"In a year encompassed by banana bread, hand sanitiser, and Netflix originals, musos all over the world feared that 2020 would be a perilous year for the music scene."
It’s safe to say that 2020 was a weird one. In a year encompassed by banana bread, hand sanitiser, and Netflix originals, musos all over the world feared that 2020 would be a perilous year for the music scene. That estimation wasn’t entirely incorrect: we’ve witnessed some of our favourite venues suffer at the hands of COVID-19 this year, and it’s been a tough year for everyone working in the music industry, from the bassists to the stage crew. Despite it all, the boredom of a pandemic inspired some pretty excellent music, so let’s get to it: in no particular order, here are FUZZY’s top albums of 2020.
Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
This pick has made it to a lot of end-of-year-round-ups, and rightly so. Dua Lipa shocked the world with this pop comeback: 2018’s self-titled debut was the archetype of perfectly packaged pop, but its sophomore counterpart makes an explicit nod to the sweet sonics of the 80s. Tracks like ‘Don’t Start Now’ and ‘Break My Heart’ performed well on TikTok, and if that’s any indication of musical success, Dua’s topped it.
Lady Gaga – Chromatica
2020 was the year Gaga went back to pop. Abandoning the country-inspired tinge of Joanne, Gaga shook the world with Chromatica. The momentum building up to this album was huge, with the release of singles 'Stupid Love', 'Rain On Me' (with Ariana Grande), and 'Sour Candy' (with BLACKPINK) generating dance-pop-inspired excitement amongst fans. With the likes of The Fame Monster and ARTPOP resting in Stefani Germanotta's Hall of Fame, Chromatica had a whole lot of legacy to contend with. And whilst it's not her strongest LP, it made a bloody good effort.
Glass Animals – Dreamland
Hailing from Oxford, indie dreamboats Glass Animals have enjoyed success around the globe. The run-up to Dreamland was shaped by a great stress in the band's timeline, as drummer Joe Seaward was involved in a lorry crash in 2018 that left him needing to learn to talk again. In many respects, Dreamland is the miracle album, telling touching tales of a life: from the innocence of childhood to the shock of adulthood and all its heartbreaks, most poignantly told in 'It's All So Incredibly Loud.'
Declan McKenna – Zeros
The What Do You Think About The Car? era raised suspicions about Declan McKenna's status as the voice of a generation: existential second album Zeros confirmed it. An intergalactic journey through space and time, this LP brings the party, occupying McKenna's self-created glittery space world. Zeros is very carefully navigated, signalling a move into a more sophisticated, Bowie-influenced era of glam-rock.
Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now
Charli XCX’s how i’m feeling now captures the strange intensity of 2020. Written in the span of six weeks under lockdown, the record is a concise yet breath-taking snapshot, dragging you through an anxiety-inducing sound world anticipated by previous tracks like ‘Vroom Vroom’ and ‘Click’, but until now not explored in a full-length project.
how i’m feeling now is the sound of different parts of life colliding. It’s the panic you feel for the state of the world and the idleness you feel at the same time. Sugar-sweet harmonies, child-like melodies, aggressive synth-tones and pummelling beats unsettle you in their apparent contradiction, forced to coexist. It is claustrophobically brilliant.
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Viscerals
“On today’s menu, the head chef is serving a poison made with the cheapest ingredients possible,” drawls Matt Baty on ‘Blood And Butter’. PigsX7 are making themselves known for this kind of snarky resentment. Heavy metal’s reputation for self-indulgence puts many potential fans off, but it’s difficult not to be entertained by the level of showmanship that the Newcastle five-piece bring to every release. On Viscerals, they expertly toe the line between horror and humour; an absurd seriousness that allows us to accept their indulgences and receive the raw power of their psych-metal sound.
Whilst not quite as brutal as their previous work, particularly 2017’s Feed The Rats, Pigs X7 instead showcase a newfound lyricism. Baty’s vocals divert from his trademark one-note-belters into something resembling melody, becoming a light that glides over the chaos. Dr Frankensteins to Black Sabbath’s monster, they are, dare I say it, a lot of fun.
Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song
Apart from an odd choice of opener, Kelly Lee Owens delivers a downtempo but not downbeat sophomore effort. Electronic music has a difficult relationship with the album format, yet Inner Song has the drive, direction and meditative pace to remain impactful all the way through.
Instead of the extraverted world of the nightclub, Inner Song belongs to Owens’ interiority. It is deeply personal, its path carved by her history of trauma, but also her influences (Radiohead, who she covers; John Cale, with whom she collaborates; and Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ Women Who Run With the Wolves, which she references). It defies anyone who would suggest electronic music is cold. Tech-bangers and heartstring-pullers alike, it’s a sublime listen and an interesting concept; dance music not as a means of escape but a space to think.
Run The Jewels – RTJ4
You’ll start this album angry and finish it bruised. Run The Jewels and a motley crew of collaborators are back and show no signs of slowing down. Who would have thought 2 Chainz, Pharrell, Zack de la Rocha, Josh Homme and Mavis Staples would ever appear on the same album together?
They say that grim periods of history produce great music, and this is certainly true of RTJ4’s 39 minutes of righteous rage. Yet its softer moments manage to hold back the tide more convincingly than its predecessor. The chemistry between Killer Mike and El-P is only getting stronger with each release.
Bombay Bicycle Club – I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose (Live at Brixton)
Okay, so this might be a bit of a cheat since it’s a live album, but it deserved a feature. In November 2019, Bombay Bicycle Club returned to the live scene after a hiatus, playing seminal indie album I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose in full at a handful of shows. For those of us that were there, it was pretty iconic.
Words by Eleanor Noyce and Charlie Ridler.
31st December 2020.