Isolation due to COVID-19 may have shuffled our habits, but musical bliss remains thanks to these nine albums from this year.
The continuing isolation of 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic turned up the madness in my home. The chaotic vibe of “bedroom-to-office-to-kitchen-to-office-to-kitchen-to-bedroom” that took over the greater part of this year rocks my mind. Sure, every so often the streams via Twitch or YouTube that the industry focused on would satisfy that unshakable hunger for the beats and grooves I desired. The itch remained, though, and I could not shake it… I crave fresh music!
2020 started off with such strength from multiple angles: January’s insanity came out of the Anjunabeats collective: Lane 8’s Brightest Lights, Spencer Brown’s Stream of Consciousness, and Gabriel & Dresden’s Remedy. February built on this foundation with albums from No Mana, Cubicolor, Ramses B, and Galantis. Even as March ground the world to a halt, amazing albums dropped from the likes of Luttrell, Zoo Brazil, Tokimonsta, and Jorn van Deynhoven.
By the time April was here, everything became a blur of unknowns. However, artists kept us warm in this new territory.
Thievery Corporation, Nathan Fake, Purity Ring, Matt Fax, and Duke Dumont guided our vibes upward. Then, the summer months rolled in, giving us new works by Jody Wisternoff, Farius, Louis the Child, Somna, Kygo, and Craig Connelly. July did not retract either with Inner City, Gareth Emery, Bijou, Cold Blue, and NCT rocking the blues away. On top of this, you had the mighty trance compilation wave: In Search of Sunrise 16 and Outburst presents Prism Vol 3.
Lest we also forget our history, there was the celebration of Om Records’ 25th anniversary! And August continued to be one for books before with great new albums from Bronson (Golden Features and the duo ODESZA), BT’s The Lost Art Of Longing, and Bob Moses’ Desire.
With all these albums, my appetite should surely be sated? Sadly it was not, but 2020 still had more to offer.
What follows are nine albums that may have flown under your radar this year. Each is a course to sink your teeth deeply into, offering a different wedge of the sonic fruit that is dance music. Many of these picks ought to surprise as a recommendation from this trance lover. So, let this tastemaker examine each album briefly and offer you a plate to enjoy as we just missed sharing with you when they each released.
Tycho – Simulcast
Warm-up with something that captures the mind’s eye in splendor. Tycho’s been on the radar of downtempo fans since 2011’s Dive album. I was lucky enough to catch their performance during the sunset at CRSSD Festival and still love the vibes today. The style here perfectly distills the sounds of a sunset during a road trip into something that smooths out the rough edges of a day.
Simulcast continues that tradition, and if you find the formula has not worn thin, it is easy to love. Retaining the shorter format of their recent works, the eight songs of the album keep the mood light. With evolving beats, “Alright” offers unfamiliar drum patterns and dreamy synths that wash against the shore. “Outer Sunset” goes deep into the break-beat patterns but drives forward with haunting guitar lines. The driving metaphor even comes full circle, as “PCH” delivers a frantic, haunting mood that feels faster than many of the Tycho tracks laid before it.
Needing the escape from the tumult of the year? Turn to Tycho’s Simulcast for a respite.
Degs – Letters From Ndegwa
Degs was one of the most stunning finds out of Hospital Records in years. The young MC blends his rhymes and sings brilliantly to cascade into the psyche of listeners. He is catchy without relying on audaciousness or brashness. This debut album, Letters From Ndegwa, represents a stunning achievement: one that celebrates collaboration in artistry while retaining a pillar of an auteur. This drum and bass-fueled album features a who’s who of Hospital collaborators (S.P.Y, Logistics, and Unglued) and brings plenty of freshness to the day.
From the opening “Driving Under Lights” to the closing “Pamoja Forever,” Degs shines. Effortless bliss is the offering here. Some of my favorite selections include the groovy two-step of “Levitate Your Mind,” the melancholy ballad of “4 Days,” the duet of “Trade Places,” and the strength of the story within “Crusade.” Degs also covers the seminal “Killer” – originally a Seal and Adamski collaboration – and his variant offers lots to love. Seriously, this remains one of the most entertaining albums of this year.
Draft your letter today by adding this album to your collection!
Tale Of Us – Afterlife presents Unity
Normally, I keep these lists focused solely on artist albums. 2020 is not a normal year. Unity is not the standard techno compilation either, thanks to the care-taking of Tale Of Us. Unity showcases the giving nature of artistry in the state of a worldwide pandemic. Tale of Us, and the thirty-one (31) tracks they pulled together, produced Unity as a work of giving. They noted they would donate all proceeds of the album to the Coronavirus relief fund of Lombardia.
Released with the moniker of “Out of darkness can only come light,” Unity crafts an early look at the dance floors of 2020, where the home becomes the stage we all enjoy. I won’t spell everything out here: this journey of sound is over three and a half hours long, and in so doing runs the wide breadth of what Afterlife offers from dusk to sunrise. Turn it up, close your eyes, and let the music wash through you.
Escape into the unknown and support the continued resolution of this pandemic by purchasing this one by clicking here!
Pleasurekraft – Love In The Age Of Machines
Ah, the easy craft-work of Pleasurekraft! After the sublime journey in 2018’s Friends, Lovers, and Other Constellations, expectations ran high for the journey that would next appear. Love In The Age Of Machines opens with both darkness and empty vastness, a cautionary interlude of what may come for mankind.
