Conscious Electronic’s Top 10 Albums of 2020
There is no form of storytelling that reigns supreme quite like albums. Unlike some other mediums, music is limited only by what the artist can create or imagine. It comes from everywhere–basement studios to Hollywood recording giants, allowing anybody with a streaming service or music store access to any genre and sound they can dream of.
Singles are often thought of as being the landmarks of an artist’s career, but they sometimes lack the staying power that a quality LP can achieve. Having an hour of a listener’s attention gives producers a chance to dive deep into their stories and struggles, making their most quality music as a treat for taking the time to tune in. The relationship between musicians and fans is truly a two-way street, and albums are one of the best vessels to maintain that relationship.
In the loss of live music events as we knew them, albums became the forefront means of generating excitement around a particular artist. Countless pop stars, rappers, indie darlings, and electronic artists dropped some of the most quality work we’ve heard in a long time. The hours of isolation and uncertainty gave way to incredible musical art, giving countless people around the world something to look forward to and find meaning in. This outpouring of content made this year’s list full of contenders, and difficult to narrow down.
Conscious Electronic weighed a combination of factors in purporting this year’s best LPs, including streaming rates, chart presence, fan reception, cultural impact, and editorial picks. Without further ado, we proudly present our Top Ten Albums of 2020.
Top 10 Albums of 2020
OTR – Lost At Midnight
Pleasurecraft – Love in the Age of Time Machines
Two Fingers – Fight! Fight! Fight!
Yheti – The Party Has Changed
Apache – Rennaisance
10. Matt Zo - Illusion of Depth
One of dance music’s most enigmatic figures returns home to Anjunabeats. Grammy-nominated producer Mat Zo is back with a brand new artist album, Illusion Of Depth. Prepare for another helter-skelter trip through a pick-n-mix of styles. For Illusion Of Depth, Mat Zo stays close with Anjunabeats, the label who initially put his sound on the map.
Always one for substance, Zo explains the following of the album, whose title jut so happens to stand in as a intentional contradiction:
Mat broke onto the scene in 2008 and has been causing an uproar ever since. In the early noughties, he penned Anjunabeats classics, “The Lost” and “Synapse Dynamics,” two tracks which are now considered far ahead of their time. Zo’s Grammy-nominated debut album, 2013’s Damage Control, gave his avant-garde approach to production its full expression. Now his newest full-length continues the Mat Zo story into the new decade.
Matt Zo - Illusion of Depth
About the same time the world seemed to crumble around us, Four Tet released his tenth studio album, Sixteen Candles, via his imprint Text Records. It’s safe to say the prolific British musician, whose real name is Kieran Hebden, is a veteran in the electronic music scene. With an eclectic repertoire to his name, the man has been doing his thing since the late 90’s, floating anywhere from jazz to techno in his largely genre-less and profusely talented existence.
Sixteen Candles is a work of art that ushers the listener through a plethora of soundscapes, oscillating between sparkling tunes like “Love Salad” and the Ellie Goulding-assisted “Baby,” brooding slow-burners “Teenage Birdsong” and “Romantics,” and a slew of straight up Aphex Twin-esque subminute ambient interludes. In perfect Four Tet fashion, every single track settles effortlessly in an organically produced atmosphere that can only be achieved by acoustic and analog sampling at the hands of a master. Still, the music finds a way to explore uncharted territory in a way that is bold and experimental, yet never uncomfortable.
Unsurprisingly, Four Tet’s latest 16-track manifesto was critically well-received, with raving reviews from the likes of Stereogum, Pitchfork, and The New York Times. Rightfully so, as the record was undeniably a highlight of the year for electronic music fans everywhere. Making our Top 10 Albums of 2020, Sixteen Candles is one of those rare instances that deserves an uninterrupted listen from the moment the needle drops to its final lingering note.
