BEST ALBUMS OF 2020

From Argentina and Australia to Venezuela and Vietnam – enjoy amazing albums selected by our experts from around the world.

We want to thank all contributors for listening and sharing their selections of inspiring music from this uninspiring year – in spite of personal difficulties. We also want to thank all these artists who helped us all get through it.

As our expert in Lebanon said: “If anything, music is what kept the world going in 2020, amid the pandemic and all that shit”.

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ARGENTINA:

Barbi Recanati – “Ubicación en tiempo real”

The road to “Ubicación en tiempo real”, Barbi Recanati’s first solo album, was a long one.

Born in Buenos Aires, she used to be the frontwoman of alternative rock band Utopians. The band had a constantly growing audience and published five albums between 2005 and 2017. In the peak of their career (both in terms of audience and creativity: they opened the latest show of The Cure in Argentina) they decided to dismantle after allegations of sexual misconduct of one of the guitar players. The decision – brave, quick and assertive – was an example of cohesion between political and art messages.

In 2018, Barbi published her first solo single and founded Goza Records, a record label entirely dedicated to women and non-binary artists. She went on to publish some more singles, with a really distant sound from her former band: “Qué no” is a highlight of her new start, a beautiful shoegaze song.

In the first months of 2020, Barbi and her band started a tour around Mexico and were confirmed for SXSW. Everything came down in a few days. When they came back to Buenos Aires, and while quarantined, Barbi decided not to change the release date of the album: it was necessary. The seven songs about disagreements, solitude and rebirth became a warm companionship for listeners.

Apart from “Que no”, other highlight is “Los días que no estás”, a nostalgic song with Paula Trama -singer of Los Besos – which captures the feeling of perpetual waiting of the album. (Rodrigo Piedra)

♪♫ Listen: “Los días que no estás” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
107 Faunos – “El ataque suave”
Telescopios – “Telescopios”
Lupe – “Un número”
Isla Mujeres – “Secreto”
Fonso – “Wedding”
Bandalos Chinos – “Paranoia Pop”
Lucía Tacchetti – “ELETÉ”
Gladyson Panther – “No me pidas perdón”
Wos – “Tres puntos suspensivos”
LOUTA – “2030”

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AUSTRALIA:

The Avalanches – “We Will Always Love You”

The third studio album from The Avalanches has only been in the world for two weeks but it matters not: it’s their third masterful record in a row and feels larger than life itself.

The plunderphonics style that has served them so well remains but there are added living guest vocalist this time around. Highlights include MGMT and guitar icon Johnny Marr coming together on the flowery and psychedelic track “The Divine Chord”; Blood Orange contributes a delicate and meaningful verse in the melancholic title track.

The exciting party-raisers that transformed music all the way back at the start of the millennium now sound mellow and contemplative, concerned with existential questions of life and death. The album was partly inspired by the wonderful story of scientists Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan: after the former proposed to her, her lovestruck brainwaves were recorded and sent into space on Voyager’s Golden Record.

Everlasting love moved the minds of Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi; they should know that their spiritual art has the potential to be immortal too. (Conor Lochrie)

♪♫ Listen: “The Divine Chord” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Gordi – “Our Two Skins”
RVG – “Feral”
Cable Ties – “Far Enough”
Gordon Koang – “Unity”
Eggy – “Bravo!”
The Stroppies – “Look Alive”
Last Quokka – “Unconscious Drivers”
Bananagun – “The True Story of Bananagun”
Alien Nosejob – “Suddenly Everything Is Twice As Loud”
Hachiku – “I’ll Probably Be Asleep”

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AUSTRIA:

ELIS NOA – “What Do You Desire?”

“What Do You Desire?” That is a big question, if you are honest in trying to answer it. You must dig deep, trying to get rid of the garbage that you have been accumulating in your life, which is often stuff from others. Like good advices, moral views, pressure of living a “good” life.

Singer Elisa Godino and producer Aaron Hader try to follow this topic with their debut record. They met at a music academy, and though they needed time to find their musical language, they were able to distill their influences and preferences into clear and moving pop sound.

Over the hypnotic and atmospheric mix of soul, electronic and sometimes jazzy harmonies, Elisa is telling her stories about love and relationships mostly in form of a dialog. The clear expression of deep feelings like broken love, frustration and grief is perfectly matched with the delicate and sometimes fragile songs. Overall, it is not a depressing record since there is so much space and room for feelings that come from the heart and take us to a place where we can relax and let go.

By listening to the songs of ELIS NOA and getting to that safe musical space we may discover for yourself what we really desire in that moment. And that is always a good start for living a life fulfilled. That makes “What Do You Desire?” not only a good and joyful listening but also reveals a therapeutic dimension. (Andreas Gstettner-Brugger, Radio FM4)

♪♫ Listen: “Still Nothing (Goddamn)” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Felix Kramer – “Alles Gut”
Mynth – “Shades I Mynth”
Oehl – “Über Nacht”
Martin Klein – “Nachtlieder”
Sleep Sleep – “The Lost Art Of Questioning Everything”
Baswod – “I Need You To Pencil In The Rest”

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BELARUS:

Songs of Protest

We don’t have a Belarusian best-of this year, because our local experts found it impossible “to discuss qualities of pop-records when there’s blood on the streets”. Some musicians actually spent large part of this year in arrests.

Instead of that, you can check out this compilation from 10 Belarusian artists – they recorded these songs between July and October, when “all Belarusians’ outlook on life and their country changed tremendously. Proceeds will help those who have been suffering from ongoing repressions. There’s also a playlist of Belarusian songs for changes.

When it all was just starting – and we hoped it would end soon – we offered you 10 protest songs from Belarus and unfortunately, it’s still up to date.

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BELGIUM:

Nordmann – “In Velvet”

Nordmann was founded in 2012 and achieved fame outside the circle of friends and relatives for the first time two years later with a silver medal in Humo’s Rock Rally. It did so with a dark mix of jazz and rock in which the first genre played a more prominent role.

As it goes, evolution is characteristic for artists who don’t want to disappear into oblivion. Nordmann has understood that message well and despite the sound still being jazzy, more electronics and other elements are integrated on this record than on the band’s previous releases. References to arouse interest from potential listeners could be Badbadnotgood, GoGo Penguin or, why not, Brian Eno.

2020 was a year in which the big stars in Belgium put their releases on hold. Consequently, the competition for the title of album of the year was slightly less than usual. This should not detract from Nordmann’s merit. “In Velvet” is a beautiful record and a well-deserved number 1 for the group that was already on the Belgian year-end list on beehype in 2017 with “The Boiling Ground”. (Brett Summers)

♪♫ Listen: “Cascade(s)” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Sohnarr – “Coral Dusk”
DIRK. – “Cracks In Common Sense”
Heisa – “Joni”
High Hi – “Firepool”
Sumi – “Sumi”
Elefant – “Bejahung”
The Guru Guru – “Point Fingers”
Lyenn – “Adrift”
Pothamus – “Raya”
Brutus – “Live In Ghent”

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BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA:

Damir Imamović – “Singer of Tales”

The latest album of Damir Imamović, Bosnian “singer of tales”, was released in April, so the talented musician with a significant family background (both his father and grandfather were great singers of sevdah, traditional music genre of Bosnia & Herzegovina) could not play this material around Europe – where after excellent reviews he won several important traditional/world music awards and recognitions.

Imamović’s new album is an attempt to enrich the musical tradition with the great qualities of his international music associates who had no preconceptions about how to play sevdah, a genre which is to many people very reminiscent of Portuguese fado. Hopefully, 2021 will be the year when Imamović will be able to spread the “singing tales” of this part of the world through live concerts. (Samir Čulić)

♪♫ Listen: “O bosanske gore snježne” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Hibrid – “Na pola puta”
Dubioza Kolektiv – #fakenews
Brainswitch – “Sun worship kingdom”
Jufkamental – “Jufkamental”

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BULGARIA:

Pavel Terziyski – “The Little Tailor”

Pavel Terziyski has been a fixture in Sofia’s scene for more than a decade and part of numerous projects, usually associated with the Big Banda collective. Here, all of his influences and musical experiences come together in one.

Finished in spring while in lockdown, the “The Little Tailor” is an elegant mixture of trip-hop, electronica and jazz, without ever one taking over the other.

The English album title is a play on words with his own name, as in old Bulgarian “pavel” means little and “terzia” means tailor. (Svetoslav Todorov)

♪♫ Listen: “I ONE” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Bluba Lu – “Bezkrai”
Dimitar Bodurov & Ivan Shopov – “Coalescence”
Evitceles – “Нелюбов”
Mytrip – “Keeper”
Elena Sirakova – “Galaktiki” EP

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BRAZIL:

Luedji Luna – “Bom Mesmo É Estar Debaixo D’Água”

On her new record, “Bom Mesmo É Estar Debaixo D’Água”, Luedji Luna is pensive. She’s reflecting on motherhood, love, feminism and religion while pushing forward her sound to be more fluid, moving.

She creates an ethereal landscape of MPB (Música Popular Brasileira), R&B and jazz full of highlights and remarkable lyrics. Beyond original cuts, she presents an elegant and full of personality version of Nina Simone’s “Ain’t Got No”, with subtle delivery. Other highlights include “Lençóis”, that concludes with a moving poem by Tatiana Nascimento about the vulnerability of love, and the powerful and immersive “Goteira”, which ends the narrative of the album with verses like “any drop of love drowns”.

When everything seems hopeless and, Luedji provides a safe space at the same time that social movements are getting stronger in the face of atrocious actions by the government or bigoted people. She acknowledges the sociopolitical landscape in Brazil, but she also believes in hope and celebration. In a recent interview, she said: “I’m talking about love as healing. I’m talking about love as power”. It’s a refreshing dip full of hope to deal with all the problems of 2020’s Brazil. (Matheus Anderle & Peagá Pinheiro)

♪♫ Listen: “Bom Mesmo É Estar Debaixo D’Água” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Rapadura – “Universo do Canto Falado”
Kiko Dinucci – “Rastilho”
Bivolt – “Bivolt”
Tagua Tagua – “Inteiro Metade”
Yamasasi – “Colorblind”
MC Cabelinho – “Ainda”
BK – “O Líder em Movimento”
Marcelo D2 – “Assim Tocam os MEUS TAMBORES”
Lucas Bonza – “Bonza”
Machete Bomb – “MXT”

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CANADA:

Antoine Corriveau – “Pissenlit”

Through the constant output of quality music from Québec this year, the biggest surprise was probably this tortured orchestral rock odyssey from Corriveau.

He took his sweet time to offer up this collection of songs chock-full of prestigious guests, where every instrument sounds like a ton of bricks. The gritty voice is still there, and so is the poetry.

The 45 minutes music trip was worth the wait, and the whole thing already sounds like an immemorial classic. (Pierre-Alexandre Buisson)

♪♫ Listen: “Albany” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
CRi – “Juvenile”
Daniel Bélanger – “Travelling”
Peter Peter – “Super Comédie”
Klô Pelgag – “Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs”
Jimmy Hunt – “Le Silence”
Beyries – “Encounter”
Foisy. – “Mémoires”
Maude Audet – “Tu ne mourras pas”
Poirier – “Soft Power”
Aliocha – “Naked”

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CHILE:

Pedropiedra – “ALO!”

Pedropiedra extends his sound explorations, taking up current trends without seeming forced to do it in any way. The grace of “ALO!” is that without losing the badge of singer-songwriter, he winks at reggaetón and trap, still managing to maintain the pop element that has always been part of Pedro’s identity.

The album is produced by Cristián Heyne, responsible for the production of a large part of the Chilean pop albums, and with guests such as Gepe, Álvaro Henríquez and Xander. The latter one, a composer of trap, helped him get close to this genre and to new audiences, but keeping classic song structure. (Marcelo Millavil M.)

