Phoenix FM presenters choose their favourite albums and tracks of the year …
Album: Cliff Richard – Music … The Air That I Breathe
Given that my usual comfort zones are the likes of EDM and hip hop this might seem an odd choice – but I’ve always had a soft spot for this national treasure. The longstanding boycott of Cliff’s work by much of the radio industry is an insult to his millions of fans, but at Phoenix we appreciate that our listeners enjoy a wide range of music regardless of how cool a particular artist is deemed to be by those whose lights will have faded long before that of the one they shun.
Moreover – despite years of trauma following his treatment by the BBC and South Yorkshire Police – it’s great to see this bachelor boy still wired for sound and releasing his 45th album … in his 9th decade!
Track: Internet Money & Gunna featuring Don Toliver & Nav – Lemonade
Meanwhile back in my aural comfort zone the hedonistic subject matter of the innocently titled Lemonade is very un-Cliff, although its story of “rockstar life, so much money it’ll make you laugh” is something he’d be able to relate to more than most of us. The reason I’ve chosen this melodic rap song as my favourite single of 2020 is simple – it has by far the catchiest hook of the year.
Album: Sports Team – Deep Down Happy
Sports Team proved that guitar music is far from dead with a debut album that got to no.2 in the UK Album charts, pushing Lady Gaga all the way in the battle for top spot.
It’s a good representation of their live show with stand out single ‘Camel Crew’ re-recorded and sounding far better on this than it did originally. A real shame they couldn’t get to tour it but I’m sure they will make up for it in 2021.
Track: Coach Party – Bags
A cover version it may be but I thought this was just a perfect pop song for those long sunny lockdown days in the garden.
The Isle Of Wight band had a great year releasing several excellent singles and are ones to watch next year. I heard this before the original by Clairo which is worth seeking out too.
Album: Marty Wilde – Running Together
Track: Marty Wilde – Eddie
I will have to give my vote to good old Marty Wilde for turning out an album at 81 years of age.
My favourite track is Eddie, a tribute to Eddie Cochran who Marty got to know when he hosted the TV series “Boy Meets Girl” that Cochran appeared on a few times and toured with in 1960.
There’s a great version of Cambodia on the album too.
Album: Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
The hits just keep on coming with this talented artist. Her tracks are contagious while varying in style, and not only that her collabs this year have been amazing!
Track: Oliver Heldens & Party Pupils – Set Me Free
This tune was one of my top tracks for AJ’s Soundbooth and is no doubt my track of the year. After the year we’ve had music like this never fails to bring out that happy vibe!
Album: Kylie Minogue – Disco
Great 70s vibes on this album. The first LP I ever bought on vinyl was Kylie’s first album in the late 80s. Still enjoying her music on her fifteenth album!
Track: Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande – Rain On Me
Always enjoyed this kind of groove. And who can argue with the sentiment. I’d rather be dry but at least I’m alive!
Album: Bruce Springsteen – Letter To You
His best album for 20 years sees The Boss reflecting on his own mortality and the inevitable loss of some of his brother musicians. With the subject matter the album could be self indulgent and morose but it includes three tracks written by Springsteen fifty years ago and is full of the trademark sound of Bruce and The E Street Band.
Track: Mica Paris – Mamma Said
A song for these difficult times…
Album: Alestorm – Curse of the Crystal Coconut
Yarrrgh matey, Scotland’s finest pirate metal band are back with album number 6; Curse of the Crystal Coconut. Has their music matured, evolved, or expanded? Of course not! Alestorm are pure fun and continue to do exactly what they always have; sing songs about pirates, rum and treasure!
Amongst tracks such as ‘Treasure Chest Party Quest’, ‘Zombies Ate My Pirate Ship’, and ‘Wooden Leg Pt 2’, it’s hard to pick a favourite. But for me it has to be the crowd pleasing ‘Pirate Metal Drinking Crew’ which distils exactly what Alestorm are all about.
Because of the joke songs and pirate theme, it’s easy to mistake Alestorm for something less than a beloved band of dedicated and highly skilled musicians. The content of the albums may not have changed, but that doesn’t matter, Alestorm are a band who give their fans exactly what they want. Set sail!
Track: Till Lindemann and David Garrett – Alle Tage Ist Kein Sonntag
Very recently, fire loving Rammstein frontman Till Lindemann announced that his side project collaboration (Lindemann) with Swedish multi-instrumentalist Peter Tägtgren, was ending and that the Lindemann name would purely be his own material from now on.
