Choice Albums of 2020: Part Three (O – Z)

December 11, 2020

Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver/Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea

Welcome to the concluding part of the Monolith Cocktail’s choice favourite albums of 2020 in three-parts.

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.


Occult Character ‘Steve Albini’s Kundalini’
(Metal Postcard Records)

A great LP from the wonderful Occult Character, and as ever, dark funny lyrical portraits of life in the USA today is the order of the day, but this time taking on a more musically commercial slant. Synth led beats smoother production, and if not for the many curse words you could imagine this gracing daytime radio. This could almost be a pop album: it certainly deserves to reach a larger audience. Who else but Occult Character would write a song about a homophobic microwave and other such oddities? It is indeed a crazy world and maybe this is the album to soundtrack it.  (Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea) Read In Full



Mooning and pining through a caustic wall of fuzz, feedback and waning the cross-city, cross-border collaboration of Dee Sada and Fergus Lawrie articulate desire and heartbreak in a pandemic. Recorded during the lockdown, between the months of May and June, former primal yelping An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump D-bird and current member of NEUMES Sada and her Glasgow pen pal foil Lawrie, of cult Urusei Yatsura fame, meet up in the internet ether to construct both a chthonian and dreamy long-distance musical Psycho Candy romance. Sada’s signature softly cooed atmospheric translucent vocals prove a congruous fit with Lawrie’s deeper, more grunge-y despondency; sounding at times like Mazzy Star, the Pop Group and MBV.

Despite a cursed language of disenchantment, and even the metaphorical pained heartbreak of poisoned relationships, plus a tumult of stressed white noise and distorted guitar contouring the duo swoon in beautifully fragile harmony throughout this experimental album. London and Glasgow sensibilities and beautiful morose come together to add something different to the vaporous influences that have inspired it. A barbed romance and set of mentally fatigued musings set in anxious times, MORNINGHAIRWATER marks a divine conjuncture between its creators; a baptism not only for Paper Birch but Café OTO’s newly formed label platform TAKUROKU. I said back in August that this was fast becoming one of my favourite albums of 2020, and five months later it’s still in my head and making the end of year features.  (Dominic Valvona) Read In Full

Phoenix Da Icefire ‘Panacea’ (New Dawn)/‘Cinematic’ (Revorg)

Doing double time, the Triple Darkness affiliate Phoenix has remained in full flight since catching Rapture & Verse’s ears with 2008’s ‘Baptism Under Fire’. Panacea, produced by Husky Brown and settling into a groove between bruised and burnished soul occasionally forced to the end of its tether, is taken on with PDI never needing to clear his throat nor waste a syllable. Where fantasy and reality clash and collude, and prophet and street correspondent roles present themselves, Da Icefire, as on ‘Seasons of You’, wants the bread and butter of contentment (quite literally, on the interesting digression ‘Veganite’). With Strange Neighbour on the dials and Phoenix doing all his own stunts by launching into more of the same, Cinematic undertakes something of a Bond homage, with the locales set on a course between glamorous (the title track arriving by Miami hovercraft) and perilous, and Phoenix, rooting out wrongs without the costume, dividing his time between business and pleasure, the film theme framed by flicks between ‘Spaghetti Western’, ‘Blue Movie’, ‘Psychological Thriller’ and ‘Kung Fu Salute’. All held together by the hefty posse cut ‘Expendables’, it’s box office hip-hop that with Panacea, will keep you more than busy.  (Matt Oliver)

Pintandwefall  ‘Your Stories Baby’
(Soliti Music)

Ah rock ‘n’ roll I gave you the best years of my wife. The not so subtle sounds of garage punk and well written pop, of which I have grown very fond of in my 53 years on this planet. This is a little gem of an album; nothing outstandingly different to many other indie garage punk pop albums, but this has enough quirkiness, and more importantly, it has a soul and an immaturity that many other bands can only wish for. A band that has been touched by the hand of pop suss; a band that sounds like it has been force fed 60s girl group records followed by post punk hits for afters: Twangy guitars, one fingered keyboard riffs, “na na na” choruses and synths that whiiirrl! Perfect imperfect pop: and what is more perfect than that.  (BBS) Read In Full

