TOP TEN: Acts we discovered in 2020

Fran: I know Arlo Parks is already huge, and I’ll talk more about this hype in the Albums We’re Looking Forward to piece that is coming later this week. But I might not have discovered her if it wasn’t for YouTube’s algorithms. And my own laziness. After watching a video of Phoebe Bridgers (my favourite 2020 artist), your favourite video platform then took me to a cover of ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ that these two artists had done together. That was pleasant enough. But when that was followed by Arlo’s ‘Hurt’ it was one of those ‘sit up and pay attention’ moments, goosebumps and everything. I have since investigated everything Arlo has released and, without an album to her name, she became one of my most listened to artists of the year. I can’t remember being this excited about a new artist in years.

Nick: I had never heard of SAULT when I came across Untitled (Black is). What a beautiful sound they have created here – despite the often hard political truths they tell. Third track ‘Hard life’ (and it’s euphoric conclusion in particular) created the most joyous sound I heard in 2020 – it was a year when I really needed something like this to carry me through.

Fran: I’d definitely heard of Chloe Foy before 2020. Fellow Picky Bastard Matt Paul had made sure of that by banging on about her every time we talked about any acoustic music. I had largely ignored him, though, until I saw that she was playing in one of my favourite Salford venues back in March. It was the last gig I went to, and probably also the best of the relatively few live shows I saw in September. I have since become totally and utterly captivated by Chloe’s music and am enjoying watching the development of her career. After interviewing her earlier this year, it also appears that 2021 could be a big year for her. I’m expecting big things.

James: I was very happy to enjoy Billy Nomates, if only for the reason that Fran told me I wouldn’t like her music. Amid the early buzz, we swiftly booked tickets for the overly optimistic February scheduled gig. That booking came with the feeling that we should expect something special. Now that the summer’s hype has died down, it’s pleasing to revisit her self-titled debut with an objective ear. The cutting social observations are still there and seem keener than ever. One to watch.

Tom: Black Country, New Road’s spoken word monologues and unhinged post-rock sound has earned accurate comparisons to Slint. I hadn’t heard of either coming into 2020, but this changed with my flatmate’s recommendation to listen to ‘Sunglasses’, which I remain ever so grateful for. There’s something thrillingly evocative in the way Isaac Wood delivers his stream-of-consciousness monologues against a backdrop of well-orchestrated tension. This extends to the two other songs they’ve officially released to date: ‘Athens, France’ and ‘Science Fair’, both of which will be found on their debut LP, For the first time, which lands in February. I’m as excited now as I was at the start of this year.

James: I saw Charlotte De Witte’s name on a flyer and thought why not give it a listen. This isn’t a very ‘Picky Bastards’ choice I guess. You certainly won’t hear anything like it elsewhere on the site and I’m pretty sure nearly everyone else will hate it. It’s not deep and the beats are almost identical on each track. But sometimes you just need some straightforward in your face techno bangers in your life.

Fran: After buying tickets for Deer Shed Festival back in the months when festivals were still feasible, Big Joanie were the big highlight from the new bands I discovered on the lineup. Bold, brash, feminist, anti-racist post-punk. So many things that matter to me all rolled up into one three piece band. As well as learning about their 2018 debut Sistahs during 2020, I have also loved digging deep into some of the covers they have put out – particularly ‘No Scrubs’ and ‘Cranes in the Sky.’ Spend some time with them – you won’t regret it.

James: Fran has already ably described his ‘sit up and pay attention’ experience with Arlo Parks. My own rare moment of having my ears pricked up came in February when ‘Start Again’ played on the radio. If you’ve not heard Keeley Forsyth yet I’d love to say you’ll like her if you like X – but truly there’s nothing else with a sound like hers to helpfully compare to. Debris is not an album for all occasions. For me, any Sunday night in 2020 has been improved by giving it a spin. You should try it too.

Matt: Can a supergroup be a discovery? I think so. I have felt nothing but ambivalence to all but a few songs by Anaïs Mitchell, Eric D. Johnson, and Josh Kaufman separately. However when they came together to form Bonny Light Horsemen they made one of my albums of the year. It is the most beautiful collection of songs I have heard in a long while.

Especially in 2020 when it often felt like there was little humanity out there in the world, the intimacy of the album has been something I have leaned on a lot. The folk songs that are many decades old and re-imagined to make the album are about the human experience. Love, loss and everything else in-between. Experiences that don’t become irrelevant, even if it has been many years or if the world is weird and everyone is stuck inside.

Sam: Obviously one of my favourite discoveries of the year came from the Mercury Prize shortlist. This year’s ‘jazz’ entry feels like it’s being done a disservice by being lumped in as a token entry as it’s one of the year’s most infectious and evocative albums. Moses Boyd is such a unique talent, blending influences from Jazz, Drum and Bass and UK Hip Hop to create music unlike anything I’ve heard before.

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