♪♫ Listen: “Amar en Silencio” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Como Asesinar a Felipes – “MMXX”
pau – “Latencia”
Adelaida – “Animita”
Club de Carta Inglesa – “Memoria”
Rubio – “Mango Negro”
Vuelveteloca – “Contra”
Bronko Yotte – “Fuero Interno”
Los Días Silvestres – “Los Días Silvestres”
Cancamusa – “Cisne: Lado Negro”
III Puñales – “Mal de ojo”

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CHINA:

Railway Suicide Train (卧轨的火车) – “Continent” (大陆)

2020 has been a crazy year for music here in China — since emerging from lockdown and COVID purgatory in May, the country and music industry dusted itself off and got back to work.

From summer onwards, labels have been firing on all cylinders releasing some of the best music the country has heard in some time (maybe those six months stuck in a studio helped). And while it was hard to pick a number one album (this list started at 30) I finally settled on the ambitious, challenging and endlessly fascinating sophomore release from Hangzhou-based neo-psychedelic band Railway Suicide Train.

Leaning into their psychedelic chops and drifting away from their indie pop sensibilities, they have struck gold on their dense and beautifully realized LP “大陆 Continent”. Recorded in the nomad paradise of Gebi Bar (in Yiwu), the band is operating on another level here, ratcheting up the vibrant and at times otherworldly atmosphere whilst keeping the tension taut and melodies infectious.

And while more and more bands are finding repose in the possibilities of neo-psychedelic music, the band is finding solace in the rich flourishes of world music, finding ingenious and off-kilter ways to integrate into dense arrangements. A band in complete command of their craft, “Continent” lingers long after. (Will Griffith)

♪♫ Listen: “另一座山 JL Mountain” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Hiperson 海朋森 – “Bildungsroman” 成长小说
Bennu is a Heron – “Hate/Love”
Zuho – “sharp, sharp”
Hoo! – “Hoo!”
Sleeping Dogs – “Space Puppy”
Wang Wen 惘闻 – “100,000 Whys”

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COLOMBIA:

Lido Pimienta – “Miss Colombia”

To be born in Colombia is to live a life condemned to constantly love and hate a place as beautiful as it is despicable. Lido Pimienta turned that feeling into a disc of confrontation and redemption where the gaze points inward to tell us that our cultural heritage is the only thing that is going to save us in a country where the fact of being alive and aware of reality already represents a threat in many ways.

In addition to this, it is an album that dialogues with a musical generation landed on critically pointing out the day-to-day life of a country like Colombia, where the songbook of artists such as La Muchacha, Gato e Monte, El Kalvo, Edson Velandia, Aguas Ardientes, La Perla and many more are documenting in an accurate way the pain of homeland from irony, sarcasm, viscerality and passionate shudder of this tragic paradise. (Sebastián Narváez Núñez)

♪♫ Listen: “Eso Que Tu Haces” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
La Muchacha – “Canciones Crudas”
El Kalvo – “Bitute & Galguerías”
Uji, Dinastía Torres, Hugo Candelario – “Marimbas del Guapi”
Frente Cumbiero – “Cera Perdida”
Crudo Means Raw – “Esmeraldas”
Luis7Lunes – “Audio Descriptivo”
El Arkeologo – “Indiana Jones”
Meridian Brothers – “Cumbia Siglo XXI”
Los Cotopla Boyz – “Mamarron, Vol.1”
Verraco – “Grial”

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COSTA RICA:

OVSICORI – “Bucle”

For all the loss and heartache of this cursed year, there were plenty of reasons to be hopeful, and lots of music that moved, soothed, and spoke to us. In this way, OVSICORI´s “Bucle” might more accurately capture the dread of this cursed year.

With its babbling and cyclical synthesizers, is environmental music at its finest. Alejandro Arturo emulates the patient rhythms of the natural world, and even a passive listen of “Bucle” can clear the mind’s cloudiest skies. Numerous reports have detailed the ways that the world has quieted during the pandemic. With fewer cars on the road, seismologists can detect earthquakes from further away; even in the busiest cities, birdsong is once again audible. This pause opens up a space for OVSICORI’s music to fulfill its purpose: recalibrate our relationship with the sonic world around us.

In 1967, the Canadian composer and philosopher R. Murray Schafer wrote, “The ear is always open.” He didn’t mean metaphorically: Unlike the lidded eye, the ear cannot close itself off to unwanted stimuli, leaving us particularly susceptible to intrusive sounds. Presently, the levels of sound and music in the environment have clearly exceeded man’s capacity to assimilate them, and the audio ecosystem is beginning to fall apart. “Bucle” encourages, and even challenges, a more conscious attitude toward sound. (Pablo Acuña)

♪♫ Listen: “Horizonte O” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
capicva – “Blondas I”
V. Lander – “Colina”
Handmade – “Instant Gratification”
Mishcatt – “The Real PAvo”
Rompiste mis flores – “Funebre”
Orquidea – “Melisma al brotar”
Flower Thief – “Don’t wake me”
Nakury, Barzo – “O”
Todo Sano – “Sidequest”

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CROATIA:

Valentino Boskovic – “Velika praska”

Croatian voting poll decided that the album of the year is the new record of Valentino Boskovic, famous historical austronaut from island Brač who left the planet Earth one Sunday in 1646 and will return in 2046 when he will have the first concert ever on Vidova Gora, the highest peak on all Adriatic islands.

As you can see from this introduction, Valentino Boskovic is one extraordinary duo that performs unique music with interesting lyrics about space travels of an imaginary astronaut (is it really imaginary, we will see in 2046). Music is in general indie pop and lyrics are in the dialect from the Brač island, which gives the album a very specific note of good feeling and fun. Most of the songs on “Velika Praska” have been released earlier as singles, one of them we already introduced on beehype. But as a whole, the album gets another dimension.

The only option we have here is to open our minds, take the flight with Valentino Boskovic and go with “Velika Praska” wherever it takes us. As you can see, Croatian voting poll took a ride far far away from Earth and from all the problems in year 2020. They are fantastic, funny and optimistic, and you can join us right away because – as they write on their Bandcamp – “the album is free, same as the whole space”. (Siniša Miklaužić)

♪♫ Listen: “Brian May” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Mark Mrakovčić – “Breeding Black Sheep”
Klinika Denisa Kataneca – “Jada Jada”
Ivan Grobenski – “Siromahi i lazari”
nemanja – “Cosmic Disco”
• Rundek & Ekipa – “Brisani prostor” – part 1, part 2
Them Moose Rush – “Dancing Maze”
Alejuandro Buendija – Škrinja”
Ogenj – “Si kak jen”
Mašinko – “Danas ću, sutra ću”
She Brought Me Gasoline – “On Values & Thrash”

Selected by: Boris Abramović (music-box), Predrag Brlek (Terapija), Dubravko Jagatić (Nacional), Ivan Laić (Ravno do dna), Ana Patrlj (CIRF), Gorav Pavlov (Ruralna gorila/Potlista), Marin Tomić (Terapija), Siniša Miklaužić (Muzika.hr / beehype)

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CZECHIA:

Black Tar Jesus – “Year Insane”

Rich in textures but also laden with personal memories of a “year insane”.

Tomáš Kopáček, the sole core member of Black Tar Jesus, resurrected his band after a sever year hiatus to come with an emotional, yet also demanding album of complex guitar driven songs. (Viktor Palák)

♪♫ Listen: “Ecclesiastical Claims” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Enchanted Lands – “Cryptic Island Eco-Sanctuary”
Or – “Smutný stroje”
Slowmotiondancer – “Empathy”
Plešatá zpěvačka – “Vlasy dievčat”
Amelie Siba – “Dye My Hair”
Náv – “Arcizlo”
Ethno Service – “Elastan”
Tábor – “Liebe”
Ca$hanova Bulhar – “Rap Disco Revoluce”
Severní nástupiště – “Rostli jsme spolu”

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DENMARK:

Ganger – “Tro”

Danish artpopgroup Ganger (the Danish word for “steed”) didn’t just deliver a worthy sequel to their remarkable 2019 debut “Mørk” (“Dark”), but one of the biggest Danish records in a while. The group’s music, centered around the fragmented songwriting of Thomas Bech Skaarups, has one modus operandi: upset the Danish pop establishment, and make honest, experimental music that can be accessible too.

“Tro” (“Faith”) is not only an improved version of “Mørk”, but also a tribute to the females of the world all together, which means that the group’s female singers – Nina Lundberg and Mille Mejer Christensen – get to be the primary vocalforce on the record.

“Tro” takes four decades of popmusic, synthwave and a dash of hiphop and mix it with tendencies from progressive rock. The result is quite outstanding and this makes “Tro” one of the most inspiring records in the field of Danish contemporary popmusic for quite a while – maybe even a decade. (Simon Heggum)

♪♫ Listen: “Styrke” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
ibens – “Cocio og beton”
Agnes Obel – “Myopia”
(O) – “SkamHan”
Afsky – “Ofte jeg drømmer mig død”
Den Fjerde Væg – “Jamais Vu”
girlcrush – “girlcrush”
The Great Dictators – “One Eye Opener”
Télé Rouge – “38 °C”
Ildskær – “Den rædsomste nat”

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DOMINICAN REPUBLIC:

Giorgio Siladi – “Todo Se Mueve”

Since 2018, Giorgio Sidali has been delighting us with songs from what would be his first solo work. A delicately curated product of 11 songs make up this production. This is “Todo Se Mueve”, produced by the renowned Colombian producer Julián Bernal, and Giorgio’s partner from his old band Bocatabú: Eduardo Fernández.

We already knew the singles “Todo”, “Saboteo”, “A la Mera Hora”, “Aguacate” (which did not end on the album), “Volver al mar”, among others. The album moves to the rhythm of electro pop, the result of mixing synthesizers, percussions, guitars, violins and in some of these details is where we notice the evolution of Giorgio. Songs such as “Líbido”, “Desdén”, “Como Nos Dijeron” or “Todo se Mueve”, complement this work, adding new sounds, and different twists to this production.

Antoine Lavoisier already said it, and then Jorge Drexler made it into a song: “Nothing is lost, everything is transformed…”, and it was just what Giorgio Sidali did – he transformed into movement feelings such as nostalgia, passion, and pain. “Todo Se Mueve” is a well-made album, each song will make you shake your whole body and vibrate as you travel between memories and the present. (Max Cueto)

♪♫ Listen: “Todo Se Mueve” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Mula – Mundos”
Gaby de Los Santos – “Tropezando”
Rita Indiana – “Mandiga Times”
SNENiE – “Aunque no lo Parezca”
Riccie Oriach – “Mi Derriengue”
Hiamu – “1983”
José Alberto Ureña – “Segundo Viaje”
Error Subcutáneo – “Error Subcutáneo”
Le Montro – “Melanoid”

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ECUADOR:

Lolabum – “O Clarividencia”

Where “Verte antes de fin de año” (released in July) was daring an chaotic, “O Clarividencia” manages to grasp that spirit and translate it in a more coherent batch of songs.

Lolabum’s second full length published in 2020 is a thrilling, balanced and scary journey that showcases the full musical spectrum the band can flow between.

“O Clarividencia” is Latinoamerica’s best not-so hidden gem of 2020. (Martin Cordova)

♪♫ Listen: “Penitas” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Cansing – “Cansing”
Niño Baldio – “Tiemposmoderno”
Manual de Instrucciones – “Fabulas”

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EGYPT:

V/A – “did you mean “irish”

Was 2020 the year that canceled the future? The late music theorist, Mark Fisher, often wrote about this moment, looming and imminent – he said we could hear it all in the retro-redundancy of music derivative of previous times, better times. But in the midst of all this destruction, it seems creativity could not be suppressed. Instead, I experienced a future shock of newness heard coming out of the music from Arab region this year. Launched and curated by Rama and ZULI, the irsh platform released their debut compilation album with sounds so unfamiliar and yet urgent, that they somehow succeeded in suggesting new sonic signatures.

