Our Favorite Releases of 2020
What really caught XLR8R's ear?
Our Favorite Releases of 2020
What really caught XLR8R's ear?
By forcing the closure of live venues across the world, Covid-19 eradicated one of the primary forums to experience and promote club music, which makes up a large chunk of the electronic music landscape. In turn, this has shaken up label release schedules and radically changed our listening habits. Why make music for dancing if there’s nowhere to dance to it?
To some degree, music will always reflect what’s going on in the world and, in line with this, the popularity of downtempo music has grown this year, and 2020 has been exceptionally strong for releases in these slower sonic realms. Certainly at XLR8R, our attention has been drawn to music to actively listen to, and so we’ve swerved anything that feels too formulaic in favor of more contemplative work that’s perhaps not so instantly rewarding but more compelling and comforting. We’ve been fortunate enough to have found some records that will sit with us for a long, long time.
These are just some of those that have stood out over the past 12 months. This list could have been much longer, but we’ve whittled it down to our favorites. There’s sure to be something for everyone, whatever your taste.
LA Timpa Modern Antics in a Deserted Place (Halcyon Veil)
One of our most fascinating finds this year was Modern Antics In a Deserted Place, an album of outsider pop and experimental electronics released via Halcyon Veil by Nigerian-born songwriter LA Timpa, now based in Canada. Recalling left-field icons such as Daniel Jonson and Ariel Pink, the LP was memorable for its fascinating rejection of any one style, genre, or scene; instead, it seemed to live in its own bedroom-style dreamland as a pure and affecting creative outpouring.
CS + Kreme Snoopy (The Trilogy Tapes)
Snoopy was the fourth release from CS + Kreme on The Trilogy Tapes and their murkiest to date—and they released their fifth outing for the London label, howwouldyoufeelwithoutthatthought, last month. Across eight lengthy cuts, the duo, made up of Melbourne’s Conrad Standish and Sam Karmel, deliver a set of narcotic dub cuts that are as intoxicating as they are unnerving; and like most intoxicants, brace yourself for a comedown post-listen!
Laila Sakini Vivienne (Total Stasis)
Laila Sakini’s hypnotizing debut album on Los Angeles label Total Stasis sold out before we’d even picked it up. With seven courageous and tender earworms, focused on piano, vocals, and effects, the London-based Australian delivered a record drenched in profound a curious, lucid melancholy. Released in February, it was a fitting soundtrack to the year that followed.
SAULT UNTITLED (Black Is) + UNTITLED (Rise) (Forever Living Originals)
In the span of six months, music collective SAULT released two poignant alternative-soul and R&B full-lengths: UNTITLED (Black Is) and UNTITLED (Rise)—and both deserve a mention. The group is comprised of Inflo, Cleo Sol, and Kid Sister, plus various collaborators, and their work has become revered protest music. It displays a wide range in sound and poetic depth, and harks back to ’70s funk and soul. The project began in 2019 when the group released two album full-length albums in six months.
Jake Muir the hum of your veiled voice (sferic)
Recorded following a transitional move from Los Angeles to Berlin, Jake Muir’s sophomore LP, the hum of your veiled voice, is an immersive listen. Much like its dreamlike cover art, the album depicts a warped nighttime cityscape, fusing field recordings from his previous home base in California with enigmatic vocal samples and textures that seem to crawl through your senses, engulfing you in a blissful haze.
Jyoti Mama, You Can Bet! (SomeOthaShip Connect)
The musical genius of Georgia Anne Muldrow continued its expansion with Mama, You Can Bet!, her first album as Jyoti in seven years. The gorgeous cosmic jazz and avant-soul record has been programmed to echo emotional states Muldrow visits into sonic locations, “because the art of music production has a mirror-like quality that encourages that,” she says. It comes on her SomeOthaShip Connect imprint in partnership with eOne Music, and features rising New York-based sax player Lekecia Benjamin. The album’s beauty is amplified by two Charles Mingus covers.
Prophet Don’t Forget It (Stones Throw Records)
Until his debut album on Stones Throw in 2018, Prophet, an electro-funk musician from San Francisco, had only released a rogue LP titled Right On Time (1984, Treasure Records)—it did, however, gain him a nice following. Prophet then went missing for 30 years until Stones Throw’s founder, Peanut Butter Wolf, a long-time fan, met him by chance. He connected Prophet with Mndsgn, which resulted in them working together on Wanna Be Your Man, released via Stones Throw in 2018. His sophomore album followed this year, titled Don’t Forget It, and it displays his many funk-fuelled sounds across a staggering 16 tracks. Highly recommended listening.
Ulla Tumbling Towards a Wall (Experiences LTD.)
In a year full of high-quality ambient releases, Ulla’s Tumbling Towards a Wall stood out high above pretty much everything. Hypnotic and utterly spellbinding, the release employs gauzy textures, stoned beats, and loose, swaying instrumentation to soundtrack a year of self-reflection. Tumbling Towards a Wall was the painkiller we all needed this year. We can’t stop listening to “Soak” and “i think my tears have become good.”
