Albums of the Year 2020

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Albums of the Year 2020

The Stranger Than Paradise top 10 albums of the year, including exclusive coloured vinyl editions, posters, incense and more!

I'm sure you've heard enough about what an awful year 2020 has been, so we'll spare you. Even when our doors were closed, however, it didn't mean we stopped working or listening to music - in fact having the place to ourselves without you noisy rabble disturbing us has been a blessing!
 
Joking of course. We really want to thank everyone for supporting the shop throughout the year. We've missed seeing your faces regularly and our currently unimaginable packed out Stranger Fridays. Hopefully you've still been getting the full STP experience through our website and mail order, and you'll come visit us now that we're open for browsing again!
 
As tempting as it may be to write the year off completely and start afresh, that would be doing a huge disservice to all the great music released. We feel very strongly that lots of these records didn't reach all the ears that they deserved to, whether they went out of print straight away and fell victim to the even more stretched than usual pressing plant industry, or they slipped under the radar when people's focus was understandably elsewhere. Here is our small attempt to offset that imbalance and share the art that helped us through the months. 
 
Without further ado, here are the 10 records that meant the most to us this year. Here's a special mix of tracks from each album too!

 

 1. V/A - SEX: Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die 

 


Pink vinyl edition with exclusive bonus 7".

Spot varnish gatefold sleeve with embossed SEX logo.

Limited to 1000 worldwide.

For the first time ever on vinyl, the legendary compilation of Jukebox cuts from Malcolm and Vivienne's King's Road SEX boutique.
 
As the first release on our very own label, giving this incredible cultural artifact a new life and the deluxe vinyl treatment it so richly deserves has made us immensely proud. Too right it's our album of the year!
 
If you couldn't tell, we love a good compilation here at Stranger Than Paradise - they've now occupied our number one album slot three years on the trot. A good comp tells the story of its context, pulls together potentially disparate artists into a cohesive, through-lined album with its own amalgamated identity, greater than the sum of its parts. But most importantly, a good comp is chock-full of great tunes. All killer no filler. 
 
SEX: Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die is the graffitied, gobbed-on, ripped-up textbook example of a good compilation.
 
 
Hand picked by self-described 'SEX shop layabout' Marco Pirroni (Siouxsie & The Banshees, Adam & the Ants) from the near-mythical jukebox, these are 20 outsider nuggets that shaped the punk psyche and permeated counter culture as we know it like a smell set into leather.
 
It's been a go-to album for us for years on many a late night, many a road trip, any excuse really. So with our CD copies worn out and our crossed fingers aching for a vinyl release for all this time, we thought: Why not do it ourselves?
 
In a year when the threat of having to close has been looming over like a dark cloud, releasing our first record as a label feels stubbornly defiant. This is our way of saying: we're not going anywhere.


AVAILABLE HERE

 

 2. Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela - Rejoice 

 

Limited Orange Vinyl (Love Record Stores Albums of the Year Edition)

 

The first collaboration - and sadly final album - of two legends of African music is truly a joyous celebration of life.

Since their first meeting in the 70s via mutual friend/collaborator Fela Kuti, Nigerian drummer Tony Allen and South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela had talked about making an album together. It wasn't until 2010 that they finally found themselves in the studio, but the results initially stayed unreleased. It wasn't until Masekela's untimely death in 2018 that Allen returned to the recordings and Rejoice was completed.
 
Described by Allen as “a kind of South African-Nigerian swing-jazz stew,” the music's backbone is undoubtedly Allen's shuffling afrobeat rhythms, with Masekela's playful bebop melodies dancing across the top. Also lending their talents to the record are Steve Williamson, Ezra Collective's Joe Armon-Jones, KOKOROKO's Mutale Chashi and other members of London's jazz scene, all of whom do an incredible job helping the duo shine, along with producer Nick Gold (those are some seriously crisp drums).
 
Sadly the world also lost Tony Allen just a month after this album was released. Myself and STP's behind the scenes helper Marvin were incredibly fortunate to attend what must have been one of his very last gigs, at Church Of Sound up the road in Clapton, and it's a night we'll never forget. Watching him play was such a pleasure, even aged 79 he emitted pure groove with effortless cool. 
 

Close your eyes and bear witness to two luminaries basking in each others light and shining for evermore, preserved in this disc of amber called Rejoice.

