2020 has been a hellscape of a year, thankfully, music is fucking awesome and can save you from going completely mad, or turn you completely mad. Whatever helps to cope with a desperately shitty time. Look after yourselves, stay safe and buy from Bandcamp, yeah? Top 10, treat yourself.
10. Wailin Storms – Rattle (Gilead Media)
North Carolina’s Wailin Storms are like nothing else I’ve heard before. Elements of other bands are apparent, but as the finished article, this is something truly unique. There’s an almost nihilistic feeling cemented throughout Rattle, it’s a grim portent, it drips with trepidation but hits fucking hard when it gets going, mixing elements of raging psychedelic rock, morbid post-punk and stirs up dark, jarring feelings of occult mystery. Rattle takes time to sink in; it’s a unique and menacing sound, with tracks such as the dreading creep of Grass and the raging Danzig-esque slam of Sun, there are lots to uncover and wallow in from Wailin Storms – a rare gem of a record to peel back the layers on and experience.
Top track: Grass
9. Svalbard – When I Die, Will I Get Better? (Church Road Records)
From the almost dreamscape intro of Open Wound, which morphs into a biting, black-gaze rush of scything hardcore, into melodic rock, you know that When I Die, Will I Get Better? By the mighty Svalbard is going to be one hell of an eye-opening ride. Vocalist Serena Cherry is incandescent with rage, especially on the music press-sneer of Click Bait, her roar of “FUCK OFF!” is gloriously savage and venting. The ability to mix tranquillity alongside the stark and destructive rush of bludgeoning blackened-hardcore is truly a masterful concept to Svalbard’s armoury and it gives tracks like the erratic beauty of Listen To Someone real depth. Also, a note to the production on this, which is phenomenally meaty, enveloping and brutal to the core.
Top track: Pearlescent
8. USA Nails – Character Stop (Hex Records/Bigout Records)
An absolute mainstay in my top 10, you bet if USA Nails release something, I’ll shout about it. Album five dredges up more weirdness and mundanity of modern life from the band who are not a nail bar. Tracks such as the relentless I Don’t Own Anything, the volatile and snapping No Pleasure showcase USA Nails at their most frantic and savage, whilst How Was Your Weekend? Is layered in morose, self-deprecating humour and basically deconstructs the notion of writing a fucking song. Preference For Cold brings to mind the calculating and desolate thump of Unsane, whilst Temporary Home is a distorted caterwaul of possible reminiscing of the gig lifestyle, with nods to sleeping on floors backed by a noisy, and somewhat upbeat bounce to the USA Nails sound.
Top track: No Pleasure
7. Watertank – Silent Running (Atypeek Music)
An album that sounds like a journey is one that’s truly special. Silent Running by Watertank is a remarkable piece of work; whether it’s a concept album or not, there’s a feeling of travel, exploration, discovery and finally, a birth that makes this feel so special and unique. Silent Running is packed with fuzzy, pop-rock bangers (Suffogaze) post-punk noise (Spiritless) and soaring space rock (Building World). It all comes to a head though on the final track, Cryptobiosis, which steals the opening riff from Def Leppard’s Hysteria, but that doesn’t stop it from being a truly exceptional, emotive and glorious slice of cheese through huge chunky keyboards, squealing saxophones and it’s the kind of 80’s shoegaze-pop melody you never knew you desperately needed in your life.
Top track: Cryptobiosis
6. Hey Colossus – Dances/Curses (Wrong Speed Records)
This is Hey Colossus’s 13th album and it’s nothing short of a masterpiece. Clocking in at a lengthy 75 minutes and 14 tracks it absolutely flies by with the similar creative bent of a Fucked Up record, but with more concentrated rage. From the creeping dread of the Mark Lanagan-led The Mirror to the balls-out rock of Medal to the crushingly hypnotic swarm of the 16-minute epic, A Trembling Rose, Hey Colossus brings majestic and heavenly beauty to rock music in such an intense and emotional way. Dances/Curses is a phenomenal body of challenging creativity and deep, encompassing longing. Spectacular.
Top track: A Trembling Rose
5. Thee MVPs – Science Fiction (Eeasy Records)
Thee MVPs sound like they’ve taken the best nerd-rock moments of Nerf Herder, spliced them with the unpredictability of Ty Segall and channelled the aggressive sweat of Hot Snakes to make an unholy concoction of chaotic punk rock. Ship Episode, Planet Episode is a beautiful ode to the original Star Trek and absolutely thunders past with breakneck speed, whilst You Ain’t It gives a nod to the struggling musician, name-checks D.Boon and struts with a gloriously debonair swagger. HAL retells 2001: A Space Odyssey over a moody bassline, getting more and more unsettling and disturbing, much like the film and SESH is a love letter to John Dwyer’s OSees, channelling that distorted garage-rock tone of frustration and indulgence perfectly. It’s criminal that this will probably be overlooked, but in my opinion, this is one of the best punk albums of 2020.
