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|Pots 2020 Part 1: 101-51|
I took a lot into consideration for my top 100 this year. Of course, the primary factor was enjoyment, but I also took into account ratings, how often I actually listened to something, how much I had to say about it, and whether or not it was receiving much attention in other peoples lists. There was a lot of great material this year, and certain artists like Bambara, Neptunian Maximalism, Roisin Murphy, and The Microphones simply didn't make the cut because I felt they had already been commendably highlighted by some of the sites biggest taste-makers and best wordsmiths. I got carried away with blurbs so I have to split this into two parts. The first 16 items are mostly EPs and a couple honourable mentions. The rest is LPs and comps etc. Happy New Years!
A COUPLE HONERABLE MENTIONS
#101: It went without saying that Chromatica was going to FUCK when Rain On Me instantaneously became the most iconic video of the year on release (not that there was much competition). My relationship with Gaga has been a bit all over the place. I never paid much attention to her until the last couple years. The tracks I heard on the radio were always comically abysmal. I still think most of her material is ‘The Room’ tier bad. But, just like ‘The Room’, at some point you realize that it’s so bad that it’s… really good. Everything about her as a performer/entertainer is next lvl. She might make terrible music, she may he a terrible dancer, she may be three feet tall, and she may just be an Italian girl from New York, but she manages to work all of that in her favor, weaponizing it into an unforgettable, and entirely inimitable essence that has elevated her to the iconic status she enjoys today. Perhaps this eventual admittance to the fact that Gaga
[cont] doesn’t have to be ~good~ to be GREAT is what made Chromatica such a delight. Even after discovering an unconditional love for Gaga, I wished she had at least a few songs I could get down to without locking up into a full-body cringe. Chromatica supplies those songs. Much like with ‘Positions’ (this is also a non-stan 3/5 for me), the album isn’t chock-full of them; there are some flat-out terrible songs here and the preposterous interludes don’t do it any favors either. But my daily playlist is never going to reject absolute bangers like ‘Alice’, ‘Rain On Me’, ‘911’ (and its god-tier Tarsem Singh video that was originally conceptualized for ‘Teardrop’ by Massive Attack), Sour Candy, Enigma, Replay, Sine From Above (and its gloriously stupid/amazing drum and bass outro), and Babylon.
#100: There are dozens of LP's and EP’s from this year that scored higher than this (my non-obligitory-5-stan rating is 3/5) but something needs to be said for the several tracks on this that have been in near constant rotation since release. It’s an unpopular opinion amongst the legions of pumpkin-spice Starbucks hoes occupying sputnikmusic,, but Ariana’s transition into more Hip-Hop, Trap, and Alt R&B influenced pop is the best thing that’s happened to her. Ariana undeniably has a huge voice that can cut through even the most over-the-top production, but the best thing about her isn’t the power behind her belt, but the subtle nuances and idiosyncrasies of her enunciation. It’s these tiny embellishments of personality that make up the best moments of all of her strongest songs. Take ‘Positions’ for example, where the half-second pitch drop when she croons the word “hoops” literally sends shivers down the spine: or the “ayuh-yuh-yuh” accentuating “Make a lot of love on a Monday”.
[cont] These split second moments are so memorable and infectious that you can’t help but specifically look forward to them every time you play the song. This is exactly why Grande thrives in this more minimalistic direction: it leaves more space for her flourishes to shine. Not every song is a hit, of course, but this is par for the course for mainstream pop. ‘Just Like Magic’ is a Disney Princess nightmare, and tracks like Off The Table and Safety Net are just too humdrum to not lose your attention. Tracks like ‘Love Language’ and ‘My Hair’ bop in a completely different language than tracks like ‘Positions’ and ‘34+35’ or ‘Nasty’ and ‘Westside’, which makes the album inconsistent not just in terms of quality, but style/aesthetic as well. But these are just more commonplace mainstream pop concerns. What really matters here is the handful of outrageously strong tracks that command compulsive attention. Those few tracks that end up circulating your playlist for so many
[cont] months on end that they seem to become soundtracks to your every day life.
Sorry, I Forgot You Were Coming
#99: Dark, Broody South London Alt R&B that’s at its best when it leans heavily into its UK Bass/Hip-Hop influences. Hardly a sonically consistent EP, 'If You Know', 'The Final Finesse', and 'til bliss' all wildly deviate from the depressive, monochromatic atmosphere of the rest of the EP, but these digressions are compelling enough in their own rights to make me eager to hear how KEYAH/BLU will consolidate these impulses when she artistically matures.
#98: Better known for his FlyLo adjacent Wonky/Glitch Hop work, 'Vignettes' shows a new side of Slott, carefully crafting Ambient/New Age soundscapes to soundtrack his inner-self. This is a far cry from his usual work, but it flexes Slott's mastery of space and texture in a new way: one that successfully echoes the old familiar platitude "less is more."
Rec: Testing Ground
#97: Based on her feat on possibly the most leftfield track on the new Gorillaz album - which essentially serves as Song Machine's very own "Yellow Belly" - I had very little idea of what to expect with Moonchild Sanelly's solo material. I was fortunate to be introduced to the world of a niche subgenre of South African Music called "Gqom", a wildly infectious rhythmic amalgamation of traditional African percussion, House music, and the sexually explicit themes of Dancehall.
P.S. Don't google this album. Don't do it. Don't.
Rec: Thunda Thighs
#96: I've had my eye on Edyth since discovering 'Agua Verde' back in 2016. 'Bare II' effortlessly broke into my aoty 2019 list, and here we are again cracking that top 100 with his follow up 'Xian'. Edyth occupies some leftfield space floating between Instrumental Hip-Hop/Trap, UK Bass, and IDM, but wherever he happens to fall on that spectrum on any given occasion you can expect seamless transitions, crisp downbeat percussion, and smothering ethereal ambience. The only reason this isn't ranked MUCH higher is that I have a hard time ranking an 18-minute release alongside standard length LPs. However it may be arbitrarily categorized, it is one of the most "LP-like" EP-length releases of the year.
