As 2020 finally fades away we look back and praise the great effort that bands and individual musicians have put into their work and, of course, all the great music that leaves behind.
Please prepare yourself because what follows here, is a long list (30+1) of non-hierarchical suggestions of some of the best music we listened to and we recommend you!
And if the selection of 31 albums won’t ease your thirst for good music, our friend Gus Ar also suggests his personal top 10!
Sit back with a glass of wine -or whatever beverage you fancy- relax and enjoy…
1) Tom Misch – Yussef Dayes – What Kinda Music
One of the best collaborative albums of 2020, is What Kinda Music. Singer/songwriter/producer Tom Misch meets innovative jazz drummer Yussef Dayes and together they set new boundaries to jazz and jazz-funk blurring the genres in between.
2) Mitsogusto – Far Out
With the contemporary jazz in their vein and dirty funk in their taste, Mitsogusto released a massive debut like no other. Getting inspired by the UK Jazz rise, the hip-hop scene and with a production complemented by the analog electronic touch, Far Out sounds both so old-school and fresh.
More praising about their debut, here.
3) Sven Wunder – Wabi Sabi
Two amazing albums in two years, Sven Wunder cannot do wrong. Drawing from Anadolu, Far east, and Japanese music, his tracks get balanced between psychedelia and jazz-funk with tight drumming backbone so bold and seductive at the same time.
Further analysis around Wabi Sabi, here.
4) Group Modular – Time Masters
The sophomore album by Group Modular dives even deeper into the synth-driven madness. With 6 sticksmen in the roster, Markey Funk’s synth and Mule Driver’s bass and synth compositions nods to the space age, library music, and psychedelia, paying tribute to the sci-fi world of Laloux.
Read more about Time Masters, here.
5) The Heliocentrics – Infinity Of Now
Cosmic and psychedelic qualities are not unknown to Heliocentrics throughout their career. Infinity of now is the first of the two albums they released in 2020 (both great). Besides the fusion between jazz, afro-funk, and library, it’s the first time I hear straight reference to krautrock in their work. We had a little chat prior to the release of Infinity of Now that you can find here. Extraordinary!
For further satisfaction, you should also listen to Telemetric Sounds, where they’re left experimenting on their own devices…
Are you as thrilled with Malcom Catto and Heliocentrics as I am?
Read also an interview with them, here.
6) Soulwax – EMS Synthi 100
The love of Dewaele brothers for instruments and recording gear is known. You can imagine how excited they felt when given the opportunity, they accommodated the legendary huge and rare analogue synthesizer known as EMS Synthi 100. Soulwax unveils the epic adventure in 6 movements full of unique blips and blops in a sophisticated way not strange to the dancefloor.
7) Nightports w/ Betamax – Nightports w/ Betamax
Nightports caught my attention immediately with their clear vision in the production, which fitted perfectly with Betamax’s rich and textured drumming. Diggin’ further in their discography I was nothing but stunned by how open-minded and contemporary they sound! An album that cannot be overlooked.
Some words for that album and their previous, here.
8) Little Barrie with Malcolm Catto – Quatermass Seven
After Virgil Howe sudden and unfair passing, Little Barrie are back with a special collaboration in drums.
-Who? I hear you asking…
-The best drummer in the world, right now, in my humble opinion. I’m talking about Malcolm Catto of course.
There’s not a single chance something touched by the hands of Mal -either as a drummer or behind the production- to lack of interest or sounds dull. In Quatermass Seven, we have him both behind the drum set and the production!
9) The Gaslamp Killer – Heart Math
Gaslamp Killer in his most tight and emotionally potent album to date. Heart Math is synth-driven rather than filled with the usual dirty drum-beats of his previous works and the string-orchestration is ever extensive giving a melancholic yet passionate mood to the entire album. Full of autobiographical elements, this work it’s a piece of his heart!