Twelve tracks take the listener through another cosmic tale. Enter a world of darkness in the sonic dissonance of the future with tracks like “Last Sapien” and “Panopticon.” “I Sing the Body Electric” is a booming techno track that overwhelms the senses, while “Main Sequence” and “Novacene” celebrate a cinematic appeal. This is not an uplifting sonic journey, but one that exudes the thoughtfulness and emotional depth of its creator.
Alina Baraz – It Was Divine
Okay – this one is less electronic and more contemporary R&B. With that said, it remains one of the on-rotation albums at my house. Alina Baraz first fell into greater awareness with the collaboration with Galimatias on Urban Flora. This sixteen track debut album is a doozy, hitting in all the right feels for the painful year we collectively experienced so far. It takes a listener on a journey from breakup to recovery (something all adults out there undoubtedly experienced at some point). The bliss pours forth in the handcrafted delicateness of Alina’s sensual voice and the smooth beats that wrap it in a warm embrace. If you missed out on this one and just want to lose yourself for an hour or so, this one keeps itself on repeat wonderfully.
Find the divine with Alina Baraz on your favorite platform.
Metrik – Ex Machina
Keeping the drum and bass energy throughout the year has not been a struggle. Metrik returned in May with his newest LP Ex Machina. With vibes the exudes the best of Sub Focus or Wilkinson, Metrik retains his growing catalog of amazing work in the genre and place as a taste-making force. There are unique samples throughout (the dolphin cry on “Automata” for example), bass grooves galore, and of course, some sing-along anthems (see “We Are The Energy” for evidence of that). There are moments like “Parallel” that recall Pendulum, moments of emotive depth such as “Time To Let Go,” and moments that call us back to the battlegrounds of the drum and bass scene like “Thunderblade.”
Groove heavy with the deep vibrations of Ex Machina through your favorite platform!
Slam Duck – Different Together
For the progressive house-minded, there is a ton to love on Slam Duck’s debut album. Different Together is one of the mellow energy albums on this list, confidently holding its own in the progressive house region of dance music with some fun thrown into the overall mix. From the warmth of “Contrails” to the broken beat closing moments in “Every Day” and “Hypnotic Beach,” Slam Duck offers a smorgasbord of soundscapes to get lost in. The vibes exude the moments where the sunlight tinges the sky in crimson hues; where the day’s warmth either begins or ends. There are touches that call out to legends like Orkidea (see “Face & Embrace”) throughout the album. Collectively, the album is a precious escape from the darkness of the here and now.
Wind into the different world with Slam Duck and listen to their debut album.
Ryan Farish – Land Of The Sky
Ryan Farish needs little introduction to our readers. We covered the producer over the years due to the musical accomplishments of his laid-back flair for positive energy chill-out music (such as 2018’s Wilderness). Land of the Sky continues his nearly annual album release schedule, but do not let the timing fool you. The quality remains top-notch. Twelves songs with a more ethnic flair this time round out the almost hour-long album.
“Distant Sun,” the opening track, blends a bit of Gaelic and East Asian flair into the mix. “Land of the Sky” plays with chanting vocals that recall tribal people. The winding roads of a forest drive or the fireside of a campfire present the journey beautifully. “Hearts on Fire” exudes the brilliance of finding harmony in the moments of beauty just described. Excursions go beyond the norm here for Ryan as well – we get some half-time breakbeats on “Wild” and some drum and bass vibes deep in “Desert Wind.” Land of the Sky continues Ryan’s immensely touching musical style, and it is a good break from the turmoil of the present.
Grab a pleasant drink, stay cool, and chill out in the Land Of The Sky on your favorite platform.
Hospital Records presents Hospitality House Party
Leave it to Hospital Records to bring the party back in late July. With months of being stuck at home thanks to the COVID-19, the energy in Hospitality House Party radiates. It is groove-laden and entirely energizes the innards. The big tracks that hypnotize the ears are all over the place: Pola & Bryson remix Camo & Krooked’s classic “Turn Up (The Music),” Whiney’s VIP treatment of Whiney & Hugh Hardie’s “Blind Eyes” featuring Inja, and Krakota ft. Siege MC’s “To The Top.” That last one is a bonafide anthem with a killer drop.
I’ve barely scratched the surface here, as the compilation capitalizes on the breadth of the Hospital Records swirling pool of talent. Thirty-two tracks take fans on a journey of the brightest sounds under their drum and bass umbrella, leaving no doubt on how amazing the sonic experience would be together if only we could gather.
So there you have it; nine musical experiences allowing the mind to escape isolation in 2020.
While the reality of isolation weighs heavily on us, we must remember collectively we are strong, steadfast, and can create situations that lead us to success. Quarantine and isolation stop the widespread reach of a virus none of us expected to experience this year. Teaching strong skills in staying healthy has become a constant, and I pray these lessons are headed for years to come.
In light of that, I exclaim proudly how these nine works of music pushed me through the months of isolation from friends, family, and the community. They were not the sole islands I would hop on, but they are a chain of sonic shores that directed me onward which we might have missed sharing with all of you. Stay steady, and keep the beats alive in your heart and between your ears!