What a horrible year! What a horrible time for music, musicians and artists in general. So many events cancelled and so many albums delayed and their launches impeded. Luckily, most found a way through, and at Latebar we have been listening carefully all through the year and found a few publications worth promoting. So buckle up, Dorothy!
Midnight Oil – The Makarrata Project
It has been 18 years since we last heard from the Sydney outfit behind the evergreen blast ‘Beds are Burning’. Now like then, Peter Garrett and the gang wants us to direct attention to the rights (or lack hereof) of the native minorities in their home country. On their 2020 seven-track publication a series of indigenous artists have been invited on board. Together they form the backbone of this otherwise peculiar mix of styles and genres. We absolutely love it here at Latebar. If you haven’t heard the Makarrata Project yet, start here!
Fallulah – All My Eyes Are Open
The Danish-Romanian folk-pop star threw the gauntlet in 2020 with her album ‘All My Eyes Are Open’, a melodic, happy, deep, lovely and all over wonderfully honest production. Staying true to her heritage and to her unique sound she takes her fans by the hand and leads them through an adventure where both dancing, singing and warm hugs are central parts. Basically all the things any sane person would need after a year of lock-down, loss of jobs, and – to some – loss of lives. A song like ‘Dysfunctional‘ strikes at the very heart of the reason why human nature handles a world pandemic so extremely poorly. Fallulah may not be the cure. But she sure some of the best Scandinavia has to offer in 2020.
Hudson Taylor – Loving Everywhere I Go
If you’ve experienced the Irish Taylor brothers play live once in your life, you will benchmark live experiences against it for the rest of your days. Their energetic and soulful street music background is ever present – also on their 2020 album ‘Loving Everywhere I Go‘. The fact that they still don’t shy away from playing for free in various public spaces is enough for us to add an extra star to this year’s production. Furthermore, we can safely say, that Alfie and Harry have been the best medicine when moods were low during isolation and quarantines this year. Thank you so much, guys!
Nik Kershaw – Oxymoron
Frequent readers of this blog will know, that Nik Kershaw holds the status of near royalty with us. Though always thankful for the support of loyal fans around the world, he most often “hides” for long periods, all to suddenly emerge with new material (Thank God!). Early in 2020 he announced a new album in the making. But as for so many other artists, release was postponed and plans revisited. On 16 October the album ‘Oxymoron‘ was finally here – a mix of up-tempo pop songs, beautiful ballads, and small droplets of contemporary commentaries… as usual! Oxymoron became one of the most played albums at Latebar in 2020 – mostly to admire Kershaw’s songwriting skills, which still amazes us immensely.
Amy Macdonald – The Human Demands
In an ‘earlier blogpost‘, we covered the fifth studio album of folk rock icon, Amy Macdonald. The album, simply called ‘The Human Demand‘, showed us a far more mature and collected artist with something both strong and fragile at heart. It shows and this blogger felt touched and emotional from the outset. Reaching the third track, we surrendered completely. If ‘Crazy Shade of Blue‘ doesn’t strike your heart, check your pulse. 9 of the 10 tracks on the album carry the hallmark sound of the Glasgow superstar. But, the finale ‘Something In Nothing‘ leaves the listener with a whole new dimension to this 33 year-old artist. Leaving your audience curious for more is quite a stroke of genius. ‘The Human Demand’ is the best Macdonald album since her 2007 debut ‘This Is the Life‘.
Jonah Blacksmith – Brothers
Ireland may have Hudson Taylor brothers. In Denmark we have the Alstrup brothers. Together with their cousin and a handful of friends they formed the band Jonah Blacksmith in 2011. On 23 October 2020 their third studio album ‘Brothers‘ were released and that with a bouquet of the most beautiful folk rock compositions ever published by a Danish band. At the same time the production as a whole doesn’t leave anything to chance. Exploring new sounds and at the same time cementing their own unique audio brand, ‘Brothers’ is incredibly well composed. In our opinion, a masterpiece, why it has earned a place in the spotlight.
(for more information, please read the post: ‘Jonah Blacksmith – more than Brothers‘).
