Choice Albums of 2020: Part Two (F – N)

December 10, 2020

Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea

Welcome to part two of the Monolith Cocktail’s choice favourite albums of 2020 three-parter.

Because we’ve never seen the point in arguing the toss over numerical orders, or even compiling a list of the best of albums of the year, the Monolith Cocktail’s lighter, less competitive and hierarchical ‘choice albums’ features have always listed all entrants in alphabetical order. We also hate separating genres and so everybody in these features, regardless of genre, location, shares the same space.

Void of points systems and voting, the Monolith Cocktail team selection is pretty transparent: just favourites and albums we all feel you, our audience, should check out. Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver and Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea have made the selections this year.


Forest Robots ‘After Geography’
(Wormhole World)

With a deep connective respect to the landscapes this intrepid mountaineer and sonic explorer has scaled and traversed, Fran Dominguez as Forest Robots provided a subtly evocative safe space in the most tumultuous of times this year.

When all the elements of a virus epidemic and the ongoing tensions of Black Lives Matter mix with the divisive rage of social media and fake news, the only tool we have left to navigate the storm of constant faux-outrage is “intuition”. Put both together, as the California-based trekker Dominguez has done, and you get a most beautifully subversive ambient soundtrack; a tenderly produced sonic psychogeography of both the synthesized and naturalistic, a million miles away from the hubbub and stress of the online world. A sort of self-help guide for contemplation and rest you could say, the softened bobbing and trickled piano notes and gently blowing winds washing over the listener with just enough depth and interest to transport them to the awe-inspiring landmarks of nature.

An escapist sonic cartography that breaths in the influences of Roedelius, Boards Of Canada, Erik Satie, Harold Budd, Nils Frahm and Small Craft On A Milk Sea era Eno, this album covers the terrain in a gauze of delicate resonance, notation and obscured woody movements. It’s nothing less than a most wonderful, immersive and subtle transformative escape, and one of the year’s best ambient albums. (Dominic Valvona) Read In Full.


Mike Gale
‘The Star Spread Indefinite’

The former Co-Pilgrim and Black Nelson instigator Mike Gale may have retired from performing live some time ago now, but he’s still been highly prolific in recording (even through lockdown). Using his trusty 32-track TASCAM cassette recorder, in just the last 18 months Gale has released the Pacific Ocean lulled sorrowed album, Summer Deluxe, a recent compilation of (far from) unfinished works and B-side paeans and breezes entitled B, C, D Side Volume 1, and a lockdown mini-album, Sunshine For The Mountain God. And with his most recent acoustic-led songbook, Gale furnishes us with the astral dreamy entitled, The Star Spread Indefinite.

With soothing élan and shimmery dreaminess, Gale aches and wistfully fights through the disappointment, knock backs and anxiety to lift himself above it all with the repeated mantras of “I’ll get my wish”, or, “This year I’m going to make it.”

Gale evokes a harmonious gauzy soundtrack wash of The Beach Boys; the Laurel Canyon dappled loveliness of Marc Eric; a beachside relocated epic45; and a meeting between Roger Bunn and Sparklehorse on what is a very personal, reflective songbook. (DV) Read In Full

Maalam Mahmoud Gania ‘Aicha’
(Hive Mind Records)

After various cultural excursions in South America, Arabia and West Java, Hive Mind Records went full circle to the “Gnawa” music that launched them, with a striking reissue package of the beatific Aicha album by the form’s late great doyen Maalam Mahmoud Gania. It was of course Gania’s final studio album Colours Of The Night that first kicked off the label a few years ago. Now, picking up on that saintly venerating Moroccan music again, and in collaboration with Gania’s family, the label chose a moment of great turmoil (you could say it was a calm, healing balm just when we needed it most) to release a previously shrouded 90s cassette tape of entrancing communion and invocations from an artist rightly celebrated for pushing the Islamic spiritual devotional poetry, dance and musical form of Gnawa beyond his hometown of Essaouira to an international audience.