Top track: You Ain’t It
4. Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Viscerals (Rocket Recordings)
Like a flurry of bloodthirsty hammer blows, Newcastle’s Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs bring down the kind of crushing, Sabbath-worshipping riffs that I just cannot get enough of. New Body is a lurching, ugly salvo of bruising, wailing sludge, whilst opening track Reducer hits like Black Flag challenging everyone to a fight. A live favourite from last year, Crazy In Blood, is as raucous as you would expect and the Mastodon worship of World Crust squeals and crackles with stabbing, Leviathan-esque energy. The big moment is the final track, Hell’s Teeth – with shorts-wearing vocalist Matt Baty asking you what’s your star sign, then bellowing “LET’S ROCK! IN PEACE!” which will surely be a crowd favourite once we’re allowed back to enjoy live music again. Viscerals absolutely slays, no question.
Top track: Hell’s Teeth
3. And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – X: The Godless Void and Other Stories (Columbia)
With a career that zig-zags all over the place and albums ranked every which way, Texas mob And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead have crafted one of the albums of their career in the form of X, it’s quite simply, a stunning body of work. Stripped back once again to just Jason Reece and Conrad Keely (with everyone else as guest musicians) it feels so much more immediate, vibrant and meticulously crafted to the finest detail. Highlights include the relentless barrage of frustrated punk rock in the form of Into The Godless Void, the reflective indie sunshine of Don’t Look Down and the swelling burst of Gone, it’s truly a remarkable record and one I keep going back to and discovering more intricacies and delights. 25 years and still fucking great, well done lads.
Top track: Into The Godless Void
2. The Chats – High Risk Behaviour (Bargain Bin Records)
What is the most surprising thing about High Risk Behaviour, the debut album from beer-loving smoko-Aussies, The Chats, is the replay value. Clocking in at around 28 minutes, it’s the perfect length for a punk album about STDs, not paying for meals, pub feeds and going out on the piss. Credit to them for being juvenile enough to still be actually funny, without crossing into Blink-182 levels of toilet humour. High Risk Behaviour is an accomplished, riotous burst of snotty, arrogant energy played with real heart.
Top track: 4573
1. HEADS – PUSH (Glitterhouse Records)
Three albums in and Germany/Australia’s HEADS. deliver their best album to date. Vocalist Ed Fraser commands proceedings with his Antipodean yowl, while the rhythmic pound of Chris Breuer and Nic Stockmann help to fashion this bleak and morose thump of sound, that’s exhausting and fascinating. Tracks like the fierce Push You Out To Sea, the expansive and elaborate drone of Paradise and the minimalist fake-improv spoken-word piece It Was Important showcase the depth and incredible songwriting from this trio, who are massively overlooked in the noise-rock world. It tells a story, albeit a bleak and intense one, with the first and last tracks acting as bookends, with call-backs from As Your Streets Get Deserted to the opener, Empty Towns, it’s such finality, the sinking of a wrecked ship as it hits the ocean floor, delivered in this callous and blunt storytelling. Good-fucking-night. Best bass sound of 2020.
Top track: Nobody Moves, Everybody Talks
Other brilliant albums and EPs to check out from 2020
Aiming For Enrike – Music To Work Out
And So I Watch You From Afar – Successors
Ballpeen – Pachinko
Bambara – Stray
Barren Womb – Lizard Longue
Black Helium – The Wholly Other
Blacklisters – Fantastic Man
Blom – Flower Violence
Bob Mould – Blue Hearts
Bow Church – The Spirits In This Forest Are Older Than You
Brand New Friend – A Cure For Living
Bruxa Maria – The Maddening
Bushpilot – Already!
Carpenter Brut – Blood Machines OST
Casual Nun – Resort For Dead Desires
Cloud Nothings – The Black Hole Understands
Cower – Boys
Dogleg – Melee
Dust Lovers – Fangs
Easy Prey -Relentless Struggle
Entropy – Liminal
Exhalants – Atonement
Flat Worms – Antarctica
Gaytheist – How Long Have I Been On Fire?
God Damn – God Damn
Haggard Cat – Common Sense Holiday
Hidden Mothers – Hidden Mothers
Higher Power – 27 Miles Underwater
Holy Fuck – Deleter
Hum – Inlet
Jamie Lenman – King of Clubs
Jeff Rosenstock – No Dream
Katie Malco – Failures
Kestrels – Dream Or Don’t Dream
Kvelertak – Splid
The Lovely Eggs – I Am Moron
Michael – Tell Your Friends
Modern Rituals – This Is History
Mummise Guns – Mummise Guns
Muncie Girls – B Sides The Point
Narrow Head – 12 House Rock
Nervus – What If The Problem Was You?
OHHMS – Close
Orc – Orc
Phoxjaw – Royal Swan
Raging Speedhorn – Hard To Kill
Run The Jewels – RTJ4
Shuck – Petrichor and Rainbows
Sugar Horse – Drugs
Squid – Sludge/Broadcaster
Tank Engine – Tank Engine
TRAPS – The Fighter
Wasted Shirt – Fungus II