Thomas Bergersen – Humanity I & II
Norwegian composer Thomas Bergersen, already the artist behind several pompous movie scores, set out on quite a journey in 2020. A series of albums all called ‘Humanity’ are to be released every five-six months in the years to come. The first one ‘Humanity – Chapter I‘ was released mid-summer and on 11 November followed ‘Humanity – Chapter II‘. Apart from being a truly breathtaking enterprise, Bergersen has managed to create a universe where classical music meets rock, folk and pop, where violins meets Fender guitars. This may well be the future of classical music and maybe just what is needed to bring the craft of composing to the attention of younger audiences. Thomas Bergersen surely is a force to be reckoned with.
AC/DC – Power Up
For 47 years AC/DC has been to the southern hemisphere what The Rolling Stones has been to the north, and like their European brothers they are still around (Thank God). With their tribute album to fellow founder Malcolm Young, who sadly died in 2017, the Aussies’ seventeenth studio publication ‘Power Up’ is as vibrant the first time his brother Angus stroke the first four chords of High Voltage back in 1973 – A-C-D-C. Everything works to perfection on this impressive 12-track masterpiece. From the wild and untamed ‘Demon Fire’ to the more mellow highway cruiser ‘Wild Reputation’, AC/DC manages to capture the sound of wild youth of the ’70s and ’80s, as well as contemporary rock 1-0-1. This IS AC/DC. Power up – this album is a must-see-live experience in 2021.
The Lone Bellow – Half Moon Light
Zach, Kanene, and Brian. This truly magical trio released their fourth studio album already in February, and like so many other artists they were ready to go touring, but was stopped by the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. And that’s a shame, because even though the trio’s albums are all wonderful productions, The Lone Bellow is first and foremost a live band. Everything just comes together when these guys perform (sometimes flanked by Kanene Pipkin’s husband Jason). We cannot count the number of times where we have been sitting or standing with headphones on, listening to ‘Half Moon Light‘ and dreamed about the festivals we missed during 2020. We hope for another memorable rendezvous with this band’s stunning and immaculate vocal work in 2021.
Alec Benjamin – These Two Windows
Here’s a peculiarity. Alec Benjamin released his debut album in 2020!
Anybody who’ve paid just a little attention to the young American’s rocketing career knows, that he has already a whole series of catchy radio hits under his belt, since he popped into public eye in 2013. In 2018 he released what looked like an album. But due to rather poor judgement by a Record Label, it was instead categorized as a ‘mixtape‘ called ‘Narrated For You‘. Benjamin has since worked hard to get it his way, and signing with Warner he was able to release is real debut album ‘These Two Windows‘ on May 24th. The result is nothing short of amazing. A line of 10 wonderful tracks, all showing the potential in this breathtaking singer-songwriter. Congrats, Alec. We love it!
Hurts – Faith
In September 2020 we picked up the latest album by the British duo, Hurts. The Manchester based pop outfit managed to land their fifth studio installment, when the world needed it the most. ‘Faith‘ is the story about going slightly mad from isolation, and it resounded perfectly across the world as people everywhere was starting to feel this as the virus spread to almost every corner. The album contains 11 songs – all carrying the sound of Hurts and all holding equal amount of resignation and hope. Hurts was one of the most aired bands at the Latebar office in 2020, hence the mention on this list. We still have a live experience with Theo and Adam on our to-do list, and we hope to get a chance to cross this top-of-list-event off in 2021.
Metallica & San Francisco Symphony – S&M2
To merge the world’s no. 1 metal outfit with America’s finest symphony orchestra sounds like an monstrous and to some even utterly impossible endeavor. To pull it off twice with 20 years in between makes it even more fantasia (pardon the pun). Even so Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony did it 1999 and again in 2019. The result – the live album ‘S&M2’ – was released in the late summer, amidst the worst pandemic the world has suffered in a 100 years. And it was a relief in more than one sense. Not only a much appreciated breathing space for live-hungry audiences across the world. Metallica managed to elegantly divert some of the focus to their charity foundation ‘All Within My Hands’ – an organization introduced at the 1999 S&M concert. Metallica is all about helping others, and we can’t think of any other “bands” doing this more elegantly than these two.
