Communal experience has been a defining feature of 2020; you’ll struggle to find a human that hasn’t been affected by the long tentacles of Covid-19. Everyone on earth has shared this ordeal. However, with varying degrees of isolation from each other, in perpetuity since mid-March, it has felt very much like a year of separate and personal experiences. On this theme, we have not tried to present the definitive ‘best album of the year’, a feat which, could sensibly be argued, is impossible. Rather, we have compiled a list of personal highlights.
We’ve reached out to the extended Bido Lito! family – contributors, members, artists, staff – to ask what is their favourite album of the year. Not surprisingly, it’s an eclectic list which reflects a year which has been about introversion rather than unified experience. These records represent treasured pieces of music which have helped individuals navigate a unique time which has often been anxious, scary and uncertain but there have also been things to be thankful for. One of those being a year of obstinately fantastic music. There are low key bodies of work which tap into a feeling of isolation and provide comfort, there are frenzied barrages of sound which reflect cathartic chaos, and there is much in between.
Tara Clerkin Trio
Tara Clerkin Trio
Laura Lies In
TARA CLERKIN TRIO’s debut has been a collective favourite of ours this year and has without a doubt been our first choice for end of year lists! We love the experimentalism of this debut and it’s abilities to be so fresh and innovative, while simultaneously displaying some wicked references. Its blend of tripped out avant-garde with jazz keeps you constantly picking up on the well-crafted nuances this band carve out, while leaving so much excitement and room for future projects. Like a blend of Arthur Russell, Can and Alice Coltrane, this record is already ticking all the boxes for us! Can’t wait to hear what they do next.
Sid, Esmee and Henry – The Orielles
I’ve felt particularly more emo this year than usual (for good reason) and I think this feeling was epitomised and soundtracked by this album. I think Phoebe has almost been some internet zeitgeist for the sad corners of the web this year, most if not all of the songs that I’ve really liked on this album have made appearances in nonchalant TikTok dance routines in some way and it would be a lie to say I haven’t watched about a billion of them up to now. I think I’m really attracted to how brutally dry everything is, lyrically and musically. Kyoto, Moon Song and Garden Song have been my favourite examples of that. I read in this Stereogum article, I think, where she spoke about the “punisher” as the idea that you believe everything you say must obviously be the most important thing ever, and also the idea of oversharing when meeting your idols because you think/know you’re the main character etc. I found that idea sobering and probably very true to me sometimes which made me feel even more emo than I thought I was already. This album definitely put into perspective the mundane and how it can be quite beautiful but also quite depressing too, which I think is pretty nice anyway.
Choosing three is a cop out, I know, but I think it’s necessary to offer a true reflection of my listening habits throughout 2020 – a year where listening to music, focussing, taking things in, has been harder than ever.
The three selections each represent three different mental states, essentially. Three years of their own in an agonising long umbrella year that felt like it began only yesterday…
Heaven To A Tortured Mind
I don’t think there’s a contemporary artist as compelling as YVES TUMOR, from music to image. Everything they create is lucid and utterly convincing. Their serpentine shapeshifting makes everything seem possible and tangibly real through pure manipulation of atmospherics. When Heaven To A Tortured Mind was released at the beginning of lockdown one, there was a sense of rebuilding, starting again as a society – doing it right. For an artist who slips into new skin for every project, it was a record that underscored how, if we tried, anything could be possible as a society if we build back as something new.
While some of those grand aspirations fell to the wayside as we opened back up, ADRIANNE LENKER’s songs captured the forlorn ache for what was, what we no longer had. Recorded alone in cabin during lockdown, it’s a beautiful illustration of how far you can travel in solitude. The collection of songs display the extent we’ve leaned on our imaginations as four familiar walls became the canvas for our lives for so much of this year.
Oneohtrix Point Never
Magic Oneohtrix Point Never
Daniel Lopatin’s ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER project captures the essence of capitalist chaos, blending the nostalgic with lost futures in his hazy, vapourwave style productions. His latest album, Magic Oneohtrix Point Never, is an apt temperature check of the sedate unrest we live in. When all hope seemed to abandon us in the first hold tier 3, there was something soothing about leaning into the madness and confusion to understand so much that surrounds can be drained of all meaning.
Elliot Ryder – Bido Lito! editor
Songs For Our Daughter
Starkly beautiful and released from nowhere, it’s probably my favourite Laura Marling album ever released, and I love them all. It’s basically her and her acoustic guitar layered with strings and occasional piano. It’s truly stunning. Written as a kind of love letter to her imaginary daughter, lyrically it’s her best work to date. Beautiful melodies, simple arrangements and stunning lyrics makes this my album of the year.