A matter of weeks later and the first of those projects is announced! ‘Alle Tage ist kein Sonntag’ (Every day is not Sunday) is an unlikely collaboration between Lindemann and renowned violinist, David Garrett. The track is a cover of a popular 1920s song which now trembles with Lindemann’s unmistakable baritone and Garrett’s weeping violin.
This is an unusual move from Lindemann, and one that is a pleasure to listen too. Familiar territory is found in the accompanying music video however, where Lindemann plays a drug addicted puppeteer to Garretts spindling marionette. The video addresses suicide, self harm and addiction and is a harsh counterpart to the otherwise soothing audio.
Album: Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
I LOVED this album! I have always been a Dua Lipa fan anyway but Future Nostalgia was genius! I love how although her songs are perfect to have been released into the charts in 2020, they still carry a disco-style essence which will bring in fans in older age groups too. My particular favourite tracks were Don’t Start Now, Physical and Break My Heart, but the album as a whole was brilliant! Well done Dua Lipa!
Track: Ian Bartholomew – This Time It’s Forever
Although this track didn’t actually get released into the charts it is without a doubt my favourite song this year. For anyone who doesn’t know, Ian Bartholomew is a fantastic actor who has had a huge storyline playing vile domestic abuser Geoff Metcalfe in Coronation Street.
I have been completely gripped by the unfolding situation and was shocked to find out Ian actually released his own song (also written by him) to raise money for Women’s Aid! It’s a beautiful song and will definitely have a lot of meaning for people who have suffered the same problems as Yasmeen did in the show, good on Ian for using his platform as an actor to raise awareness for such an awful situation that happens to so many people every day!
Album: Thundercat – It Is What It Is
Reginald D. Hunter meets Boosty Collins!
Track: Dua Lipa – Physical
Consistent top quality pop. Irresistible!
Album: DMA’S – The Glow
I’d heard these sometime ago, featured band on a popular football show and immediately hooked on the sound.
Brings back memories of the 90s indie bands with the added shock they were from Australia. This album cements their presence as one of the best around.
Track: Fontaines DC – A Hero’s Death
Always enjoying the diverse side of music immediately I was hooked on the defined Irish sound of this band, coupled with hypnotic stories told within most of their releases. I will always be thankful for finding this during a period of lockdown. It will always lift my spirits.
Album: Little Mix – Confetti
Track: Billie Eilish – No Time To Die
Album: The Lottery Winners – The Lottery Winners
Given the band have been releasing music since 2013, and I’d seen the name about, I was late to the party with this brilliant pop band. Their self titled debut album finally arrived in 2020 following record label woes, and it’s an album that is sure to bring a smile to your face, filled with hooks aplenty, gorgeous vocal harmonies, and a nod to some of the best indie bands from the 90s and 00s, the 12 songs cover everything from love, loss through to reality television.
The band have humour aplenty as well, and interact with their fanbase on many levels, including Zoom calls, which are usually quite chaotic. Covid has stopped the band from touring the album properly yet, something that will hopefully change in 2021.
Track: Nothing But Thieves – Impossible
Taken from their 3rd album Moral Panic, this lighters-in-the-air anthem from the Southend band will almost certainly be a highlight of their 2021 shows, including their headliner at the O2 in London. Starting simply, with Conor’s voice to the fore, it soon swells to epic proportions. The version recorded at Abbey Road with an orchestra is also brilliant, with the sweeping strings adding to the layers of the song. Honourable mentions – Another Sky – Fell In Love With The City, Pixey – Just Move.
Album: Kylie Minogue – Disco
Best album was hard this year, but in a time when so many social events have been cancelled, Kylie Minogue brought a bit of the party into lockdown with her album DISCO.
I have played Magic loads on Drive lately, but the whole album brings such a positive and infectious energy, and I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to listen and not dance …
Track: BTS – Dynamite
BTS are a Korean pop band that have seen massive success this year across the globe. The single rivalled Taylor Swift’s ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ for most sales/downloads in the first week of release.
Dynamite received a Grammy nomination this year, making BTS the first K-pop band act to be considered, and it’s amazing to see such diversity coming into the mainstream. Plus – it’s super catchy!
Album: Nothing But Thieves – Moral Panic
Southend’s finest have smashed it with this album. Listening to for the first time around made me feel like I was listening to The Killers or Muse; they are at another level with this album.
