COVID-19 may have pulled the plug on live music, but swathes of UK artists persevered with their release schedules this year, and we couldn’t have been more grateful. In year in which nothing has made sense, music has been a reliable friend.
For that reason, we’ve rounded up our favourite tracks from 2020.
Curated by PRS for Music outreach managers, Claire Rose and Dan Jones, and M Magazine editor Maya Radcliffe.
Chloe Foy - Callous Copper
Effortlessly beautiful from beginning to end, singer songwriter Chloe Foy’s Callous Copper was the first track we fell in love with in 2020.
Taking inspiration from classical music as much as wider transatlantic trends in folk and indie, Chloe’s songs comprise of carefully constructed arrangements that delicately compliment her cryptic lyrics.
'Callous Copper' is an unabashed love song,’ shared Foy back in January. ‘It's not common for me to be quite so open in my imagery, so I surprised myself with how I laid myself out quite so openly. It has imagery of love in all its seasons.’
Lanterns on the Lake - When It All Comes True
Mercury Prize nominees Lanterns on the Lake released a live rendition of their beguiling track When It All Comes True ahead of their album and had us hooked.
Of the track vocalist Hazel Wilde says: ‘Sometimes when you write a song you are creating a world in the same way a film maker or an artist painting a scene would. This is a twisted coming-of-age love story where we’re let in on the thoughts of what seems like a deranged narrator with a premonition.’Spook the Herd was the fourth studio album to come from Lanterns on the Lake. It was released on 28 February 2020 under Bella Union.
Morgan Harper-Jones - Lie To Me
With echoes of Laura Marling, Joni Mitchell and Bon Iver heard throughout her music, while still retaining her own very uniquely honed sound, Morgan Harper-Jones possesses a voice to stop you in your tracks.
‘I wrote this with my friend Rob [Milton],’ Harper-Jones says, discussing her single Lie To Me. ‘We both decided we wanted to write a song that was mostly carried by a vocal and vocoder. I was literally ranting to him about my love life when the chorus lyric was written. The majority of the lyrics came out very naturally and conversationally and stuck.’
Harper-Jones adds a top tip for songwriters: ‘Avoid sending a song you wrote about someone to that same person as a means to convey your emotions because it’s creepy and weird.’
Downtown Kayoto - Do Better
Born in Zimbabwe but now based in Hull, Downtown Kayoto’s breadth of influence is pretty vast. Riding on a high from the release of Feels Like earlier in the year, he dropped Do Better in August to riotous applause, and has since landed himself on the BBC Sounds of 2021 list. It’s hard to believe that the artist, real name Chiko Chinyadza, is just 19 years old.
Expect big things.
Dylan Cartlidge - Yellow Brick Road
Hailing from a small town in the North East of England, Dylan Cartlidge has long since embraced the phrase 'Hope Above Adversity' as his motto.
The brilliant and effervescent Yellow Brick Road, produced by James Dring (Jamie T, Gorillaz), set the tone for what was to come from Dylan in 2020. The lead single to Dylan's EP of same name, released back in August, the track is a groove-rich ode to overcoming fear.
'This song to me is about the juxtaposition of dreams and expectations', he explained. 'It’s about how fear and self-sabotage can dump the weight of the world on your shoulders in your most hard-earned moments. But it’s also about how overcoming all of this can be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other and stepping into the unknown.'
Lande Hekt – Undone
Ahead of the release of her debut solo album Going To Hell, Muncie Girls’ Lande Hekt unveiled her knockout single Undone. The incredible harmonies, crashing drum cymbals and fiery riffs go hand in hand with the relatable, regret-fuelled lyrics. Describing the track, Lande says: ‘This one is about feeling sorry for yourself when you break up with someone that you weren’t even going out with.’
We’ve all been there.
IDLES – Mr Motivator
IDLES returned with a Mr. Motivator ahead of their highly anticipated third album earlier this year. A battering ram of positivity, this track is exactly what the world needed in month two of lockdown.
IDLES frontman Joe Talbot says of the song: ‘We want to start this journey with a means to not only encapsulate the album’s sentiment, but to encourage our audience to dance like no one is watching and plough through these dark times with a two tonne machete of a song and the most beautiful community of scumbags ever assembled. Let’s go. All is love.’
Nova Twins – Play Fair
Heavy Music Award winners Nova Twins mix up riffs, hip-hop and nihilism in their hard-hitting music, and there’s no better example of this than Play Fair. The track first appeared on Nova Twins’ debut album ‘Who Are The Girls?’, released earlier this year.
Speaking about the track, the band said in a press release: ‘It’s the ultimate revenge tune, about powering through any hurdles that stand in our way. It’s a call to arms; rise against those who try to hold you back! If life hands you an unfair game, don’t play fair.’
Arlo Parks – Eugene
London-based singer-songwriter Arlo Parks released another heartbreaker back in February, this time in the shape of Eugene. The song came with a video directed by British rapper Loyle Carner and his brother Ryan, their debut project as The Coyle-Larner Brothers.
Arlo explains of the gorgeous track: ‘It explores the agony, jealousy and confusion that comes to light when the lines between platonic and romantic love blur.’
Arlo’s debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams is due out in January and we cannot wait.
Having launched his career producing tracks for Lisbon-based label Enchufada, Poté’s unique sound saw him grabbing the attention of tastemakers globally.
The multi-instrumentalist, DJ, producer and vocalist returned in August with the dancefloor-ready Pearls, and it’s a crying shame we were all banned from them when it came out. Pearls will make you want to move.
