Good music for a shitty year.
What a clusterfuck, innit? 2020 has been a shitty year for most of us, including me, for reasons that we all share and others known to me only. It’s had an influence on the music I listened to. Nothing too doomy, nothing too dark, nothing too aggressive, most of what I listened to, if not always uplifting, evoked light, positive feelings – yes, melancholia can be positive. So, most of the music that found grace to my ears I considered to be positive. Albums I could dream to, travel to, escape to. That doesn’t mean it was composed to be or that everyone will find it so. Music, like all art forms, is eminently subjective. And writing a top is a very subjective and egoistic exercise.
But man, how much awesome music has been dropped on us this year? No way I could have listened to everything that deserved it, even in the small part of music that More Fuzz covers. Of those I listened to, some great albums just didn’t stick. I simply forgot about them. Others stuck. Most of them you’ll find below.
So, here is my top 202020, but only the first 10 are ranked because I’m lazy. I hope you’ll like some of those albums, appreciate what I have to say about them, and make them yours. I’ll see you in front of the stage soon enough.
10. Mother’s Cake – Cyberfunk!
The grooviest, fastest album of the top. Mother’s Cake is in the middle of too many influences to be listed – Garage fuzz, punk, funk, pop, just pure rock & roll,… Reminiscent of bands like The Oh Sees or one of the many Ty Segall bands, yet even more varied, at least within the course of just one album. Yeah, I know that sounds impossible. It apparently isn’t. Your go-to party album to shake a bit that body of yours. Only headbanging won’t get you those sweet moves. And listen to the bass. That player is a monster. The album deserves a room in my top just for dat bass.
For the eclectics, the mixers, the joyous, the dancers.
9. Kanaan – Odense Sessions
Kanaan has gratified us with two albums this year, Double Sun, a “traditional” (as far as this word can apply here) album, and The Odense Sessions, which is basically a recorded jam. And as a filthy hippie, I like jam sessions, which is why I selected this one and not the other. Plus, it features Jonas Munk (from Causa Sui) on guitar. Of course, this is very laid back psych instrumental music, with songs 8 to 15 mins, so you better be ready, have time in front of you, this is not the kind of album you will just have a favorite song and move on. Separations between the tracks are mostly aesthetic. It has to be treated as one piece, as you would a classical symphony, tracks are just movements in a whole.
For resting the soul.
8. Caspian – On Circles
Not a fuzzy album. Bless the editorial freedom at More Fuzz. Pure post-rock, the best album I’ve heard in the genre in years, couldn’t possibly avoid featuring it in my top. Almost purely instrumental as befits a true exploration of one’s feelings. Because that’s what we’re talking about, a very moody album that will delightfully escort your post-2020 depression as it has mine during the whole year. But as Camus would say, being depressed isn’t enough, you have to revolt. This album also features the revolt. Its music gives you a reason to endure and to move on, with passion. I went far, I know. That’s the power of good post-rock.
7. Psychlona – Venus Skytrip
In the realm of spacey heavy stoner, the year was far from empty, with new albums from Yuri Gagarin & King Buffalo. Yet strangely none of these made a lasting impression, contrary to Venus Skytrip. First off, Psychlona’s music is a bit heavier than those bands I mentioned, catchier. The riff is the master, and it’s all-encompassing. Listen to “Blow” and tell me these guys haven’t understood stoner. Both heavy and trippy, just how I like it. It even gets a bit doomish from time to time, slowing the pace, just enough so you can get a bit of rest before embarking on another spaceship ride.
For space truckers.
6. Par Asito – Singularity
Another krautrock album from Mexico in my top. Another space-themed album. For better coherence, with titles like “Accretion disc” or “Event Horizon”, the album is, literally, a trip to distant stars. With a vertebrae-breaking motorik rhythm base like all good kraut, but also a real freedom within the guitar parts that are closer to Earthless jams than the usual soft building of classic krautrock. As a result, it’s also faster and catchier. Fully instrumental, too. In space, no one can hear you sing. If you’re a jam-addled heavy hippie like me, you’re in for your money. Just let yourself fall into the black hole, it has been proven they also reject information, so there’s no telling in which state you’ll emerge after listening to the album, but you will.
For those who liked Interstellar despite the movie’s many flaws.
