Counting It Down: 2020 in Music
With 2020 done and over now, we often find ourselves reflecting on the past year on the best and worst parts. Of course, it wasn't a normal year - not even close. At the very least, though, it's been a year for music. Maybe not the best year for the obvious reasons, but regardless, there've been so many releases in the past year, and some of them have been well and truly spectacular. Some are just bangers made of wicked sounds, others are powerful and simply beautiful.
So now, I'd like to count down my personal top ten favourite releases of 2020. I've spent most of the year on other, older music, but I've still been keeping up with the newest tunes here and there, and there are some really spectacular songs that I've had the pleasure of listening to. Some of them are albums, some of them are singles, but they're all released in 2020 and I love them.
Without further ado, let's have a listen!
10. Kove - Power
To start out, we have a brilliant drum & bass tune by the British producer Kove called Power.
This track dropped back in late July and struck a real chord with me. On the UKF upload, the pinned comment calls Power a "homage to the french house sound of the late 90's that got him into dance music." With that thumping intro and dramatic vocal sample, you can certainly hear that sound. Some of my favourite tunes I've added to my collection the past few years come from that late 90's/early 2000s French house sound (Thomas Bangalter & DJ Falcon's Together and So Much Love To Give come to mind immediately).
Being able to hear that sound and incorporate it into drum & bass is a huge thing for me. Not just that, but it's a dancefloor dnb tune. In all the subgenres of drum & bass, dancefloor is without a doubt my favourite. It has a loud, energetic sound that other subgenres don't quite capture, and the catchiness is impossible to rival. Power retains these things and really sounds like a true dancefloor tune with a great throwback to a classic sound. It sounds new and fresh yet still has a familiar warmth to it.
The unique blend of classic house and dancefloor drum & bass puts this one up high on my list of favourite tunes from this year.
9. Just Greg - Raid Rave
In a switchup, Just Greg's debut album, Raid Rave takes the place at number nine.
So much of what I listen to is just drum & bass, loud and fast music. Raid Rave seeks to continue the loudness trend that I love, but slow it down. Greg's album is primarily dubstep - a genre that I don't listen to that much. I never got into it during the massive dubstep craze of the early 2010s, though there are a good chunk of these heavy half-time tunes that I do love, and Raid Rave adds to that list with newer, wilder tunes.
Just Greg has a clear style to his tracks. Growling basslines and drums that punch their way into the forefront, with synths, saws, and patches that really stand out from other comparable tracks. There's this grittiness that comes with a lot of tracks, too. It's quite hard to describe it, because it's so intense. With Raid Rave especially, there's lots of switchups and brilliant references to other songs and artists, or trends in dubstep and electronic music in general.
One of the things that makes Raid Rave stand out to me is the humour. The intermission tracks are simply brilliant, with some fantastic references and jokes that you might miss on the first playthrough because they come at you so fast. Not to mention, they do a great job of transitioning between the songs - it all flows really well! Witty little jokes hidden behind layers of crazy saws and synths, others that are plainly obvious (the Intermission Dub and the track before it, ID, are hilarious). Yet despite poking fun at the genre, these tracks do a great job of showing what is possible with it.
I also have to call out Traffic Jam on the album as being one of my favourite tracks on it. It's a nice little electro-house track in the middle of the insane dubstep journey that gives you a break from the extreme energy, but keeps you moving with those catchy breakbeats and vocal chops that you can't quite sing along to but still feel the desire to do so anyways. I do love a good house track, and Greg's previous house-y tunes have all been brilliant (Over My Shit from a previous release is one of his best still!), and Traffic Jam is no exception. The sample from Top Gear in the mid-track breakdown are delightfully funny, adding to the humour theme found throughout the album, and the second drop is almost painfully catchy.
There is no way I can finish this writeup of the album without mentioning the track UFO Porno. That track is utterly chaotic, funny, and a brilliant spectacle. The switchups are constant, it's like mashing a half dozen tracks together with some great samples and voicelines to make the transitions. It really takes you somewhere completely unique. I don't know how else to describe it other than chaotic and magnificent.
Overall, Raid Rave is a fantastic piece of work that breathes some fresh life into new dubstep yet still feels right at home. Just Greg has the entire album on YouTube and Spotify, and if you want to more directly support him and the album, here is a Bandcamp link.
8. Flowidus - Shelter
We switch back into drum & bass with this single from the Australian & New Zealand duo Flowidus and their incredible vocal tune called Shelter! What makes this tune really special for me is the classic dancefloor sound of those incredibly catchy synths and vocals, fantastic pounding drums, and ever-present growling bass to follow it all along. It's a feel-good song, one that you'll find yourself humming the synth-line to later, and the vocals add just enough to really make it nice and memorable.
What with the quarantining going on thanks to Covid, DJs worldwide were stuck indoors and without an audience to play to. Of course, with the internet, now it's possible to bring the audience to you and vice versa with a few clicks. One of my favourite DJs, El Hornet from Pendulum fame, did music livestreams on Twitch for a few months (hopefully to return soon!). On one of the Friday dnb streams - one of the highlights of my week for some time - Hornet played out Shelter and introduced me to the tune before it was even released. I found myself coming back to the recording of that stream just to find that tune again, and I was very excited to have it properly released a few weeks later.