My favourite track is Phobia which really hit home as to how brilliant, and how massive a band they are. The lyrics to Impossible are so brilliantly written and the meaning behind the words really made me think. If you get chance to see these guys in concert I think you will be in for a treat. Superb album!
Track: Biffy Clyro – Instant History
The first time I heard this song I instantly loved it. Front man Simon Neil’s voice is superb in this song – very strong vocals.
Starts slow and builds into a crescendo of drums and guitars -if you turn it up loud it sounds amazing. Brilliant track!
Album: Matt Johnson – With The Music
The best album I’ve heard this year is With The Music, a solo album from Jamiroquai keyboardist Matt Johnson. It is a fine collection of feelgood jazz-funk tinged tunes in a similar vein to a lot of his band’s work.
Track: Andy Bell – Love Comes In Waves
My favourite song of 2020 is from Andy Bell, formerly of Ride and Oasis but who is now performing solo. It’s a superb piece of guitar-based rock reminiscent of the Stone Roses.
Album: Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
It’s everything I’ve wanted from an album for a long time. It’s pop, it’s disco, it’s funky. My song of the year comes from this album also, as well as Don’t Start Now, Physical and Break My Heart.
Track: Dua Lipa feat DaBaby – Levitating
It’s just a great beat, simplistic, and I love the handclaps. Just a shame it came along at a time we couldn’t dance to it due to Coronavirus.
Album: Disclosure – Energy
After a whole year without clubs, festivals and nights out it is fair to say we are all in need of one big party. Every time I listen to this record I feel it is the closest I will get to the inside of a club in 2020. The whole notion of the record is built around the concept of energy, specifically with the line in the title track “where your focus goes, your energy flows”.
I feel this lyric stands as a mantra for a lot of people right now. With many having realigned their priorities in life and focused on what matters most, we have begun to expend our energy on the things which are most important to us and bring us the most joy.
With huge collaborations with the likes of slowthai, Kelis and Kehlani (to name a few), this album showcases simply some of the best dance music I have ever heard, further certifying brothers’ Howard and Guy Lawrence as masters of their craft.
Track: Arlo Parks – Black Dog
2020 has been a year not only focused on our physical health but also our mental health and well-being as well. Arlo Parks has certainly been THE break through artist of the year, with her delicate poetic compositions narrating the dark and troubling side of our mental well-being. Arlo’s songwriting ability creates vocals and melodies which I believe can only be matched by few other artists – Thom Yorke and Chris Martin being the first to come to mind.
As the song beautifully says, “it’s so cruel what your mind can do for no reason”. I am sure these words, as well as the words from her other outstanding releases Eugene, Hurts and Caroline, have brought a reassuring comfort to many in a very tough and turbulent year. With her music taking influence from American poets such as Ginsberg and Jim Morrison, whilst listing her musical influences as King Krule, Radiohead and Otis Reading, it is fair to say Arlo Parks is one of the most exciting new artists around and is set to own 2021.
Album: Ed Rome – Feel No Pain
Ed writes so much great music and this album is just brilliant. His work has been called unique, interesting, the kind of reggae that makes you feel better. It has been a long favourite in my car, my headphones and the tunes to my cooking too. Great melodies, beautiful production, not forgetting the wonderful lyrics and featuring the awesome Bella Edmunds on sax. The title track was A-Listed on Phoenix FM too. It’s been an awesome year musically for Ed and long may it continue.
Track: Matt Johnson – With The Music
It’s hard to believe this was Matt’s debut album! Matt is an amazing songwriter with his writing partnership with Jay Kay of Jamiroquai producing so many memorable tracks. I played With The Music for most of the year – it’s a funky upbeat tune that puts a smile on your face. A superb production, it builds. Matt is a keys genius. Positivity all round. Again this was A-Listed on Phoenix FM and loved by a good few Phoenix FM presenters too.
Album: OST – No Time To Die
Track: Billie Eilish – No Time To Die
I’m a big Bond fan, and found this 18 year old girl such an amazing talent. I’ve just found out she recorded the song in her bedroom studio.
I liked it that much I bought her album “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go” too.
Album: Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas
A beautiful album filled with graceful melodies and stunning guitar riffs. Her folksy soul songs can make you dance or cry and are filled with London references that put you in the centre of the stories she’s telling.