Four Tet - Sixteen Oceans
8. hawk. - pretty ass shipwreck
To kick off a new lo-fi album with a Playboi Carti flip is bold, to say the least. But then again, this is Charles Elias Ingalls we’re dealing with, someone who is known to have a pocket full of surprises and a bag full of tricks every time he gets in the laboratory.
Better known as nature-infused bass artist Charlesthefirst, Ingalls has been (rather quietly) creating tracks under his hawk. alias, a 5-year old project presenting a sound that varies from the one he is most commonly known for, but to an attractively similar degree.
Fans who are familiar with Charlesthefirst’s discography may notice his trademark melodies, creeping bass patterns, and inventive sounds throughout his 2020 LP, pretty ass shipwreck, released under the hawk. alias. However, it’s as if cough syrup was spilled on his laptop, offering the tracks a gooier and more mellowed out narrative than the Charlesthefirst stories he has been entrancing fans with for years. That is with the exception of the more high paced, hybrid DnB track, “welkom.”
Still, anyone a part of “The Family with No Name” or who keeps up with the artist enough will undoubtedly hear his trademark patterns throughout the album, particularly in songs like “first time being rich,” his edit on “plug walk,” and “kava” featuring (himself?) Charlesthefirst. But then there are tracks littered with lo-fi icings, clearly displaying his mastery of the genre, such as “gem of the mountain” and “old pictures,” levitating across chilling 60-80 BPM ranges that might make you nostalgic for times gone by. Perhaps one reason for this is to remind the listener of a former love or something from their past that comes to them from strange stimuli. Whatever the reason for it is, emotions like that just might be elicited in more audiences than one by this deeply introspective 15-song journey.
hawk. - pretty ass shipwreck
7. Seppa - Split
Words by: Ryan Morse.
With the wave of deadly coronavirus outbreaks currently reshaping the world, there remains a ripple of positivity coming from the music world. Even in the midst of widespread panic, sobering statistical trends, and unnerving economic uncertainty, artists from across the dance music spectrum are turning to new ways to engage their fan communities and tap into their creativity. When the live music industry experienced a mass shutdown, artists turned inward to write and compose. When festival and tour cancellations began stretching into summer, artists turned to social media streams to collaborate on virtual festivals and host solo sets.
For Seppa, the bass music outfit of Sandy Finlayson, he’d already been hunkering down in the studio all winter polishing his latest creative full-length, Split. The mastering was in full effect, the interviews and premieres were being locked in, the date was set. Unbeknownst to him at the time, Seppa would be releasing his sophomore project in the midst of the worst global health pandemic since the 1918 flu epidemic that claimed over 50 million lives.
Like so many other artists, he must have been feeling the let down of the virus co-opting his release. “I suppose it’s insignificant in relation to what’s going on globally. I just hope it can bring people joy and give them an enriching and emotional experience at a time when we all need it,” says the Bristol-based producer, speaking to unveiling his 12-track journey during this unprecedented moment.
Perhaps the current historical moment of hysteria, though, was setting the perfect stage for Finlayson’s high-octane beats, high-intensity rhythms, and dark, ominous tones. It’s true that all art is a response to cultural conditions. So, in some ways, Split can be read as a prophetic listening journey to help cope with the times. Whether that argument is a stretch is neither here nor there, but what Seppa has managed to build in this seminal sophomore work is a sonic journey from start to finish. He calls the journey a “full listening experience” that he subconsciously began back in 2018 with his debut album, More.
Split isn’t just a journey-filled continuation of his 2018 debut album—it’s a strong step forward. In many ways, it also cements Seppa’s position as an artist to watch in the future. This is an album that one will be simultaneously perplexing and fulfilling for the listener by way of its open-ended twists and turns. More than anything else, Split is a meditative experience that plays out much like how Seppa describes music as his meditative practice: “Consciousness expansion is also hugely important, whatever your approach.”
Read our full album review and interview with Seppa here.
Seppa - Split
6. BRONSON - BRONSON
Words by: Ryan Morse.
