When we sang Auld Lang Syne and waved goodbye to the last decade, nobody could have predicted the year 2020 was about to serve up. The COVID-19 pandemic may have made this a year we want to put to the back of our minds as soon as possible, but in the darkest of times shone the bright light that is music – and what a year it has been.
Without the festival season and with very little live entertainment around the globe this year, we have relied on new music to keep us going through two national lockdowns. With the annual Spotify wrapped came a chance to reflect back on some positives this year, so which albums have impressed?
Across the pond, releases from The Strokes (The New Abnormal) and Run the Jewels (RTJ4) were two of the stand-out albums of 2020. Out friends down under also delivered some of this year’s top records, with Australian psychedelic pioneer Kevin Parker delivering the goods once again with Tame Impala’s impressive fourth album ‘The Slow Rush’, and indie’s rising stars DMA’s receiving widespread plaudits with ‘The Glow’.
Closer to home, we played host to some outstanding releases in the shape of The Big Moon (Walking Like We Do), Declan McKenna (Zeros), Dua Lipa (Future Nostalgia), Enter Shikari (Nothing is True and Everything is Possible), Fontaines DC (A Hero’s Death) IDLES (Ultra Mono), The Magic Gang (The Death of the Party), Sports Team (Deep Down Happy) and Willie J Healey (Twin Heavy).
But we are a northern UK music website after all, so we have compiled a list of our top 10 must-listen albums from up north in 2020!
10. VISTAS – EVERYTHING CHANGES IN THE END
The first of four debuts on the list, Everything Changes in the End was finally our first taste of album action from the small to medium festival circuit veterans Vistas.
Whilst they may be new to many, this band has been brewing for a few years now, collecting a fan-base from stand-out performances at the likes of Neigbourhood Festival and Dot to Dot.
The first album was everything we expected and more, a solid indie rock debut with essences of everything we love about the genre. We can’t wait to see the band perform the new tracks live next year as they continue to climb the festival ladder.
Favourite track: Tigerblood
9. COURTEENERS – MORE. AGAIN. FOREVER
Courteeners are probably the most recent band many of us have seen live, following their outstanding homecoming show at Manchester Arena last December when they were supported by Miles Kane, followed by album launch shows at Manchester’s Albert Hall in February.
Whilst More Again Forever had flashes of the Courteeners we know and love in the instantly catchy Better Man and the more mellow Hanging Off Your Cloud, it also showed an experimental side to the band.
The singles Heavy Jacket and the title track More Again Forever are far from your typical Courteeners tracks, showing Liam Fray’s reluctance to rest on his laurels and be pigeonholed.
We know the band is capable of selling out any size show up north, but as the band’s appeal grows down south and abroad are we starting to see the tide turning in terms of their style?
Favourite track: One Day at a Time
8. WORKING MEN’S CLUB – WORKING MEN’S CLUB
This West Yorkshire band came out of nowhere in 2019 when they broke the 6 Music playlist and rapidly became one of the most promising new bands in the UK.
Their debut album followed soon after, filled with catchy synth tracks and a distinctive vocal performance from Sydney Minsky-Sargeant, at the age of just 18.
Aspects of Working Men’s Club are a throwback to the likes of New Order and Depeche Mode, but they are standing out in a crowded field of new indie bands today and living up to the elevating hype surrounding them.
Favourite track: Valleys
7. YUNGBLUD – WEIRD!
When we interviewed Dominic Harrison back in 2018, we couldn’t have predicted what he would go on to achieve.
Basking in the success of his debut album Weird!, Yungblud continues to the push the boundaries of society, amassing a loyal following in the process. Perhaps the title of the album pays homage to the image Yungblud thinks many perceive of him, but conforming to societal norms is not something on his agenda.
In a recent interview with Jack Saunders (BBC Radio 1), Harrison thanked the interviewer for convincing him to stick as the artist he believed himself to be and release a modern rock and roll album, against the wishes of many in the industry.
He is now undoubtedly a major festival headliner in the making and with a debut album to back up the hype, the Doncaster boy’s rise to global stardom shows no signs of slowing down.
Favourite track: Charity
6. THE ORIELLES – DISCO VOLADOR
Throughout our 2018 interview with The Orielles, despite already having certified gems in the shape of Sugar Tastes Like Salt and Let Your Dogtooth Grow, the band showed no signs of the arrogance or confidence you would assume is required to release the audaciously creative Disco Volador.
Perhaps the most wonderfully unique album on our list, this feels like an intergalactic travel through the innovative minds of this criminally underrated Yorkshire band.
Back when The Orielles played the main stage at Y Not Festival 2018 as a trio, the band joked about the stage being too big for them to fill. Now, as a band of four, they might need to get used to the big stage following this excellent release.
