Favourite Albums of 2020

Favourite Albums of 2020

December 28, 2020

Written by:

Dragoș Rusu

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It's that time of the year when we draw a line of what happened in the music world in the past year. But this time it wasn't that easy, because this wasn't a regular year. But no complaints here; let's rather be grateful for all the great music that has been released throughout this year. Welcome to the endless journey through music albums. Despite being very strange in many ways, the exceptional 2020 has actually been a wonderful year for both new and old music discoveries.

It's been a while since we're doing this annual list. Since we dislike lists as much as you do, we asked some of our contributors, collaborators and friends to help us and share their favourite albums of 2020. No constraints; a complete freedom of picking any preferred album (or compilation) which was produced or repressed during the course of this year. Because when all else falls, music will stand up as a true companion.

A big thank you goes to everyone who contributed to this list. Once again, together, we compiled a beautiful selection of music that will resist any test of time.

From Angel Bat Dawid to BaBa ZuLa

Ak'chamel, The Giver Of Illness - The Totemist (Akuphone)
Ak'chamel, The Giver Of Illness - The Totemist (Akuphone)
A.G.A Trio - Meeting (Naxos World)
"The musicians of A.G.A Trio with their songs from Armenia, Georgia and Turkey establish a bridge between cultures. This is a long bridge of culture and overcomes the borders." Picked by Sakina Teyna

Ak'chamel, The Giver Of Illness - The Totemist (Akuphone)
"Somewhere in far West Texas – ”a place where the dead outnumber the living” – the band Ak'chamel, The Giver Of Illness are fourth world post-colonial cultural cannibalists circumcising the foreskin of enlightenment. Throughout years they have designed a unique sound evoking a sort of haunting, deep psychedelic folk music. This is a fascinating journey through funeral folk, mystic, psychedelic rock, and so on, and so forth." Picked by Dragoș Rusu

Akosh S. - Nakama Terek / Nakama Spaces (self-released)
"Hungarian maestro shows us with this album the widest palette of his genius, from the usual dose of free jazz and Pannonian folk lyricism to very coherent rhythmic tribal structures. "Kövek alatt / Under rocks" is definitely my favourite, and if I can say this album is maybe the strongest one from Akosh so far, and I'm saying this with full awareness of his immensely rich opus, that I strongly recommend going top to bottom and back." Picked by Branislav Jovancevic / Knr

Alan Braufman - The Fire Still Burns (The Control Group / Valley of Search)
"50 years after Albert Ayler's lifeless body has been found floating in New York's East River, his notorious saying „Music is the Healing Force of the Universe“ has never been more true than in the year gone by. Jazz, mostly in more extreme forms (call it „Free“, call it „Spiritual“, call it whatever you want) made up a good portion of my musical diet in 2020, bringing some much-needed urgency onto the plate. While it seems like the pandemic has been identifying „Jazz“ as its natural enemy and hitting this scene particularly hard, the flow of outstanding albums released in that genre throughout the year has been enormous. Standout works include: "Dialectic Soul“, the debut of South-African drummer, visual artist, PhD student and general polymath Asher Gamedze, coming from "On The Corner“, one of the most exciting imprints of 2020 (highly recommended also their "Siti of Unguja“ album). Alan Braufman is a saxophonist who was a fixture in New York’s 1970es underground loft scene. His only album so far came out 1975 on the influential but underrated India Navigation label. 2020 he totally unexpectedly returned to the scene with the appropriately called "The Fire Still Burns“. "Fire Music" at its best!" Picked by Christoph Linder

Alhousseini Anivolla & Girum Mezmur - Afropentatonism (Piranha Records)
"Another personal favourite, this first-time musical collaboration between Desert blues man Alhousseini Anivolla from Niger and Ethiopian Jazz guitarist Girum Mezmur. Based on the idea that pentatonic scales are indispensable for the development of African music, this album builds on the musical commonalities that East and West Africa share. Recorded live at a concert in Nairobi, Afropentatonism is being shaped through repetitive grooves, hypnotic jams and raw guitar sounds – all amidst the laid-back vocals of Alhousseini, who sings in his native tongue Tamashek. The duo is joined by four other musicians, each of whom is gracefully adding their sublime masinko, krar, mandolin and percussion sounds to the album’s musical aesthetic." Picked by Dimitra Zina

Amira Medunjanin - For Him And Her (Croatia Records)
"Bosnia's foremost sevdah singer released a career defining album where she interpreted the songs of two late Yugoslav era singers. Beautifully mournful Balkan music." Picked by Garth Cartwright

Ana Roxanne - Because of a Flower (Kranky)
"I can't really put into words or even figure out why is it that I feel the urge to include Ana's music into my Attic's end of year chosen three, yet again. Perhaps it is because I've never experienced such placid stillness that simultaneously appears to demand precisely that, urgency, somehow. Perhaps it is that I'm simply just not a writer, that I'm trying to convey sheer beauty and words naturally fail me. Or maybe it has something to do with her life as intersex informing and completing a rather unique sensibility that seems to permeate her artistic practice, feeling both marvellously free and ethereal to me, yet so firmly grounded. Maybe it’s just that is a fantastic album, one of those that you don't get quite tired of, a long awaited and much desired extension to her homonymous debut last year which has been my travel companion ever since I discovered it." Picked by Hugo Capablanca

