I love music, especially new music. I’ve always bought and listened to loads of it. Like everyone, I have my favourite bands and favourite genres but I’ve always been keen to hear new things. As i got older, I found myself doing this less as life became busier. I noticed that people in my age group were no longer interested in discovering new artists like they did when they were younger.
Eleven years ago I decided to start writing a music list that talked about my favourite releases in the year, culminating in an annual top 10. I like writing so it’s been fun and a good record for me to keep. It’s also been a way that a lot of my friends get introduced to new artists.
I believe it’s important to keep listening to new music. It’s so easy to put on something you know and you’re comfortable with – but you’ll often find there’s stuff out there which is just as exciting as the stuff you unearthed when you were a teenager.
Here’s my 2020 effort…
A self-confessed ‘uncool dad’ who achieved viral fame for his annual new music countdown has revealed the best – and most overrated – albums and bands of 2020. Pictured: Indie’s 2020 ‘it girl’ Phoebe Bridgers, who sounds ‘way too clean and lacks edge’
This will be my eleventh list counting down the worthy releases of the year – it’s a thing I’d like to keep up.
What a terrible year it has been. I suppose we’ve come out of the whole thing well -compared to the rest of the world – but it has been a truly s**thouse time with the spectre of Covid-19 lurking over us. The whole lockdown experience was fun for about five minutes and made my job a lot more difficult. But hey, at least I still had a job and my family and everyone I knew stayed healthy. Plenty of others couldn’t say that.
So there you go, enough Covid. It’s been a pretty good year for me really, Souths had a top season – I think we can win it next season. We’ll see…
Greg found more to like in Feral, who came in at number 6 in his countdown. ‘Aussie band I discovered on a review that I read somewhere and I’m glad I found them. ‘Lots of interesting themes in the songs and the lyrics are clever, cutting and fun’
Music was also a funny experience in 2020. It took me a long time to get into the swing of listening to new music again. It always does but this year especially so. Of course, the artists struggled without live music, which is the only way bands make money these days. I’m not sure if there was less new music this year or I just listened to less, but my listening wasn’t extensive this year. Plus, I’ve also developed a new and probably bad habit of listening to podcasts – only footy and gambling ones – but still, it cuts into your music time.
Despite not having the usual stack of titles to work with, I reckon I’ve found at least 10 albums that are very good. However, before i get to the top 10, I’ll start with the ones that had less of an impact, before we get to the 2020 list. I’ll only write about something if there’s something worth mentioning whether that be good or bad… Let’s go!
Interesting or talked-about indie and metal albums outside the top 10.
Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
Tame Impala are a massive act but Greg doesn’t get the hype: ‘I don’t mind them I suppose and have liked some of their previous releases but they’re not really a band for me’
Tame Impala are a massive act here and around the world so I imagine this release was a pretty exciting thing for a lot of people – not for me so much, I don’t mind them I suppose and have liked some of their previous releases but they’re not really a band for me. Their music is definitely listenable and okay to have in the background but that’s about it. This was an early release in 2020 so it got a few more spins than it probably deserved. After a while I realised that Tame Impala’s music is really for young, good looking and happy people – three things I’m clearly not.
‘After listening for a while, I realised that Tame Impala’s music is really for young, good looking and happy people – three things that I’m clearly not’. Pictured: ‘Uncool Dad’ Greg
Katatonia – City Burials
Swedish metal act Katatonia were one of my faves back in the day and they have a bunch of albums that could really be described as classic. I guess I liked them as they had links with Opeth but were probably more on the goth side of things. I think they broke up for a while there but were back in 2020 for a new album. Unfortunately, this one never hit the spot their old albums used to. It’s certainly okay but didn’t stir me like ‘Dead End Kings’, ‘The Great Cold Distance’,’Viva Emptiness’ and others did. You could do a lot worse, but if you wanted to listen to this band, I’d recommend their older albums.
The Dears – Lovers Rock
Another band I resurrected from the archives with a 2020 release. Not that I had listened to The Dears for years but I saw they had something out so I gave it a listen – for all I know they’ve been pumping out albums for years. Canadian band The Dears are good though, I’m not sure why I stopped listening. They were one of those bands I discovered in my uni years, as I desperately tried to find something that resembled The Smiths. They have their similarities but are a talented band in their own right and have an excellent frontman. I enjoyed this and it was definitely a worthwhile listen.
