'Normally at this point, I'd write a little preamble for the Outsideleft Best Recordings Released in the past year. In past years I'd say that, on the whole, that it had been another awful year for Outsideleft, our prospects further dimmed... and of the need to let the music speak for itself 'cos there's little else.
I could tell you that again, but in the face of things it seems churlish to try.' - lamontpaul
20. 'In a Word' - Ian William Craig and Daniel Lentz
This is the first of two entries in our list to feature the remarkable talents of tenor vocalist and 'sound artist' Ian William Craig.
As with Craig's other works (of which more later), sounds crumble and disintegrate. Established sounds (in this case, the postminimalist Daniel Lentz's delicate piano compositions), are eroded through Craig's manipulated tape machines. The beauty lies in what remains. 'In a Word' is a haunted and frequently staggering work.
19. 'The Slow Rush' - Tame Impala
How did you get to listen to music in 2020? Was it through your sacred headphones on your daily commute? Or through strategically placed speakers in your 'music room'? Or was it on the tiny little grater like thing on your mobile phone as you jostled for space in your overcrowded 'working from home' set up?
If it's the latter (and who the hell has a 'music room' anyway?), much of Kevin Parker's latest genre-hopping creation may seem a tad bewildering. Five years after the shimmer of 'Currents' we are presented with a work that leaves no sonic stone unturned. From disco (those choppy guitars on opener 'One More Year' are a delight ) to the unlikely mash-up of prog to soul on 'Posthumous Forgiveness' and, on 'It Might Be Time', the inclusion of Supertramp like Yacht Rock keyboards to propel the song along. The overall effect can be as baffling as that recent Christopher Nolan movie, where you're simultaneously impressed by the scope and references, but also exhausted by the overall impact.
Could we please have something a little simpler next time Kevin?
18. SOURCE - Nubya Garcia
...Kevin Parker could learn a few lessons from the debut album by this celebrated London-based jazz saxophonist, whose enticing record is a perfect example of how to get the range of ingredients just right.
Take the exhilarating swing of opener ‘Pace,’ a number whose feverish interplay between sax, drums, and piano may as well be saying ‘what else could you be doing in the next hour that could be as good as giving your full attention to this?
After the smoothness of ‘The Message Continues’ comes the delirious reggae fuelled title track. Over twelve minutes, Garcia’s sax weaves around a dubby piano motif to create something intoxicatingly fresh. The Columbian rhythm of ‘La Cumbia Me Está Llamando’ is a sizzling and satisfying diversion and one of the standouts, but it’s the sensual vocals of Akenya on ‘Boundless Beings’ that closes the proceedings that leave you wanting to relive the ecstatic experience again and again.
17. Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher (reviewed by Eswin21)
Despite being involved in the projects of BoyGenius and Better Oblivion Community Centre over the past few years it is only in 2020 in which Bridgers returns with her sophomore project 'Punisher'.
Whilst still carrying the intricate guitar work and poignant lyrics that will easily liken Punisher to the work of Elliot Smith, the album is large evolution from her debut album as Phoebe fully emerges herself in her own world.
Her calming voice manages to entice you into her stories of torment with a sense of comfort which only makes the later uncovering of the song's true meanings even more heartbreaking. The song 'Kyoto' is a perfect example, on the surface it is merely a slightly upbeat indie rock song but the lyrics tell the story of her failed relationship with her father due to his drug abuse-the juxtaposition almost makes the chipper background ironic and more effective.
As the album progresses the clear torment and sense of collapse within Phoebe keeps growing. Upbeat songs like 'Graceland Too' are undermined with a sense of desperation that gives it a sense of tragedy as she repeats that she will do "whatever she wants" for the girl she is attached to.
This all culminates in the final song 'I Know the End' which brings a sense of finality to the themes of the album slowing building to a cacophony of horns, guitars drums and Bridgers screaming.
Will there be a point in time where the songs on this album are used to death in an indie coming of age movie that tries to capture what 2020 was like? Probably. However, as the emotions here are so raw, it will probably justify it. Bridgers has created a beautiful conceptual record that is perfect for a world on the brink.
16. Beyond the Pale - Jarv Is
Despite a smattering of musical collaborations, ‘Beyond the Pale’ is the first proper collection of Cocker songs in a whole decade. The initial grumble that the wait had been rewarded with just seven new songs is short lived. It's all about quality not quantity as these 40 minutes will attest.
Although the baffling opener ‘Save the Whale’ is a step in the wrong direction (please resist any future temptations to affect a Cohen-like grumble, Jarvis) there is still much to celebrate on this record.
The decision to form a brand new band is key to the refreshing success of 'Beyond the Pale', take the theatrical call and response of the single 'Must I Evolve?' as the first example and then the fact that much of the music was recorded live (frequently at Caverns in the Peak District), which has resulted in a looser sounding and more collaborative approach, it is no longer the singer and the band.
Along the way, Jarv Is managed to unintentionally soundtrack lockdown with ‘House Music All Night Long’ (‘God damn this claustrophobia because I should be disrobing ya’ - he always was a kitchen sink Momus), familiar themes in unfamiliar settings. A cause for celebration.
main image: Nubya Garcia by Adama Jalloh