Angel Bat Dawid - Transition East (International Anthem)
"After her critically acclaimed 2019 debut release “The Oracle”, the Chicago-based composer, clarinetist, singer and cultural activist Angel Bat Dawid, returns with this exceptional 7inch; a release that acts as a response to Emma Warren’s book “Make Some Space” – a chronicle of Total Refreshment Centre, the repurposed chocolate factory that was a key to cultivating London’s new jazz renaissance. Two tender and powerful spiritual jazz tracks, the first one of which is homonymous to the release title and pays a tribute to the recently revived Chicago community centre that served as a base for AACM and icons from the Black Arts Movement in the ‘60s. Following Sun Ra’s saying, “Space is the place”, this release delicately showcases not only the needed sonic and intellectual space through which great improvisation flourishes, but also the necessity of physical spaces that will help in nurturing it. Simply beautiful." Picked by Dimitra Zina

Asher Gamedze - Dialectic Soul (On the Corner)
Dialectic Soul is the debut LP from drummer Asher Gamedze. Picked by Christoph Linder

Aynur Doğan - Hedûr (Aynur)
"Aynur Doğan is one of the most important ambassadors of the Kurdish people, especially Kurdish Women on international stages in the nearly twenty years of her career. She repeatedly carried Kurdish folk music into the international bestseller lists and made her contribution to the fact that Kurdish music experienced a hesitant comeback in recent years, even in Turkey - despite all the reprisals and traumatic memories of the times when Kurdish cultural heritage was systematic in Turkey." Picked by Sakina Teyna

Baba Zula - Hayvan Gibi (Night Dreamer)
"BaBa ZuLa describe their sound as ‘Psychedelic Istanbul Rock ’n Roll’ – a heady mixture that laces the classic Anadolu psych sound with modern electronics, dubwise studio smarts, and fiery left-field sonic radicalism. Founded in 1996 after the breakup of experimental band ZeN, BaBa ZuLa began by scoring for film, before developing a style that pushed the classic Turkish psych sound of the 1970s forward into the 21st century. This is their most recent effort, one that deserves a well place among the greatest albums of 2020." Picked by Dragoș Rusu
Bab L’Bluz - Nayda (Real World Records)
Bab L’Bluz - Nayda (Real World Records)

From Balatron to Charley Crockett

Bab L’Bluz - Nayda (Real World Records)
"The debut album by Moroccan-French rockers was received with universal acclaim, and no wonder: psychedelic and bluesy, with lyrics in Arabic and leftfield politics to the fore, it jumps off from Moroccan Gnawa music to explore the North African roots of the blues. Lead singer Yousra, singing words of freedom while firing riffs from her awisha (small guimbri lute), is a revelation." Picked by Jane Cornwell

Balatron - Iðavöllur (Yuku)
"The incredible and crushing debut album by Icelandic electronic producer Bjarki Hallbergsson, hiding under the equally weighty name Balatron. The LP Iðavöllur is an hour-long trip to all kinds of bass music — from steroid-pumped and opiate hip-hop to rude destructive dubstep. Yes, dubstep — it seemed that this genre could not be rehabilitated in any way after its final fall in the eyes of all the ravers of the world, but Balatron did it with special grace. The album Iðavöllur is simply stuffed with bangers, which cannot be dismissed in any way — closer to the middle of the LP the excess of body movements becomes even bad. However, all this wonderful wobble does not at all cause bouts of nostalgia — it sounds absolutely adequate for 2020, as if all its main advantages were crystallized and put into practice only now. Conceptually, the album was composed very competently — sometimes it slows down its pressure, sometimes it replaces the bass obsession with garage and techno rhythms and rappers starts to sound like Roots Manuvas from all over the world into it. There is even not an obvious curtsey, forgive me, towards The Prodigy — for example, the track Straight Thugin sounds one to one like Poison of the XXI century. Best of all, the design of the album will talk about this LP — the cover depicts the futuristic urbanism of the cyberpunk city, whose residents are watching the approach of something huge, demolishing everything in its path. Another second and this whopper will carry not only these unfortunates (one of whom began to levitate in fear), but also you, the listener." Picked by Eugenie Galochkin

Bob Vylan - We Live Here (Venn Records)
"The politically most charged offering of the year comes from a London-based duo with a quirky name. Perfectly in sync with the „Black Live Matters“ demonstrations this spring and summer, adding a particularly British perspective and demanding so much more than only securing the bare lives of people. This record forms a pinnacle of a long line of dissident English voices for me. Fun fact: They nicked the title from one of my favourite films. The seminal „Babylon“ (1980) offered not only a fascinating insight into the booming UK reggae sound system culture of the time but also the bleak racism surrounding it." Picked by Christoph Linder

Bulbul - Kodak Dream (Siluh Records)
"First heard this album on my birthday in February shortly after it was released while I walked around the frozen and freezing lakeshore in Chicago. I kept pulling out my phone to take photos of ice patterns and, sans gloves, my hands and fingers became completely numb, burning from the cold. The insistent smiling darkness of this music kept me going, and then all throughout the year, even when “Going” meant standing stock-fucking-still and watching the know-it-alls hypermouth everyone else’s reality for them. If LCD Soundsystem had a personality thicker than a mirror, they’d have aspired to the humor, danceability, and groove panache of Bulbul. This latest album is like an icy stare from your hopeless crush, misread as a look of recognition." Picked by Andrew Choate