Aicha, itself a reference to “she of many monikers”, a powerful female entity with untold mythical origins, is rich with the anticipated quivery strums and throbbing tensions of Gania’s “gumbari” – a camel-skin covered three-string lute. Bowed, stringy and incessant, but gentler and deeper than his playing on Colours Of The Night, Gania’s signature instrument weaves a nice bluesy accompaniment to his soulful exaltations. As always Gania’s gumbari lead is joined by the scuttled, scratchy tin paddled percussive rhythm of the iron castanets, the “krakebs”. It all makes for a lively but soothing liturgy of entrancing adulation and praise: a safe spiritual space away from the hubbub and divisive mud slinging.  (DV) Read In Full

Gunn-Truscinski Duo ‘Soundkeeper’
(Three Lobed Recordings)

Swirling around in a vaporous pool – quite literally, with two of the recordings improvised at the Union Pool in Brooklyn – the untethered drum and guitar duo of John Truscinski and foil Steve Gunn drift, linger and leave ripples of shimmering jazz, cosmic country, prog and Kosmische style immersions on their fourth album together. They sail across a burnished topographic ocean as they evoke hints of Yonatan Gat, Ash Ra Temple, Rhyton, Raül Refree, Dirt Music, and a Peter Green led vision of Pink Floyd on the UFO oscillated, wafted dreamy ‘Distance’. Continuous waves, stirrings and often beautifully created circular loops birth a mesmerizing soundtrack of mystery, space age moseying, howled desert blues vistas and caustic crescendos. An interlocking but also freely explorative combo, Gunn’s ever-evolving, moving and ramped up guitar fills the space as Truscinski’s cymbal shimmers and splashes, paddling toms and rolls weave in and out of consciousness and the atmospheric shroud. An incredible set of peregrinations and articulations. (DV)


Hallelujah!  ‘Wanna Dance’
(Maple Death Records)

From the caustic, abrasive noise raises a limbering fucked-up no wave punk contortion you can dance to: Within reason and with the use of heavy opioids and imagination. Having discarded the lead guitar for that most rudimentary but beloved of early synths, the Korg MS20, Verona’s disruptive Hallelujah! put a real (di)stress on their main motivator; cranking up and pulling the dials until the lift off and scream into a vortex.

Pared down to a trio, after one of the troupe quit, this industrial unit collide with early Mute Records, DAF, Peter Kernel and The Pop Group on an heavy strength album of seedy scuzz and Italo-grime-y disdain. Sung, hysterically and with disruptive sneering petulance, in English you can’t mistake the reactionary spite and goofed erraticism of letting off steam. And if you do, a track title such as ‘Burka For Everyone’ will soon set you straight. Anyway, it forces its way into and occupies the brain, before leaving its scorched marks with a quick spasm of disruptive jerk-off punked and retro-synth dance chaos.

Rome might well be burning, but Verona’s disgruntled angst noiseniks just fucking “wanna dance”. (DV) Read In Full


Jon Hassell ‘Seeing Through Sound (Pentimento Volume Two)’

Progenitor of the borderless and amorphous evocatively traced, hazy dream experiments, Jon Hassell’s transmogrified nuzzling trumpet and sonic soundscape textures have inspired a generation of artists over the last forty odd years. The composer and trumpet player’s pathway, from adroit pupil of Stockhausen to seminal work on Terry Riley’s harangued piano guided In C, encompassed an polygenesis of influences: a lineage that draws inspiration from avant-garde progenitors like La Monte Young, and travels far and wide, absorbing sounds from Java to Burundi. Hassell attempted a reification of what he would term the “fourth world”; a style that reimagined an amorphous hybrid of cultures; a merger between the traditions and spiritualism of the third world (conceived during the “cold war” to denote any country that fell outside the industrious wealthier West, and not under the control of the Soviet Empire) and the technology of the first.

Though he has continued to produce futuristic amorphous peregrinations, his back catalogue has in more recent years been rediscovered through various reissues. As a companion piece to the first in the Pentimento series of albums, 2018’s Listening To Pictures suite, a second volume, Seeing Through Sound, was released this year. Pentimento is defined as the “reappearance in a painting of earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and painted over”; a process, a layering of coats that is reflected musically on this ghostly visage of an experimental vision.

Touching on all the various Hassell signatures there’s the foggy-headed mysterious lurking, fanning rayed, early Can metronomic ‘Fearless’ (one of my favourite tracks of 2020); the shroud of mysterious voices and reverberating avant-garde stretched, ripples in the fabric blues of ‘Unknown Wish’; and suffused trumpet blown, tingled creeps across a fretboard shivering deep space probe ‘Lunar’ to all comprehend and be unfathomed. A startling piece of work from beginning to end, with Hassell sounding just as relevant and cosmically amorphous as he has always done. (DV)

Holy Hive ‘Float Back To You’
(Big Crown Records)

The year’s most laid back and sweetest album of soulful folk, the debut songbook from the drumming session veteran Homer Steinweiss and his foil, troubadour-guitarist-with-the-most-exquisite-falsetto, Paul Spring is utterly beguiling and gorgeous. Roping in the carefully placed and lightly resonating deep bass playing caresses of Joe Harrison to makeup the Holy Hive project, the trio take their session and live absorptions of such new-soul acolytes as Lee Childs and Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings to the Laurel Canyon and dappled light pastures of England’s 60s beat music stages.

