We’re just about at the halfway stage of this very strange year. I hope everyone and your friends and families have got through the past few months unscathed, although I don’t think we’re out of the water just yet. But now seems as good a time as any to look back on what have been your favourite albums so far, and what have been the disappointments. We’ve just had a few outstanding years for new music, 2017 in particular, so it’s no surprise that 2020 has already seen lots of very good new albums and, in my opinion, a couple of outstanding ones from a pair of seasoned campaigners.
Bob Dylan has just released what is probably his best album for decades. I’m expecting it to win all the album of the year awards in December. But it’s Marc Almond’s Chaos and a Dancing Star which is leading the way for me. It is absolutely fantastic. He said it was going to be his final album, but I hope he was kidding, as he has said things like this before. It’s the second album he has made with producer and co-writer Chris Braide, after 2015’s equally fantastic The Velvet Trail. If you haven’t heard these two albums yet, I urge you to do so. I think they are the best two albums of Almond’s career.
Another artist who is having a great run deep into his career (not quite as deep as Dylan and Almond, mind) is Damien Jurado, and I think What’s New, Tomboy? is his best one since Rehearsals For Departure. Joe Pernice has spent lockdown making a new solo (naturally!) acoustic record which he released through his website last week. It’s called Richard and it’s lovely. And Norah Jones’ new album, Pick Me Up Off The Floor, is one of her best.
When not listening to hundreds of reggae and jazz albums (my latest fads!) I am also enjoying The Weeknd’s new one, although it doesn’t hit the heights of Starboy. Ghostpoet has made a welcome return and his new one is growing on me with every listen. And Isobel Campbell has returned with one of the best of her career. Morrissey has followed up a great covers album with his best album of new material for some time, despite getting more detestable every time he opens his mouth. I’m also enjoying the new ones by Dom & Roland, Thievery Corporation and Nicolas Godin, whose album is sort of Air-lite, as I guess you’d expect. And if dark ambience is your thing, Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts V: Together is brill.
A few new (to me) artists have impressed me, not least Jhené Aiko with Chilombo, which is one of my favourites of the year so far. Moses Sumney’s græ has been getting repeated listens as well, as has Alpha & Omega’s new one (along with their rich back catalogue).
In the world of rap, I don’t think I’ve yet heard the best album of the year. Or at least I hope I haven’t! There have been some good ones, but nothing yet that has blown my socks off. Elaquent’s Forever Is A Pretty Long Time is the pick of the bunch, although from what I’ve heard so far, the ever reliable Apollo Brown’s new one with Che’ Noir is going to trump it. Ras Kass’s group, Jamo Gang, have released a pretty good album, Walking With Lions, and I’ve also enjoyed the albums from Rhys Langston, Ka, Eleven & Jason D, Boldy James & The Alchemist and R.A.P. Ferreira. Closer to home, Wiley’s Boasty Gang, is the better of his two new albums, and the new one by the UK rap supergroup, The Four Owls, has taken them up a notch, with a little help from big hitters like DJ Premier, Kool G Rap and Roc Marciano. And Skepta has maintained his high standards on his new record with Chip & Young Adz.
The only real disappointment for me this year is the Roger & Brian Eno collaboration. It’s good, but I was expecting a little more. Oh, and whatever possessed Chris Lowe to think using bits of The Wedding March in the final track of the new Pet Shop Boys album is beyond me. They haven’t misfired much throughout their career, but I thought it spoiled what had been a good album.
So what have been your favourites and disappointments so far?