Cafe Türk - Cafe Türk (Zel Zele)
"A now-forgotten Turco-Swiss band creating gritty NDW in the 80’s is not only an anomaly on the musical side of things, but also an anachronism in the historical & socio-political side of things. Weren’t the Turkish gastarbeiters in Europe impossible to integrate? Weren’t the Swiss or the Germans unwelcoming or downright hostile? Who is this Turco-punk frontman? Why is this even a thing? Kudos to Zel Zele team for unearthing these materials 40 years after." Picked by mersenne/undomondo

Carlos Niño & Miguel Atwood-Ferguson - Chicago Waves (International Anthem)
"An intensely spiritualizing session to be consumed seamlessly. Motivating cymbals, violin prayers and percussive rattles persuade the unconscious, creating a spacious zone for contemplation. We courageously traverse emotional landscapes. Releasing the burden of baggage, we travel light - lifted by music which is as conducive as it is noble." Picked by Omri Shmulewitz

Carsten Meinert - CM Musictrain (Stunt)
"Danish saxophonist Carsten Meinert is known to many thanks to the album To You, recorded with his quartet in 1970. But not many people know that a year before that, Carsten had put together a group of debutants to record his most ambitious album. The lineup included young musicians who later became stars of Scandinavian and world jazz — these are Pierre Derge, Erling Kroner and many others. Disc C. M. Musictrain was recorded in one day — August 24, 1969 — half a week after Davis finished Bitches Brew on the other side of the ocean. However, for me personally, Carsten’s album sounds many times more modern and brighter than the incorruptible Miles. In C. M. Musictrain merged everything that could be heard in jazz music at that time. Psychedelic rock into a few electrified guitars at high speeds crashes into boorish free jazz; impudent fusion overflows with feelings and merges with radiant soul, and fidgety funk strives to turn into impudent punk (which at that time had not yet been invented). All this was played with the frantic energy of twenty-year-olds virtually on the first try. Here even saxophones are processed with guitar pedals — this album is so fresh and modern. The LP turned out to be so fiery that a few months after its release, a fire broke out in the studio and in the office of the Spectator label, which destroyed all remnants of the circulation, as well as the master copy. This year C. M. Musictrain is exactly 50 years old — on this occasion, this artifact of the era was reissued and finally became available to everyone." Picked by Eugenie Galochkin

Channelers - Isles Beyond (Inner Islands)
"This is the tenth full-length release by Channelers, an artist and musician based out of Oakland, California, by the name of Sean Conrad. He produces music since 2015 and releases under his own imprint Inner Islands. Suitable for meditation, the whole album is a beautiful journey, providing inner peace through its healing soundscapes." Picked by Dragoș Rusu

Charley Crockett ‎- Welcome To Hard Times (Son of Davy)
"Charley Crockett is a young Texan country singer who has lived what he sings about." Picked by Garth Cartwright

Contento - Lo Bueno Está Aquí (El Palmas Music)
"Sexy and smooth. One of my favourite choices for dancing in the living room during lockdown. Favourite Track: Pelo Negro." Picked by Coco Maria

Dervish Taxi - Round One (FancyMusic)
"The Round One album was the result of the first joint session of two musicians: Dmitriy Peitsch (guitar player) and Yan Yamin (drummer). The recording made in the fall of 2018 is the constituent of this record, without any edits, carefully recorded musical experience that gave rise to the new project." Picked by Dragoș Rusu
Duma - Duma (Nyege Nyege Tapes)
Duma - Duma (Nyege Nyege Tapes)

From Ellen Fullman to Heinali

DJ Metatron ‎- Loops Of Infinity (A Rave Loveletter) (All Possible Worlds)
"There are rare moments in life when things match up gloriously and in an otherwise bleak year we got one of these moments, in music. Dj Metatron self-released and timely titled 4xLP Loops of Infinity (A Rave Loveletter) comes as a summoned genie of the raves we all miss and contemplate, but to call it simply a celebration of rave culture kind of misses the point. The ephemeral artist we are referring to here as Dj Metatron didn’t simply create a 29 Track dance record but actually conducted a whole orchestra of memories, fantasies and laments over this almost divine image of the rave. It doesn’t sound like any rave I’ve ever attended nor like any I’d hope to one day but more like one’s ambiguous glorification of what a rave should feel like - ‘This is not a perfect party’ chants the vocal sample of Jesse Jackson addressing the 1984 DNC, and it rings through of everything that follows, perfection had nothing to do with the rave to which this love-letter is addressed. It’s about ideals! Musically speaking, it can feel at times like a sample of snippets and ideas, but I see that working even better with the tasting experience attempted here anyway. You can expect elements of pure trance, house, techno and breakbeat but all in the signature style of the artist." Picked by Dragoș Munteanu

Duma - Duma (Nyege Nyege Tapes)
"I saw them on the stream of Tusk Festival 2020 in October, live from a deep pit in Nairobi and it was the best live stream I ever tried... Cool and very intense. Punk enough." Picked by Victor Stutz
"A derivation of the Kenyan metal scene, Duma performs a hybrid of grindcore and street music with fragile borders and a monstrous distorting sound." Picked by Paul Breazu

