Members of our Saint Audio team picked some of their favorite songs and albums from one of the strangest years of our lifetime—2020.
Alex Donaldson’s Picks
Nowhere Land – Karkara
It’s hard to imagine a piece of artwork more fitting for the music it is paired with than the cover of Nowhere Land. The French trio’s follow up to 2019 debut Crystal Gazer feels like a fraught exploration of a fantastical landscape. ‘Space caravan’ shows off the group’s virtuosic mastery of their instruments on an album where even the didgeridoo makes an appearance. Across the record the guitars switch between suffocating, overdriven bass notes, piercing high shrieks and echoing middle eastern rhythms. The intense, unyielding rhythm of the drumming the guitars serves to give the album a frantic energy that makes it feel like a 36 minute thrill-ride. When it slows down on songs like “People of Nowhere Land” it dives head first into its psychedelic and desert rock influence in what almost feels like an Arabic take on King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s Murder of the Universe. In listening to it, Nowhere Land feels massive. Although the vocals are hidden behind so many layers of reverb and sound they effectively take on the role of an instrumental addition to an album who’s epic scale defies its short runtime.
Are You in Love? – Basia Bulat
The best moments on Are You in Love? are certainly its sweetest. Songs such as “Light Years” and the title track “Are You in Love?” draw from classic folk ballads of years gone bye. Bulat, a singer/songwriter based in Montreal drew from another experienced folk artist in My Morning Jacket’s Jim James for production on this album and the quality is evident. Her voice stands out on every song as the centrepiece and the music surrounding it plays the perfect accompanying roles. The electric-acoustic dynamics on songs like “Homesick” and “Electric Roses” add a further dimension to the album. The record’s closing track “Love is at the End of the World” starts as an unassuming love song and ends in a soaring guitar solo much in the vein of James’ own work. It’s one of the standout tracks of the year and perfectly finishes off a great album.
Optimisme – Songhoy Blue
‘Optimisme’ or in English, optimism, is the name of the game for the Malian outfit’s third full-length album. “Worry,” one of the band’s first forays into English-language songwriting encourages the youth to have just that, optimism, and be positive. The album opens with a rip-roaring anthem for female empowerment in “Badala”. The album is without a doubt their most overt political statement, demanding empowerment across two languages. Legendary punk-rocker Matt Sweeney is on hand for production meaning the statements have a heavy soundtrack to match. It’s without a doubt one of the most groovy rock records this year.
A Growing Season – Marjorie
“Idyll, an extremely happy, peaceful, or picturesque period or situation.” The meaning of the title of the first track of A Growing Season couldn’t describe the mood of the album any better. In a summer with record heat this album was the soundtrack to that. Marjorie (real name Seamus McMahon) drew inspiration from legendary folk singer Nick Drake in crafting this serene yet expressive album of songs inspired by his Massachusetts surroundings and recorded in his grandparents’ old home. “95” is a perfect relaxing car journey soundtrack whilst “Doo Wop (A Ballad)” perfectly captures the essence of a warm summer night. It’s the perfect album for feeling warm and fuzzy, any time of the year.
The Outrunners – Curren$y & Harry Fraud
Curren$y went on a tear in 2020, releasing four projects throughout the year, two with producer Harry Fraud. The standout of these four is The Outrunners, a project that sees the pair on the top of their game. Curren$y’s laid back flow is as infectious as ever and Harry Fraud’s dynamic production excellently soundtracks his highs and lows. Featured artists Conway the Machine, Wiz Khalifa, Rick Ross and Jim Jones all perfectly complement the pair without stealing the spotlight. The soulful highlights “Gold & Chrome,” “Offloading,” and standout track “Cutlass Cathedrals” make this one of the best rap records of the year and cemented the pair’s place as one of the top rapper/producer combos in the game.
Adult Themes – El Michels Affair
Described as “the soundtrack for a movie that has yet to be made, an imaginary film entitled Adult Themes.” El Michels Affair do not disappoint on this promise. It is at times celebratory (“The Life of Pablo”), moody (“Kill the Lights”), ominous (“Adult Theme No. 4”) and yet like a film blends all of these emotions together seamlessly across its half hour of runtime. The beauty is that you are free to create whichever narrative you want for Adult Themes and the compositions will always fit. To create such an effortlessly cohesive soundtrack for a film that does not exist outside of the imagination, and to have each individual piece be catchy and listenable in its own right, is a major feat.
