*Editors yearly rant…then on to the albums*
2020 was a dumpster fire, a flaming trash heap of loss, frustration and disappointment. I lost a job, got a mental health diagnosis, became an uncle to a niece I’ve only seen in photos, broke my leg and ankle, cancelled gigs and postponed recording an album. Almost gave up the reviews too for the lack of a working computer. Oh it’s been a time. This year everyone has a story though so I’m not alone licking my wounds and in the music industry it’s been a shared grief.
In place of what we lost we got online/streamed performances from bedrooms and studios, acoustic solo sets through online events like Isolaid Festival, we got pro-shot performances uploaded to platforms from bands like Parkway Drive, Hands Like Houses and Northlane for us to watch from our bubbles and ordered new release albums delivered straight to our door if not direct to streaming services. I really missed my trips to the record store. For those artists who were able to wrestle some innovation out of the situation and took advantage of the thin silver lining, we can only say thankyou. There would have been a lot more to enjoy under other conditions but for those of us trapped in Melbourne, we look to 2021 with hungry eyes and an anticipation for what awaits.
Lamenting aside, there was some utterly fantastic music produced. I heard a lot, reviewed some, bought even less and saw none of it live.
The stand out’s of 2020 however are easy picking…starting with:
AOTY 2020 – Polaris – The Death of Me.
This was obviously album of the year material when it was released early this year. There was never going to be a challenger. It’s not a hype record, there’s no well crafted campaign, genius promotion or insane touring regime to dominate our spaces. Fans knew it was coming, the singles had us salivating and hoping we weren’t getting the best tracks first. The artwork was slick (Pat Fox is always on point) and thematically tied into the previous album, the videos were awesome and demanded re-watches (*cough* Landmine). When the full thing dropped, so did our jaws. This was furious, dark, focussed, catchy and beyond expectations. It’s even musically proficient enough that the band released an instrumental version of the album for download on their bandcamp. If you need convincing, then go watch some reaction’s on YouTube. Watch their ‘JJJ Like a Version’ set, read the outrage of Polaris snub at the ARIA’s. It peaked at #17 on Billboard in the US, #3 in Australia. I haven’t taken it out of my car since I received my pre-order back in February.
- Arcing Wires – Prime.
Jazz and Heavy music, weird bedfellows to be sure. In my mind they shouldn’t work together. I’ve heard bands try to bring it into focus for years but the results end up feeling abrasive, jarring and just generally un-enjoyable. Enter Sydney’s Arcing Wires….aye dios mio!!!
They’re a band that plays complex, rhythmic, groovy heavy rock that fuses jazz into the mix seamlessly. It’s not just the tenor sax which ‘makes it sound’ jazzy. The musical compositions are such that they weave and bend, meandering through jazz modes, noodling and building towards pummelling crescendos, bouncy riffs and enormous drums just smashing it. It was an incredibly surprising album that has entertained and baffled me for months now. I can’t fault it. There’s layers and depth to it which reveal themselves on repeat listens. But like.. it gets heavy too..and it grooves. I’ve no doubt that this will be a criminally underrated piece of work, but for me it was one of the highlights of 2020.
- EbonIvory –The Long Dream I
This was too good to be true. It’s a shame (to say the least) that such a promising band would essentially bring themselves apart and whilst I won’t address the details, it is suffice to say that someone fucked up big time and the band is now kaput. So…we’re left with an undeniably amazing album. It is truly impressive. The riffs, the heavy, the tech, the vocals and melodies, the song writing and production…all seriously next level. The Long Dream I even scored #1 album on the Independent Music Charts (AIR). Take a drop of Periphery, TesseracT, Between The Buried and Me..and mix in some Aussie flair and you get the idea. It’s been months since it dropped and I still have not tired of this record. In fact I rarely get through the first 3-4 tracks before I go back for more. The album was meant to be a 2-part affair .. sadly we’ll likely never get that other half. I’ll settle with this.
