Sunday, 6 December 2020

2020: A Year In...Albums

 Normally around this time of year, I would be preparing to write a blog about my favourite gigs of the year. Unfortunately, due to the world being on fire, and gigs (as we knew them) not happening properly in this country since March, I was able to write that blog in April. As I sit here now, that post doesn't need updating. I went to 1 socially distant gig between that blog being posted and me writing this - a test event at the Kings Theatre in Southsea (the band playing were a covers band called The Spoils). I really enjoyed that gig, but unfortunately no others have followed. As a result, I'm not reposting that blog with this socially distant gig added. It looked likely that I might be at one more, which may have caused me to appraise. As it happens, it got cancelled (due to restrictions placed on venues since the end of lockdown). Looking at my diary for 2021 as it currently stands, my next gig is in due to be April 2021 (Idles at the Guildhall in Portsmouth, which they are doing in support of Pie and Vinyl) - as it stands I would be surprised if that goes ahead (unless they have sold enough tickets for it to be a socially distant affair I guess). My diary gets a bit busier, gig wise, after that but I'm not getting overly excited about it until there is some sign these will go ahead. 

Working from home, as I have been doing since March 23rd (which feels like a lifetime ago), has enabled me to listen to a lot more music than I normally would. The only measuring stick for how much music I listened to in a year would be, which itself isn't an entirely accurate reflection of how much music I've listened to for a couple of years before this one, as scrobbling between iTunes and just stopped for reasons I couldn't figure out. The service claims I listened to just shy of 2,800 songs in 2019, which could be true, but I think it was a lot higher (listening on my iPod or iPhone wasn't recorded all the time, if memory serves). I've looked at what has been recorded this year (which is pretty accurate as all my listening has been, for my sins, via Spotify) and in July I listened to just over 2,000 songs. Every full month I've worked from home, I've listened to over 1,000 songs a month (with most being over 1,500). This blog isn't about my page however, it is about some of the albums that have been released this year that I've either played a lot, or ones I've liked and will definitely be going back to. They aren't listed in any sort of order, but the first two that I'll be talking about are by far the albums I've listened to the most this year. 

Code Orange - Underneath

Image credit - Pitchfork

I've had a mixed past with Code Orange, going from not liking them to becoming a fan. The release of Forever helped that, but this album fully confirmed me as a fan of theirs from listen 1. It was one of those albums that I listened to and immediately knew how good it was. I've gone back to it repeatedly this year and it is incredible. It also bucks a personal trend for me, as previously I've spoken about not liking intro tracks, or not understanding the point of them (Slipknot, I'm looking at you). (deeperthanbefore) is the perfect intro track to this album - if this album was a rollercoaster, this would be playing on the first climb before you got shot into the ride proper, but builds up the anticipation for something huge, which Swallowing the Rabbit Whole more than delivers upon. I'm looking back over the track list now to see if I can pick out a favourite song and have decided against - because it changes all the time! 

Run The Jewels - RTJ4. 

Image credit - Pitchfork

I remember when I saw Run The Jewels live at All Points East last year, I went only really knowing 2 or 3 of their songs and thinking they were ace - the main one being Close Your Eyes (and Count To Fuck). After the gig, I went back to Run The Jewels 3 and thought it was great. I still mainly listened to Close Your Eyes, but I had a greater appreciation for them. When RTJ4 came out, the world was reacting to the murder of George Floyd (Killer Mike from Run The Jewels gave an impassioned, powerful speech after the killing as well) and some of the lyrics made people question if it was written in light of that. The fact it was written some time before, referencing previous similar events which were then happening again makes the words even more powerful - Walking in the Snow sticks out in my mind immediately here (the live performance of this during Holy Calamavote was something else). Even without the context of the release, RTJ4 is a superb album. Similar to Underneath, so many of the songs on this album could be my favourite song on the album. This album being as good as it is was a big selling point for me buying a ticket for Riot Fest in Chicago next year. Sitting here now, I find myself thinking it is unlikely it will go ahead (or that I'll be unable to go) - but I have a ticket and if I am able to go, Run The Jewels will absolutely be at the top of the list of bands I have to see (with My Chemical Romance and Pixies in 2nd and 3rd respectively). For what it is worth, if we're in a place where the festival can go ahead, the only reason I can't see myself attending is if I have to self-isolate after arriving in Chicago - I'm going to be there for a week, so if I have to stay in for 2 weeks (hypothetically) then I won't be able to go to the festival. Anyway, this isn't about RTJ4 anymore so I will move on. Belter of an album though! 

