We asked each of our regular music writers to tell us about their favourite albums of the year. You can what Cathy Brown thought below…
10. Shortly After Takeoff – BC Camplight
Brian Christinzio’s fifth album as BC Camplight is a unique marvel, impossible to categorise, a little bit bonkers and containing only echoes of his past power-pop offerings. Despairing and darkly humorous but with the melodies to withstand the gloom, Shortly After Takeoff feels like the masterpiece BC Camplight has been working towards for his whole career.
9. Monochrome to Colour – Ed Harcourt
Monochrome to Colour is a lush and orchestral instrumental offering from Ed Harcourt, rich in tone and atmosphere. It demands and rewards attention with its grand chords, intricate arrangements and exhilarating soundscapes that defy convention. A thrilling embrace of an album that perfectly showcases Harcourt’s unique talent.
8. Ane Brun – How Beauty Holds the Hand of Sorrow
How Beauty Holds the Hand of Sorrow, with its rich tone and atmosphere, masterful vocals and an ultimately hopeful narrative, feels like Ane Brun’s best work yet. Released just four weeks after ‘After the Great Storm’ this is a more complete, coherent album featuring a complex sonic structure and lush, innovative arrangements which make this a much more experimental album than you would first expect
7. Hether Blether – Erland Cooper
Hether Blether is the third album in Cooper’s trilogy of stunning neoclassical albums, which began with Solan Goose (2018) and Skule Skerry (2019). Hether Blether is an achingly beautiful hymn to Orkney, using recited poetry and snippets of Orkney resident’s voices to create something epic and intimate at the same time. A heart-warming love letter to nature and to home.
6. Boots No 2: The Lost Songs (Vols 1 – 3) – Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings
Having recorded dozens of songs one weekend in 2002 to fulfil a publishing contract, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Welch and her partner, David Rawlings, sat on the tapes for years. The three volumes they have released since August are a mix of fine originals and covers rooted in country-folk and bluegrass tradition. It’s testament to their writing skills that songs as assured as this didn’t make the cut first time round.
5. Fetch the Bolt Cutters – Fiona Apple
Fiona Apple came back with a bang in 2020 with Fetch the Bolt Cutters, just her fifth studio album. Most of the album was recorded by Apple at home using a variety of interesting percussions (including the bones of a dead dog) as well as more conventional piano, guitar, bass and drums. The result is a record that is whimsical and hardcore at the same time, full of spiky, angry humour, that that recalls Tom Waits’ Bone Machine or Joni Mitchell’s The Jungle Line.
4. Rose City Band – Summerlong
Radiant and buoyant as its name suggests, Summerlong is a gorgeous album by an artist at the height of his powers doing exactly what he wants to do. Summerlong is one of those albums that feels like an instant classic – it has a sound that feels both old and fresh at exactly the same time – and after a few listens, you could swear it’s an album you’ve loved for years.
3. Gold Record – Bill Callahan
Bill Callahan continues his journey into warm, pared-back Americana with Gold Record, a wry and humane set of filmic, narrative-led songs that contain literal nods to Johnny Cash, Ry Cooder and Leonard Cohen. A warm and casual album that feels more like a collection of singles, Gold Record sees Callahan settled in his skin as his lush baritone takes centre stage over dreamy, meditative arrangements. Captivating.
2. Fear of Death – Tim Heidecker
Actor, stand-up comedian, writer, director and musician Tim Heidecker has teamed up with Natalie Wering of Weyes Blood to create a darkly humorous, 70s inspired album about death and aging. Fear of Death owes a lot to Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson with its overt nods to the great songwriters and studio tones of the 1970s, but it’s also a highly enjoyable, timeless and authentic rock album, filled with humour, self-awareness and pure joy.
1. Bonny Light Horseman – Bonny Light Horseman
Folk supergroup Bonny Light Horseman is made up of Anaïs Mitchell, Josh Kaufman (The National, Hiss Golden Messenger) and Eric D. Johnson (Fruit Bats, The Shins). They came together on their debut album to give traditional folk songs a contemporary twist. Timelessness is evoked through gorgeous arrangements, spacious production and harmonious vocals all of which create an unforgettable intimacy of sound.