Sunday 6 December 2020

My albums of 2020

Despite lockdowns, restrictions and all kinds of challenges, artists and labels across the world kept releasing music right throughout 2020. And oh how it helped to get lost in an album, to escape reality for a while. In the words of ABBA; thank you for the music.

Working from home and the fact that there were no gigs meant that I probably listened to more newly released music than normal, certainly way more than last year.

I think I've appreciated music more than ever through this strange year. I've bonded with people with similar taste on social media and appreciated that sense of (virtual) community and connections. I've enjoyed a number of Tim Burgess' listening parties. I've arrange zoom calls for fellow fans of Teenage Fanclub which has been brilliant for socialising and I've been able to get lost in music when I've needed to, or even when I haven't. 


6 Music has been on most days while working from home and although I've massively missed gigs and all the socialising that goes with them, in some ways I feel closer to music. Strange, huh?!

I always like to point out that there are always albums I discover after writing my Albums of the Year blogs. For example there was a trio of albums released in 2019 that I only discovered this year; I really love the Erland Cooper, Callum Easter and Better Oblivion Community Centre albums. 

So no doubt I'll discover a gem from 2020 next year, indeed I'm only just getting into the SAULT albums. 

I'm not going to name an album of the year for 2020. It's been such a strange and shit year in so many ways, but in terms of new music, it has been excellent and there are a number of albums I keep returning to.

Andrew Wasylyk's is just beautifully crafted music to get lost in, I fell for the talent of Phoebe Bridgers in a big way, The Flaming Lips moved me to tears with their vision, ambition and psychedelic pop, my sister Carla J Easton moved forwards with a defiant, powerful, melodic and emotional heart on sleeve pop record, the Whyte Horses album just oozes great taste and has such a good feel to it, Andy Bell delivered an exceptional debut album of psychedelic pop and grooves, and Dua Lipa released an exceptional pop album that is loved by everyone in our house.

So read on for my 10 favourite albums of 2020 plus 2 incredible compilation albums released by Last Night From Glasgow and Olive Grove Records, also a little on the LNFG reissue of Sisters by The Bluebells and the fast moving novel The Young Team by Graeme Armstrong.

Fugitive Light And Themes Of Consolation by Andrew Wasylyk
Label - Athens Of The North

Andrew Wasylyk is an incredible talent who I've been following since his second album Themes for Buildings and Spaces was released back in 2017. Now on album number 4, Wasylyk creates beautiful grooves, dreamy landscapes and majestic layers to get lost in. David Axelrod is a name that sprung to mind when I first hear the album and it was interesting to hear Andrew mention him in an interview on BBC Radio Scotland. That is the kind of talent and ambition we are talking about.

Last Sunbeams of Childhood is utterly sublime and then Wasylyk actually has a song called Everywhere Something Sublime which totally is .... something sublime!  

Awoke in the Early Days of a Better World is a song I've played a lot. It has a kind of beautiful mellow stoned groove. It somehow has the ability to feel like there is a lot going on, but at the same time there isn't. 

Andrew Wasylyk creates and captures something really incredible with this album.

American Head by The Flaming Lips
Label - Bella Union

When they are on form you sure can get lost in an album by The Flaming Lips. American Head moved me to tears on first listen. Headphones on, glass of red and Wayne Coyne singing from the bottom of his heart and the far reaches of his mind. It's a melodic, soulful, psychedelic trip as song titles like You N Me Sellin' Weed and When We Die When We're High might suggest. 

The sonic vision and ambition of The Flaming Lips never fails to amaze and they go really widescreen with opener Will You Return/When You Come Down which is almost 6-minutes of wonderful psychedelic pop. Mother I've Taken LSD is all kinds of self realisation and empathy; now I see the sadness in the world, I'm sorry I didn't see it before. Hopefully we will see Wayne back riding around the Barrowland Ballroom on a unicorn again before too long!

The View From Halfway Down by Andy Bell
Label - Sonic Cathedral

Andy Bell is someone who feels refreshed and revitalised. Ride are a shining example of how a comeback can work out and Bell seems to have a tremendous sense of urgency and freedom to create outwith that.