Covering the romantic plaintive delicate brilliance of the all-too-forgotten Honeybus, whilst reimaging Marvin Gaye fronting The Byrds, the Hive float dreamily to a Motown Fleet Foxes, out-on-the-range Bacharach, suffused and serenaded sun-bleached horns, and an air of late Beatles. Steinweiss’s backbeat often evokes the El Michaels Affair or Mark Ronson’s R&B soul productions, whilst Spring’s guitar eases into a wistful lilt, and his vocals, well they evoke everything from Smokey Robinson to the Zombies and Californian doo wop. A magical album for fans of the soul-indie set such as Brain Story and Karate Boogaloo, but much, much better.  (DV)

Homeboy Sandman ‘Don’t Feed The Monster’
(Mello Music Group)

The affable New Yorker Homeboy Sandman seems to have trained his rhymes to fit beats even more perfectly – topical, personal, never dumbed down, never over-scientific, always well read, within well spaced bars you feel you can rap along to. However, that he starts with the revealing review of the human condition on ‘Trauma’ shows that it’s not all plain sailing, verifying the album’s educational aspect for both listeners and himself as the ‘Monster’ in the room becomes a symbol for self-assessment. By no means a bad look right now, investigations continue, detailing how to handle yourself on ‘Stress’ and ‘Don’t Look Down’, and bubbling up into ‘Biters’, lashing out at all thieves and opportunists. His always entertaining domestic travails continue, keeping his head above water on the sweetly awkward ‘Alone Again’, while the biggest compliment you can pay ‘Waiting On My Girl’ is that the good natured clockwatching and eye-rolling is ripe for an answer record. Quelle Chris on production is both kindred spirit and wayward foil with an ear for ramshackle tangents and the off-road, but is always in sync for what is arguably Sandman’s best album to date.  (Matt Oliver)


The Icebergs ‘Add Vice’
(Imaginator Records)

Beautifully strange is the only way to describe this marvelous album of pure poetic bliss. What grabs me from the off are the wonderful lyrics (an art form much ignored in the music biz today). Lyrical streams of them flowing weaving beautiful, frightening heart-breaking images throughout, bringing the early works of Patti Smith and PJ Harvey in a mellow mood to mind and musically reminding me of Nick Cave’s band of merry men, the Bad Seeds, rockabilly folk, the Velvet’s guitar pop and the sounds of late Seventies no-wave, all merging to form a canvas for the poet Jane LeCroy to paint beautifully vivid pictures with her wonderful prose and wonderful voice. (Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea) Read In Full

Idiot Blur Fanboy ‘Oasis Are The Enemy’
(Wormhole World) 

Nepotism time again, with the second Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea entry in this year’s features (see part one), this time under the needling Brit-pop alter ego of Idiot Blur Fanboy. Brian’s latest dysfunctional and despondent Tascam rubber-band four-track triumph Oasis Are The Enemy pours a bucket of cold sick over not only the sorry excuse for a Ruttles tribute band but their mockney middleclass rivals Blur. But this isn’t just an obsessive ranting diatribe – even if the George Formby meets Mark E Smith twat-gait breezy ‘Liam Gallagher’ ditty is an excuse to take a pop: “Walks like he shat himself, sings like a spud” -; more a title and lyric that encapsulates the sorry state of the music industry and pockets of fandom still living in a recent past.