Pons ‘Intellect’
(Stick ’n’ Move Records)


A volatile chaos that is remarkably tactile in places, the blossoming erratic American trio of Pons threw everything into their debut album Intellect. The culmination of various mischievous bombardments and jerked dances on a slew of EPs and singles, from a band that first formulated their blueprint in North Carolina in 2018 before relocating a year later to Virginia, this paranoid hectic and ridiculous fully realised long-player whips up a torrid of unhinged energy.

Intellect is full of ideas in what, by now, is a worn cross-section of post-punk and garage related genres. From the off you know this is going to be something else; a diy friction of scuzzed garage/skate/doom punk that creeps as much towards the Gothic as it does towards indie-dance. An ennui of rhythms, time changes and moods flip constantly between intense mania and more limbering no-wave downtown NYC Keith Herring doodled electro-funk. ‘Primal Urge’ is just that: a primal doom quickened, kettle rolling grunt of 80s Californian punk. ‘Jimmy Two-Dimes’ fucks up brilliantly The Strokes, and even, smashes up the NY Dolls and Suicide. But if we’re talking of real concentrated madness, ‘Dick Dastardly’ runs that cartoon scoundrel through a gruff free fall of James Chance, Ornate Coleman (yeah imagine that!) and space rock. Nothing short of a brilliant noise, energy directed for the benefit of all, a glorious skewered and deranged indie-dance album of punk snot petulance and fun.  (DV) Read In Full

Tony Price ‘Interview/Discount’
(Telephone Explosion)

First of all, got to thank and send love out to my postcard penpal Andy Haas (self-publicity really, as he does play on this record) for turning me onto this discovery from the multitasking Toronto visionary Tony Price. The New York based producer, musician, and songwriter makes his debut on the Telephone Explosion hub with a couplet of traversed vaporous jazzy meditations that seem to have been recorded from behind a cozy if mysterious fog. Maybe not a veiled fog, but as the first track from this side-long duo of tracks style album, ‘Interview’, is described in the accompanying blurb as “a meditative exploration of the tile-tunneled labyrinths of NYC’s subway system at night.” You could say a field recording of the most amorphous group of subway jazz buskers emanating thoughts and musings into the nocturnal ether.

The imbued fleeted spark of modal jazz, electro-funk and narcotic non-linearity of 1970s minimalism style LP is framed as “an electrifying collision of fractured jazz- concréte and combustible downtown funk that crushes the entire continuum between minimalism and maximalism into a hypnotic wreck of metropolitan sound matter.” In practice, to these ears, it sounds like a communion of the Cosmic Range and Zacht Automaat. A total winner in my book.  (DV)


Qred ‘Postcards From The Edge’
(Boom Bap Professionals)

Many more albums considered for this list were perhaps just shy of an X-factor or a little something special having made absolutely sure their beats and rhymes quota reached purist-pleasing levels. Postcards from the Edge has just such an extra gear, a showcase for producer Qred to tease sleek/showtime soul (talking itself away from the verge) and dominate with savage netherworlds (blindfolded frog marches to the brink) anchored by rhymers going hard in the paint, selected for their track-enhancing value rather than their slot-filling availability as per similar producer-lead projects. The clincher is a pretty stupendous mid-album fulcrum involving Dirt Platoon (‘Lashout’, aka the soundtrack to an extreme boot camp) and Tesla’s Ghost (‘Last Omen’, aka lights out to an extreme boot camp) mapping out a double kick of mental disintegration and metaphysical philosophy. Add in Cappo, in imperious form on album closer ‘End of the Line’ as the orchestra plays on from light years away, and Micall Parknsun, Ray Vendetta (‘Chalked Formulas’ and its creeping feel for the supernatural) and Junior Disprol all doing what they do best, and Postcards… demands delivery to those that like their hip-hop gnarled in the highest definition possible.  (MO)