Rec: System II Nature
#95: My favorite thing about 'EP1' is the way it delicately infuses the placating, care-free essence of Deep House into its unique brand of vocally gossamer Microhouse. Perfectly balanced on the crux that directs the body language of Electronic music, this is a record that is simultaneously as cerebral as it is physical.
Lone X KETTAMA
#94: If you aren't familiar with the distinct brand of hyper-flamboyant Breaks, House, and Techno proposed by Lone, this year’s collab with KETTAMA is an excellent place to start. This tight 15 minute EP effectively summarizes everything there is to know and love about Lone's trans-galactic, chromatically volcanic style. Not to dismiss KETTAMA's contributions on the occasion that they can be discerned (Dragonrush perhaps wouldn't fit as well alongside the rest of Lone's solo catalogue, nor does it offer as revealing of a reflection of it), but that pure unfiltered dose of Lone^2 is really what makes this EP such a blast.
#93: Many long-term fans of Blake have felt an ongoing struggle in his career in terms of reconciling his Alt-R&B aspirations with his UK Garage/Bass origins. There have been several somewhat monotonous outings following his debut LP that just didn't feel like they quite lived up to the expectations set by 'James Blake' and his early EP's. Then there was the directional shift towards Pop that was 'Assume Form', a divisive album that I might always appreciate for being what felt like Blake's first real risk in nearly a decade more than I will ever actually enjoy. Ironically, it took Blake finally letting go of that predictable, comfy, and familiar trajectory to finally master it. I've always wanted to see Blake marry his sobering witching-hour R&B inclinations with his jagged, stammering electronics in such a masterful and affecting way. With 'Before' he's finally delivering.
Rec: Do You Ever
#92: A few of you might know of Patrick Holland by his retired moniker 'Project Pablo'. Now producing under his given name, Holland offered an EP, an LP, and a selection of singles this year, all of which deserve recognition. Although the reasons behind shelving the 'Project Pablo' moniker may be political, these releases feel like a fresh start. 'Patrick Holland' material has a very reflective, personal touch to it that feels masterful in a way that 'Project Pablo' never quite matched. Simstim feels awakened, rested, and reinvigorated, bringing new life and energy to the otherwise introverted atmospheres of Ambient Techno and House.
Rec: Soft Recycle
#91: Tom VR really outdid himself with ‘Acheless’. He’s been on my radar since 2017 with some quality singles and his debut record ‘Films’, but his new EP is the real MVP in showcasing how much potential he really has. Subtlety is Tom VR’s game, but he manages to balance the dance floor driven compulsions of UK Garage and House with a somber, reflective minimalism and restraint that give these three tracks an emotional core that makes them stand out in a big way.
Rec: It Swims Here
#90: ‘French Exit’ perfectly illustrates Earl Grey’s fearless knack for pushing the boundaries of Breakbeat. Grey effortlessly oozes the quintessential superincumbent atmosphere of Jungle music and uses this as a fulcrum for the wildly unexpected detours into bombastic jazzy breaks that transcend the stifling street level ambience and elevate the climaxes to astronomical heights.
Rec: After They Turn The Rigs Off
#89: Yet another artist shattering the ceiling set by their previous works, Frivolous offers the most painful reminder of what we lost this year when nightlife succumbed to Covid. Frivolous still retains the infectious Electro Swing inflections he commonly infuses his acid trip circus party Deep House bangers with, but surprisingly, the moments that hit the hardest on ‘Release Paralysis’ are the ones that integrate this essence the most sparingly. ‘Cinders’ for instance, is a relentless onslaught of belligerence that beckons from the dearly missed dance-floor with promises of hedonistic excess and cathartic release.
|50||Nicola Cruz, Pigmaliao|
Nicola Cruz / Pigmaliao
#88: I often can’t help but view Nicola Cruz as Nicolas Jaar’s overlooked little brother. It’s hard not to compare the two and their penchant for using various Latin Electronic and Folk elements to sculpt their highly recognizable brands of Downtempo and Folktronica. Although Cruz often dabbles with organic and fundamental minimalism more often than Jaar does with his sonic explorations into “just how slow can I make House go”, there are times when their paths cross and carry them down the same road for a time. This split EP exemplifies this well; it would be impossible not to see the striking similarities between this material and Jaar’s ‘A.A.L.’ release from this year. For many of us who had the privilege of spending a lot of time with ‘2017-2019’ this year, we wanted MORE. ‘Illusions of Shameless Abundance’ didn’t give it to us, but thankfully, Cruz and Pigmaliao did.
#87: We didn’t deserve more, but we got more. Everything I could ever say about ‘Amnioverse’ has already been written in my review, and it all applies here as well. ‘Esrevoinma’ doesn’t play like an ‘Amnioverse’ b-sides/outakes/alt cuts compilation, but rather an extension of it. The new material here holds up to anything on the proper album, thematically and sonically complimenting it, and offering further insight into its huge conceptual undertaking. The alternate takes aren’t ‘Copycat Killer’’-tier plodding exercises in pointlessness: they are complete reimaginings. The live version of Earth isn’t a rendition of the album version: it’s a reprise and a conclusion. ‘Esrevoinma’ isn’t an afterthought of ‘Amnioverse’: it’s a companion to it.
Rec: 51 Endless Pulses
IL CIELO NON È UN LIMITE
#86: I just stan this bitch. Yes, she’s simultaneously a meme and an icon. This stirs confusion in a lot of disgruntled music listeners, and honestly I get it. There was a long period of time when I took my music taste very seriously. I’m still opinionated of course, but I’ve learned from some of the people I look up to the most in my life that having a sense of humor and ‘fun’ about music doesn’t invalidate your “cred”; in fact, it’s a pretty attractive trait. You can listen to different types of music for different types of enjoyment, just as you can watch different types of film for different types of enjoyment. You can huff your own farts out of a mason jar to some Aphex Twin and shamelessly sing along to some vapid mainstream pop drivel an hour later if the situation so calls for it. I wouldn’t have allowed myself to enjoy MYSS KETA half a decade ago. But some music is just meant to be a candy overdose, and that’s all it needs to be. We all get our fill of this somewhere.
