After a fairly lengthy roll-out, Sports Team served up 12 tracks of crackling indie gold on their Mercury-nominated debut. Combining the spirit of Britpop with the attitude of punk, they take on boring suburban life, sell-out musical peers, Conservative Britain and more on ‘Deep Down Happy’, hurtling between pithy social commentary and youthful abandonment against a backdrop of riotous modern indie. Led by flamboyant frontman Alex Rice, these tracks are tailor-made for jumping around in mosh pits and you’re left in no doubt as to why they have evoked such a passionate response from indie kids around the UK.
Willie J Healey delivered the ultimate indie-pop summer soundtrack with his slick second album ‘Twin Heavy’. A bold and assured follow-up to ‘People and Their Dogs’, the record cherrypicks from Healey’s biggest influences and puts them together in a timeless splendour, dusting off the likes of The Beatles, Bowie, 60s glam, Elvis Costello and more and channelling them entirely in his own quirky, whimsical vision. Most noticeably though, ‘Twin Heavy’ features Healey’s strongest songwriting to date. Offering a mix of tongue-in-cheek optimism and stark honesty, the album opens with a blast of ultra-catchy power-pop in ‘Fashun’ before taking itself off into other equally rewarding areas – highlights include the jaunty, funk-filled ‘Songs For Joanna’, the floating, psychedelic ‘Condo’ and then the stand-out confessional love song ‘For You’.
The follow up to 2018’s ‘Impossible Stuff’, Carla J Easton returned with the diverse and stunning ‘Weirdo’, back in August of 2020.
A record that does not shy away from diversity, Carla features Scottish rapper Solareye on the tune ‘Waves That Fall’. While the name would suggest a folk song set in the Scottish highlands, the reality could not be more different. An industrial indie-dance tune meets hip hop, with the harshness of Solareye’s verses weaving seamlessly around Carla’s strikingly sweet pop tones.
One of the standout moments of this album is on the title track ‘WEIRDO’. Collaborating with Honeyblood, one of Scotland’s most celebrated songwriters, the two produced a pop banger that is fuzzy and soaring in equal measure. A lament to individuality and weirdness, the melody of the chorus resembles the sounds of Camera Obscura, while the verses are pure driving lo-fi Scottish punk, imagine the Vaselines, but even poppier. Speaking about the tune, Carla said “I’ve often been told I am weird – like that’s a derogatory word.
One of the most influential and successful rock bands of the 21st Century, The Strokes made their triumphant studio return in 2020 with ‘The New Abnormal’. The first taste of the record came in the form of single ‘At The Door’, which saw fans contemplating a synth direction for the indie outfit, a thought that was quickly swept aside by follow-up single and one of the album’s stand out tracks, ‘Bad Decisions’. The vintage Strokes sound took on a new life with this tune, a rallying indie-rock anthem with muffled vocals and a focus on the guitars of Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi. One of the most refreshing points on the record is when the Strokes produced the disco-fuelled banger ‘Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus’. Removing themselves from their hedonistic and ramshackled sound and lyrics, this track finds vocalist Julian Casablancas turning the search light onto deeper feelings and himself, an approach the Strokes have kept further than arms length on a lot of their material.
Despite some labelling the record a crowd pleaser or nostalgia piece, there remains no doubt that this band approach making music with a drive to challenge themselves lyrically, musically and sonically, keeping the Strokes not only relevant, but brilliant.
Australian alternative-pop group Haiku Hands dropped their self-titled debut album this year. Collaborating with artists such as Sofi Tukker, Haiku Hands are sure to make a lasting impression with this offering. The album heavily features elements of club anthems, particularly noticeable on tracks such as ‘Manbitch’, but the lyrical content and subversive nature of the album is what makes this a top class alt-pop album. Haiku Hands certainly aren’t lacking in attitude or as they seek to challenge their listeners whilst simultaneously uplifting them.
