We delve even deeper into our top 20. Who's your pick for #1?
#10 – LIKE NIRVANA – Cub Sport
2020’s black sheep of Cub Sport’s discography explored the bare truths and trauma associated with spending one’s life in hiding, investigating the many highs and lows experienced throughout this time. Whilst it perhaps doesn’t have the most positive connotations and ‘feel good’ lyrics in contrast to some of their prior work, there’s nothing wrong with being different. Lead singer Tim Nelson’s exposing of raw emotions has allowed Cub Sport to create something reflective of his thoughts, resulting in perhaps their most experimental music yet.
Topics throughout the album are vast and varied, acknowledging feelings of inadequacy blended with the oppression that can occur through societal norms and the structure of masculinity. If that wasn’t enough, tracks such as ‘Be Your Angel’ analogies to what on earth it means to be someone’s guardian and whether someone can actually play God, or is it the person enjoying the comforts of care who controls the strings. ‘Confessions’, the opening track, is different, unexpected and raw, with a heavy drum line mixed alongside an almost ASMR style delivery and crackling synths. It’s different, unexpected and creates a channel to Nelson’s thoughts. ‘Break Me Down’ ensures the album is felt as much as it is heard. ‘Be Your Angel’ is perhaps the biggest surprise, pitting Nelson’s unearthly vocal range against a delicate, acoustic guitar plucking, causing the track to feel completely alive.
Overall, the album’s subliminal message shines through, in that life isn’t some perfect, heavenly existence. It’s challenging, difficult and full of surprises, and for it to be like that is perfectly acceptable.
#9 – Automatic – Mildlife
Following up the hype from a successful record has proven to be an immense task many bands fail to meet. Mildlife’s debut record Phase caught the attention of listeners across the globe with their rare sound that unites the electronic, indie and jazz scenes. Automatic keeps the crossover audience together as listeners are mesmerised by their authentic musical message.
“We like the music to take us somewhere and it to be a world that the listener builds in their head and interprets in their own way,” said vocalist and synth player Kevin McDowell to NME.
Whilst Mildlife’s sound flourishes in a live setting, Automatic is perfect for the daydreamers quarantining at home. Each track is an individual odyssey with multiple closing in on 9 minutes, plenty of time for those that love to dance in their heads.
The effortless approach in which the four-piece play and the enjoyment that wreaks out of the record make it appear as though we are tuning in on a Sunday jam session, however, there is so much structure and purpose. For example, in the laid back ‘Memory Palace’ the band demonstrates their developed discipline and patience as they explore the atmosphere within each groove. It is a journey that oozes class and is emulated across the record. To think this is only their second album.
#8 – K.G – King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
Australian psychedelic pioneers took to the limelight with their first remotely produced and recorded LP in their extensive career. Self-titled and initialled project, K.G marks the band’s almighty 16th album release since their inception. K.G was also the only album released this year amongst other live demo releases and such, which was completely reasonable under the current circumstances of last year.
This project marks as a sequel to 2017’s Flying Microtonal Banana, one of the outfit’s most critically acclaimed albums throughout their career as musicians. This is noticeable through the similarity of the microtonal music scale. This particular scale typically originates from Arabic/Turkish regions, giving the band an outstanding niche in overall sound and production. The K.G sound emulates a western-stylised atmosphere, condensing microtonal guitar riffs full of wayward energy. Despite the album not making any clear experimental initiative, the 6-piece outfit still manages to safely peek and explore new boundaries. For an isolated project, the album is thoroughly enjoyable from the get-go to its conclusion. Remarkable work from the Gizz boys.
#7 – Freeze, Melt – Cut Copy
Cut Copy’s sixth album sees them shift to a new sound that has been calling for their embrace. Previous records would see the dance veterans urge listeners to move on the dancefloor, now they want you to move your mind.
Restraint from using drums for the first third of the album opener ‘Cold Water’ boldly allows this new atmospheric direction to establish itself. Blissful lo-fi arrangements build to cause each instrument and Dan Whitford’s voice to soar. This formula is followed throughout the record in the deeply spaced and delicate ‘Love Is All We Share’ and entrancing ‘Stop, Horizon’.
The record covers love and its various effects. The pounding ‘Like Breaking Glass’ demonstrates its ability to take control of the body even though it may be conflicting: “With the light there is darkness / That runs right through”. The lyrics coincidentally resonate with its quarantining listeners. In ‘A Perfect Day’, Whitford cries, “How can we see our way in the dark?”. How can one love at a time when the world is crumbling, and the human race is feeling more disorientated than ever? Poetic lyrics like, “I could dance in the silence / And think you” show how love can be a beacon of hope through these difficult times.
Freeze, Melt sees Cut Copy move to a new sound that long-time listeners have been waiting for them to explore. It has breathed new life into their music and shows their realisation that they don’t need to make dance music to make good music.
#6 – Mordechai - Khruangbin
A fusion of psychedelia and 70s funk, Mordechai is an album that immortalises all the beautiful, still moments of life. A wave crashing on the shore. The orange sun rising on a crisp, winter morning. Birds chirping. Trees swaying. Friends laughing. Listening to this record does what all artists strive to do: stop time. From groovy tunes like ‘One to Remember’ and the beloved ‘Time (You & I)’, the Texan three-piece gather inspiration from the Jazz, Thai Funk and Surf Soul genres.
The record in its entirety is versatile and fresh, holding the capacity to soundtrack a dinner party or a spiritual awakening. Songs like ‘Connaissais de Face’, comprised of spoken-word and a hypnotising bass, create the atmosphere of a Parisian summer, red wine in hand and vinyl scratching softly. ‘So We Won’t Forget’ plays like a celebration of life’s tenderness, with a simple melody and lively, uncomplicated beat.
The most enviable element of Khruangbin’s Mordechai is its impeccable balance of sound. Unless your music taste is embedded in cynicism and pretentiousness, there is truly nothing to dislike about the record. Each track stops time and moves your body. It’s everything music should be.