IL CIELO NON È UN LIMITE
[cont] For me, Myss Keta is that. Everything about her persona is fucking hilarious to me. Her music is absurd, excessive, uncanny, and often ultimately just absolutely fucking preposterous. Her dedication to her craft in all its profound stupidity (and glory) demands your attention, even if it’s negative. But it’s hard not to listen to Myss Keta so unabashedly feel herself and not in turn feel yourself. Gradually the exasperation turns into morbid curiosity, which in turn becomes ironic admiration, which finally melts away into full on infatuation. MYSS KETA fills a XAVIER RENEGADE ANGEL shaped hole in my heart, and frankly, if you don’t like it… you a puttana di paese (source: Johnnyofthewell)
#85: I’ve been casually following Earth Boys since 2018’s ‘E-boys LP’, marking them as one of those groups to keep an eye on in case they step their game up in the future. It’s been good, but it hasn’t been ~great~. With the electronic scene as over-stuffed as it is today it’s a lot easier to find decent/good artists than it is to find anything truly inspiring or boundary pushing. ‘Earth Tones’ still hasn’t quite breached that threshold into greatness, but it might be their best yet. There is nothing new or original here. But what you do get is some excellent album artwork and a beautifully produced, versatile, undemanding, and ultimately very enjoyable selection of Deep House cuts with occasional digressions into the realms of genres such as Jungle and Downtempo.
Rec: Mushroom Cloud
Crimes Against Creation
#84: Consistency is the name of the game for UK based rapper Coops. He’s been dropping quality tapes for the better part of the decade, earning my respect and attention particularly with 2014’s ‘Lost Soul’. The 2010’ s have been trying times for hip-hop, with divided opinions on which direction the genre should take, failed experiments and revivals, and uninspired emcee’s galore. Amongst all this, UK Hip-Hop has settled in and found its niche, low-key dominating the scene while the old American heads flounder and the new ones experiment with new formulas to varying levels of success. This is authentic stuff, and it doesn’t try to be anything else. For those of you that feel the golden days of Hip-Hop are well behind us, this will be refreshing. For those of you that have embraced the direction of popular American Hip-Hop, these hazy boom-baps will feel dated. Either way, it’s hard to deny the sheer charisma of the UK dialect and how well it translates to hip-hop.
|44||The Four Owls|
#83: A lot of what I said about Coops can be said about The Four Owls. This is another UK Hip-Hop album that’s perfectly content with remaining authentic rather than fighting for the future of the genre. The difference here is scale: where the featureless one-man affair of ‘Crimes Against Creation’ was introverted, ‘Nocturnal Instinct’ is extroverted. The four-piece group has no qualms with loading up with iconic features from their own scene as well as across the pond. You’ll find an impressive list of contributions on this track list including the likes of Kool G Rap, DJ Premier, Rugged Man, Roc Marciano, and more. Contributions from such an impressive laundry list of old-school heads further drives the point home that UK Hip-Hop reigns supreme when it comes to honoring roots and tradition.
Rec: Dark Days
#82: Look no further than Luci’s aoty list to find some love for ‘LP2’. Personally, I enjoyed them both, but I connected more with ‘LP1’, even if it’s simply due to having several extra months to spend with it. ‘LP1’ kicks off with what is arguably Earth Trax’s best track to date, ‘I’m Not Afraid’, touting the ebb and flow of Breaks and Tech House that will remain apparent across the duration. After a solid follow up with ‘Deep Dive’, the album unfortunately takes a momentary turn for the worse, offering the utterly vapid two-track Acid run of ‘Pandora’s Box’ and ‘Full Throttle’. Fortunately, the album course corrects after these two big misses, and remains consistently engaging for the rest of the album. Earth Trax has a ways to go in terms of stylistic cohesion and album structuring, but ‘LP1’ is overall an impressive outing non-the-less, one that will certainly appeal to the many sputters who prefer their Electronic on the “icier” side of things.
Rec: I’m Not Afraid
The Ballad of Omar
#81: ‘The Ballad of Omar’ is a testament to how far Hip-Hop has come re: inclusivity. It’s no secret that old school Hip-Hop was littered with problematic subject matter, from misogyny, to violence, to homophobia; Hip-Hop has been an overwhelmingly masculine genre, amplified by politics and adversity. In recent years, however, there has been an insurgence of queer Hip-Hop, a very distinct subset of the genre that subverts a lot of classic Hip-Hop tropes and empowers a minority that was subject to some of the very worst examples of intersectionality in North America. With this paradigm shift came attitude shifts as well. Homophobic language has become less and less prevalent in the genre and many old heads have even renounced that aspect of their early careers. An example of this that has stuck in my mind recently is contrasting the many digs and disses on RuPaul that can be found in 90’s Hip-Hop with the celebratory lyrics “Ball with your RuPaul influence” from Billy Danze on
The Ballad of Omar
[cont] Gang Starr’s semi posthumous ‘One of the Best Yet’. This brings us to ‘The Ballad of Omar’. One of the things that strikes me the most about this record – an album about DDm’s experiences growing up black and queer in Baltimore City – is how authentic it is. I’ve been using the idea of “authenticity” in regards to Hip-Hop a lot in this list, but in previous blurbs it has been used in a superficial manner, more about the aesthetic than the life. When I call DDm’s ‘The Ballad of Omar’ authentic, what I mean is that it sounds nothing like what you’ve come to expect of queer Hip-Hop. ‘The Ballad of Omar’ tackles a lot of the same street level subject matter that old school Hip-Hop covered. It’s hard, it’s abrasive, it’s violent, and it’s aggressive. It has gun bars. ‘The Ballad of Omar’ is a perfectly conceptualized and executed, no-frills attached testimony to the brutality of growing up black and queer in America, and it is ~hard as nails~.