Nada Surf – Never Not Together
‘All I knew about them was their ancient indie hit, Popular’: 2020 was a tough year for many, Greg included. Things got so tight that he even listened to a new Nada Surf album
Things got quite tight at times in 2020, so much so that I listened to a Nada Surf album. I’m sure they’ve had a fantastic career – I suppose they must, to have lasted this long, but all I knew about them was their ancient indie hit ‘Popular’, which used to play regularly on Countdown Revolution and Recovery. Yes, that’s how old it is. Anyway, this was far from terrible but probably for their fans only. Sometimes you find hidden gems in unlikely places. This wasn’t one of those times.
‘Sometimes you find hidden gems in unlikely places. This wasn’t one of those times’: The best praise Greg could offer the album? ‘It was far from terrible but probably for their fans only’
Yves Tumour – Heaven To A Tortured Mind
I’m not sure how I came across this one, I guess a good review? Whatever the case, this one got more listens than it deserved just because of where it was positioned on its playlist. These guys are a very progressive, dancey, experimental and hip bunch -not dissimilar to Tame Impala – but even more of a w*nkfest. This is no doubt excellent for a lot of people, but for me, it’s style-over-substance. Even if I did decide I liked this, I’d have to strongly reconsider. I just know that somewhere out there, a bunch of hip, good-looking, Instagram-obsessed kids are dancing ’round to this in their overly-furnished share house, thinking they’ve somehow discovered the secret to music.
Marilyn Manson – We Are Chaos
‘Yes it’s true. I still listen to Marilyn Manson’: Greg’s biggest concern was that Marilyn might be a Trump supporter. Musically, ‘this album was his best for a while. A nice surprise from the old horror’
Yes it’s true. I still listen to Marilyn Manson. I’ve always had a soft spot for Marilyn and his over the top ways. I loved the way he upset the conservatives in his prime with a steady mix of run-of-the-mill hard rock Satanism, David Bowie glamtasm and of course, kick-a**e songs. A lot has changed for MM these days. He struggles for any sort any sort of recognition, a bit like another famous M of mine, and chances are he may have voted for Trump – I hope he didn’t and certainly hope HE didn’t. I don’t want to know. Of course, s**t songs don’t help your cause and this has been an ongoing problem – but this album was his best for a while. A nice surprise from the old horror.
Marilyn Manson – DON’T CHASE THE DEAD (Official Video)
Doves – The Universal Want
Another band from my distant past who released an album in 2020, after not doing anything for ages. There was a bit of anticipation about this release, or at least there seemed to be. I wasn’t expecting anything magical as they were never one of my main bands, but I was still a little disappointed. It’s not too different from their original stuff but it lacks the big songs.
Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
Phoebe Bridgers cemented her status as the new ‘indie it girl’ with Punisher, but just like with Tame Impala, Greg doesn’t get the hype: 2020’s ‘big female vocalist album’ had nothing on its 2018 counterpart from a band called ‘Snail Mail’
Phoebe Bridgers was definitely the indie ‘it’ girl in 2020, probably more than just indie as I think she’s commercially successful too (if that’s even a thing anymore for musicians?). Over the years my music tastes have changed a bit in that I listen to a lot more female artists now – something I never really did before. So I was keen to give this a try as it was definitely the big female vocalist album of the year. This reminded me a little of the ‘Snail Mail’ release from 2018 – a band (or artist?) that was going to feature highly in a list that I never wrote. I liked ‘Snail Mail’ a whole lot more though. This is okay and I can see why so many people like it but for me it sounds way too clean and lacks edge.
Getting onto the better ones now, these albums were just outside the coveted top 10…
The Strokes – The New Abnormal
The Strokes returned from a long hiatus in 2020 with The New Abnormal: ‘This is really good. Likeable almost instantly and no dud songs’
Well, an album from The Strokes appeared on my ‘new releases’ one day – why not give it a listen I thought? They were huge in their day with their debut ‘Is This It?’ being an indie rock classic. They had a few other good things but I guess I moved on after that. Anyway, this is really good. Likeable almost instantly and no dud songs. Catchy as and containing all the stuff that made you like The Strokes in the first place – except probably a bit less rock’n’roll. Despite the quality of this I’m probably looking for something a little bit more meaningful when constructing my top 10.
