Categories
Albums

Best albums of 2020: #1 Doves “The universal want”

Happy New Year’s Eve everybody!

Yes. We’ve finally made it to the end of the year and on this last day of 2020, I’m wrapping things up on my favourite albums list with my number one for the year. And now that I’ve gotten here, I can look back and see a definite recurring theme to the albums on this list.

Apparently, for me, 2020 was the year of long overdue comebacks. Of the ten albums, seven of these were the first for their respective creators in at least five years and two of those had seen more than a decade pass between releases! This album at number one, “The universal want”, Doves’ fifth record but first in 11 years is one of these (the other was Secret Machines’ “Awake in the brain chamber” at number five). The thing about comeback albums, though, is that they can go either way. There is always the fear of disappointment but luckily for me, there wasn’t a lot of that this year… at least, when it came to these new releases. The fact that this Doves album didn’t disappoint is something of a miracle and is testament to the magic this Manchester trio conjures when they are working together.

I first got into Doves way back in 2002 with their remarkable and magnificent sophomore release, “The last broadcast”. I was pretty much enamoured with their atmospheric and danceable indie rock right from the start. It was completely in line with my tastes up to that point and gave me hope for new music in the early 2000s. Every album they released was pure bliss to my ears and so when they announced a hiatus in 2010 after just four studio LPs, I took the news poorly. The break was never made official but the years passed anyway. A Jimi Goodwin solo album appeared in 2014 and then, the Williams brothers released an album of their own under the moniker Black Rivers. Both releases were good but they weren’t Doves records.

Then, at the end of 2018, just as I was giving up hope that I would ever see one of my favourite bands live, there was word that Doves were going to be doing a handful of live shows. The success of those bred some more. They never did make it to North America for any of these shows but as long as they were still playing shows, there was hope. And of course, the reissue of their first three records on coloured vinyl last year made me very happy. The cherry on the cake, though, was the announcement that work had begun on material for a new album, news that was received with equal excitement and trepidation.

“The universal want” was released as a birthday present to me this year but I didn’t listen to it right away. I waited until I received the record I had preordered so that my first exposure to it could be in the most optimum of circumstances. When the needle hit the wax, it was like home. No matter what else was going on at that moment, “The universal want” was a comfort. And every time I have played it since, the experience has been the same, which is a big part of why the album is my favourite of the year.

All ten tracks are near perfect and you could do worse than choose any of them for your introduction or sampling but these three are my picks for you. I could think of worse ways to spend a few months on this last day of the year.


“Cathedrals of the mind“: My first pick from this excellent album is track number five, a number the band has said was inspired by the loss of David Bowie. “Everyday I see your face. Everywhere I see those eyes. But you’re not there.” Frontman Jimi Goodwin has also called it a ‘prayer to the sonics’, a very spiritual soundscape then. Frittering synth strings over top gentle piano chords, warbling a kaleidoscope, hints of saxophones and harpsichords, everything distorted and adjusted to just beyond recognition. The idea of a Black panther speech sample sounds a bit different for this trio but it feels right in the context of the song, ripped out of time but perfectly of this time. And like all good Doves tracks, it has an expansive sound, voices and beats echoing throughout the cavernous halls. It’s like being looked down upon from the heavens, thought outside of thought.

“Prisoners”: “Just prisoners, we’re just prisoners of this life, though it won’t be for long. We’re just prisoners.” Listening to those lyrics, the second single to be released in advance of this new record feels very much in line with everything going on right now. But it wasn’t this lockdown and this pandemic that Doves were necessarily thinking about when they wrote the words. It’s more about that normal yearning for better times, times that will surely come. Goodwin has said about it: “Just over the horizon, there’s always something better. Sometimes we get trapped by our own behaviour. You can be a prisoner of your own thoughts.” It all begins with a light strumming on the guitar and a sprinkling of sunlight and wisps of haze and then that driving drum beat kicks in and the bopping bassline falls in step not far behind. There’s plenty alien and new, but it’s not strange at all. It’s familiar and comforting and fluid and when the guitar starts a-wailing amidst all the glow, you just have to soak it all in, bask in the glory of it all. And when it ends all so abruptly, the emptiness can easily be refilled by pressing replay or by dropping that needle again, just so.

“Carousels”: The opening track on the album was my first taste of the first new Doves in 11 years and it is probably still my favourite tune on the album. It’s a killer groove altogether, one that’s built around and expands upon a sampled drum beat by Fela Kuti legend Tony Allen. And it’s that rhythm that propels the song’s momentum, ramping up the childhood memory into fast forward and speeding up the merry-go-round to dizzying rotations. Yeah, the opening washes are just a tease, the voices that are just discernible through the haze are like a countdown to lift off. The piano tries to keep things just this side of even keel but everything else is just an explosion of pure joy. The roaring bass and wall scaling guitars just nod happily in agreement. It all plays to the nostalgia that is truly universal. As drummer Andy Williams says: “It’s a reminiscence of the times that we’d go to places like North Wales on holiday as kids. Places where you had your first experience of sound systems and music being played really loud.” It’s definitely a tune that ranks up there with all those great songs that beg to be played loud. If you can, wherever you are right now, turn it up to eleven, press play, and enjoy.