Rec: Ova West
|40||Ego Ella May|
Honey For Wounds
#80: I’ve been waiting for a proper full length from Ego Ella May since she first started dropping EP’s in 2014. She eventually compiled her older material into an LP, but by that point those songs had grown old and I had forgotten if I still even cared. Perhaps this disenchantment caused me to set my expectations low when I heard about ‘Honey For Wounds’, but a part of me is glad it did. I’ve been a huge fan of Neo-Soul for the back half of the 10’s, but it’s reaching a pivotal point in its development where it needs to progress, lest it grow stale. There seems to be an oversaturation of average/middling Neo-Soul records these days. What once seemed magical and fresh now sounds derivative. There are, of course, still diamonds in the rough, but from a birds-eye view, things are looking like they need to be shaken up. ‘Honey For Wounds’ doesn’t shake things up. That’s probably not where you saw this blurb going, but it’s true. There really is nothing special about it. It has
|39||Ego Ella May|
Honey For Wounds
[cont] gorgeous instrumentation and soulful performances abound, but that’s what the genre is all about. But what I’ve come to realize about Neo-Soul, is that having soul doesn’t necessarily mean you have heart. The heart is what has been missing from many of these recent cookie-cutter attempts, and although ‘Honey For Wounds’ isn’t reinventing the wheel, it certainly has heart.
Rec: Give A Little
#79: One word: AUTHENTIC.
Just kidding. Godfather Don may have released the best Hip-Hop album of the year with his ‘Beats, Bangers, and Biscuits…’ compilation of old obscure cuts, but he also released some really solid new material in the form of ‘Osmosis’. His voice doesn’t sound like it has aged a day, which is cathartic, but this isn’t one of those “dad-ified” golden age comeback attempts that have been released with great frequency in recent years. Instead this is a rather calm, atmospheric release sonically, often more reminiscent of classic Bay Area Hip-Hop or even more contemporary Conscious Hip-Hop than of East Coast Boom Bap. That essence is still there of course: there are booms, there are baps, and you can rest assured that “Brooklyn’s in the house”, but there is something very delicate, poetic, and introverted about osmosis that transcends many of those tropes, even when he’s rapping about doo-doo.
Rec: Do What I Do
#78: I’ve been dreading talking about this album. Bonnie Banane has been on my radar for the last half-decade thanks to a handful of strong singles, but this is her first LP, and for the most part it lives up to expectations. Before I continue, however, I think I must clarify what my expectations were: extremely French. ‘Sexy Planet’ is often the epitome of French Art Pop. It’s weird, absurd, cheesy, pretentious, and posh. Sometimes this is for the best. There is something inexplicably charismatic about this goofy, flamboyant, irritatingly bougie style of Pop. But that much energy wears thin over time. It’s like too much champagne. Eventually the sugar hangover overpowers the buzz. Fortunately, every time you feel your tolerance for the excess beginning to wane, Banane switches gears and offers a tasteful reprieve in the form of a low-key Alt R&B or Hip-Hop inspired bop. These are often not only a welcome respite from the nauseatingly chic vibes of the Art Pop
[cont] tracks, but also some of the best material. It all comes together as a rather confusing and disjointed affair, but aside from the completely insufferable chorus of the title track, there is a great sense of intrigue in everything Banane does here. And it certainly is climactic. She has a lot of talent and creativity to harness, and I look foreword to hearing her refine that into something a tad more palatable in the future.
#77: Ambient Pop has been gaining a lot of traction. Quarantine life certainly encourages DIY approaches to production, but the current musical landscape - even mainstream - seems particularly open to embracing more abstract and niche styles in recent years. Deconstructed Club, Hypnagogic Pop, Ambient Pop, Chamber Folk, and Electroacoustic are creeping their way into R&B and broader Pop categories. It’s a fascinating thing to behold, frankly, and that’s why albums like ‘Sweet Company’ are so intriguing. There is something so current sounding about fusing Pop with “outsider” or “leftfield” production styles, sounds, and aesthetics. It’s familiar yet still elusive enough to feel like it offers some palpable insight into the near future of music. Personally, I like what I see.
#76: Rome Fortune gives me idiot vibes. It’s fine, really. With this particular blend of glitchy Cloud Rap, the beats are the only thing that really needs to be heady anyways. When you’re blitzed enough to casually toss on some Rome Fortune, two whole concepts - guap and dome - is already pushing the limits of how much you’ll be able to comprehend. So that’s about it. ‘FREEk’ is Rome Fortune doing what Rome Fortune does best: Rapping about money and getting his dick sucked to some supremely blunted beats. Bon Appétit.
|33||Girls In Airports|
#75: A relatively late 2020 discovery for me, but one with such swift impact that I had to highlight it none-the-less. ‘Dive’ occupies a space within the abstract spheres of Avant-Prog and Jazz Rock that sometimes feels like a more linear and approachable take on Kayo Dot’s ‘Blue Lambency Downward’ and ‘Coyote’ era material. The dissonance is balanced with a much higher frequency of tight rehearsed passages, but the loose, fraying winds and jarring climaxes feel similar in nature and effect. ‘Dive’ juxtaposes harshness with elegance brilliantly, never settling in either camp for long enough as to become predictable or grow stale. The moments of measured gratification are much less sparse than your average Kayp Dot record, which makes it much easier to digest, but it still has enough edge to thoroughly unnerve before it pacifies. ‘Dive’ is simply a must for fans of Chamber, Avant-Garde, Experimental, and Dark Jazz alike.
|32||Fat Jon The Ample Soul Physician|
God's Fifth Wish
#74: A welcome return for the legendary Fat Jon, known for his work with Nujabes on Samurai Champloo, as well as his contributions to Five Deez and a myriad of fantastic solo material under this and many other names. ‘God’s Fifth Wish’ is a breath of fresh air in the tired, lethargic world of Instrumental Hip-Hop. There is a certain secret spice Fat Jon infuses his beats with that just makes them transcend that cursory-listen “beats to study and relax to” playlist purgatory where the majority of Instrumental Hip-Hop goes to die these days,. Perhaps it’s that hint of weeb-flair he picked up with his Samurai Champloo work - and continues to present through his brilliant sample selections – or his fearlessness in the face of experimentation, but there is an exotic essence here that elevates the product and proves that Fat Jon is still in an entirely different league than the majority of his peers.