That said, while many of the artists excavated past genres including shaabi, mahraganat, grime, jungle, hip hop, and so on – the tracks not only describe the world in which we live, but they feel like an attempt to intervene and change it from some far off place in the future that only genuine creativity can evoke. This at times brutal originality is heard across the tracks, heard in the masterfully deconstructed Arabic percussion deployed by 3phaz in the track aptly titled, “Cluster Drum”, or in the divergent and fragmented electronic articulations of ABADIR’s “XLR@T” and later on the album by his frequent collaborator, Onsy with “Withdrawal”.

Meanwhile, the future possibilities of hip hop as heard in Tor5y and Lil Asaf’s, “Andaf Naw3”, or Al Nather’s “Bil 3asaya” manage to embrace hip hop and electronic music from another time, and yet forge both of them forward. Other notable textures are felt in the haunted quality to some of the contributions as heard in “The Dirty Canes Lake”, where Abduallah Minawy’s voice seems to come from an alien echo chamber, and later in the album’s closer, “Madrab Deban” by El Kontessa, where she fuses together what sounds like a post-apocalyptic collage of found sounds including shaabi and noise, challenging our core understanding various styles across popular music.

As a whole, the compilation album confronts the cancellation of the future, in many ways it feels to be pushed along by a sense of hostility and constructive boredom towards the present that could only come from a time beyond this one. (Maha ElNabawi)

♪♫ Listen: “Madrab Deban” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
V/A – “This is Cairo Not the Screamers”
Yosr – “London Archives”
J!N – “Foreigner”
Felukah – “Dream 23”
Dena Anuk$a – “Honey and Cream”
Abo El Anwar – “Rest El Sahra”
The Dwarfs of East Agouza – “The Green Dogs of Dahshur”
Hassan Abo Allam – “Hope Amidst Despair”
Sadat – “Cairo Finds / Sadat and Friends”
Dirty Backseat, Hashem, Blue Boy – “It’s Over + Desire”

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ESTONIA:

Mart Avi – “Vega Never Sets”

The award-winning Estonian avant-pop auteur Mart Avi has delivered his most complete body of work yet with his fifth full-length solo album “Vega Never Sets” that maps the territories between hyperkinetic pop rush and the timeless grandeur, and catapults into the next phase of illusion and revelation. The album, released a mere month ago on leftfield label Porridge Bullet, has already won the most important annual critics polls in its homeland Estonia and garnered rave reviews in international publications from MOJO to The Quietus.

The post-digital sonics of “Vega…” expand beyond the push and pull of the familiar and the elusive, flamboyant and melancholy, the feeling of bygone dreams and the urgency and sheen of now-pop.

The delicate ambient-pop of “Feather” seems to emerge from a soaring daydream, followed by low-bit cut-ups of “Wire” and “Soul ReaVer”, with its yearning for lost futures. After the breezy instrumental “Avirex” comes “Firefly”, a courtship of free association vocals and photic funk that enliven Avi as “an 11-year brat, engaged in pyromaniac activities at an abandoned Soviet-era kolkhoz pigpen”. This anarchic memory lane leads to “The Fifth Season” — “a metaphor for creating one’s own time-space” — where Avi introduces syncopated jungle-like breaks to induce “downcast euphoria”, before unleashing zesty deep house of ‘Spark’. A smouldering “Endsville” serves as an offshoot from an ignited spark that fizzles into “Milton’s” downbeat dubs of fallen angels.

As the curtain closes on “Vega” we finally look back up towards the night sky, soundtracked by a revue of broken piano loops and field recordings sustained by vows to not give up on anything or anyone. The background sounds move from illusion to revelation. “The stage is blind, yet I… shall realign.” (Ingrid Kohtla, Tallinn Music Week)

♪♫ Listen: “Feather” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Misha Panfilov Sound Combo – “Days As Echoes”
Holy Motors – “Horse”
Maria Faust Sacrum Facere – “Organ”
Mari Kalkun – “Õunaaia Album”
Maarja Nuut & Sun Araw – “Fantasias for Violin & Guitar”
Tont – “Džunglirada”
San Hani x Metabora – “YX”
Juur – “Flux”
Argo Vals – “In Loving Memory Of”
Lauri Dag-Tüür – “Polar Night Jet”

*

ETHIOPIA:

Hailu Mergia – “Yene Mircha”

Two years after Hailu Mergia’s acclaimed album “Lala Belu” – his first in about a decade – the legendary Ethiopian keyboardist is back with a full band and it’s a delight for your ears and your soul.

“Yene Mircha” (meaning “My Choice”) brings six vivid compositions that merge his trademark sounds with all the beautiful things he inspires for his trio and a number of guests. Keyboards switch themes and rhytms with saxophone, trombone, guitars, as well as vocals and Ethiopian mesenqo. (T. Mecha)

♪♫ Listen: Yene Mircha + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Witch Prophet – “DNA ACTIVATION”
Mulatu Astatke & Black Jesus Experience – “To Know Without Knowing”
Mulatu Astatke & Black Jesus Experience
Fyaah Kush & Silva – “2020 i​-​sight”
muguet – “Fallen Petals”
nishaiar – “Awaxhun”

*

FINLAND:

Ruusut – “Kevätuhri”

Ruusut’s sophomore album brought respite from the pandemic-stricken spring. Just as the initial panic subsided, they shifted the gaze back inwards to a powerful and disarming effect. Contrary to its namesake, their “Rite of Spring” was more tranquilizing than stirring, however. Refining their mixture of hyperpop sensibilities and free-flowing lyricism, it is a solid offering in spite of no show-stealing singles.

The group’s haphazard styling and aloof posturing in their promo shoots somehow perfectly encapsulates their music, scattershot and self-conscious. But for every airhorn sample or awkward metaphor their alchemy provides plentiful moments of pure pop gold. The combination is both messy and endearing, not unlike our little lives searching for love and meaning in the midst of this chaos. (Erkko Lehtinen)

♪♫ Listen: “Avaimet avaa ovii” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Pearly Drops – “Call For Help”
Rosita Luu – “Samettisuu”
Oranssi Pazuzu – “Mestarin kynsi”
Ilpo Numminen – “I Guess You Could Call This a Long Play”
KO:MI – “We Said We Didn’t Know but We Knew”
Karina – “2”
Joensuu 1685 – “Öb”
Kairon; IRSE! – “Polysomn”
Aleksi Perälä – “Spectrum 1”
Arppa – “Laavalamppuja”

*

FRANCE:

Christine and the Queens – “La Vita Nuova”

With each new release, Héloïse Letissier refines her formula to slowly become one of the most important French songwriters of her time. “La Vita Nuova”, her best disc to date, is a dazzling proof of her talent to create a fully formed universe, combining impressive production, lyrics and melodies with amazing visuals, dancing and costumes – the marvelous baroque short film shot at Opéra Garnier, in Paris.

By putting herself in surrealistic characters’ skin, making thrilling moves like a half-voguer, half-ballet dancer, Christine and the Queens’ personality has grown to be more and more cohesive and impactful, like a super mix of David Bowie, Prince and Michael Jackson, all at once. It’s impossible not to be moved by the haunting ballad “Mountains (we met)”, to resist to the catchy “Nada” or to put the incredible single “People, I’ve been sad” out of their mind.

As her home livestreams has revealed during the lockdown, rarely in recent memory have we listened and watched, at every level (voice, dancing, even fashion sensibility), such a stunning performer. Be prepared for her next album, it easily could be a masterpiece. (Gil Colinmaire)

♪♫ Listen: “La vita nuova” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Oklou – “Galore
Eskimo – “Que faire de son cœur?”
Yelle – “L’Ère du Verseau”
Damien – “Satan & Eve”
Chassol – “Ludi”
Julien Gasc – “L’appel de la Forêt”
Hey Hey My My – “British Hawaii”
Sunshade – “Visages”
Mont Joseph – “Paradis”

*

GEORGIA:

Psychonaut 4 – “სულდაცემა / Beautyfall”

Having cemented their legacy from album to album throughout the decade, Psychonaut 4 closes out 2020 with rocking out fierily and passionately.

Being a latest band to switch from English to Georgian let them present their depressive black metal in the most earnest way. And suddenly, the music, that while good, was previously considered very niche, becomes a very fitting emotional soundtrack to this dystopic period, where the virus is only just a part of the problem in the stagnating capital cities full of loneliness, detachment and confusion.

But in a welcome manner, the album’s message, while born in the midst of despair, urges not to give in, fight the demons inner and outer, and to survive. So, in all, “სულდაცემა / Beautyfall” is a release that at moments gives a tremendous impression, proving that Psychonaut 4 belong to the best of their genre worldwide in this troubled today. (Sandro Tskitishvili)

♪♫ Listen: “Tbilisian Tragedy” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Giorgi Mikadze – “Georgian Microjamz”
Anushka Chkheidze – “Halfie”
Stumari – “1227 m. Above The Sea”
Soft Eject – “Connecting Times”
David Datunashvili – “6 Plus” EP
MokuMoku – “SoulFood Society”
gMirian – “?!”
Misho Urushadze – “დუღილი / Dugili” EP
Betkho – “Daisi” EP
On The Road – “Hundred Homes” EP

*

GERMANY:

Agnes Obel – “Myopia”

Whoever considers Berlin-based piano-songwriter and singer Agnes Obel to be a chanteuse of bed time treat ballads, should most likely have themselves checked in terms of both audiometry and psychology. She is certainly one of the most exciting grandmistresses of the uncanny nowadays. Even horror movie legend David Lynch has recognized that – and contributed a rework of her track “Fuel to Fire” in 2014.

Agnes Obel was born in Denmark, but she has been living and recording in Berlin for a decade now, with an output of four stunning studio albums, including her 2020 “Myopia”, debuting at prestigious labels Deutsche Grammophon (specializing in classical and ambient) and Blue Note (specializing in jazz). She’s simply beyond genre!

On Obel’s 2016 predecessor album “Citizen of Glass”, she started experiments with pitching down her magical character soprano in a way that would sound androgynous and more like Anohni. Doing so, she seems to have tasted blood, for this time, Obel even pitches down her accompanying violins – in a way that makes them sound almost like celli, but not quite. Spooky! It’s a trip into the uncanny valley.

Even on the piano, this instrument she knows so well, Agnes Obel always challenges herself. This time she makes use of an emulated luthéal, barely ever used in contemporary music, to make her pianoforte sound somewhat like a hammered dulcimer. This song “Island of Doom” makes you feel as if you were sailing in a gondola at a foggy night, near Venice cemetery island San Michele.

What Agnes Obel technically does, is: she re-amps, which means she re-records her sounds that have already made their way through loudspeakers. Not quite the usual strategy in pop. Agnes Obel is extraordinary in almost any way. Never before has the scary been so beautiful. (Stefan Hochgesand)

♪♫ Listen: “Island Of Doom” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Better Person – “Something To Lose”
Stella Sommer – “Northern Dancer”
Phase Fatale – “Scanning Backwards”
Lucia Cadotsch – “Speak Low II”
Zebra Katz – “Less Is Moor”
Tara Nome Doyle – “Alchemy”
Haiyti – “influencer”
Pole – “Fading”
Ava Vegas – “Ava Vegas”
Phillip Sollmann – “Monophonie”

*

GHANA:

fra fra – “Funeral Songs”

Living in the north of Ghana, Fra Fra people have their very own traditions and customs, among them funeral music. This album was recorded live on the streets of Tamale by acclaimed producer Ian Brennan, and it’s part of Glitterbeat label’s fascinating series called Hidden Musics.

Contrary to what some might expect, “Funeral Songs” won’t leave you depressed or even ruminative. It’s actually full of life and celebration, and you can imagine a funeral procession with such orchestra is not so far from a dancing party. (Thomas M.)

