For a year that was globally agreed upon as the worst goshdang 365 days in Earth’s history, there sure was a lot of great music released. This is an abridged list of my favorites, with a special focus on all the sweet queer/trans music that came out, as well as a bum-load (shopping-cart-ful) of awesome Bellingham and Whatcom County affiliates that released. I even put out a couple albums, but, to be fair, they both sucked so I’m not including them. Now, to the glorious tunage…
Click on album covers for links to the music
Dorian Electra – My Agenda
Dorian cranked this one out with a swiftness. Their follow up album to the incredible Flamboyant, My Agenda continues in the strain of comedic Electro Pop, while rolling around in some grittier more experimental sound-gravel. The artist-collaborations are mostly unknown to me with the exception of her tour-mate, Mood Killer, a sample from the Village People and, for some bizarre reason, Rebecca Black (Partying, Partying…Yeah!).
IC3PEAK – До Свидания (Goodbye)
This was my favorite Youtube discovery of the year (sometimes the algorithm works!). Take a healthy dose of Witch House and make it noisier; get some Matroyshka dolls and bring the tiny one in the middle to life; teach it to mumble rap and Presto! You have IC3PEAK. I over-simplify. Goodbye is less shrieky and buttressed by feedback than some of their earlier work, but songs, like TRRST, still slap you in pills and ship you off to a Siberian prison without blinking an eye.
Desire Marea – Desire
Sometimes beautiful and haunting and, sometimes ugly and aggressive, Desire is reminiscent of Queer Core artists, like Lotic and Arca, who weave their lyrical narrative into the barbwire threads of Leftfield Bass. It’s remarkably chill music considering the ominous, dystopian themes that crawl beneath the soundscape’s surface.
HEIRZ – 2029 EP
It makes me happy that such quality Bass Music is being produced out of Bellingham. HEIRZ’s cuts stand up to any of the festival favorites circulating the rave warehouses and desert parties of the world. In the wake of 2020, he picked an appropriate concept for this particular EP. The Space Needle is still standing, but Democracy is holding on by its fingertips. I’m looking forward to more music from this guy…
Bronson – s/t
I’m always quick to remind people that, though both members of ODESZA are from Spokane and live in Seattle, the band started in Bellingham while they were attending WWU. BRONSON is a collaboration with Australian producer, Golden Features. It’s darker and heavier than the other ODESZA stuff. I like it more. It’s like they’ve been listening to a lot of Burial (Everybody should listen to a lot of Burial). Don’t get me wrong, the duo knows how to produce EDM pop with a ferocity, I just prefer the goth-ier jams. It’s my inner Cthulu.
Polymorph – Tenuous Phenomena, Flicker Rate
On the one hand, I can’t say too much about Polymorph. He is my local hero, producing vast tracts of tracks every year and all of them great. My radio show is literally a trillion percent Polymorph. His brand of Drum & Bass sometimes reminds me of classic producers like Meat Beat Manifesto and Squarepusher, but there is this undeniable cinematic quality to his music. Think John Carpenter. Sam Raimi. Dario Argento.
On the other hand, I need to limit my panegyric about Polymorph because I’ve already reviewed Tenuous Phenomena and I have an interview with him that just needs to be typed up. So, for now, all you need to know is that this dude is rad as balls and you should get real high and dance your buns off to his tunes (especially the BF Knowhere remix!).
Spine Readers – Recorded Instruments
I got into Spine Readers because I love everything Christopher Stainback and Todd Smith put their hands to. This particular iteration includes Bellingham Renaissance-Man, Sean Meyer, and two other dudes that I don’t know. Spine Readers incorporates so many different styles and genres in each song that their debut album sounds more like Mr. Bungle than the new Mr. Bungle album (which is, ironically, a remake of their high school demo).
Arca – KiCk i, @@@@@
Ok, so I have a crush on Arca. No big deal. She’s hot, her music is extremely weird and her music videos and album art creep me the fuck out! This is what I look for in creators, something entirely original that is danceable when its danceable and breaks my brain the rest of the time. The song “Time” is one of my top two favorite tracks of the year and “Afterwards” is also quite nice, as Bjork finally lends her voice to one of Arca’s songs (Arca has worked on Bjork’s last three albums).
@@@@@ was released as a DJ mix, but it’s all Arca cuts, so I’m not really sure what separates this from a regular album. Either way, it’s the only album that I gave 10 stars to this year (if you go in for star ratings). This batch of songs does lend itself more for the dance floor than the operatic crooning on her self-titled release. Maybe, that’s why I dig it so hard.