Biffy Clyro’s latest album ‘A Celebration of Endings’ feels appropriately timed given that its loosely based around the idea that the world we once knew has irrevocably changed and we’re entering a new period of uncertainty. Similarly, the Kilmarnock trio find no comfort in safety as they release their ninth record – ‘A Celebration Of Endings’ may be unequivocally Biffy in its anthemic energy and blistering guitar riffs but they continue to take us down unpredictable routes and propel their sound to new heights of ambition across its 11 tracks. Opening with the visceral ‘North Of No South’, the record effortlessly shifts between energetic, crushingly heavy rock songs and emotionally poignant moments that feel particularly prescient against the backdrop of the pandemic and the political climate. Full of fresh ideas and in the mood to fully embrace their own absurdities, it traverses through the feral ‘Weird Leisure’, slow-building piano ballad ‘The Champ’ which culminates in bass-propelled fury , the electronic-tinged ‘Instant History’ and arena-sized single ‘Tiny Indoor Fireworks’ with its choppy time signatures and singalong choruses. Having always prided themselves on pushing the edges of twisted hard rock alongside the radio-friendly anthems, Simon Neil is a man unleashed on album closer ‘Cop Syrup’ which morphs from 90s hardcore into an orchestral prog section. It’s a fittingly frenzied and joyous end to another triumphant album from the Scottish rock behemoths.
The Magic Gang’s hotly anticipated follow up to their self-titled debut album, ‘Death of the Party’ is anything but. The album flies out the traps with a distinctly 70s vibe in ‘Think’, a fast paced, funky number that uses a horn ensemble to great effect. The album contains a lot of classic elements of 20th century pop and rock that are tastefully reimagined into this body work that still retains a contemporary feel. The Magic Gang impressed at the last Tenement Trail festival when they played the Barrowlands, and they’re booked to hit the road again in March 2021, with a date at the 02 Academy with Blossoms lined up.
Bonding at school through a shared love of guitar music and bands including The Strokes and Two Door Cinema Club, writing and relentless gigging has allowed Vistas to craft their infectious indie sound. ‘Everything Changes In The End’ is the band’s first full length record, after a stream of feel-good indie-pop singles including ‘Tigerblood’, ‘Retrospect’ and ‘Calm’ racked up tens of millions of streams. The Edinburgh trio managed to cop the number 1 spot on the UK Independent Album’s Chart. Their momentum is set to send them flying into 2021, with a headline date booked in at Glasgow’s Barrowlands – the pinnacle of musical achievement in Scotland.
As Haim began rolling out the singles from their third studio album, pointedly titled ‘Women in Music Pt III’, it became clear that this was going to be their most eclectic record to date. The trademark sonic throwbacks to Fleetwood Mac, Sheryl Crow and Prince are still there but this time they widen their scope and present them in a more bold and daring way than ever before, thanks to Rastam’s innovative production and their ability to master any style. Tackling more personal themes such as depression, anxiety, dependency, friendship and loss, Women In Music Pt III breathes life into Haim’s taut pop-rock sound and features their sharpest songwriting to date.
Brimming with irresistible dance-pop goodness from start to finish, Dua Lipa’s ‘Future Nostalgia’ is the sound of an artist coming into her own. Equal parts retro and fresh, it’s an album that isn’t shy in showcasing its influences from the 70s, 80s and 90s, nodding to the work of artists like Blondie, Chic, Kylie Minogue, Nile Rodgers, Prince, Madonna, INXS among others through its 37 minute runtime. However, Dua Lipa channels these sounds of the past through her own modern vision, effortlessly fusing styles without ever becoming formulaic. Built around snappy basslines and house-infused piano chords and with no filler whatsoever, it’s an album that will be playing in nightclubs for years to come.
When a debut album is done right, it should be a seismic moment that takes you out of what you’re doing and forces you to reconcile with the fact that an artist or band has came into your life and that from here on out. you’ll never understand how you used to do without them. Containing a frenetic energy that they’ve harnessed into the most refined and sleek electro-pop that’s emerged this side of DFA Records, Working Men’s Club’s opening salvo is one that’s filled a void that most listeners didn’t even realise had been left unattended. Precise and mechanical in its execution yet laden with unbridled emotion in its lyricism, everything from its beautifully succinct singles to the concluding odyssey of ‘Angels’ makes it clear that Working Men’s Club are fitting heirs to the rich heritage that they’ve drawn from
Forming at the end of 2019, Halloweens is the brainchild of the Vaccines’ Justin Young and Timothy Latham, who released their debut record ‘Morning Kiss at the Acropolis’ back in March, with the UK on the verge of lockdown. This was perhaps, in hindsight, the most perfect timing for this record to drop, a hedonistic dream space of eccentric love affairs, Parisian dreams and DJing in pizza shops. To the casual listener, the Vaccines can at times come across as indie purists longing for the lost early-2000s, however Halloweens has brought to the forefront Young’s incredible songwriting, which shows maturity far-beyond London indie-rock wannabes.