Track: Powfu feat beabadoobee – Death Bed
There’s something very therapeutic about this track. I like the blend of sweet vocals paired with rap and I love coffee!
Album: Babeheaven – Home For Now
I’ve been listening to a lot of chilled electronica this year, regularly incorporating ‘chillhop’ mixes into my show, and this album uses that style to stunning effect – an album that’s both thoughtful and great to relax to.
Track: The Goodbye Look – I Can’t Stop
Such an enjoyable track, with a simple set of hooks that get stuck in your head seemingly without even trying.
Album: Kylie Minogue – Disco
This much-needed album came out at the right time. Billy Ocean would have won it till this came along!
Track: The Solutions – Stop What You’re Doing
There have been a few good ones this year but this one came out and hit me, with a brilliant old school sound.
Album: Bon Jovi – 2020
This album is a revelation. It is a surprisingly reflective album with lyrics outside those you might expect from their genre. ‘Do what you can’, written and recorded during lockdown, is for me the anthem for 2020.
We really all have been able to just do what we can this year. ‘American Reckoning’ is a insightful reflection on the USA in 2020, as is ‘Lower the flag’. Every song has something interesting to say. If for many years you have thought that the music of Bon Jovi is not for you, give this album a listen. You may be very surprised.
Track: Heatherlyn – River
“Losing, loving, lamenting and longing are all around us now” said Denver-based artist Heatherlyn. The River comes from ‘Dance of the Deep’ EP. It is a haunting collection of songs from a faith perspective.
The EP is worth checking out in full. ‘River’ is an uplifting track with a Gospel spirit. It is a song that will gently lift your eyes towards hope, something that has been needed throughout 2020.
Album: Hybrid Kid – The Minor Escapes
Albums that are released in the first week of the year rarely make it onto those end of year lists, do they? Released all the way back on January 4, this Brighton-based trio have been lumped into the “slacker rock” genre and while the influence of Pavement or Blur’s post-Britpop period is evident, the ten tracks on this album don’t conjure up any images of laziness for me – great musicianship and enough groove to make sure there isn’t a dud track among them. Should be much bigger than they are. There’s still time.
Track: Sybs – Anwybodaeth
Is it possible to love the upbeat and feelgood message from a song even though you can barely understand a word of it? Yes it is, if it’s from Cardiff quartet Sybs, signed to the excellent Libertino records. There’s a fantastic video too from Owen Stickler which for some odd reason isn’t on YouTube but can be seen at www.amam.cymru/libertino/2254 instead.
Album: Promenade Cinema – Exit Guides
Their second album, with an enriched synth sound that delivers so many good songs, with heart felt lyrics the ‘PromCin’ way – it is a wonder this Sheffield duo have not been snapped up yet.
Track: More – Story Goes On
One of my favourite discoveries in 2020 was the Swedish band MORE, and this was the single that really lifted them up in my eye. Such a dark brooding and melodic track, tipping its hat in the right direction.
Album: Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
A real feel good pop album with some great songs. It brought a much needed smile to the year.
Track: Eminem – Godzilla
Eminem shows everyone he still sets the standard in rap technique. The song also features the late Juice Wrld.
Album: Kylie Minogue – Magic
How could I not have plumped for this! I think I’m right in saying that Kylie has become the first female artist to have topped the UK album charts in 5 consecutive decades and listening to this and her previous successes shows just why.
Track: The Screens – The Boy Who Waved At Trains
To my mind a sensational single which I believe was taken from their second album.
Album: The Fizz – Smoke and Mirrors
I’d like to say we at Phoenix played a small part in making this a top 20 album as my interview with Cheryl Baker last December saw the first announcement of the lead single!
With references ranging from Fleetwood Mac, Joni Mitchell and that intrinsic 80s sound this was a stunning return to form with the band’s first top 20 album in over 30 years.
Track: Steps – What The Future Holds
For listeners of my show – and fans of all things pop – my single of the year is not a surprising choice. A comeback of epic proportions, written specifically for the fab five by Sia, it’s managed to sound modern and fresh but also keeping the nostalgia fans happy.
Album: Aksak Maboul – Figures (Crammed Discs)
Track: Lisa Bella Donna – One On One
Album: Ed Harcourt – Monochrome To Colour
Chosing the album I’ve been listening to most recently, I’ve picked this instrumental LP from Ed Harcourt. It almost seems like a classical album. Just a great listen whatever mood you’re in.
