(*or should that be semenal?? No. No, ‘seminal’ is the correct spelling. I just checked)
After his firsttwo albums, all things considered, Prince was really nothing special aside from an admittedly talented performer with the nice little gimmick of being able to play a lot of instruments. Aside from taking a little detour into filthiness with Soft and Wet and proving his rock chops, if only briefly, with I’m Yours, his first album was deserving of little more than a polite applause for the ability on show. His second album, although technically superior in almost every sense, containing his first hit in the heavily disco influenced I Wanna Be Your Lover and, to me, his first stone cold classic in When We’re Dancing Close and Slow* , it was actually frustrating to listen to 40 years later with the benefit of hindsight and knowing exactly what this talent would one day become. There was close to nothing to these albums, they were more often than not box ticking genre albums. Where was the invention? Where was the subversion? Where was the star quality? There was next to no clue where Prince was about to take his sound, his image or his provocativeness.
Oh, so she uses proper capitalisation on the album cover, but not in the official stylisation?? Seriously, Charli, what the WTF?
There is no better artist in recent times at embracing the everything than Charli XCX. Her genius has always been to encompass pretty much every facet of modern pop music and modern sound into bite size chunks and serving them up for the aimed consumption of literally every single person on Earth. She has always liked to do this through bridging as many connections with as many people as possible. She is an insanely public artist, connecting to all of her fans on every social platform and ensuring that they are always explicitly aware of how important they are in whatever success she has, leading to live performances that can feel more like a mass therapy session mixed with the prelude to the greatest mass orgy all thousand people present have ever experienced mixed with the purest exhibition of Arthur Janov‘s treatment of primal screaming. She’d also do this by collaborating with as many other artists as she could, ensuring that so many of her fans were introduced to slightly more challenging acts such as Cupcakke, Dorian Elektra and Tommy Cash. You have to imagine that Charli hugs each and every person she passes on the streets and tells them that she loves them, and to never stop being awesome. It makes every trip to the Post Office last about an hour and 45 minutes. For this most hyper-interactive, hyper-communicative, hyper-compassionate and hyper sharing artist- one who thrives on the maddening stimulation of modern life- to suddenly find that you’re not allowed to meet with anybody and, really, shouldn’t even leave your freaking house might have come as a defeating blow, like if you’re a My Little Pony fan and the government suddenly announced all swastikas were now illegal.
Yeah, you know how JPEGMAFIA’s album was just a collection of singles from the previous year? Well, Burial sees that effort and raises it by releasing a collection of singles and EPs from the better part of the last decade. Might have made sense to split the two albums up on the list. This list isn’t about aesthetics and sensible ordering though. It’s pure science. And if the science states that they should be placed next to each other, perhaps both fitted with a secret microchip so Bill Gates can track their movements, then who are we to argue?
Sigh… I’m going to have to start with an embarrassing confession. I know, many of you reading this already think all the things I write are shamefully embarrassing, but this is a distressing mark against my musical knowledge which, come on, up until now was unimpeached. In November of 2019, roughly a month before this collection came out, I wrote this:
Oh my God! The top twenty! If you’re interested in a bit of insider knowledge, this has been the most difficult list to write yet, it’s caused way more stress in my personal life than any before it, and it’s getting harder and harder to defend as a humungous drain on my time. This may well be the final countdown I do. Unless you all start giving me money of course. Just leave the bank notes in a burlap sack near the aqueducts, as per usual.
Hinds released their 2016 debut as an amazing idea for a band but frustratingly without the tunes to back up their sizeable identities. Their second album, 2018’s ‘I Don’t Run‘, was a welcome and marked leap up in quality, with the band obviously coming on leaps and bounds as songwriters and performers. This improvement has continued at such a pace that, with the release of their third album this year, they can legitimately noe be considered one of the greatest indie rock bands in the world.
Yeah, this post is going to be a little shorter, just so you know.
‘Waterfowl’ is a pretty perfect rock album. I spent an inordinate and unnecessary amount of time just now trying to decide which subgenre to place it under, but it’s such a varied and ambitious record that it near enough encompasses all of them. It dabbles in punk, takes brash detours through folk rock and indie, skids its way through shoegaze and math rock, and even chooses to dabble in post-punk and grunge. I ‘reviewed’ it back in February, then because I don’t think I’d properly got across how good the album was, I wrote another post in March just to make sure I was clear how freaking good this record was. Come on, if there was any 2020 album you don’t need further convincing of its quality, it’s this one. It’s actually quite worrying how much I have to spoon feed some of you people. Sort your lives out.
