Philip Morrissey’s Top Albums of 2020

deftones, fontaines d.c., thundercat, Svalbard

20. Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin Kynsi [Nuclear Blast]

 

They may have had their roots in the black metal genre, but this release saw the Finns delve ever deeper into the progressive rock arena. By no means have they abandoned their sense of weight as this is a colossal mind melt of a trip into dissonant electronics, intense power chords and howling vocals. Challenging, experimental and terrifying in equal measures it pushes the boundaries of metal as we know it.

19. Deftones – Ohms [Reprise]

 

Fans of Deftones had their interest piqued when it was revealed the group were working with Terry Date again and Steven Carpenter was more involved in the song-writing. This could have been a cynical exercise in getting fans on board, but resulted in another high mark in their catalogue as it returned to the cohesion between the band’s different influences. Heavy, emotional and experimental in parts; it is a band at the very top of their game.

18. Emperor of Ice Cream – No Sound Ever Dies [FIFA Records]

 

It is remarkable to see a debut album be released twenty-five years after it was initially recorded. Gathering dust on Sony’s shelves, the members of Emperor of Ice Cream came together to add the finishing touches to No Sound Ever Dies. It is not an exercise in nostalgia for the sake of it as the tracks still sound remarkably fresh and full of life. It is a mixture of shoegaze, indie rock and grunge that is perhaps slightly but there is enough vigour for them to choose their own path after this.

17. R.S.A.G. – Chroma [Reckless Records]

 

The Kilkenny native has been quiet in recent years but returned to form with this impeccable release. Chroma represents the creative process of an artist over the ten songs that shifts moods over the various pieces. R.S.A.G. performs all of the instrumentation himself  but also offers up some elegant vocals. Hopefully he will be seen above ground more often.

16. The Avalanches – We Will Always Love You [Modular]

One of the more interesting changes The Avalanches have incorporated since returning to action has been using more defined song structures instead of samples. They’ve moved away from the dance oriented approach to a psychedelic feel with multi-layered vocals and the concept of remembering those no longer with us. Uplifting, reflective and sombre in equal measures.

15. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – KG (Explorations into Microtonal Tuning Vol II) [Flightless]

 

It has actually been a quiet year in a relative sense for the Aussie psych rockers if you consider seven live albums and a studio recording a quiet year. They continue to pack lyrics pertaining to philosophical beliefs and science fiction with insanely catchy delivery but they have chosen to be ever restless by blending genres such as funk, disco and cinematic music into their trademark sound. All hail those who enter the Gizzverse.

14. Void Ceremony – Entropic Reflections Continuum: Dimensional Unravel [20 Buck Spin]

 

Stylistic changes may have taken place over the past few years as listener taste changed in the death metal genre, but this Californian outfit remained committed to a certain style before unleashing their stunning debut. Essentially progressive death, the sheer quality of the musicianship and technical prowess on display lifts it above other releases in the genre. It is packed with so many breaks, riffs and diverse moments that you will be finding something new upon every listen.

13. Lantern – Dimensions [Dark Descent]

 

From a genre that often focuses on the heaviness and ferocity of the music, it is actually quite surprising to hear a band sound like they are having fun. Lantern‘s guitar work is catchy and memorable especially when paired with a hefty drum sound. While still having an emphasis on the blackened side of death metal, the atmospherics, enthusiasm and thrust displayed by the band lifts them above much of the competition.

12. Slift – Ummon [Stolen Boy Records]

 

Yet another dizzying journey through the vast expanses of space from the Toulouse psych/drone rockers which reverberates like the backdrop for a movie yet to be made. There’s a free-form jam sense to their music, only kept grounded by a pulsating garage rock beat. The guitar sound is absolutely huge. Chaotic noise assaults the senses with scarcely a moment to relax. Rreeppeettiioonn in their own words!

11. Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Viscerals [Rocket Recordings]

 

The fear was that Newcastle band Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs had sacrificed something of themselves when deciding to shorten their tracks compared to previous releases. We need not have worried as it allowed them to focus their attack by cutting the fat. It is an all-out assault on the senses of riffing and Killing Joke inspired rhythms which makes the title wholly appropriate.

10. Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death [Partisan Records]

 

If fans of Fontaines D.C. felt the lads from the Liberties would replicate exactly what they had on their debut Dogrel then they may have been disappointed. The sound of danger and strife appears far closer and more real than the carefree and immediate feel of before. However, as the realization of challenges is scary, it can be even more so exhilarating. The songwriting has matured in that short period between Dogrel and A Hero’s Death, especially on the title track.

9. Thundercat – It is What it is [Brainfeeder]

 

It says a lot about his adaptability and skillset that Thundercat can slot into the worlds of thrash metal, hip-hop, jazz, funk and beyond. This album sees him reflect on the nature of his art and remembers his friend Mac Miller. There is no one way to go through loss and it is equally goofy, dense, and sombre. Backed up by the likes of Flying Lotus and BADBADNOTGOOD Thundercat’s playing remains gorgeous.

8. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Reunions [Southeastern]

 

Best known for his work with the alt-country outfit, Drive by Truckers, Jason Isbell has been forging his own path over the past number of years in a solo career of unflinching honesty. On Reunions he recounts tales of love, loss and emotional turmoil. The record is punctuated by some of the best production work on any of his records and absolutely sumptuous guitar work.

7. Soakie – Soakie [La Vida Es Un Mus]

 

Technically an EP but still righteous good time nonetheless. The Australia based punks  Soakie blast their way through seven tracks of loud, snotty and pissed music, taking aim at gender politics in music, fascism and general inequality. It’s ideal to be heard in a small, sweaty club. All over in the matter of a morning shower before work.

6. Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Way [Columbia Records]

 

A new album from veteran artists may see them treading water or going through the motions. Bob Dylan fans will know better perhaps as he delves into his ever deep well of references, be they hidden or clear, old or new, to create yet another masterpiece. Sardonic, whimsical, gothic and baudy, it takes the listener on a trip through history via his ever-restless interpretation of the blues.

 

5. Ulcerate – Stare into Death and Be Still [Debemur Morti Productions]

 

The Kiwi outfit Ulcerate have always sought to go their own way in previous releases by taking the standard metal template and twisting it into a different beast. Already well considered for amalgamating technical prowess into their blend of death metal and post-rock, on Stare Into Death and Be Still they up the ante. Incredibly dense and cacophonous in spells; aspects of sheer beauty in others. Not for the uninitiated perhaps but worth the effort.

 

4.  Entropy – Liminal [Crazysane Records]

 

The daily grind of life can often be the reason for a promising career to hit the skids. Hans Frese put together a number of former associates from hardcore bands from the local scene in Hamburg to hark back to the bands who inspired them. Taking their cues from early 90’s shoegaze, emotional hardcore, and grunge, Entropy offer a healthy nostalgia buzz while injecting enough of their own spirit and personality to make it fresh and modern.

 

3. Steve Von Till – No Wilderness Deep Enough [Neurot Recordings]

 

As if the Neurosis mainstay was not busy enough between the post-metal icons, various side projects, running a label and a teaching job, Steve Von Till also squeezed in time for another solo album. Written while jet-lagged in Germany, it summed up the mood for many yearning for connections with those closest and familiar surroundings. At once melancholic and sombre, it breathes enough room for brighter and happier times .

 

2. Svalbard – When I Die, Will I Get Better? [Translation Lost Records]

 

Sticking with your beliefs can see backlash aimed towards a band in the face of controversy. The Bristol crew stuck to their guns regarding their disgust at the treatment of women  in extreme metal and society in general. Expanding their original hardcore sound to incorporate elements of shoegaze and post rock, they built on their promise and gained a swathe of acclaim in the process.

 

1. Bob Mould – Blue Hearts [Merge Records]

 

Backed up by his tightest band since the days of Sugar, the ex-Husker Dü man rediscovers his spark. The album reflects the current socio-political turmoil engulfing the worldwide concerning such issues as global warming, homophobia and corruption, whilst also taking a look at his own failings.

 

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