#73: A rare treat for STAFF writer Johnnyofthewell to grace us with quality new music rather than the constant outpour of dreadful weeb spam he is both infamous and dearly loved for. So rare, in fact, that part of me was almost determined to not to enjoy this. But credit where credit is due, ‘Mango Negro’ largely fucks. It’s by no means perfect, and it’s by no means the best Latin American Electronic record this year, but it is perhaps the darkest, the most sultry, perhaps even the most diverse. Unfortunately, this diversity doesn’t always work in ‘Mango Negro’s favor. The bloated run-time combined with some less than seamless tonal shifts split the album up into pieces, making particularly strong songs outright overshadow – sometimes even diminish - everything around them, begging just to be cherry-picked for repeat listens in a separate playlist. ‘Mango Negro’ always comes back around, however, using an enticing amalgamation of Trip-Hop and Electro Pop as a reference point to
[cont] always return to when certain ideas drift too far astray. Trim a little fat and Rubio has the potential to make a truly next level record.
Rec: Title Track
#72: ‘Somos’ is another good album that Johnnyofthewell is responsible for (although merely vicariously this time). I found Jim Hast through exploring Rubio’s discography and being directed to her feature here. ‘Somos’ has a similar spirit to that of Rubio’s ‘Mango Negro’; it’s a dark, broody Latin Electronic album that shares a lot of aesthetic queues with the latter. Its roots are even planted in some similar soils, however ‘Somos’ tends to draw more heavily from its Electronic influences than ‘Mango Negro’ does. If you are looking for a heavier, clubbier companion to the smothering depressive vibes of ‘Mango Negro’, look no further.
Rec: En el Vacio
#71: Jadu Heart has been showing promise since 2016 with the ‘Wanderflower’ and ‘Ezra’s Garden’ EP’s. Their debut ‘Melt Away’ (2019) didn’t quite get there, however, and my expectations for them were slightly quelled. I almost skipped ‘Hyper Romance’, in fact, but I’m grateful that I came back around and gave it a shot. The best way I can articulate the spirit of Jadu Heart is to reference some of the material I find it evocative of. Much like bands like Tame Impala, Jadu Heart is rose-tinted glasses kind of band that uses Neo-Psychedelia as a way to pay tribute to their influences. In Jadu Heart’s case, they often honor the Indie Rock and Dream Pop greats of the 80s and 90s more-so than the 60s psychedelic Rock origins, and they are all the better for it. ‘Hyper Romance’ doesn’t define any new genres, but if you are nostalgic for the 90s, 80s, and beyond, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better, catchier, and more inspired tribute than this.
Rec: Dead Again
#70: The artwork for ‘docusoap’ pisses me off. It’s easily the least appropriate representation of an album I’ve seen this year. When I look at that cover I hear a lot of things, but I don’t hear ‘docusoap’. ‘docusoap’ is a much darker, bleaker, and more hypnotic affair than what this cover would suggest. Sometimes, when the album embraces its Dream Pop and Chillwave influence, it is ethereal and lifting. But just as often, when it embraces its Glitch and Ambient Pop influences, it is harsh, unsettling and smothering. These sides of coals juxtapose nicely and formulate a very dynamic listen, but they just don’t sound like that fucking album cover. There is a very dissociative quality to ‘docusoap’ that gives it a certain volatile energy, like balancing precariously between a good and a bad trip. I can picture it, but I picture it haunting a drug-induced abyss, not lying around on the freshly mopped hallway of an office building.
In Decay, Too
#69: Synthwave is done. That’s what I keep telling myself at least. It was really fun to get swept up in the neon waves of 80s aesthetic nostalgia, but the novelty has worn off. The ability for a genre to hold up for long while relying on the novelty of such defined tropes and gimmicks must be fleeting. Over time I start to see Synthwave as a genre better relegated to soundtracks, where a typical lack of vocals can be compensated for with the right imagery, atmosphere, or gameplay. I still think it serves this purpose well, but it is a rare occasion that a Synthwave record stands on its own these days. These are all the things I tell myself between Com Truise releases. Nothing else makes me feel any different about the matter, and even Com Truise albums are still colored between the same lines, but for some reason it just doesn’t get old. How could it? So textured, so immaculately produced with such detail to space and momentum, so persistent and vibrant, almost fractal,
In Decay, Too
[cont] like simulated chromesthesia. Who cares if it’s more of the same when it’s a straight up aural dopamine injection? (Also, dat Peter Hook-esque bass lick on ‘Trying Times….’ Mmph!)
Rec: Chemical Legs
#68: Leave it to Geesman to turn a comp of unreleased tracks, instrumentals, and b-sides, into a fully functional LP. Hypnagogic Pop still reaps the benefits of its relative infancy as a genre; it’s fresh-faced, optimistic, eccentric, and ambitious. This lends artists at its forefront the advantage of the inherent charismatic essence that comes with new, innovative, and inventive practices. Geesman particularly oozes this aura of charm and magnetism through his music. His distorted, fractured vocal snippets are an enigma. His blend of stammering electronics, organic and repurposed instrumentals, and contrasting production aesthetics is unmistakable. A blend with such a powerful sense of individuality is bound to function better in such contexts than your average compilation. That’s why I recommend going into ‘Peach Meat’ as you would a regular LP. It is an essential part of his body of work to date that stands toe to toe with the rest. It isn’t just some haphazard collection
[cont] of discarded forgotten works for loyal fans; it’s a mosaic of inspired vignettes, a glorious overture to his artistry.
Rec: Paper Scissors Rock
#67: Paradise Cinema is collaboration between Portico Quartet’s Jack Wyllie, and percussionists Khadim Mbaye on Saba drums and Tons Sambe on Tama drums. Mbaye and Sambe provide the backbone of the work, utilizing and recontextualizing traditional Mbalax (google it) percussion. Around the drums, Wyllie sculpts New Age ambience and instrumentals, imagining new parallel societies and civilizations that never were. It’s a soothing affair, but between the constantly cascading tribal rhythms and fully articulated atmospheres there is a lot more meat to it than your typical New-age record. Don’t write this off as generic Spa music, it has a lot more to offer than a calming retreat from mundane every day reality.