Tokimonsta – Oasis Nocturno
I like the entire Tokimonsta catalogue but Oasis Nocturno holds a special place in my heart. It is the favorite, deserving constant replays and internet hyping. She embodies modern Trip Hop better than anyone else. While her previous work seems to alternate between jazzy break beats and hard techno, Oasis Nocturno blends the two together more than ever before. The vocal features on this album give it a smooth finish that will either lively up your cocktail party or chill out your backyard birthday bash.
Ital Tek – Outland
I love Bass Music. I love Ital Tek. This album is some of his best work and I swear by it my house, in my car, in the kitchen, in the bar. Yes, I do like Ital Tek – Outland. Yes, I like it, B.F. Knowhereperson-I-am!
Cocorosie – Put The Shine On
I’m pretty die hard when it comes to CocoRosie. Every one of their albums is distinctly wonderful. Their latest musical edifice maintains their incongruous juxtaposing of Boom Bap and lullabies; Beatboxing and opera; roller rinks and Christian symbolism. It hasn’t replaced Tales of a Grass Widow in my heart, but it’s snuggled up in there next to my spleen.
Zheani – The Zheani Sparkes EP
Zheani is an Australian Trap Metal artist. Trap Metal, you say? That sounds…interesting. It is 100% as gratuitous and self-indulgent as you imagine. I don’t know why I love shit like this, but I do. She takes what a lot of these cheese-dick American Soundcloud rappers are teasing in their mumbly-joe raps and injecting steroids straight into the heart. Her other three albums sport covers that are mild-to-extremely-pornographic, making the Zheani Sparkes EP‘s black and white photo of her as a teenager even more unsettling. I recommend the song, “Dirtbike” as a good point of entry.
100 Gecs – 1000 Gecs And The Tree Of Clues
So, this is just the album they released last year, but with a who’s-who-in-Queer-Core roster of collaborators. It’s beefy and delicious like a hearty stew. I don’t usually want to listen to multiple remixes of the same song on an album, but Tree of Clues is my exception. I love love love what Dylan and Laura are doing with Electro Pop. It’s as endearing as it is irreverent, which, to me, is as inspiring as it is daunting.
Grimes – Miss Anthropocene
What a year for Grimes: She had a baby, released a pretty good album (it’s not Art Angels) and her boyfriend/baby-daddy became the richest man on the planet. Miss Anthropocene corresponds thematically with the baby X Æ A-Xii–it is somewhere between the kingdom of the fae and Elon Musk’s favorite jet–apocalyptic and magical and more than a little pretentious.
Purity Ring – WOMB
This duo never fails to knock my socks into a blackhole (well, one of my socks, anyway). If you are in the market for sultry bangers, WOMB will not disappoint you. But alongside these bassy boomers and boomy bassers, there are tracks that showcase the pair’s masterful songwriting skills. As per usual, this whole album is frosted in spun sugar and sprinkles of MDMA.
Armand Hammer – Shrines
I didn’t include any other rap albums, not because Hip Hop was snoozing during 2020, but because this album just straight up dominated (and maybe I haven’t listened to Aesop Rock’s new album, yet). With Doom gone (R.I.P.) Billy Woods is probably my new favorite rapper. Elucid has always come correct, so the combo is frickin’ foolproof. I like their other albums, too, but Shrines just hits like a Gangrene album or Run The Jewels–it’s got cojones, like, at least quatro.
Four Tet – Sixteen Oceans
I’m so stoked that Four Tet is still making tunes that are this solid. Sixteen Oceans is my favorite record from them to date. It’s a pleasant listen for a relaxing morning or, perhaps, a soundtrack to bedtime.
Sharp Veins – Armor Your Actions Up In Quest
Sharp Veins is not afraid to take risks. He is calling this his debut album, but there are multiple Bandcamp pages that suggest otherwise. So what makes Armor Your Actions Up In Quest the official debut? Each song is assembled from the disparate elements showcased in his earlier work. Vocal harmonies layered over droning synths suddenly give way to overdriven blasts of kick drums and screams saturated with shimmering reverb only to conclude with audio collages of found samples. This is easily one of the most interesting albums of the last year.
Polica – When We Stay Alive
I’ve listened to this album (and the whole Polica discography) uncountable nights this year. The first song gets me every time, like, I feel it tucked in my solar plexus, or traveling up the vertebrae in my spine. Her mellow take on Electro Pop shows teeth and tongue. The brooding moments are ample, but so are the instances of brilliant rock majesty.
Sevdaliza – Shabrang
I’ve described Sevdaliza before using the lens of her ethnicity/nationality because I feel like her music effectively expresses the vast cultural differences between Iran and Holland. Her songs tell the story of escaping oppression in liberal Europe, while preserving the ghostly memories and traditions of her homeland. The beats on this record are sexy as hell, even with a black eye.
The last song I wanted to mention is so block-rocking amazing that even though I didn’t include the album in the top 20, this is officially my favorite song of the year. It’s perfect. Prove me wrong.