One of the most heartfelt moments on this ever-changing record comes in the third track, ‘Ur Kinda Man’. Following on from indie-disco banger, ‘My Baby Looks Good with Another’, this tune is a romantic ballad that could soundtrack the closing scenes of a black and white film, with piano and strings providing the perfect canvas for Justin Young to wear his heart on his sleeve in a way that could be no further removed from the songs that launched the Vaccines to indie stardom.
One of the most promising debut albums of the year, Halloweens have cemented their brand of eccentric, eclectic and theatrical pop as we head into 2021.
Perhaps the most eclectic and diverse album on our list, ‘It Is What It Is’ probably also has the most appropriate title. There really isn’t any easy or concise way to write about as it covers so much ground, albeit with relatively short songs. The song opens with the atmospheric ‘Lost In Space / Great Scott / 22-26’ and then flows into a song that could be classed quite comfortably as jazz-funk. The album then takes a series of interesting and unexpected turns, venturing into prog, and increasingly experimental funk. This album is certainly a surprise package, particularly from a former member of Suicidal Tendencies. It is, nonetheless, stunning in places, and well worth listening to if you want to broaden or indeed test your musical horizons.
Post-punks, Sorry, are back with their 3rd studio album, 925. The album leads with ‘Right Round The Clock’ which articulates and evokes the ennui in a song that is in fact exciting and attention grabbing. ‘925’ is smokey and atmospheric at times, particularly in tracks such as ‘As The Sun Sets’, which is testament to Sorry’s ambition as songwriters as they attempt to push beyond the typical parameters of what we have perhaps come to expect of British post-punk bands in recent years. The intertextuality of some of the songs is an interesting motif throughout the album as some tracks nod to other popular songs (‘Mad World’ and ‘What A Wonderful World’) and reimagine their tone and delivery. With shades of Tom Waits and other experimental artists present on ‘925’, Sorry deserve great plaudits for their ambition and bravery on this record.
Rina Sawayama was marked out as one to watch with the release of ‘RINA’ back in 2017 but the arrival of her debut album ‘SAWAYAMA’ established her as one of boldest and most unique voices in pop. ‘SAWAYAMA’ is a carefully crafted, complex pop record that takes the musical influences she listened to while growing up in North London in the nineties and early noughties and reformats them through a distinctly modern-day, forward-facing sound. Thrashing nu-metal (‘Dynasty’), earnest pop (‘Bad Friend’) and sleek R&B (‘XS’) all rear their head across the fiercely eclectic record as the singer uses her epic genre-splicing skills to express a vast range of emotions and explore various thematic messages. There are deeply personal moments alongside political ones – she tackles her own teenage rebellion after her parents’ divorce, climate change, capitalism, lost friendships, racism and more in this vibrant and deeply honest self-portrait. Laying waste to all genre constraints, she leaves us with a deeply expansive musical account of her personal history.
Three years on from their incredible debut album In Memory Of, Catholic Action returned this year with their second full-length Celebrated By Strangers. A deft leap over the dreaded sophomore slump that harnesses the best components of their trademark sound and adds in a whole host of new, boundary-prodding embellishments, it’s an album that is as whip-smart as its predecessor but comes with a much-needed bite to it. Left bedraggled by the world around them, the rigours of the music industry and the systemic inequalities that plague the world at large, Catholic Action are playing with a purpose throughout this album and it manifests in the vitality that springs forth throughout its rowdy 40-minute run-time. Reconstructing the world in playfully hedonistic solos and acerbic wit, it’s an album that holds a mirror to society at a time where we’ve all got plenty to reflect on.
If there’s any key function that music served this year, it was a transportive one. Where tracks would hurtle us back to simpler times or hazy nights of yesteryear, no album made us feel the exhilaration of hearing something beautiful blindside you while on the Dancefloor quite like Jessie Ware’s What’s Your Pleasure? Invoking the spirit of Studio 54 and the less heralded locales that’d cater to underground audiences but filtered through a decidedly modern sensibility, this project was a reawakening for both the English singer/songwriter and her audience. Once considered among the crop of the nation’s dance-oriented vocalists when she was guesting on tracks with Disclosure and SBTRKT among others, this project sees her fully embrace and fully revel the role of a disco ball illuminated conduit for escapism. From start to finish, this album will send those waves of euphoria coursing through your body and will become a staple of pre-drinks and after party playlists for years to come.
