Thursday, 24 December 2020

My albums of the year (2020)

It's that time of year... arriving just in time for Christmas (hey, did you really think that I'd forgotten you?!) my gift to you all is this list of my favourite records of the year. (You're SO welcome. Seriously. Don't mention it.) It's been quite the year and music has really had our backs through it all. While the world outside remains all sorts of bonkers, music is proving to be the salvation that it always is. There have been lots of incredible records released this year, and I've spent the last few weeks reminding myself of those that I've enjoyed. Rediscovering their delights, revelling in their joys, crying along to them and figuring out, a little self-indulgently, my favourites of the year. 

In keeping with the personal style of the blog, a CMAT albums of the year post is essentially just a bunch of albums that I love. Set aside any expectations of technical chat, and instead, strap yourselves in for some soppy ramblings about the records which have mattered most to me this year, those that have shone a bright light on a gloomy year. Debuts from exciting new artists, some long-awaited returns, and new records from a whole bunch of talented artists - there is quite a mix of records and artists here, and I hope there's a little bit of something for everyone. 

In a year where artists have had the rug pulled from under them in terms of live shows being paused and a real lack of government support, it's more important than ever to show your support for your favourites. Stream the hell out of their music, by all means - but grab a download or an LP on their site or through Bandcamp if you're able to. I decided that I wanted to share the love for more albums this year. So - the list has grown a bit, to 40 in total, up from 30 last year. And, instead of just writing about my five favourite records and listing some others that I love (as I did last year) I'm going to do things a little differently this year...

This is the first in a series of six (yikes) AOTY posts. Here, I'm sharing my top five (they're numbered, but in all honesty I adore every one of them a lot) and a list of 35 more records I've picked out that have meant the world to me this year (in release order because ordering them all would be an impossible task.) Then (after Christmas, just as soon as I write them...) I'll share five more posts, with seven records featured on each, writing a little about each of them. This year it felt like name-checking the longer list wasn't enough, I want to shower these records and artists with love, and I do have a lot of extra time on my hands thanks to furlough... again. 

So, without further ado... my albums of the year!!!!! Don't they look pretty?! 

1. White Tail Falls - Age of Entitlement (buy/stream)

Well, it's hardly surprising, is it? If you know me, or you follow the blog, you'll have heard/read me raving about this record a lot this year. In all honesty, there's been very little doubt in my mind as to which record was getting the top spot since this was released into the world. The rest of the top five certainly come close, but nothing has had such an impact on me this year as this piece of work. It's vulnerable, it's collaborative, it's experimental, and it provides an absolute rollercoaster of emotion. Simply put: it helped drag me through this year, and I love it. 

A CMAT album of the year should be the record which has meant the most to me on a personal level, and this ticks so many boxes in that respect. If you've been living under a rock (well, ten points for social distancing) White Tail Falls is the solo moniker of all-round musical legend Irwin Sparkes, frontman of The Hoosiers. They've been (and still are) my favourite band since their debut album came out in 2007. My love for them was cemented at age 14 when I saw them live, and met them, for the first time in 2011, and I've been following them around the country (and all over the internet) ever since. I can't think of many other things that I've poured so much love into for so long. 

I genuinely believe that the love I have for music, and my desire to set up a blog recommending new music, can be sourced back to the love I had for TH when I was younger. Irwin in particular has always been really supportive of the blog, which means the world. This year, a trio of crazy things happened - I premiered a video for the track Disintegrate (here) back in Feb, Irwin recorded an exclusive performance for the blog's fifth birthday in May, and I interviewed him about the new record in June (read that here.) Without getting *too* soppy those things are essentially teen Meg's dreams coming true. Being a little part, through the blog, in helping to spread the word about this superb record, has been a treat and it is such a joy to name it my album of the year. 

Favourite tracks: DisintegrateBody WeightDevout & Rome's Already Fallen. (Alright, all of it.) 

2. Fleet Foxes Shore (Bandcamp)

You know, I'm still a little in shock that this record exists. Album campaigns seem, on the whole, to exist on somewhat of a spectrum. Ideally, a few tracks will be released as singles, enticing you in, building anticipation. At the other end of the scale, a couple of records this year (which I won't name, but if you know... you know) have released almost the entire record (seriously, no exaggeration) as singles beforehand, to the extent that the excitement I had for those records was almost completely lost. At some extreme point of the spectrum, with the most unexpected record of the year, arrive Fleet Foxes

One day, they're putting mysterious posters up (in France, I think?) implying that something was happening in a couple of days. Speculation began to build for a new single, and, lo and behold, we learn that an ENTIRE RECORD is due to drop?! What now??!!?! No time to prepare, to ready myself by obsessing over the back catalogue. No singles to obsess over. An entire 15-track, 54-minute record dropping onto streaming services, just like that. And it is GLORIOUS in every way possible. Arriving when it did, the record instantly became a soundtrack for my commute to work. Working in retail this year (when not furloughed) has been stressful, and taking that time to just sink into new favourites was a huge relief. In a strange year, the record has captured the feeling of hope and bottled it up beautifully. It is calming, it feels like a warm hug from a friend, it brought peace. Shore is certainly good enough to be in the top spot, but that crown is firmly in White Tail Falls' hands this year. Robin and the gang will just have to bring out another record, pronto... 

