Album Review

Albums of 2020 – Writers Picks

2020 has been a tremendously challenging year for many obvious reasons. One thing that has kept many of us afloat is the endless stream of amazing music that has been released this year.

Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are some of our top picks of the year as selected by our writing team on At The Barrier.

A.A.Williams – Forever Blue

A.A.Williams – Forever Blue

A dark and unforgiving masterpiece. How can you produce music as epic as this in a bedroom. One monolith of a track after another. Epic and sublime. A.A.Williams already has a new record slated for February 2021.

Read our full review here.

Laura Fell – Safe From Me

One of 2020’s truly great finds was Laura Fell. Safe From Me is a truly excellent album, a deceptively mature debut from a highly talented artist. We’ll be hearing a lot more of Laura Fell – just wait and see! Safe From Me was also the first release on the newly formed Balloon Machine Records. There is a lovely vinyl version slated for release in 2021.

Read our full review here.

Uniform – Shame

2020 saw Uniform step things up a notch. The band stepped out as a three piece and their harsh noise based music saw them rattling cages. Massive riffs, deep lyrics and a power unparalleled; Shame is a winner.

Read our full review here. We also interviewed Ben Greenberg from the band; you can read that here.

Sunbane – Crooked Timber

Sunbane – Crooked Timer

Although abundant with acousmatic and instrumental sound, Crooked Timber works very much in a minimal style, allowing the quality of sounds and production to build and showcase the artists strength in orchestration, melody and rhythm whilst never feeling clouded or excessive. Not only is the subject matter timely, but the offset of hope against a stark background makes this an essential album for the darker months in today’s world.

Read our full review here.

Doves – The Universal Want

The Universal Want felt like Doves achieved everything that they wanted to with this album. It wass a monumental return for a band that have definitely been undervalued in the music scene. With this album, Doves will hopefully get the recognition they duly deserve as one of Britain’s finest bands of the 21st century.

Read our full review here. We also got to interview Andy Williams from Doves as well. You can read that interview here.

Emma Swift – Blonde On The Tracks

Antipodean singer Emma Swift delighted with her album of Bob Dylan covers. She even covered one of Bob’s 2020 compositions in the quite sublime I Contain Multitudes.

Read our full review here as well as Emma’s contribution to our Why I Love column on Sandy Denny here and an interview with At The Barrier here.

The Lovely Eggs – I Am Moron

The Lovely Eggs – I Am Moron

Having had several noisy festival encounters with the Lancaster duo, the I Am Moron album held several unexpected surprises with its vibrant cartoon cover art and in New Dawn, one of the tracks of the year.

Read our full review here

Lyndon Scarfe – Shoreline

Shoreline is a well-balanced work, bringing the most serene relaxation, wholly reminiscent of the calm ocean view. Expertly realised, it develops from a single note through lush orchestral arrangement to transport the listener to a world of peace and varied beauty. This was the inaugural release on the brilliant Cue Dot Records.

Read our full review here.

Winterfylleth – The Reckoning Dawn

Winterfylleth plug back in after acoustic diversions. The Reckoning Dawn is another glorious triumph from the UK’s elite black metal band. It’s certainly apt to call this band a black metal band but in someways they’re more than that. The atmosphere, aura, and feel of this bands universe is enchanting.

Read our full review here.

Matt McGinn – Lessons Of War

Matt McGinn – Lessons Of War

Matt McGinn delivered a wondrous selection of songs in early 2020. Lessons Of War is packed full with emotional gritty songs and contains great artwork from Oliver Jeffers.

Read our full review here.

I Like Trains – Kompromat

If the last few years of Brexit, Trump and Covid have left you teetering on the edges of despair then this is maybe not the record for you right now. Disclaimer over, if you would rather face up to all the nonsense by taking it by the throat and giving it both vitriolic barrels then the first record in 8 years from the Leeds noise-bandits might just be just the thing you didn’t know you were looking for. 

Read out full review here.

Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou – May Our Chambers Be Full

Thou & Emma Ruth Rundle created something spectacular on May Our Chambers Be Full. It’s relatively short, but to pack so much into the duration of the album means that you will return for repeated listens to see which new parts you can pick out on each new listen.

Read our full review here. We also interviewed Andy Gibbs of Thou about the album. You can read that here.

Pallbearer – Forgotten Days

Pallbearer – Forgotten Days

Forgotten Days is another huge pillar in Pallbearer’s impenetrable discography. There are the longer songs that are epic but there are lots of moments in Forgotten Days that don’t hang around and follow a more basic formula. The way Pallbearer pull this together is exquisite.

Read our full review here. We also interviewed Brett Campbell of Pallbearer about the album here.

Vampire – Rex

Vampire returned from the murky depths of their old town Gothenburg dwellings to deliver another wickedly blazing record, and a career highlight.If you are in any way into heavy metal from the past or present, then Vampire’s Rex is for you. Dissection, Death, Bathory and Iron Maiden motifs all mesh together to create a sound that sits Vampire amongst other excellent modern metal bands like Haunt, Visigoth, Winterfylleth and Bewitcher.

Read our full review here.

Taylor Swift – folklore

Taylor Swift continued her evolution in 2020. From the colourful ‘Lover’ of 2019, 2020 brought the bleaker ‘folklore’. The album contains one of the absolute best songs of the year in the form of ‘exile’ which features Bon Iver.

Read our full review here.