Elektricheskaya Sobaka - Yabadabadubuda (ТОПОТ)
"Straight from the underground vaults of Moscow, the trio Elektricheskaya Sobaka signed in 2020 their first album, the beautifully diverse Yabadabadubuda, a sort of comprehensive compendium surfing through punk aesthetics and dynamic DIY free rock forms of music. Comprising Rustem Imamiev (aka XΛN), Kirill Stepanov (Rites of Passage) and Nicolai Schizoph, the trio delivers this unmissable debut album, evoking full force and vitality throughout its ten pieces. Freak out!" Picked by Dragoș Rusu

Ellen Fullman - In the Sea (Superior Viaduct)
"It’s sometimes enough to just listen to a record twice a year. Ellen Fullman’s vivid performances on the long-string instrument create deserted imaginative places that are helpfully open." Picked by Ivan Shelekhov

Errol Linton ‎- No Entry (BrassDog Records)
"Linton hails from Brixton, London, and plays blues with a reggae feel. Black British blues - this is it." Picked by Garth Cartwright

Francesca Heart - Ianassa Alga Miraggio (Ingrown Records)
"Back in 2017 I contacted Francesca to collaborate on an interview. I discovered her through Silvia Mal’s Nice Stranger radio show. I found out that she was living in California and knew Iasos. We then decided to interview Iasos together but the piece never came out. We met later in Milan and, through Artetetra, she ran into her closest collaborator which is Polonius. She recently ranked forty-eighth on the “Style your Barbie” contest, not being able to see her dream of an “Aquatic New Age Barbie” come true." Picked by Matteo Pennessi

FUJI||||||||||TA - iki (Hallow Ground)
"Must admit, I like unorthodox approaches, deflating asymmetric bellows through pipes. This one is great! Very reduced but powerful in its fragility. Nothing in common with recent neoprotestant organ hype. Hey, brother as about that! Honest music, which makes you want to see by yourself." Picked by Stefan Fraunberger

G Sudden - Bunout Boss (Bokeh Versions)
"Geddes Gengras and Cameron Stallones team up with Bokeh Versions and do something very important for musical cultures worldwide right now. Have different people connect and produce something together. In particular, they manage to achieve a perfect mix given by the union of Jamaican vocalists and contemporary electronic producers. The result is like an unapologetic and organic prosecution of both digital dancehall and dub experimentalism. Despite loving almost each one of their releases, 2020 brought us another wonderful collaboration between vocalist G Sudden and metaphysic dancehall authorities Seekrsinternational. No lies, 100% gold." Picked by Luigi Monteanni

Groupe RTD - Dancing Devils of Djibouti (Ostinato Records)
"From Ethio-jazz grooves, to Somali melodies, from Arabic influences to African, and all the way to Jamaican ones, this record is a surprising mixture of sounds that run flawlessly through a varied set of songs. It’s hard not to tap your feet to the energetic pace of this album, while swaying to the virtuoso mastery of the synth and sax playing, or to the smoothness of the vocals. Recorded by super-group Groupe RTD in only three days, this is allegedly the first record of music from Djibouti to be released outside the small East African country. We need more of this." Picked by Claudiu Oancea

Guedra Guedra كدرة كدرة - Son Of Sun (On The Corner Records)
"My favorite 2020 releases list could not exclude the debut of the multitalented Moroccan producer Guedra Guedra كدرة كدرة. Out on the prolific London-based label On The Corner Records earlier this year, Son Of Sun blends in a rhythmically powerful way traditional North African rhythms with contemporary electronic music. This six-track release delivers an effortless transitioning through all sorts of musical landscapes from Gnawa to Chaabi-inspired music, all accompanied by an unshakeable and distinctive bass energy that is hard to ignore. A limited-edition repress will drop in 2021, make sure not to miss this rerun." Picked by Dimitra Zina

Heinali - Madrigals (Injazero Records)
"A joyous result of Heinali’s fascination with late Medieval and Renaissance polyphony. Kyiv-based electronic music composer amalgamated a wide spectrum of modular synth timbres with acoustic performances on baroque instruments. Sounds careful and saturated. I needed a reason to dig into my books on pre-classical European music, and now I finally got it!" Picked by Ivan Shelekhov
"A futuristic Middle-Age movie without images, melodies that put you in the state of reveries and communion with Nature. Beautifully crafted and tender. Favourite track: Beatrice." Picked by Berangere Maximin

Iceblink - Carpet Cocoon (Moon Glyph)
"Crafted for repeated listening. Sound plains which are immediately enticing, inducing a sense of perpetual existence. They could go on forever, if the tracks didn’t have to end. A remedying dose of tunes that would fit perfectly in the cozy Woo-esque universe we are reminded to believe in." Picked by Omri Shmulewitz
Koniec Pola - Trop (Spółdzielnia)
Koniec Pola - Trop (Spółdzielnia)

From Jimi Tenor to Kate NV

Jahari Massamba Unit - Pardon My French (Madlib Invazion)
"If you’re familiar with the extensive Yesterdays New Quintet Universe, Madlib’s early 2000s jazz effort, then chances are you would have heard of Jahari Massamba Unit on the self-titled Yesterdays Universe LP from 2007. However short of that, Pardon My French is the first stand-alone full LP collaboration between the eclectic producer Madlib and the classically trained jazz drummer Karriem Riggins and it is a phenomenal one. Mostly a jazz record, it perfectly blends notes of spiritual jazz of the 60s, deep fusion of the 70s and certainly prog flavours from in-between. Ultimately Pardon my French feels like an intimate jam session you somehow got invited to. Madlib and Karriem Riggins are building off of each-others intuition and you can all but hear the glasses clinking, the lighters sparking and at one point a confident but swift ‘Yeah’." Picked by Dragoș Munteanu