Favourite tracks: Can I Believe You, Sunblind, Featherweight

3. Laura Marling Song For Our Daughter (buy/stream)

I have been a fan of Laura and her music for a while now, but I've never really connected with a record of her's as much as I have with Song For Our Daughter. I think that I feel as if I came to her music late, when she was already at least a few records in, and her extensive back catalogue is a little daunting. When this record arrived earlier than intended on streaming services (Laura's choice, to give fans something of a treat while we were all on lockdown) I had exactly the time and the headspace to give it the attention that it required.

This record is a genuine work of art, one of the most beautiful records on the list. So many records in, there is no doubting that Laura knows what she is doing and that you can feel safe in her musical hands. Yet, nothing on the record feels like you're hearing something that she's done before. It feels fresh, mature and empowered. A gorgeous blend of vulnerability and strength come through the music and lyrics. It's something special. I must also give a quick mention to the stunning acoustic EP The Lockdown Sessions which Laura brought out earlier this month, with acoustic versions of tracks from the record. 

Favourite tracks: Song For Our DaughterHeld Down, Strange Girl

4. Novo Amor Cannot Be, Whatsoever (buy/stream)

Another record which could easily have taken the top spot here. SO much love for this. It's still utterly ridiculous to me that I was given the opportunity to listen to this record, long-awaited by myself and literally tens of thousands of listeners around the world, around two months before it was released, by Ali himself! A teeny humble-brag, sure, but it really does blow my mind that me sitting at home and typing away about the music that I love results in that sort of thing. Feeling pretty lucky. 

After loving Ali's debut LP Birthplace in 2018 so much there was a lot of pressure on this record to live up to it. (Spoiler: it does.) Coming from different places in Ali's life, both in terms of time, and geography, the records are less like siblings, and more like musical cousins. "If Birthplace is the countryside, then Cannot Be, Whatsoever is the city: it's not where I'm from, but it's where I've been for a long time now", Ali told me in our recent interview about the record. There's a lovely short film about the makings of the record here too. I only wish that I was able to see tracks from the album performed live this year - soon, I hope. If you like this one, head back in time to Birthplace, and Ali's collaborative record with Ed Tullett, Heiress, as both are equally stunning. 

Favourite tracks: Decimal, No Plans, Halloween Birdcage

5. Dizzy - The Sun And Her Scorch (buy/stream)

It blows my mind a little that Dizzy aren't known by more people. They're superstars in my eyes. So here I am, imploring you to listen to them. Their debut was such a gorgeous discovery - a friend took me along to their set at The Great Escape a few years back, and their debut record came out a little while after. I played it at HMV when I worked there, and a few colleagues started to really get into it too. For a while, barely a shift went by where we didn't listen to it a couple of times. I remember experiencing the absolute joy of working in a music store, having a customer ask what was playing and if they could buy it. Yes!

Dizzy are like a joyous ray of light in the dark, and their new record, released a few months back, is exactly that. It's a brilliant follow-up to their debut, and one of the most relatable records (for me, at least) on the list, offering up a look at the claustrophobia of suburban living, and figuring out life after your late teens, all the while trying your best not to compare yourself with your friends. As I wrote in a post about the album announcement: "lyrically, it all sounds a little sad, but those reflective and pensive lyrics are always paired with the band's sunny melodies, courtesy of the trio of brothers Alex, Mackenzie and Charlie Spencer - it's what makes the band's music so loveable."

Favourite tracks: Roman Candles, Sunflower, Good And Right & Beatrice

So there you have it... my top five records of the year. I love them all and hope that you'll love them too if you get the chance to check them out. Below are 35 more records, in release order, that have meant the world to me this year. I'll be sharing a few more posts explaining why I love these ones so much ~soon~ (I have to write them first). So watch out for those, and a little end of year ramble soon too. Much love!

The Big Moon - Walking Like We Do
Bombay Bicycle Club - Everything Else Has Gone Wrong
Gengahr - Sanctuary
Brooke Bentham - Everyday Nothing
Franc Moody - Dream In Colour 
Halloweens - Morning Kiss at the Acropolis 
NNAMD├Ć - BRAT
The Strokes - The New Abnormal
Hailaker - Holding 
Jack Garratt - Love, Death & Dancing
Gia Margaret - Mia Gargaret
Richard Walters - Golden Veins 
Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher
AJIMAL - As It Grows Dark/Light
HAIM - Women In Music Pt. III 
Dream Wife - So When You Gonna... 
Samantha Crain - A Small Death
Stornoway - The Farewell Show 
Haux - Violence in a Quiet Mind
Lianne La Havas - Lianne La Havas
Willie J Healey - Twin Heavy 
Siv Jakobsen - A Temporary Soothing 
The Magic Gang - Death Of The Party 
Declan McKenna - Zeros 
Everything Everything - Re-Animator 
Cosmo Sheldrake - Wake Up Calls 
Bear's Den & Paul Frith - Fragments 
Fenne Lily - Breach
IDLES - Ultra Mono 
Tempesst - Must Be A Dream 
Dawes - Good Luck With Whatever
Deep Sea Diver - Impossible Weight
Laura Fell - Safe From Me 
Ed The Dog - Untitled.crashed.crashed.crashed
Maggie Rogers - Notes from the Archive: Recordings 2011-2016 

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