Andy Johnston – Bido Lito! member
This album is an electricpop, folktronica indie baby of dreams. With tumbling energy and hefty percussion, the album begs you to move your body freely. Cut with moments of gentle delicacy, Amelia Meath’s haunting vocals wrap around her moving lyrics effortlessly. The duo behind SYLVAN ESSO married just before releasing this second album, their love and harmony flows through the record with glimmers of celebration and quiet serenity equally represented throughout. The North Carolina couple may make music electronically but there is something organic and earthy to their sound. Their work is original and ethereal. Caught somewhere between a drum circle and an electronic music festival it will make you want to close your eyes and dance barefoot with the ones you love.
Mary Olive – Bido Lito! Editorial Assistant
Dawn Chorus & The Infallible Sea
Music has seemed even more important than ever this year, especially the kind that allows you to escape from the horror and heartbreak of the real world. My Mum died in October; I hadn’t been able to visit her since January as she was cocooned in a care home, and my siblings and I watched her die on a WhatsApp video call. As I headed home, too late, I was desperate for a contrast to this, something that felt human and connected and real. When I heard the stunning ambience of Liberamente it sounded like a chorus of angels; through the numbness its sheer, overwhelming beauty actually made me feel again.
Nathaniel Cramp – Bido Lito! proofreader
Born again electro-pop sophisticate WESLEY GONZALEZ continues to welcome synths and brass into his life after largely discarding his indie-punk guitar roots, musically anyway, on second solo album Appalling Human. Problems and issues of an existential nature are explored from unique angles on the record. The more personal and intimate are also put under the microscope as he reflects on therapy, a relationship breakdown and family problems. On Used To Love You, Gonzalez reflects on the bleakness of a day absolutely made by a free granola bar doled out during rush hour. The granola snack gratitude metaphor for the damp grind of daily life is dark comedy at it’s very best, although at the same time uncomfortably real. A few years ago I filled out a marketing survey in the street. I was given a fiver and Mint Aero as a reward. I still remember the taste of the chocolate, and the feel of the money. On album finisher Did You Get What You Paid For, he imagines his own funeral with a genuine inquisitiveness cut through with spite (‘Well, did you?’ he demands to know). Throughout this album familiar Gonzalez lyrical flashes of self loathing and self-deprecation are sharpened by his notorious wit, as he handles his often bleak observations with marked positivity, optimism, and hope.
Cath Holland – Bido Lito! contributor
Christian Lee Hutson
CHRISTIAN LEE HUTSON may not have been a name I knew before this year, but his face is one I had definitely seen before. He’s played guitar for the likes of Phoebe Bridgers and her collaborative projects Better Oblivion Community Centre and boygenius. His puritanical glow is one that has frequented a fair few of my favourite KEXP sessions.
2020 has seen him step predominantly into the limelight. Not only for his understated masterpiece of an album, Beginners, but also within the podcast world (appearing in what many have deemed the most perfectly crafted podcast of all time, Reply All’s The Case of the Missing Hit, but you can delve into that yourself).
Beginners is a coming of age record which holds as much comfort as it does angst. A record which holds you in its arms at its most tender moments in a swaddling of hushed vocals and finger picking. It lifts you high above its head at its triumphant indie rock best. It may not reinvent the wheel but Hutson has produced one of the best pieces of introspective songwriting in what has been a brilliant decade for it so far.
Hog – Bido Lito! member
Willie J Healey
You know when you hear something and it feels like it’s always have been there? Like dropping in the final piece of a jigsaw, or the barrels of a lock sliding satisfyingly in to place. WILLIE J HEALEY’s Twin Heavy unlocks a clutch of timeless musical nuggets that feel like a priceless archaeological discovery. Mixing slightly softer Americana and pastoral psych notes into the heavier garage grooves that the Oxfordshire artist was previously known for, Twin Heavy excels in its surprising tautness.
The standard model of elementary indie particles according to Dr Willie J (with assistance from Professors Dylan and Reed), Twin Heavy is the sound of an artist revelling in a newfound freedom, where the next step is governed by impulse rather than calculation. After leaving Sony — where he released his debut LP People And Their Dogs — Healey found a new home at YALA! Records, the label co-founded by The Maccabees’ Felix White. It’s a marriage made in heaven, where the playful and heartfelt sides of Healey’s character find equal space to thrive. And from the opening piano glissando on Fashun, Healey has the hooks in. There’s a freedom and enjoyment evident in his barroom croonery that is just impossible to ignore: you can tell when a musician is enjoying what they’re doing because the feeling infuses every note. It’s this alchemy that Healey has happened upon with this album, and it’s why I keep coming back to it.
If you loved Charles Watson’s 2018 album Voices Carry Through The Mist, Twin Heavy is the logical progression. A record to wrap yourself in time and time again; a record to suit any mood; a record that you’ll tell your kids about.
Christopher Torpey – Bido Lito! founding editor