Jah9 ‎- Note To Self (VP Records)
"The Jamaican ‘dub on jazz’ pioneer’s most cohesive album, showing higher levels of maturity in her song-writing and focus." Picked by David Katz

Jim Denley and Noel Meek - Static Swimmers (Caterpillar)
"Beautifully recorded and mixed, saxophone and electronics blend and the music is, as the titles of the two tracks "tread water" and "go with the flow" suggest, constantly and organically changing and flowing, but so coherent and detailed that you almost don’t notice it." Picked by Magda Mayas

Jimi Tenor - Aulos (Philophon)
"I love this album: a mix of future, comforting sounds and voices that we know. Released by one of my favourite labels in the world, Philophon. Can’t wait to see Jimi Tenor live! Great Artwork. Favourite Track: Ki´igba." Picked by Coco Maria

Judith Hamann - Music for Cello and Humming (Blank Forms Editions)
"I really loved listening to this release, simple, pure, and so well played without being too “clean”, the music breathes so naturally." Picked by Magda Mayas

Jyoti - Mama, You Can Bet! (SomeOthaShip Connect)
"The third instalment of Georgia Anne Muldrow’s solo jazz project – Jyoti is the name bestowed upon her by the great Alice Coltrane - joins the dots between jazz and genres from blues, funk and R&B to hip-hop and soul in ways resonant, spiritual and intermittently spine-tingling. Afrofuturism in all its ancient-to-future glory. A dialogue with the past, the now; with what’s coming." Picked by Jane Cornwell

Kate NV - Room for the Moon (RVNG Intl.)
"City pop for Moscow evenings, with a transparent attachment to Soviet fantasy TV children's soundtracks, decanted and nostalgically recovered." Picked by Paul Breazu

Koniec Pola - Trop (Devoted Art Propaganda)
"These six compositions by Polish psych folk band Koniec Pola evokes a harsh winter in an East European village with a dark secret. Doesn’t sound metal in many parts but burns colder than the blackest metal on some, without sounding like it. Listen to the riff on Trzeci." Picked by mersenne/undomondo

Kooshin - Layla (Little Axe Records)
"Initially I wanted all my picks to be recorded in 2020, for the pandemic effect. But then there's no palpable pandemic effect on music as far as I can see. Mohamed M. Kooshin was a master of the kaban and played sensuous Somali music. He died on December 27th 2018." Picked by Victor Stutz

Liturgy - Origin of the Alimonies (YLYLCYN)
"Hunter Hunt-Hendrix and Liturgy have always given us superb proof that the black metal tradition is not only alive, but despite some of its radical principles, is evolving towards multiple directions, spawning new sub and sub-sub-genres and developing new visions, be they more or less philosophical, more or less nihilistic and so on. Origins of the Alimonies is not only this, but one of the most conscious and interesting developments of contemporary metal and theoric avantgarde in general, albeit not the only one. Gesamtkunstwerken, transcendence principles and an alternative beat technique. ALL HAIL!" Picked by Luigi Monteanni
Nat Birchall meets Al Breadwinner - Upright Living (Tradition Disc)
Nat Birchall meets Al Breadwinner - Upright Living (Tradition Disc)

From Mazen Kerbaj to Oranssi Pazuzu

Maalem Mahmoud Gania - Aicha (Hive Mind Records)
"Once again, London based imprint Hive Mind Records transports the listener into a magical land, a beautifully crafted realm of the Moroccan master Mahmoud Gania. This is another reissue of the music of the undisputed King of Gnawa music, the late Maalem Mahmoud Gania." Picked by Dragoș Rusu

Martin Taxt - First Room (Sofa Music)
"Lots of people discovered they had trouble sitting alone, quietly, in a room this year. To gird yourself for the existential porkchopping, I recommend more experience with Taxt’s debut solo album, composed for Margrete Aas on viola da gamba and double bass, and Taxt himself on microtonal tuba. If your hands can’t sit still, see what kinds of dances they do filtering the ooze of cosmic time. The first recording in what promises to be a thoughtful series exploring the rather generic relationship between architecture and music; however, in the hands of such a severely nuanced instrumentalist as Taxt, the premise becomes a clear structure from each idea breathes and dissipates: clarity, goodbye, ta-da." Picked by Andrew Choate

Maxim Shalygin - Mazes of Pleasures
"A thick fog, a lament, suspended melancholy then suddenly, the clash, reality is there dense and hard, not made for delicate ears. Favourite track: Holly Drill." Picked by Berangere Maximin

Mazen Kerbaj ‎- Ringtones (self-released)
"The trumpet player Mazen Kerbaj got hooked and released the ultra-short album in discography — it lasts one and a half minutes and contains as many as 27 tracks. But what tracks! Kerbaj played 27 real ringtones for your phones on the trumpet — there are allusions to the sounds of an alarm clock, breathing of Darth Vader and Evan Parker, a helicopter and kisses, a squirrel and a mouse, a flat tire and a knock on the door. And all this is done with a malicious smile on his face. My favorite ringtone is of course Trumpet Sound, ahah. It is also worth adding that Ringtones also deserves the title of the funniest jazz album of 2020." Picked by Eugenie Galochkin