Quakers ‘Quakers II: The Next Wave’
(Stones Throw)

Despite the shrinking economy seeing The Next Wave downsizing from the first instalment’s 41 tracks to a miserly 33, the Quakers project, still inexplicably part of the portfolio belonging to Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, returns with another treasure trove of cut-n-shunt hip-hop, punishing the pause button and laced with a fuse length of two minutes or less. Back with a few more conspicuous names amongst plentiful underground linguists – Sampa the Great, Nolan the Ninja, Jeru the Damaja, Jeremiah Jae – as well as second comings from Guilty Simpson, whose dour delivery is a glove-like fit, and Jonwayne (“don’t be sad, you ‘bout to hear some more bars soon” validating the network of cameos), the project remains a feat of concentrated, against-the-clock beatmaking from Barrow and cohorts Supa K and 7STU7. In the midst of upcycled soundtracks, high noon shootouts, grainy crate finds, boom-bap blitzkriegs and oddities distancing themselves from mere scraps, offcuts and loops, the chosen emcees are well aware of the make-or-break stakes they’re entering (especially when The Black Opera exercise their political right on ‘Gun Control’). Less magical mystery tour, more quantum leap, the Quakers’ cult status is comprehensively upheld.  (MO)


Ustad Saami ‘Pakistan Is For The Peaceful’
(Glitterbeat Records)

The only living master of an ancient Sufi devotional form in transcendence, the seventy-six year old Ustad Saami lives in hope that his transportive blessed “Surti” music may yet bring peace to a most turbulent and dangerous Pakistan. In a region in which fundamentalism holds a powerful grip of fear on the population, most forms of music that don’t conform to a strict Islamic code are banned or at the very least pressured to go underground. The danger is all too real and prevalent, and in venturing to Pakistan a few years ago to record the great adorations of Saami, the in-situ American producer Ian Brennan (no stranger to this blog) was taking a huge risk in recording this custodian’s venerated music for the Glitterbeat Records label.

Following on from the well-received 2019 album God Is Not A Terrorist this second brassy resonating, concertinaed and bellowed magisterial rich suite of incredibly hypnotic lengthy performances is even better. Joined by his four sons (Rauf, Urooj, Ahmed and Azeem), who both vocally respond to Saami’s paeans and provide an assortment of dipped, purposeful and reverberating harmonium, tambura and tabla, the master conjures up a holy out-of-body experience. Performing from Saami’s rooftop home in Karachi, this ensemble entrance and send the listener off into the inspired heavens.  (DV) Read In Full

Salem Trials ‘Do Something Dangerous’
(Metal Postcard Records)

This is the Metal Postcards label debut album from one of the bands of 2020 – a fact I’ve previously mentioned in reviewing their first two singles, both of which are featured on this wonderful album; the Captain Beefheart meets the Buzzcocks ‘Head On Rong’ and whip frenzy Wire like pop gem ‘Pictures Of Skin’. The rest of the tracks are no slouches either. Mining their influences from late 70s early 80s post-punk but without just being a post-punk photo fit band, the influences are there but they add their own unique twist, adding a beautiful wash of pop melody and some simply stunning guitar playing – especially on the beautifully dark but life enhancing ‘No Light Escapes’.

Andy Goz is one of the most inspiring guitarists I’ve heard in a very long time and is obviously not just an extremely talented musician but must also have a great knowledge and understanding of what makes great rock ‘n’ roll as the pre punk spirit of the Stooges, MC5 and The Pink Fairies are not just captured but hoisted on flag stands and waived as a taunting warning to all the other many less inspired guitar bands that there are new kids on the block, and this simply fine album is the benchmark that they probably have not a hope in hell of reaching. A simply stunning debut.  (BBS) Read In Full

Santa Sprees ‘Sum Total Of Insolent Blank’

