Peter Donnelly, Editor
2020 will forever be imprinted on the popular minds as the ‘Covid year.’ The year which presented so much uncertainty, chaos and loss. Music, once again, reaffirmed its consoling qualities as the healing force.
We asked our contributors, both from within and outside Queen’s University to choose their top, number one, go-to new music release of 2020 which saw them navigate their way through the tough times of the ‘Covid year.’
2020 was something of a bittersweet year for music. Firstly, the dread and misery experienced by musicians who could not perform live sets or sessions in the conventional atmosphere – on stage in front of an eager audience – meant that the intimacy of physical delivery and the reciprocity of audience appreciation vanished overnight.
Yet since March 2020, the fruits of inspiration ripened like never before – the catalclysmic global consequences of the pandemic, the lost lives and livelihoods were bound to have an effect and it was the musical out-workings in response to those events, which soundtracked 2020’s trials and tribulations.
At the best of times the thought of choosing just one album of the year, is daunting. There has simply has never been such a diverse range of releases on display. The new releases have individually provided us with the much-needed sanity and innermost strength to keep going. To choose one ‘favourite’ album is almost akin to asking a parent to pick their ‘favourite’ child. Yet with the certain gritting of teeth, which necessity demands, those we asked to make the choice, gave us their final verdicts.
Eoin Brown, first year QUB Undergraduate & Abby Wallace, QUB Postgraduate student and The Gown’s features Editor Abby Wallace choose ‘The Slow Rush’ by Tame Impala.
Great minds think alike, as Eoin and Abby choose ‘The Slow Rush’ by Australian indie psychedelic outfit Tame Impala. Having been on the scene for over a decade Tame Impala’s ‘The Slow Rush,’ released on the cusp of the Covid crisis in February, was rather aptly-titled.
Frontman Kevin Parker has honed a gift for setting the sonics of a song and the flow of an album, just right. As is now expected of Tame Impala their music is genre-defining and defying in sense of the term.
NME’s Thomas Smith emphasises that the latest album was well worth the wait from the group’s 2015 album ‘Currents.’ “This is a 57-minute flex of every musical muscle in Parker’s body. Crunchy guitars are largely absent, but we’re left with something far more intriguing – a pop record bearing masterful electronic strokes.”
‘The Slow Rush’ manages to strike the fine balance between the band’s flair for socially cognaisant verse and their propensity to let the instruments do the talking as and when. The album won five different categories at this year’s ARIA Music Awards in Sydney as well as garnering a Grammy nomination for ‘Best Rock Song’ of 2020.
Abby says that before the latest Tame Impala release she “was never a massive fan of the band but I really liked this album because it’s simply easy listening. Add to that the fact that I’m a big Bee Gees fan and it definitely reminds me of their material.”
Robbie McCammon, 19-year-old South Belfast based DJ, producer and student chooses SAULT’s ‘Untitled (Black Is).’
The SAULT collective and their album combine to be elusive as they are excellent. The album’s soul and hip-hop tinged style arguably takes the prize for 2020 in its production, presentation and deeply-felt resonance. SAULT’s ‘Untitled (Black Is)’ was released during a period of unprecedented turmoil in the world with racial tensions provoking the Black Lives Matter movement’s mobilisation while the coronavirus ravaged its way through the world.
This is, and will go on to be regarded as, a seminal release of the decade. The album arguably has the popular appeal of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ from 1971 which, when released, captured the mood of a warring world, in the thick of the Vietnam conflict and Cold War, so accurately.
’Untitled (Black Is)’ features contributions from some of the finest songwriters and musicians the UK has produced over the past ten years including Michael Kiwanuka and Laurette Josiah; further adding to the depth of the release, keenly felt when listening to the album.
Of the album Robbie says, “I think the timing and inner message was so resonant with current events and will be a massive staple in musical history. Aside from that, the whole composition and flow of the album is world class and was really refreshing to hear in the midst of a pandemic.”
Jessica Lawrence, Queen’s University graduate chooses Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore.’
For Taylor Swift ‘Folklore’ was a ‘going back to her roots’ album with its laid back, acoustic qualities encompassing elements of folk, lo-fi indie and alternative country. The ten-time Grammy award winner first released her debut album in 2006 at the tender age of 16. From then on she has excelled to become a pop music icon and trendsetter.