With how dark 2020 has felt for so many, a bright and feel-good track like Shelter was a welcome change of pace and certainly feels like a bright spot in a dark sea.
7. Koven - Butterfly Effect
How about we mix it all together? At number seven, we have the long anticipated Butterfly Effect from the UK duo, Koven!
Butterfly Effect is Koven's first full length album, and what an album to come out with. Koven - and no, not related to Kove from earlier! - is made up of two names, Katie Boyle and Max Rowat. Max seems to have a tendency to get farther and farther away in each bit of album artwork... this time he just gets a blue brush stroke over his face. He's also the production mastermind between the two, but the thing that really complements his fantastic production work comes from the other member: Katie's vocals.
When Covid shut down all the major festivals earlier this year, Rampage 2020 was sadly knocked out of the ring just days before it was meant to go on. Thankfully, Pendulum stepped in and offered to host a mini-Rampage, livestreamed from their studios. Koven opened the four-act show with Katie on the decks and lending her voice to live vocals overtop of her DJing. What a brilliant way to introduce yourself! That was my first time hearing Koven and it made a great first impression. The performance was just the day after the release of Butterfly Effect, which made it a great promo for the album.
I of course promptly picked it up and loved it. Butterfly Effect is home to fourteen songs across multiple genres - drum & bass, dubstep, drumstep, a bit of house, and even some more ambient and atmospheric tracks laced with some breaks. Despite the variety of genres, the album still feels cohesive. It's got upbeat tracks, more somber tracks, and plenty of absolute bangers throughout.
Picking favourites on this album is tough, which I think is a good sign. The drum & bass is naturally my highlight, with tunes like All For Nothing and Worlds Collide certainly up there, but the more house-y track YES was a welcome surprise, as was the dubstep track Gold. The title track, Butterfly Effect, is a massive, massive tune, and is a contender for favourite. A heavy drumstep track with a snare drum that feels like a clock to the face - what a sound!
All in all, Butterfly Effect is one of my favourite releases from this year thanks to its great variety of sounds, fantastic production, amazing vocal work, and a fresh yet long-lasting big sound.
6. Metrik - Ex Machina
Sitting at number six, Metrik's latest offering and second album Ex Machina gets the spotlight.
Earlier in this post I mentioned my love of dancefloor drum & bass. It's a familiar and fun sound that I have yet to grow tired of. Ex Machina is a collection of thirteen dancefloor bangers which are set to go off in venues worldwide when they re-open. Every track on this album is made of rich basslines, some with vocals, others with catchy synths, and some with both! One thing that connects all these tunes together is that there are no boring moments in the whole of the album. Each track offers up something interesting, something catchy, and something to move to.
That last is something really important that Ex Machina captures well. Dancefloor drum & bass has that name because it's meant for the dancefloor - where you, you know, dance. If a track doesn't want to make you get up and move, is it really dancefloor dnb? I don't think so. That's something that this album doesn't suffer from. Metrik excels at dancefloor, something his previous album was missing, I think. That album, while solid, didn't capture what Metrik was really capable of, in my opinion. The new album beats out his previous in terms of tunes I regularly go back to - there's only two I go to on Universal Language, but far more on Ex Machina.
Unlike with the previous albums mentioned so far, I do have a very clear favourite on Ex Machina, which is the track We Are The Energy. Originally released as a single earlier in the year, this one track stands out as the biggest highlight. It has such a rich bassline, smooth vocals, and a riff that gets stuck in your head for ages after you listen to it. It's my most played track on the album, and for good reason!
Of course, there are other great tracks on the album to mention. Metrik is doing his own vocals now and he does a great job of it. Parallel with Grafix and Dying Light with ShockOne are fantastic dancefloor tunes that, along with We Are The Energy, excellently showcase his vocal ability. Parallel has some interesting chopping in some of the vocals which somehow feels fitting given the title, while Dying Light is mostly highlighted by that sort of dark-sounding riff accented by a vocal every so often. The breakdown and intro vocals are superb, as well.
I think the only thing that Ex Machina falls a little flat with is having a very similar sound across the whole album. All of the tracks are in a minor key, which while it keeps a consistent theme across the album, means that many tunes can easily blend together. The drums all sound remarkably similar in almost every track, which to some may seem an odd criticism, but in dnb and electronic music in general, variety on drums is an important thing. Even just a more punchy snare in a track or two would make a big difference.
Minor gripes aside, Ex Machina is a fantastic piece of work that will certainly stand the test of time for years to come. Tracks like Time To Let Go and We Are The Energy feel like they'll be played out for years, which I for one think is well deserved. If there's one thing to take away from Ex Machina, it's that dancefloor dnb still has a place in modern dnb, and isn't going away any time soon.
#5. Sewerslvt - Sewer Idol Project
Something truly new! This is a special one release, as it's actually a continuously updated one. Sewerslvt, an artist from Australia, creates some of the most unique music currently in my collection. Spoiler alert for the remainder of the list - there's another release from her below that I'll talk much, much more in depth about, including her style etc. For now though, understand that Sewerslvt's music (and yes, that name is exactly what it looks like) is in a league of its own.