The rest of Brian’s ruminations and idiosyncratic observed, musical inspirations littered diy poetry concerns love-lost resignation, electric-soup connoisseurs of lethal strong lager, wistful remorse, regret and even a tinge of that nostalgia. ‘Cabbage Patch Doll Kiss’ is in the melancholic romantic vogue; a cantering malady with some of the album’s best lines (and there are many): “My hat was a garden, now it’s a rubbish tip. You were the captain of my favourite bath ship.” –Syd Barret eat your heart out. The wisdom of a St. Helens Daniel Johnston or Dan Treacy on the dole, the stripped down Idiot Blur Fanboy album is a triumph of lo fi integrity in an age in which all the counterculture and underground ‘mutherfuckers’ have disappeared into mediocrity or under the fleeting caviler relationship of streaming. Someone cares though, and for that they deserve your support and pocket money. Let’s see what we can do to keep such genuine mavericks afloat. (DV) Read In Full

Irreversible Entanglements ‘Who Sent You?’
(International Anthem)

A conscious freeform entanglement of barely contained anger, stresses and contortions from an ensemble formed off the back of a Musicians Against Police Brutality gig five years, the second longplayer from the Brooklyn ensemble of the hour is just as confusing and lamentable as the times they are trying to reflect: So that’s a success then.

Like a strangulated blues whelp and tumult of avant-garde jazz and Sarah Webster Fabio style narrated poetic protestations, Who Sent You? Comes on like a seething Coltrane jamming with Sam Rivers, Bobby Jackson, Miles Davis Septet era and Binker And Moses. It’s an ambitious opus that rises from a rolling ancestral travail in the Deep South to galloping ritualistic polemics on the Pope. Untethered, tracks like ‘No Más’ offer a sublime rolling gauzy horns waft of what sounds like a beatified tapestry of actions and contemplations.

Join Camae Ayewa (aka Moor Mother), saxophonist Keir Neuringer, trumpeter Aquiles Navarro, bassist Luke Stewart, and drummer Tcheser Holmes now on this political fierce and wailed, strained, springy and suffused horns remonstration. As it happens both Holmes and Navarro appear in this list a bit further down with their disentanglement from the ensemble partnership project. (DV)


Juga-Naut ‘Bem’

“If you burn this album to CD-R and play it in a red Subaru estate, you will evolve” – business as usual then from Nottingham’s jewel in the crown Juga-Naut, definitely not guilty of putting all his Faberge eggs in one basket with this, his fourth album in three years and also preceding 2020’s dogged Twelve Bricks LP, built in partnership with Micall Parknsun. Still dealing in high rolling that you won’t/can’t begrudge, Bem keeps up with bounce of the boy-done-good (“I’m avant-garde, with a touch of the backyard”), especially when Jugz ups the dry ice and lets his hair down on the Chromeo-cut crystals of ‘Woodgrain’ and ‘Satin Sculptures’, the album’s prevalent zing peaking without parody. His own version of Drake’s ‘Started from the Bottom’ on ‘Jackson Pollock’ then maximises the lord of the manor cockiness that has rarely been as appealing and instructional (and ready to step on suckers). Appearances from Liam Bailey, Children of ZeusTyler Daley and Stu Bangas on the boards for ‘Worthy’ and ‘One Tonne’, add gloss to 35 minutes of professional prosperity.  (MO)


Bastien Keb ‘The Killing Of Eugene Peeps’
(Gearbox Records)

Channeling Tom Waits via The Wu-Tang Clan, Yoni Wolf and Bukowski, multi-instrumentalist, producer and artist Sebastian Jones, under his Bastien Keb alter ego, produced a sprawling understated epic of a soundtrack narrative this year. The soundtrack to an American-noir-meets-Jackie Brown-meets-cross-continental-cult-60s movie that’s playing out in his head, this ambitious suite of partly lulled and narrated cinematics, instrumentals and set pieces is as diaphanous as it is mournful.

A work in three parts (the film score, soundtrack and incidental music), the dead-body-in-the-room Peeps diorama is not so much told as a murder mystery but dissected in the form of soliloquys and resigned derisions on how this sad tragic event unfolded. Permeating echoes of dub, vibes, Ethno-jazz, Bernard Estardy, Miklos Roza, James Reese And The Progressions, Curtis Mayfield and hip-hop, can be found throughout. And with plenty of title riffing on crime flick inspirations, Jones uses leitmotif nods to cult composers such as Lalo Schifrin, Issac Hayes, Alessandro Alessandroni and Krzysztof.