If ever there were a more appropriate year for the dark horse aesthetic of BRONSON, it’s 2020. It’s almost as if ODESZA and Australian electronic powerhouse Golden Features could’ve told the future. Granted, they began the joint project years ago and even performed together for the ODESZA hardcores at Sundara in Mexico last year. When COVID hit the US in early 2020, and had the nation in shutdown completely by April, the superduo was just beginning to cryptically tease their new project. Whether they simply saw a great marketing opportunity with the times (yikes), or they just posses the godlike gift of foresight, BRONSON came out swinging over summer.
Boxing innuendos aside, the trio began releasing hit after hit over the summer, with their singles’ music videos even hitting the Times Square billboards. With moods ranging from hopeless to hopeful to outright sardonic on “Keep Moving,” it seemed like BRONSON’s message were perfectly tailored to the struggles of living in a new reality. That is, living in quarantine culture, operating in fear and distrust of one another, and accepting the new politicization of medicine. At the very least, BRONSON was proving throughout 2020 that art—and music specifically—is always the penultimate response to our socio-cultural moment.
BRONSON’s releases were gradually working their way towards the early August release of their debut self-titled album, BRONSON, which culminated in a 10-track album with a rough-looking boxer on the cover. Coincidental? Certainly not, for everything ODESZA does is intentional and carefully calculated. The album broke streaming records right out of the gate, with Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight (of ODESZA) and Tom Shell (of Golden Features) releasing a follow-up mini-doc discussing the group’s formation and the inspiration for their first LP.
Then, BRONSON announced three incoming remix EPs with Cassian’s remix of “Know Me,” featuring Gallant. The first package is already out, but fans eagerly await the arrival of two more on the new year. It is a well known fact among their ODESZA fanbase, after all, that Mills and Knight (the creative forces behind the project) are masters of stretching out their projects over years.
Premediated and planned, and yet incredibly authentic and vulnerable, BRONSON was a creative force this year, which is why the LP comes in at sixth on our Top Albums of 2020.
BRONSON - BRONSON
5. Zeds Dead - The Lost Tapes Vol. 1
Words by: Maggie Johnson.
Our Top Albums of 2020 list simply wouldn’t be complete without the jaw-dropping throwback mixtape from everyone’s favorite Canadian dubheads, Zeds Dead. DC and Hooks shook the scene with their surprise drop of THE LOST TAPES, Vol. 1, an all-original, old-school dubstep album packed with unreleased cuts from their formative years of 2008-2009. The record travels back to a time before their steady stream of high-profile Deadbeats collaborations, pre-Northern Lights, pre-Bassmentality, even. The collection serves as a candid ode to the early days of the quintessential bass duo that captivated the electronic music scene in the first place.
Fresh off the monumental success of their breakout “Eyes On Fire” remix, the material exhibits a mashup of heavy wubs and lush textures, all elements that would go on to shape their archetypal dubstep sound. “Gorilla,” a fan favorite off the record, is an undeniable banger just begging to be blasted into the airwaves at formidable volumes. Expanding the heavy arsenal are tracks like “Voltage” and “Goon,” throwing down the growls and gritty basslines to everyone’s satisfaction. Meanwhile, “Zeer” and the standout “Ice Crack” offer softer, more chilled-out yet equally groovy productions. Resolving the album is the appropriately-named bonus goodie “Nostalgia,” a Zeds Dead rendering of a mellow lofi beat, record scratches and all.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the whole mind-blowing reveal, however, is that more Zeds Dead deep cuts reportedly remain on the horizon. 2020 indeed left much of humanity with a lot of unanticipated time on their hands, allowing DC and Hooks to ‘dig through the vaults’ and resurface loads of unreleased material, much of which still awaits us. In their announcement, the duo stated “Vol. 1 is 10 beats we made sometime during 2008-2009, with future volumes to cover other time periods.” In other words, it’s time to buckle up and brace yourself for impact. There’s more where THE LOST TAPES, Vol. 1 came from.