This is a marathon of lo-fi joyful listening, an album of total inspiration. The Santa Sprees are a band after my own heart. Short songs filled with originality melody and humour, at times reminding me of Jonathan Richmond recording an LP for Motown with only a cheap Casio and an egg box in a padded box. This is the closest thing that has come close to an album catching the muse and madness of Brian Wilson circa Smile or even the Masterpiece that is the Beach Boys Love You. I love this album so much.  (BBS)

Sa-Roc ‘The Sharecropper’s Daughter’

Best believe DC’s “Roc is cooking something lovely in the cauldron”, and also know that she’s “openly emotional, cos closed mouths don’t ever get fed”. Pounding the road to enlightenment and getting up close without her gaze ever deviating, The Sharecropper’s Daughter always has an air of the pissed off, but with the verve to do something about it rather than stewing on it, Sa-Roc reasoning it’s better to join the cause rather than have believers fawning over her energy. Long-time go-to producer Sol Messiah makes himself heard with elements well placed between background and forefront, though unmistakable traces of Alicia Keys’ ‘You Don’t Know My Name’ are given short shrift on ‘Something Real’ as Roc gets fully into her stride before deciding on a surprisingly bubblegum chorus – not an isolated instance of smooth hooks and squeaky vocal pitches becalming tightly coiled rhymes. You can imagine Messiah cops a fair amount of unintentional, in-the-zone stinkeye when Roc gets on it, though her outlook is one that knows the true meaning of pressure – albums are easy, growing up as life unfolds (‘Forever’) with turbulence always within earshot is difficult, with Black Thought an ideal link to ‘The Black Renaissance’. “If you tryna knock me down, your demolition’s failed”- an enriching listen.   (MO)

Schizo Fun Addict  ‘The Last Wave’
(Flicknife Records) 

Schizo Fun Addict a band that should be cherished and held close to one’s heart. They are one of the many bands that deserve to be better known and raved about, so with this the new album I’m going to do just that and rave about the beauty and joy one can have by losing themselves in Schizo’s own and original sounding laid back beauty. Sixties psych merges with smooth American FM late night 70’s sounds and British 80’s pop, one of the only bands of today I can hear the influence of Prefab Sprout creep through as well as their obvious love of the Stone Roses and My Bloody Valentine.

The Schizos have so much going for them. Not just fine original musicians and great songwriters but they have one of the most beautiful female voices in modern pop with the candy covered angel whisper of Jayne Gabriel: a voice I could listen to all day and completely lose myself in.

So for anyone out there who hasn’t heard of the Schizo Fun Addict go and do yourselves a favour start with this album and then work your way back through the treasure of a back catalogue. And a treasure it surely is: a band to be treasured in fact.  (BBS) Read In Full

Shadow Show ‘Silhouettes’
(Stolen Body Records)

Any LP that kicks off with a wonderful blast of The Beatles’ ‘Taxman’ riffery (‘Charades’) is fine with me. Sparkling sixties jangle-tangle with melodies not heard since the last band decided that The Beatles are not such a bad thing, and if you are going to be influenced by anyone why not the greatest band ever.

Silhouettes as I have already mentioned in a few reviews of other new releases already this year, isn’t the most original of albums but it is a damn fine listen, filled as it is with great catchy guitar pop tunes. And Shadow Show is better than most at plundering the wonderful musical sounds the decade of the 60s produced.   (BBS) Read In Full


Slift  ‘Ummon’
(Stolen Body Records)

The Titan themed Ummon is a supersonic Hawkwind, with Steve Vai in tow as a band member, catching a lift on the Silver Surfers’ board, on an adventure into deep space. In search of one of the original heaven and earth usurpers, the Titan seer’s Hyperion (god of heavenly light, father to sun, moon and dawn deities Helios, Selene and Eos), the Toulouse trio of Slift go full on space rock opera with an interstellar epic of doom metal and heavy psychedelic prog. Trudging with ominous intentions as it is grandiose and squalling in a vortex of bombast, this lengthy conceptual opus swirls around a milky way inhabited by our makers: A universe that, as it happens, rocks to a sonic soundtrack of the Cosmic Dead, Ipsissimus, Sabbath, the Black Angels, Dead Meadows, Pink Floyd, the already mentioned Hawkwind, and at its most star-gazing, Spiritualized. Galactus sized riffs and crescendos are numerous as the stars in the Mother Sky on this Moorcockian misadventure.  (DV) Read In Full