Meridian Brothers - Cumbia Siglo XXI (Les Disques Bongo Joe)
"Meridian Brothers never disappoint. This album is like a weird, ultra-cool friend. Dancy, spacy. A good soundtrack for moments of hope in this crazy year. Favourite Track: Cumbia de la Soledad." Picked by Coco Maria

MinaeMinae - Gestrüpp (Marionette)
"Minaeminae is the alias of German based music producer Bastian Epple, who just released the second album on the Toronto imprint Marionette, a label releasing ”hard to place electronic and electroacoustic music onto heavyweight vinyl with meticulously handcrafted cover-art.” Lying somewhere on the crossroads of psychedelic trance, exotica, ambient and melodic dance music, this album can be a great companion in isolation, challenging the listener to discover new ways and practices of escapism." Picked by Dragoș Rusu

Nat Birchall meets Al Breadwinner - Upright Living (Tradition Disc)
"A deep, contemplative set that references the classic instrumental reggae of the 1970s, with guest appearances from trombonist Vin Gordon. Maintains the standard of earlier releases." Picked by David Katz

Naujawanan Baidar - Naujawanan Baidar (Feeding Tube Records, Cardinal Fuzz)
"Afghan musical heritage meets 21st century psychedelia, in a DIY melange of hypnotizing tape loops, folk melodies, and noise textures, that leave your brain spinning in circles, as each new groove is cut into the vinyl by the needle playing this mesmerizing music. Equally airless and refreshing, this 2LP/CDr compilation brings together Naujawanan Baidar’s music that was previously available only on cassettes. Highly recommended for searchers of transcendental music experiences. But beware, this is not an easy ride." Picked by Claudiu Oancea

Oranssi Pazuzu - Mestarin kynsi (Nuclear Blast)
"This band probably has a direct line to the demon Pazuzu himself and help him run a mechanical part of Hell that involves delirious humans put on soul draining repetitive jobs. The best thing in Black Metal today (or psychedelic music or kraut rock) by leaps and bounds." Picked by mersenne/undomondo

Piezo - Perdu LP (Hundebiss Records)
"Back in 2017 I contacted Piezo asking for a remix of ‘Picking the Right Leaves’ by Holypalms. We come from the same area, county of Macerata, but we never met since he was living in Bristol. Perhaps that’s where he learned all these crazy sounds and beats? We both ended up in Milan and I feel pretty lucky cause it’s kinda hard to have a dj like this in town. He now owns a peculiar convenience candy store that only accepts bitcoin payments." Picked by Matteo Pennessi

Piotr Kurek - A Sacrifice Shall Be Made / All The Wicked Scenes (Mondoj)
"One of the most important contemporary musicians of our time, just delivered his magnum opus, and it should be praised from the top of our lungs. "...A Sacrifice Shall Be Made / All The Wicked Scenes is comprised of pieces composed specifically to accompany theatre performances directed by Tian Gebing (500m and The Decalogue) and Grzegorz Jarzyna (Two Swords)". The level of complexity in structure, ideas, forms, expressions is just out of this world. Piotr is in such an ease with blending and transcending so many different music traditions and forms that you feel natural to hear amalgam of opera, post-rock, lo-fi tape guitar miniatures etc. Hats off!" Picked by Branislav Jovancevic / Knr

Praed Orchestra! - Live In Sharjah (Morphine Records)
"Amazing musicians forming this unusual orchestra - I love the wild and effortless mix of genres and moods." Picked by Magda Mayas

Riasni Drova Consort - Середини (self-released)
"Here Lviv’s avant-folk trio is tuned to their beloved mode of “a fake early music ensemble”. This is a collection of outtakes comprising original renditions of songs from Llibre Vermell de Montserrat, and also a 12th-century Kalenda Maia. The timbres and moods arriving besides flinching string noises are captivating. A bit melancholic, but profoundly beautiful in its preconditioned spontaneity." Picked by Ivan Shelekhov
Tasos Stamou - Greek Drama (self-released)
Tasos Stamou - Greek Drama (self-released)

From Sam Gendel to Sun Ra Arkestra

Robert Turman - Chapter Eleven (Hanson Records/Helicopter)
"It's a pity that Turman's remastered octuple cassette debut from 1988 doesn't extend longer in duration. More than four hours of hypnotic "trans-al-dente" sounds that truly could be eight and still feel too short. Often labelled as one of US industrial scene pioneers, truth is that Turman's opus is too delicate and cosmic to fit such labelling - any labelling really, as all my favorite recordings seem to be able to do- and would float more comfortably next to a restrained JD Emmanuel, or mirror in minimal opulence and inventivity the similarly unfathomable Charles Cohen's retrospective on Morphine. This last comparison is more of a perfect out of body day at home playlist suggestion than a clumsy attempt to foreign rhetoric if you'd ask me." Picked by Hugo Capablanca

Sam Gendel - Satin Doll (Nonesuch Records)
"One of the things that have been said about Sam Gendel is that he is probably the best saxophone player alive right now. Of course, this can’t be true, at least not in the classic sense for which music and/or technique can be objectively ranked and judged. Despite this, when we hear someone say something like that, we cannot stop thinking that we are in front of something at least. Satin Doll is nothing but the next step in Gendel’s wonderful and elegant inquiry in the contemporary possibilities of his instrument. Lazy people will say jazz, but we’re not that lazy, are we? Probably the most influential musician for me at the moment." Picked by Luigi Monteanni