Zeds Dead - The Lost Tapes Vol. 1
4. Lane 8 - Brightest Lights
Words by: Ryan Morse.
For as much of a “releasing machine” that Daniel Goldstein is, with his extended seasonal mixtapes going out every quarter and compilation after compilation for his indie imprint, This Never Happened, progressive fans know when they’re getting a true Lane 8 album. It’s a vibe, in the air of anticipation that surrounds them, in their prolonged build-ups much like his signature house measures, and in the euphoric release of listening to his genre-defining sound and knowing you might not get another one for a couple of years.
A bonafide studio workhorse, Goldstein’s last full-length LP was more two years ago, and it earned definitive praise on countless publications’ end-of-year shortlist, including CE’s Top Ten Albums of 2018. As his sophomore effort, Lane 8’s Little By Little was a true testament to pacing with projects. It’s almost as if the title itself was telling fans to be patient while holding out hope for his next long-form journey. That wait came to an end at the top of 2020, which is when Goldstein likes to release LPs, when Lane 8 unveiled his third studio album, titled Brightest Lights.
The highly-anticipated January release actually began debuting in 2019 when the Bay Area producer spent the latter part of the year tremendously teasing the LP. The tease lasted for months, stretching back to September with the release of the LP’s title track, “Brightest Lights.” The POLIÇA-assisted record was followed by “Sunday Song,” “Don’t Let Me Go,” “The Gift,” “Yard To Stone,” and one final NYE offering called “Just.”
The album didn’t just signal a veteran attempt, but it further solidified his soothing, chill house to the point where Goldstein was beginning to mine his own sector of the progressive genre. Complete with organic tones, crooning progressive builds, and complex tempo work with perfectly-rendered upbeats, Lane 8 music is so uniquely distinguishable now. So much so that Lane 8 has used 2020 to build a strong roster of artists that take on his soft, surrendering sounds. Just look to the remix package for the LP or any one of his many label compilations of 2020 for evidence.
Lane 8 is a sound so unique and unforgettable that the critics can’t seem to overlook the album in creating their 2020 Top Albums lists—even as Brightest Lights turns one year old next month.
Lane 8 - Brightest Lights
3. Glass Animals - Dreamland
Glass Animals was hot off their first US festival showing in almost two years after Okeechobee back in March. As one of the final performances to go on before everything got shut down, they were able to start off 2020 strong and have remained within the public eye for a large chunk of the year. They began teasing their long-awaited 17-track LP not long after they began doing live shows again, roaring back from a two-year hiatus while their drummer, Joe Seward, healed from an accident. Dreamland, their third full-length studio album, finally dropped in August (their last project, How to Be a Human Being was released four years prior) and soon became a fan-favorite to many. It’s really no surprise that it has made its way onto our Top Albums of 2020 with their sterling reputation as fan-dedicated and creative musicians.
This masterpiece single handedly saved summer with hit tracks like “Heat Waves,” “Dreamland,” “Domestic Bliss,” and “It’s All So Incredibly Loud.” The whole album is bittersweet, allowing listeners to catch a few moments of euphoria amidst brightly colored but dark themes, making it easier to pretend to be dancing at festival grounds under the sun again. That’s exactly what those songs feel like–childhood bliss, and sometimes ignorance to what is happening around you–all while packing in some gut-wrenching emotional lyrics and charming “home movie” accompaniments from Bayley’s life that amplify the nostalgic, 90’s feel that millenials fell in love with.
It’s the perfect album to drive around blasting at high volume with the windows down. Not only does the whole album sound incredible, and get stuck in your head, but it also shares deep insights into frontman Dave Bayley, or “Wavey Davey’s,” most cherished memories and lessons learned throughout life–packaged for fans in a dreamy, retrowave fantasy.