Soft Plastics ‘5 Dreams’
(Paper Bag Records)


From the embers of Frog Eyes rises Carey Mercer’s vivid dreamology, the Soft Plastics; an extraordinary-voiced inhabited vision, playful, untethered yet also intense. With partner and creative foil Mel Campbell at his side and an intimate circle of musicians – many of which are from the ranks of fellow Canadian scenesters Destroyer – Mercer’s abstract dreams are channeled into a magical, if often sad, songbook of lyrical symbolism, metaphor and passages of trauma.

Everyone is probably aware of the idiosyncratic songwriter’s travails, coming out the other side of throat cancer years ago; the very best outcome an affect on his music career and obviously his already unique bellowed, sibilant, fluctuating, weaving vocals. Though free from a cohesive theme as such, amongst the recurring lyrics of “swirling”, allusions to a green miasma, “wyld thyngs” and an actor’s diorama there’s the constant presence of “angels”: guardians perhaps. But it’s the album’s references (again, perhaps) to Mercer’s most dramatic episode on ‘The Party’s Still On’ that evocatively alludes to that diagnosis: “Knocked on the roof of my mouth, and said “shelter me in warmth”.

Almost theatrical, the musical stage is expansive and deep, a counterbalance between the darkness and light. Sins, the omnipresence of a nuclear threat (of the winter, and family stasis kind), the pains of loss, and the biblical feature heavily on a soundtrack that omnivorously feeds on elements of lilted mariachi horns, industrial post-punk, ragged soul, new wave, shoegaze, pop, indie-dance, funk and Mercer’s back catalogue (Frog Eyes, Swan Lake). This means wandering hints of Blixa Bargeld, Talk Talk, Alex Harvey, Wolf Parade, The Mekons, New Pornographers and The Rapture.

Mercer’s dream weaving evocations are, as I’ve already said, extraordinary on this ambitious, mesmeric album suite. Cryptic and charged, wondrous and yet dark, the Soft Plastics go further and deeper into the psyche to fathom the unfathomable.  (DV) Read in Full

Stella Sommer ‘Northern Dancer’
(Northern Dancer Records/The Orchard)

A thawing of the Lutheran North European romantic malady that permeated Stella Sommer’s beautifully yearning 13 Kinds Of Happiness debut album (which also made our choice albums features), the German songstress seems to almost float across the paused and gorgeous follow-up, Northern Dancer.

Still evoking the deeply voiced presence of Nico and a smoky, aged Marianne Faithful, Stella’s gauzy Teutonic venerable vocals also open up peaceably, dreamily and delicately on what is another songbook of longing and isolation. The instrumentation this time around is a controlled enervated vapour of colliery brass and gentle orchestration swells: A sort of pastoral woodland of pizzicato strings, timpani, flute, tuba and shimmery splashed cymbal crescendos. There’s also a sparse but lovely use of rolling and plonked piano, some light guitar and a withheld suffusion of ambient atmospherics. All of which is perfectly pleasing and melodious but above all stirring; resembling, as the main theme seems to be, a riverside or ocean and pier scene of wanton love and heartache. You could say it captures a lapping tide, or the waves, as a sagacious Stella sends out flowery metaphors to an absent lover, listener, confidante.