Sewerslvt has a knack for creating this incredible ambience and indescribable feelings in her tracks. Some tracks sound almost ethereal in a sense - and the Sewer Idol Project is no exception. The Project is a compilation of remixes done by Sewerslvt and is updated as new remixes are done. Currently, that number is 18 tracks and that number may go up in the future.
The thing about the Project is that it's all over the place. Track one turns Daft Punk's Doin' It Right into a drum & bass track, while track 15 takes Go2's Purple Emotion, a Eurobeat song, and throws it into happy hardcore! There's breakbeats, halftime, drum & bass, flat out hardcore, and more packed in this album. The tracks all have different backgrounds - Satellite by Oceanlab, a trance song, Yung Lean's Hoover, a rap song, or a personal favourite, Drown by Bring Me The Horizon.
Some of these remixes, like Drown, had their own separate releases for a while, but were later merged into the Project. The Drown remix is one of my favourites for sure. Bring Me The Horizon is a band I don't listen to - I'd heard of them of course, but I never went out of my way to search for any of their tunes. Sewerslvt took Drown and really made it sound like a cry for help with an intense drum & bass backing to the nearly desperate-sounding vocal take from the original. It's beyond dramatic, incredibly loud, and just has a sort of power to it.
The aforementioned remix of Go2's Purple Emotion is also a favourite of mine from the album, which is really something because I am not usually a fan of happy-hardcore. But it turns out that Eurobeat makes for an incredible base to do a HH edit to! It's a rare case of an upbeat track from the usually dark and practically depressing sounds that come from Sewerslvt. Heavy bass, catchy riffs, those classic Eurobeat style vocals - what's not to love?
The remix of the Yung Lean track is eerie and creepy, a brilliant drum & bass remix of the rap track, and the remix of Obedient by Bladee feels like a sort of match for Hoover as it shares a rap/trap background and was turned into a fast-paced and wild dnb tune.
Commix & Instra:Mental Moog - Japanese Electronics (Sewerslvt Flip) is a startlingly pretty, yet somehow still a little dark, atmospheric half-time edit. Sewerslvt also paired up with another artist, Sadfem, to remix an emo/alternative classic, Never Meant by American Football, into a stunning breakbeat tune. We also get a VIP of a tune from another release (hint hint), a remix of a K-Pop track, and an outright insane 190bpm dnb-style remix of one of Porter Robinson's newest tracks, Get Your Wish.
There are even more tracks still! 18 total as mentioned earlier, and all are really fantastic. Some are short, hardly three minutes, others are seven or nine minutes long. Sewerslvt transforms all of them into something different and interesting, clearly taking them into her style of music. That dark atmospheric style doesn't end here, as this Australian producer will show up again farther down the list...
4. Netsky - Second Nature
If you're looking for a spark of happiness in a dark year, then Second Nature by the legendary Netsky is an album for you.
After a lengthy absence from drum & bass, Netsky made a massive comeback this year with brand new dnb to surprise us all. It all began back in April, when the single I See The Future In Your Eyes was released out of the blue. Such a feel-good tune, a fine blend of sort of liquid and dancefloor, with smooth synths and a thick bass to suck you in. That vocal sample that gives the track its title is so perfectly mixed in. I was never a Netsky fan until this tune dropped, and when Hospital Records announced they would be doing a short vinyl run of it, I knew I had to snag one.
Well, the Hospital website crashed, and for a moment I thought all was for naught... but I secured it. Out of only 100 copies made, I got ahold of #44!
The rest of the album didn't drop until late October, though a few singles came up during those months. Similar to the Flowidus track earlier, El Hornet played a number of the tracks from the album on one of his Friday dnb streams before I had gotten a chance to listen through the album, and man, I was already hooked.
Another release with 18 tracks, it's quite an album! Most are on the shorter side, but you get plenty of fantastic new tunes to play. There's too many to talk about in detail, but some highlights for me - well, there's a lot. Look At Me Go with its thumping drums that don't even sound dnb and catchy vocals from Darren Styles stands out for its unique style on the album. I Choose You is a super upbeat feel-good dnb tune with even more great vocals. Another amazing vocal tune is Destiny with Sub Focus and Jozzy. Sub Focus' style is very obvious on this one with the way the drop is just a simple heavy kick + snare with the synths very pronounced overtop them. It echoes some of Sub Focus' other big tunes from recent years, like Desire and Solar System, and the vocals from Jozzy give a nice bit of variety, a great change of pace.
There are two tracks here that really stand out for me. First of the two is Power featuring Urbandawn. What an incredibly funky tune! That intro alone is so smooth and you can listen to for ages. A deep halftime intro that almost feels reggae-like and builts up some huge anticipation for what's to come. A big buildup only further amps you up - and the next sixteen bars of the track tell you what this track is all about.
I don't know how they did it, but Netsky & Urbandawn managed to create the grittiest yet smoothest bass & synth combo I've ever heard in my life. It's simultaneously absolutely filthy but the cleanest drop you've ever heard. What an utter tune! The second drop gives you a gritty half-time drop that's a little more trap-inspired with that punchy snare but is equally grimy. The guitars through the tune make for a really nice touch and just add to that absolute funk. You can hear the Urbandawn production in this one and man, what an unexpected yet amazing collaboration.
