Kiwanuka – Michael Kiwanuka
It’s been a great year for retro soul (see below), but Kiwanuka transcends the genre and travels somewhere timeless. Cloaked by classic melodies, there’s a faultline of fractured rage and sadness hidden beneath that means however sure of where you are with it, you’re always finding new depths.
Richard Dawson – 2020
Dawson’s ability to meld the seemingly guileless with a complexity that never gets too clever is intoxicating. Outsider art with an insider’s skillset.
Yawny Yawn – Bill Ryder-Jones
An unadorned, just-piano-and-voice version of last year’s Yawn. A cavernously heart-rending record that sounds like he’s on the verge of, not falling asleep, but falling into restless dreams.
Aviary – Julia Holter
An avant-garde pop-opera that’s not quite the masterpiece Have You In My Wilderness was (but then, what is?), but still contains enough adventurousness (and bagpipes) to make you think Holter is the Joni Mitchell of her era.
It Rains Love – Lee Field & the Expressions
Retro-soul brilliance, part 2. Grit-in-the-oyster stuff here, backed by the Daptones with that Studer drum stomp and liquorice bass no one else can equal right now.
The Tales People Tell – Kelly Finnigan
Retro-soul brilliance, part 3. Occasionally shades into James Morrison territory, but the hokiness is kept in check by Stax-sized melodies and utter, sweaty conviction.
Thanks For The Dance – Leonard Cohen
The songs are ill-served by bland arrangements, but the lyrics hit home regardless. No one else writes like this – I’m not sure we’ve even got close to appreciating the loss yet.
Titanic Rising – Weyes Blood
Like Aviary, this doesn’t quite live up to past promise. It sounds sensational – a sustained reverie of Carole King chord changes and string-drenched yearning. But in the end, the melodies aren’t all there. Still, a record to submerge into, even if you come out cold.
Bort Bort Bort – Joel Alme
If you don’t know Alme, go straight to Waiting For the Bells, one of the greatest attempts at Dylan-does-Dusty I’ve ever heard (I’ve never heard another tbh). This isn’t up to that standard, but boy can this Swede write a melody.
James Blake – Assume Form
James Blake happy! Yes it’s kind of weird. No question he’s better when he’s miserable (sorry dude), but even loved-up his production reaches the parts others cannot quite reach.
And finally, looking forward to the best album of 2020…