In a time of great turmoil, music can be the salve that quells all of agony you feel. On the hand, it can serve as the igniter behind the righteous fury that’s been bubbling away in your gut. Released in the wake of the BLM protests that met the unjust deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Killer Mike and El-P’s latest was a care package designed for hostile environments, but didn’t renege on the sense of uninhibited mischief that’s always ran side by side with their more profound moments. Blitzing, unrepentant and sprinkled with some of the finest production work of El’s hip-hop fall of fame worthy career, the wide net that the record casts in terms of collaborators is a testament to the impact that the duo has made since their formation. From Zack De La Rocha and the legendary Mavis Staples to Josh Homme and Pharrell, each co-conspirator imbues their already multidimensional sound with yet another new dynamic on what’s undoubtedly their most ambitious offering to date. Even 6 months on from its release, Killer Mike’s verse on ‘Walking In The Now’ still induces goosebumps as when it first barrelled out of the speakers and its heart rending message every single bit as pertinent .
Released four months ahead of schedule in order to give us something to enjoy during lockdown back in March, Laura Marling’s ‘Song For Our Daughter features some of her finest songwriting to date. Written from the perspective of parents to an imaginary child, there’s a gentle warmth and comforting simplicity to the record as her vivid storytelling and gorgeous vocals are brought front and centre. More stripped back than previous records, Marling said at the time “I saw no reason to hold back on something that, at the very least, might entertain, and, at its best, provide some union.”
Georgia’s second studio album ‘Seeking Thrills’ got her a Mercury Prize nomination in 2020, and claims the number 6 spot on our top albums of the year. The multi-talented Georgia has produced her most stunning work to date with ‘Seeking Thrills’ and is listed as a performer, songwriter and producer on the album. This alt-pop masterpiece reaches back through the annals of pop music and at times rave culture to create a contemporary and interesting body of work that is hard to find fault in.
Few records in 2020 created as much buzz as Taylor Swift’s surprise eighth album ‘Folklore’. Giving us perhaps the most unexpected career shift from any contemporary artist this year, Swift ditched the slick, arena-ready pop tunes she’s become known for in favour of a more hushed, stripped-back sound on ‘Folklore’ and the results were absolutely mesmerising. Written entirely in lockdown without the pressure of having to create radio-friendly hits, Swift let her imagination run wild, building out her own mythology and widening the narrative and emotional range of her songwriting by only letting fragments of her reality come to the surface alongside a flurry of imagined characters and worlds. With contributions from The National’s Aaron Dessner, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and regular collaborator Jack Antonoff, ‘Folklore’ puts Swift’s vivid storytelling front and centre against a backdrop of soft piano riffs, folky strumming and soft electronica as she delivers sixteen beautifully crafted tales of lost love, coming-of-age, and redemption. Providing listeners with solace and escapism at a time when they needed it most, ‘Folklore’ will perhaps go down as the definitive lockdown album.
Yungblud’s sophomore album ‘weird!’, released in March of this year, follows the release of 2018’s ‘21st Century Liability’. The English singer takes pop-punk to some radical conclusions in ‘weird!’ to form an almost hyper-pop-punk. Aesthetically (and sometimes sonically) akin to My Chemical Romance, or Fall Out Boy, Yungblud makes full use of glossy pop production to deliver an onslaught of hooks that really pushes his genre into territory that many pop-punk progenitors wouldn’t dare go near. The album’s title track comes 9 songs into the 13 track album, but it’s the track that comes after, ‘charity’, that stands out on the album as perhaps the album’s catchiest.
After their debut album set the charts and the minds of a generation alight, Fontaines DC always had a hard act to follow when it came to producing their second record. ‘A Hero’s Death’ certainly delivered.