Sam Lee - Old Wow (Cooking Vinyl)
"With producer Bernard Butler, late of Suede, the English singer-songwriter and folksong saviour Sam Lee crafted a tour de force with Old Wow, a work named for the might of nature. Traditional songs are re-wilded, invested with edge and currency – Lee’s duet with the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser is to die for – with original verses and music folded in, here and there, with painterly deftness. Music as enchantment." Picked by Jane Cornwell

Schubert, Ian Bostridge, Saskia Giorgini - Die Schöne Müllerin (Pentatone)
"Well, you might think it's odd, but here we have an early version of sound ecology. Some say that Schubert's "the maiden of the mill" is a cosmic cycle representing the earth on different layers. Naturally its deeper meaning is not represented on the surface. Schubert, the poor man, never having tasted success in his short life, left behind a very special understanding of the herald of coming good, right before industrialisation started replacing water mills with motors... The whole cycle goes around the movement of water dancing between live and death. Literally it's about the relation between humans and their material preconditions. Interesting to add: We would find Ottoman Makam Tunings like Buselik, Mahur and Rast along the cycle’s way - it's full of it! Fortunately, this interpretation sung by Ian Bostrige is moving at a rare limit. Waiting for more unorthodoxy, some things were caged too long in museums..."Picked by Stefan Fraunberger

Schwab - Orgel Schmutz (The Cristea Institute)
"The new release of probably the most left-field label in Bucharest could mean, among many others, a Casiotone in a living room in Drumul Taberei, the place where the Cold War does not end." Picked by Paul Breazu

Señor Service - Pollo Gordo (Pampsychia)
"Umberto Pasinetti has invested in Artetetra stocks and tapes since 2016. A couple of years later we met in a Sunday symposium held in Macao, Milan. By that time, he was living in an infamous dungeon in the southside of the city. After the first look we both knew we were going in the same direction, he left the dungeon and we eventually ended up living together. Pollo Gordo has been my quarantine soundtrack." Picked by Matteo Pennessi

Senyawa & Stephen O'Malley - Bima Sakti (iDEAL Recordings)
"Doomy, claustrophobic, and menacing. Descending, descending even more, and circling in spirals. Indonesian experimental duo Senyawa and Sunn O))) member Stephen O’Malley have joined forces and the result is a slow, hypnotic, musical voyage through creeping, dark sound abysses. Even with the performers’ background, this is a completely unique work. At times, this is what King Crimson’ Larks Tongues in Aspic would have sounded, without the rhythm complexity, but with quadruple the avantgarde. But then again, there are all the other times, when Bima Sakti leaves behind any music influences and ventures into sonic black holes, that are not for the faint-hearted." Picked by Claudiu Oancea

SiP - Leos Naturals (Not Not Fun Records)
"Lacy’s melodic explorations are contagious. They definitely leave an imprint. I wish I could go back and visit those nightly happy hour sessions from which the sound was born. The feeling is of a complete musical language, sufficiently communicable yet charmingly new. A collection of mesmeric stories that become all the more beautifully coherent together. This album makes me happy." Picked by Omri Shmulewitz

Smagghe & Cross - 1819 (Offen Music)
"The second full fleshed LP from Ivan Smagghe and Rupert Cross comes as an enigma of sound almost begging to be deciphered. Blending beautifully elements of Japanese ambient, neoclassical composition and industrial tones which paint many pictures, but musically it is flawless. In early February of this year, I found myself in a tiny basement of a record shop in London for a full listening session of the album along conducted by Ivan Smagghe himself. He voiced his reluctance to be there, this was only a few days after the tragic death of his close friend and local hero Andrew Weatherall, so he decided to talk about him rather than the album in opening. This really highlighted the phantasmagorical elements of the music on the record and made for a truly deep experience which has altered my perception of 1819 forever. So, I come full circle and reiterate that this is an enigma waiting for you to attribute meaning to." Picked by Dragoș Munteanu

Sun Ra Arkestra - Swirling (Strut)
"The Last time I saw them perform I thought that I would pick this as an example of the beauty that mankind is capable to create. I love the music on the album and especially the retro futuristic production of it. So warm, so balanced. It’s important that the Arkestra exists!" Picked by Nicolas Sheikholeslami

Tasos Stamou - Greek Drama (Chocolate Monk)
"This is a very late release (December 20th) but somewhat a fruition of a year filled with Greek music for me. I listened to it at home, I selected it for the monthly staff picks, I went to Athens and listened to Greek stuff there, I did a podcast with rembetika music. I even promised a friend I'll show him some Greek music - and didn't. So here is this great 2020 Greek experience recorded in July and August 2020 (in Agioi Theodoroi) by a very relevant musician." Picked by Victor Stutz
The Mothers - The Mothers 1970 (Zappa Records)
The Mothers - The Mothers 1970 (Zappa Records)

From The Necks to Ustad Saami

The Dwarfs Of East Agouza - The Green Dogs of Dahshur (Akuphone)
"The Dwarfs of East Agouza are back with The Green Dogs of Dashur Once again, the prolific American-Egyptian trio composed of Alan Bishop (Acoustic Guitar-Bass/Alto Sax), Sam Shalabi (Electric Guitar) and Maurice Louca (Organ/Synthesizers/Beats) breaks off all constraints and reveals a resolutely free album offering the listener variations of seductive melodies and unhinged improvised trance. The hot embossed metallic double-headed dog designed by the Lebanese artist Lynne Zakhour perfectly illustrates this album that blurs the boundaries of rock and jazz. A new album that will certainly delight fans of Sun City Girls or Land Of Kush." Picked by Dragoș Rusu

