1: Love And Hate In A Different Time – Gabriels
An extraordinary song for momentous times from the Los Angeles trio. Yes, there are shades of the falsetto of Eddie Kendricks or Curtis Mayfield in Jacob Lusk’s lead vocal, and of I Heard It Through the Grapevine’s anguished air in the chord changes, which explains why one critic tagged their album with the seemingly contradictory label of retro-futuristic soul. But alongside such instantly familiar components, those tense, shrill strings and the gospel vibe of the backing singers create an atmosphere that is other-worldly.
2: Highly Amplified – Cornershop
The glorious centrepiece of their comeback album England Is A Garden, which arrived like an antidote, brimful of joy, politics, pop hooks and sitars, at the very moment the pandemic was beginning to do its worst.
3: Free Today – Albertine Sarges
The words ‘feminist theory’ feature in the spoken intro by Germany’s Ms Sarges; clearly this is no ordinary paean to freedom. Echoes of the B-52s in the vocal, while the flute and Hammond organ evoke Traffic.
4: Black Rider – Bob Dylan
Not the most obvious selection from Dylan’s best album since the 1970s, but a grower from the first, Spanish-style guitar flourish through one of his smoother vocals to the characteristically enigmatic lyric.
5: Barre – Songhoy Blues
If you need to be reminded of how thrilling electric guitars can still sound, check out this desert-blues gem from the Timbuktu quartet. ‘Barre’ means change and the song is a rallying cry to Malian youth.
6: Televised Mind – Fontaines DC
A song about brainwashing and the flimsy basis of some fierce convictions from the Dublin band’s album A Hero’s Death. They cite The Prodigy as an inspiration but there also traces of Pink Floyd circa 1967.
7: Mariana Trench – Bright Eyes
‘The idea,’ said singer-writer Conor Oberst, ‘is the juxtaposition of the highs and lows of everything.’ Mariana Trench, the deepest place on earth, is twinned with Mount Everest in a pulsing New Wave delight.
8: Call My Phone Thinking I’m Doing Nothing Better – The Streets/Tame Impala
Mike Skinner’s first new music since 2011 finds the British rapper interweaving his urban angst with the dreamy vocal stylings of Australian psychedelicist Kevin Parker. The sound of worlds colliding beautifully.
9: This Is What You Did – This Is The Kit
Another fusion of sorts, with folky banjo and rapid beats creating a fraught backdrop to Kate Stables’ part-spoken, part-sung vocal. She calls it a ‘panic attack song’. It also happens to be insidiously catchy.
10: We Will Always Love You – The Avalanches/Blood Orange
This soulful ballad, the first new material since 2016 by Australia’s Avalanches, features R&B singer Blood Orange but, more importantly, samples The Roches’ heavenly harmonies from 1979’s Hammond Song.
COVERS OF THE YEAR
1: War On Drugs – Accidentally Like A Martyr (Warren Zevon)
2: Billie Eilish – Something (The Beatles)
3: Jesca Hoop – White Winter Hymnal (Fleet Foxes)
4: Arlo Parks – Creep (Radiohead)
5: Margo Price – River (Joni Mitchell)