With the tempo and ferocity slowing in comparison to 2019’s ‘Dogrel’, this album places the struggle and the poetry of frontman Grian Chatten at the forefront of the record’s sound. Chatten seems to be almost unmoved by the band’s meteoric success, writing with the same sense of real miserabilism and harshness that speaks to strongly to a lost generation. The opening track ‘I Don’t Belong’ sets the scene for the album perfectly. Dark trudging guitars and drums provide a soundtrack that mirrors an injured army attempting to march, layered by Chatten’s understated vocals and seemingly lost chorus of “I don’t belong to anyone.” The sound that came to define the band is not entirely lost on this record however, with ‘Living in America’ being a standout from the album. The faster post-punk track echoes Dogrel more than perhaps any other tune, with clever and poetic lyricism, pounding drums and scratching guitars marrying into a defining track for Fontaines DC and A Hero’s Death.
Fontaines DC eliminated any second album syndrome for the first note of this record.
After releasing 2018’s Boygenius with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker and 2019’s Better Oblivion Community Center with Conor Oberst, the anticipation was high for Phoebe Bridgers’ second full-length album and she didn’t disappoint. Known for her candid, self-aware songwriting, Bridgers veered away from the soft, folk-tinged acoustics of her debut towards something more celestial and colourful on ‘Punisher’. Flowing with intricate and deeply personal lyrical observations, the album has a way of making you feel enthralled one minute and completely heartbroken the next as she invites us into her darkest, innermost thoughts. Like sonic diary, it all builds to an incredible emotional climax with ‘I Know The End’ – a six minute beauty that opens quietly before gradually building to an almighty crescendo with soaring strings, a flourish of horns and devastating vocals. Powerful, haunting and emotionally devastating, Punisher’ has cemented Phoebe Bridgers as one of the finest songwriters of our generation.
‘Dark Sea’ is more than just a collection of well written songs, it is a sonic environment; a moody and foreboding soundscape that washes over and completely submerges you. This is an album that should be enjoyed in its entirety, with your headphones on and your eyes closed. Allow yourself to become lost in it and enjoy its ever-evolving ambience.
The album begins, naturally, with ‘Intro’. The first thing you hear is lingering guitar feedback and a deep, persistent synth. Punching along like a heart that’s beating faster than it ought to be. There’s an ambient tension created here that never really leaves the record at any of its various stages. At one minute and seven seconds the first wall of noise hits, and from this point on it really does feel like you’ve dived head first into ‘Dark Sea’ and that you’re only going to get out of it by listening to all ten of the tracks.
Fans will recognise Track 2, ‘The Road’ as a reimagining of their first ever release. To call it ‘more mature’ would be cliched and unfair on the song’s initial form, but it has certainly been drastically repurposed to fit nicely into the album’s opening. It’s also thematically analogous as, in a way, it represents the band’s journey to becoming the outfit they are now while also serving as the exposition of the album’s journey.
The rest of the album is a masterful display of songwriting combined with creative, intelligent structuring that ultimately makes an extremely satisfying and cohesive piece of work. The album ebbs and flows with the aggression and calm of an ocean.
Track five, ‘Interlude’, has a feeling of calm followed by unbridled force that puts one in mind of a tsunami, while also acting as a transitional song as the album settles into its more atmospheric second act. In the latter half of the album we find ‘Ride The Waves’ and ‘Rust’ which were previously released as part of an EP and as a single respectively. However listening to them as part of the body of work they were written to be a part of gives them life anew, as with ‘Strangers’ and ‘When We Were Young’.
Musically this album has a lot of identifiable influences. Man of Moon have always had a sort of post-punk duo style akin to Suicide, and that influence is very much still there, but its now blending with shades of Radiohead, psychedelia, late 90s/early 2000s rock/metal, and even shades of acid house at times. ‘Dark Sea’ is consistent without being repetitive, and varied without feeling scattergun.
We’ve always been fans of Man of Moon, and although this album feels like it was perhaps a long time in the making, it was certainly worth the wait. Speaking about their top slot on the TTV list, Chris said: “We are both absolutely honoured to have our debut album ‘Dark Sea’ picked as Tenement TV’s album of the year! It came as a bit of a shock and we are proper over the moon about it. To be at the top of the list alongside so many other incredible albums feels really special. I wanna say thank you so much to the whole Tenement Tv team for always supporting us and giving us so much encouragement and love. You guys have been there for us from the beginning and we owe you a lot. Can’t wait to get back on the road and play this album live for everyone!”