 

AVAILABLE HERE

 

 3. Sven Wunder - Wabi Sabi 

 

The mysterious Swede returned this year, taking his influences further east following his highly sought after Anatolian inspired debut.

Wabi Sabi is a luscious LP of library grooves and psychedelic jazz-funk flavoured with east asian zither flourishes and bamboo flute flutters. Every single track sounds like that one absolute gem from an otherwise uninteresting library record or obscue 70s soundtrack LP, the kind endlessly sampled by discerning cratediggers. Wah-wah guitar and heavy hitting drum breaks abound. 

The album is pretty unashamed in its exoticism yet seems to have some kind of forcefield surrounding it, allowing it to traverse through all this potentially inauthentic and contrived territory without picking up even a whiff of cheesiness. Nothing feels out of place, everything expertly integrated into a cohesive, gorgeously arranged whole. Big thumbs up.

  

AVAILABLE HERE

 

 4. Bent Arcana - Bent Arcana  

 

Limited UK/EU Exclusive Electric Marmalade Coloured Vinyl.

 

Oh Sees main man John Dwyer leads a heady expedition of group improvisation through the overgrown ruins of the 1970s, wading through the krautrock swamp, crossing the rickety rope bridge of electric era Miles and reaching the temple of ECM, all while deftly dodging the booby traps of ostentatiousness and wankery.

Comprising Dwyer, TV On The Radio's Kyp Malone, Sunwatchers' Peter Kerlin, drummer supremo Ryan Sawyer and six other intrepid musical explorers, this is collective worship of the highest order captured over five days at Dwyer's Stu-Stu-Studio. 
 

 

Comes with limited, premium hand dipped Forestdale Incense created by Schneider himself, housed in exclusive Third Man x Luke Schneider packaging.

After seeing the dark side of a heavy rock'n'roll lifestyle, Luke Schneider sought divine healing, with the pedal steel as his cosmic receiver of choice. Here on Altar Of Harmony he flips its switch to transmitter, and pours all that alleviating energy back into the earth's atmosphere. In his own words, “When I sit down at the pedal steel, I am trying to thread the needle of this very specific emotion, feeling, and sound. I want to pull that into the physical world.”

An ode to private press new-age created entirely with his trusty pedal steel, this is higher vibrational sanctification, "booming music of the spheres" as Numero Group's Douglas Mcgowan put it. Healing music. 
 
Schneider also began making his own incense during the time making the album, and we're very pleased to be able to offer you listeners the full Altar Of Harmony listening experience with some of his hand-dipped all natural joss sticks! An earthy, woodsy, mysterious campfire vibe that will bring to mind a cozy cabin.
 

AVAILABLE HERE

 

 6. Four Tet - Sixteen Oceans 

 

Limited 5-Colour Splatter on Clear Vinyl (Love Record Stores Albums of the Year Edition)

 

Accessible yet deeply nuanced, Sixteen Oceans feels like a liminal space between the dancefloor and the chill-out room, the outwardly more straightforward dance tracks being richly textured with field recordings of birdsong and trickling streams and the ambient tracks still brimming with ecstasy and hope.

With seemingly infinite details and nuances revealing themselves with each and every listen, the album lends itself both to concentrated headphone listening and neighbour-annoying lockdown-bubble bedroom raves. A more than worthy follow up to 2017's excellent New Energy, Sixteen Oceans is another exceptional entry into Kieran Hebden's remarkable discography.
 

 

 7. Alabaster DePlume - To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol. 1 

 

Limited restock - don't hang around!

 

After watching the relationship between London and Chicago's concurrently flourishing "jazz" scenes bloom over the last few years, it was heartening to see these bonds strengthen in 2020 with the first release by a London artist on Chicago's influential International Anthem label (collaboratively with Total Refreshment Centre and Scotland's Lost Map Records). And what a beautiful record it is.
 
Alabaster DePlume is a resident musician at Dalston's Total Refreshment Centre, as well as a social worker and activist. To Cy & Lee was born from his use of music to help those with less of a voice to communicate and socialize. His setup of choice is to have participants of varying backgrounds and musical experience (here including Sarathy Korwar & The Comet Is Coming's Danalogue) sat in a circle facing each other, creating a unique dialogue and dynamic. This celebration of diversity also extends to the music's wide ranging influences, from Celtic and Japanese folk to Ethiopian jazz. The whole album just exudes warmth and goodwill, it feels like a helping hand held out towards you.
 