His debut album, at the age of 50, sounds fresh, inventive, timeless and fun, full of grooves, twists and turns. The way Skywalker develops on a bass groove for a further 3-minutes just when you think it is about to end is surprising and glorious, while Cherry Cola is just super cool, melodic sunshine on record.

Andy very kindly gave an extensive interview back in August that you can READ HERE

Weirdo by Carla J Easton
Label - Olive Grove Records

My sisters second album under her own name is escapism, realisation, reflection, defiance and at times, a big F**K YOU, like on the absolute anger Over You. Get Lost is Carly Rae Jepsen fronting New Order escapism, Never Knew You is Taylor Swift style realisation and self therapy with the brilliant when I was up I was up, and when I was down you were never around hook, Thorns is a stunning synth ballad, Waves That Fall marries Chic style guitars with Scottish Hip Hop with a blitz by guest Solareye from Stanley Odd while the title track celebrates all that is good about being weird. 

I'm a rollercoaster rolling

The first edition of Weirdo sold out in pre-sales which was incredible for Carla and Lloyd from Olive Grove Records. I think at first that was going to be that, after all, it is quite cool to sell out your pressing. But there was a real demand for a repress and it was no ordinary repress as the artist Jim Lambie designed new artwork.

I look forward to hearing these songs being blasted out live and Carla is a rollercoaster rolling. 2021 will see TeenCanteen release their very first recordings and Carla has a number of new songs written for her next solo album and also for a new band she is forming with Simon Liddell. They are looking for a band name; check this tweet if you have any suggestions!

Future Nostalgia by Dua Lipa
Label - Warner Records

I can only imagine how massive Dua Lipa would have been in a non COVID world. She would have been everywhere with her catchy, clever and euphoric pop. 

The kids kept asking about Dua Lipa songs after discovering her via Tik Tok and they soon got me into Dua Lipa too, but not Tik Tok!

Hallucinate is my personal favourite, its so catchy, the chorus flows so easily. Don't Start Now was the first song I heard off the album and it is brilliant pop music, the whole album is. Physical is totally euphoric, Levitating is ridiculously catchy, while Break My Heart asks the brilliant question am I falling in love with the one that could break my heart?

A genius pop album by a brilliant pop star. We watched Dua Lipa's Studio 2054 online show at the end of November and I really hope to take the kids to see her in person at the Hydro when she eventually plays. 

My feel good album of the year. My kids album of the year. Stick it on and make room to dance.

Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers
Label - Dead Oceans

I fell for Phoebe Bridgers big time after hearing Kyoto on 6Music, reading various reviews and then buying her album and checking her back catalogue. 

Bridgers seems effortlessly talented and ridiculously prolific, full of creative energy that can come bursting out in melodic pop like Kyoto or in more mellow, subdued and reflective ways like the beautiful Garden Song.

I've enjoyed exploring her discography; her EP/mini-album with boygenius and her album with Conor Oberst as Better Oblivion Community Center are both excellent. I can't wait to hear what she does next.

The New Abnormal by The Strokes
Label - RCA Records

The New Abnormal somehow has a sense of urgency along with a sense of don't give a flying f**k and as a result The Strokes sound glorious. The twin guitars of Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr entwine beautifully, even when it sounds like it shouldn't work ... it does. There are keyboards/synths, vocal effects and lazy punky flowing melodies, delivered in Julian Casablancas cool New York drawl. 

I thought The Strokes had disappeared and split a long time ago. This album really was a pleasant surprise. Sure some songs are a little long (and there are only 9 of them) but there are cracking guitar riffs (Why Are Sundays So Depressing), moments of  sheer brilliance like the dive into the flowing chorus of The Adults Are Talking and times, like Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus where everything somehow crashes together to sound magnificent just after it sounds like it could all far apart

I was reminded what a stunning band The Strokes can be, what a stunning band they are ... if they are in the mood.

2021 will be the 20th anniversary of their vital debut album Is This It? That was then, this is now.

Hard Times by The Whyte Horses
Label - CRC Records

This album was released away back in January, it feels like ages ago, so much has happened since then. This is kind of a compilation album but it is a covers album. Whyte Horses display impeccable taste in songs and in guests with La Roux, John Grant, Badly Drawn Boy and Traceyanne Campbell included.

Their faithful version of Red Lady by Phil Cordell opens proceedings, sunshine psych, all round good vibes, beautiful vocals. And you're into the world of Whyte Horses where they romp through Ca Plane Pour Moi and sound like they've gone back to their rehearsal room after being down the pub with Badly Drawn Boy to knock out a lovely rough n raw version of Lou Reed's Satellite Of Love.

I was really looking forward to Whyte Horses coming up to play the CCA in Glasgow, I hope they make it in 2021. 

Working Men's Club by Working Men's Club
Label - Heavenly Recordings

The first time I heard Working Men's Club was on the radio but I had missed the intro, so I was really wondering who this was. There were echoes of both Joy Division and New Order, with a hint of Ian Curtis or Alex Turner on vocals.

Yet another stunning addition to the Heavenly Recordings family. This album is full of glorious synths and beats, playful guitars, moments of euphoria and loads of grooves.

John Cooper Clarke, Valleys and Tomorrow are particular favourites. Another band I can't wait to see live when possible. I can imagine they'll be chomping at the bit to get out there and in some ways the absence of gigs might work in their favour as the buzz around the band and album might catapult them to larger venues.

Hether Blether by Erland Cooper
Label - Phases

I only discovered Erland's 2019 album Sule Skerry via the SAY Award. Thankfully that ensured I was immediately on to his swift follow up.

Hether Blether is Cooper's third and final album in a trilogy of releases shaped by the islands where he grew up. Hailing from the archipelago of Orkney in Scotland, Cooper is inspired by the sights and sounds of his home to create magic music.

Skreever is majestically beautiful, the sound of the Orkney wind over gentle strings. It's rather beautiful, a real favourite. Elsewhere Kathryn Joseph sings on 3 tracks, including Longhope, which starts with strings, a thumping beat and spoken word samples from islanders, building until Joseph's atmospheric vocal sounds like she is whispering a secret fairytale story directly to you. 

An extremely beautiful and moving album. 


Isolation Sessions by Last Night From Glasgow

Always full of ideas and burning with creative energy and a sense of purpose, LNFG acted swiftly when lockdown was announced, inspiring to their artists covering each other from their own homes for a compilation album, Isolation Sessions, that was quickly put on sale with proceeds going to venues across the city to help them (hopefully) make it through lockdown. At the time of writing, proceeds from November onwards are going to my favourite music bar McChuills. I think this is a fascinating document of the times, married with LNFG photographer Brian Sweeney's documentation of artists and label members in their own homes. Find out more and order a copy HERE

LNFG's development has been staggering and I fully expect them to not only it the ground running, but full on sprinting when things open up again in 2021 (fingers crossed).

Get Into The Grove, 10-years of Olive Grove Records

Lloyd Meredith who runs Olive Grove Records had big plans for the tenth anniversary of the label in 2020. Hopefully live plans will happen next year, but in the meantime check out the wonderful Get Into The Grove compilation album. You can order the vinyl online now for a January delivery and you'll immediately be able to download and stream the album from Bandcamp.

Running a DIY label for 10-years isn't easy, but just listen to the variety and quality across this record. The purity of moonsoup who I want to hear and see a lot more of in 2021, Jo Mango with The Madrigirls is exquisite and beautiful, while Call To Mind conjure all kinds of emotion with Recovery. The Olive Grove artists have done the label proud. 


Last Night From Glasgow have set up Past Night From Glasgow to focus on reissues and oh my, what a way to launch the label with the Sisters LP by The Bluebells, originally released in 1984 and long out of print.

Past Night From Glasgow has some incredible plans for 2021, with BMX Bandits Star Wars album appropriately set for a May 4th release and the past has a bright future going by the quality of artists, albums and physical product that is being reissued with love and care.

Sisters by The Bluebells
Label - Past Night From Glasgow

Look out for a feature blog on The Bluebells Sisters album over the festive season. 

Book of the Year - The Young Team by Graeme Armstrong
Get lost in the world of a Young Team in Airdrie; gangs, fights, drugs, alcohol, dance music, escapism, isolation, the older ones ... a debut novel that lets rip at a ferocious pace, introducing brilliant characters and storylines. Ripe for a film. The 2020's Trainspotting.

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