Music Will Get Us Through - Looking Back At 2020 Through The Eyes of Those Who Helped Shape It

We checked in with with a handful of the artists that were contained in our own contributors' end-of-year lists to see what was in theirs and to find out how they’d each been doing throughout this insane year of 2020.

Words by Rohan (@manvsplaylist):

Read on below to discover what’s been keeping Aaron Turner (SUMAC), Max Kohane (FACELESS BURIAL), Shane McCarthy (WAYFARER), Carl Skildum (INEXORUM), Andrew Lee (RIPPED TO SHREDS) and Stan Liszewski (TERMINAL NATION) afloat throughout the year.

Starting off with Aaron Turner – we were fortunate enough to speak at length just before the release of SUMAC’s latest album, and we took the chance at that time to pick his brain on some of the albums he’s been enjoying the most this year.

SUMAC Photograph by Reid Haithcock

Turner (SUMAC): My music consumption is all over the place stylistically but also in terms of eras. So there’s some things that I’ve acquired this year that are definitely not from this year or maybe they were released this year but are unearthed or archival recordings or re-performances of old works. This list may be a mish-mash of all those things!

I just traded records with my friend Tashi Dorji, who’s also been a tourmate of Sumac, he has a new record that is coming out next week ('Stateless'). It’s solo guitar music, it is all improvised, it is acoustic only on this particular record, and much of it has parallels to what I believe Sumac is trying to do at times – which is spontaneous composition and the purposeful creation and maintenance of meditative rhythm and coupling that with a desire to and an action of willfully destroying that. So, I hear a lot of that in this new record by Tashi. There are these passages that are very rhythmic and very steady and hypnotic in a meditative way and then those things can give way to, either through slow dissolution or very jarring transition, these completely fractured and fragmented percussive and volatile passages of playing that are atonal or at very least very dissonant, and that kind of juxtaposition of ideas is really intriguing to me.

Next, there’s a woman who operates under an assumed name Mabe Fratti, she’s a Mexican artist. A friend of mine posted the album cover ('Pies Sobre la Tierra') on Instagram, and the cover alone was intriguing enough that I ended up checking it out, and that record has gotten heavy, heavy play in our household. It doesn’t sound anything like what I do, but it does utilize a lot of the same things that I find interesting, like traversing territories that are sort of non-musical or at the very least mostly oriented around texture and atmosphere and to much more identifiable structures. But the form that her music takes is very beautiful, its highly melodic, largely structured around strings and voice, and I have found it both soothing and inspirational. I think this is a time where I am oscillating between wanting music that is really tense and destructive and music that is really immersive in a soothing way. So, her record has really provided that soothing end of the spectrum in a good way. I am also a sucker for a good melodic hook, and her album has a lot of that in there.

Cover photograph by Kevin Frank

On the more metal end of the spectrum, I tend to try to seek out things that are obscure, not for the sake of obscurity but because I feel like often at the edges of the more visible things lie the more adventurous, and that’s always been my interest as a listener is people who are pushing the boundaries. That said, Oranssi Pazuzu is a band I have followed for quite some time and rather than becoming more streamlined and glossy I feel like they’ve gotten more adventurous and their new record is one that I have been returning to frequently. I marvel at their ideas every time. There’s a great balance between tension, control and ferocity and they’re very adept at being able to inhabit those things simultaneously.

The most recent Moor Mother record has been on pretty steady repeat for me. I can’t remember if that came out last year or this year, but it’s called 'Analog Fluids of Solid Black Holes' (2019) – that record is just devastating. It is also very relevant to the current moment. She says so much as a very vocally political artist but in a way that is precise and meaningful and avoids some of the pitfalls that are occasionally troublesome with political music where it goes well beyond dogma and mono-dimensional statements into something that is deep and speaks both from a deeply personal perspective but also to a much more global dimension and subjects. My interest in things in music is tied to a factor of heaviness, and that goes for me well outside of genre lines, and her record is the one I’m speaking of here, and is just so much heavier than 99% of the metal records I can think of. It really just gets me in the gut every time I hear it.