Overall a work of pulchritude vulnerability and hushed intoned romantic yearns, Stella Sommer’ second beatific album offers an even subtler songbook of both existential and visceral tender malady: Not so much a progression, improvement on that stunning debut, more a lighter, mature gossamer extension of it, every bit as breathtaking and unrushed.  (DV) Read In Full

Staraya Derevnya ‘Inwards Opened The Floor’ (Raash Records)

A culmination of Café OTO Project Space recorded performances from 2017 and additional material from that same year to 2019, the latest avant-garde inter-dimensional experiment from the Russian-Israeli straddling Staraya Derevnya is part of treble release schedule. But I’ve chosen the hallucinatory doors-of-perception Inwards Opened The Floor, an expansive set of traverses, deconstructive marches and post-punk harangues built around lyrics inspired by the poems of Arthur Molev to put in this year’s choice albums of 2020 features.

Expanding to accommodate up to twelve musicians, and an assemblage of musique concrete apparatus, radio waves, voices and more conventional instruments the Staraya inhabit a shrouded soundscape of kosmische, post-punk and what can only be described as a kind of krautrock folk – think a meeting of The Faust Tapes and Can’s Unlimited scrapes and incipient windows in on cut short experiments but extended and more rhythmic. The poetry is as whispery and haunting as it is erratic and harassed on these most probing clattery, screamed, rasped but equally fantastical tracks. I’m hooked. This is an astonishing set of cross-city amorphous urges, lingers and deconstructions like no other; an avant-garde wandering into the tapestry of Russian folklore and magic dream realism.  (DV) ReadIn Full

Star Feminine Band ‘S/T’
(Born Bad Records)

Disarming a serious message of female liberation and opportunity with the most joyous, passionate and brightly fluttering of song, the Star Feminine Band sound like (Le) Musical Youth meets Wells Fargo and the Dur Dur Band on their debut album for the Paris label Born Bad. With a remarkable backstory, coming together in the most unusual of circumstances and uniquely pushing the rights of sisterhood in their Benin homeland, this cast of young kids and teenagers (though those ages hide the fact they’ve had to grow up fast in a society that undervalues female empowerment and freedom) send out the positive vibes through an embrace of Ghanaian Highlife, Congolese Rumba, Soweto lilting choral soul, Nigerian Afrobeat, the local Vodun and even Calypso. With ages as young as ten, and the oldest only seventeen, there’s a long bright future ahead for this group, who create music that is nothing short of infectious sunshine joy.  (DV) Read In Full


Tamikrest ‘Tamotaït’
(Glitterbeat Records)

Supposedly back with the most powerful statement since the group’s 2013 Chatma album, the message of Tamikrest’s fifth studio album is once again one of hope and reflection: a message that is literally reflected in the translation of the album’s Tamotaït title. Not that you’d know it from the poetically earthy longing vocals, but songs like the opening mirage-y gritty blues boogie ‘Awnafin’ are powered by a message of ‘defiance’, whilst the group’s percussionist and singer Aghaly Ag Mohamedine declares a message of a “revolution in the (Kel) Tamasheq culture”, when discussing the sirocco Future Days (at its most heavenly and liquid) buoyed narrated ‘As Sastnan Hidjan’. For something so revolutionary in rhetoric, and born out of such a tragic upheaval, the latest album is mostly an articulately electrified soulful affair that lingers and resonates between the sand dunes and the cosmic. Despite some rough and fuzzed guitar and a rocking beat, Tamikrest articulate a sighed, almost hushed form of gospel blues; especially spiritually diaphanous and enriched when a chorus of sweeter male and female vocalists weigh in, as they do on the down-and-sandy slide guitar and drum tabbing yearning ‘Amidinin Tad Adouniya’, and with the gossamer Balearics camel-motion ‘Amzagh’ – which sways close to the backing music of the band’s label mate, the Saharan siren Aziza Brahim.

Arguably always open to embracing sounds and music from outside Mali, Tamikrest find an affinity with the perfumed alluring coos and gauzy longing of the Moroccan singer/actress Hindi Zahra. So congruous and at ease with the setup, apparently she recorded her vocals without any rehearsal, on the first take. Her turn on this atonal dream sends the band on a wind across the Sahara towards Persia. Tamikrest also find kinship with the traditional music of Japan. Whilst on tour in the Far East, Ag Mohamedine was drawn to the spindly threaded and quivered sounds of the three-stringed, plectrum strummed ‘shamisen’ and five-string ‘tonkori’. Guesting on the album’s closer, ‘Tabsit’, Atsushi Sakta and Oki Kano lend an Oriental resonance to the group’s desert shimmered guitar tones in a union between two very different worlds. It’s another congruous fit, one that transcends both.