Having been out of print for most of the year since its release, we're chuffed to have gotten hold of a few copies again and have it back on our shelves.
 
  

 8. Brigid Dawson & The Mothers Network - Ballet Of Apes 

 

Exclusive Limited Cotton Candy and Wild Strawberry Splatter coloured vinyl editions, plus bespoke signed/hand-drawn poster!

 

When we first got obsessed with Thee Oh Sees, Brigid Dawson was a key component of their sound and charm. To be honest, despite all the line-up and name changes they've gone through, the first image that comes to mind when I think of Thee Oh Sees still has Brigid Dawson with one hand on the keys and the other clutching a tambourine as she provides her crucial characteristics to the vocals and keeps the melodies in check, whilst John Dwyer yelps, gasps for air and swallows the microphone, alongside Petey Dammit and Mike Shoun. 
 
Dawson still pops up on most Oh Sees records and recently reunited with Dwyer as OCS once more for Memory Of A Cut Of Head. Her voice is so familiar and these songs so strong that I keep forgetting that Ballet Of Apes is her debut solo record. "Solo record" is not quite accurate however, as she enlists a whole host of international friends (aka The Mothers Network) to participate, including Mikey Young (Total Control/Eddy Current Suppression Ring), Mike Donovan (Sic Alps), Mike Shoun (that's a lot of Mikes) and Brooklyn jazz-psych freaks Sunwatchers. The resulting album sits shuffling lo-fi bluesy dirges alongside seriously heartrending ballads and long psychedelic jazz eruptions. The first of many we hope!

 

AVAILABLE HERE

  

 9. Working Men's Club - Working Men's Club 

 

With Exclusive A3 Riso Print Poster

The ultra confident debut from West Yorkshire teenage agitator Syd Minsky-Sargeant and crew blends post punk, detroit techno and acid house influences into a sharp assault on the British status quo.
 
Opening track 'Valleys' speaks existentially of the boredom and isolation of growing up in Calderdale, while other lyrics are more political, taking aim at the likes of Spectator shit-spewer and Epstein island visitor Andrew Neil ("Tune into the BBC and watch me... defecate"). Album highlight 'Teeth' is a mechanical molar-grinder, sounding like a factory worker pushing the assembly line into overdrive as the paranoia becomes unbearable. 
 
Back in October I saw the band play live at Oslo Hackney, and had almost all of my scepticisms about socially distanced seated gigs obliterated the second the drum sequencer was triggered. The power and energy of a "proper" live gig came across completely. Working Men's Club are a special group, and its reassuring to see such conviction and brazenness from the youth!
 

 

 10. Bohren & der Club of Gore - Patchouli Blue 

 

Once described as "the slowest band in the world", Bohren & der Club of Gore take pacing and atmosphere to an extreme. Their rich, gothic doom-jazz feels like staring through a stained glass window out onto rainy smokestacked city streets as shadowy figures slip down alleyways and stand waiting just outside of the streetlamps' illumination.


I've yet to come across a review that avoids comparisons to Angelo Badalementi's music for Twin Peaks, it really evokes some of those same feelings of lurking dread. All of Bohren's music occupies much of the same territory, as if The Necks were bound by ancient rites to never leave the hermitage, but that is not to say it isn't adventurous. It manages to avoid all the pitfalls of becoming lounge music and stay consistently interesting, even at its glacial pace. Patchouli Blue is hardly inaccessible either, it appeals with ease to the jazz fan, the ambient fan, the doom fan. And if, like us, you're in the center of that venn diagram, you're in for a treat.
 
 

 SPECIAL MENTIONS 

 

It's always impossible to pick just ten... Here's another load that deserve your attention!

 

Adulkt Life - Book Of Curses
Tidiane Thiam - Siftorde
Keeley Forsyth - Debris
Craven Faults - Erratics & Unconformities
Rose City Band - Summerlong
Anna Von Hausswolff - All Thoughts Fly
Trees Speak - Shadow Forms
Allegra Krieger - The Joys Of Forgetting
Horse Lords - The Common Task
Moses Boyd - Dark Matter

 

 
Can't forget the comps!

 

V/A - Maghreb K7 Club

V/A - Whispers Lounge

 

 STPR02 coming soon... 

 

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