We continue our fortnight of top tens looking back at 2020 and looking forward to 2021:
If there is one thing we excel at here at Picky Bastards, it’s arguing. You should see the state of our group chat. Having said that, if you were ever to see the true inner workings here then you might stop reading and listening to us at all. As a compromise, here are ten albums that we just couldn’t agree on in 2020 – let the fighting begin:
Fran: I had Porridge Radio’s Every Bad just outside my top ten of the year. Matt thought it was okay. Tom initially picked it for one of our monthly highlights but has since fallen slightly out of love with the thing. The only word Sam could think of to describe it was ‘irritating’, Nick labelled it simply a ‘repetition fest’ , and, unsurprisingly, James hated its fucking face. So it’s fair to say it split the Picky B’s editors. All I want to say to Porridge Radio is ‘thank you for making me happy’ (35 times). The rest of you can get in the bin…
You can listen to us argue about it in more detail, too, if you like – we covered it on Episode 30 of the Podcast.
Tom: I selected Yves Tumor’s Heaven To A Tortured Mind as my favourite album of this year. While I wouldn’t consider it a classic by any stretch, it’s one that I just love going back to – a thrilling genre mashup with bulletproof rhythms and grooves throughout. I wasn’t the only one of us who was a fan. Will picked it as one of his April favourites. And as Fran spoke glowingly about it on Episode 32 of the Picky Bastards podcast, I thought, ‘it’s so good, even all of the Bastards are in agreement’.
But this illusion was shattered by Nick’s appraisal, where he made it very clear that the record’s experimentation didn’t excite him in the slightest. He called it ‘musically incoherent’, ‘sonically tiring’ and ‘grating’ – statements which as far as I’m concerned are nothing short of sacrilege. James liked bits but wasn’t fond of it as an album. But of course, HTATM’s appearance in various year-end lists shows I was right. Right? Right?!
Sam: I’ve picked out the second album by Fontaines DC as the best example of the disagreements some of us have had this year, but in general it’s more the ‘Shouty Man Band’ genre that has us arguing. I just don’t get the appeal at all. There’s supposedly massive depth in it? Or some feeling I’m supposed to get, when every single song just sounds exactly the same to me. I can barely tell them apart from IDLES or Protomartyr and the same people who claim these are all super diverse and exciting say pop music sounds the same!
That track where they just keep shouting ‘Life ain’t always empty’? What a load of shite. (NOTE – this is also known as Fran’s 2nd favourite song of the year! – you can read his review of the album for evidence.)
Fran: Georgia’s Seeking Thrills was a generally popular pick at Picky Bs headquarters. Two bastards went to see her back when real life gigs were still a thing, another picked it as their favourite new discovery when we did our Mercury Prize special episode back in September, and even affirmed pop cynic Nick Parker had some reasonably positive stuff to say about it.
Why, then, do I only hear cringe-inducing, 90s throwback drivel? I don’t know. But songs like ‘24 Hours’ and ‘Ultimate Sailor’ were some of the most difficult listens I faced in 2020, and even the very popular ‘About Work The Dancefloor’ only made me think of many other monstrosities that the likes of Peter Andre were releasing years ago.
I seem to be on my own with this one, though. That’s okay. I like to be unique, even when being uniquely miserable.
Nick: I thought the new IDLES album, Ultra Mono, was solid; certainly not their best, but worth a listen and with several high points. Most of the improvements were around the care they seemed to have taken with tone (and yes, I’m obsessed with that aspect of music). ‘Grounds’, for example, might be the best sounding song I’ve heard from this band. Fran meanwhile, described Model village as actually offensive, and the band as one of the biggest let downs of the year for him). Well, he can’t be right all / much of the time.
Matt: The Disclosure album ENERGY was a breath of fresh air. In a pretty bleak year this album was full of joy and I would regularly chuck it on to break me out of my funk. It’s an album that is not going to win the Ivor Novello for its lyrical content, but music does not have to have complexity to have resonance.
When we covered the album on the 35th ep of the podcast I wasn’t expecting a resounding success. My grumpy co-hosts are not known for being into lively dance music, but I hoped that this album might just win them over. Instead Fran called this ‘dull and generic’. Meanwhile Nick said that the ‘entire function of the album is for dance, and I don’t dance’. One day they might open their minds to something that isn’t just dark and brooding.
Fran: We covered Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia on our Mercury Prize themed podcast episode back in September and I was honestly quite baffled by the huge disparity in the opinions portrayed.
For me, this was nothing more and nothing less than a decent pop album with a few fun tunes and a few that I couldn’t care less about either way. Apparently I was wrong. Ask the rest of the Picky Bastards and the responses are much more extreme. While Matt and Nick both had it down as the worst album on the Mercury shortlist and the winner that would’ve made them the saddest, both James and Sam have it pretty high on their Album of the Year lists.
Who’s right? And what am I missing either way? How did such an inoffensive yet unoriginal album become so divisive in the team?
Sam: Before anyone comes at me for saying anything bad about everyone’s favourite album of 2020, I want to say that I do appreciate just why Fetch The Bolt Cutters is objectively really interesting and exciting as an album. I just don’t get that same ‘THIS IS AMAZING’ feeling.
Nearly everyone else on the team has it near the top of their best of 2020, but for me and James, we just have no real sense of urgency to go back to it. Maybe it didn’t hit me at the right point? Maybe I just needed something a bit more immediate? Or maybe I am wrong and everyone else is right (can’t possibly be the case), but for me this record is one I can appreciate for what it is, but would never actively choose to go back to over and over again.
Tom: I’ve been a fan of HAIM since their Fleetwood Mac-esque earworms entered my consciousness back in 2013. So naturally I was delighted that they came through with Women In Music Pt. III in June, a musically varied and accomplished record that stands as one of the year’s highlights. It’s a fact. Sam tweeted to confirm. He also reviewed the album on release. James booked tickets to see them in the uncertain future after hearing the record. It’s a consistent, personal album which shows that they’ve matured as people and as a band.
But then I discovered that we had doubters among us. Fran called ‘The Steps’ ‘abysmal’ and the LP ‘one of the five worst albums I listened to this year’. Nick empathised with him, suggesting the experience of listening would be ‘agony’. And Lisa replied to our weekly email to define the sisters’ music as ‘whimsical, substance-free, ‘we’ll never be The Bangles’ bollocks’ – a statement I simultaneously enjoyed hugely and completely disagreed with. Guess we can’t all be right…
Fran: We have a WhatsApp group for the editors of the website. While Matt Berninger’s Serpentine Prison was making a surge towards the quarter finals of our recent Album of the Year tournament, Sam had a listen to it for the first time: ‘These songs are fine. How anyone could feel anything more than that about them is beyond me.’
The first time I heard a few of these songs I cried.
This conversation continued, with Sam and James spouting nonsense about Matt’s vocals before I inevitably ended up slagging off some of their favourite albums to break the cycle. As a long time fan of The National, though, it was not the first time I’ve heard people say they don’t rate his voice. I get it. Like nearly every one of the best voices in music, it is a voice that you either love or hate. And I, like many many others, adore it.
When Serpentine Prison was announced I have to admit to being concerned about how Matt would fair without his bandmates (have a read of my review), but what we got was one of the most gorgeous and moving collections of songs from the whole of 2020. But apparently at least two of the other editors would rather listen to ‘Ultimate Sailor’ by Georgia again…