The Master Musicians of Jajouka feat. Bachir Attar - Apocalypse Across the Sky (Zehra)
"I'm so late to the party there's not even music playing anymore, whoever's still there are making out, passed out or both, and all paper cups have cigarette butts in them floating in a few drops of dark pestilence. But hey, I'm here, better late than never; only that in this particular case it is *never too late. This year I got to properly zone out to The Master Musicians of Jajouka and it was such a great party that I can still see a jet of pure energy flowing into the cosmos from the fireplace and what would be an embarrassing acknowledgment of ignorance is largely surpassed by a bow of admiration still melting into pagan trance of the finest order. Brian Jones died for your sins, but Bill Laswell recorded them better. La Hostia Secular." Picked by Hugo Capablanca

The Mothers - The Mothers 1970 (Zappa Records)
"Four-CD box set of a sadly short-lived, exquisitely versatile, and expectedly playful lineup highlighted by Aynsley Dunbar (drums), George Duke (keys), and Ian Underwood (woodwinds). Dirty lyrically, raunchy musically, filthy socially: the perfect music to actually enjoy, as opposed to wave around on social media in the hope that some exclusionary tribe will finally recognize the moral purity of your boring conscience. For all the sudden and surprised anger in 2020, Zappa was singing about the tiresome redundancy of American platitudes in 1970: "Well I'm about to get upset/ From watchin' my TV/ Checkin' out the news/ Until my eyeballs fail to see/ I mean to say that every day/ Is just another rotten mess/ And when it's gonna change, my friend/ Is anybody's guess." But did you see how Jay-Z got the NFL to allow players to put a slogan (eighteen characters maximum, two centimeters high) on the back of their helmet!?!?" Picked by Andrew Choate

The Necks - Three (Northern Spy Records)
"This latest album by one of my favorite live acts features the composition Further, which I was listening to on repeat for quite a while this year. Somehow this song is managing to not appeal kitschy despite its pure beauty. Light! More light!" Picked by Nicolas Sheikholeslami

The Zonke Family - At The Studio (Philophon)
"A lot of things are dying, there are a lot of dying breeds, humans are killing a lot of beautiful stuff. Some of it human as this music from Zimbabwe, played on the matepe - a sort of mbira. A music about to disappear, but not to be forgotten." Picked by Victor Stutz

Tina Čatlaić & Zagušljivi Dim - Plava Lily (PMK Records)
"It's always a great feeling when you discover a new local artist (in this context from the Ex-Yu region) that has such a strong release, that you feel right from the first listen it’s going to be an instant classic. Tina is a young poet from Croatia and together with band Zagušljivi Dim, they created something really special here. Aficionados of MMOB should not miss this one." Picked by Branislav Jovancevic / Knr

Tomáš Liška & Invisible World - Hope (Invisible Records)
"Crystal clearly instrumental music with relaxed improvisations and strong melodies from an international line up." Picked by Sakina Teyna

Toots & The Maytals - Got To Be Tough (Trojan Jamaica)
"An enjoyable swansong from Toots with plenty of musical punch, with tracks about resilience and struggle, as well as commentary on man’s inhumanity to man." Picked by David Katz

Ustad Saami - Pakistan Is for the Peaceful (Glitterbeat Records)
"Recorded on a rooftop in incredible Karachi, the album contains nothing less than Saami's voice. His subtle approach is not about perfection, it's about finding a way between the world of materiality and beyond. Since "modern" music tries to smuggle itself out of the technical disaster of standardised tunings, and on its way out just got stuck in political attitudes, we shouldn't forget that the language of states (tunings) has been a regional code anywhere, before a certain method (or let's rather call it a symmetric trick) came to overrule all them regional codes. Ustad Saami is real about performing almost 50 tones per octave, being a traditionally handed down relational code, not an "intonation system", which might be the point why he can go from here to there without staying stuck in a system. All of this is meant to be a ritual of imagination, not an experiment of reason within matter. Having stayed in Pakistan for some month, I remember once hearing the early-morning Azan (call to prayer) in Karachi being mixed with all kinds of early oceanic birds, just before traffic started - ... Ustad Saami got this spirit, being just too delicate for global hypes. So, what's it all about with the so-called failed states? Which states? are we in, and how to go through them is the big question of Hindustani, Muslim-based traditions. There's so much more to say about it... If music is down to earth and out in eternity at the same time ..." Picked by Stefan Fraunberger

YlangYlang - Interplay (Crash Symbols)
"This cassette features the song Limitless, which I kept on coming back to. It resembles a lot of the music I would listen to when I was younger and that now would appeal a bit two-dimensional to me. Limitless though appeals like a very plastic melancholic composition to me, embodying a lot of the duality of life." Picked by Nicolas Sheikholeslami

Zavoloka - Ornament (Prostir)
"A line appears in the horizon and quickly leaves space to a robotic rhythm that brings the ear and rest of body to the edge, a tribal dance of the apocalypse where some druide’s accompanying your journey. I’d recommend it to the teenagers affected by the confinement having to bear their parents around on a daily basis. Favourite track: Vzir." Picked by Berangere Maximin
About the Author

Dragoș Rusu

Co-founder and co-editor in chief of The Attic and allround music adventurer.

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