Finally, the last thing I’ll mention is a Morton Feldman boxset that came out late last year of solo piano works. His music for me is very technical. One of the things I love so much about this work is how much space there is in it, and how he is re-using particular motifs but in a way in which he writes makes those motifs remain elusive in a certain way. His note choices and the way the pieces are constructed gives you a sense that there are recurrent themes but doesn’t give you enough that you can hold on to and really sink into them or become lulled by them. It’s this constant reiteration of uncomfortable figures and an uncomfortable space that keep you engaged with the work. I find it simultaneously unsettling AND soothing.

What have been your top albums of the year, spanning any genre or style?

Max Kohane (FACELESS BURIAL): I might have forgotten some stuff, but here goes:

Grace Ferguson – “Voler”

Hallas – “Conundrum”

Necrot – “Mortal”

Gorephilia – “In The Eye of Nothing”

Leo Takami – “Felis Catus and Silence”

Funeral Leech – “Death Meditation”

Defeated Sanity – “The Sanguinary Impetus”

Malokarpatan – “Krupinske Ohne”

Westside Gunn – “Who Made The Sunshine”

Okkyung Lee – “Yeo-Neun”

Caustic Wound – “Death Posture”

Septage – “Septic Decadence EP”

Freddie Gibbs/Alchemist – “Alfredo”

Cauldron Black Ram – “Slaver”

Beatrice Dilllon – “Workaround”

Krallice – “Mass Cathexis”

Rawhead/Blue Holocaust/Active Stenosis/Raw Addict CD

Black Curse – “Endless Wound”

Shane McCarthy (WAYFARER): This has actually been a great year for metal releases, so metal wise I think my top 10 for heavy releases would be (in alphabetical order):

Black Curse – “Endless Wound”

BleakHeart – “Dream Griever”

Enslaved – “Utgard”

Esoctrilihum – “Eternity of Shaog”

Eternal Champion – “Ravening Iron”

Havukruunu – “Uinuos Syomein Sota”

Malokarpatan – “Krupinske Ohne”

Molasses – “Through the Hollow”

Oranssi Pazuzu – “Mestarin Kynsi”

Primitive Man – “Immersion”

Outside of metal there have been some standouts as well - like the Apollo Brown / Che Noir album “As God Intended” and Carpenter Brut’s “Blood Machines” soundtrack, but that would be too much too compile into one list, heh.

WAYFARER Photograph by Elizabeth Marsh

Carl Skildum (INEXORUM): Writing this in mid-October, I know that there are a couple albums that I’m anticipating that still aren’t out yet, but I’ve been really enjoying the following:

The Holy Flesh – “Emissary and Vessel”

Grimah – “Intricacies of Bowed Wisdom”

Run The Jewels – “RTJ4”

Paysage d’Hiver – “Im Wald”

Vampire – “Rex”

Jonathan Hultén – “Chants from Another Place”

Havukruunu – “Uinuos Syömein Sota”

Unleash the Archers – “Abyss”

Ages – “Uncrown”

Necrophobic – “Dawn of the Damned”

Andrew Lee (RIPPED TO SHREDS): My top 5 this year so far are:

Cystgurgle – “Ubi pus, ibi ferment”

Gulch – “Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress”

Kruelty – “A Dying Truth”

Stygian Crown – “s/t”

Siege Column – “Darkside Legion”

I’ve been super checked out this year, it’s been really hard to concentrate on anything given all the shit that’s been going on in the world. Cystgurgle is just beyond punishing and the rest all have a perfect sweet spot of riffs and vibe/atmosphere.

Stan Liszewski (TERMINAL NATION): There has been an absolutely unreal amount of quality music that’s come out in 2020. It’s honestly difficult to narrow it down, but without putting a crazy amount of thought into it I would go with:

Spirit Adrift – “Enlightened in Eternity”

Nothing – “The Great Dismal”

Undeath – “Lesions of a Different Kind”

Eternal Champion – “Ravening Iron"

Vile Creature – “Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm!”