This is a most beautiful, ambitious if often traumatic inquiry of a fully released drama, a filmic album of great depth and scope that has Jones use his personal struggles to a cinematic soundtrack of poignant drama and grief. (DV) Read In Full

The Koreatown Oddity ‘Little Dominique’s Nosebleed’
(Stones Throw)

So titled because of one of two childhood car accidents that the Cali emcee details, both divulged with only a slight shrug regarding the gravity of the situation, The Koreatown Oddity never has to hold the mic too tight or step in too deep, but packs a delivery making for an engaging warts-and-all chronicle of his sunny Los Angeles upbringing and surroundings (“it’s funny how a place I was raised is my nickname”). A funk and soul stew, switched up and down like a sudden grab for the FM dial and the difference between a Sunday drive and joyride, cooks to the tune of TKO’s easygoing, stoner charm/natural dope (his list of demands on the track ‘Koreatown Oddity’ show he’s not gone big-time just yet) who’s also a bit of wildcard in sorting his grown man business from his big kid persuasions/character building, and with his ear closer to the ground than first impressions suggest. ‘A Bitch Once Told Me’ and the pass-the-mic ‘Attention Challenge’ are crude but crafty call-and-response winners, and though it’s unclear whether he’d revel in or dismiss the cult status this album proffers, Nique’s Nosebleed is a total knockout.  (MO)

Kutiman ‘Wachaga’
(Siyal Music)

Ornate Coleman, Andrew Weatherall, Orlando Julius and Le Mystere Jazz de Tomboctou meet at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro on the multi-instrumentalist and producer extraordinaire Ophir Kutiel’s magical, tribal resonance merger of local sounds from East Africa and electronica jazz. Under the Kutiman signature, Kutiel transforms source recordings from a drumming school in the Tanzanian city of Arusha, bell-wearing dancers and a chorus of female singers, and recordings of his jazzy troupe back in the studio (a trio of players that features a trombonist, saxophonist and trumpeter) into a fourth world conception of amorphous rituals, ceremonial dances and peregrinations. These elements all combine to produce a liquid motion dreamy and translucent suffused soundtrack that wafts between ‘Raunchy’ Mardi Gras, Ethno-Jazz, dub, oceanic submergence, and Jon Hassell. Wachaga takes electronic music, jazz and ethnography into a sophisticated, dreamy and re-imagined sonic mirage of exploration and immersion.  (DV)


The Legless Crabs  ‘No Way No Wave’
(Metal Postcard Records)

The greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in America at the moment is no doubt the Legless Crabs. You can argue with me if you want, but you would be wrong because they are, and this is their 2nd album of the year or their 3rd if you include the album of EPs and singles. And it is exactly what you would expect from the Crabs: turmoil humour, disgust spat out in a mish mash of distortion, clattering drums, half spoken vocals like Lou Reed with an abscess poking the inhabitants of the USA with a big stick telling them on the whole how stupid they are, and to prove the point how stupid they are. Why are the Legless Crabs not on the cover of the Rolling Stone; why are they not blasting out of every radio in America.

The Legless Crabs are America’s best kept musical secret; they are the closet thing they have to the Velvet Underground at the moment: alternative music that is both alternative and music that’s not just some cut and paste facsimile. There might be just a little too much intellect and adventure on show to appeal to the masses, but the underground should take them with open arms and hug the crap out of them. Pure rock ‘n’ roll genius.  (BBS) Read In Full

Lina_Raül Refree ‘S/T’
(Glitterbeat Records)

Stripped bare and rebuilt from the foundations up, the congruous and accentuate sonic and voice union of the Clube de Fado striking siren Lina and experimental guitarist, producer Raül Refree subtly revived the often sullen and forlorn Portuguese tradition of ‘fado’ earlier this year. Working together for the first time, this collaborative partnership transformed a classic songbook of material made famous by the queen of fado, Amália Rodrigues, whilst keeping an essence of that folkloric style’s veneration and plaintive pull.

The dynamics of these two artists works in part because of Refree’s lack of investment or adherence to fado’s signatures and history. Relatively unburdened by its weighty worthiness, though no less respectful, these classical lamentable yearns and ballads open out into magical realism, the dreamy and the esoteric. On the echoed ‘Sta Luzia’ Lina sounds like a Portuguese transmogrification of Marianne Faithfull singing the ‘Ballad Of Lucy Jordan’, and on the rising torrid haunted sea omen ‘Gaivota’ you can hear touches of Diamanda Galas.

Bellowed, ghostly, sensual, soothed and melodic: this album is all of these. Yet it is also sparse and stripped, almost to just the faintest of renderings with Refree’s presence at times almost recorded from beyond the ether. Fado’s legacy is in good hands as it lingers on into a new decade with a contemporary purpose.  (DV) Read In Full

The Lounge Bar Orchestra ‘Pilot Episode’

What we have here ladies and gentlemen is the coolest hip swing finger popping LP of the year; music that takes you from the dire depressing early months of 2020 to a time when the sun always shone; when there were only three TV channels and half the time they were showing a test card with some little girl [who actually looked a lot like my wife] playing noughts and crosses with some strange cuddly toy. And this LP could in fact be the music playing that you listened to as you lost yourself in that test card, staring waiting to see if the girl would blink passing the time as you waited for Bagpuss to start.

