue of its themes, it is their most gravely needed of their entire career. It is, in short, a triumph.”
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Viscerals
We said: “Like hogs in a swamp, Geordie collective Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs are wilfully difficult to get a handle on. Melding the fuzzed-up, stripped-back muscle of heavyweights like Black Sabbath and Motörhead to progressive sludginess, then pouring on a generous helping of the wryly abstract humour of IDLES, this third album is a strange, unruly offering.”
Poppy – I Disagree
We said: “Identity is a recurrent theme throughout these 10 songs. ‘Sorry for what I’ve become,’ she spits amidst the airy ambience and nightmarish electronica of Anything Like Me, ‘because I’m becoming someone.’ Amongst this generation’s genre-splicing superstars, it is easy to draw comparison to the likes of Grimes and Billie Eilish, but there are strains of rock artists as disparate as No Doubt and even Trent Reznor at play here. And as The God Of Fuck himself has noted, there are shades of the arch subversion found in classic Marilyn Manson here, too. Yet it’s BABYMETAL who remain the closest comparison when finding a reference point for Poppy’s sound. ‘Chewy, chewy,’ she yelps with knowingly unhinged glee on Concrete. ‘Yummy, yummy, yummy!’
Run The Jewels – RTJ4
Perhaps the most vital album of 2020 so far. Released two days early, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, it stands as a call to arms for all right-thinking people in society, and Run The Jewels’ best work to date. El-P and Killer Mike have never made a bad record, with the previous three releases on a similar level, but RTJ4 is a momentum-shift, a turning point not just in their career but for popular music. They have a voice and they use it. From Walking In The Snow’s iconic line ‘Never forget in the story of Jesus, the hero was killed by the state’ to Ju$t’s infectious chorus ‘Look at all these slave masters posin’ on yo’ dollar’ (featuring RATM’s Zack de la Rocha), it holds up a mirror to society like no other record released this year. The parting shot of sinister jam A Few Words For The Firing Squad is nothing short of a triumph, bringing a jazz section into the fold, adding further depth and adventure to one of hip-hop’s most innovative artists.
Sløtface – Sorry For The Late Reply
We said: “Few bands put the party back in political party like Sløtface. Their 2017 debut Try Not To Freak Out paired dancefloor-ready punk with sharp lyrics that took on such topics as the indie boys’ club and negative body image. Sorry For The Late Reply still kicks out the jams, but the band are older and, perhaps, a bit wiser now. As a result, these 11 songs feel more expansive and embrace all the confusion of growing up at 100 clicks-per-minute.”
Spanish Love Songs – Brave Faces Everyone
We said: “Spanish Love Songs should be congratulated on laying everything on the line so honestly. There’s no filter here, no masking the hurt that flows through the downbeat narrative of Beach Front Property, or the anxiety-ridden nerves of the only-slightly-ironically-titled Optimism, on which Dylan proclaims that he’s ‘Done dying on the inside / Now that everything is dying outside’. That’s one of more successful instances where the largely internal micro-focus of these songs becomes macro, while earlier in the same song he rails against late-stage capitalism in a rather more blunt fashion: ‘Can’t even have my coffee without exploiting someone or making another millionaire a billionaire.’”
The Chats – High Risk Behaviour
We said: “It wouldn’t work if it wasn’t so natural and real. But it is, and that’s why The Chats are such a laugh, and why their have-a-good-time-all-the-time vibe doesn’t seem like they’re protesting too much to cover inadequacy. They are going down to pubs to stuff themselves silly, they do love a beer, they probably have been thrown out of somewhere for not being smartly-dressed enough. If you’re looking for a short, fun thrill from a gang of likeable oiks with all the grace of a one-legged camel, talk to The Chats.”
Trivium – What The Dead Men Say
We said: “That’s what this album feels like: a middle finger to all those who doubted Trivium were the real deal. After a false-start early on in their career to the redemption with Shogun, they’ve spent the intervening years in the wilderness, but now the Florida quartet have found solace in simply doing what they want, displaying an undying love for the genre and community that embraced them so readily as teenagers. It’s not perfect (hello, Bending The Arc To Fear), but for a band previously hindered by wearing their influences so blatantly on their sleeve, they have made it to their final form. They are Trivium, and long may it continue.”
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