Idles - Ultra Mono

Image credit - Bandcamp

Since the release of Joy as an Act of Resistance, I have firmly become an Idles fan. I saw them live the same day as Run The Jewels in London (what a day that was) and have wanted to see them live again ever since (I've got tickets to see them twice in 2021, and am considering getting a ticket to see Pearl Jam where they are currently the main support). I really like this album (I'm not sure if this or Brutalism is my second favourite Idles album) and I think I will grow to like it more the more I listen to it. I'm going to sound like a bit of a broken record, but I'm not able to say which is my favourite song on the album because there are so many to choose from. I'm very much looking forward to seeing some of these songs live (well, I'm looking forward to seeing any song live, but hopefully you get my point). This album is great. I'm not going to do a top 20 list or owt (probably), but I think this would round out the top 3 with the first two albums I've spoken about, more than likely. 

Beans On Toast - Knee Deep In Nostalgia/The Unforeseeable Future

Image credit - IPA Music

Am I cheating by putting two albums in one entry? Maybe. Does it matter? Probably not. Anyway, these are the newest releases on this list (released just 5 days ago as I type these very words). As it happens, I hadn't got round to actually listening to Beans on Toast until this year. Setlist FM tells me I could have seen him twice previously (once supporting Frank Turner at the Guildhall and once at Victorious Festival). Anyway, I listened to his entire discography (well, albums anyway) earlier this year and really enjoyed a fair bit of what I heard. I heard about these two albums on a live stream he did and was looking forward to them. I can report they are both ace! The MVP of Knee Deep is The Village Disco. I haven't decided what my favourite song from The Unforeseeable Future is yet, but I like both albums. 

Loathe - I Let It In and It Took Everything

Image credit - Pitchfork

I saw Loathe support Employed to Serve in London and was immediately sold on them. I was excited about the album coming out and wasn't let down at all - it is brilliant. I saw them on their headline tour supporting the album, which I've written about in the Gigs of the Year blog linked above. I won't retell the story of why I didn't overly enjoy that gig (not Loathe's fault at all though!). I didn't revisit the album for a little while during this year, but did so when out on a government mandated walk during lock-down and it blew me away all over again. I very much want to see them live again. 

Fiona Apple - Fetch The Bolt Cutters

Image credit - Pitchfork

I listen to a podcast called Riot Act, on which they review albums (amongst other things, but that is the main part of the show). I recall them saying they were going to talk about this album due to the response it had got. My immediate thought was of her song 'Criminal' and wondering if it would be similar to that song. It very much isn't, by the way. The response to this album has been pretty much universal praise - at the time of Riot Act review, it had a metacritic score of 100. I've just checked and that has tumbled to a score of 98. However, music taste is subjective, so I went in with an open mind. I find it hard to describe why I like it as much as I do, but I really do. 

Deftones - Ohms

Image credit - Pitchfork

I gave Deftones a proper listen a few years ago, wondering if my opinion on them had changed with time (I wasn't a fan after seeing them at Download 2006, and thought I enjoyed their Portsmouth headline show more than that, it didn't win me  over really). That proper listen made me realise I like them a lot more than I thought I did. I did another one of these play-through's while working from home, which was great as well. Ohms however is the first album of theirs that I've listened to when it was new and it blew me away. When all is said and done, I don't think this will be considered their best album, but it is up there for me, and that is saying something considering how long they have been a band. Not sure what the MVP is for this one, but the album is very good all the way through. 

Trivium - What The Dead Men Say

Image credit - Metacritic

It has actually been a while since I've listened to this album, but it is really good. I liked their last release before this one, The Sin and The Sentence, so I was looking forward to this but, honestly, had low expectations. Trivium have had a patchy history with some really great albums and some...less than great albums (I'm looking at you Silence In The Snow). I am pleased to report that I really like this album. I recall discussions of them possibly headlining Download Festival in years gone by, and while I think that is unlikely now, I think this album is good enough to hopefully get them some new fans - I'd love to see them headline a big bill in Wembley Arena touring this album. MVP wise, the title track or Catastrophist for me. 