In case you missed them, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. The Strokes “The new abnormal”
9. Venus Furs “Venus Furs”
8. Bright Eyes “Down in the weeds, where the world once was”
7. The Beths “Jump rope gazers”
6. The Rentals “Q36”
5. Secret Machines “Awake in the brain chamber”
4. No Joy “Motherhood”
3 Phoebe Bridgers “Punisher”
2. I Break Horses “Warnings”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Categories
Vinyl

Vinyl love: No Joy “Motherhood”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: No Joy
Album Title: Motherhood
Year released: 2020
Details: neon violet vinyl

The skinny: Back in September, I made my first Bandcamp Friday purchase. For those that have not heard of this wonderful initiative, it’s something Bandcamp started at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to help support independent artists by waiving their usual fees on the first Friday of every month (see more info here). So yeah, my first Bandcamp Friday purchase was the fourth record by Montreal-based, dream pop project, No Joy, that had just been released two weeks prior. “Motherhood” is an album that had taken me by surprise, winning me over with its sheer exuberance and joy in experimentation. The fact that the pressing on offer on Bandcamp was a lovely neon violet certainly didn’t hinder my decision to pull the trigger. And perhaps it was the purchase on vinyl and how good it sounds that helped to raise the album to the number four spot on my favourite albums of the year list.

Standout track: “Dream rats”

Categories
Albums

Best albums of 2020: #2 I Break Horses “Warnings”

Back in June 2019, I wrote about I Break Horses when one of their tracks, “Winter beats”, from their debut album, “Horses”, appeared at the number eleven spot on my Best tunes of 2011 list. I wrote then that I didn’t know much about the Swedish duo of Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck, except that I loved their shoegaze-inspired dreamscapes and that it had been a number of years since we had heard much more about them, their second and only other album having been released five years prior.

Then, earlier this year, there were rumblings on the internet that Maria Lindén was planning to release a new album under the I Break Horses name. There was even an advance single making the rounds. I didn’t immediately jump into the waters to take the temperature but when I saw that “Warnings” was on Spotify in May, I gave it a spin on my iPod while doing some chores around the house. I don’t think I was even halfway through the dramatic 9-minute opener, “Turn”, before I was surfing my way to the Bella Union website to order a copy of the album on vinyl. It wasn’t long after I received it and gave it a few goes on the turntable platter that I was already calling it an early favourite for best album of 2020. Well, as you can tell, it was beaten by one album, but only just.

On “Warnings”, Lindén has created a cinematic world all her own. She took her time with it, lived through it, and experienced a lot of heartache and setbacks to bring it to fruition. The album is almost a living and breathing thing, a far cry from her debut, which of course I still love, but its touchstones and influences were far more obvious. “Warnings” has both the makings of a celebratory party soundtrack and a night home with a good set of ear phones and a bottle of good red. And if you’re not careful, it will take you with it on a whole range of crushing emotions.

Indeed, “Warnings” is a whole, a world, a universe that should be taken together and I highly recommend doing so. But in the interest of time, I’ve agonized to select three picks for you to sample. Enjoy.


“Death engine“: The very first single released in advance of the album gave us fair warning of what we were in for, had we any wish to heed such a thing. It clocks in at well over seven and a half minutes and is a beast of a thing. An explosion of synths, layered in a patchwork over top each other, the most prominent one being a stomping and foreboding organism, reminiscent of something from a John Hughes teen angst film. It all marches unstoppably to an obvious and unavoidable end. The imagery is inherent and beautiful, Lindén’s voice a ringing knell that is still somehow uplifting and hopeful. She wrote the words to the song as a reflection on a “close friend’s suicide attempt” and the fact she read that suicide is the second leading cause of death in Generation Z. “You’ve run out of light and I’m out of sight. I’ve run out of time. We’re running out.”

“I’ll be the death of you”: “Honey I don’t mind running blind. You keep pushing on to get inside my mind. Don’t care what you find.” The second single to be released off the album is also one of the shorter tracks on the album. It starts off sounding a bit like I Break Horses of old, in particular, the aforementioned personal favourite, “Winter beats”: all textured and washed out synths that flash and pan like strobe lights. The dance floor madness continues but metamorphoses into a blooming flower, bursting with colour and fragrance. Lindén herself describes it as occupying a hazy middle ground between Screamdelica and early OMD. A “somewhat darker and more nihilistic approach to when passion takes a more eccentric turn”. For me, it is another four and half minutes of bliss, a foreboding of tragedy but getting caught up in the moment, the emotion, and not caring about the consequences. Love can be dangerous and bad for your health. But who would say no to that?

“Turn”: My final pick is track number one on the album, the one that had me sold on the album before I even got to the end of it. It’s a nine minute epic, and yeah, it’s a monster. It takes its time with you, teasing it out of you. Slow and plodding and methodical, the beat hits like your heart, skipping and pitter-pattering all over the place. The synths climb up and down your spine and back all the way up to the heavens. And Lindén is there with those haunting vocals of hers. “Turn. I can’t turn love around and I’m losing my mind. Turn or let me follow you down.” A love that cannot be saved. A destructive love that should not be saved. A letting go, a pushing away, allowing the anchor to drop to the bottom of the ocean while the sunlight reflects and refracts in the gallons of water overhead. There is such beauty and honesty in the pain imbued in this track, the tears and the ache. More red wine and candles please. Just close your eyes and enjoy.


Before I forget, a pre-emptive ‘merry Christmas’ to those that plan to celebrate the holiday tomorrow. Don’t forget to check back next Thursday, New Year’s eve, for album #1.

In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. The Strokes “The new abnormal”
9. Venus Furs “Venus Furs”
8. Bright Eyes “Down in the weeds, where the world once was”
7. The Beths “Jump rope gazers”
6. The Rentals “Q36”
5. Secret Machines “Awake in the brain chamber”
4. No Joy “Motherhood”
3. Phoebe Bridgers “Punisher”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.