♪♫ Listen: “Naked” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Santrofi – “Alewa”
Nana Adjoa – “Big Dreaming Ants”
Recognize Ali – “Recognition”

*

GREECE:

Nalyssa Green – “Ταξίδι Αστρικό”

It’s probably a cliché to mention how harsh and peculiar 2020 was for everyone around the world, but still, we have some good things and moments to remember. Not everything has fallen apart. And as I now sit on my comfy office chair in my home, in these final hours of the year, I’m thinking that, yes, we’ve heard some remarkable releases. And there were sounds and songs that not only had impressed us, but they took us to a journey beyond our four walls, somewhere across the space and the stars.

Nalyssa Green’s fourth album (and second in greek-language), titled “Taxidi Astriko” (Astral Travel), was released in November of 2020, though most of the songs were written and recorded between 2019-2020, perhaps before the first lockdown in Greece that was imposed in March.

The album consists of 10 pop miniatures bloomed in romanticism and gentle melodies, mirroring lyrical images of the bravely vulnerable singer-songwriter that comes from Athens. Sweetness and melancholy are the key elements of her expression, beside her ethereal voice, while Vassilis Dokakis’ production brings discreetly a fresh air and a modern touch to her first demos.

Echoes of famous Greek folk singers from the ’70s are also present here, while the bouzouki, probably the most popular musical instrument of Greece, comes along with her indie pop sensibility and arty electronic sounds in some occasions. “Astral Travel” is a journey worth taking. (Ares Buras)

♪♫ Listen: “Μπλε Τροχιά” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Johnny Labelle – “XVIII”
Lumiere – “Phases”
The Boy – “Αντιλόπη”
Εβρίτικη Ζυγιά – “Ορμένιον”
LogOut – “ΕΔΩ/ΕΚΕΙ”
Τα Παιδιά Της Παλαιότητας – “Ενθύμιον Νεανικών Συντροφιών”
Jay Glass Dubs – “Soma”
METAMAN – “Irina”
Vagina Lips – “Outsider Forever”
Strawberry Pills – “Murder To A Beat”

Selected by: Aggelos Kleitsikas (avopolis.gr), Antonis Xagas (mic.gr), Ares Buras (beehype), Dimitris Lilis (Athens Voice), M. Hulot (LiFO), Markos Fragos (gone4sure), Michalis E (Rodon Fm), Marianna Vasileiou (mic.gr), Panagiotis Stathopoulos (Lung Fanzine)

*

HONG KONG:

Mousefx – “Mousefx in Jamaica”

Ask anybody in Hong Kong about canto reggae and you are bound to hear the name Mousefx being mentioned. A mainstay of the city’s independent music scene, the longtime reggae artist released his second solo album “Mousefx in Jamaica” this year. Recorded in Jamaica with Skunga’ Kong, the album is a joyous ode to reggae and showcases the far reaching influence of the genre. A true milestone for Chinese reggae.

Besides, it is exactly the right kind of positivity and inspiration we need in a year full of dreariness and uncertainty. (Edwin Lo)

♪♫ Listen: “See Jah Light” + album stream

Other recommended releases:
Youngqueenz – “Spirited Away”
TYNT – “Symbol”
N.Y.P.D. – “南洋派對”
R.O.O.T. – “非洲的60秒”
ROOM307 – “背山望海”

*

HUNGARY:

Middlemist Red – “The Other Side Of Nowhere”

Somehow balanced between folk music and psychedelic rock, the latest album by Middlemist Red arrived to us after a four-year hiatus. “The Other Side Of Nowhere” condenses all of the experiences of the lead singer Nóvé Soma so far into just nine tracks.

Following the footsteps of the protagonist of the album, we can find out where the Wild West and Hungary meet, with continuous experimentation and respect for traditions. (Lelle Buzás)

♪♫ Listen: “Blue Moon” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Saya Noé – “Museom of Sins”
Solére – “The Moon and I”
Carson Coma – “Lesz ami lesz”
Csaknekedkislány – “Kobraszív”
Belau – “Colurwave”
Agavoid – “Stratum”

*

ICELAND:

JFDR – “New Dreams”

Released in March, JFDR’s second album “New Dreams” couldn’t have arrived at a better moment. It’s a 40-minute journey through a confidently sparse soundscape that leaves welcome foreground space for Jófríður’s lyrics, delivered in an intimate, breathy voice.

Her words are introspective and autobiographical, but also map out a resonant wider philosophy. Something about the innate tenderness and mindful vulnerability of this music feels like a strong healing tonic for life’s troubles, seeming to seep into your heart and ease away tension and worries.

In a difficult year for everyone, “New Dreams” was what we needed from Icelandic music, and it marked a new highpoint in JFDR’s already luminous catalogue. (John Rogers)

♪♫ Listen: “Think Too Fast” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
HATARI – “Neyslutrans”
Ingibjörg Elsa Turchi – “Meliae”
Ólafur Arnalds – “Some Kind of Peace”
Post-driefing – “DRULLAMALL III”
Atli Örvarsson & Sin Fang – “Flora”
Bára Gisladóttir – “HĪBER”
Sin Fang – “The Last Shall Be First”
Sóley – “Harmóník I & II”
Gyða Valtýsdóttir – “Epicycle II”

*

INDIA:

Tre Ess – “Sipping Off Troubled Waters”

Been a strange year, hasn’t it? I crawled back to old classics, like a comforting blanket and stuck to a few new discoveries.

Tre Ess and his debut full length are neither. The album released a week before India went into a complete COVID-19 lockdown, and it swayed me away from most other Indian hip-hop. The genre is basking in its glory days in the country, with artists going international and new aspirants popping in by the minute.

Tre Ess hails from the city of Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, a North Indian state with a troubled history and uncertain future. His music sounds nothing like what one would expect from there, yet feels at home. Tre Ess taps into his influences, but doesn’t ape them. He doesn’t fit into a mould, but sounds like he wants to break out of one at every chance. Tre Ess isn’t Indian hip-hop, but might as well be.

“Sipping Off Troubled Waters” is one of the few albums that stuck with me in a year full of releases. The Ranchi boy followed it up with an equally impressive beat tape, and a couple of other releases. 2021 from the POV of Tre Ess looks promising. (Naman Saraiya)

♪♫ Listen: “Aparna” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Philtersoup – “Decoherence”
Kumail – “Yasmin”
Sandunes, Richard Spaven – “Spaven x Sandunes”
Seedhe Maut – “MMM/Yaad”
Spryk – “APEX”

*

INDONESIA:

Stars and Rabbit – “Rainbow Aisle”

One of the songs that kept us going this year was “Little Mischievous” from Stars and Rabbit, who have been one of the stars of Indonesian music for us for years now. But that’s just a great opening of another wonderful longplay from this the folk duo from Jogjakarta – “Naked King” is another highlight.

While we’ve mentioned the word “folk”, “Rainbow Aisle” actually brings a major stylistic change for Stars and Rabbit, as – after departure of Adi Widodo – the project switched acoustic guitars for electric ones. Whether it’s rock’n’roll, alternative rock or hard rock, they never lose their each-catching melodies and beautiful vocals of the original member Elda Suryani so even longtime fans won’t be disappointed, but might be positively surprised by this remarkable record.

♪♫ Listen: “Little Mischievous” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Romantic Echoes – “Persembahan dari Masa Lalu”
Nadin Amizah – “Selamat Ulang Tahun”
BAPAK – “Miasma Tahun Asu”
Hondo – “The Hike to Kamadela”
Sajama Cut – “GODSIGMA”
Bars of Death – “Morbid Funk”
Joe Million – “Vandal”
NIKI – “Moonchild”
Mamang Kesbor – “Album Terbaik di Tata Surya”

*

IRAN:

Hoosyhar Khayam / Bamdad Afshar – “RAAZ”

“RAAZ” (meaning “secret”) is like a journey in a long dream through mysterious spaces. A mystifying melange of contemporary piano and strings, Sufi folk recordings of Baluchistan of Iran and eccentric electronics.

A concept album described as “secret beats from Iran” and “the shape of folk to come” is the result of the collaboration between pianist and contemporary composer Hooshyar Khayam, score composer and electronic musician Bamdad Afshar, Baluchi traditional folk musicians and Tehran-based string quartet, Scheherezade, produced by Matthias Koch and published by young Hamburg label 30M Records.

Baluchistan, a huge desert and mountainous region in the South-East of Iran, Southern half of Pakistan and part of Southern Afghanistan, is a little-known and mysterious land with a mesmerizing music; gloomy and lively, dark and sweet. “RAAZ” is not about to disclose the secret but to make it more enigmatic. (Ali Eshqi)

♪♫ Listen: “Chār” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Siavash Amini – “A Mimesis Of Nothingness”
9T Antiope – “Placebo”
Amirhossein Tafreshipour – “Lived”
Hamzeh Heganeh – “Every Day”
Sevdaliza – “Shabrang”
Jalboat – “Jalboat”
Habib Meftah – “Shibaali”
Siriya Ensemble – “A Table for Two”
Bomrani – “Probably There Is No Hero”
Habibi – “Anywhere But Here”

*

ISRAEL

Jasmin Moallem (יסמין מועלם) – “Lion” (אריה)

Realeased back in February, the debut album from Jasmin Moallem has demonstrated what great pop music means these days and like always, it’s a mix of what other music genres have to offer – there’s soul, there’s hip-hop, there’s melancholic rock and acoustic ballads. But what’s most important is the quality of songwriting and Jasmin’s absorbing voice.

“Lion” is full of immesiate singles that have become major hits on the Israeli radio, like “Party“, “How Sweet” or the opener among others. But while it’s indeed great radio pop that stands out from what’s usually played there, it’s first and formost a versatile yet cohesive album full of life, soul, and beauty. (David Michaelov)

♪♫ Listen: “Party” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Riff Cohen – “Quelle heure est-il”
Z-K – “New-Z-Land”
Bones Garage – “Poland”
Karma She – “My Naked Devotion”
Omer Moskovich – “Joining The Herd”
Soos Mabit – “Soos Mabit”
Tal Tamari – “זמן בחירות”
Atar Mayner – “ל י ל ה ט ו ב”
Uzi Navon & Acquaintances – “בזמנו”

*

ITALY:

Il Triangolo – “Faccio Un Cinema”

“Faccio Un Cinema” from Il Triangolo is a modern rock n roll album with excellent melodies, a colorful sound full of details and dynamics, charismatic vocals and heartfelt lyrics.

A fascinating and catchy work, easy to love at first listen and able to add more and more reasons to adore it the more you listen to it. (Stefano Bartolotta)

♪♫ Listen: “Nella testa” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Porcelain Raft – “Come Rain”
Paolo Benvegnù – “Dell’Odio Dell’Innocenza”
King Of The Opera – “Nowhere Blues”
Maru – Toi
Colombre – “Corallo”

*

JAPAN:

SuiseiNoboAz – “3020”

While SuiseiNoboAz are rooted in alternative J-rock from 1990s, they take elements of post-rock, jazz and electronic, as well as the grooves of world music.

SuiseiNoboAz borrowed their name from Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s science fiction novel. Same as that novel’s story, they sing about friendship that last for over 1000 years, even if we are far apart.

They travel in time and space with their music. Their guitars can sound like Chinese fiddle or some other ethnic instruments from around the world. On the other hand, they sample traditional song from almost 1000 years ago in their latest electronic tracks.

For instance, the intro phrase of the title tune “3020” was sampled from “Wau Bulan”, a traditional Malaysian song for the situation to say “See you later”. Actually, to meet again is main theme of this album, which has got new meaning in the Covid-19 age. We hopefully could meet again soon – for instance in a live venue. (Toyokazu Mori)

♪♫ Listen: “3020” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Tricot – “10”
YeYe -”30″
Egoistic 4 Leaves – “Debris”
Okada Takuro – “Morning Sun”
Yokosawa Shunichiro – “Zettai Daijyobu”
Sunny Day Service – “Iine!”
Ohzora Kimishima – “Hōsō”
Shibata Satoko – “Throw In”
Baku Furukawa – “each night, each morning”
CRUNCH – “Mitsumetetai”

*

KENYA:

Slikback – “/​/​/ II”

I really love the tags this album has been categorized with on rateyourmusic: Deconstructed Club, Trap [EDM], Power Noise, Gqom. Slikback himself – or actually Freddy M Njau since we’re talking about names – accepts Gqom and Trap, but adds Drill, Electronic and Experimental.