5. Lord Buffalo – Tohu Wa Bohu
Not really stoner nor fuzzy, this album delves in folk, post-rock, and Americana, creating a charming melancholic atmosphere. The reverberated voice pleasingly echoes with the often saturated guitars, there’s keyboard, violin, all creating a sad yet warm ambient. Each song has a unique identity, yet fits perfectly with the rest of the album. A wonderful piece. I don’t really know how to describe it, honestly, because I’ve never really listened to Nick Cave or Tom Waits, to whom Lord Buffalo is compared a lot in what I read. But maybe you did, so you know what to expect. With more instruments, that is. Just listen to it, even if you don’t like it, you won’t have wasted your time.
For mildly depressed grown-ups.
4. Sei Still – S/T
Krautrock from Mexico, again. Even if the band has apparently relocated to Berlin. Their music really builds around a simple gimmick, adding stuff as the song goes along, which is kind of a common theme for most of the albums in this top – a simple basis but a whole lot of things going around it. The motorik rhythm is without flaw, slow, and restless. The music puts me in a pretty far out state, it slows my brain activity, I find myself in a relaxed, tranquil, peaceful state. It has a psychoactive effect on me, a soft drug I enjoy from time to time, leaving me in a better state to deal with reality.
For repetitive sound junkies.
3.SLIFT – UMMON
Yes, all in capitals. What a beast of an album. Considering these guys are French and hailing from Toulouse, which I also am, they should have landed first, but then I would have been accused of favoritism or god knows that probably would have started a flame war on Twitter that would have resulted in global annihilation, so it’s 3 for them. Nevertheless, what an album. 80 minutes of pure golden hyperspace travel, alternating between raw energetic heavy riffing and spaced out spreads coming from higher planes, always accompanied by a god-level rhythmic part. Yes, rhythmic parts are important to me, you should have guessed by now. More than an album, it’s a celebration, a ritual summoning the vastness of space, both warm and full of life on the one hand, cold and empty on the other.
SLIFT is the new Hawkwind. There. Hot take. A bit heavier, we’re in 2020 for Christ’s sake. Listen to this album, and if the first time you’re not convinced it’s pure genius, listen to it again. The epiphany will come.
For believers in cosmic entities.
2. Helicon – This Can Only Lead To Chaos
As the band themselves would say, a prophetic title for an album released in January 2020. I’ve always been a sucker for music that achieved to mix a very hypnotic rhythm line (krautrock style), overly saturated guitars, and neo-psychedelia. Helicon is just that, plus sitar, so it was written, I had to love this album. Listen to the first song, Sound Of Confession, which is just a slow ascent into saturated madness, it’s beautiful. The rest of the album is just that, an ascent (and not a descent) into beautiful, colored, carefree madness, when society crumbles and we’re free at last. Well, that’s my interpretation. The band would probably have something else to say. But isn’t that the magic with music? Sometimes, music just speaks to one’s soul. Helicon speaks to mine. It vibrates in harmony with my being. It makes me a better person.
For good fucking noise.
1. Lowrider – Refractions
Refractions is the stoner rock album I didn’t know I needed. It came out of nowhere as a great surprise and was my soundtrack for the year. Highly versatile, 20 years in the making, it is a summary of what stoner at its core has to offer; between energetic punk-inspired desert rock and atmospheric dreamy space rock, all down a few octaves. I often say that the good thing with stoner is that you can adapt most “rock” music to sound stoner. This album is a living proof of just that. It’s not that original, but it’s perfectly crafted, encompassing what stoner should sound like. What a Kyuss album released today would sound like. Some might say it lays on the softer side of things. Maybe, but as I said in the introduction, I only listened to soft things this year, so… On another note, I always find myself in awe of the sound of this album – it has to be appreciated cranked at 11 on the biggest possible sound system to notice how LOW it is, and I’m talking hertz. One of those days, I will ask Lowrider how they managed that. In the meantime, I will get a beer, lay under the sun, and play it way too loud again. A record for the ages.
For those who like their walls to vibrate.
11-20 in alphabetical order
Each of them could be 11th or 20th depending on the time you ask me. Maybe they’re all equally good, maybe I suck at ranking, who cares, it’s good stuff anyway.
Causa Sui – Szabodelico
The best jazz-jams-joy psychedelic band in the world is back at it. Every one of their albums is a gem for anyone with a decent taste in freely interpreted music. However, this one didn’t catch me as much as their 2013 (already, fuck) masterpiece, Euporie Tide. Maybe it’s too free jazz for me. Maybe it came out too late in the year. Maybe my tastes have just evolved. Still one of the best bands out there.
For intellectual hippies.