The Strokes also have the exciting privilege of having one of their new songs played on Triple M! A new song from anyone on Triple M is a massive achievement – so well done Strokes! Programmers at the Ms decided that ‘Making Bad Decisions’ was an acceptable choice amongst the unrelenting barrage of Foo Fighters, Chili Peppers and Cold Chisel.
And before you ask – I have Triple M on in the car when my wife is there, as she doesn’t want to listen to metal or obscure post-punk and it’s a much better choice than her pick, which is Smooth FM. You may as well just give up on life if you listen to that station – at least rock music has a pulse! According to their website, Smooth 95.3 is Sydney’s ‘feel-good station’ – but all it makes feel like doing is driving into the nearest telegraph pole.
Greg discovered The New Abnormal on Triple M: ‘I have Triple M on in the car with my wife as she doesn’t want to listen to metal or obscure post-punk and it’s a much better choice than Smooth FM, which is her pick. You may as well just give up on life if you listen to that station’
Esoctrilihum – Eternity Of Shaog
My good, metal-obsessed friend always gets a mention on these lists and would not be happy with my efforts these days. I’m not listening to much of it despite him sending me stuff all the time. I don’t know why that is, I think metal is a victim of streaming and the way I listen to music these days. I’m less patient with it and you often need a lot more time for a metal album to make sense to you – well I do anyway.
I still like the genre and I enjoyed this album from Esoctrilihim. It got more listens than other metal acts simply because it was next on my playlist after one of my 2020 faves which I’m yet to write about. This is good though, loud but not oppressive. A bit of melody ,but also aggressive and interesting.
Fellwarden – Wreathed in Mournland
Fellwarden are The Watcher’s side project. The Watcher is the singer and main guy from English prog metal band, Fen. I’ve always preferred Fen to Fellwarden but this one is good – probably because it sounds more like Fen! Lots of long and interesting compositions, with excellent musicianship, melody and the right level of noise and aggression. This won’t be for everyone but I really like it.
Laura Marling – Song For Our Daughter
Greg returned for his second dose of Laura Marling after falling in love with her 2018 album, LUMP: ‘Lump was a bit more band based. This was less of my style but I still didn’t mind it’
I was keen to give this a listen as I really liked Laura Marling’s last album, ‘LUMP’. I didn’t do a list that year but that album would have made the top 10. This album is pretty different from that one though. ‘LUMP’ is a bit more band-based, where this one showcases her very impressive vocals. This was less of my style but I didn’t mind it.
Future Islands – As Long As You Are
Like me, almost everyone would have been introduced to the brilliance of Future Islands through their ‘Singles’ album from quite a few years ago. The band’s performance of ‘Seasons’ on Letterman – or one of the other late night American talk shows – being the catalyst that kickstarted their fame. They’ve had another album since then. I’m not sure if they’ll ever reach the heights of those early days but this album is also a good one. They have plenty of catchy tunes and melodies, with that very cool bass and a great frontman. Nothing not to like here.
Future Islands – For Sure (Official Video)
Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension
Sufjan Stevens has been around for an eternity but I’m only a fairly recent convert. I first heard him via his excellent album ‘Carrie and Lowell’ which I missed on the countdown of that year but it would have been in the top 10. I also remember writing about the live version of that album at some stage and I liked how a lot of the songs had been re-worked in a more electronic style. The songs on this new album are similar in style to that live ‘Carrie and Lowell’ album and I think it really works. It took me a little while to get into this but it wasn’t long before it became a favourite.
Time for the Top 10, there hasn’t been the same volume of releases as normal but I’m happy with my final 10. They’re definitely a solid bunch but the top 3 in particular then a length or so to no.4 and then 5-10 following that.