- Cloud Tangle – Kinds of Sadness
Stunning, sombre and ambient post rock that broods and stews in emotion. Amber makes it easy to float away for a moment and get lost in the waves of reverb laden guitars, keys and her soft voice. Imagine a soundscape artist making an emo album…you’d get close with this. For fans of the whole post-rock genre you can’t go past this for one of the strongest and most engaging albums of the year. To consider that she made, wrote and played everything on Kinds of Sadness is a huge achievement, but add to that how it’s so cohesive and instantly engaging.. that right there is why it’s all the more remarkable.
- Wishful Thinking – One More Time
Wishful Thinking have a history with albums and EP’s, a Best-Of and B-side collections to their name. This year they dropped thier first new music since 2006 and sometimes when a band returns after such a long break you have to wonder ‘is it worth it?’
It was worth it. This is an EP of 6 bangers that fills the gap between where they left off and what’s more or less standard now. Great song writing, fast and punchy tracks and melodies for days. It leaves me wanting more! The replay value on this is just through the roof.
- Drastic Park – Imposter Syndrome
These overachievers dropped 2 EP’s this year, and they were both great, but I pick this one for the list because they did it throughout the lockdown, recording themselves at home, filming video’s and working in the breaks to largely get it done remotely. The result is one of the most on point and timely musical documents of the pandemic I’ve come across. It’s cheeky, bloody relatable and keeps the necessary kick ass attitude of a pop-punk ethos. The songs are very much about what has been on our minds this year and it’s impossible not to bop your head and shake it at the same time.
- Sleepmakeswaves – these are not your dreams
SMW gave us options this year. Get 3 individual EP’s released sequentially or wait and get it assembled as a single album at the end. I chose the latter, backed the crowd funding campaign and deliberately avoided the drip-feed as best I could to be able to consume it as a whole. The idea overall shows innovation and clever thinking behind keeping a band active and engaged during the biggest downtime in our industries history. So in short: it’s great. The group have downscaled to a 3 piece and I was worried about what would change for them… luckily nothing. It’s still epic highs, brooding lows, crushingly heavy at times and sparsely ambient at others. It’s hard to talk about riffs and chord progressions in any way that might excite a reader..so I’ll say it’s as good ‘Made of Breath Only’ and leave it at that. They remain our instrumental prog lords.
- Saviour – A Lunar Rose
This album is a juggernaut. When I reviewed it in February I was thinking then how much of a contender this was for Top10 lists at the end of the year. I’m certain it will land in A LOT of year-in-review lists. This is extremely well balanced metal-core with a frequent swing between melody, ugly AF breakdowns, beautiful and guttural vocals, meaningful and confronting lyrical content. Guitar sounds are fantastic, drumming is top tier and the dual male/female vocal thing really works. The band was grounded from touring this huge album (like most of us) so expect to see it gain even more traction with audiences in the new year. This was an instant gym-playlist addition for me.
- Wolf and Chain – An Honest Mistake
I was floored by this EP from Adelaide group Wolf and Chain. Being an unashamed Taking Back Sunday/Panic At The Disco fan myself, this had me checking the ‘now playing’ window to make sure I wasn’t on the wrong stream. The fact that this band sounds like the great emo-giants of the 00’s is no secret, none the less it rips just as hard and throws caution out the door. They know it, we know it…and it’s unreal!! I am eagerly hoping they follow this up with an album because whilst our hero’s may have moved on to other sounds and styles, I want more of this and damnit…these kids are my last hope.
- Slowly Slowly – Race Car Blues
I wrestled with this album. I wanted to like it more than I actually did and so I listened to it a lot. I kept finding something great that my ears would latch onto and then it would be overshadowed by clumsy or lazy lyrical content. Then again, a moment, a riff, a great section would come along and I’d be sucked right back in. To make it into my Top 10 means that the misfires were out-numbered by the hits. Production is not unlike a pop-punk album, tight and slick with punchy guitars and great drum sounds. The performances are great but the songs are..well..60/40.. the lyrics..even less. There is a familiar sense of unfiltered home-town irreverence throughout and I like that if I’m being honest. They aimed for something…didn’t stick the landing and for whatever unknown reason THAT is what makes it endearing to me.