But in a complete change of pace, one of my favourite tracks on the album is the slowest track on the album. Dropping down from the usual 174 tempo of dnb, we drop down to just 100bpm with what may be the smoothest vocal take I've listened to. Period.
Dreaming Of You is just a gorgeous tune. Incredibly rich vocals from Elias make for something marvelous, and when overlaid on top of the breakbeat-y drumline and the hum of the backing synth, it makes for something that I can't quite call somber or upbeat, but something really special. The lyrics themselves are almost comforting in a sense and I know many, myself included, can find their own interpretations of them that make them matter just that much more.
I don't think I can properly explain just what makes this tune resonate with me so well. Nonetheless, it is one of my favourites from Second Nature, and elevates the album to a new level for me. This whole album for that matter is such a pleasant point of light in a generally dark year that I can't help but put so high on my list of favourites for this year. Bangers like Power and chilled tunes like Waiting All Day To Get To You and Complicated are all brilliant tunes, some with different tempos, but all make this album feel complete.
Overall, Second Nature is a fantastic album, and a breath of fresh air in 2020. There's classic sounds, new sounds, and a little something for everyone here. I can't recommend it enough.
3. Enter Shikari - Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible
Ah, Enter Shikari. They seemed to come up out of nowhere in my world - I hadn't heard of them until 2018 when I heard a remix of theirs in a Pendulum DJ set from nine years prior. I found myself absorbing their releases like The Spark, Common Dreads, The Mindsweep, and plenty others quickly. Many of their songs found their way into a place of importance for me, and the whole band did as well.
When the announcement of another album came out and the first track followed it, I became incredibly excited for it. I've had too many artists I listen to seem to split up or give up releasing new content after I discover them, so to actually have something new coming out while I was a fan? A dream come true! One track was released and a title for the album given: Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible.
That first track, I played on my radio show, The Hour of Jungle, shortly after it was release. The Dreamer's Hotel is one hell of a tune. Pumped full of energy, a strangely catchy growling synth, and more of Rou's classic vocals made it an instant favourite. That heavier sound in a rock-like track with some breakbeat elements paired with catchy melodies and rhythms - wow! I'll spoil it now and say it's my favourite from the album.
More tracks dropped over the coming months, such as The King and Satellites, and I was able to play a few of those on my show, too. Unfortunately, COVID came in and knocked me off of the air prematurely and also meant that live performances for Shikari and all other artists were off the table. Thankfully the album's release wasn't delayed any!
Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible is just a fantastic album through and through. 15 tracks, not a bad one on it. There's bangers like Dreamer's Hotel and The Great Unknown, but also the rather unique Waltzing Off The Face Of The Earth I & II that are split up and make for beautiful pieces. T.I.N.A is simultaneously an incredible heavy rock tune, but also seamlessly fits into a dubstep set!
The Pressure's On is wonderful, a bit more upbeat or maybe jovial sounding, and similar can be said for Crossing The Rubicon, while Modern Living and Apocaholics Anonymous are a really unique sounding pair that almost sounds a bit trippy while also being simply filthy bangers.
Of course, you cannot ignore the indisputable most unique track on the album - Elegy For Extinction. I did not seriously expect a full on orchestral track on this album, nor do I typically really like that sort of thing at all. It's a fantastic piece though, and even though it isn't my type of music, I can really appreciate it for what it is, not to mention how bold it is to add that onto a modern rock album. If there's one thing you have to admit about Enter Shikari, it's that they are willing to push a boundary and make what they want.
Satellites** is a really lovely track, something I've seen called as "the unofficial gay anthem of 2020" by some folks online, which I could certainly buy into knowing the context behind the songs lyrics. The short explanation is that singer/songwriter Rou Reynolds had a conversation with a gay friend where he realized he took for granted being able to be affectionate in public with little to no judgement, something a lot of LGBT folk don't often have themselves, unfortunately. You can easily pick that message up in the lyrics - "We refrain from touch, we are satellites / Sick of the feeling, I no longer want to hide," and most obviously, "Now online they discuss: Whether I exist; And in the court they decide: Who I can kiss." You don't have to be a member of the LGBT community to enjoy this track either - it's an all-audiences kind of thing, an absolute win in my book.
I honestly can't say I dislike any tracks on the album. Even tracks I wouldn't normally listen to outside of it I still enjoy, and though some may debate this point, I think the album flows pretty nicely. It's got catchy tracks, heavier bangers, emotional tunes, and just feels so solidly put together. Though it's shorter than most would expect, it probably works best this way, as some tunes here probably wouldn't really work if they were extended out to five minutes or however long. I think it's probably the most well-produced Enter Shikari album to date, as well. There are callbacks to older classic releases - including the coloured lines in the album artwork even! - and they feel natural, not forced. At the same time, I think Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible has also created some new classics upon its release.
It felt great to get a really fantastic new album in my hands from one of my favourite artists this past year. I picked up a pretty hefty amount of stuff on their store, including four - yes, four - vinyl copies (one is a signed test pressing! The three others are some really gorgeous colourways. Shikari does vinyl like no one else!), cassettes, shirts... all that jazz. Well worth it. Enter Shikari have consistently proven to be just nothing short of fantastic - great music, marvelous live shows, and all around just good people. I think we're very lucky to have an artist like that. I look forward to their return to the stage in the coming future and I'm excited for whatever else they create.