My Top 10 Albums for 2020
‘Time for the Top 10, there hasn’t been the same volume of releases as normal but I’m happy with my final 10’: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (RBCF) came in at number 3 in Greg’s list
No. 10* Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death
These Irish lads were back for another go in 2020 after their amazing debut ‘Dogrel’ from last year. What a bonus it was to get another release so soon, especially in such a rank year. Following up a massive debut is one of the hardest things to do in music as suddenly all the songs you’ve relied on for years before you got your deal are gone and now you have to write more! A lot of bands fail but Fontaines D.C. haven’t and that’s not really a surprise – they do seem pretty special after all. Probably lacks the energy and the excitement of the first album but I guess we know what to expect now. The songs are still great though. A top follow-up album from Fontaines D.C. On a sidenote, another Fontaines D.C. related highlight was dancing drunkenly with a friend to ‘Dogrel’ after a Rabbitoh victory in his loungeroom. His missus walked in to see two massive blokes assaulting the floor space between the t.v and the lounge with some over-enthusiastic shimmying. She shook her head and left the room.
Fontaines D.C. – You Said (Live from A Night at Montrose, Dublin)
No. 9* – Enslaved – Utgard
Enslaved are one of my favourite metal bands and their albums have featured in these lists quite a bit over the years. They’re a real workman-like band always giving their fans a new quality release every 2 years or so. This one is no different. It’s not really close to my favourite album of theirs but you know what you’re going to get with them and it’s always going to be very good. They probably lack the power and aggression that they once had but there’s still enough going on here to keep you interested and listening.
No. 8* Custard – Respect All Lifeforms
Custard are a pretty special band for me and a lot of my friends as we used to see them all the time and we always used to have heaps of fun when we did. So, when I think of Custard I think of fun. They’re never going to change your life but you know that you’re going to be happy when you listen to them. This is the third album since they reformed and it’s still of an excellent quality. Just what you’d expect from them, lots of upbeat catchy songs. What more could you want? Well done guys, I hope you keep releasing albums forever as they’re always so enjoyable. Interesting that this album was released through ABC records. I’m guessing that was part of Dave McCormack’s next ‘Bluey’ contract that they had to back a new Custard album? Whatever it takes these days! Anyway, works out well for me and all of their many fans.
No. 7* Morrissey – I Am Not A Dog On A Chain
“I am not a dog on a chain!” howls Morrissey in his endless quest to prove that he is eternally hard done by. Yes, not a lot has changed in the world of Moz except now that he has managed to alienate most of his fanbase with his mad ravings. Thankfully, he’s been a bit quieter on this front in 2020, mainly I guess because COVID put a halt to most things. I suppose at the end of the day I’m probably the only one who cares, most people wouldn’t even know who he is these days. The fear of irrelevance is something that I think spurs Steven Patrick so say the odd and very questionable things he does. Despite my complaints, I always return. Like the scorned lover bitching constantly to friends but running back as soon as the chance is given. He’s been too much a part of my life to walk away completely. Anyway, onto the music and I’m pleased to say that this is quite good. Certainly the most interesting and experimental thing Morrissey has done for a while maybe even ever and it actually works quite well. The album does have a few not-so-great tracks but I reckon there’s about 6 or 7 on here that are real standouts. Not sure what happens next with Morrissey though – he’s pretty much burnt all his bridges. One thing’s for sure though- it’s not his fault.
Morrissey – Once I Saw The River Clean (Lyric Video)
No. 6* RVG – Feral
Aussie rockers RVG came out of nowhere to land at number 6: ‘Lots of interesting themes in the songs and the lyrics are clever, cutting and fun’
This Aussie band I discovered on a review that I read somewhere and I’m glad I found them as I liked this a lot. There’s a definite nod to bands like Echo and The Bunnymen and the guitar sounds quite Marresque at times but they’re still distinctly Australian in their style. Lots of interesting themes in the songs and the lyrics are clever, cutting and fun. Most importantly though, the songs are great and RVG are a band I’ll definitely be following into the future.
No. 5* Cable Ties – Far Enough
This band not only have an awesome name but they play awesome music too. Cable Ties were recommended to me by a friend quite a while ago who gave me one of the early releases to listen to, might have even been their debut. I thought they sounded pretty raw but also good and made a mental note to look out for them in the future. Their new album came out this year and it really delivers on the potential they showed on their first. They have a punky and aggressive sound but they also have fantastic melodies, hooks and structure. Just a real cracker of an album from start to finish, love the frontwoman too with her passionate lyrics and left wing themes.