Favourite track: 7th Dynamic Goo
5. THE HOWL & THE HUM – HUMAN CONTACT
Our top scoring debut on the list comes from rising York outfit, The Howl & The Hum. One of our lockdown discoveries, Human Contact grabbed my attention from the outset with the wonderfully intriguing opener Love You Like a Gun.
The album feels like an eclectic journey through the evolution of guitar music. Whilst each track is unique from one another, you can hear subtle nods to their genre predecessors throughout, with Human Contact ultimately putting their unique stamp on the alternative/indie scene.
The one constant throughout is singer Sam Griffiths’ distinctive tones and uniquely gifted songwriting. We are now eagerly anticipating the band’s upcoming Gorilla gig in 2021, whenever that may be!
Favourite track: Smoke
4. BLOSSOMS – FOOLISH LOVING SPACES
When Blossoms released their third studio album in under 6 years, many may have questioned whether Stockport’s finest could keep the momentum going following the success of their self-titled debut and excellent follow-up Cool Like You.
Fears of the third album being rushed were soon quashed when Foolish Loving Spaces was released in January – their best work yet. Tom Ogden’s ability to create catchy indie pop anthems knows no bounds, and there’s not a weak song on the album.
The three singles are followed by instant hits in My Swimming Brain, Sunday Was a Friend of Mine, Oh No (I Think I’m in Love) and Romance, Eh, before easing into a softer, more subdued, but equally as impressive finish.
Rumour has it Tom is already wrapping up album 4, so don’t expect this indie pop whirlwind to end anytime soon. The boys will already be eyeing up the bigger stages once their headline Manchester Arena debut finally takes place in 2021.
Favourite track: Romance, Eh
3. THE CRIBS – NIGHT NETWORK
We might have a certain Dave Grohl to thank for this album, following the revelation that Wakefield’s famous brothers intended to break up the band after supporting Foo Fighters at the Etihad Stadium last year.
When Dave heard the band’s intentions following industry disputes, he offered out his LA studio with one clear instruction – go and make an album. And so they did, and an incredible album at that.
Featuring a lost track from the Mens Needs, Womens Needs, Whatever album in Screaming in Suburbia and the re-introduction of fan favourite Lee Ranaldo in I Don’t Know Who I Am, Night Network shows no signs of the pre-Etihad, backs against the walls Cribs, and instead encapsulates a band who are back to their best.
Night Network lays down the platform for The Cribs to continue full speed ahead now following 2019’s stumbling block. It has been three years since the Jarmans set out on their Christmas residency at Brudenell Social Club, and we can’t wait see the UK’s most underrated cult band live again next year.
Favourite track: In the Neon Night
2. EVERYTHING EVERYTHING – RE-ANIMATOR
Always the innovators, Everything Everything returned this year with the fantastic Re-animator. With a tough challenge to live up to its predecessors, the art rock band managed to produce the goods once again with a fascinating journey through the mind of creative genius, Jonathan Higgs.
Perhaps the unsung heroes of modern alternative rock music, their consistency is there for all to see. The release of the lead single In Birdsong crept up on fans in April, during what was already a year packed full of top new music.
The song itself is a haunting track that grows with each listen, and it was followed by Arch Enemy, Planets and Violent Sun, setting the scene for the album release in September.
Aspects of the album are unusual to say the least, but Higgs’ Ivor Novello-winning songwriting shines through yet again. A beauitfully crafted album and a must listen from 2020.
Favourite track: Moonlight
1. BIFFY CLYRO – A CELEBRATION OF ENDINGS
And finally, crowned northern album champions of 2020 are the incredible Biffy Clyro, with their career-spanning masterpiece that is A Celebration of Endings. From their self-professed Bond soundtrack The Champ to their romantic, fit-for-the-big-screen ballad Space, this album has it all and a little pinch of all the things we love about Biffy.
When the band released the album’s opening single, Instant History, you may have heard a few grumbles of discontent from fans who deemed it a step in the wrong direction, despite its widespread plaudits and record of the week accolades.
But for any doubters, the releases of old school Biffy-esque End of , track of 2020 Tiny Indoor Fireworks and future stadium anthem Weird Leisure dragged them back into the arms of the Kilmarnock trio, and the album certainly didn’t disappoint.
Perhaps the greatest part about the album is the way it seems to be capture the imaginations of all fans, regardless of ‘which Biffy’ you may prefer. One thing for certain is a Pyramid Stage headline slot must surely have their names on it it by now, and we can’t wait to see A Celebration of Endings live.
Mon the Biff!
Favourite track: Tiny Indoor Fireworks
Do you agree with our choices? Did your favourite not make the cut? Let us know in the comments or on our socials.