Track: Sam Fender – Holding Out
This takes me back to watching him live. The acoustic elements also leaving me itching to see live music again. Looking forward to more from this young singer/songwriter.
Album: Rews – Warriors
A year ago I named Rews my “one to watch” for 2020 and their second album Warriors showed the rock world exactly why. With fist pumping, anthemic choruses to blow your socks off and lyrics to heal your battle scars this album gives Royal Blood a run for their money.
The As Yet Untitled Rock Show featured Warriors when Shauna (Rews) joined us for an interview. Her passion for combining killer riffs and memorable hooks with heartfelt and meaningful lyrics is audible.
This album was a major part of my 2020 and if this is just a taste of the future of rock then I can’t wait to hear what comes next! Honourable mentions too to AC/DC, Nothing But Thieves, These Wicked Rivers, Orianthi & Metallica who released some fantastic rock albums this year.
Track: Empyre – Only Way Out
In the year that staying in was the new going out a lot of bands took to intimate acoustic sessions but this was one that really blew me away. Their debut album Self Aware showcased this band’s stadium-worthy rock potential but stripped back to its bare bones, Only Way Out features just vocals and piano.
The song prompted our acoustic special of The As Yet Untitled Rock Show and Empyre’s frontman Henrik joined us to talk in detail about all their acoustic releases. When arena concerts resume, Empyre will be there… and so should you! Honourable mentions too to Laurel, Vix20, Buffalo Summer, Ocean Flaws & Never Apart who released some fantastic singles this year.
Album: Lady Gaga – Chromatica
What a strange year 2020 has been for albums and singles with many self-penned tracks being produced in home studios and bedrooms.
Although it has been a depressing year luckily we have had a steady flow of albums to get stuck into at Phoenix FM.
If there was ever a year for Gaga to get back to basics, this was it. The dominant mode was strafing house, towering choruses burst with relief for the simple fact of survival it quickly fulfilled its promise by offering escape when it arrived in the darkest days of the pandemic.
Track: Dua Lipa – Levitating (The Blessed Madonna Remix)
What an amazing year for Dua Lipa – to think she only broke through in the UK with in 2016 with her single Hotter Than Hell.
She scored her first Number 1 single in August 2017 with New Rules, and has since collaborated with some of the most talented artists on the planet.
Dua has gone from strength to strength musically. My favourite track though for 2020 is Levitating (The Blessed Madonna Remix) – this club/electro house track is a great feel good all-round dance track.
Album: The Avalanches – We Will Always Love You
Melbourne duo Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi are back with their third album “We Will Always Love You”
Supposedly inspired by the romance between scientists Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan, We Will Always Love You is an exploration of samples, the relationship between love, humanity, space, light, sound and spirit. WWALY is an immersive and rewarding album which will make you listen back to again and again. There’s much to discover here with infused-packed genres – hip hop, disco, house and electronica.
Not to forget the staggering array of guest vocalists and musicians involved in this project from Sananda Maitreya, Blood Orange, Sampha The Great, Neneh Cherry, Jamie XX, MGMT, Leon Bridges, Perry Farrell, Vashti Bunyan and lots more.
Track: Machinedrum – Star
Taken from Machinedrum’s latest and most collaborative album “A View Of U”.
Star is a type of track best listened to when getting feeling elevated or in need of inspiration.
I’ve listened to this track countless of times while stargazing, it submerges you to a soothing and rhythmic calmness when looking up at the Stars. In the words of Travis Stewart aka Machinedrum:
“I loved making this song with Mono/Poly and Tanerélle, albeit remotely. I feel like our three worlds of sound really came together in such a harmonious way. Mono/Poly’s signature drum sound, Tanerélle’s meaningful lyrics and soulful voice, matched with my atmospheric and emotional melodic elements blended in this beautiful and synergetic way that created something unique and wonderful”.
Album: Taylor Swift – Folklore
I thought the Taylor Swift album was really interesting and enjoyed every track on it, which is unusual for me – there is usually a couple that I can leave, but this album I always play right through without skipping!
Track: Emma Smith – Monogamy Blues
I saw Emma Smith live at Ronnie Scott’s and she is such an incredible talent. She wrote and recorded this song with Jamie Safir who also plays at Ronnie’s. Emma said that the song is inspired by the Ella Fitzgerald classic Making Whoopie.