Haggard Cat - Common Sense Holiday

Image credit - Bandcamp

I saw Haggard Cat supporting InMe earlier this year and they were excellent. They were due to tour in support of this album coming out but the global bastard being the bastard it is, that didn't happen. I would have got a ticket to see them in Guildford had it gone ahead. Anyway, I really liked Challenger, but this is quite a bit better in my opinion, which is good news. 

Biffy Clyro - A Celebration of Endings

Image credit - Metacritic

This album made me completely reappraise my opinion of Biffy Clyro. First things first, this album is excellent. However, my enjoying the album so much made me want to go back and revisit some of their back catalogue to see if I had dismissed it without much thought. On reflection, I still don't really like Ellipsis too much, but I do like Opposites a lot more than I thought I did. And, y'know, Puzzle and Only Revolutions are both incredible. I doubt I would have revisited any of these albums without A Celebration of Endings. So that is cool. As for an MVP - well it is Cop Syrup. There are other good songs on this album but my word, that one is remarkable. 

Svalbard - When I Die, Will I Get Better?

Image credit - Bandcamp

I am relatively new to Svalbard, but listened back to their discography and really liked what I heard, with It's Hard To Have Hope (their then latest release) being my favourite. When I Die, Will I Get Better? has comfortably replaced it as my favourite, but they are both ace albums. Right now, Open Wound is my favourite, but this could change.

Bruce Springsteen - A Letter To You

Image credit - Clash Music

The Boss has released a lot of albums. A lot. I listened to a whole bunch of them earlier this year in the run up to this coming out, and this one is really good. I really like this. Certainly in the conversation of whether it is one of his best since getting back with the E Street Band for me. Another one of those albums with multiple contenders for the MVP slot. Similar to Ohms, it is very good all the way through. 

Marilyn Manson - WE ARE CHAOS

Image credit - Wikipedia

Speaking of a musician with a patchy back catalogue (as I did earlier with Trivium), Manson has released some genuine metal classics and...a few albums now that are a bit bum. There are a number of albums he has released which I would struggle to pull a good EP out of. Manson albums are usually long, too long in some cases. This album is shorter than most of his previous releases and I think it is better for it. It is his best album since The Golden Age of Grotesque - now I appreciate that isn't the highest of bars, but it clears it by some way. If he could follow this up with a good live performance then happy days! This coming out did make me go back to his discography and give it another listen, and yeah some of those bum albums were a slog but there are a few gems in there. This album has a lot of very good songs on it. 

Sharptooth - Transitional Forms

Image credit - Bandcamp

This album is just shy of 30 minutes, and left me wanting more from this band. The MVP for me is the opening track Say Nothing (In the Absence of Content) with a mosh call that makes me smile whenever I hear it. Brilliant stuff. 

Palm Reader - Sleepless

Image credit - Distorted Sound

Palm Reader supported Employed to Serve at the last gig I went to this year. I also saw them supporting Cancer Bats in 2016 and I have enjoyed them both times. Braille was their last release before this one, which I really liked. Sleepless though just sounds huge. If there is any justice, this will get heard by a lot of people. This is a view formed as well after very few listens in the grand scheme of things. I want to listen to it more, and will do so. 

That is where I am going to leave it for now, but there have been lots of great albums released this year, including some more that I need to go back to (for example, I know the new Napalm Death album is excellent because of course it is. However, I have only listened to it once I think, maybe twice). I think I'll be working at home for a while yet so there is a chance to do this. This has been a great year for music though, and the albums above are just some of those I've been listening to this year. 

As it happens, the albums I listened to when writing this all feature in this blog, they are the two new Beans on Toast albums, Idles Ultra Mono and Marilyn Manson We Are Chaos. Lovely.

(p.s - I'm not smart enough to know why the line spacing varies throughout this. It was originally written on a google doc where it was all the same. It remains a mystery)