Well, we did it. We made it through the longest year in living memory. With each month came a new global disaster, and while 2020 will be remembered with few good memories, we can always hold the music released this year close to our hearts. As we look to the new year with a sense of optimism, we can also look back at the best albums released in the last 12 months.
Creeper – Sex, Death & The Infinite Void (Roadrunner Records / Warner Records UK)
Despite ending a gig in a Ziggy Stardust, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’ style band farewell a few years ago, Creeper came back better than ever with Sex, Death & the Infinite Void. The album is conceptual on a theatrical scale, telling the story of a fallen angel and telling it with supreme lyrics and massive choruses. The album is a gloriously dramatic mixture of spoken word and glamorous punk. And lead singer Will Gould didn’t stop there, releasing one of the best EPs of the year with side project Salem just a few months later. Now that’s what I call productivity.
Top Track: ‘Thorns of Love’.
Fontaines D.C – A Hero’s Death (Partisan Records)
Another band who had a great year (all things considered) was Dublin’s Fontaines D.C., who saw their second release in little over a year, A Hero’s Death. But A Hero’s Death it was not – the album swerved away from the image of the band that Dogrel had created and came up with something more intricate and mature. Their experiments in vocal harmonies and gentler songs proved to be a critical success, earning them a surprise Grammy nomination in the Best Rock Album category. Rumour has it that Fontaines D.C. have been working hard in the studio all through lockdown, so don’t be surprised if their get another record out before the end of 2021.
Top Track: ‘A Hero’s Death’
IDLES – Ultra Mono (Partisan Records)
After spending 2019 playing a legendary Glastonbury set and a personal-best tour that culminated in an Alexandra Palace gig, it was time for IDLES to get back in the studio and release the follow-up to 2018 hit Joy as an Act of Resistance. The result was a progression from the sound on their first two records, more experimental and developed, without compromising the sarcastic bite that makes us love them. Behind the rage of ‘Model Village’ and the bluntness of ‘Anxiety’ there’s real heart on Ultra Mono. Although they haven’t been able to enjoy an audience’s reaction yet, no doubt the songs will go just as hard on stage, too.
Top Track: ‘Model Village’
Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters (Epic Records)
If the Grammys can count it as Alternative then so can we, right? Fiona Apple’s sound is not pop, not indie, not rock, but somehow the best of all of them and none of them at all. Fetch The Bolt Cutters is fiercely percussive and it’s lyrics cut deep at every turn. Apple’s songwriting is unapologetic from start to finish and charmingly stubborn as she fights against all kinds of obstacles. Released in April, it summed up the claustrophobic feeling of lockdown without even trying, and will stand out as one of the best quarantine albums – despite the key fact that it wasn’t written in quarantine at all.
Top Track: ‘Under the Table’
YUNGBLUD – weird! (Locomotion Recordings Limited / Interscope Records)
Doncaster’s YUNGBLUD made a serious mark in the modern alternative scene with his last two releases, 2018’s full-length 21st Century Liability and last year’s underrated youth EP. Coming in with a spectacular album to finish the year, weird! is starkly honest with a gloriously freakish core that rears its head through creepy, experimental sounds that weave their way through the album from the very first track. The main message is self-acceptance and a sincere love of everything out of the ordinary, further cementing his role as the voice of a generation. Let’s hope his album launch and world tour go ahead in the new year, because it won’t be one to miss.
Top Tack – ‘strawberry lipstick’
Twin Atlantic – POWER (Universal Music Operations Limited)
Twin Atlantic’s 2020 album POWER saw them incorporate more electronics into their own brand of alt-rock than ever before. Recorded in their own studio in Glasgow, they had more control than ever before, and it shows. The whole anthem is anthemic, made up of songs to empower the listener. Some highlights are the instrumental tracks, veering from gentle piano to purely electronic. It feels like a lifetime ago when this album was released in January, but the massive choruses stand up just as much as we go into the new year.
Top Track: ‘Barcelona’
Green Day – Father of All… (Reprise)
I remember a time when Green Day’s new sound was the biggest shock of 2020. Straying a lot from their punk rock opera classics, Father of All… takes inspiration from classic rock ‘n’ roll, glam and pop punk, advertising itself as their least political album to date. But look past the top layer and you find an album more relevant than ever, perfectly encapsulating the anxieties of modern life. On the surface, Father of All… is an alt-rock party record, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find one of their most intricate and detailed albums.
Top Track: ‘Oh Yeah’
Bad Cop / Bad Cop – The Ride (Fat Wreck Chords)
Another staple of the Californian punk scene, Bad Cop / Bad Cop released their third album this year, shortly after having to cancel a lot of European shows when the pandemic hit. For a lot of people, Bad Cop / Bad Cop were the last gig before the world turned upside down, but you couldn’t have asked for a better send off. There’s a palpable sense of joy and self-love at the heart of The Ride, no matter how heavy the subject matter gets. Bad Cop / Bad Cop will forever be the queens of the three part harmony in punk rock, and their songs are as catchy as they are powerful.
Top Track: ‘Breastless’
The Psychedelic Furs – Made of Rain (Psychedelic Furs / Cooking Vinyl)
In a monumental year for post-punk, it was only right that The Psychedelic Furs made a reappearance with their first album in decades. Made of Rain creates a bridge between old and new incarnations of the classic genre, showing us exactly where the post-punk bands making their way up the ranks today got their inspiration from. In its own right, Made of Rain stands as one of the band’s most cohesive and engaging albums in their entire discography.
Top Track: ‘I Am The Boy That Invented Rock & Roll’
Pillow Queens – In Waiting (Pillow Queens Records)
The last couple of years has seen some great Irish alternative bands make their way into the mainstream, and Pillow Queens have made it clear that they’re the next big voices on the alt scene. This year’s release, In Waiting, is a beautiful album that blends indie and post-punk sounds together to make something really special. Stunning vocals put a sense of yearning at the heart of the album, and the whole record was adored by critics and music lovers alike.
Top Track: ‘Gay Girls’
Featured Image by Manja Vitolic on Unsplash.