2. Pendulum - Driver / Nothing For Free
After all these years... it finally happened. New Pendulum music for the first time in a decade.
It's no secret to anyone that knows me that Pendulum is my favourite artist of all time. I always go back to their music even after all these years. The Australian drum & bass band is responsible for so many songs that have mattered to me for so very long, from tracks like Propane Nightmares on In Silico to Crush from Immersion and so many more. Pendulum has put out tracks that'll knock you off your feet in a liveshow or make you sing along at the rave. Absolute bangers, surprisingly emotional and heavy tracks, and even chilled and relaxing tracks... Pendulum has done it all.
I've been following Pendulum in some capacity since around 2009 or so. Sometime before then, maybe 07 or 08, I was introduced to them by the game Motorstorm for the PS3 - my first video game experience, for that matter - with Slam in the desert-based arcade racing game. The next game in the series, Motorstorm: Pacific Rift, took us to the jungle, and with it, a new selection of music in the background - including Tarantula. Ever since then, I couldn't get enough.
Of course, Pendulum did split up and called it quits after Immersion. Rob Swire and Gareth McGrillen went off to do Knife Party in 2011, but the seeds for that break were sown right after Immersion was released in 2010. El Hornet and MC Verse kept Pendulum going with DJ sets all the while, but until 2016, Pendulum and new music was pretty much unthinkable.
Ultra 2016 changed all that - with the Knife Party & Pendulum dual headliner to close out the weekend, suddenly, they were back! But things were quiet for a while, with just hints appearing on the official website and teasers rolling out here and there. It all really changed when Pendulum: Trinity debuted in August, 2019. There, the first new, original Pendulum song since 2010 dropped. More Trinity shows were scheduled and there were more playouts - it was finally happening!
Rampage 2020 was cancelled due to COVID, but Pendulum stepped in to host a mini online version of it, where we got real previews of the two newest tracks in studio. One drum and bass, the other... not! But it had vocals, making it very exciting.
Finally, late in 2020, Driver / Nothing For Free was released.
Driver is the heavy-hitting, fast-paced drum and bass track we've all been dreaming of since 2010. The intro is a direct callback to Encoder from Immersion, the last track from their last album, where a drowning man ends off the album. Driver sees the man resurface from the water, leading us straight into the track! There's no holding back, we're right in the buildup with those telltale Pendulum style synths coming in and drums bringing us to the drop. The vocal sample is a perfect touch, just the right amount of cheesiness we know and love from Pendulum, and throws you straight into the cascading sounds of drum & bass.
There's a lot of drum and bass these days that feels sort of... limp. Not very interesting, just simple kick-snare-kick-snare, loud bass... that's it. Driver sweeps you straight into a gritty bass and synth, retaining some so very important little breakbeats that, paired with the roar of the synthy bass, perfectly encapsulate that fantastic dancefloor dnb sound that Pendulum perfected with Hold Your Colour and the releases afterward.
Speaking of HYC, Driver reminds me a bit of Girl In The Fire. GITF uses some bass-y tones to make its main melody, which Driver also does here. Both are very energetic dancefloor tracks - and frankly? Both are just massive bangers. Driver brought with it the sound we've all been looking for, the sound we've been missing since 2010. It was absolutely the perfect way to return.
On the flipside, we have Nothing For Free. What a switchup!
It's not drum & bass, it's not quite dubstep, nor even drumstep for that matter. Halftime electronic rock at 160bpm makes it a weird one to categorize. The closest definition is melodic dubstep, but I just view NFF as its own thing. It's a wonderfully special track, and upon listening, I think you'll understand just why.
For the first time since Knife Party's Begin Again in 2014, we have new vocals from Rob Swire in an original track! They couldn't be better. All three drops, the breakdowns and buildups, Swire's vocals absolutely build this track up like nothing else. His singing voice is one of my favourites in general, and he's only gotten better over the years. It's amazing to see the progression from his first released track with vocals, Survival Of The Fakest by Xygen (yeah, we're really digging deep now) to Nothing For Free. It doesn't even sound like the same person!
How about the music beneath the vocals? Just as incredible. The intro is a new style for Pendulum, but it feels just right for the tone of the track. The piano keys in the intro and buildup, plus those vocal samples/cuts, set it up perfectly. Of course, a little vocal work does help... But we get to that first drop - wow!
The drop is just something else. Heavy hitting, thick with a rich bass and melodies from synths, vocals, and the bass itself that just elevate it above anything else. The half-time tempo was just a perfect choice here, and I have to say that the snare is just perfect. The right amount of punch - not lacking, not overdone. Just right.
But, hold on, this track has three drops. The first and second are similar enough, but the third one - this is something else entirely. More than that, the buildup to it. Those vocals are simply stunning. Smoother than ever, Rob Swire really outdoes any vocal performance he's done before this. It feels heartfelt, so very melodic, dare I say... sensual? Beyond smooth, either way.
