BEN’S ZONE: My Five Favourite Albums of 2020

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Welcome to a weekly feature on my blog – Ben’s Zone. Written by husband… Ben. A foodie, coffee obsessed, ex-smoking, ex-drinking and Ridgeback loving Dad. Who is also seriously into his fitness.  You can find him on the blog (mostly) on Sundays. Enjoy!

My Five Favourite Albums of 2020

It’s an understatement to say that 2020 has been a weird year but, despite that, there has been some really great music out there that’s brought a lot of joy into my life.  Of course, there has also been some great gigs cancelled, but there’s no sense crying over those particular pools of spilt milk.  So I’ll end the year summing up 5 of my favourite finds of 2020. Yes, there’s a lot of psychedelia in here but first, I dig the psychedelic but secondly, with music experimentation there’s an innate joy and togetherness I can feel when listening and we need a bit of that right now.

Elephant Tree – Habits

Calling Elephant Tree a find from 2020 is cheating really as I first got into them when I saw them support Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard last year.  This year their third album, Habits, sees them really hit their stride.  From monstrous opener Sails through to closing number Broken Nails the album seems over too quickly, it’s not really short but like all really great things it leaves you wanting more.  Sound wise there are elements of hard rock, progressive elements and something else that I can’t and won’t try and define.  Either way, it smacks like a sledgehammer into a side of beef while maintaining a fragility and musicality that make it beautiful.

Narrowhead – 12th House Rock

Full disclosure, I have the Facebook algorithm to thank for Narrowhead.  The borg thought I’d like to hear Stuttering Stanley off the second Narrowhead album (12th House Rock) and by jove it was right.  I hoovered up everything I could find and they became my new favourite thing.  In terms of sound, it’s got elements of shoegaze in the way the 3 guitars form a massive wall of sound and then drop out to leave a slightly distorted bass and ever so laid back drums but that’s not all there is hear.  
It’s a huge sounding record, as is predecessor Satisfaction taking everything I liked about bands like Ride and adding a toughness.  It’s a superficial and ultimately flawed approach to listen to Narrowhead, note the early 90s flavours and walk away, yes, they’re there but this is like a Monet picture in reverse, as you get closer the detail becomes more and more apparent and when you really listen you hear elements of influences but this is not a pastiche of My Bloody Valentine not is it what they might have evolved into, it’s a different thing, it’s a new thing and it’s lovely.

Colour Haze – We Are

Honestly, how did I miss Colour Haze?  Coming out of Germany in the mid 90s and emerging into the mainstream around the turn of the century these guys are perfect hard psychedelic rock.  Everything is here, harmonised guitars, semi waily vocals and just the right amount of fuzz.  If you told me any Colour Haze album was released in 1973 then I’d fully believe you.  That is not to say these guys are derivative in any way, they are not aping any of the 70s hard rock band, they are just an 80s hard rock band out of time and they make truly beautiful music that swoops from heartfelt guitar lines to pulsating bass with zero effort.  I have a playlist with all of the Colour Haze albums in chronological order and I can quite happily listen to it on repeat for days on end.  Utterly mesmerising.

All The Witches – Nothing as the Ideal

Having found All Them Witches last year I was very geared up for their 2020 release, Nothing as the Ideal but I was not ready for just how good it would be.  There is no change in the basic recipe, bluesy, wholesome in parts, jagged in others, using frequent juxtaposition to control the mood but there’s something here that’s evolved.  My favourite ATW to this point had been 2015s ‘Dying Surfer Meets His Maker’ which is a great album, but next to Nothing as the Ideal it feels basic, unformed, almost amateur.  Not because it is, The Mellowing will always be one of the purest music moments a person can experience, but simply because Nothing as the Ideal is so clearly an evolved and fully formed representation of the sounds and ideas of All Them Witches.  I’m not normally one for scrabbling for tickets but when I heard ATW were touring the UK (hopefully) I had an alarm set for when the tickets went on sale and a calendar appointment so I didn’t get any work calls while buying the tickets.  Nothing as the Ideal is a band at the height (so far) of their creative powers and if you have not checked it, you should.

Slift – Ummon

Wow.  This is a very intense record.  Slift are 3 guys from Toulouse and for a 3 piece, this is a big sound.  I love space and space is definitely the theme here but in a new and interesting way, I have not heard before.  A lot of space rock is about openness, psychedelia, exploration, vastness, themes you’d associate with somewhere where there are literally endless possibilities, and that is very cool. Slift’s view of space is different, we have the echoey guitars drifting out into the void but we also have a constant driving drum beat like a rocket engine pushing out into the void.  The guitar tones are a metallic, abrasive smash, it repeats, it evolves, it demands attention.  So, this is mad intense, garage space rock that makes me think of rockets.  Mind = blown.

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