Roots music taken on a voyage of discovery to a myriad of compass points, Tamotaït once more transforms the lingered traces of desert blues and rock’ n ’roll to produce a richly woven tapestry of fired-up protestation and hope. (DV) Read In Full

Lou Terry ‘If I’m Me Who Are The Other One’ (Metal Postcard Records)

A shallow bathe in the lost beauty of misery and of love lost and found, the power of gentle melodies and the light touch of the lyrical twist really cannot be underestimated, and the master of all those things is Lou Terry whose If I’m Me Who Are The Other One albumis brimming with songs full of those qualities.

Recorded over the lockdown, like so much of the new music I’m listening to, it is graced – well with the grace and understanding and sublime loss that normally can be found in the outpourings of 80s Go Betweens and the obscure 70s home recordings of John Lennon. When Lou Terry’s voice cracks it is thing of true beauty as it does on ‘Sickly Peach’. You wonder how on earth he is not better-known; it has the same effect as spying a long-lost lover across the street and her shyly smiling the smile that breaks the passing of the years and in an instant you are eighteen and beholden, you are completely lost and once again under the power of her magical spell. And the beauty of this album achieves all this. It almost wants you to feel broken and betrayed lost and bewildered. If I’m Me Who Are The Other Three is the album to soundtrack the oncoming melancholy of Autumn nights: a thing of great beauty.  (BBS) Read In Full

Tiña  ‘Positive Mental Health Music’
(Speedy Wunderground)

As anybody who reads the reviews I’ve written for the Monolith Cocktail, or even heard my records knows, I am a sucker for slightly Syd Barrett/Television Personalities influenced psych. And so of course I’m going to enjoy this album. It has all the qualities one wants from their pop music; beguiling melodies, keyboards that swoon, and curtsy guitars that go from jangle to jangle: ‘Rooster’ even has a ‘Be My Baby’ drumbeat. It has all the boxes ticked; the lyrics of a quirky netherworld poetic, and the vocalist has a pleasing voice that has the right amount of cracking and whine in its timbre, the kind of voice one believes has had its heart broken at least twice in its life but has the good sense and fine enough black humour to get over it.

On the whole this is a mighty fine pop album and is really nicely produced. In fact, the kind of production that could tempt me from my bedroom and my beloved old tape four-track, and everyone knows that is indeed high praise.  (BBS) Read In Full

Toxic Chicken  ‘Live at Scaledown’

There is something quite stunningly beautiful in this 15-minute live performance from the Toxic Chicken, recorded at Scaledown – described as London’s finest hidden event. This is the sound of the experimental underground at its best; electronica psychedelia and subtle humor merge into a bewitching hypnotic instrumental mantra one can lose and then re-find oneself in. Part 1967 era Beatles, part Syd’s Floyd and part Aphex Twin this is really gripping stuff. A joy to behold.  (BBS) Read in Full


Various ‘La Locura de Machuca: 1975 – 1980’
(Analog Africa)

Quite possibly the kookiest oddity so far in the Analog Africa catalogue, this distant outlandish relative to the label’s Diablos Del Ritmo: The Colombian Melting Pot 1960 – 1985 compilation from 2012, is the sort of “B-movie” discovery you’d expect Finders Keepers to release. From the same international Colombian gateway of Barranquilla as that collection’s purview, La Locura de Machuca: 1975 – 1980 features a similar spread of Afro-Colombian saunters, scuttles and scratchy percussive funk as that record, yet finds a twist: a kink. For all the familiar traces of that folkloric electrified Cumbia, the Caribbean-African-Colombian hybrid Champeta Criolle, and the Congolese rumba (to name just a few styles), the music that flourished from the Colombian underground is…well, different. Much of this is down to the genius and bizarre mind of the former tax-lawyer turn record company executive Rafael Machuca, who wowed and seduced by the Barranquilla music scene jacked in the day job to set-up and sit behind the control desk as the producer of his own label enterprise, Disco Machuca. This compilation is the story of that maverick’s misadventures in sounds, a collection of rare carnival lolloping space age garage, Afro-funk, disco and psychedelic releases from the label’s roster of Columbian stars and the bands that were created in the studio for one-off productions. Odd, but absolutely essential album for those looking for some South American exotica.  (DV)  Read In Full

Various ‘Maghreb K7 Club: Synth Raï, Chaoui & Staifi 1985-1997’
(Sofa Records & Bongo Joe)

Music from the North African geography of the Maghreb as you’ve probably never heard it; shimmying with Arabian trinkets, rapid tabbing hand drums and exotic sand dune fantasy certainly, yet made otherworldly cosmic and electro-fied for the burgeoning democratized age of affordable low end tech: welcome to the Arabian expat scene in 80s and 90s Lyon. From the assured collators Bongo Joe and, on this compilation, their partners Sofa Records, a eight-song collection of Casio-preset and synthesized transformed musical poetry and lovelorn heartache from a myriad of Algerian artist’s that congregated around the French city’s North Eastern African café and bar hub. For the first time ever, the Maghreb K7 Club LP makes available a smattering of tracks on vinyl; tunes like the Arabian milky way swish ‘Maliky a Malik’ by Zaidi El Batni and the bandy, slinky liquid pop mirage with soothing female sighs ‘Goultili Bye Bye’ by funk-disco maestro Nordine Staïfi. Nordine gets two bites of the dancefloor glazed cherry on this album; his second feature, the infectious whistle-and-clap summer hit ‘Zine Ezzinet’ is a standout highlight – imagine an Arabian Nile Rodgers mixing down an Orange Juice funk. Worth a punt just to own that ‘Zine Ezzinet’ track, this compilation from Bongo Joe and friends is a wonderful platform to discover another bit of ear-opening musical history. (DV) Read In Full

Vukovar ‘The Colossalist’
(Other Voices Records)

Death’s morbid shadow looms large over the spoilt Gothic and postindustrial romanticisms of Vukovar. Once more indebted to the influence of the late underground malcontent cult figure, and much-troubled, Simon Morris (of Ceramic Hobbs infamy and more), who’s tragic omnipresence can be heard (literally) ringing out in a vaporous elegiac homage on the final curtain call of the band’s eighth and newest grand opus, The Colossalist, Vukovar reels in mourning after his suicide late last year – the album was released to coincide with the anniversary of his death. Spirits then, loom large from the ether across this latest installment in the band’s history; a constant spooky, eerie gloom that prevails against the bruised and mentally fatigued New Romantic wide-eyed-boy soul led plaintive heartache of the vocals and narration. It is a marked death in the sense of the former incarnation of Vukovar disbanding. And so with the deathly spine-tingles of inevitability also comes a “rebirth”, as the next chapter of this Northwest of England troupe announce a second, third, fourth (I’ve lost count) coming, framed as the “NeuPopAct”. A devilish work; a full-on enigmatic experience of Gothic soul and pop, Vukovar’s latest overhaul, refresh, still maintains a connection with past triumphs, yet seems even more heavenly, strung out in the void of wide-eyed despair. Honed to a point and as curious as ever in skulking the inferno and dank specter of preening cloaked magik, this album offers a therapeutic release for its creators (and perhaps us); for it is a murky but resigned romantic escape that by timely accident marks the stresses, uncertainty of the pandemic. The statuesque Greek mythological vague connection entitled eighth album in the Vukovar cycle is another imaginative totem from a band with little sign of flagging; the ideas just keep flowing down the cerebral canal that resembles the River Styx.  (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.


4 Responses to “Choice Albums of 2020: Part Three (O – Z)”

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