The third drop hits us with the same force as the previous two, but adds new vocals overtop it which elevate it even further. Extra synths paired with the vocals really make the third drop something special. Hold the line, don't forget, taking arms is taking heads. Those lyrics, that drop - this feels like the replacement for Watercolour and Feed the fire, etc. If you want to close off a set, this is how you do it. Impeccable.
Oh, and NFF has a music video, where we finally get to see Rob again. The beard suits him well, better than the infamous chin minge, I reckon. Video and song ended up coinciding with the pandemic quite well, which was done very well if I do say so myself.
It may seem strange to be mixing singles and albums on this list the way I have, but sometimes singles mean more than whole albums. To me, Driver / Nothing For Free means exactly that. Pendulum has made such a drastic impact on my life that to finally hear new content from them means the world to me. It's been such a long time coming and I couldn't be happier with the results. Maybe the tracks could've been longer, but you know what? They're both executed so perfectly I don't think I would want a change.
Pendulum is back, and that to me means something truly special. This double single was an incredible way to properly return and I couldn't be more excited for future content, whatever it may be. I just know one thing - if it's Pendulum, I'm excited.
Honourable Mentions - Other Tracks
Of course, this list is only for 2020 releases. I admit I haven't listened or searched out a lot of stuff from this year, but there's a bunch of other tracks and releases from years past I've been listening to that have made some impact on my year. Here's a list of some of them, and a note or two why I love them.
Now, at last, let's talk about my favourite release of 2020.
1. Sewerslvt - Draining Love Story
Surprise! It's the return of Sewerslvt! Apparently, I just really like Australian producers...
Those who know me probably expected the Pendulum or Enter Shikari releases to be number one, but no. It's actually the second album from my other favourite Australian producer, Sewerslvt.
Draining Love Story is hard to explain with words. There is one very prevalent and consistent theme here though: this album is depressing. That's just the tone of it - it's darker and deeper than any other releases on this list. You may think that it being depressing is a bad thing, but really, it isn't. Beauty is not directly linked to happiness, you know. It being 2020, the album sort of fits the years theme too. It was a pretty depressing year generally, so it shouldn't be a surprise that a darker album like this takes the crown.
Draining Love Story is primarily a drum and bass album, though the style of it isn't dancefloor or neuro or whatever else. It's this sort of chaotic jungle with incredible atmospheric elements that take it up a whole other level. It's just flat out intense all the way through. There's little in the way of a break, save for the classic long outros some of these tracks have with them. Even with long outros and intros in some cases, the whole album flows cohesively and is well worth listening through in one full playthrough - at the same time, all of the tracks work on their own really well. You can play in the order presented or in another, and ultimately, you'll always get a good experience with it.
Now, I'd normally continue here and explain more about the album as a whole, but I'll keep that part short this time. Instead, I want to comment on each track from the album. Some tracks I have more to say on than others, but for my favourite release of the year, I think some notes on each individual track are pretty reasonable regardless of how long they may go. Let's explore all ten tracks that make up Draining Love Story.
Love Is A Mighty Big Word
Well, the title isn't wrong. It may be just four letters, but love really is a mighty big word. This is our intro track, a shave over two minutes long, and while usually intros are glossed over in peoples reviews or thoughts about an album, it's worth mentioning that this is a great intro to the album. It sets up the tone - dark, forboding, and with a simple vocal sample that gives this track its title, you know what you're getting into. It's also sets the theme of sampling videos or other content that'll come up more times in this album which works to great effect.
Though not something you'll find yourself listening to on its own very often most likely, it serves as a great way to introduce the sound of Sewerslvt and start off the album with this unique ambient sound.
Now, we begin with our first full track... and what a way to ramp up. Starting off with ambient tones and melodies, the drumline doesn't even appear until we're deeply enveloped in the track and even then, we're just at a slower breakbeat pace. A familiar vocal chop and break starts us off, hyping us up for what's to come.
Then it begins to ramp up. Literally. The beat speeds up bit by bit, that same ambience that started the track following but with new sounds added in to create an intense build up. More samples - then it all cuts off. Wrists are for girls - I'm slitting my throat. Well that's a hell of a sample to use as the pre-drop.
But when that drop comes in, it's all those sounds combined with a perfect drum and bass beat underneath it all. It's chaotic, the high end is insane with those jungly sounds throughout, and the tone of those synths and samples is just incredible! It's got an undeniable energy, it's loud, and it's an incredible opener.
And then it dies off. The deep and rolling bassline carries us out with one last tone as the rest pass on, eventually enveloping us in silence. An incredible way to go from 0 to 100 to 0 again. No section is too long, but all leave you wanting to hear just plain more!
For me, Newlove is just a brilliant hype track. I used it as a show intro for my radio show back in early February. It was perfect for that job, and it also got use in one of my mixes I posted later in the year. This track has an insane energy that I cannot get enough of - it's just simply brilliant! It's not overwhelmingly dark, it's not overwhelmingly happy - it has bits of both. I find it more upbeat than anything else, but it still ties in with the overall dark theme of the album, which is all the better. All in all, a very well rounded track that I come back to regularly.
Yandere Complex is an incredibly fast paced track - you might think that's a joke considering this primarily a dnb album, which in itself is a fast paced genre, but when the average bpm for the dnb on this album is 174 and you get this track at 186 bpm... Well, you get the gist. This track is fast, but not overwhelming surprisingly enough. It's built from those loud jungle-y drumlines we've come familiar with already and the rich basslines, but also includes interesting vocal chops and samples that you can't quite decipher anything out of. They add another really interesting element to the track.
Of course, we're ignoring the elephant in the room - that almost ethereal, voice-like melody that flows throughout the track. It breaks up in time with the drumline often and meshes impressively with the vocal chops that make up the track.
From start to finish, Yandere Complex takes you on a quick trip. It starts fast and ends fast with little time for a breather, but despite its high speed and richness, it's almost a calming track. Another fine addition to this excellent album.
Ecifircas is intense. No doubt about that. The start of the track is very serene and mellow but quickly jumps into some action with this long monologue sampled from a few scenes from the TV show Moral Orel. The way the rant is used as a buildup is just brilliant, and the scream that takes you into the main drop is perfectly done. The rant itself and the other voicelines used throughout the track certainly give off a depressing vibe to say the least, showcasing a very negative outlook on multiple subjects. That's one of those things I leave up to your interpretation.
The main body of the track is more of the classic jungle-esque drums and a deep, droning bassline. Another melody that I really can only describe as some sort of ethereal sound gives some life to the droning sound. A few breaks here and there also serve to, well, break up the droning bass. I've heard a review or two say this track was really repetitive, but in a way, I think that's the point. The whole "over and over and over and over" part of the rant that makes up the first buildup paints the picture of a boring and repetitive life. Doing the same thing over and over (and over, and over...) again, day in and day out. All of the days can sometimes blur together and the sounds become boring and drone on.
That's not to say this track is boring or drones on, not at all. It's another fine addition to Draining Love Story that definitely plays into the depressing theme and, perhaps, the Draining part of the album title. Things that become repetitive often become draining. You can imagine that a track where the theme is sacrificing happiness (that Moral Orel monologue is definitely not very lighthearted!) and repetition would fit in with the idea of a Draining Love Story. Food for thought, anyway. Ecifircas is a great track that fits in perfectly with the rest on the album. Oh, and if you're wondering what the hell Ecifircas means - spell that backwards.
You would think a song with delirium in the title would be a little more chaotic or otherwise, but Lexapro Delirium is probably the calmest song on the album. Thick kick drums and a buzzing bassline, catchy plucks all make a really nice house-y track. In an album where most tracks are fast paced, chaotic, energetic, and otherwise insane, this track slows you down a bit. It's a great bridge from Ecifircas to This Fleeting Feeling, but also holds its own on its own.
Lexapro Delirium isn't a dark track at all, and feels not quite uplifting but certainly a little happier than others on the album. Seeing as the title comes from lexapro, an antidepressant, it makes sense as to why that is. I don't have many words to say about it, but I do like this one a lot. It's worth being in the album and deserves its spot as a sort of "rest stop" before the second half of the album.
It's sort of the calm before the storm, in a sense. Transitioning from the wild energy of the previous track to the deepness of the next...
This Fleeting Feeling
This Fleeting Feeling has to be the single most ambient and atmospheric tracks I've ever heard. It's so rich with sound and invokes such an incredible feeling - I can't describe it, genuinely. Only listening to it - and really listening - can give you an idea of what it is. It is dark, that much is obvious by the samples that bookend this track, but it's also gorgeous.
I have a memory from back in February 2020, before the pandemic and when I was doing my radio show. I ran the 8pm to 10pm slot every Friday, so when I left, it was empty - the station, the school, the parking lot... everything. Even after two hours of playing music and talking about it, I still wanted more, so I was listening to some on my phone as I walked out of the station and back to my car.
Having the last slot of the week meant it was always dark when I left the station. Dark and empty parking lots already have a strange feeling to them, but I wasn't quite expecting what I got when I stepped outside that night. It had begun to snow while I was in the station that night.
The snow was building up lightly, creating a fine white sheet over the entire world. From the parking lot to the buildings to the distant roads, it was everywhere - and still coming down. There's a certain quietness, a serenity, that you can only experience after fresh snowfall. None of it disturbed, muffling sounds near and far.
As I looked out and into the parking lot, finding only my own car there, This Fleeting Feeling was the song that coursed through my headphones. The silent snowfall was just perfectly accented by the rich and melodic sounds of the ambient song in such a way, I don't think words can ever truly describe it. All I know is that it was beautiful in such a way that I can only wish to be able to revisit. The quietest and most peaceful, serene night I had ever been party to.
That's the only way I can really describe that night. A fleeting feeling. If I close my eyes and just listen, sometimes I can return to that moment I stepped out of the doorway and into the silence... and other times, the memory is distant. Fleeting.
A truly gorgeous song. There is no other quite like it.
Swinging In His Cell
Talk about dark... After the intense ambient track before it, Swinging In His Cell returns us to the chaotic drum & bass sound that characterizes this album. A cold open with haunting sounds, bringing us to the sample that gives the track its title. Sounds to me like a prison suicide based on that dialogue. I'm not sure where the sample is from, but damn, what a way to introduce a track.
There are some similarities here to Ecifircas, with that sort of droning bassline and melody that hangs over the entire track along with the as usual incredible drumwork, but Swinging In His Cell takes it up a notch. It's less repetitive in some areas and keeps up an intensity that makes for a startling contrast with the intro and outro.
I think I'd be repeating myself if I kept describing this track, but the outro. Wow. Another incredibly dark dialogue sample about throwing ashes in the trash. The instrumental beneath it sort of reminds of of Streamline by Pendulum, what with the sort of creepy carnival music outro. Swinging In His Cell is a very dark track through and through, and a very well executed one at that. It's a heavy one - in more ways than one.
Mr. Kill Myself
This right here - this is the track that I discovered Sewerslvt from. The YouTube algorithm in December 2019 shoved this track in the faces of a lot of folks, myself included, and when a friend from a Discord server recommended it, I decided to give it a try. I'm very glad that I did.
Mr. Kill Myself is nothing short of brilliant. It's a complete journey in one track from start to finish. It's a longer one that takes you up and down with all the sounds that characterize Sewerslvt - the intensity of the drumwork, dark and hoovering basslines, overshadowing melodic elements, and other sounds that are indescribable yet seem to fit in almost painfully well. It's such a thick track full of details and sounds that you'll find yourself catching on repeated playthroughs. This track represents the sort of organized chaos that I love about Sewerslvt's music.
The title makes for an interesting contrast with the tone of the song. The sounds in it don't exactly scream suicide - something like This Fleeting Feeling is more up that alley - but somehow it just seems fitting, and for what reason? I don't know. I do know that from start to end, Mr. Kill Myself is just an amazing track. A slow build to an intense cacophony of sounds with a very serene sounding outro. The breakdowns, the samples - honestly, everything here just works perfectly. I don't know what else to say other than this is one of the stand out tracks on Draining Love Story that I think showcases the whole albums sound and can easily stand on its own outside of the album. It's done just brilliantly.
Down The Drain (ft. Nurtheon)
Down The Drain starts slowly, very slowly. There's a serenity to that intro that's only broken by the vocals that come in partway through it. Perfectly mixed drums fade in with the melody and vocals, and before you know it, we're in something really quite beautiful.
Atmospheric is a great descriptor for this track, especially for those areas without any drums. It has elements from This Fleeting Feeling all throughout it, but when the drums come in for the drop, it feels natural and not out of place in the slightest. The drums here, for that matter, are a little more subtle in some areas - not quite as punchy and loud until you get into the real meat of the song. It makes for a wonderful way to build into the rest of the track.
When you get about halfway into it, things become really intense. The sound is just full, the melody impossible to ignore, the drums punching right into your skull, and so many more elements that just scream Sewerslvt! It's a wonderful showcase of the sounds we're familiar with by now, a gorgeous mix of the ambience from earlier and the heavy hitting drum and bass that this album is shaped by primarily.
The outro here is something to behold. It's extremely long, but that's just perfect for this. It's a way to calm down after that chaotic main body of the track that showcases even more of that ambient sound that I just can't get enough of. Better yet, it slows us down as we prepare to come into the final track of the album.
Down The Drain is another excellent piece of the puzzle that makes up Draining Love Story. From the ambience to the heavy drums it fits right in and sounds unique - that to me is all you need.
Finally, we've arrived at the end. The last track of the album, the last track of this list - Slowdeath.
Slowdeath is hands down my favourite track of 2020. Every single second, from that quiet and serene intro to the punchy breakbeak that makes up the body of the track to the impossibly beautiful outro is just perfect.
This track is almost haunting. The breakbeats are accompanied by a sort of angelic ambience all the way through, but then the main melody sneaks its way in. It's been a year to the day now since it was released and still I do not know why that main melody hits me the way it does. All I do know is that everything about it - from the pattern that makes the melody itself to the actual sound of the synths that play it is just right in every way. The breakbeats are practically overshadowed by the melody and ambience and every other little sound that makes up Slowdeath.
There are no words spoken, no samples, no attempts at saying anything to the listener. It's purely instrumental for all 8 minutes of the track, and that is all it needs. No lyrics are necessary for this track to evoke emotions and feelings that would otherwise be forgotten. Slowdeath digs up those thoughts you had forgotten about and puts them front and center in your mind. It makes you feel something that no track has ever come close to before.
The outro, two minutes long, is just as intense as any heavy drum and bass portion of the album. The drums fall away and the main melody fizzles out. The many sounds begin to disappear one by one, except one powerful, rich melody with a heavy bassline tucked underneath it. It rises and falls slowly until all that's left is the subbass fading away into obscurity. The slow death of the track, and thus, the album.
I've wrestled with how to explain why I love this track so much for days now. I try to think up words, metaphors, stories and experiences, but nothing has quite been able to do it. I just know that this track cuts impossibly deep in ways that I could never, ever explain to anyone in any way. It brings up the best and worst memories and thoughts and plays with them like no song I have ever heard. Maybe it's just me, maybe I just fell for this track harder than most, but I just know that this was my favourite track of the year.
In parting, I will leave you with a comment posted on the YouTube upload for Slowdeath down below. 2020 was a hard year, and the music released throughout the year made a difference to me. In some ways, this track feels like a summary for 2020. Either way, thank you for reading, and best wishes for 2021.
"If this is what your slow death feels like, then your moments of feeling alive must be beautiful."
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