Feature: 20 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

For obvious reasons, 2020 is probably not a year that humanity will look back on especially fondly. But in musical term (aka the most important terms) there has already been a remarkable wealth of incredible albums.

It’s difficult to judge one year’s musical credentials against another, as often the enjoyment of the newly discovered can outweigh the importance of records that have been with you for a while, but I genuinely think 2020 has roundly trounced recent years in terms of the amount of quality albums… and it’s only June. At least 2020 has been good for something.

So in the time-honoured tradition of judging the unjudgeable, here are The Predatory Wasp’s best 20 albums of 2020 so far.

070 Shake – Modus Vivendi

Packed full of memorable hooks, slick production and a fierce energy that radiates throughout, Modus Vivendi is an astonishingly accomplished debut from the GOOD Music affiliated 070 Shake. Released back in mid January there’s a chance this will get a little lost when it comes to end of year lists, but I hope it doesn’t, as tracks like Morrow, Microdosing and Under The Moon are some of the most creative, urgent music I’ve heard in 2020.

Listen on Spotify

Armand Hammer – Shrines

Shrines is the second album from Billy Woods and Elucid as Armand Hammer, following their very well-received debut back in 2018. The production is muted, dusty; eschewing hard-hitting kicks for subdued, evocative loops, providing the perfect bedrock for vocals which are powerful in their delivery and more often than not their message. If that sounds overly oppressive, it really isn’t, and although Shrines evokes a taut, tight environment, it’s never a claustrophobic one.

Listen on Spotify / Bandcamp

Austra – HiRUDin

It’s probably a lazy comparison to say that vocally Austra is reminiscent of Florence Welch, but at least it gives you an indication of what to expect from HiRUDin. At times rich and warm, others glacial and operatic, on tracks like How Did You Know?, core member Katie Stelmanis’s voice literally stops you in your tracks. Add to this production that ranges from minimal electronica to avant-garde indie and you have one of the best, most thought-provoking pop albums of the year.

Listen on Spotify / Bandcamp

Buscabulla – Regressa

Listening to Regressa just makes everything feel better. Soaked in nostalgia yet absolutely a modern-sounding record, Regressa manages to come across mysterious and familiar at the same time, although admittedly that’s coming from someone who can’t speak Spanish. Regardless, the experimental pop project of Raquel Berrios and Luis del Valle have absolutely nailed the formula, and Regressa is a pure, uncomplicated joy.

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DJ Python – Mas Amable

Back in 2012, Donato Dozzy and Neel put out an album under their Voices From The Lake project. The eponymously titled LP was absolutely flawless, and I’ve spent quite a bit of the intervening years trying to find something that follows in a similar vein. Mas Amble from DJ Python is the closest I’ve come. A hypnotic blend of deep drums, eerie sonic textures, idiosyncratic percussion and transitions that go on so long it’s nigh-on impossible to determine where one track ends and another starts, DJ Python has crafted a timeless electronic masterpiece.

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Empress Of – I’m Your Empress Of

The first few times I listened to I’m Your Empress Of, I thought it was fine, but a little disposable. With the exception of the instantly hooky Bit Of Rain there weren’t many tracks I remembered, and although fun while it lasted, it wasn’t something I gave much thought to once it had finished. If there’s one album I’m glad I went back to when putting this list together, this is it, and I’m now convinced it will stand up as one of the best pop albums of the year. There are tracks that I’ve genuinely struggled to get out of my head over the last few weeks, from the heartfelt yearning of What’s The Point to the almost overwhelming sensuality of Not The One. Stick with it, it’s really great.

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Georgia – Seeking Thrills

The pressure was on Georgia to deliver the goods after her excellent self-titled debut album, and Seeking Thrills is arguably an even more accomplished follow up. In the five years that separated the album her profile has increased exponentially – thanks in no small part to the success of About Work The Dancefloor – and although Seeking Thrills is ‘bigger’ in pretty much every department, her focus on percussion, and how her songs resonate on a sweaty dancefloor hasn’t dissipated in the slightest. Plus, anyone who can pull off a convincing Kate Bush cover in their live shows more than deserves a place on this list.

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Keely Forsyth – Debris

Keely Forsyth’s voice is extraordinary. At times on Debris – her debut album, released at 40 following a successful career as an actor and dancer – it’s the only thing you can hear, at others the only thing you’re focussing on, despite the beautifully bleak musical landscape it wanders through. Bleak, sparse and menacing, but also delicate and cathartic, Debris is an astonishing album that grips you from the outset and refuses to let go.

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Kota The Friend – EVERYTHING

If there was ever an album to serve as a tonic for the lockdown blues, it’s EVERYTHING. A feel-good hip-hop LP that sits somewhere between Anderson .Paak’s Malibu and Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap, it breezes past like a cool wind on a hot summer day, with Long Beach and the title track standing as undoubted highlights.

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Lorenzo Senni – Scacco Matto

Like many children of the 80’s, I have a fondness for 8-bit video game soundtracks, with revered releases like Streets of Rage and Lemmings holding a particular place in my heart. Whether or not Lorezno Senni took direct inspiration from these sources of not, I don’t know, and to be honest I don’t care. Despite its clear nods to the past, Scacco Matto is one of the freshest-sounding, most vibrant releases of the year.