In Memoirs – Hope, Fear & Fashion
Behind this rather avant-garde name you find the Dane Morten Fillipsen. This artist, known mostly as co-founding member of The Grenadines, released his third solo album (second in English) on May 15th, and despite obvious qualities, the album ‘Hope, Fear & Fashion‘ didn’t get near the attention from the media it deserves. We’ll give it a swing here and hope it catches on outside Denmark, as we think this elegant and highly adept singer-songwriter should. Compared to acts like Bon Iver and Crowded House, Fillipsen holds the potential to be far more than a local hero in Scandinavia. Tracks like ‘Your Name‘ and ‘In Time‘ are examples of songs you didn’t know you have missed. Along with ‘Stay Low‘ and the almost Pink Floyd-ish ‘In the Dark‘, they sneak under your skin, and you really have to be truly heartless if you’re not feeling emotionally touched by them.
Dizzy Mizz Lizzy – Alter Echo
We haven’t written much about the Danish Rock giants, Dizzy Mizz Lizzy, on Latebar. Despite the reference to the 1958 classic by Larry Williams, this three-man outfit has little in common with old classic rock’n’roll. After winning the most prestigious band contest in Denmark (DM i Rock) in 1993, Tim, Martin and Soren have chiselled their band name into Scandinavian rock history with songs like ‘Silver Flame‘, ‘Love Is A Loser’s Game‘ and the heartbreaking John Lennon tribute ‘11:07 PM‘.
The power trio’s only fourth studio album ‘Alter Echo‘ was released on 20 March 2020, just on the wrong side of the first total lock-down of Denmark (on the 11th). A planned tour was postponed, and instead several creative streaming sessions were set up. Despite the somewhat amputated launch, the obvious qualities, good songs/stories, and skillful instrumentation can’t be overlooked though. In fact, the album quickly stood out as a milestone publication for the trio. Clearly designed for vinyl, it contains four smashing DML tracks on the A-side, and an almost symphonic fairy tale in five acts about ‘Amelia‘ on the B-side. While writing this, we cannot recall anyone but the French composer Jean-Michel Jarre, to have ever attempted this. But, boy it works well, so kudos to the Dizzy boys. Bravo!
The rest and all that we missed in 2020
Obviously, the list of brilliant new albums could continue for miles. We have listened to so much great music by so many wonderful artists in 2020. Many of them who have not only suffered the same isolation as the rest of us, but have also seen their entire earnings from touring venues and festivals vaporize into thin air. This is why this post also serves as a reminder:
Pay the artists for their art!
Some of the artists who also released new material in 2020 and who also deserves praise, applause, and a paycheck are:
Pet Shop Boys
Huey Lewis & The News
The Boomtown Rats
Black Eyed Peas
The Flaming Lips
Goo Goo Dolls
And of course the workaholic Taylor Swift, who managed to push two complete albums out this year. Altogether, enough for a great live year 2021, wouldn’t you think?
Latebar’s Album of the Year 2020
This the hardest part of running this blog. What song or album was the best i 2020. Sometimes the answer varies from day to day? Often it even changes with the changing moods during the the day. All the albums mentioned above held the dubious title ‘Latebar’s Album of the Year‘ at some point during the year.
Metallica and San Francisco Symphony’s ‘S&M2’ for it’s spectacular setup, AC/DC’s ‘Power Up’ for it’s straight-forward excellence. Amy Macdonald, Hurts and Fallulah for reaching out and giving us the dance and embrance we sorely needed times over this year. Alec Benjamin and In Memoirs for being such promising stars, and Nik Kerhaw and Thomas Bergersen for adding to their impressive portfolio of composing and songwriting. Dizzy Mizz Lizzy for yet again displaying awesome skills, and Midnight Oil for being one of the most important activist ensembles in the World.
It leaves three bands left. The Lone Bellow, Hudson Taylor and Jonah Blacksmith. It doesn’t take long to see a pattern in the folk influence, and knowing that the people behind this blog are total suckers for strong singer-songwriters and solid vocal work, it can’t be a big surprise, that it comes down to these three wonderful outfits.
However, Spotify doesn’t lie. There is one band, who’s 2020 album has the most ‘plays’ of all.
Jonah Blacksmith‘s ‘Brothers‘ just stands out to us as the most honest, elegant and no-frills production of 2020, why we celebrate it as:
Latebar’s preferred album of the year 2020.