Invisible People – Chicano Batman
The sonic pallette of Chicano Batman is a simple one, whirring synths, bright guitars and an endlessly funky rhythm section but the music it results in is so much more. The California quartet’s latest album is their most earnest political statement, but also one of their best sonic statements. The riffs are sharper, the grooves are tighter and the songs are more focused. “Manuel’s Story” brings engaging storytelling to the table and “Blank Slate” is endlessly danceable. The album touches on feelings of love and togetherness and when it slows down on the title track it shows the band’s ability to make a statement and sound good doing it.
Modus Vivendi – 070 Shake
The debut album from 070 Shake seeks to take pop in an unflinching new direction, and succeeds with the gamble. Produced by Mike Dean, “Modus Vivendi” blends elements of pop, hip-hip hop and electronic music into a package that has something for everyone. Standout single “Guilty Conscience” is an anthemic slice of synth-pop that is easily one of the best songs of the year. “Terminal B” has similar soaring highs whilst “Nice to Have” and “Rocketship” explore more darker, rap oriented lanes. The synth tones and percussion choices utilised bring the album in different yet interconnected directions and ultimately make it one of the most interesting and fulfilling listens of the year.
The Waterfall 2 – My Morning Jacket
Taken from the sessions that produced 2015’s “The Waterfall”, its sequel is a decidedly more low-key affair. Opener “Spinning My Wheels” sees lead singer Jim James crooning over a sweet electric piano melody. It sets the tone for an album with fewer massive hooks and riffs but instead sees the quintet exploring a more thoughtful side. “Still Thinkin” is a 60s tinged departure from their usual sound and “Welcome Home” is a slow nod to their folk roots. There is a lot for fans of their classic material however. “Feel You” is quintessential MMJ with its massive, reverb drenched hook. “Wasted” too has the same heavy riffs that drew so many fans to their earlier works. It’s the closing track “The First Time” that is the album’s standout however. It sees James reminiscing about a treasured moment he wishes he could relive over one of the most euphoric end solos the group have recorded in a while. It’s a wistful end to an ultimately immensely rewarding return to a collection of songs previously thought lost.
Will This Make Me Good – Nick Hakim
Will This Make Me Good is at times a tough listen. Nick Hakim’s sophomore album is at times languid but only to explore the true depth of its sound and subject. The opener ‘All These Changes’ for example looks at a future of the world ravaged by climate change. Abbreviated title track “WTMMG” is an emotionally poignant song about growing-up whilst medicated as a child. He started as he meant to go on, the album addressing concerns from across the emotional spectrum, the sadness of bereavement (“Qadir”), the violence that is contained within each of us (“Crumpy”). On “Drum Thing” he cant even help but howl at his frustrations. On most tracks Hakim seems barely above a whisper whilst singing, yet his voice’s natural rasp gives each song a true sense of emotion and power behind it. The closer “Whoo,” whilst raucous in its ending, still feels as if Hakim is trying to keep his voice down. It means you can always feel from his slight intonations which emotion every word carries as he isn’t trying to shout every last syllable for emphasis. It’s hard to separate many of the songs from the emotional weight behind them, the album being much darker in parts than its predecessor “Green Twins”. Much of the album is stripped back and bare allowing Hakim’s voice to take the centre stage as he pours out his grief. Lead single “Qadir” however takes the opposite tact to great effect. A passionate tribute to a deceased friend it shows off the full marvel of Hakim’s song writing abilities. The end portion feels like a celebration of life with shouts and screams from all over, however the marvel is that you can never truly forget whilst listening the sad truth behind the celebration. In essence, “Will This Make Me Good” is a solemn album, it condenses all of the worries of a man into 12 tracks. It’s not one that you can just throw on whenever, but in listening to it and the emotional weight behind his psychedelic soul, it’s a trip that is endlessly rewarding.
Sophia Zengierski’s Picks
“Vampires” – Handsome Ghost
Both the track and charming video to “Vampires” have absolutely wound their way around my heart. Creative, humble and inclusive, this is an incredibly emotional track especially in a time where we can’t live as we’d like. It’s perfection in every way.