Rec: Digital Palm
We Will Always Love You
#66: To be quite honest the hype around The Avalanches pisses me off. After years of processing, I think I’ve finally deduced what triggers me so much about people overstating the greatness of ‘Since I Left You’. It’s the same deal as DJ Shadows ‘Endtroducing’. They are both quintessential Plunderphonics records, but people seem to often conflate classic Plunderphonics and Instrumental Hip-Hop with classic Trip-Hop. I’m fucking tired of latte lounge normie-ass motherfuckers chipping in their two cents with fucc-lord tier smooth-brain takes like “Endtro > Mezz” and “SILY> Dummy”. The essence of classic Trip-Hop is the integration of live band performances into the amalgamation of conflicting and complimentary genres. Literally the biggest component of what makes that era so distinct is the intersection between live performances drawing from genres such as Rock, Jazz and Hip-Hop, and elements of Electronic and sample based music. To grant Plunderfuckers like The Avalanches and
We Will Always Love You
[cont] DJ Shadow the honor of being amongst the “Trip-Hop” greats is reductionist to all parties involved. It may sound like this is a diss to Plunderphonics and Instrumental Hip-Hop, but clumping these camps together is a disservice to them too. The Avalanches and DJ Shadow deserve recognition for what they actually did - altering the landscape of Instrumental Hip-Hop in a big way - not what they didn’t do. None of this has anything to do with ‘We Will Always Love You’, really, but I was pissed off when people called SILY a “Trip-Hop” classic and I was pissed off when people overstated the quality of ‘Wildflower’ (the safest, most overwhelmingly “just ok” comeback album of the decade) too. But finally, with ‘We Will Always Love You’, The Avalanches have done something and I’m not even pissed about it.
Rec: The Dev Hynes one (duh)
#65: ‘Unmask Whoever’ serves a similar purpose in to my musical intake as Jadu Heart’s ‘Hyper Romance’. It’s nothing particularly original, but it’s well written and evocative of some particularly nostalgic styles that scratch a very particular itch. ‘Unmask Whoever’ essentially homages every aspect of the history of Indie Rock that I actually enjoy. From The Pixies to Suuns, Activity has a track that evokes the spirit with such earnest that it feels instantaneously formative, an old friendly visitor from a maudlin memory.
Rec: Auto Sad
#64: Nu-Disco has been a popular fad in the Pop industry lately. Roisin Murphy and Jessie Ware churned out iconic examples this year. Dua Lipa also churned out… an example. ‘Spontaneous’ is yet another example, but this time it’s stripped of the Pop affair and spun back out onto the dance floor. If you need a break from ‘Energy’ and are looking for more essential 2020 Dance records, this is a good bet.
Rec: Drops In The Ocean
#63: Yall know how much I love Autechre. It’s no secret that my favourite kind of Electronic Music is generally composed by soulless automatons violently smashing together at high velocity rather than by living, breathing, organic human beings. ‘Zero Point’ sometimes toes that line. It’s a cold album. Calculating, you might even say. The percussion and glitches often feel like pistons and cogs of a greater machine. The dissociation caused by the overtly mechanical elements of ‘Zero Point’ are balanced, however, by Clouth’s beautiful piano and synth compositions. These are the heart of the album, reeling it back into the light every time it feels like it may be too far-gone. It’s a much-needed touch of levity in an otherwise oppressive, dehumanizing record. It creates a sense of ongoing tension, a desperate struggle to retain Humanity in a world of refrigerator orgies.
#62: ‘Undesignated Proximate’ is a sparse, atmospheric affair. Beyond the meticulously crafted breaks and complimentary wells of bass that provide a persistent driving force to the album, much of the rest of the space is occupied by subtle synths, spacey ambience, and instrumental flourishes. Aside from deep bangers like ‘Conty’, it’s impressive how such a rhythmically aggressive album can be so calming, and that’s a large part of the magic here. But the biggest feat perhaps, is the magnificent use of acoustics. As is signature to DrumFunk, the percussion sounds are often very “live” sounding. But beyond that, dgoHn infuses moments of striking beauty into his work with other live and acoustic instrumental embellishments. ‘Daisy Takes Two’ features some delightfully ethereal modulated bass. ‘Lucky Gonk’ drifts by with sensual jazz horns. ‘Electryon’ circles the meditative spiritual percussion with didgeridoo and delicate piano work. Being grounded by such tastefulness in an
[cont] otherwise bombastic, immoderate genre is what makes ‘Undesignated Proximate’ a work of art.
What's Tonight to Eternity
#61: It’s grating, it’s abrasive, it’s sharp, and it’s so Lo-Fi it’s (physically painful) hip. Moments of clarity pierce through the fog on occasion: a nice guitar chord that doesn’t puncture your eardrum or a tasteful horn that doesn’t one –hit KO your equilibrium. Moments of sheer sonic torture also interrupt the mix: wildly insufferable droning distorted guitar wank that feels like taking an icepick to the eye or an unwelcome concrete brick of noise to the face without a moments warning. Every moment of harshness filters out into a Bang-Bang Bar set through a flip phone speaker while Flegel does their best impression of James singing “Just You”. Whenever you think you’ve got your finger on it, the cup-phone production opens up into a sprawling, contextually incomprehensible haunt like ‘What’s Tonight to Eternity’ or ‘Lucifer Stand’. Even when it makes no sense, it’s so conceptually realized that it doesn’t really matter. It’s Lynchian, it sounds like shit, and ultimately…
What's Tonight to Eternity
[cont] it’s really cool.