Skeleton – “S/T”

Pallbearer – “Forgotten Days”

Internal Rot – “Grieving Birth”

SUMAC – “May You Be Held”

Faceless Burial – “Speciation”

What are some older albums or artists that you’ve spent more time with, either deliberately or haphazardly?

Kohane (FACELESS BURIAL): I’ve been revisiting a lot this year:

Dawn – “Slaughtersun”

Masters Hammer – “Ritual”

Blood Incantation – “HHOTHR” (never really left turntable since release!)

Roc Marciano - Reloaded (Masterpiece!!)

Engorged – “S/T”

Discordance Axis albums paired with early Noisear and The Kill.

McCarthy (WAYFARER): With all the varying moods the year has brought, I seem to have spent the most time either re-immersing myself in Fields of the Nephilim and Nick Cave, or stadium metal like Scorpions or Priest. A lot of soundtracks too, with a little bit of 2001 era Dimmu Borgir for good measure. It’s been a weird one.

Skildum (INEXORUM): I’ve been obsessed with a medieval music group called Evo and their lone album 'Eva' from 2012. After discovering it last winter, I’ve gone back to it over and over again whenever I’ve felt unmoored by the events of this year. It’s just breathtakingly beautiful.

It had been a long time since I sat down and listened to Van Halen but with Eddie’s death earlier this month I went back and listened to the first 7 albums. Eddie was my first guitar hero as a kid so it was bittersweet to revisit.

Lee (RIPPED TO SHREDS): Hmm…I guess Last Days of Humanity; I used to only be into the meme-tier pots and pans production of "Putrefaction in Progress", but I’ve given "Hymns of Indigestible Suppuration" another go, after hearing the demo versions on the unreleased ‘98 album, and I'm super into it now.

Liszewski (TERMINAL NATION): In the last couple of months I have really been on a big Death kick. 'Spiritual Healing', 'Leprosy', and 'Scream Bloody Gore' are albums that stuck with me the most for years and I think by clinging to those records, I neglected much of the other stuff. In the last couple of months, I have really grown an appreciation for all of their material and just how ground breaking that band really was. Also, Dystopia, Tragedy, His Hero is Gone are 3 bands that used to be some of my favorites but I haven’t really listened to much in about 10 years or so, which is really kind of weird because those bands and bands of that ilk still have a huge influence on my writing, even now. I have revisited all of their albums and fallen in love with those bands all over again, and I think the timing is perfect because it feels like they fit the vibe of the world right now.

How have your own listening habits or practices changed this year compared to your own typical routine?

Kohane (FACELESS BURIAL): More listening at home. Less at work as I’m not able to open my shop (record store).

McCarthy (WAYFARER): Well, a lot more listening at home I suppose. Working full time and spending a lot of time playing music with my bandmates on top of social functions normally leaves little time to actually sit with records at home. So this year has been good for that.

Skildum (INEXORUM): I used to primarily listen to new music in two places – on my commute to work and at the gym. Both of those activities seem like distant memories as I work (and work out) at home now and for the foreseeable future. For the first time ever, I have a backlog of music that I’ve purchased from Bandcamp or physical formats that I haven’t been able to get to yet. I can’t usually listen as actively when working and tend to go with more ambient background music, so I’m sure I’m missing plenty of releases from this year that I will eventually go on to really love.

INEXORUM Photograph by Samuel Thomas Claeys

Lee (RIPPED TO SHREDS): Now that I’m remote working (I do software), I no longer commute to work every day. That’s where I put in most of my music listening time, on the drive to and from work, so I’ve spent a lot less time with new music. On the other hand, I have more energy and time, so I’ve put more time behind the kit, and have a bunch of stuff where I do drums in the works.

Liszewski (TERMINAL NATION): I really have to say, I feel like 2020 was the year I fell back in love with music. I say that only half joking. Maybe it’s because of everything going on, but this year I have purchased more music than I have in a long time, it’s been a coping mechanism of sorts. I’ve always turned to music as an escape, but this year it just hits a little different. Also, the amount of consistently great releases certainly helps. Working from home has it’s challenges but has allowed me to really just vibe out with music, especially in the mornings as like a wake up routine.

What has been your favorite new discovery this year (band, record label, book, movie,