“Live A Little” – Chaz Cardigan
Chaz has always had a knack for creating fun and engaging music, but there is nothing happier on this list than “Live A Little”. It’s an explosion of fun and joy and it’s never failed to bring a smile across my face this year.
“Down” – Monkita
Written to specifically address the time of pandemic, Monkita’s “Down” is a recognition of our difficulty—but also a reassurance for the future. With the beautiful complimentary melodies of both piano and synth, “Down” is a bright spot for any listening ear.
“A Boy Named Pluto” – Hailey Knox
In these times, we sometimes just need something silly. “A Boy Named Pluto” is just fun storytelling—a kind of sophisticated Kate Nash.
“Control” – Zoe Wees
There is no denying this emerging German artist is going places. Zoe Wees’ first original track showcases her powerful voice—remicient of Adele—that gives this ballad a compelling sound and point of view.
“Boxes” – Gavin James
An easy dance track, “Boxes” stands out for infectious rhythm that can certainly elevate your mood and James’ smooth voice.
“The Drive” – Skyler Cocco
“The Drive” features perhaps the strongest, most creative use of synth on this list to craft what is a solid pop song, based on the real emotional strain of breaking up.
“High” – Gillian Heidi
Gillian Heidi came out with several singles this year—including “Static”—but it’s “High” that has been repeating on my playlist. There’s something about this arrangement that’s just addictive.
“Ok, All Right” – David Archuleta
“Ok, All Right” has a very unique arrangement that feels both modern and sort of relaxing at the same time. We all need the reminder that things will be okay these days.
“Save Tonight” – Tom Speight & Lydia Clowes: A simple, slow duet, “Save Tonight” is what a modern classic should be and Speight and Clowes compliment each other perfectly.
Invitation – Ward Thomas
While I still don’t think Ward Thomas is true Country, this album has really helped me get through the year. It’s creative, insightful, uplifting. Stand out tracks include “Meant to Be,” “Hold Space,” and the absolutely stunning cover of Fleetwood Mac‘s “Landslide”.
Hello Weakness, You Make Me Strong – Gracie and Rachel
For something that truly feels like it is transporting you to another place, Gracie and Rachel’s 2020 album delivers. Ephemeral and evocative, Hello Weakness, You Make Me Strong brings modernity in synth to a new place. Stand out tracks include “Trust,” “Underneath,” and “Ideas”.
See Here, I Have Built You A Mansion – Josh Ritter
Experienced singer-songwriter Josh Ritter knows how to put together a strong melody and this album comes out unexpectedly strong. Stand out tracks include “Haunt,” Miles Away, and Be of Good Heart.
Staley Sharples’ Picks
punk2 – brakence
An incredibly listenable debut album from brakence, serving emotional bedroom pop-punk with an elevated electronica spin to the masses.
Alter/Ego Volume 1 – Various Artists
Hex Cougar presents this compilation that spans the scope of dark electronic music. This exploration into genres is an exciting introduction to a new class of producers to watch.
The Bop Tape – Baauer
The Bop Tape is a collection of songs made entirely on Twitch by the Grammy-nominated producer. Zany, tongue-in-check humor is sprinkled throughout a formidable assortment of tracks for a high-energy musical romp.
What Kinda Music – Tom Misch
Textural, visceral, and immersive, Tom Misch’s What Kinda Music takes a refreshing and modernized approach to traditional jazz music.
Sudden Death Volume 2 – Mystery School
The duo compiled some of their best songs made during season two of their beloved Twitch stream, featuring tracks about mummies from Memphis, men falling into rat holes, and Luigi’s lack of action in the bedroom. If you like well-produced songs that will make you laugh out loud, this is the album for you.
Impenetrable Cerebral Focus – GULCH
The buzzy hardcore band from Santa Cruz take listeners on a lightning-fast ride through a world of furious, hypnotic drums and screaming guitars.
Miserable Fortune – So Durand
After a three-year hiatus from production, So Durand’s return to music is impressive. His album, Miserable Fortune, is filled with complex, thoughtful, and adventurous club-leaning electronic music.
Cenizas – Nicolas Jaar
Dark, existential, and at times unsettling, Cenizas (meaning “ashes” in Spanish) is a poignant and haunting entry into the Chilean-American’s discography.
Eternal Atake – Lil Uzi Vert
Playful (and sometimes boastful) lyrics meet white-hot production in Lil Uzi Vert’s sophomore studio album.
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