Rec: Lucifer Stand
#60: A surprising and welcome return for Polish Nu Jazz masters Skalpel. This isn’t a redefining return - more of a coast – but Skalpel brings that particular early 00’s Downtempo vibe to their brand of Nu Jazz that is sorely missed. The production is more immaculate than ever - a facet that compensates for a lack of sonic evolution – with the stand up bass commanding the spotlight it so rightfully deserves. ‘Highlight’ is not the highlight of Skalpel’s career, but it’s a masterful revival, a reunion of wildly talented producers who are more matured and refined than ever. Perhaps this maturity has cost them a certain edge, but it has also given them an opportunity to show off just how polished their production skills have become.
#59: I tried to keep up with Acemo’s prolific output this year. Everything I managed to get around to was good, but ‘Mind Jungle’ is the one I came back to the most. There is a certain extraterrestrial quality to Acemo’s breaks on ‘Mind Jungle’; everything is a bit distant and compressed, like a radio signal. The synths and textures are very welcoming, beckoning from some unattainable space across the void. These qualities make for a very cerebral listen rather than investing in the igniting momentum of Jungle for the dancefloor, and that’s exactly what makes ‘Mind Jungle’s title seem so apt.
Rec: Jazz Junglist
#58: Jazzuelle is a respected and immensely talented producer from the South African Deep House scene. Pigeonholing him into Deep House, however, would be to greatly undermine his versatility. I first discovered Jazuelle through the titular loungey Nu-Jazz/Downtempo masterpiece from his debut LP ‘Circles’. Tracks like this and ‘Fall Into You’ demonstrated his mastery of an entirely different style than what you will hear on ‘Rogue’, but the same sensibilities still shine through. Jazz chords rise in sustain behind plodding beats, erupting into bright, clean, effervescent keys. Dungeonous basslines bottom out into deep toms and tribal percussive flourishes. There is an ever-present lushness to ‘Rogue’ that informs every moment, demanding levity from the churning mechanized beats, smoothing out the edges of every pulse. Even in the darkest spaces it traverses, ‘Rogue’ has a way of instilling a sense of cool euphoria into every beat.
New Me, Same Us
#57: Just when I thought I had grown off of Little Dragon they creep back on. I’ve been following Little Dragon since before ‘Ritual Union’ came out in 2011, always waiting for them to perfect their brand and churn out their magnum opus. They seemed stuck at ‘great’ for the first half of their career, consistently putting out mixed bags of tracks that never quite fit together the way I wanted them to. After Ritual Union, however, there was a marked dip in quality in their output until now. ‘Nabuma Rubberband’ and ‘Season High’ weren’t terrible by any means, but they felt even more homogenous than before, but with none of the big standouts to offset the inability to maintain your attention. I felt Little Dragon was doomed to be a middling project that never realized its full potential. I still felt that when I finally came around to giving ‘New Me, Sams Us’ a shot. It took a few very cursory listens to even really process the album as anything more than background noise, but I’m
New Me, Same Us
[cont] starting to see that this was a product of my own pessimism. Every time I come back to ‘New Me, Same Us’ I’m taken aback by how much I’ve come to enjoy it. It’s still not the magnum opus I once expected of them, but it is back to the level of quality that originally gave me the impression that they even had a magnum opus in them. It still has the awkwardly notable quality discrepancy between its highs and its instantly forgettable or overly cheesy lows, but everything feels a bit more methodically placed. The flow of the album doesn’t suffer so much this time and the sheer amount of slam-dunks forgives the occasional lull. ‘New Me, Same Us’ seems to live up to its name. It’s the same old Little Dragon, but feels like it comes after an overdue satori of personal reinvention, self-growth, and reflection.
Rec: New Fiction
The World As We Know It
#56: Or: The World of Folk As Amon Tobin Knows It. Figueroa is one of many of Tobin’s recent monikers created with the intent of allowing him an outlet for his musical whims that don’t fit the long running narrative of his major project. It’s always interesting to hear Tobin’s interpretations of other genres and how he manages to inject his personality into everything from Wonky to Math Rock, but it often fails to inspire enough intrigue to last beyond a few curiosity driven listens. Tobin never fails at applying his signature touch to any genre he might tackle, but usually it has a short-lived effect of novelty rather than a feeling of particular depth or inspiration. ‘The World As We Know It’ is the exception. Tobin’s ethereal vocals, and his mastery of electronics and electroacoustics lend themselves exquisitely to the realms of Psychedelia. The guitar work is electrifying, and paired with his uniquely foreword thinking production and soundscaping talents, Tobin is able
The World As We Know It
[cont] to offer up a Psychedelic Folk/Rock album that feels both authentic and innovative. Welcome to your 2020 acid trip, get fucked Tame Impala.
Rec: Back To The Stars
#55: ‘Waking Hours’ takes a hit on a song-by-song basis for emphasizing the overall narrative but benefits in the end by resulting in Photay’s most refined, focused, and complete sounding release to date. Nothing here stands out as a single the way certain tracks on his previous LPs and EPs did. The climaxes and bursts of energy aren’t reserved for particular songs, so nothing feels over-the-top or jarring anymore. Everything is delicately spaced out across the record instead, creating supportive tissue that crosses over between tracks, building and releasing tension in a less repetitively linear fashion. It’s really hard to break ‘Waking Hours’ into its individual pieces because of this. This story needs to be told in the right order. This makes ‘Waking Hours’ feel like Photay’s most cohesive work, but if you were looking for something you could fracture and cherry pick they way you would with massive bops like ‘No Sass’, ‘Reconstruct’, or ‘Outre Lux’ look elsewhere
All the Time
#54: It was hard not to feel disappointed with ‘All the Time’ when it dropped. I even know better, I reminded myself time and time again about how long it took for ‘Pull My Hair Back’ and ‘Oh No’ to grow on me. A lot of her best songs sound like nothing is going on for the first dozen listens. I guess it’s a lot to ask from listeners to dedicate so much time to something before they receive any gratification, but with Lanza it always ends up being worth the while. The sparse quirkiness that makes it so hard to dig into is exactly what makes it so special, after all. Just like with her previous albums, a track here and there would tentatively drift into a playlist. These tracks would slowly grow and dig their claws in and would in turn inform new inclusions. Before long I know every single song by heart and am compulsively bopping along to Lanza’s cuteness aggression triggering bops on a near daily basis. I repeat: she’s worth it. L’Oreal, bitch.
#53: Symphonie Manifique! Pianist and composer Greg Foat has been a prolific name in the UK Jazz scene in recent years. Fortunately his bountiful output isn’t bogged down by a lack of variety, making his multiple release/year schedule more of a staple than a chore. Early this year we were treated to a collaborative effort with Linkwood titled ‘Linkwood & Foat’, a beautiful hybrid of Downtempo, Ambient, House, and Nu Jazz that also almost made the cut for this list. Following ‘Linkwood & Foat’, Greg released ‘Symphonie Pacifique’ this July, perfectly pairing its smooth, tropical, downtempo Jazz Fusion bops with the arrival of summer. Many of us missed out on a satisfying vacation season thanks to Covid-19 eating the year, but ‘Symphonie Pacifique’ offered a perfect simulation, a immersive, refreshing dip into the tropical waters of an exotic land.
Rec: Title track
Boredom Never Looked So Good
#52: An optimistic title for such an isolating, depressing, and dehumanizing year! Funki Porcini has been consistently turning out top-notch chill-out material since the mid-90s, specializing in Ambient, Downtempo, Nu Jazz, Trip-Hop and Breaks. His attention to the details that make up a consistent, self –contained release are impeccable, always equating to something greater than the sum of its parts. ‘Boredom Never Looked So Good’ is yet another successful installment in his discography, the kind of album so harmoniously fabricated that it feels like a disservice to listen to it on anything other than vinyl.
Rec: Requiem for the Open Road
|1||Aidan Baker/Simon Goff/Thor Harris|
#51: I fell off with Aidan Baker a bit over the years. Between Nadja and his prolific solo and collaborative output it just became a bit of a drain to try and keep up. It’s unfortunate, because I’ve never heard the man attached to anything that wasn’t quality. His collaborative album ‘The Bit’ with Simon Goff (insert bands I’ve never heard of) and Thor Harris (Swans and some other bands I’ve never heard of) is no exception. The entirety of the album is the accumulation of a day worth of improvised material post-edited into a light, atmospheric sextet of Tribal Ambient and Modern Classical soundscapes. Brilliant.
|Here is the playlist so far: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/68Mz6agkcgO3JxONTBEQod|
|goddamn, im gonna have to give this a solid perusing once i'm sober. you're a madman for this hahah|
|Very nice, always get a couple great recs from your lists. Will read through properly later. Wasn't feeling that Rubio when I heard it earlier this year, but I love that Cindy Lee album. |
|love the write ups|
|Wow I can't even imagine how much work this took. Will read some of these. Trying to hold off on posting my list since I didn't listen to a ton of stuff in 2020|
|nice list, nerd|
|I think you prob did more writing in this list than 85% of sputnik staff did all year|
|40 31 and 27 are fire🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥|
|I can't belive i have 50 more to write, what have I done |
|as i said before, the work of an absolute madman. |
nice to see a lotta great write-ups here from what i've read so far though, deserves the feature haha
|Just realized my earth trax blurb got cut off FUCK|
|Is SYBG meant to be SILY|
|I can't breathe for the first time.|
|Lmao yes, I think I abbreviated "since you've been gone" instead of "since I left you" which is hilarious |
|Omg sona u fucking knew 🤣🤣|
|salute to this list as always pots, your work is recognized. I'll hit up some of these writeups tomorrow too|
|Happy new years my good bobert!|
|i'm so moving on|
|I must also point out that my shitty cousin wrote since you've been gone so this is an extra layer further of irony |
|did you just reveal to us that your cousin is either pop songwriting maven max martin or disgraced pop songwriting maven dr. luke?|
|his cousin could also be kelly clarkson|
|Lol my cousin is disgraced pop songwriting maven dr luke|
|Don't worry he is disgraced amongst the family too |
|in which case pots would be one of these children https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqRdm9YnkgU Grace, Kate, Izzy, and Ella|
Can confirm that he's a cunt btw
altho I guess azealia and doja and probably many others will do the thing if he calls himself Tyson
|am too hungover to read all of this rn but that Keta writeup is a stunner and I love the fauxtrip-hop bile hard pos. hmu with a number to check and I'll jam something from this imminently |
|i gave you 3 whole shoutouts in this list u better feel fucking honoured |
|ctrl+f oooh a vicarious shoutout?! huge honour; will check that alb pronto|
|Control f such a cheater |
|Couldn't agree more with that Before blurb, really well written. |
|Hell yeh Pots, this is a lot of work, it almost redeems you for not gifting us with your once a year review.|
|Rubio feature song + Sangre are v v good mmm yes|
|Ah sick. My mates label put 1 put but i only listened ti it twice. Enjoyed it though. I havent heard Fatima yamaha in YEARSSS since that track all the brainfeeder crew andhum mo before he went mega turd used to play in their mixes. Probably enjoyed the CLBRKS stuff most out of UKHH this year. Some stuff to check on this hangover day that isnt too heavy (among plenty of MF of course)|
All the best to you and yours Potz you sexy beast xxx
|you could have waited until 2021|
|really like the cindy lee cutoff lol|
|you've got me interested w that Book of Omar writeup. sounds like somethin I should peep|
|DDm sounding good|
|Funky porcini actually put out another 2020 album. Haven’t gotten around to adding to the DB yet but I like it even better than this one.|
|@bgillesp yaaa that Motorway one? I just noticed it while listening to this one and writing the blurb|
Thanks all and happy NY
|Yup! Happy new year|
|Some Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga attention's good. They're better than you give them credit for though. I didn't realize James Blake released anything this year cause I've been on Mars. Hmm. Anyhow|
|i should dig deep into that top 10 of yours, only heard Skalpel from it|
|Those are actually 50 through 60 not top 10 just yet lol but I feel like you'd fucks with most of those anyway, Greg Foat and Figuerosa particularly |