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Bartek Zaparucha’s Top 20 Albums of 2020

20. Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song [Smalltown Supersound]   On her sophomore album Kelly Lee Owens blends art pop with techno beats. She nails this combination on some of the tracks such as ‘On,’ ‘Melt’ and ‘Nights.’ On the other spectrum is an over seven minute song featuring John Cale reciting some poetry. Despite […]

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20. Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song [Smalltown Supersound]

On her sophomore album Kelly Lee Owens blends art pop with techno beats. She nails this combination on some of the tracks such as ‘On,’ ‘Melt’ and ‘Nights.’ On the other spectrum is an over seven minute song featuring John Cale reciting some poetry. Despite my admiration for this guy, I can’t help to feel like this track is out of place and drags for too long, bringing this album down. 

19. Against All Logic – 2017 – 2019 [Other People]

Nicolas Jaar was active past year. He put out 3 solid albums but his continuation of the Against All Logic series is the strongest one in my opinion. It’s much more abrasive and glitchy as he shifts away from the deep house and funky sound of 2012 – 2017 into more industrial and deconstructed territory while remaining catchy. 

18. Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind [Warp Records]

Glam rock was not a direction I was expecting from Yves Tumor after 2018’s Safe in the Hands of Love, but here we are. This truly is a psychedelic experience in itself that, a bit uneven and messy at times, has some of Yves’ strongest tracks to date. ‘Kerosene’ or the opener ‘Gospel for a New Century’ are the clear highlights.

17. Fleet Foxes – Shore [ANTI- Records]

Fleet Foxes are among the most consistent bands of this century yet I feel like this album didn’t get enough recognition. It’s not a dense, jam-packed album full of indie folk hits. They drifted away from that direction on their 2017 album Crack-Up and this feels like a natural continuation down that road. It’s certainly their most warm and pleasant record to date but it doesn’t make it less engaging. 

16. Lonker See – Hamza [Antena Krzyku]

The Polish quartet delivers yet another consistent psych rock album. It opens with the spacey, slow and dreamy ‘Infinite Garden’ which showcases their jazz influences in full force. Complemented by lush vocals from Joanna Kucharska it’s clearly an album highlight. After this slow start the album ventures more into rock territories, though it would benefit from being shorter as it gets a bit stale after 50 minutes. 

15. Mac Miller – Circles [REMember Music]

Wow, a posthumous release that doesn’t suck and completely devastates the artist’s legacy? That is an achievement in and of itself. I think it might’ve been the first 2020 album I’ve heard and it was a really good choice. It made me even more upset about Mac’s premature departure as it’s clear he had enormous amounts of talent and potential. Circles saw him drifting more into indie territory and shifting away from rap. ‘Good News’ was certainly among my most played tracks last year. 

14. DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ – Charmed [Spells On The Telly]

A real house behemoth for sure. Spanning over three hours it may scare some people solely due its runtime. I was hesitant myself. After getting through it all I can say it was worth it. You get euphoric retro vibes from this one. Equally good when listened alone at home or in the club on the dance floor (the latter being only my imagination of course.) 

13. Perfume Genius – Set My Heart on Fire Immediately [Matador Records]

I remember being really hyped for this release sometime around February or March. Based on the singles ‘Describe’ and ‘On the Floor’ I expected it to be a strong album of the year contender. Even though it’s not exactly on that level it still has some of his strongest songs, especially the singles, which got me through the first weeks of COVID quarantine.

12. Odraza – Rzeczom [1716360 Records DK]

Since Mgła didn’t release anything in 2020 there had to be another Polish black metal band to take their spot. With quality production, abstract lyrics (seriously I’ve read them in Polish and as a native speaker I still can’t understand much) and experience gained in many underground black metal bands, the duo created my favourite metal album of the year. It’s filthy, ugly and sounds like a soundtrack for a decaying industrial city somewhere in southern Poland. 

11. Touché Amoré – Lament [Epitaph Records]

Though not exactly on par with their 2016 masterpiece Stage Four, Lament is still a solid album. The music here is not unpredictable; you get an overview of the rest after the first track. However it’s still a compelling listen with its catchy riffs. I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about Jeremy’s vocals but for me they compliment the arrangements. The first half of the album is certainly a strong one but I wouldn’t exactly call it front-loaded as the whole thing is worth checking out. 

10. Better Person – Something to Lose [Arbutus Records]

Yet another heavily 80’s inspired album on my list, what a surprise. On his debut album Berlin based singer Better Person channels his inner Prefab Sprout spirit. It’s top-tier sophisti-pop which not only sounds like it’s 80’s inspired but as if it may as well have been recorded in 1985. Singing over pretty synth lines both in Polish and English Better Person delivers one of the most genuine and heartfelt albums of the year. 

9. 青葉市子 [Ichiko Aoba] – アダンの風 (Adan no kaze) [Hermine]

Released in early December, this album managed to disrupt many end-year lists. With 2020 being as shitty and chaotic as it was for most of us, アダンの風 (Adan no kaze) aimed to make it soothing and bearable. It’s sparse and meditative, sometimes driven only by Ichiko Aoba’s voice but always keeping you engaged.

8. Dogleg – Melee [Triple Crown Records]

What year would it be without having at least one midwestern-emo record somewhere near the top? These guys are certainly not trying to reinvent the wheel but stick to proven formulas. As a result we’ve got a short, energetic and fun album.

7. Playboi Carti – Whole Lotta Red [Interscope Records]

Playboi Carti finally delivered his long awaited follow up to Die Lit and received mixed opinions. Some called it an unfocused and half-assed mess while others saw it as a bold and futuristic take on the stale trap genre. I’m leaning towards the second option yet consider this as a transition point for Carti with room to continue improving. 

6. Shackleton & Zimpel – Primal Forms [Cosmo Rhythmatic]

This is an odd collaboration. Polish minimalist and jazz musician Wacław Zimpel joins forces with Shakleton, a dub producer from the UK. They blend many different genres into a unique album that best described as world music. The title track is a clear highlight, drawing inspiration from the likes of Steve Reich. 

5. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia [Warner Records]

Last year had its fair share of 80’s saturated albums. Many of them were amazing (Róisín Murphy’s and Jessie Ware’s come to mind) but for me Future Nostalgia steals the spotlight. With its playful retro production, this album is full of dance tracks that will get the whole party on the floor. 

4. Deftones – Ohms [Reprise Records]

A surprise to be sure, but a welcomed one. This was an album which made me finally listen to the entire Deftones catalogue, and whilst it’s not their best project, it’s still solid. The amazing riffs throughout the whole record are certainly the highlight, but Chino also delivers some of his best vocal performances.

3. Tkay Maidza – Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2 [4AD]

This is the best EP of 2020 if not of the last few years. Tkay Maidza blends her inspirations that range from industrial hip-hop resembling clipping through party bangers in the style of Goldlink and finishing with slow R&B jams. Can’t wait for her debut full-length album to drop as it will certainly be a highlight. 

2. Moor Mother & Billy Woods – Brass [Backwoodz Studioz]

Billy Woods quickly grew on me in 2020 and became one of my favourite underground     rappers. In collaboration with Moor Mother he created a really unique album. With top-notch production in its dense and eerie beats Brass finds the duo on top of their game. 

1. clipping. – Visions of Bodies Being Burned [Sub Pop Records]

clipping. managed to deliver a strong album of the year contender for the second time in a row. It’s not as noisy and abrasive as their older works, but still contains passages of harsh noise here and there. The horror themed lyrics create an unsettling ambience despite being hit-or-miss. “Say the Name” is the clear highlight with its grimy beat and Nine Inch Nails inspired outro.

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