This ladies and gentlemen is the sound of a variety shows of the late sixties early seventies when you had to name that tune and that tune could well be something off this mighty fine album. This could be the music as Anthe twirled and Bruce felt something move in the trouser department. The music I would imagine Parker played as he drove Lady Penelope around the countryside in the pink six wheeled Fab 1. For god’s sake this LP is cool enough to be the soundtrack for “The Man In The Suitcase” and let’s be honest it does not get any cooler than that.  (BBS) Read In Full

The Loved Drones  ‘Conspiracy Dance’

The album starts with ‘Lights’, a storm of backwards guitars lash into a space rock John Fox hybrid of originality and a forerunner and tempter of what is to come, and what is to come is a musical journey through the sometimes dark sometimes magical but always entertaining world of the Loved Drones.

But as we know all the best bands have the slightly away with the fairy’s quality, always one step away from the mad house, and the Loved Ones have that quality in spades alongside their other important qualities like song writing talent – both lyrically and musically – and as previously mentioned, a love of rock n roll history. So you get a wonderful mishmash of influences from the psychedelic through synth pop and prog to pure pop magic and post-punk glory.

This is an album that would make the world a better place by every household owning a copy: an album that emits love, humour and joy, and one that should be played in schools to describe the phrase “the magic of music”.  (BBS) Read In Full

Lucidvox ‘We Are’
(Glitterbeat Records)

Hard as (nine inch) nails, Lucidvox’s stoic choral enwrapped vocalist Alina stands at the epicenter of a barraging storm of Amon Düül II mystical Gothics, Archers Of Loaf elliptical hardcore, Siouxsie Sioux and her Banshees fanned guitar squalled post-punk, and the growled bass reverberations of Death From Above 1979 on the Muscovite quartet’s first album for the global fecund celebrating label, Glitterbeat Records. Hell hath no fury like a scorned experimental rock band intent on a sonic knife fight. Slash and burn indeed, powered-up and unapologetic, Lucidvox mix it up with Krautrock, math rock, prog and punk yet vocally exude a counterbalance of Russian occultist pining and melodious traditional mystic folk choral cooing and spiraling siren horror.

Trying more than ever get close to their live sound and energy, Lucidvox whip up an impressive bombast of both ritualistic and staggered stuttering monolithic thrashed drumming, the holy ghosts of Russian Orthodoxy and full-on velocity Brainticket space rock. Rebellious dangerous but somehow dreamy and entrancing, Lucidvox prove a spellbinding brutalism of a rock band. (DV) Read In Full


Valentina Magaletti & Marlene Ribeiro ‘Due Matte’
(Commando Vanessa)

A communion of sonic forebode and untethered visions of the universal, the collaborative Due Matte performance ascension brings together Valentina Magaletti (of Vanishing Twins fame) and her foil Marlene Ribeiro (of both Gnod and Negra Brancia) to forge an uninterrupted exploration of what the artistic partnership has coined “tropical concrete”. A counterbalance of the improvised and form, the natural and augmented, synthesized effects and the acoustic, this tropical concrete soundscape weaves recognizable instrumentation with (as the ‘concrete’ of that term would suggest) a masked assemblage of found objects and utensils. And so, an ever-present tolled, processional frame drum patters out a repetitive beat as the trinkets of tapped bottles, scrapped tin and other metallic objects trickle or scratch across a mysterious alchemy of Latin esotericism and an ever-shifting echoed soundbed of filters.