If that sounds like everything and nothing but quite a challenge this makes quite right impression about Slikback’s productions generally an “/​/​/ II” in particular. For these 30 tracks, I’d add some other, more perceptible tags – cosmos, steel, darkness, destruction, creation – and you should already know if you want to step into this wilderness. (Eric Karoki)

♪♫ Listen: “Mantra” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
KMRU – “Peel”
Duma – “Duma”
Ondara – “Folk n’ Roll Vol. 1: Tales of Isolation”

*

LATVIA:

Sign Libra – “Sea to Sea”

Latvian electronic music composer Agata Melnikova aka Sign Libra has created truly remarkable conceptual album that creates kind of shelter in an imagined place that is full of magic, carelessness and wonderful creatures of nature.

“Sea to Sea” was released shortly before pandemic but even then it was clear that world needs such an honest, light and beautifully made music that has the power to heal an exhausted mind. (Raivis Spalvēns)

♪♫ Listen: “Sea of Islands” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Alise Joste – “Šākātā”
Brimstone – “Insulin”
Goran Gora – “Renesanse”
Jānis Ruņģis – “Dzīvojumi”
Kasetes – “Dialogue”
Martas Asinis – “Bauda”
R_R_ – “Train of Thought”
Stūrī Zēvele – “Labvakar”
Tautumeitas – “Dziesmas no Aulejas”

*

LEBANON:

Fadi Tabbal – “Subject to Potential Errors and Distortions”

On his fifth solo album, Lebanese musician, producer, and sound engineer Fadi Tabbal delves deeper into the theme of alienation in a suffocating city. Composed and conceived almost entirely at his home in Beirut during quarantine, the record is his most intimate yet.

While his previous solo work consisted solely of guitar pieces, this time Tabbal adds tape loops, vocal samples and synthesizers to his sound palette in an attempt to convey the subjectivity of memory and our tendency to write and rewrite history according to the present.

The result is seven pieces that veer between minimalism and ambient music akin to recent outings by Pan American’s Mark Nelson and mid-period Stars of the Lid. Three of the tracks feature the voice of Julia Sabra, singer for Beirut dream-pop group Postcards. (Ziad Nawfal)

♪♫ Listen: “Ceremony By The Sea” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Daou – “Subliminal”
Ilvy – “China Girl”
Jad Atoui – “Black Lanterns”
Kid Fourteen – “Love”
Kinematik – “Murur Al Kiram”
Mazen El Sayed & Jawad Nawfal – “Sessions 1”
Postcards – “The Good Soldier”
Rise 1969 – “Black Eye”
Sary Moussa – “Imbalance”
Tedtedted – “Cama”

*

LITHUANIA:

Monika Liu – “Melodija”

One of the greatest voices in Lithuanian pop music Monika Liu has baked some fresh goods in 2020. Her album “Melodija” is a sentimental, retro-ish and at the same time very fresh work about… Love.

“Melodija” is a one love story told in four Monika Liu’s songs, carved in a vinyl record. It’s not just the record that is vinyl. The music itself reminds us of an undeservedly forgotten Lithuanian retro era and the sincere, a bit old fashioned way we once used to talk about passion, fear, separation, inspiration and hope – all the way a loving person has to go through.

United with the best musicians and producers, with the help of vintage analogue synthesizers and unique recording techniques, Monika Liu succeeded to make a brilliant love story to listen to, no matter what century you are living in. (Giedre Nalivaikaite)

♪♫ Listen: “Tiek Jau To” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Solo Ansamblis – “Olos”
Kamanių šilelis – “9”
Paulius Kilbauskas – “Vanduo”
Homechestra – “Dialogues That Never Happened”
Mantas Mockus – “Vėl ir Vėl”
Vilniaus Energija – “Welcome to Lithuania”
Avis Rara – “Valleys”
Sarukas – “Body Was Found”
shishi – “MAFITISHEI” (disclaimer: Giedre’s band!)

*

LUXEMBOURG:

Claire Parsons – “In Geometry (Jazz Thing Next Generation Vol.83)”

Jazz singer and composer Claire Parsons released her latest album, “In Geometry”, in May of 2020. The synth-swelling, polyrhythmic record opens with a short track featuring her vocals teasing out dense harmonies from a single vocoder, against the sonic backdrop of a modulating synthesizer.

After its abrupt end, we’re given the full extent of her creative power; with complex vocal arrangements, melancholy guitars, evolving soundscapes and sporadic rhythm sections that push and pull across the micro-universe that is “In Geometry”.

The record has no doubt served as a bright, persisting light for many of her fans, during what has evidently been a dark and dispiriting year. (Ben Lowe)

♪♫ Listen: “No Shape” + album stream

Other recommeded albums:
TUYS – “A Curtain Call For Dreamers” EP
C’est Karma – “Farbfilm” EP
David Ianni – “Piano Songs”

*

MALAYSIA:

Alextbh – “The Chase”

On his debut EP “The Chase”, R&B artist Alextbh has delivered a record that brims with equal measures of beauty and pain. There are no grand overtures or brisk beats, just downbeat tales of love and lust framed with brutal honesty.

He is careful not to alienate though, with each song drawing you in with its exquisite melodicism. Tracks such as the gorgeous “Superstore” harkens back to old school Motown balladry while the closing title track is modern pop songcraft at its finest.

“The Chase” is a record that glows brightly late at night. Turn it up then, to really feel it. (Adrian Yap)

♪♫ Listen: “Superstore” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Azmyl Yunor – “John Bangi Blues”
No Good – “Demo Kawe”
Heymun – “HYMN”
OJ Law – “All Filter”
Rachel Morais – “Order in Chaos”
OST – “Shh… Diam – To Which My Brother Laughed”

*

MALI:

Oumou Sangaré – “Acoustic”

And here she is, the legend of Malian music who’s been with us for full three decades shows herself at her most delicate, intimate, direct…. It was all recorded live in France in the middle of summer, in one take, just with two backing singer, ngoni and guitar.

Most of this material comes from her most recent studio album “Mogoya”, but Oumou Sangaré also revisits some of her timeless hymns from earlier career. And to be honest, some of them sound better than ever. (Oumar Dembele)

♪♫ Listen: “Djoukourou” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Songhoy Blues – “Optimisme”
Dj DIaki – “Balani Fou”
Tamikrest – “Tamotaït”
Afel Bocoum – “Lindé”

*

MEXICO:

Vaya Futuro – “El Peso del Mundo”

With their fourth studio album, “El Peso del Mundo”, the band from Tijuana made up of Luis Aguilar, Miguel Ahuage and L.E. Rosse has become one of the most promising music projects in Mexico.

Although the musical style of Vaya Futuro has always been risky and experimental, in this new material they reach the climax of their sound for the first time thanks to the combination of different inspirations such as jazz, rock, ambient and flamenco with astonishing orchestral arrangements.

The importance of this work also lies in the problems it addresses: isolation, hatred, the complexity of the modern world and the importance of mental health. Problems that, after the pandemic, take on greater impact and relevance in human life. (Luis Felipe Maceda)

♪♫ Listen: “El Abuelo” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
J. Zunz – “Hibiscus”
ACTY – “No Hay A Donde Ir”
Los Cogelones – “Hijos del Sol”
Mint Field – “Sentimiento Mundial”
Edgar Mondragón – “No Hay Recuerdo Que No Se Apague”
El Shirota – “Tiempos Raros”
Hello Seahorse! – “Disco Estimulante”

*

MONGOLIA:

Magnolian – “Slow Burn”

Magnolian has been around for half a decade already – he won our Best of 2016 for Mongolia with his great debut EP, “Famous Men”. It took him some time to finally get ready for a full-length album, but for some time now he’s been sharing new songs from this long-awaited release, like “Rome” and “Caroline“.

Both of these songs appeared on “Slow Burn” LP, a collection of nine songs (and an interlude) that includes quiet compositions woven around Magnolian’s exceptional vocals and his acoustic guitar or piano, as well as more upbeat moments, in the right balance.

Some come with beautiful strings arrangments, like “Civil War” or the aforementioned “Rome”, which you can also enjoy with a simple but lovely video below. We can only hope Magnolian’s next full-length is already in the making.

♪♫ Listen: “Rome” + album stream

Other recommended releases:
Vandebo – “Bayarlalaa”
Naagi – “Итгэл”
Jene Sequa – “Childish Dreams”
The HU – “Sad But True”
Odonbat – “Let Me Go”

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MOROCCO:

Guedra Guedra – “Son of Sun”

There’s a new full-length album “Vexillology” coming next year from Abdellah M. Hassak, Casalablanca producer, DJ and sound artist known as Guedra Guedra (كدرة كدرة), but we’re still immersed in the sounds of his vivid EP released back in April, a truly psychedelic conglomerate of electronic/bass music (and about dozen other genres) and (North) African inspirations (and about dozen other locations from around the world).

If there’s something to really look apart from this or that vaccine in 2021, that’s “Vexillology”, since this spectacular debut EP can’t be wrong. Son of Sun indeed. (Lina Rim)

♪♫ Listen: “Uggug” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Imane El Halouat – “Exit” EP
bergsonist – “Middle Ouest”
Tagne – “Moroccan Dream”

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NETHERLANDS:

Eefje De Visser – “Bitterzoet”

It’s been four long years since Eefje De Visser released her monumental record “Nachtlicht“. In 2019 she teased us with a couple of intriguing tracks from the follow-up “Bitterzoet” and in January the Dutch singer finally released the record.

It’s a record that sees Eefje further exploring electronics and pop structures while her inventive lyrics remain poetic and melancholic as ever. With the pandemic suddenly breaking down her plans for a huge tour behind the release, album highlight “Stilstand” (Standstill) suddenly got a new perspective.

Luckily Eefje De Visser managed to adapt quickly and released a beautifully shot concert film too this year, which we highly recommend if you like the album as much as we do. (Jort Mokum)

♪♫ Listen: “Stilstand” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Nana Adjoah – “Big Dreaming Ants”
Sevdaliza – “Shabrang”
The Homesick – “The Big Excercize”
Meetsysteem – “Cr:GO”
S10 – “Vlinders”
Upsammy – “Zoom”
Mylan Hoezen – “Operating Manual for Floating in Space”
Sor – “Professor”
Broeder Dieleman – “De Liefde Is De Eerste Wet”

*

NEW ZEALAND:

Virtual Shadow Ensemble – “Keep Your Distance!!!”

Recorded during Aotearoa New Zealand’s first national COVID-19 lockdown, “Keep Your Distance!!!” by Noa Record’s Virtual Shadow Ensemble is a masterclass in bedroom recording, digital file-sharing and remote collaboration. Helmed by Larsen Taylor (producing, engineering, mastering), the project rallied fifteen musical collaborators from across Aotearoa – spoken word poets, rappers, instrumentalists and synthesists from two generations of New Zealand music.

Together, they crafted seven songs and interludes that sit at the intersection of freeform jazz, dub poetry, improvised noise, soul, funk and beats. For the Virtual Shadow Ensemble, the lockdown was an opportunity to reflect on the state of our societies, cultures and environments. By way of a flurry of percussion, synthesisers, woodwind and brass, set against field recordings and sonic collage, they provide the perfect backdrops for poetry and vocals from Aije, Janina Nana Yaa, Julian Lubin & Ryan Hendriks.

Projects like this can be a dicey affair, but “Keep Your Distance!!!” is the rare virtual collaboration that transcends the limitations and restrictions of the form. Noa Records have gifted us with a gorgeous musical documentation of the mood that hung over the country as the pandemic set in. And yet, when you revisit it in five years, these remarkable and resplendent songs will stand firm and resonant in different ways. (Martyn Pepperell)

♪♫ Listen: “Truth is in the Shadow of a Doubt” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Brown Boy Magik – “Trans Pacific Time”
Church & AP – “At Thy Feet (Side One)”
Clear Path Ensemble – “Self-Titled”
Samara Alofa – “Earth Punk !”
Vanessa Worm – “Vanessa ’77”

*

NIGERIA:

WurlD – “Afrosoul”

“Afrosoul” is actually the best short description for the latest 7-track from the blue-haired singer and his guests – Cuppy, Kida Kudz, Zeal (from VVIP), plus a number of talented producers.

On his most refined release yet, WurlD (born Sadiq Onifade) shows he doesn’t care where pop, soul, R&B and electro start and end – it’s all his platform to sing about love in its ups and downs.

But the whole thing starts with “National Anthem”, his effort to create a hymn for Africanism, inspired by his observations of church worship and singalongs. (T. Mecha)

♪♫ Listen: “National Anthem/Growing Wings” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela – “Rejoice”
Made in Lagos – “Wizkid”
Fireboy DML – “Apollo”
Tiwa Savage – “Celia”

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NORTH MACEDONIA:

Blackstate – “While the World’s on Fire” EP

“While the World’s on Fire” is Blackstate’s 5-song debut EP that would be perfectly categorized as “dancing grooves with hardcore/punk roots”. Blackstate is a solo project of Filip Tasevski – Fitz known for his bands: The Beginnings, Astrolungs, Retro Cabaret, etc. His idea stays the same but only changed its form. Fitz successfully managed to avoid creative exhaustion through constant change.

It’s a big challenge to switch from a melodic punk rock band to an electronic solo project. One has to cultivate the habit of freedom and have the courage to create music that comes from the heart in the purest form of what one thinks and feels.

Music, as I see it, is something spontaneous, centripetal. It must contain a natural tendency to progress. I would compare creating music to tackling a dangerous mountain, climbing its steep walls, and arriving at its summit after a long and arduous struggle. And Blackstate managed to have few live performances and EP success even in these Corona times. Check out “While the World’s on Fire” which was released via his DIY label Treble Trouble Records & PMG Recordings. (Elena Peljhan)

“I hope I will never stop shouting about things that are wrong anyway. I might just change the form, over and over again, but I guess I’ll never change. Now that everything is on ground zero, I feel the reinventing of myself fully. Stay tuned as I have much more to say and do.” – Blackstate

♪♫ Listen: “Wolves” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Perija – “Kokalo”
Crnila remix
Sethstat – “Petite Cinematique”
Kontra Napad – “Neka Vozi”
Dimitra – “Mak mrak”
Zulu 3.4 – “LIVE: Kraj Vardarot”

*

NORWAY:

Evigheten – “Heten”

Among mighty mountains Evigheten was born. The name Evigheten translates as “The Eternity”. And the band do, in this writers opinion, resemble a cosmic eternity.

“Heten” is a follow-up to the debut EP “Evig”, released back in 2018. Together, the two records form a complete album. “Heten” is without a doubt the most impressing work from the group. It sounds pastoral, yet futuristic. Spacious, yet intimite.

After this tubulent year with all its tricky situations, it’s nice to float into the sphere created by the six-piece group. The sacral atmosphere offers room for reflection and meditation.

Despite lockdown, or maybe because of it, the music scene flourished this year in Norway. Evigheten is one of many highlights from the tiny yet highly musical country. “Heten” stands out as one of the most unique releases from 2020. (Edvard Granum Dillner)

♪♫ Listen: “Eksistensen” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Juno – “Young Star”
Ivan Ave – “Double Goodbyes”
Benjamin Mørk – “Mechanical Piano”
Verdensrommet – “Allting Tar Slutt”
Lilja – “Marble”
Ultraflex – “Visions of Ultraflex”
Jez_ebel – “Blossom”
Maria Norseth Garli – “Golden”
Sid Hart – “Soul Design”
Kjetil Jerve – “The Soundtrack of My Home”

*

PAKISTAN:

Takatak – “Acrophase”

This is one of the best albums to come out of Pakistan this year because it reminds us of how the genre of heavy metal still very much has a scope in Pakistan.

Takatak has existed in Pakistan for ten years and while it went through a number of line-up changes, 2020 was the year that this band released their first ever album, “Acrophase”.

Takatak has been one of the most hard-working and unique bands that experiment with different takes on the genre of heavy metal, which has become a rarity in Pakistan. (Zahra Salah Uddin)

♪♫ Listen: “Fault Lines” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Abdullah Siddiqui – “Heterotopia”
Sail Into Night – “Distill”
Shorbanoor – “Tar”
Ahsan Bari – “Guzarish”
E Sharp – “Choti Khushiyan” (music film album)
Aziz Kazi – “Cacan”
TMPST – “Inside your head”

*

PERU:

Pedro Mo – “Urku Runa”

Lima-based rapper Pedro Gonzalo Mosqueira also known as Pedro Mo (also known as Zekatari) has been discussing social and political issues for about twenty years now, and it’s fifteen years since his proper debut album. But “Urku Runa” might be one of his most important albums yet.

In a critical year for Peru socially and politically, plus the pandemic that hit the planet, Pedro Mo became the chronicler of the problems of daily life. “Urku Runa” brings heavy messages, and real hip hop. (José Luis Mercado)

♪♫ Listen: “Wachuma’s Delorían” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Andrea Martinez – “Drama”
Ati Lane – “Miedo, amor y vida”
Colectivo Waykicha – “Circulo de vida”
Dengue Dengue Dengue! – “Fiebre”
Sofia Kourtesis – “Sarita Colonia”
Tomas Tello – “Cimora”
Susana Baca – “A capella: Grabado en casa durante la cuarentena (mayo 2020)”
V/A – “Perdiendo peleas, ganando amigos (Vol. 2)”
Dafne Castañeda – “Posguerra”
Somontano – “Unojoalfuturo”

*

PHILIPPINES:

Oh, Flamingo – “Volumes”

“Volumes” is fully committed to its brand: an eccentric psych-pop record that lives off on its own island, sonically distant from its more accessible peers, but its play of principles feels surprisingly rewarding the minute you allow yourself to be consumed by its enveloping warmth.

As cerebral as Oh, Flamingo!’s work can be, “Volumes” thrives on the existence of a soaring melody, an elemental groove, and an insatiable hook—expanding its penchant for conventional pop songwriting with experimental edge. Think of The Eraserheads’ “Sticker Happy”, but more Dan Bejar or David Longstreth than ‘90s alternative rock.

It’s a record that brims with collage-like methodology, but whose personality seems even more sharply defined. (Ian Urrutia)

♪♫ Listen: “Echoes / Psychedelic Sweater” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Pamphleteer – “Collected Fiction”
Zild – “Homework Machine”
Tatz Maven – “Sige Simula”
Hazylazy – “The Resentment Segment”
Dana Blaze – Revenge”
Tarsius – “Culture Cow”
Jason Dhakal – “Love Sound”
Ena Mori – “Ena Mori”
Loner – “Into Midnight”

*

POLAND:

Coals – “docusoap”

Music of Katarzyna Kowalczyk and Łukasz Rozmysłowski has always been, dark, difficult to categorize – electronic? pop? hip-hop? experimental? On their second full-length album “docusoap“, they take it all a step further, as Coals’ crystaline production and heavy reverbs make it a challenge not just to talk about genres, but even about any particular moods or emotions.

“docusoap”, which borrows its name from neverending documentary series, actually brings 12 short tracks that often feel like ending much too early. A bit like a collection of home studio demos? But trust the band, it’s just the right amount of the many shades of their dense, rampant art. (Mariusz Herma & Artur Szarecki)

♪♫ Listen: “sleepwalker” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Błoto – “Kwiatostan” / “Erozje”
Diomede with Hubert Zemler – “Przyśpiewki”
EABS – “Discipline of Sun Ra”
hai – “Dzwoń po nadzór”
Hania Rani – “Home”
Kapela Ze Wsi Warszawa – “Uwodzenie”
Lonker See – “Hamza”
Odraza – “Rzeczom”
Paszka – “Gluon”
Pejzaż – “Blues”

*

PORTUGAL:

Clã – “Véspera”

The confinement has these strange things… “Vèspera” is without a doubt the album of this strange year of 2020. Recorded in full confinement, it deserves to be listen to with full attention from the start to the end.

Clã songs fill that existing emotional void, either due to the pop drift of their themes, or the misaligned love songs, which express the most personal feelings in the first-person narrative, but without a specific destination.

In “Véspera”, the voice of Manuela Azevedo served poetry of a luxurious range of authors, from Sérgio Godinho to Samuel Úria, as well as Capicua. (Paulo Homem de Melo, Glam Magazine)

♪♫ Listen: “Armário” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Benjamim – “Vias de Extinção”
Capicua – “Madrepérola”
David Bruno – “Raiashopping”
Filipe Sambado – “Revezo”
B Fachada – “Rapazes e Raposas”
Samuel Úria – Canções do Pós-Guerra
Noiserv – “Uma Palavra Começada por N”
Da Chick – “Conversations with the Beat”
Mancines – “II”
Primeira Dama – “Superstar Desilusão”

*

PUERTO RICO:

Campo-Formio – “Plan Maestro”

It’s a difficult year to single out just one release from Puerto Rico to highlight and promote to an international community of music lovers. Our independent music scene remains incredibly active throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, an impressive feat for a small community of artists that lacks both a solid infrastructure for its growth and widespread support within its homeland. Be it the long awaited debut LP from Buscabulla – easily the most popular group our scene has birthed in a decade – or the welcomed return of veteran pop-rockers CIRCO, listeners hip to Puerto Rico’s alternative sounds were treated to a worthy batch of new releases in 2020.

Of all of these, Campo-Formio’s sophomore LP, “Plan Maestro”, made me yearn the most for a pre-pandemic life while simultaneously inviting me to push forward and through the fog of a socially distanced existence. Ten years after popping up in our scene, the self described “power trio” from San Juan remains one of the island’s best kept secrets, perhaps most hidden from itself (but you try marketing a progressive art-punk outfit to audiences weaned on the reggaeton beat and increasingly thirsty for latin trap). Campo-Formio’s live performances – loud, sweaty, kinetic affairs; always jammed packed and consistently great – were sorely missed this year. Patient fans were handsomely rewarded with a brand new record instead.

They couldn’t have planned it better. Arriving six years after their stellar debut long player, “Here comes… Campo-Formio”, the twice-recorded, oft-delayed “Plan Maestro” is a refinement, not a reinvention of the band’s sound, as the long gap between records might otherwise imply. Campo-Formio’s dynamic approach to guitar-based rock is precise and muscular in delivery, surefooted without being cocky, with an emphasis on band interplay and high-octane rhythms.

Fernando Quintero El Hage (guitar, vocals), Diego Bernal Ríos (drums) and Ricardo Pérez (bass) form a tight unit, nimbly bobbing and weaving as in a fight, each riff an unexpected twist or turn. Quintero’s mix of obscure poetry and eerily prescient observations (“No existen las aerolíneas ya. No existe la felicidad, por eso te iré a buscar” in “Teenagers from the End”) are delivered in bratty snarls and preening howls, always with great gusto. It’s an effective blueprint, now perfected.

So, learn the songs, spread the wealth, best to get on board now so we can see each other pogoing in the dark at the next Campo-Formio gig. Whenever that ends up being. (Alfredo Richner)

♪♫ Listen: “Piedra y Tijera” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Buscabulla – “Regresa”
Cornucopia – “Death Of The Moon”
Circo – “Adiós, Hola”
Doktor Zaius – “Antifafunk”
Fullminator – “Omniplasm” EP
Habish – “Sensibilidad Escópica”
ÌFÉ – “The Living Dead | Ashé Bogbo Egun” EP
Iglesia Atómica – “La guerra del fin del mundo”
Pachyman – “At 333 House”
Rita Indiana – “Mandinga Times”

*

RUSSIA:

Krasnoznamyonnaya Divisiya Imeni Moyey Babushki – “Catacom”

This is the first full-length release for Krasnoznamyonnaya Divisiya Imeni Moyey Babushki (Краснознаменная дивизия имени моей бабушки) after three memembers quit the band – and also the first for Sasha Frolova as a vocalist.

On “Catacom”, the well-known sound of the band is now inspired by French-house, disco and r&b. Glad to say – no one got POPier so chicly and goodly. (Artem Shenfeld, Другая Музыка)

♪♫ Listen: “Русский андеграунд” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Husky – “Hoshhonog”
Affinazh – “Mimo. Ranen. Ubit.”
Hadn-Dadn – “Nostalgia”
Dayte Tank (!) – “Cheloveko-Chasy”
Skriptonit – “2004”
Zavet – “Zhily”
Sestry – “Kogda Bily Volny”
Samoe Bolshoe Prostoe Chislo – “Vsyo Ravno”
OQJAV – “Kromeshna”
Kira Lao – “Тревожный опыт”

*

SERBIA:

Repetitor – “Prazan prostor među nama koji može i da ne postoji”

This is the fourth effort from Belgrade’s garage rock outfit Repetitor and, once again, it sounds amazing. Business as usual for the most important band on the Serbian alternative scene in the past decade.

They have built a solid reputation as a concert attraction so they succeded to capture their explosive, raw and furios live energy on the record accompanied with some refined production. Eight songs in 22 minutes are stocked with interesting changes in pace, instrumentation and structure so this LP is easily digestible and convenient for multiple listening sessions.

Pulsating and boisterous rhythm will launch you up to the sky in no second, the sound and groove are so powerful that you instantly imagine a huge mosh-pit in front of the stage. Don’t overlook this record cause you’ll find Repetitor as vital as ever. (Nemanja Nešković)

♪♫ Listen: “Kost i koža” + album stream

Other recommeded albums:
Dingospo Dali – “O nečemu lepom”
Rebel Star – “Demoni”
Random – “Random”
Dogs in Kavala – “Zubi”
Hod – “Strane percepcije”
Brigand – “Iza crne duge”
Prljave sestre – “Najgore tek dolazi”
Sergio Lounge – “The Loungest”
Lednik – “Celestial Monuments”
Ab Re – “More napeto”

*

SINGAPORE:

.gif – “Hail Nothing”

Electronic music luminaries and arpeggio lovers Chew Wei Shan and Nurudin Sadali are finally back with another impressive longplay – we still have their 2015 debut LP ‘soma‘ in minds and hearts.

What “Hail Nothing” offers is less goth, more joy, which is certainly desired in such cryptic year. Din’s quick beats and soft glitches make a perfect companion to Weish’s eerie, mesmerizing vocals. At some points you might actually be reminded about one Björk. (Ana Teng)

♪♫ Listen: “Let’s Do” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
MYRNE – “Wandering”
Kin Leonn & Hiroshi Ebina – “Faraway Vicinity”
Shye – “Days To Morning Glory”
LLLL – “Impure”
NAEDR – “Past Is Prologue”
Sial – “Tari Pemusnah Kuasa”

*

SLOVAKIA:

FVLCRVM – “attentioncore”

If you’re into club music and love genres like juke, garage or UK bass, I dare say you’d like FVLCRVM’s music. The producer released an EP with an ideal dynamics from down-mid tempo tracks (“Sillicon Fields”, “Goodbye”) to an up tempo banger (“Hate List”). His strength (among other things) lies in his ability to make radio / club / boat party / your-own-listen friendly music, all at the same time. It’s been tested for loads of times, always passed successfully.

The funny thing about the musician is that he keeps saying he doesn’t like the lyrics writing part but one can’t believe that. Just look at the EP’s title, what a word pun! Or a long list of first world issues in “Hate List” (high probability you’re going to laugh): “Pubic hair in shower / Being out of storage / Guest-lists, dying battery / No find on Shazam”.

No better thing than to giggle on the dance floor in the club. Well, one day. (Viera Ráczová & Filip Olšovský)

♪♫ Listen: “Hate List” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Gleb – “Leto v kufri”
Billy Barman – “Zlatý vek”
Fallgrapp – “Ostrov”
Bulp – “Parvin”
Darkness Positive – “?”

*

SLOVENIA:

balans – “Sam pravm”

Best Slovenian record, second year in a row! The restless post-punk duo (trio? quartet?) must be doing something right.

As the band graduates from their beloved bunker to an actual recording studio, the follow-up to last year’s hectic “A vam je jasno” arrives under the wing of indie institution KAPA Records. This is hi-fi, balans style: a light-headed matte finish suits the simple, yet ridiculously catchy song structures, such as circle dance opener “Uganka”.

Andrej Pervanje’s elementary bass riffs somehow sound even tighter and twist the ten compositions playfully around themselves, complemented by the debut appearance of live drums courtesy of Jan Kmet. The vocal centerpiece, however, is Kristin Čona with her effortless switches between deadpan poetic verses and deliberate layering of colloquial platitudes. The album title, which translates to “just sayin’”, reflects exactly that: a smartass, but ultimately street-smart attitude with enough musical chops and confidence to pull off a record like this.

As dilettante as it may sound, “Sam pravm” is an elegant addition to the band’s opus that never compromises on their wonderful weirdo essence. (Matej Holc, selection by ex-HrupMag team and friends)

♪♫ Listen: “Uganka” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Čao Portorož – “POP”
Tschimy – “Human OS”
Etceteral – “Ama-gi”
Kleemar – “No Love in Modern World”
Nikki Louder – “s/t”
Lenart Merlin – “Masa ljudi”
Ružno pače – “Hentai, Spid & Emo Pank!”
Trinajst – “Twentytwenty”
Pouch Envy – “North American Amusement” EP
Svojat – “Svojat”

*

South Korea:

CHUDAHYE CHAGIS (추다혜차지스) – “Underneath the Dangsan Tree Tonight” (오늘밤 당산나무 아래서)

For the Korean music enthusiasts who are also digging into Korean traditional music, Chu Da Hye is not an unfamiliar name. As one of the vocalists in SsingSsing, the funk-psychedelic-minyo (Korean folk singing) crossover act active from 2010 to 2018, she already testified the outstanding voice for contemporary traditional music. However, in CHUDAHYE CHAGIS, her first solo project with Lee Simun (guitar), Kim Jaeho (bass), and Kim Davin (drum), she mixes the ‘Gut’, a Korean traditional shamanistic ritual, with funk, psychedelic rock, and other many styles to create a bewitching and thrilling experience.

Starting with the enthralling scat of “undo”, “Underneath the Dangsan Tree Tonight” unfolds the exotic voices of Chu Da Hye, which you cannot forget after hearing once. As a talented minyo singer, her voice encompasses both mystic (“Binasoo+”, “사는새 / Soul Birds”) and exciting (“오늘날에야 / Today is the Day”, “Ritual Dance”) domains effortlessly. Moreover, the instruments and songwriting, which clearly understands the dynamic between ‘blank’ and ‘frenzy’ of psychedelic music styles, back up her voice with solid sonic forces.

“Chagi” is a Korean word meaning “share,” and Chu Da Hye said: “This music is all our share, and I hope that the people who listen to our music can take it as their own share.” I think we got a pretty huge share of great musical creation during this dark time. Someday, I wish I can play the album under a Dangsan tree, the deified tree worshipped as the guardian in front of many Korean villages. (Guwon Jeong & Jeon Daehan)

♪♫ Listen: “undo” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Kisewa – “Bullet Ballet”
Kim Ddutdol (김뜻돌) – “꿈에서 걸려온 전화” (A Call from My Dream)
Omega Sapien – “Garlic”
Big Baby Driver – “사랑” (Love)
Yeong Die – “Threshold Value”
Jeong Mijo (정미조) – “Free as Wind Till the Last”
Salamanda – “Glass Cage”
THSS – “Cargo Cult”
Yaeji – “WHAT WE DREW” (우리가 그려왔던)
Okkyung Lee – “Yeo-Neun”

*

SPAIN:

Ramper – “Nuestros mejores deseos”

“Nuestros mejores deseos” draws from post-rock, but goes further, expanding the boundaries of a genre that often seems stagnant.

Instead of going the easy way, quiet-loud-and-quiet again, Ramper’s debut creates a slow and dark atmosphere that, at the same time, reminds us avout bands like Low, Mogwai, GY!BE, Slint or movies like “Mad Max: Fury Road”.

An astonishing debut. (P. Roberto Jiménez, Hipersónica)

♪♫ Listen: “Amalola” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Mujeres – “Siento muerte”
Pablo Prisma y las Pirámides – “Pensamiento Gigante”
Melenas – “Días Raros”
Aiko el grupo – “Va totalmente en serio”
Confeti de Odio – “Tragedia Española”

*

SRI LANKA:

Bo Sedkid – “Full Moon Poya Day”

In a year marred by a global pandemic, and in a local music culture where releasing singles is the most pragmatic approach, it is not an easy task to single out an album of the year.

2020 saw impressive full-lengths from popular and alternative artists The Soul, Asela Perera, Drill Team and even a Sufism-inspired neo-soul/abstract hip-hop EP from the enigmatic Flowers On Both Ears, as well as prolific output from bedroom pop producer Arnon Ray Pereira. Yet, it was a string of remixes by an underground beat-maker over on SoundCloud that truly captured the isolation and inward-focus that came to define this year for many.

Bo Sedkid (the beat-maker alias of visual artist and filmmaker Muvindu Binoy) is something of a cult figure in Sri Lanka’s underground music scene. His influences range from the sound of monsoon rains to the works of J Dilla and perhaps most evidently Ta-Ku. With the “Full Moon Poya Day” EP, Bo Sedkid pulls together the sporadic remixes released over the past year, where he revisits Sinhalese popular music from the past decade and recontextualizes them into an alternative and contemporary sound.

Taking the melodic content out of its original “pop” arrangements, he places emphasis on the vocals, treating them with pitch shifts and subtle textures. Each track plays on the listener’s nostalgia while inviting them to appreciate the songs in a different context, most often a gloomy atmosphere and a nihilistic mood. (2020, anyone?). Though that’s not to be mistaken with an overt sentimentality or “sadness” per se, as these treatments offer no closure. (Again, 2020.). (Imaad Majeed)

♪♫ Listen: “Jeewithe Sihinayan” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Flowers On Both Ears – “UMA” EP
The Soul – “Enry Pete”
Arnon Ray Pereira – “Please Don’t Touch” EP
Drill Team – “Naraa Sandeshaya”
Sadbeatboy – “Broken Expectations” EP
Asela Perera – “Gold”

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SWEDEN:

Paulina Palmgren – “Paradiset och jorden”

Every year we’re searching for that one album that moves mountains and gives you a feeling of something larger. This year Paulina Palmgren delivers that with “Paradiset och jorden”, an album of eleven tracks of pure existential gold.

We know Paulina from beehype favourites La Lusid and we love her voice and her way to build new worlds with it. She made this album with her partner and producer Jonathan Järpehag and the songs are both down to earth and far up in heaven.

The music is built of different parts of yesterday combined with something new and imaginative. The first sounds on the album are taken from Karin Ströms stunning album “Fantomhalvan” and you just know that you’re about to witness something special. The Swedish lyrics blend poetry with everyday considerations and contain a fine mixture of dreams, real life and spirituality.

The album comprises so much different layers and inputs from different genres and ages that you can’t really put it in a certain box. Sometimes that’s mazy, a huge palette of inspirations can make it blurry – but that’s not the case here. The result bears a wholeness and I think we can call “Paradiset och jorden” a unique masterpiece. (Fabian Forslund)

♪♫ Listen: “Allt som tar dig ner på jorden” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Terra – “Underbara saker”
Slowgold – “Aska”
Hanna Järver – “tusen täta lögner in”
Jonas Lundqvist – “Dubbla fantasier”
Alice Boman – “Dream On”
Dolce – “Ur aska”
Cuntrie – “Scrapbooking” EP
Beverly Kills – “Elegance in a State of Crisis” EP
Smicker – “Seterra” EP

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SWITZERLAND:

Annie Taylor – “Sweet Mortality”

Combine garage grunge, sweet psychedelia, Girl Power and the atmosphere of surf music. You will get one of the best guitar-driven albums in a long time.

On “Sweet Mortality”, Annie Taylor from Zurich play with great energy and emotions, introducing pop and fun to their songs that will enchant you forever.

Like a roadtrip down the sunny countryside, it goes straight into your heart. (Michael Bohli, ARTNOIR.ch)

♪♫ Listen: “Telephone” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Dachs – “Zu Jeder Stund En Vogelgsang”
Egopusher – “Beyond”
Die Aeronauten – “Neun Extraleben”
Casanora – “Happiness Is Mostly Sold Out”
The Night Is Still Young – “She Wants Us to Leave”
Kety Fusco – “Dazed”
Schnellertollermeier – “5”
LOAD – “Superego”
Bitter Moon – “The World Above”
The Company Of Men – “Sounds Of The Century”

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TAIWAN:

Aljenljeng Tjaluvie (阿爆) – “kinakaian” (母親的舌頭)

With the second official album that swept the boards at a number of different music awards, Aljenljeng Tjaluvie (ABAO/阿爆) proves that she is the one who can represent Taiwanese pop music.

On “kinakaian”, she focuses on the mother tongue of the Paiwan, indigenous people of Taiwan. Mixing it with electronic, soul and R&B, Aljenljeng Tjaluvie may internationalize this music. Her heavenly voice will certainly help that.

This album actually came out at the end of 2019, but we count it to 2020 because for some institutional reasons December brings much more releases in Taiwan than other months. (Cheng-Chung Tsai)

♪♫ Listen: “Thank You” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Sonia Calico – “Simulation of an Overloaded World”
ZiXuan & Slow Train (黃子軒與山平快) – “Going Up to the Country” (上鄉)
ChuNoodle (春麵樂隊) – “Till” (到底)
Super Napkin – “There’s Nothing that Cannot Beat Me”
Panai (巴奈) – “Love, and yet…” (愛,不到)
88 Balaz (八十八顆芭樂籽) – “My Heart is Burning for Your Sexy Butt!” (我的心正為你這個中年翹臀燃燒著!)
Outlet Drift (漂流出口) – “Lady of the Ocean” (海女)
Ruby Fatale (鹿比∞吠陀) – “Paramita” (彼岸)
ZANI (渣泥) – “Portal”
Pochang Wu (吳柏蒼) – “42”

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THAILAND:

Summer Dress – “Ui”

Soon after you start listening to their third album “Ui”, you might hear yourself thinkinh that Summer Dress might be one of the most imaginative rock bands in Thailand and beyond. And you’ll be right.

Across these dozen tracks, this Bangkok-based quartet combines sounds and moods from all kinds of (sub)genres – they even switch between English and the Thai language, actually quite seamlessly.

It all makes “Ui” one of those releases that demand, but truly deserve your full attention, and are ready to win it. (Worranat Kongchankit)

♪♫ Listen: “ Over Willing” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Death of Heather – “Death of Heather”
Kawin Kornthong – “Eros”
Story and Feel. – “7/10”
เขียนไขและวานิช – “เดินทางไกล”
The Gambler – “NO FUTURE”
T_047 – “Hello Neighbours”

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TUNISIA:

Deena Abdelwahed – “Dhakar”

While the latest release from Tunisian DJ and magician Deena Abdelwahed is a four-track EP that takes less than 20 minutes to listen, it deserves proper attention from anyone who loves these kinds of experiments melding futuristic rhythms with local sources for one simple reason – each track is a separate sound universe.

And it’s not just about fusing “Arabic music with club music”. The most inconspicuous track on here called “Insaniyti” might be the last to notice, but it’s like a soundtrack to grim street procession rather than your typical club beat or headphone-oriented mind-blowing experiments. It might also become your favourite off this EP. (Lina Rim)

♪♫ Listen: “Ah’na Hakkeka” + album stream

Other recommeded albums:
AMMAR 808 – “Global Control / Invisible Invasion”
Khadija Al Hanafi – “Slime Patrol”
Emel – The “Tunis Diaries”
Nour Harkati – “sehi”
Mylena – “Spinning Out”
Nuri – “IRUN”

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TURKEY:

Salih Korkut Peker – “Denize Dik”

There have been many great albums, both EPs and LPs, this year in the alternative Turkish music scene. But if you ask me to nominate one, it would be clearly Salih Korkut Peker’s “Denize Dik” EP.

Thanks to cümbüş, the instrument that Salih Korkut Peker plays, this album has the melodic Turkish sauce in it. It is not the only reason that I pick this one, all six songs – including one surprise Nirvana cover – have great ideas, beautiful arrangements, and inspiring expressions.

Take this album as an imaginary road trip from one end to the other on Turkey’s map. Besides this and 10 other delicious albums below, you may find some more right here. (Emir Aksoy)

♪♫ Listen: “Dünün Halayı” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Ilhan Ersahin’s Istanbul Sessions – “Bir Zamanlar Şimdi”
V/A – “30. Akbank Caz Festivali: Dün, Bugün, Yarın”
Lara Di Lara – “Sudaki Çığlık”
Can Güngör – “Sular Dar”
Nilipek. – “Mektuplar”
Kalben – “Kalp Hanım”
Ağaçkakan – “Kendiliğinden”
Melis Güven – “İşaretler”
Şevket Akıncı – “Radyo Ekoton”
Moğollar – “Anatolian Sun”

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UKRAINE:

Heinali – “Madrigals”

Imagine growing a garden for two years without expecting it to grow. This is exactly what happened to Heinali’s album called “Madrigals”.

Yes, Heinali is an alias for the Ukrainian music composer and sound artist Oleg Shpudeiko. Yes, you might consider his music quite cinematic, since he also creates one for movies, games and performances. Yes, there’s way more than that.

The creation of “Madrigals” started two years ago, when Oleg began to explore generative counterpoint in modular synthesis. He found inspiration in the polyphonic compositional style of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Going beyond the electronic sound, Heinali also invited musicians to play historical acoustic instruments like the archlute and the baroque alto viola. The recording of these instruments took place in Ukraine and Great Britain.

“Initially, the music consisted of fragments of polyphonic textures generated by a modular synthesizer… In two years some parts of it began to tell a story about themselves. It was impossible not to take them into account” – says Heinali in an article for Neformat. “For example, one of the voices is a tiny but clever bird. During the day it sings loudly, and at night dives deep into the water, where it starts a whale song. Another bird is a shadow that flew straight from Elizabethan England and brought a fashionable at the time melancholy. All of them, of course, live in the garden.”

Make sure to take your time and visit these electric gardens of polyphony. It might sound tricky at first glance but will bloom as soon as you let it into your heart. (Dartsya Tarkovska)

♪♫ Listen: “Beatrice” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
DakhaBrakha – “Alambari”
Ragapop – “Siasya”
Our Atlantic – “Час Розваг”
Monoconda – “Low Light”
Sasha Boole – “Too Old to Sell My Soul”
La Horsa Bianca – “Diluvian Beat”
Islandinside – “Internet”

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URUGUAY:

Buenos Muchachos – “Vendrás a verte morir”

Buenos Muchachos has walked a long road in the Uruguayan music world. Active since the 90s, the band has evolved in front of the eyes and ears of its ever growing audience, that has made them a curious case: they are a cult band, but also part of the mainstream, getting interviewed in prime time news and having shows in the main stages of the big national festivals.

In that time, they have maintained darkness as one of their traits, but that darkness has gone from a dirty and gritty one to a shinier, sleek and glossy, like some sort of dark glass.

“Vendrás a verte morir”, their ninth album, not only confirms that, but also shows that the band is in a continuous ascent in the attention to detail and the sheer perfection of their sound. Every instrument plays its part without stepping over the rest, everything is noticeable and elegant, and the voice of singer Pedro Dalton sounds clearer and fresher than ever.

With “Un témpano” as the most recognizable “single” and the best entry point to the sound of Buenos Muchachos, the album also has high points like “Dormez-vous” and “Hiedra de Tirso”, but it’s recommended to listen to it from start to finish. Get submerged in its ethereal and magical sound that is pure rock in the spirit, but also adds elements of folk and even classical music, and enjoy its sophistication. (Nicolás Tabárez)

♪♫ Listen: “Un témpano” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Franny Glass – “Canciones de amor para el fin del mundo”
Pekeño 77 – “Sin prontuario”
Inés Errandonea – “La vida real”
Martín Buscaglia – “Basta de música”
Mariano Gallardo Pahlen – “Los sueños de los otros”
Eli Almic – “Días así”
Romina Peluffo – “Piel fina”
Diego Presa – “Cuarto”

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VENEZUELA:

Lil Supa – “NEØN”

Good taste, futuristic beats and a well entangled concept brings Lil Supa, one of Venezuela’s most prominent and defying rappers, to the conversation about who’s the greatest in Venezuelan Hip-Hop.

In NEØN, Supa shows his arguments on how he’s capable of delivering music that is out of his comfort zone (’90s Hip Hop) using different layers of sound and a brilliant aesthetic production. (Alejandro Fernandes Riera)

♪♫ Listen: “VÉRTIGO / EGO” + album stream

Other recommended albums:
Raúl Monsalve y los Forajidos – “Bichos”
Ava Casas – “Salto de Fe”
Simón Grossmann – “Triste Pero Fresh”
La Vida Bohéme – “FR€€​$​$​R”
Akapellah – “Goldo Funky”
Lil Supa y Akapellah – “Funky Fresco”
Okills – “Dimensión Caribe”
José Hoek – “Trémolo Park”
Trópico Salvaje – “La Gallera Social Club”
McKlopedia y Orestes Gómez – “Dealers In Caracas”

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VIETNAM:

Quyếch – “Quyển Trời”

Still a newcomer in the independent music scene in Vietnam, Quyếch – currently a duo – scored an impressive debut album with “Quyển Trời”. It’s rare to see Vietnamese artists playing music like this, especially after Vietnam’s indie scene has gradually saturated after a few years and stopped looking for new things.

Quyếch used lots of different instruments for this material. There are traditional Vietnamese instruments, there are modern instruments, it would actually take quite a while to name all of them. At the same time, lyrics are at least as complex.

I love when artists combine traditional music with modern music, when they mix music genres with no apparent effort. And while the full album is not yet available for streaming, you can have a taste with a 7-minute long single “Chỉ Đường”, or “Directions”.

While the album is not available for streaming yet, if you’re in Hanoi, you can buy the CD here to support Quyếch. (Trong-Nhan Nguyen)

♪♫ Listen: “Chỉ Đường”

Other recommended albums:
Mademoiselle – “Những Tiếng Hát Thầm”
Elcrost – “Benighted & Unrequited”
Hoang Duc Pham – “Bedroom Songs”
Thành Luke – “Gián Đoạn”
Khánh Linh – “Khanh Linh’s Journey (Full)”
• Bluemato – “Gió Thổi Mạnh”
Mademoiselle & Floyd Thursby – “The South Lands”
Hạc San – “Hồn – Trăng – Máu”
Lê Cát Trọng Lý – “Đừng Mua Nhiều Nhà Hơn Mình Cần”
The Flob – “Sống Sai”

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