Categories
ambient electronic opinion pop rock

Best albums of 2020

This post is dedicated to Martin Ploeg who died in 2020.

Since I stopped writing for music magazine OOR, making lists seems pointless. My taste is changing constantly and I love so many different styles of music that it is impossible for me to do justice to the diversity of cool albums I listen to.

Why posting a list of best albums of 2020 then? Good question. Music journalist and longtime friend Harry Prenger asked me to compile one and I felt like making a list because of this crazy year of working from home, not going to concerts and using music to give structure to a new daily practice without one.

2020 was a rough year for me. I left my teaching job at the Maastricht Academy of Media Design and Technology and wasn’t sure if my own Studio Hyperspace would provide enough work. My father died after years of suffering from Parkinson’s disease and I found myself in lockdown in a new unknown city.

Looking for new challenges in a world that seemed to have stopped spinning is difficult. I started STASIS to have an outlet to keep writing about pop culture. In November the Fashion Institute Amsterdam (AMFI, a part of HvA) asked me to help them set up a new master programme for changemakers in the fashion industry and just before the Christmas holidays, I got an offer by the new International Music Academy Lab of InHolland to join them as a coordinator. The coolest job ever. E.V.E.R.

So professionally, 2020 turned out to be a great year after all. Personally, it was rough. Music played an important role to keep me happy and focused.

The following eleven records were important for me during the numerous train travels to my father in the deep south of The Netherland and, after he passed away, making the best of the situation.

Special shout out to Adorno. You are my best friend. I absolutely love your hairy fur touching my cheeks when I’m half asleep.

Okay, let’s go.

Apneu – Silvester

Been following this indie band from Amsterdam since the beginning and their third album is an absolute classic. It’s catchy, moody, tight. The production by Ralv Milberg lifts the album to a next level. But it’s the songwriting that makes Silvester stand out. Read my STASIS review here.

Applescal – Diamond Skies

Not only the missing link between the ambient techno of the Border Community sound and Dutch trance, but also a perfect medicine for missing out on parties and concert. Diamond Skies captures the moment in which the rave becomes you and you become the rave. Read my STASIS review here.

The Bug & Dis Fig – In Blue

The only interview I did this year was a Zoom call with Kevin Martin aka The Bug. In Blue reminds me of other work of The Bug but also serves as a perfect sonic representation of being in lockdown. The thin, high-pitched and ghost-like vocals of Dis Fig, give the album a melancholic feel that triggers me to listen to it over and over again. Read my STASIS review here.

Jessy Lanza – All The Time

An absolute sucker for slick, catchy and sweet pop music with a microhouse feel to it. Jessy Lanza is the best. No idea why I didn’t wrote about this excellent album here at STASIS. Listen to All The Time at Bandcamp.

Hunter Complex – Dead Calm and Zero Degrees

Always loved the music by Lars Meyer aka Hunter Complex, but this album is different than his previous work because there is no nostalgia anymore. Meyer has found a way to use all kinds of sounds and tropes from the past to come up with something that is 2020 at its core: a post-nostalgic ambient synthpop masterpiece. Read my STASIS review here.

Coriky – Coriky

Maybe this is a bit of a nostalgic pick. Coriky is the band of former Fugazi (and Minor Thread) guitarist and singer Ian MacKaye. Got to think of it, my love for Coriky isn’t rooted in nostalgia: this debut album is indie rock at its best. Wonder why I didn’t write about the album for STASIS. Listen to the album at Bandcamp.

Vril – Bad Manners 4

Dancefloor oriented project by Vril aka Ulli Hammann for the Berlin-based Bad Manners label. The album is a registration of a perfect early morning set (think 3 am) in the ambient techno room of Dekmantal or another cool electronic music festival. Also, didn’t review this one for STASIS. Listen to the album at Bandcamp.

We Are Joiners – Clients + Carriers

Sort of compilation of the first two EP’s by an indie duo from the city of Groningen. Love the slacker atmosphere. Harry Prenger also can’t get enough of We Are Joiners. Really curious what they are up to in 2021. Read my STASIS review of Carriers here.