Greentea Peng – Hu Man
Greentea Peng is the alter ego of South Londoner Aria Wells. Using lo-fi R&B mixes, sage-infused vocal and smoked-out beats with retro-futuristic production, she has become renowned for her introspective and self-exploratory music.
Explaining the Mayan inspired track, Greentea says: ‘Hu Man is an exploration of self and our attachment to identity, especially in this modern age. "Hu Man" is a war cry from the battlefield of mind, calling to the divine Mother to take this ego, take this head, to remove all these words and man made constructs and take me, take us, back to centre. Back to oneness, forward to unity.’
Working Men’s Club – Be My Guest
West Yorkshire band Working Men’s Club dropped their long-awaited debut in September. Their eponymous collection of songs is equal parts Calder Valley restlessness and raw Sheffield steel; guitars locking horns with floor-filling beats, synths masquerading as drums and Minsky-Sargeant’s scratchy, electrifying bedroom demos brought to their full potential by Orton’s blade-sharp yet sensitive production.
Featured on the album, Be My Guest is an industrial, unrelenting force and a prime example of their indie-dance-hybrid that people (us included) can’t seem to get enough of.
Freya Beer – Arms Open Wide
Originating from West London but now residing on the south coast, Freya Beer deftly mixes poetical lyrics with a distinctive sound, often drawing influence from the likes of Patti Smith, Bat for Lashes and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. The follow up to her January release Dear Sweet Rosie, Arms Open Wide is utterly bewitching.
Freya explains: 'I tried to convey a ritual style sound accompanied by a tribal drumming beat which drives the track forward. The tubular bells helped contribute towards the overall ceremonial atmosphere of the song. Lyrically, I’ve experimented with exploring the subject of talking about the darker undertones of a relationship.'
bdrmm - A Reason To Celebrate
Five-piece guitar driven rockers bdrmm blend nineties inspired songcraft and lush contemporary production to create an exhilarating blend of shoegaze, dream-pop and new wave.
Speaking on July release A Reason To Celebrate, bdrmm's Ryan Smith explains: ‘The lyrics come from a place of realisation and understanding. It’s a battle between what you want and what you need to do. It’s about proudly, yet stupidly, letting go – and the voice in your head giving you all the different reasons why you should.'
Dry Cleaning – Scratchcard Lanyard
London four-piece Dry Cleaning are back with their new single Scratchcard Lanyard, their first release since joining 4AD. Centred around a surrealist stream of consciousness from vocalist Florence Shaw, Scratchcard Lanyard is as hypnotising as it is nonsensical.
Speaking of the tracks origins, the band say: ‘In the search for your true calling in life, it’s easy to try so many things that you end up confused. It can lead to an enormous build-up of frustration. You may fantasise about exacting revenge upon your real or imagined enemies. Ephemeral things and small-scale escapist experiences can provide some relief.’ The accompanying video is a must watch.
Pa Salieu – My Family feat. BackRoad Gee
Pa Salieu is one the most exciting names in UK rap in 2020. This won’t be the first End of Year list this track has appeared on, but My Family really is that good.
Best enjoyed alongside the accompanying video (directed by Femi Ladi), My Family packs several perfectly timed punches and has seen Gambian British MC further expanding his fanbase across the Atlantic.
With a track record as glowing as his, we can’t wait to see what’s next for Pa Salieu.
Sports Team – Here’s the Thing
Remember February 2020? Things were so much simpler back then. Sports Team had just dropped Here's The Thing and we were totally oblivious to the global pandemic on its way to ravage the planet. Good times.
Little did we know that, come June, we'd all remain locked away in our houses, watching the internet implode as the six-piece entered into a David and Goliath-style race to number one album with Lady Gaga.
While it didn’t quite make number one, the band’s debut LP Deep Down Happy did get nominated for a Mercury Prize, and that’s a pretty good effort in our books.
Here’s the Thing is an album favourite, followed closely by Long Hot Summer and Fishing. Let's see what album two has in store.
Laura Marling – Held Down
Laura Marling released Held Down back in April ahead of the release of Song For Our Daughter, her seventh full-length album to date. The album’s lead single, Held Down acted as the perfect introduction of what was to come; a demonstration of remarkable talent and Marling’s best storytelling to date.
A press release describes the album as something of a new beginning for Marling. She wrote about the surprise release: 'An album, stripped of everything that modernity and ownership does to it, is essentially a piece of me, and I’d like for you to have it. I’d like for you, perhaps, to hear a strange story about the fragmentary, nonsensical experience of trauma and an enduring quest to understand what it is to be a woman in this society.'
Courting – David Byrne’s Badside
Liverpool four-piece Courting are part of a new wave of bands spearheading the Britpop revival.
Finalists in Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent competition 2020, the quartet draw influence from the likes of Parquet Courts, Pavement and LCD Soundsystem whilst maintaining a very British identity.
David Byrne's Badside was released back in May to critical acclaim and sees the band taking the mick out of modern-day Britain with razor-sharp wit.
Speaking on the single, lead singer and guitarist Sean says: ‘David Byrne’s Badside has nothing to do with the Talking Heads frontman. It’s about class tourism and the casual racism that exists in Britain today. It’s a portrait of the type of person who votes UKIP and wants to close our borders yet promises they’re not a racist. The type of person who says to buy British yet owns a Porsche.
Dua Lipa – Hallucinate
Hallucinate features on Lipa’s second album, Future Nostalgia, which received five stars across the board. The track's accompanying Lisha Tan-directed video sees the pop star get transformed into a cartoon character. According to a press release, the clip was inspired by 'the Studio 54 aesthetic and cartoons from multiple iconic eras.'
Both the track and its visual are a deliciously delirious affair and perfectly matches the vibe of the SG Lewis and Stuart Price-produced track.