Banana Skin Shoes by Badly Drawn Boy Reviews and Tracks - Metacritic
Badly Drawn Boy – Banana Skin Shoes

Badly Drawn Boy – Banana Skin Shoes

Badly Drawn Boy returned after nearly a decade to deliver an album of wonder. Banana Skin Shoes is triumphant; there are songs for summer and songs for winter; songs for dancing and songs for sitting. The wide array of styles make for a wonderful musical platter. 

Read our full review here.

Ulver – Flowers Of Evil

A narrative nature adorns all songs on Flowers Of Evil. The formation of some of the songs begs comparison to traditional folk songs. Ulver tell prophetic tales of despair, tragedy, fear, theology and the problematic nature of the world. These struggles are the embodiment of folk songs; songs passed from generation to generation. These songs will definitely be passed on. Flowers Of Evil is a completely dynamic and modernistic triumph. Again.

Read our full review here.

IDLES – Ultra Mono

More bluster from Bristol’s finest…It has a similar feel to the best of The Prodigy – unapologetic, unself-conscious and unstoppable. Music to shake up the stilted and quilted generation.

Read our full review here.

Wu Fei & Abigail Washburn

Wu Fei & Abigail Washburn – Wu Fei and Abigail Washburn

An amalgam of traditional Chinese ghuzeng folk music and banjo-led bluegrass shouldn’t work… But it does, and to stunning effect on this excellent debut album. Deserves to be a game-changer in the same way that Graceland and Buena Vista Social Club were.

Read our full review here.

Lunatic Soul – Through Shaded Woods

Mariusz Duda continued his solo ventures away from his day job in Riverside and produced a seventh Lunatic Soul album that reverberated like none of the others. Scandinavian and Slavic folk provided the inspiration.

Read our full review here.

Fairport Convention – Shuffle & Go

Fairport Convention – Shuffle & Go

Their best album in years – packed with great new songs and topped off with Chris Leslie’s majestic Moondust and Solitude. It’s such a shame that the guys couldn’t get out to promote the album in the way they planned. Roll on Cropredy ’21!

Read our full review here.

Native Harrow – Closeness

Exquisitely timeless and melodic – the spirit of the 60s folk revival meets the sound of The Band at their sepia peak on this wonderful offering from Pennsylvania’s Native Harrow.

Read our full review here.

Ian Carr & The Various Artistes – I Like Your Taste in Music

Heavenly merger of Swedish and Celtic music, expertly played. Evokes the peatland territories of Caithness and the hills and lakes of Sweden’s Varmland with equal clarity.

Aerialists – Dear Sienna

Read our full review here.

Aerialists – Dear Sienna

Young Canadians take the music of Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia and North Africa and create something very special indeed. Progressive Folk? Possibly. A highly enjoyable blast of jazz, folk and just about everything in between? Definitely!

Read our full review here.

Paul TJ O’Neill of The Bolton Iron Maiden – Puppet Master: the Rise and Rise of Slick Dandy

Long-awaited concept piece from Paul, who carries the torch for Bolton’s finest and best-remembered rockers. Rolls back the years with bursts of classic 70s rock and the story’s not bad either!

Read our full review here and our interview with Paul here.

Devin Townsend – Order Of Magnitude: Empath Live Vol.1

The live record of a typically epic show from the master of Progressive Metal who also wears crocs. We were lucky enough to have a close encounter on this tour and this package is the ultimate souvenir.

Read our full review here

Faceless Mirror – Journey Home

Faceless Mirror – Journey Home

This Aussie group borne from 80’s group The Kelly Gang reform after the loss of original members , although harking back to 70’s influences David Cavanagh’s refreshed and new compositions form a warm feelgood album.

Read our full review here. The band also wrote for our Why I Love column here.

Harri Endersby – Mazes

Despite heavy competition from many new and experienced female artists heard throughout the year Harri ‘s sweet vocals hide deep messages and musical depictions of the rural landscape of her native north-east . Beautiful songs, beautifully sung and beautifully played.

Read our full review here.

Caribou – Suddenly

Wall to wall hooks with all sundrenched bliss of his previous work, yet with a heightening of his pop sensibilities. There are some truly wonderful tracks here…see Never Come Back.

Read out full review here.

Vegard – Bewitched By Moonlight Rituals

Underground black metal band Vegard repressed their Bewitched By Moonlight Rituals album through Lone Vigil Records. Traditional black metal meshed with swirling and haunting synths make for a darkly uplifting feast.

Deafheaven
Deafheaven – 10 Years Gone

Read our full review here.

Deafheaven – 10 Years Gone

Recorded in lieu of not being able to tour in 2020, Deafheaven offered up what the proposed setlist of the tour would be with a live studio recording of songs from their decade of existence.

Read our full review here.

Kelly Jones – Don’t Let The Devil Have Another Day

A last minute entry and an album destined for huge approval. recordings from solo acoustic tour backed by the rest of the Stereophonics. He presents powerful yet sensitive vocalisations from his own and ‘phonics extensive catalogue, emotional personal anecdotes accompany each song. These performances made all the more poignant due to the thankfully recovery from threats to his performing career.

Read our full review here.

So there you have it – our writers’ opinions of just some of the best new music they’ve heard during this strange but musically rewarding year. Keep an eye on At The Barrier next week, when our writers will be talking about their favourite reissues of 2020.

You can follow At The Barrier on Twitter here, and like us on Facebook here. We really appreciate your continued support.

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