Glass Animals - Dreamland
2. tiedye ky - Baby Blue and the Super Moon
Words by: Chandler Hyatt.
Baby Blue and the Super Moon was an instant contender for our Top Ten this year through it’s deep, layered portrayal of just how talented and multidimensional tiedye ky truly is, not just as an artist, but also as a human. It’s an incredibly accurate representation of how authentic both he and his music are, showing how they cannot be labeled or expected to fit into a certain style, just as he preaches in one of the most beautiful and transformative tracks on the album, “Never Cage a Butterfly.”
This isn’t just an album of the year – this is a top album of all time. These 12 tracks that Kyle perfected take listeners on a complete and profound sonic journey that decorate time and space. Kyle has filled these 35 minutes with the some of the most experimental, glitchy, and melodic bass that can be found anywhere in the scene. No two songs sound the same, each varying wildly from the last and telling it’s own story, but still managing to convey cohesive themes throughout. He uses music throughout that dates back from three years ago to the release of the album.
Right from the beginning with “Over Again,” tiedye ky has fans bobbing around to a song they love but don’t even fully know yet. It helps set the tone for the rest of this work of art.His personal favorite song off the album is “Living Right Now.” Kyle shared with us: “I wrote it in one day, on the day of Pipus’ funeral. That one’s for you brother. Pipus forever.” Kyle’s signature sounds are prominent throughout the entire album, bringing about heavy feelings of nostalgia for those who’ve been supporting him for a while now as it introduces them to the next steps he’s going to take in his career. Think big “Loverboy” vibes out here.
Those signature sounds can be found in each of the glitchy yet dreamy tones, allowing fans to sort of transcend everything going on in the world right now, even if just for a few moments. With tracks like “Lunar Girl,” “Livin Right Now,” and “Never Cage A Butterfly,” this masterpiece is more than deserving of this spot on Conscious Electronic’s Top Albums of 2020.
tiedye ky - Baby Blue and the Super Moon
1. CloZee - Neon Jungle
Words by: Maximillian Venegas
Earning the top spot on Conscious Electronic’s Top Albums of 2020 is CloZee’s Neon Jungle, an exploratory journey through a world of exotic illuminations and introspective vibrations. The 10 song project is littered with trademark CloZee sounds, as well as features from the likes of The Kite String Triangle, 9 Theory, and Sir Bishop. It truly demonstrates just how far Chloé Herry has grown during her career as a purveyor of bass beats and glitch-ridden bangers.
When diving into Neon Jungle from front to back, listeners will hear a story that comes in emotive and climactic chapters that crash onto your psyche like waves – perhaps on the borders of a forest in Costa Rica, where Herry claims to have found the inspiration for the title track, “Neon Jungle.” In an exclusive Q&A with Conscious Electronic earlier this year, CloZee details her admiration for Costa Rica, her time spent there at Envision Festival, and how it influenced her epic release.
“The name Neon Jungle was to me, a great description of my music and vision for the album and tour that will follow its release. A lot of people say that they feel like they are in a forest or jungle when they listen to my music (which is kind of true as I created the track “Neon Jungle” in the jungle of Costa Rica, for example).”
This theme certainly holds true throughout the entirety of the album with exotic drum patterns and tropical notes layered into a majority of the songs, including the title track. Fans will be pleasantly surprised that each song varies to a certain extent while still carrying a common narrative that unfolds with abounding flavors and a rhythmic intensity very few artists are capable of capturing.
While Neon Jungle represents a large shred of what CloZee’s last year was composed of, it is just one of the many highlights in her constantly accelerating career as a thriving producer. Considering CloZee has appeared to have herself strapped to a rocket as she makes her ascension into the world of electronic music, it makes perfect sense for her to be taking the #1 spot on our Top Albums of 2020 list with her sophomore album, Neon Jungle.
CloZee - Neon Jungle
Conscious Electronic - Top Albums of 2020
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