Honestly, I will never get tired of writing about Dawnwalker even though I’ve done so so many times now, especially in 2020. This was a banner year for the group; they released Crestfallen, a great EP which links to the band’s past as a more folk inspired and oriented group. They also, of course, released Ages, one of the best albums of the year in my book (and in the book of many people on the blog’s staff) which had a more fantastic and grandiose vibe, cosmic fanfare blending beautifully with their deepened style of black metal. Progressive influences, doom metal touches, and just an overall majestic vision make it a wonder to behold and a story well worth sinking into.
Inviting Mark Norgate from the band to write a guest list for us was a no-brainer then. It’s not just that we love the band (we do) but also that we were intriguing by the mass of different influences that pulsed beneath it. And, indeed, we were not disappointed; Mark’s list is as varied and far-reaching as you would imagine. It has great albums from genres closer to metal (like the ERR + Thou collaboration or Sumac’s great release) but also albums from the alternative, experimental, Americana and ambient genres. This all makes sense when you listen to Ages, these disparate and beautiful influences shining through things like the production, vocals, and composition on the release.
Without further ado, here is Mark’s list. If you haven’t heard Ages yet, by some terrible fate, please correct this grave error right below. Enjoy.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, my favourite albums from this year tend towards the introspective, so this has ended up being quite a subdued selection. I’m not sure if that’s only reflective of my own listening habits or a wider trend considering that many of these records were probably written and/or recorded before lockdown. I do know that this year sucked for so many of us, but that these records certainly helped me through it.
Emma Ruth Rundle + Thou – May Our Chambers Be Full
I was quite late to the game with Emma Ruth Rundle. I listened to Red Sparowes a bit back in the mid-00’s but only really became aware of her when a friend recommended Marked For Death a couple of years ago. I instantly fell for it and since then I’ve been working through her solo albums and other bands. This new record is a meeting of minds between her wonderful ghostly songwriting and Thou‘s sludgetastic riffage. It is for sure one of the year’s most interesting records and the final track ‘The Valley’ is an absolutely stunning piece of work.
The Microphones – Microphones in 2020
Phil Elverum’s single 45 minute stream-of-consciousness retrospective was one of my biggest surprises of this year. While admittedly taking a lot of cues from a certain Red House Painters‘ style, I’ve personally connected much more with Phil’s recent meditations on life and loss and his place in the world. I was never a Microphones fan back in the day so I don’t know much of their early history, but I still found myself utterly rapt by these stories. It’s even better with his YouTube slideshow.
William Basinski – Lamentations
Since I discovered him with 2007’s El Camino Real, I’d be willing to wager that Basinski would rank up there near the top of the artists I’ve spent the most hours listening to. I always have one or two of his albums saved on my phone so I can reach for them at opportune moments. He’s most well-known for his hour-long tape loop pieces that phase in and out and slowly destroy themselves, most notably The Disintegration Loops. Lamentations is one of his collections of shorter pieces and he describes them as ‘shaped by the inevitable passage of time and the indisputable collapsing of space.’ Well, indeed.
Dirty Projectors – 5EPs
Dave Longstreth and his band of merry noodlers have made some utterly bizarre and brilliant music over the last 15 years or so and I’m always interested in what they’re up to. Despite the relative brevity of each of these 5 EPs, together they add up to 20 tracks and are quite a lot to digest taken together in one sitting. Still, there are plenty of gems to sustain my interest and tracks like “Overlord” and “Inner World” have been rolling around in my head for months now.
Toby Driver + Nick Hudson – Black Feather Under Your Tongue
Toby of Kayo Dot (and a million other projects) is one of my favourite composers out there, but this collaboration with British pianist Nick Hudson is a rare foray into improvised music. These are contemplative guitar and piano wanderings that move through ambiguous tonalities and moods. This year, my daily walk became more of an important ritual than ever and music that gives space for reflection and contemplation was a huge part of that. I don’t think anything else this year encapsulated that feeling more than this album.
Angel Olsen – Whole New Mess
What a voice Angel Olsen has. While I enjoyed her last album All Mirrors with its maximalist arrangements, I connected on a much deeper level with this year’s companion album Whole New Mess. Here she seems to be playing alone in an empty venue, her voice echoing along the hallways. It’s almost like she could be playing out an episode of Twin Peaks: The Return except that the audience has been transported to an alternate timeline.
Tomonari Nozaki – Harvest
Also known as unknownJP, this is a lesser known Japanese ambient/modern classical artist who makes glacially paced meditations that seem to be transmitted to us from far away places. This one is a collection of pieces released across various platforms on the internet over the past few years but thankfully collected in one place. With his pseudonyms, various labels and unconventional ways of releasing music, they can often fly under the radar even when you’re on the lookout for them.
Bright Eyes – Down In The Weeds Where The World Once Was
I make no secret of the fact that I’m a huge Bright Eyes fan. I was pleased to see them reform for a new album but Down In The Weeds does seem to find them in quite a dour mode. It sounds as if frontman Conor Oberst has had a rough few years and so the record deals with predictably heavy themes, but the arrangements are colourful and well-crafted and there are a few more uptempo tunes like single “Mariana Trench” which is a definite highlight.
Bloodmist – Phos
If you’ve ever wondered what noise music would sound like if it was made with a clarinet then I have good news for you. This is a trio of instrumentalists – Jeremiah Cymerman, Mario Diaz de Leon and the afore-mentioned Toby Driver – using synths, bass guitar and clarinet to make what I can only describe as ambient horrorscapes. I find this album to be absolutely nightmarish in the most pleasing way, though it did once turn a simple supermarket trip into a pretty harrowing experience. They speak of otherworldly monoliths and shimmering geological forms, think 2001 meets Annihilation.
SUMAC – May You Be Held
For my money, the trio of Aaron Turner, Brian Cook and Nick Yacyshyn are the leading light in forward-thinking metal. For whatever reason, I didn’t fully connect with their previous effort Love In Shadow but this one I found to be utterly sublime. Shapeshifting, unclassifiable metal workouts that stretch to 20 minutes in increasingly unpredictable ways. It’s a weird, cathartic and most importantly joyous noise. I can’t wait to headbang in the wrong time signature next time I see them live.