This, the third release on the burgeoning Italian ‘boutique label’ Commando Vanessa, was originally performed as part of Francisca Marques’ curated project Hysteria; a result of the collaborators artistic residency at Sonoscopia in Porto, a project conceived to ‘offer a look at female production and creation in today’s musical universe, creating new bridges between creators and audiences.’ The fruits of this strange, mostly uncalculated vision of artistic freedom traverse a mirror-y, occasionally primal, world of abstracted death knolls and rituals, under a killing moon. Let’s hope there’s more to come from this congruous union in the future.  (DV) Read In Full

Nduduzo Makhathini ‘Modes Of Communication: Letters From The Underworlds’
(Blue Note Records) 

Adroit, spiritual award-winning South African pianist and composer Nduduzo Makhathini’s traverses his South African roots on the debut album for the prestigious Blue Note label. Nduduzo grew up in the lush and rugged hillscapes of umGungundlovu in South Africa, a peri-urban landscape in which music and ritual practices were symbiotically linked. The area is significant historically as the site of the Zulu king Dingane’s kingdom between 1828 and 1840. It’s important to note that the Zulu is deeply reliant on music for motivation and healing. This embedded symbiosis is key to understanding Makhathini’s vision on the grandiose, classy Modes of Communication: Letters From The Underworlds.

Imbued by church music and the sounds of Bheki Mseleku, Moses Molelekwa, Abdullah Ibrahim, McCoy Tyner, John Coltrane, and what sounds like Nate Morgan, the pianist maestro and his guests wonderfully swing through a lavish suite of spiritual and hymnal compositions and quicksteps. A choral suffusion of ethereal-swooning and goddess voices permeate an album that both references Blue Note’s burgeoning catalogue of the 1950s and 60s, and splashes in the healing waters of Afro-jazz: Big band meets Sun-Ra; pastoral African song mergers with the Savoy label.

The roll call of guests on this album features the American alto saxophonist Logan Richardson along with a South African band that includes Linda Sikhakhane on tenor saxophone, Ndabo Zulu on trumpet, Zwelakhe-Duma Bell Le Pere on bass, Ayanda Sikade on drums, and Makhathini’s wife Omagugu and daughter Nailah on backing vocals. All come together in a beatific and yearning performance on one of 2020’s most accomplished understated jazz epics.  (DV)

Luke Mawdsley ‘Vulgar Displays Of Affection’
(Maple Death Records)

For those of you with a morose curiosity you’ll find that Luke Mawdsley’s metaphorical river of consciousness runs deep with it. The former Mugstar guitarist circumnavigates the dark waters of trauma and anxiety on his second solo outing, Vulgar Displays Of Affection. Billed as a “cathartic meticulous journey brimmed with emotion and failure”, Mawdsley’s masked warped and slurring daemonic spoken-word mise en scène dictation goes up against the caustic, throbbing void of Coil like synthesized minimalist industrial electronica on one of the year’s most challenging but essential immersions.

The lyrics themselves either slither through the mulch of a mashed-up brain or almost predatory turn subjects into the lurid and dangerous. There are various play-on-words type track titles, from ‘Vauxhall (Cavalier) & I’ – a space-echoed car boot lubricated with a threatening musk – to ‘A Grudge Supreme’, and a chilling Ry Cooder blues fantasy built around the fictional parody of the Dr. Steve Brule hosted public access psycho-analysis spoof, Check It Out! Sometimes despite the pain, distress and that creepiness, Mawdsley can offer a twisted sort of humour with the surreal images he conjures up. And the music does offer some lovely melodious waves, and even the glimmer of something less claustrophobic.

A deeply revealing experience of the lurid, coarse, disturbing and vivid, Mawdsley’s immure vulgar displays rest wearily upon the shoulders. In this cursed time of uncertainty and vehement argument, the pained artist struggles through the miasma of indignity to create a drip-feed of chthonian distress.  (DV) Read In Full

Lisa Mychols & Super 8 ‘ST’

If you start off your album with Beatles like harmonies and ‘Come And Get It’ piano you are always going to get my attention. It is the holding my attention that is the difficult part, but this album does indeed do more than hold my attention. In fact it has me smiling and nodding my head, which in itself is a worrying state of affairs and something I’m not prone to normally do: my wife thought I must be having a stroke, and I had to throw myself across the room to stop her dialing 999.

For this is indeed a pure album of pop splendour from the Beatles through to the gorgeously gorgeous Carpenters like ‘You & Me Me & You’, which is one of the finest slices of pure pop I have heard in many a year. The very silly but clever ‘Monkee Song’ follows; again a lesson in how pop music can and should be both engrossing and throwaway at the same time. This a beautiful album that has one thinking of the Sunshine pop of the late 60’s early 70’s with the odd sprinkling of bubble-gum pop and West Coast mellow rock; the Partridge Family meet Carol King ‘Peaceful’ being one of the many highlights. And this beautiful album has quickly become one of my albums of the year; an album of lovingly written and performed pure pop magic, and one I cannot recommend enough.  (BBS) Read In Full


