Albums of the Year- 2020

It’s been a tough year…

No, that feels like an understatement. Worst year ever? Maybe. It’s somehow felt like the longest and the shortest 12 months in human history, a hurry-up-and-wait of terror and tension and “what the fuck is going on”. A calendar of unprecedented chaos.

Like every shitty year before this one though, 2020 was somewhat saved by some superb new music. In fact, while the predominant urge might have been to huddle up in silence, or with familiar music and movies only, it seemed like every single week there was another record worth forgoing hibernation to hear.

Now, there’s a chance that my favourites of this year will be forever tainted, covered in the ick of 2020, but right now they all feel like the best things that happened to me since the 1st of January. Yep, even that perfectly grim Nine Inch Nails album.

Out of the thousands worthy of further mention- the misty ambience of Eerie Gaits, the unique flight of Poisonous Birds, the molten metal of Loathe, and more, more, more- below are the records that have stuck with Moderate Rock this year. These are the albums I want to rave about, to share, to shove in your face until you, like, get it, man. 11 because Spinal Tap.

I hope you find something to love.

11. NINE INCH NAILS- ‘Ghosts VI: Locusts’
I don’t mean to belittle the whole idea of album of the year lists but any time you told me Trent Reznor was turning the “utter despair” of a global pandemic into a record of harrowing soundscapes, I would’ve guaranteed its place in my annual favourites and, well, here we are…

10. CLOUDKICKER- ‘Solitude’
The eighth Cloudkicker album was written and recorded entirely during lockdown in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and, perhaps unavoidably, is the darkest, most intense entry in Ben Sharp’s outstanding one-man band discography.

9. SPICE- ‘Spice’ 
For an album apparently inspired by various states of human suffering, the self-titled debut effort from California collective, Spice, sure is a lot of fun. A killer collection of catchy cut-looseness.

8. CASPIAN- ‘On Circles’
Caspian will probably always be referred to as a post-rock band but ‘On Circles’ is definitely their least post-rock album. Over time the record starts to feel organic, carved out of wood, or grown out of the ground even. It’s not been programmed to crescendo at just the right time, it crescendos when it damn well pleases. Side note: ‘Ishmael’ is one of my favourite songs of the year.

7. RUN THE JEWELS- ‘RTJ4’
It seems unlikely, maybe even impossible, considering the highlights already on their collective résumé, but ‘RTJ4’ is Killer Mike and El-P’s best work yet. What the duo are saying here is so important, in this or any year, but they say it with rare verve and skill, and their words are strapped to inventive, electrifying, thrillingly-produced tracks. 

6. JESU- ‘Terminus’
If the last Jesu record was a statement piece, something carved from stone, ‘Terminus’ is weathered, worn, hand-stitched and fraying. It’s a quality that might disappoint people looking for concentrated heaviness, but it feels authentic, absorbing, and, sure, kind of timely.

5. KEATON HENSON- ‘Monument’
A record of death, denial, and, just maybe, acceptance, ‘Monument’ is incredibly effective, incredibly affecting, and almost timeless. It’s Keaton Henson’s best work yet.

4. DEVONTÉ HYNES- ‘Queen & Slim’
While Queen & Slim was a compelling but uneven film, its soundtrack is consistently brilliant. Even without the images it was composed to accompany, it’s emotional, powerful, and complete. All that from a former member of a band called Test Icicles too. Only Hynes’ second full-length feature film score, where he goes from here should be very interesting.

3. HUM- ‘Inlet’
Hum’s first album in 20 years, ‘Inlet’ isn’t burdened by its significance. It’s a heavy record but it’s never weighed down by history or legacy or expectation. It has every sonic element fans of the band might expect- slow-motion afterburner distortion, dense, complex arrangements, almost spoken vocals- and more. But, unlike some other recent rock comeback records, it also maintains the magic, mysterious ingredients that made its makers special in the first place. It sounds like Hum, sure, but it feels like Hum too.

2. DEFTONES- ‘Ohms’
It might be the most repeated sentiment in any commentary on Deftones since the turn of the century- this band’s ability to incorporate new ideas and slowly evolve, while still sounding exactly like themselves, is rare magic- but they keep giving people reasons to say it. ‘Ohms’ is, no doubt, a Deftones album. There a few alarms and surprises here. But this is Deftones taking every opportunity, holding nothing back, and writing their best album in a decade.

1. EMPTY COUNTRY- ‘Empty Country’

Listening to this record for the first time is like tuning into a new radio station only to find them playing ten outstanding tracks you’ve somehow never heard before all in a row, hit after hit after hit after hit. And you can’t believe what’s happening, and you question where have these songs have been all your life, and you look for the nearest pen, because quick, you’ve got to write these titles down, and you can’t quite finish because wow, how is this song so good, wait, how is the next song is even better! I’ve had Joseph D’Agostino’s solo debut pencilled in as an album of the year contender since its release in the spring, but nothing has stopped me in my tracks in quite the same way since. The best part- I still catch new, brilliant things on every listen.

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Kudos too, to Ben Seretan for writing my favourite song of the year, to Sour Widows for releasing my favourite EP of the year, and Foster Parents for the album I liked most this year that actually came out last year.

Here’s to 2021. It can’t be any worse than this year, can it. Can it?!

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