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Nathan Micay – The World I’m Going To Hell For

Fans of Nathan Micay’s previous glossy, trance-inflected productions will find some of the same aesthetics carried across to his latest, but it’s an altogether different proposition. Earthier and rooted in real instrumentation (and at times punishing bass) rather than slick, sidewinding melodies, there’s still a rich emotional core to many of the tracks here, but they feel like they’ve been pulled kicking and screaming out of the soil, rather than floating down from the heaven. It’s rich, sonically diverse and at times completely mesmerising.

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Nation Of Language – Introduction, Presence

I’m a complete sucker for anything that even vaguely evokes the 80s. Boy Harsher’s album Careful was one of my favourite of last year, and while that was more of a club-focussed release than Introduction, Presence, they’re in a similar ball park. Hooks, melancholy-inducing melodies and pleasingly retro drums abound on this debut from Brooklyn-based synth enthusiasts, and while tracks like the Friend Machine play out almost like a direct homage to some kind of Kraftwerk/Ultravox hybrid, they’re delivered with such swaggering confidence its as if you’ve been living with it for decades.

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As I said when I originally posted about Gimme Gimme – one of the undoubted highlights from Brat – it’s pretty amazing that someone as clearly talented as NNAMDÏ can release four albums before I’ve ever listened to a single piece of his music. The amount of imagination and talent on display here is really quite remarkable, from the sleazy bounce and vocal range on the aforementioned Gimme Gimme to the tense percussion and string interplay on Everyone I Loved, a track that calls to mind Andre 3000’s work on his seminal The Love Below. Calling it a rap album doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface on what he’s achieved with Brat, and I sincerely hope it gets the recognition it deserves.

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Quinton Barnes – Aarupa

Despite (or possibly even due to) clocking in at a concise 27 minutes, Aarupa packs a huge punch. Flitting between buoyant r&b jams (He), punishing, electronic-inflected experimental trap (Femmedomme) and absolute stone-cold bangers (This Moment), Barnes’s range, both vocally and conceptually are staggering. “Creativity to me is the only way to make sense of an increasingly chaotic and often intangible world” he told Shifter Magazine in a recent interview. And while Aarupa may on occasions teeter on the edge of the abyss, you always get the sense that he knows exactly when to pull you back.

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The Soft Pink Truth – Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase

I must have listened to Shall We… a dozen times or more by now, and I still can’t quite put my figure on what makes it go beguiling. Equally, picking out highlights misses the point: the individual track that’s got the most attention is We – the only one with a discernibly traditional structure – but picking it out as ‘better’ than anything else here does the rest of the album a disservice. Shall We… drifts and swirls like clouds flitting slowly across the sky, with elements of jazz, ambient and classical combining into pillowy, amorphous shapes before slowing receding. So yes, in summary: it’s really good.

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DJ Healer – ins herz der dinge lauschen

Is this technically an album? If it is, shouldn’t I really judge it as part of a triple album alongside the other two mixes it accompanies? The answers to these questions, though interesting and probably endlessly debatable, are irrelevant as ins herz der dinge lauschen is the only piece of music that has made me cry actual tears this year, proving once and for all that when it comes to weepy, unbearably poignant ambient, DJ Healer is in a class of his own.

Listen on Soundcloud

Tame Impala – The Slow Rush

The Slow Rush is the second Tame Impala album I pretty much dismissed on the first few listens. How wrong I was. More thoughtful and perhaps less immediately impactful than 2015’s Current (although judging by the instant acclaim, I seem to be in minority that thinks this), The Slow Rush is a hazy joy with a depth, both lyrically and in the intricacy of much of the production, that rewards many repeat listens.

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Ultraista – Sister

Acts like Ultraista are a big part of the reason that live music can’t return quickly enough. It’s a compelling enough experience enough listening to the taut drums and driving melodies of Sister sitting in an empty room by myself: throw even a couple of hundred other people into the mix alongside a punchy soundsystem that stays just out of the red, and I would be properly losing my shit. Godrich’s signature drums are especially wonderful on tracks like Save It til Later, and the whole thing is held together with a tension that never quite dissipates. In a good way.

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Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind

Has there been a better album opener than Gospel For A New Century this year? If so, I’d like to hear it. Confrontational, visceral, seemingly wrought from the very embers of Tumor’s soul, it sets the scene for an album that very rarely dips below the sublime. Jazz, funk, hip-hop, rock n rock, electronica: all are devoured before being regurgitated as something vaguely familiar but entirely original. It’s a seething beast of an album and I absolutely love it.

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Do you like feeling anxious and paranoid (more than you inevitably already are, anyway)? Would you like that experience to be exponentially increased? Then this is the album for you. Los Angeles rapper-producer and engineer Zeroh has created a unique, shadowy world populated with wailing sirens, gunshots, glitching electronics and the near omnipresent spectre of his own twisted, constantly pitch-shifting vocal. If that sounds like a bit much, at times it almost is, but it’s also unlike anything else you’ll hear this year.

Listen on Spotify / Bandcamp