Her latest release returns to those folk infused qualities with which she was intimately acquainted growing up in West Reading, Pennsylvania. For many musicians one of the positive up-shots of Covid-19 has been a time for reflection and slowing down from what would have been a year of hectic touring. ‘Folklore‘ fits this category quite perfectly.
Jessica says, “I really liked ‘Folklore’ because it was such a different direction for her to go in from her other albums. Swift’s ability to transform herself and her sound with each album is really amazing and speaks to her dynamic qualities as an artist. ‘Folklore’ was the album that came when we all needed it most; an exploration of the devastating effects of loving and losing. ‘Evermore’ (the album that was just released by her in December 2020) was a beautiful sister album to ‘Folklore’, although I probably haven’t spent as much time with it as i have with some songs from ‘Folklore.’
Jude McStay, third year QUB undergraduate chooses Phoebe Bridgers’ ‘Punisher.’
Released in June 2020, ‘Punisher’ has witnessed the 25-year-old Californian indie folk singer, Phoebe Bridgers, take her craft to another level. This release is a more fulsome demonstration of Bridger’s musical and songwriting abilities. This album is what folk music in the 21st Century sounds, looks and feels like.
‘Kyoto’, although dealing with Bridgers’ inner anxieties and demons, has the hallmarks of a light-hearted yet pulsating indie pop ballad. Her 2017 debut ‘Stranger in the Alps’ showcased Bridgers’ matured sensibilities of zoning in on the elusive elements of love, loss, tragedy and death. Fast-forward to her 2020 release, she has complemented those qualities with the potential of becoming an indie pop icon. Yet her personal reserve will likely see her remain aloof to the enchantments offered by fame.
Pitchfork’s Sam Sodomsky describes this latest project as Bridgers defining “her songwriting; candid, multi-dimensional, slyly psychedelic, and full of heart. Her music has become a world unto itself.”
Music journalist and guitarist Brian Coney chooses his own band’s release. From Belfast, Junk Drawer’s ‘Ready for the House.’
Brian is renowned for his intricately sophisticated command of English, particularly when music is in the frame. He justifies his choice as quite simply this, “I’m in the band and our album is better than most Irish albums released this year. One listen will suffice.” As good a justification as any.
So if you haven’t already listened to it get your ears wrapped around it pronto, via their Bandcamp page, here.
Brian has written extensively as a music journalist for The Guardian, The Quietus and is currently editor of The Thin Air music blog.
Eoghan Smyth, student, chooses King Krule’s ‘Man Alive’ as his album of 2020.
It is in many ways a settled aspect of King Krule’s releases to be as …. as they are profound, encompassing all things remotely avant guard; distorted indie guitar riffs, dystopian jazztronica, hip-hop and deeply desirable soulful lyrics. King Krule, the collective of London’s ultimate eclecticism aficionado and multi-instrumentalist Archy Marshal,
On his latest work, the ‘Krulean gloom’ has given way to something which is inherently contradictory. Both the optimistic and the gloomy are intertwined in ‘Man Alive!’ Perhaps these swelling emotions are a recognition of Marshal’s changed circumstances, following the birth of his son, after years of fluctuating personal pursuits. The album is no doubt his coming of age release.
DIY Mag’s Tom Sloman captured the conflicting, fluid spirit of ‘Man Alive!’ “It feels like the work of an artist in transition: a handful of stunning tracks surrounded by some backfiring experiments.”
It is to be expected that, as a result of Marshal’s persistent genius, evident in every one of his releases thus far, others will take note and influence. Black midi’s 2019 debut ‘Schlagenheim’ demonstrated Marshal’s continued impact on musicians of his own generation; this is despite the fact he is only 26 and we have seen nothing yet.
Garrett Byrne, QUB undergraduate and political contributor to The Gown chooses Skinshape’s ‘Arrogance is the Death of Men’
For those unacquainted, ‘Skinshape’ namely is the alter-ego title project of UK underground musician Will Dorey. Hailing from the Dorset cliffside town of Swanage, he was the erstwhile bassist of London alt-blues outfit, PALACE. Albeit, his unqualified partiality for heterodox studio experimentation and apparent distaste for jading world tours prompted him to reconsider his professional trajectory.