No. 4* Porridge Radio – Every Bad
This is one of the first albums I listened to this year and it ended up being one of the best. This sort of music is right up my alley – it has that dark, desperate edge plus the songs are great. The first thing I noticed about them is they have a lot of similarities to PJ Harvey, she’s definitely a heavy influence but of course for me that’s a good thing. Just a really strong album from start to finish.
Porridge Radio – Sweet (Official Video)
Now we come to the top 3, I’m only mentioning this because I think these 3 albums are real standouts in my list. The exciting thing for me is they’re all new bands. This is what always keeps me coming back every year as there’s always new things to discover, sometimes things that you end up absolutely loving.
No. 3* Idles – Ultra Mono
Idles(another band with an excellent name) have been around for a bit but this was the first time I’ve listened to them, in fact I didn’t really know about them. They kept coming up as a recommendation on my streaming service so I gave them a go. Just another shouty and loud English band I thought on first listen, however, I persisted and ended up really getting into this. Sometimes your devices know you better than you know yourself. These guys have a definite punk sound but they do have a bit of variety in their music too. They have great lyrics and smart themes which the singer screams and spits with complete vitriol. These words really are a nice and fun contrast to the conservative garbage that is dished up to us every day in our media and which is considered the norm. Heaps of passionate, loud, clever and aggressive songs. I’m sure the band would hate the crappy comparison but if I had to describe them I’d say they’re like a very nasty and intelligent Kaiser Chiefs! Awesome album.
IDLES – MODEL VILLAGE (Official Video)
No. 2* Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Sideways To New Italy
Greg had heard murmurs of RBCF but never had a chance to listen: ‘This year gave me the perfect opportunity as the band released their second album and I liked it instantly. They have quite an upbeat feel which is unusual for me, their lyrics are good but it’s more their music and catchiness that I’m in love with’
Another new band for me but I had actually heard of these guys even if I hadn’t heard their music. They got mentioned a bit on The Go-Betweens pages I’m on. The Go-Betweens are one of my favourite all-time bands so it was a fair assumption to think I’d like Rolling Blackouts too. This year gave me the perfect opportunity as the band released their second album and I liked it instantly. There’s a definite Go-Betweens influence but I wouldn’t say they sound exactly like them. They have quite an upbeat feel which is unusual for me, their lyrics are good but it’s more their music and catchiness that I’m in love with. They seem like talented musicians with multiple lead singers and guitarists and their solos are pretty cool. A bit War on Drugs-like but more of an Aussie style. I’ve since gotten into their back catalogue and have given their music a real flogging this year! Fantastic album with a couple of real classic tracks. I think a lot of my friends would like this.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Cars In Space (OFFICIAL VIDEO)
No. 1* Protomartyr – Ultimate Success Today
‘Welcome to my new favourite band’: Greg loves the fact Protomartyr’s frontman ‘likes a beer and a smoke, just happened to have a sing one day and found himself in front of an amazing band. ‘They have a dark post punk sound with some obvious influences but excellent songwriting’
Welcome everyone to my new favourite band – Protomartyr (another great name). Protomartyr, from Detroit, have been around for a while but I’d never heard of them till this year. Their album was highly rated and sounded like something I may like so I gave it a listen and I haven’t looked back. This is a real Greg Allan band, they have a dark post punk sound with some obvious influences but excellent songwriting and their own definite style. They also have a great lyrical message, brilliant dark indie guitar and lots of variety in their music. They also have a frontman who has a brilliant, commanding voice that reminds you a bit of Ian Curtis, Paul Banks or an early Nick Cave. He’s an older guy who likes a beer and a smoke, just happened to have a sing one day and found himself in front of an amazing band. I listened to this one to death in 2020 and was my fave for the year amongst a very high quality trio.
Protomartyr – Processed By The Boys
So there you have it, done for another year. It was a tough year for all but I’m really excited by some of these bands and I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts.
‘So there you have it, done for another year. It was a tough year for all but I’m really excited by some of these bands and I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts. Go Souths, Greg. Pictured: Protomartyr – Ultimate Success Today