Harold Nono  ‘We’re Almost Home’
(Bearsuit Records)

What we have here the rattle-tattle of experimental pop music, the sound of one’s mind losing itself in the magical world of sci-fi movies and 60s spy movie soundtracks: An LP to be played whilst reading Beat poetry. This could have been playing in the car when Dylan uttered the immortal line “give the anarchist a cigarette!” in “Don’t look Back”. It is a collision of Neu, John Barry, John Coltrane and My Bloody Valentine, which Joe Meek has collected up and put into one great melting pot. It’s genre non specific as all great experimental pop music should be and this album is great, it captures the many moods of life from the hip swinging happy to the crestfallen beauty of the sad.Bearsuit Records have once again released an album of true original beauty and if there is any justice in the world should be finding themselves in the best LPs of the year lists (like this one). A true gem.  (BBS) Read In Full

Thiago Nassif  ‘Mente’
(Gearbox Records)

Feted no less by “no wave” off-kilter maverick and former Lounge Lizard Arto Lindsay, the Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and producer Thiago Nassif has made a name for himself over the last decade for producing the most idiosyncratic tropical-flavoured pop music. Drawn to Nassif’s transformed visions of bossa nova and samba, Lindsay, who has a reputation for refreshing those genres and working with many of the forms star turns, has co-produced a number of albums for the Rio-based artist; including this latest neon afterglow, Mente.

Channeling some of the American all-rounder’s past productions, most notably his work with the legend Caetano Veloso and more contemporary Tom Zé, Nassif balances those balmy softened open-toed sandal sauntering rhythms with harder edged experimental no wave and synthesized tubular metallics. It’s a juxtaposition of atmospherics, of light and shade, of the organic and plastic, and even languages: Portuguese and English. In practice this sounds pretty brilliant; a liquid (a blancmange even) of often slinking, bubbling, uptown/downtown Beck, Eno & Cale, Prince, Ariel Pink and St. Vincent, picked up and flown to a retro-futuristic Brazilian beachfront nightclub.

Very imaginative and experimental, Nassif pushes South American music into exciting directions with an album that oozes a coolness of liquid tropical no and new wave. Mente surfs a delicious ebb and flowing tide of quirky “plastique” pop: A leopard skin upholstered, neon lit sumptuous groove of the fuzzy, fizzling and sauntering.  (DV) Read In Full

Aquiles Navarro & Tcheser Holmes ‘Heritage Of The Invisible II’
(International Anthem)

Channeling a combination of Panamanian and Afro-Caribbean heritages, the trumpet and percussionist duo of Aquiles Navarro and Tcheser Holmes come on like an abstract Latin version of the Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell union with their experimental jazz partnership. A side excursion, exploration from the duo’s membership of the burgeoning freewheeling avant-garde quintet Irreversible Entanglements (who also feature in our albums of 2020), the Navarro-Holmes combo brings a partnership that began and took root when the two were studying at the New England Conservatory back together for an untethered gyration, contortion of “existential joy”. For this is a sort of escapism from the Irreversible mood of political angst and dissonant freefalling for something approaching improvised “jubilance”.

Empirical memories and reverberations of recognizable voice, instrumentation in the most abstracted passages merge with tightened pliable performances. Technically brilliant; pushing at the perimeters without losing the listener, the duo have an exceptional feel and relationship, guiding as they do, each other towards such recondite extremes of experimentation and articulation.

Lending the language of the avant-garde jazz of their heritage, the “invisible” people whose contributions to the form and beyond go largely unnoticed, emerge to inspire this impressive album; a sort of Clouddead of jazz every bit as progressive and interesting as their contributions to the Irreversible project. Whilst that unit’s live tour has been put on hold, a pandemic-imposed reality has concentrated the minds of the duo and given them space to experiment and follow a different path: A really clever one at that.  (DV) Read in Full

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.


5 Responses to “Choice Albums of 2020: Part Two (F – N)”

  1. […] been picked from our recent ‘choice albums features of 2020’ (Part One: A-E, Part Two: F-N and Part Three: O-Z), plus a smattering of music from those albums we just didn’t have room […]

  2. […] communion of Valentina Magaletti & Marlene Ribeiro’s Due Matte album in our recent choice albums of 2020 […]

  3. […] Nduduzo Makhathini ‘Modes Of Communication: Letters From The Underworlds’ Choice Albums of 2020. Here […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: