Serpentine Prison (Matt Berninger)

You’ve probably guessed that I enjoy listening to new albums, as well as discovering old music that’s new to me.

I find out about new albums from a variety of sources, and sometimes I kick myself for missing one – like Earth by Ed O’Brien. But, this debut album by Matt Berninger of The National, is one I didn’t miss! It was recommended to me by Anisa Subedar, a friend I haven’t met in real life yet.

I immediately liked the overall sound of the album and the fascinating lyrics, and it’s one of my favourites of 2020. The album was produced by the legendary Booker T. Jones and features Gail Ann Dorsey (probably best know as David Bowie‘s bass player from 1995 until his death in 2016) in one song.

Serpentine Prison isn’t the drastic change of pace that many frontmen create when they do a project outside of their main band, but it does enough to justify itself as separate from The National’s catalog. At the same time, longtime fans of the group will undoubtedly feel at home here, too, while also admiring what Berninger does differently. It’s not all equally captivating or distinctive, but it is consistently moving, tasteful, and alluring, promising something even greater when Berninger returns for his sophomore solo sequence. Jordan Blum

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

See also: Melting Pot (Booker T Jones)

Song for Our Daughter

Song for Our Daughter by Laura Marling is a wonderfully mature and polished album, it’s one of my favourites of 2020. She writes songs for her fictional daughter, and by implication, her former self. She was inspired by Maya Angelou‘s book Letter to My Daughter.

The accompaniment is stripped right back to create an intimate sound, her accomplished playing and singing is always central with some beautiful harmonies and melodies.

This is one of a number of albums I’ve discovered this year because they were nominated for the Mercury Prize 2020.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Inner Song (Kelly Lee Owens)

This wonderful album became one of my favourites of 2020 on first hearing, especially as the opening track is a superb instrumental cover of a Radiohead song.

The unexpected opening track, a wordless cover of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” offers a sort of formal thesis statement. Owens’ interpretation emphasizes the Steve Reich-like qualities of Jonny Greenwood’s guitar line, stretching it into an undulating synthesizer pattern. Forgoing vocals, she distills the song’s harmonic essence, stripping it down to emphasize a single part of the whole, evoking a state of trance-like contemplation until a jittery breakbeat crashes through. Pitchfork

Kelly Lee Owens is a Welsh electronic musician and producer, who skilfully combines multiple genres in one perfectly formed album. This is a beautiful piece of work, and ideal for evening listening.

One track features vocals from John Cale in both English and Welsh, this collaboration and the inclusion of the Welsh language was a means to connect with her Welsh heritage.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Honey For Wounds (Ego Ella May)

As the title suggests, this album is one to soothe troubled spirits in a challenging world, even when addressing tough issues in today’s society. It’s one of my favourite albums of 2020.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Ego Ella May is a British songwriter and vocalist from South London. She has an all-encompassing love of music, which she channels into her own neo-soul and contemporary jazz compositions. She boasts a rich, mature sound, one that belies her years.

You can find the album on Bandcamp (and other streaming services) and an excellent review here.

Earth (EOB/Ed O’Brien)

I’m retrospectively listing this album as a favourite of 2020 as I missed it when it came out in April 2020, probably because of the moniker EOB and the fact that a lot was going on in my life then. You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Earth is the debut solo album by Ed O’Brien, one of the guitarists of Radiohead, its brilliance was unmistakable on my first listen.

Living in Brazil since 2012, the album was inspired by the spirit and being in Brazil, open-heartedness, rhythm, and colour, as well as the Primal Scream album Screamadelica (1991). Primarily an alternative rock, post-Britpop, and dance-rock album, Earth features elements of tropical dance, bossa nova, and punk funk.

It’s a highly original album, with (for me anyway) some ‘wow’ moments. It’s been described as ‘a reassuring anchor in these chaotic times’. Believe me, it’s well worth a listen.

Myopia (Agnes Obel)

The Independent has described this wonderful album by Agnes Obel as one “to experience alone, and there’s a comfort to being pulled into Myopia’s contemplative, isolating territory”. Snuggle up with your favourite earphones/headphones (with drink of choice) and allow this album to embrace you for forty minutes. It’s one of my favourites of 2020, and one which could have easily taken the top spot had I not gone for more upbeat albums.

Obel explained the meaning of Myopia: “For me Myopia is an album about trust and doubt. Can you trust yourself or not? Can you trust your own judgments? Can you trust that you will do the right thing? Can you trust your instincts and what you are feeling? Or are your feelings skewed?” Obel puts a feeling of quiet and gentleness in her music, […] which was the guiding concept of her previous album. The album contains a new sense of solitude instrumentalism and vocals, as well as departing from her upbeat early albums. Obel stated the album was sparked by a struggle to escape her “own tunnel vision”. Wikipedia.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Spook the Herd

Spook the Herd is an elegant and eloquent album by British indie rock band Lanterns on the Lake, one that has been described as a soundtrack for the age of anxiety. It’s one of my favourite albums of 2020.

Although this is their fourth studio album, I’ve not come across them before, despite living just down the road from their home of Newcastle for five years. They’ve been gracefully holding up a mirror to the world for a while, their music reflecting northern communities in decay and the effects of austerity, with calls for both to be resisted, for example.

This album touches on addiction, division, bereavement, social media, the environmental crisis, and climate change, with a reminder to make the most of what we can, while we can. Empowerment and love are key to the challenges we face, changing ourselves and changing the world. This is a thoughtful and reflective album, expressed beautifully.

This is one of a number of albums I’ve discovered this year because they were nominated for the Mercury Prize 2020.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Favourite Albums 2020

My musical listening during 2020 has been somewhat haphazard, mainly because of circumstances (coronavirus, retirement, young children, and moving to a new house) as well as a desire to listen to comforting old and established favourites.

Similarly, my choices this year reflect the unique nature of 2020. a year unlike any other for all of us. Indeed, many are comforting, meditative, and reflective.

It’s obvious, of course, that I can never listen to all the albums released each year, and I’ve listened to fewer than my usual number in 2020. You can see my favourites I’ve blogged about by clicking here, or individually below. Earth, by EOB/Ed O’Brien was added in January 2021 as I missed it in 2020.

Myopia (Agnes Obel)

break_fold (break_fold)

Coast (Cousin Silas)

Coloured Fragments (Cousin Silas)

Electric Portraits (Cousin Silas)

Earth (EOB/Ed O’Brien)

Honey For Wounds (Ego Ella May)

Hey Clockface (Elvis Costello)

Vestibule (Fictions and Poetics)

Fetch the Bolt Cutters (Fiona Apple)

Shore (Fleet Foxes)

1000 Hands: Chapter One (Jon Anderson)

Inner Song (Kelly Lee Owens)

Fragility (Kevin Buckland)

Spook the Herd (Lanterns on the Lake)

Song for Our Daughter (Laura Marling)

Eine Phase des Übergangs (Martin Neuhold)

Serpentine Prison (Matt Berninger)

Dark Matter (Moses Boyd)

Moonlight in October (Puppy Bordiga)

A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip (Sparks)

Choosing my top three albums has been very difficult, and any of the above could easily have been chosen, especially the reflective ones (of which there are many). In the end I’ve gone for albums which are more upbeat overall, even if presenting challenging content. In third place Jon Anderson, in second place Fiona Apple, and in first place Sparks.

You can see the albums that just missed out here.

My favourite single of 2020 is: No Time To Die (Billie Eilish)

Hey Clockface (Elvis Costello)

I’ve always had an affinity with Elvis Costello (partly because he’s the same age as me) and so a new album from this creative singer/songwriter is always welcome. His wonderful song 45 (written on his 45th birthday) was about the passing of the years, along with several other meanings of the number 45. This new album, as the name suggests, is also about time. It’s one of my favourite albums of 2020.

Hey Clockface is his 31st studio album, and the master craftsman mixes styles and moods to brilliant effect. Like many of his albums, this requires careful listening, but you’ll find the time spent (pun intended) worthwhile. Here’s a brooding set of intelligent songs about time’s ceaseless march.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Shore (Fleet Foxes)

It has to be said, that prior to the release their fourth album (at the autumnal equinox on 22 September 2020 after being announced only one day in advance) I hadn’t really paid much attention to Fleet Foxes, an American folk band.

Singer/songwriter Robin Pecknold…wanted the album to exist in a liminal space outside of time, inhabiting both the future and the past, accessing something spiritual or personal that is untouchable by whatever the state of the world may be at a given moment, whatever our season.

It’s a musically adventurous album that’s life affirming, warm and full of grace; one that faces life’s realities yet comes across as a breath of fresh air. It’s one of my favourites of 2020.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.