Europ Europ – Slow Train

Ancient and timeless, that’s Slow Train. It’s like It’s the musical expression of Das Abendland‘s struggle for survival. The soundtrack to go with the ritual cleansing of a romantic past that never might have existed. Maybe, Dutch anti-modernist politician, Thierry Baudet should listen to Europ Europ and fall in love with Europe again. Read my STASIS review of here.

Vladislav Delay – Rakka

For me, Sasu Ripatti never made a bad album. His work as Luomo is unique and unmatched. As Vladislav Delay, he is more experimental. Rakka is an exciting blend of ambient, industrial, techno and dub. A perfect soundtrack for an underground dance party in your mind. Read my STASIS review of the song ‘Rajaa’ here.

Hirashi Yoshimura – Green

Reissue of the 1986 ambient album by Japanese producer Hiroshi Yoshimura. The album sounds like it has been released on Kompakt records by a hipster Scandinavian producer who just moved to Berlin. Love it, even the green vinyl. Listen to Green at Bandcamp.

What are your favourite albums of 2020? Let me know.

Categories
rock

Avery Plains + We Are Joiners

Groningen is the Seattle of The Netherlands.

The city is known for its alternative music culture. Vera is one of the oldest and probably the coolest Dutch music club. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was a haven for indie culture. All the cool national and international bands played shows there for all the cool kids. Double cool. Although it suffered from the changing live concert policies by MOJO (part of Clear Channel) in the early 2000s to only program one or two shows by international bands preferably in the Amsterdam region, Vera managed to stay relevant.

It is not a coincidence that Subroutine Records, the leading Dutch indie label, was founded in Groningen. The label gave a face to the rising New Dutch Indie scene. With pioneers The Sugarettes and Nikoo, both from Eindhoven, the scene skyrocketed in the late 2000s. In the 2010s it established a network of independent labels like Narrominded, Geertruida, Snowstar, Smikkelbaard and more. New exciting bands emerged from Maastricht to Groningen, and from Goes to Enschede.

In January 2017 indie culture took over pop club Paradiso in Amsterdam for 24 hours and over a 100 Dutch indie acts. The festival’s name was Van Onderen: from the bottom (up). Traditional media like Vice’s Noisey had a hard time dissing the festival (writing about a cult, sect and church of indie) and failed miserably.

Back to Groningen.

Two acts from the local indie scene just released new material. Avery Plains is a so-called supergroup: its members used to play in bands like Dandruff, Moonlizards, Meindert Talma and Audiotransparant. The band debuted on Subroutine, made a first album and were the support act for Dinosaur Jr. Their second SoOn has just been released on Flat Plastix. In the press sheet, the band mentions Swervedriver and Wipers and driving a rusty Ford Mustang in search of lost love.

Great metaphor and pretty accurate. SoOn is the soundtrack for an alternative reality where time doesn’t exist. Dusty roads and rusty muscle cars are everywhere and love is only an excuse to keep on driving. Interrupted for a half-warm beer in a shady truckstop. I could wander there forever.

Musically Avery Plains is a colourful blend of all edges of indie rock from the late 1980s and early 1990s. A bit of early Screaming Trees, Swervedriver, The Feelies, Kitchens of Distinction and The Afghan Whigs. Absolutely love the noisy guitars and crusty vocals. The twin guitars (and flanger) in ‘A Song of my Own Rising’ are magical. Reminds me of, well, drinking a half-warm beer in a shady truckstop.

In many ways, the debut ep Carriers is the opposite of SoOn. We Are Joiners are two lads recording their songs in the bedroom with just a Boss BR1180 recorder, cheap microphone and guitar with nylon strings. Sounds like early 1990s Sabadoh and has that typical slacker atmosphere. No Ford Mustang here, but a bicycle with a flat tire. And it’s beautiful. Three out of four tracks are under two minutes and sound raw, fresh and lively. Love it.

Funny detail: the duo is now working on their second ep that will be mastered by Pim van Werken, who wrote the underground diss in Noisey. Luckily he is a better producer than a writer ;- )

SoOn by Avery Plains is released by Flat Plastix, Carriers by We Are Joiners is released independently.