Luke Haines is always going to earn a place on this list. Aside from his near legendary cantankerousness these days best evidenced through his Twitter account now that he doesn’t sell anyway near enough records for any journalist to want to bother talking to, but he might actually be one of the most influential and important British music artists of the last 30 years without anyone really noticing or caring (least of all Haines himself). Unfortunately, a lot of that influence and importance isn’t really valued in 2020, like Haines has spent a large part of his career building up a collection of several billion Yugoslav Dinar. His previous band, The Auteurs, didn’t just release the greatest album of 1996, but are widely considered to have been the first Britpop band and their 1993 debut ‘New Wave‘ is considered the first album and perhaps the ultimate example of the genre. Unfortunately, crowing about an artist’s importance to Britpop in 2020 is like raving about one of the most important engineers ever because of their revolutionary idea to build houses using asbestos. People are unlikely to share your enthusiasm, and will likely debate whether it should be considered a ‘good thing’. Regardless of the nonsense that Britpop quickly descended into though, it still can’t be denied that Haines played a central part in solidifying the importance and artistic/financial viability of British guitar music at the beginning of the 90s, and without him we may never of had… erm… what British guitar band are they nowadays? Royal Blood. Without Luke Haines we may never have had Royal Blood. Can you even imagine? But, yeah, he doesn’t care, he’s happy enough by ow (all relative, of course) releasing extremely decent but lower scale and borderline comedy solo albums.
If you’ve ever read this blog- like at all, you ingrate philistine- you know how I spend roughly 40% of my time elucidating how special Katie Crutchfield’s musical project is. I am very much a Waxahitcher, which is a term I’ve just made up for the sort of Waxahatchee fan who’s dedicated/deluded enough to invent a term for the level of insanity that their fandom warrants. She made the most important album of 2013 to me, which, yeah, I didn’t admitat the time, but respect the retcon!
Yep, Princess Nokia states that ‘Everything is Beautiful’ and only makes it to number 70, but when she simply throws up her arms and declares that ‘Everything Sucks’ she opens our top 40. What does this prove? That’s right- absolutely fuck all, as this list is an absolutely meaningless vanity project by some egotistical, fat, ginger, middle aged man frivlously listing albums he’s listened to this year in no real order despite knowing next to nothing about music.
I joke, of course, this list is an entirely scientific exercise. The real reason that the other album that The Princess Regent of Nokia and its Territories released in 2020 ranks so much higher is because, yeah, maybe everything does suck.
I mean… that kinda works, right? Jarvis Cocker splitting his first name into two words, then adding the title of the album to make it seem that you’re making the statement that “Jarv is beyond the pale”. Like, OK, I get it, but to buy into the pun yo have to accept that Jarvis now goes by the name ‘Jarv’ which, come on, mate, that’s a dumb fucking name that ain’t nobody going to answer to. I’m calling you out, Jarvy Boy! I don’t buy into the conceit that the title of your fourth solo album aims to evoke!! Bring it on, Jarv! Anytime, any pla… Actually, not any place. My choice of place. I worry that he’ll have us both do battle in Sheffield, and according to my beliefs about the Steel City that may well resemble the closing scene of Terminator 2. I worry that wouldn’t play to my strengths as a fighter. It’ll likely to be in the Ippon Judo Club in Cheadle. I got a green belt there about 20 years ago, so watch your fucking back, Jarv!!
Banoffee’s debut album should act as an important reference point for Halsey. The subjects she covers here- from painful reconciliations to painful intergenerational trauma to, Jesus, why didn’t I just leave it as a one night stand with that prick??- are at least as weighty as those covered on Ms Frangipane’s latest. Banoffee simply covers them often more explicitly, with far more humour and raw openness. And, more importantly, does so with no shame about this being a pop album and with the mature knowledge that really shouldn’t take away from its artistic legitimacy. She’s not openly complaining about Band of Horses not being considered pop despite starting with the same three letters, she’s not arguing that her album being considered ‘pop’ and the Javier Muñoz Spanish language production The Occupant being considered a ‘movie’ is just more evidence of the suffocating patriarchy, she’s not pointing to the barbed wire around her wrist on the album cover as poof of how freaking metal she is. She has no qualms about being a pop artist and is confident in the utter magnificence she can still produce, how being a ‘pop’ artist doesn’t act as a barrier to producing such weird, challenging and effective music such as this.