Already boasting a prolific discography of six LP’s within just six years, Skinshape’s brisk production rate doesn’t appear to plague the calibre of his output as reflected in ‘Arrogance is the Death of Men.’
The Album, written and produced throughout 2019 and 2020, incontrovertibly adopts some of the quintessential elements of Skinshape’s sound; heavily rooted in 60’s psychedelia and 90’s Bristolian trip-hop. The album is not limited to those aforementioned muse, embodying a more nuanced and subtantive conceptual framework. With these qualities in the bag, Dorey justifies recognition as one of the UK’s burgeoning outlier acts.
Words Garrett Byrne
Ross Martin, QUB Undergraduate picks Dominic Fike’s ‘What Could Possibly Go Wrong’ as his number one album of 2020
Florida native recorded his debut album, ‘What Could Possibly Go Wrong,’ under the confinements of house arrest. Against the odds, like many of his incarcerated musical predecessors, he has found much-needed redemption in music.
Dominic Fike’s CV has some very impressive endorsements from Billie Eilish and the hip-hop group Brockhampton. The album has been considered as paying homage to Fisk’s musical influences; particularly guitar greats such as Bob Dylan, Pixies, TV On The Radio and Foals.
NME‘s Thomas Smith suggests that Fike’s debut transcends any traditional conception of genre. It is neither alt-rock, indie or R’n’B. It “stands up all on its own. Comprising of 14 scorching, razor-sharp vignettes – some scarcely a minute long – this is the sound of a songwriter standing on the top of their mountain, chest puffed-out and giving it the biggun.”
The Editor’s acquisitions in 2020
The Editor’s 2020 Album List and ‘Recommended Listenings’:
- Paul Weller – ‘On Sunset’
- Daniel Avery – ‘Love + Light’
- Oscar Jerome – ‘Breathe Deep’
- Jayda G – ‘Significant Changes’
- Photay – ‘Waking Hours’
- Andrew Wasylyk – ‘Fugitive Light and Themes of Consolation’
- Malojian – Humm
- Nat Birchall – ‘Mysticism Of Sound’
- Khruangbin – ‘Mordechai’
- Fontaines D.C. – ‘A Hero’s Death’
- Tony Allen & Jeff Mills
- Keleketla! – ‘Keleketla!’
- Jehnny Beth – ‘TO LOVE IS TO LIVE’
- Jarrod Lawson – ‘Be The Change’
- Various Artists – ‘Blue Note Reimagined’
- Paddy Hanna – ‘The Hill’
- King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’ – ‘K.G.’
- Liv.e – ‘Couldn’t wait you tell you…’
- Sam Gendel – ‘Satin Doll’
- Bastien Ken – ‘The Killing of Eugene Peeps’
- Blue Slates – ‘Trinity Tapes’ (EP)
- Disclosure- ‘ENERGY’
- Eglo Ella May – ‘Honey For Wounds’
- The Jayhawks – ‘Xoxo’
- _BY.ALEXANDER – ‘000 CHANNEL BLACK’
- Brién – ‘DIY Vol 1’
- Lunch Money Life – ‘Immersion Chamber’
- Byron The Aquarius – ‘Ambrosia’
- Zara McFarlane – ‘Songs of an Unknown Tongue’
- Nap Eyes – ‘Snapshot of a Beginner’
- Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith -‘The Music of Transformation’
- Awkward Corners – ‘Dislocation Songs’
- Waldo’s Gift – ‘The Hut’
- Dinosaur – ‘To The Earth’
Follow and listen to the Editor’s Best of 2020 selection on Spotify
Music will always be there to lend a helping and healing hand in times of darkness, to give much needed light. It has demonstrated its power of healing and consolation during what was an unprecedentedly challenging and chaotic year. We can only anticipate and look forward to the day we can enjoy these new releases performed live in venues or at festivals across the country.
From all of us at The Gown – Our editorial team, Trust, contributors and supporters within and outside Queen’s University, Belfast we wish you and all musicians, producers, DJs, producers and venue owners a happy, prosperous and most of all healthy New Year for 2021.
All words are the Editor’s unless otherwise attributed.
Peter Donnelly, Editor