Mica Levi Ruff Dog (Self-Released)
Following a handful of acclaimed film scores, and landing more than a decade on from their first release as the lead member of Micachu & The Shapes, Mica Levi released their debut solo album, Ruff Dog, just a week ago but it’s already etched itself deep within our psyche. A scuzzy collection of shoegaze punk, Ruff Dog is strangely alluring and cathartic, and it’s undoubtedly one of the most confounding releases we heard this year from an artist that revels in weirdly wonderful outsider music.
R.A.P. Ferreira Purple Moonlight Pages (Ruby Yacht)
Lyrical futurist and poet extraordinaire Rory Allen Phillip Ferreira released his first full-length album as R.A.P. Ferreira in March, having previously worked as Milo. Mixing hip-hop, live jazz-instrumentation, and beat poetry, Purple Moonlight Pages features Los Angeles trio The Jefferson Park Boys (Kenny Segal, Aaron Carmack, and Mike Parvizi), plus hip-hop heavyweights Open Mike Eagle and Mike Ladd. It came on Ferreira’s own Ruby Yacht label.
William Basinski Lamentations (Temporary Residence Ltd.)
William Basinski’s Lamentations LP follows in the form of other records in his canon, by utilizing old tape loops. Released on longstanding label Temporary Residence Ltd. this year, Lamentations is the latest brilliant addition to an already legendary legacy, constructed with the kind of soul crushing weight of Basinski’s most recognized work, The Disintegration Loops. It follows his On Time Out of Time solo LP from 2019, and arrived shortly after his collaborative debut with Preston Wendel, Sparkle Division.
Squarepusher Be Up A Hello (Warp Records)
Squarepusher, real name Tom Jenkinson, has been releasing ground-breaking music since the ’90s and his legacy pushed forward in 2020 with Be Up A Hello, his first album in five years. Available on Warp, the record is downright explosive, showcasing some of Jenkinson’s finest work in years. In abandoning the self-designed instruments of his previous album for creaking analogue synths, Jenkinson refreshed his creative palette and revisited the methods of making electronic music that made him fall in love with the genre all those years ago. There’s nobody else making music like Jenkinson, and Be Up A Hello underlined his legacy. (A special mention must also go to Lamental, the album’s follow-up EP, which reveals a contemplative side to the British artist’s work.)
For more information on Squarepusher, check out his in depth feature for XLR8R here.
Maarja Nuut & Ruum World Inverted (Ounaviks)
World Inverted is the second album collaboration of Estonian natives Maarja Nuut and Hendrik Kaljujärv (a.k.a Ruum), and it’s full of the same interesting textures and moods—it’s also arguably their deepest record to date. That being said, it possesses a softer and lighter touch than Muunduja, their previous record, while still embracing a dark and otherworldly ambience. World Inverted is a journey of hazy groove, laced with fragility and hope, but one certainly worth taking.
Armand Hammer Shrines (Backwoodz Studioz)
Armand Hammer, the hip-hop duo of Elucid and Billy Woods, released Shrines in June on Backwoodz Studioz. Expect vivid, raw lyricism backed by lush, vibrant production. The two assembled an array of pioneers from this era, including Quelle Chris, Moor Mother, Earl Sweatshirt, Navy Blu, Kenny Segal, and R.A.P. Ferreira, across 14 tracks of sizzling, alternative hip-hop. It’s the pair’s fourth album together.
Silicon Scally Crushed (Self-Released)
The hits just keep on coming with Carl Finlow, this time with Crushed under his Silicon Sally alias. Crushed features 15 tracks that run the gamut from laid-back funky grooves to twisted electro breaks. As always, Finlow flashes some darker sounds along the way, but even in the darkness there are insatiable atmospheres and rhythms to dig into. There aren’t many producers that can so consistently push out albums of such high-quality, and Crushed is sure to get even the laziest electro lovers off their couch. Finlow went all-in on this one and it has barely left our speaker stacks.
Actress Karma & Desire (Ninja Tune)
The people’s choice, it seems, but Darren Jordan Cunningham’s seventh album is deserving of its accolades. The album’s cryptic pre-cursor, a self-released mixtape of compressed sonics, served as a stark contrast to Karma & Desire‘s gleaming low-slung house and reverb-laden piano jams. It features vocal contributions from the likes of Sampha, Aura T-09, and Christel Well, and is well worth a listen.
Mary Lattimore Silver Ladders (Ghostly International)
Los Angeles harpist Mary Lattimore released Silver Ladders, a collaboration with Slowdive’s Neil Halstead, in October. Recorded over nine days at Halstead’s studio stationed on an old airfield, the release comprises sprawling layers of harp accented by flourishes of low-end synth and Halstead’s guitar, and its intimate beauty lies in the contrast of light and dark. Listening through is an enthralling and nourishing experience.
Wylie Cable Shimmer, Then Disappear (Dome of Doom)
Los Angeles staple Wylie Cable shared his eighth full-length album in September, titled Shimmer, Then Disappear. It’s the Dome of Doom label head’s most complex, vivid, and futuristic electronic record of a stellar career, spanning IDM, downtempo, lo-fi house, jungle, modern classical, and even more. It’s an “encyclopaedia of 21st-century sound,” the label says. The release follows Cable’s Lemniscate album, released in 2019.