10) The Flaming Lips – American Head
Staying in the game and up-to-date after 16 albums is a big deal for a band and Flaming Lips wins this bet easily. American Head is a deeply personal album that gets them back to their roots, in a nostalgic way, focusing on themes of family, love and death as they pay tribute to some of their heroes such as the Pink Floyd, The Beatles and David Bowie.
11) Janko Nilovic & The Soul Surfers – Maze Of Sound
We’re very lucky to still have Janko Nilovic in discography and his recent collaboration with The Soul Surfers confirms that. Maze of sound is a slow-burning but highly flammable album, short in duration and rich experiences. Expect an elegant orchestral Soul Funk of Nilovic class!
12) Budos Band – Long In The Tooth
The psychedelic funk wizards are back with their 6th album, celebrating their 15th anniversary. Long In The Tooth is loaded with the qualities we loved, going back and forth across the borders of instrumental funk, psychedelic soul, and Ethiojazz. I just can’t resist their dirty sound!
13) The Sorcerers – In Search Of The Lost City of The Monkey God
The Sorcerers are back with their sophomore album, where they deftly develop some very captivating moments, utilizing vivid funk themes along with ethio scents that are executed in high performance.
Read more about them, here.
14) Greg Foat – Symphonie Pacifique
Prolific jazz pianist Greg Foat is back with two interesting albums. We focus on his first here, Symphonie Pacifique, where he pursuits the contemporary jazz trail along with some funk breaks, pastoral and library moments along the way. Moreover, there’s an inspired kraut-ish moment that caught me by surprise! A must-have album.
15) El Michels Affair – Adult Themes
Hip-hop is written deep inside El Michels Affair DNA and you can stumble on it at every step. The dirty and edgy funk they craft strongly backs my opinion and it fits perfectly with the library turn they try giving an erotic and dreamy sense to the whole album.
16) Misha Panfilov Sound Combo – Days As Echoes
Misha Panfilov Sound Combo are back with their sophomore album. Focused on the modal side of jazz, without losing their groovy side, they calm our heart and soul with the well-crafted and rounded sound. Not to be missed!
17) Compro Oro ft. Murat and Esma Ertel – Simurg
What to expect when a Belgian collective jazz band meets the psychedelic side of Anadolu Rock? Compro Oro answers that with Simurg. Along with the jazz collective band, we have the voice of Baba Zula, Murat, and his wife, Esma Ertel. Simurg comprises contemporary jazz compositions, with a fair share of experimental and psychedelic elements, making sound unique.
18) Ulver – Flowers Of Evil
My beloved Ulver flirts with a lot of genres over time, from their Black Metal roots to pioneering minimal abstract electronic and Future Jazz that led them lately to the Synth-Pop subgenre. Flowers of Evil is a meticulous album paying attention to every single detail, while lyrically engages with various themes like politics, war, and democracy. Needless to say how much I love this side of them!
19) Autechre – SIGN
Even though Autechre are almost 30 years (2023) in the game, they keep delivering stunning albums and they do that on their own terms. In the last seven years, they wandered mostly in an abstract chaotic path not less interesting rather than committed to their vision at that time. With SIGN they get back to their ambient heritage paying attention to the soundscapes and letting the tenderness out again.
If you feel like, you should also check their second output, PLUS, where -if I could describe it in one line- the ambient subsides, letting emerge more percussive driven compositions.
20) Calibro 35 – Momentum
Back in 2018 they celebrated their first ten years in the game by releasing DECADE album, comprising an orchestral-inspired enlarged line-up that features horns, strings and percussions.
Fast forward to 2020, Momentum is a whole new chapter in the history of their releases, that brings together their psychedelic funk side with the analogue electronics. I totally loved it!
21) Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death
It’s hardly a year passed since their debut album -Dogrel- and they’re back with their sophomore, A Hero’s Death. An album that sounds much like Dogrel, yet it’s so different! They spent the last year touring extensively but they also had time to bring new stuff. Groovy post-punk tunes with sophisticated lyrics focused on personal, sociopolitical, etc matters. Music press -and industry- of the old times would praise those kids…
22) The M-Tet – The Nonstop Action
Hot funk with blues-rock references experimenting with classic rock. Sounds like a good, old band from the ’70s and I”m already sold. I present you with The M-Tet on their sophomore album The Nonstop Action. Prepare yourself for a booty-shake trip back-in-time!
23) Rob Mazurek Exploding Star Orchestra – Dimensional Stardust
Rob Mazurek Exploding Star Orchestra’s latest album is a serious jazz treat that sweeps everything out. More precisely it’s a melting pot of sounds, genres, and influences, dictated by the spirit of all-seeing Sun Ra. Dive in its world and let it seduce you into its uniqueness.
24) LTF – Monolith
Anton Ivanchenko is the guy behind Light The Fuse (LTF) project. He’s always around vinyl, diggin’ for the right sample to go along with his beat making or to fit it among other samples on his tracks. In his sophomore album, he dives in rare Soviet jazz and funk records from his home country of Russia and other former Soviet countries, making Monolith a massive come-back record.
25) SAULT – Untitled (Black Is)
2020 will also be remembered as a year full of sociopolitical protests for the African Americans’ justice and equality rights, apart from the Covid-19 blast. All the injustice and the institutional racism African Americans are facing over time and a series of murders by the police, with George Floyd’s death making them -and us- declare enough is enough.
A new generation of artists and musicians supports and draws inspiration from the Black Lives Matter movement and significant albums have been released during that period.
Sault is a great example of that process. The subject of all the 4 albums they have released already move around black-centric issues, presented through an amalgamation of rhythm and blues, house and disco. Untitled (Black Is) is one of the two albums they released in 2020 and is full of poetic and political lyrics.
26) Mourning [A] BLKstar – The Cycle
The same goes for Mourning A BLKstar too. The Cycle is their fifth album, with deep political lyrics around the black experience, sung in a poetic and romantic way. A rare and diverse album that sucks you in its downtempo, mesmerizing world.
27) Moses Boyd – Dark Matter
Moses Boyd is the new blood of drummers coming from the UK Jazz scene. Besides that, he’s also a great producer and is deeply affected by the club scene. Dark Matter is the first solo album he brings together his jazz virtuosity with genres spanning from afro-beat to house to trap and grime, in a spacious but well crafted and extremely tight result.
28) Jahari Massamba Unit – Pardon My French
Karriem Riggins and Madlib are back with Jahari Massamba Unit. Pardon My French is an intergalactic trip of free form jazz as your guide. A rich and textured work that falls in the right place, revealing once again both Riggins and Madlibs capabilities and transcending production style.
29) Keleketla! – Keleketla!
Keleketla means “response” in the Sepedi, a language of South Africa. It is also a collaborative project between Matt Black and john More of Coldcut and South African musicians.
Keleketla! Is a tapestry of sounds and genres, celebrating the joy that music offers and the beauty of diversity. It’s simply revolutionary in one word!
30) Trioritaet – ALGO
Lots of these days bands seek inspiration in the past. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you know how to play along with your influences. Trioritat balance their sound between 70’s fusion, disco and modern house and hip-hop, in a genuine amalgamation of melancholic yet dancefloor friendly compositions. This contemporary and expansive world is welcomed in ALGO, their debut album.
Immortal Onion –lau xd [Experience Design]
Poland and its great jazz history! Immortal Onion is a contemporary jazz trio of young people bringing together their influences with their heritage, designing the new wave of jazz in a melting pot that puts together minimalism with electronica and hip hop in a cinematic set. They’re here to stay hopefully and I’m more than excited!
Don’t go anywhere, there’s another set of suggestions waiting for you.