Colour Haze – We Are
All Colour Haze albums are to be mentioned. For this one, the creators of heavy psych went from a power trio to a 4 people band with the addition of long time collaborator Jan Faszbender on keyboard. This addition can be heard throughout the album, with the keyboard often doubling down on the guitar for a deeper sound. Overall, the album gets back to a rawer, heavier sound as featured on albums All & Tempel (2006-08) without neglecting the evolutions the band has gone through in 15 years. As always with Colour Haze, the album is great, more complex than it appears, with light touches that put together result in an altogether different album than anything they did before. That being said, it didn’t resonate enough with my inner self to make the top 10. It happens. On another note, the band recently announced it was parting ways with its bassist of forever, Philipp Rasthofer. I take the occasion to wish him godspeed. Whoever will be replacing him has a big gap to fill.
Deftones – Ohms
After the slightly disappointing Gore, Deftones are back with their best album in a while (some say since White Pony, but they tend to mysteriously disappear). Heavy stuff. Unforgiving riffing and mixing. No compromises. Soft and Thumping. Meek and violent. No. More. Sentences. Just. Words. Now. Lovers will love, haters will hate.
For sensitives under influence.
Elephant Tree – Habits
The most wholesome doom band is back, confirming all the good we thought of them back in 2016 when they released their eponymous album. I call their sound “Happy Doom”. It’s slow and melancholic but puts a smile on your lips. Well, at least on mine, I may be twisted. The album features real catchers like “Sails” and “Birds” which will remain engraved in your head.
For “Live Slow, Die Whenever” enthusiasts.
Ellis/Munk Ensemble – San Diego Sessions
Third -and last, I promise- album featuring Jonas Munk from Causa Sui in this top. What can I say, the guy’s a prodigy. This time he goes West Coast to jam with friends, and the result is a non-ending delirium of psychedelic fury. With lots of organ. Sometimes difficult to follow but top-level mind-bending melody.
For raving mad hatters.
Howard – Obstacle
An energetic power trio where the organ makes up for the bass. I know, I myself have trouble believing I’m actually saying this, but it works. A tribute to the 70s with a touch of heavy metal, and a lot of groove. Makes you want to dance your heart out! When it slows down, it’s only to kick up again, even rawer, even louder. Also, I saw them live in September and it felt so fucking good. So mentioning them here is also a form of thank you for that wonderful moment which I had nearly forgotten could exist.
For loud organ aficionados.
Karkara – Nowhere Land
Another French band from Toulouse that deserves to be heard. Nowhere Land is their second EP in a year and confirmed all the good I thought of them (check out my review & interview right here). Their psychedelic garage fuzz under middle eastern influence delivers a journey to faraway lands that the Dopesmoker cover art wouldn’t deny. The music is fast, obsessive, trance-inducing, shamanic. Also, they’ve got a didgeridoo.
For desert roamers.
The Kundalini Genie – 11:11
Sitar! Neo-Psychedelia! Glasgow! Feel a vibe? Yes, they’re pretty close to Helicon, but not quite the same. The Kundalini Genie doesn’t have this dark madness you sense in Helicon. They’re more wholesome. So I was bound to love them. Plus there’s that song called Can’t get you out of my mind that just grabbed my soul, made me think of Desert Mountain Tribe (RIP) which is one of my favorite bands ever, so I lost it and engulfed myself in pure nostalgia. The pace is often slow, the voice far, it’s all a reverie anyway, one you don’t want to wake up from.
For wistful dreamers.
Mythic Sunship – Changing Shapes
The most saxophonic psychedelic band is back with another live album, recorded in 2019 at Roadburn. I was there, so I had no choice but to feature it on my top. Plus, Mythic Sunship is definitely one of the best psychedelic rock bands out there. Their album Another Shape of Psychedelic Music rocked the modern psychedelia world, so bold, so original… And on stage, they had Soren Skov, a world-class sax player, who adds his maestria to an already great-sounding band. They said it while playing, as this was recorded they were supposed to be a little more organized but got carried away. The result is a sensational album for those who like creative music.
For more saxophones.
Yawning Man – Live at Giant Rock
Yawning Man is a live band. There, their songs can extend into odysseys, each of them a trip through space and time. They made a great choice releasing this live recording in audio format because it’s their best album yet. The crystalline guitar of Gary Arce echoes in the nothingness. The dirty bass of Mario Lalli (whom I interviewed, check it out over there) resonates on the desert ground. Everything is as it should, resting but restless. Generator party experience available for all.
For California dreamers.
Favorite Gigs 2020:
Haha! Nearly got you didn’t I? Fuck 2020.