Session Victim Needle Drop (Night Time Stories)
Masters of deep groove, Session Victim returned in 2020 with their latest album, Needle Drop. This time, the duo—made up of German artists Hauke Freer and Matthias Reiling—experiment with downtempo and jazz, while paying homage to the trip-hop stylings of Portishead and the sample-based artistry of DJ Shadow and Nightmares on Wax. The album, although possibly surprising to many fans of the pair’s more straight house outings, is one of their finest; expect a chill-inducing collection of cuts that sound like the signature Session Victim sound has been melted down and put back together again at half-speed.
Check out Session Victim’s XLR8R podcast here, a session of all-vinyl.
Gaika Seguridad (N.A.A.F.I)
In July, Brixton, London favorite Gaika released Seguridad, a soul-shattering fusion of dancehall, trap, grime, and deconstructed club that he made while on tour in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. It lands on N.A.A.F.I, and features hard-hitting tunes made in collaboration with several members of the Mexico label, including Lao, Zutzut, TAYHANA, Wasted Fates, OMAAR, and Lechuga Zafiro.
Space Afrika hybtwibt? (Self-Released)
The latest mixtape from Joshua Inyang and Joshua Reid is a profoundly moving experience, both intensely captivating and insular. Somewhat swerving the Manchester duo’s experimental dub composition, hybtwibt is more cinematic, playing out like a series of lucid daydreams. It leans heavily on field recordings, and explicitly references the need for social action surrounding Black liberation. The pair recorded it in the early hours between May 31 and June 3, extracting material from a recent NTS transmission. Fittingly, all revenues are donated to Black Lives Matter causes.
Autechre SIGN + PLUS (Warp Records)
Rob Brown and Sean Booth are constantly redefining their sound with extremes in mind. Whether it be the number of discs across a release or with the methodical approach they apply when collaborating, the Warp mainstays always find a way to explore new sonic tapestries and take people on an adventure. Their first full-length of 2020, SIGN, was the latest step in this grand voyage and an amalgamation of decades spent dedicated to their craft. It’s also slightly more melodic and accessible than their previous material. They followed it with PLUS, nine more tracks of murky ambience pulled from the same sessions. How do you maintain such quality over such a sustained career?
Yves Tumor Heaven for a Tortured Mind (Warp Records)
Just how do you follow up the brilliance of 2018’s Safe In The Hands of Love? Sean Bowie answered that question with aplomb this year, releasing Heaven for a Tortured Mind, a new album of bonkers psych-rock as Yves Tumor. The record sounds fresh yet classic, and it’s both infectiously charismatic and entirely singular in its voice. “Kerosene” is a pick for the year’s best track. Yves Tumor can do no wrong.
Thundercat It Is What it Is (Brainfeeder)
Bass virtuoso and singer-songwriter Thundercat launched his new full-length album, It is What It Is, in April on Brainfeeder. Dominated by a deep love for video games, animé, and ’80s music, the release reminds us just how important Thundercat’s music is as the world continues to fall apart. The album was produced alongside Flying Lotus, and its features include Ty Dolla $ign, Childish Gambino, Lil B, Kamasi Washington, Steve Lacy, Steve Arrington, BADBADNOTGOOD, Louis Cole, and Zack Fox. It’s drenched in funk, and Thundercat’s first album since 2017’s Drunk.
Babyxsosa BabyXObama (1602599 Records DK)
In May, Virginia rapper BabyxSosa released BabyXObama, a cohesive display of her woozy, melodic hip-hop. Her angelic voice compliments her skills in rap, and she doesn’t seem to miss, especially on first track “Kobe.” And the closing track, “Down,” could make even the toughest onion cry. Once you hit play, you’ll forget that you ran through the EP 10 times already.
Knxwledge 1988 (Stones Throw Records)
1988 is the follow up to Knxwledge’s official debut album, Hud Dreems, which he released in 2015. The album draws its name because it was created that year, and the beats were stored on floppy discs. Knxwledge, real name Glen Earl Boothe, revisited them at the beginning of the year, taking them to his studio where he finished them up and mixed them. Expect 22 tracks of skits and fine instrumental hip-hop.
Autumn! LLS Verront
XLR8R stumbled upon Autumn! (a.k.a Twinuzis) last year through his ##R3 ##R3 EP, and we expected nothing less than heat with LLS Verront. The cover art, with its black and white simplicity and messages of fame, fortune, and police brutality, rounds off a powerful release of modern rap. It’s on songs like “Moncleez” and “Girl from the Club” that Autumn! exhibits such great finesse over all his cadences and flows, but you can feel a raw emotion across the full album.
Theo Parrish Wuddaji (Sound Signature)
Theo Parrish, a Detroit house icon, added to a bustling discography with another stellar album in September, following 2014’s American Intelligence. Its nine tracks are exactly what you’d expect: minimal, jazz-fused house jams of the very highest order that’ll make you want dance around your living room in your slippers, or just jam out on a lazy Sunday morning. This is how house music should sound, and we can’t wait to hear it in a club! “This Is For You,” with its killer Maurissa Rose vocal, is a standout.