This time we asked Gus’s opinion…
1) Laurent Bardainne & Tigre d’eau Douce – Love is Everywhere
This beauty comes from France. The mesmerizing melodies that run through the whole record, along with the soul-jazz feeling, renders it one of the most enjoyable listening sessions I had in the two lockdowns of 2020.
2) Alabaster Deplume – To Cy and Lee: Instrumentals Vol.1
Smooth, quiet, melodic, calm, warm, comforting Jazzy instrumentals by Saxophonist Alabaster Deplume. Who can say no to those adjectives, these feelings, when you can have them on your turntable or on your headphones? I know I can’t.
And what a lovely cover!
3) Shabaka & The Ancestors – We’re Sent Here by History
It was their first album, back in 2016, that introduced me to the wonderful world of British jazz. After they moved to the legendary “Impulse Records” label, Shabaka and the Ancestors use the same mixture of spiritual jazz, African rhythms, soul feeling and they serve us their brilliant sophomore album.
Ok, I know that Shabaka is a non-stop machine when it comes to recording exceptionally good albums (at least the last four years), but his work with The Ancestors is a whole lot different story for me.
4) Matthew Halsall – Salute To The Sun
Matthew Halsall is in the top squad of the new British Jazz scene. Based in Manchester, follows the path first set by Alice Coltrane & Pharoah Sanders. The whole record is a journey.
Trumpet, Harp, a musical scenery created by Halsall’s band that feels like it’s the soundtrack of a visit to an unexplored island in the middle of the ocean or looking at thick unknown tropical forests while you’re searching for the path. And then it’s you, sitting on a hill, looking to the full moon over the sea. A different imagination scenery in every listening. And the magnificent, embossed cover is also a part of that process. Sounds good, right? You bet it is…
5) Skinshape – Arrogance is the death of men
That guy can’t fail. His recipe is always a hit, but in that album, it feels like he has his top covered, until next at least. Here we have the known beautiful psych-something Skinshape guitar pieces, mixed with some Far East Sounds, like adding an Erhu violin in the record. Trust me, you’ll never regret listening to that record!
6) Greg Foat – Pacifique Symphonie
When you try to find what will accompany your eagerness for quality and artistic relaxation, Pacifique Symphonie will be the right record for you. Greg Foat teams up with some great musicians, adds fresh ideas to his jazz sound, and creates a record equally jazzy and ambient-ish.
7) Other Lives – For Their Love
Who needs a melodic, cozy and sweet (no, not jelly-like, corny, or so-called niania) indie record? With strings, acoustic guitars, rich orchestration, and lovely backing vocals?
Everyone needs a lovely record like “For their love”! A great album that sounds fresh although there are the 60s-70s influences that are spanning throughout the record. Other Lives have long found their own sound and it’s quite appealing.
8) Little Barrie – Quatermass Seven
And boy, that was a surprise! Malcom Catto (Heliocentrics) on drums, a new label (Madlib Invazion), and a record consisting of guitars, fuzz, groove, deep-psych stuff! Again here, the ingredients are of course taken from the past, but how fresh does this album sound!
The rock record I needed in 2020.
9) Enrique Rodriguez and the Negra Chiway band – Fase Liminal
I don’t know if psych-jazz exists but that’s how it should sound. A jazz elixir with fair-shares of spiritual jazz, cumbia, Sun Ra craziness, coming from Chile! It sounds strange, it sounds exceptional, it sounds worth exploring!
10) The Heliocentrics – Infinity of Now
Psych-groove here, jazzy paths there, fuzzy sound, and vocals! This record could enter the top 10 just for the “Burning Wooden Ships” and “Light In The Dark” songs. But no, everything here contributes to the psychedelic trip beginning right when you put the needle on the record. It is your vertigo.
That’s how we spent our time during this tough and unfair year. We hope you enjoyed this article.
It would be nice to contact us and suggest your best records for 2020!
Looking forward to hearing from you…
Happy New Year and stick around!