As we step into 2020, it's fair to say we've already been treated to fistfuls of excellent new music. But, the year has only just begun, and the best is yet to come.
From claustrophobic New York post-punk to London-based kitchen-sink alternative and intellectual tech-metal, here we present a list of essential artists promising to make an impact this year. From new albums to tours and beyond, your essential new music for the year is right here.
Post-punk is a term that’s increasingly being thrown around these days. But the music made by New York trio Bambara is the sort of malevolent noise that lurks in that sub-genre’s murkiest shadows. Thick with gnawing anxiety and proud nihilism, it’s the sort of post-punk that would’ve no doubt made a 1980s Nick Cave proud.
As much is evident on the band’s upcoming album, Stray. Released on February 14 – “it seems to make sense; there’s a lot of love and a lot of death on the record, Valentine's Day has both of those” – Stray is a concept albums of sorts, which follows its characters as they tumble steadily into turmoil. “It's about small personal moments that are woven together through the universe of this record, and the idea of death chasing them,” says vocalist Reid Bateh.
But it’s not all doom and gloom – there are glimmers of hope, too, such as on single Sing Me To The Street, which is lifted by turns from members of Palberta and Public Practise on vocals. “I just wanted there to be something that seemed like it had a fighting chance against this doom and dread,” says Reid. “It was really just my own desire for something to fight against it after working with it for so long. I just wanted there to be some little shred of hope – even though it's futile in the end."
Musically, it’s a departure from the band’s previous albums. “We take a lot of the same things we did with the last record, but we pushed it a little further out of our comfort zone in a lot of ways, which was exciting for us,” says drummer Blaze Bateh. “A little more experimentation and instrumentation – trying to get a little bit more outside the idea of a band just being guitar bass drums.”
The band will be heading out on an extensive tour in support of the album in 2020. “We're going to be on the road pretty much non-stop this year,” says Blaze. “I know a lot of bands don't like to tour, but we love to tour.”
“I guess the idea would be to really grow these shows and build more and more of a following through these shows, and get the record out there as much as we can.
“The shows are already booked. Now it’s just a matter of them being dope.”
Stray will be released via Wharf Cat Records on February 14.
Disinclined to define themselves, London-based duo Nova Twins – aka Amy Love and Georgia South – land somewhere between grime, metal, rock and DIY. The girls are insistent on not being labelled and it’s worked to their advantage – their genre-bending, new-age style means they’ve not only dominated one genre, but three or four. High-profile fans of the duo include big names such as Iggy Pop, Annie Mac and Tom Morello, who titled them “the best band you’ve never heard of".
Though the duo’s highly-anticipated debut album, titled Who Are The Girls, is set to be released in late February, the girls are already hard at work writing their second album. Unlike many bands, their interests don’t lie in recreating a clean, studio sound at their gigs; rather the opposite. Instead, they’re focused on recreating their raw, live sound in the studio. "We wanted to capture the energy we heard on stage and we feel like we got close with this album,” says vocalist and guitarist Love.
Starting off life in the pubs of Camden and New Cross, the duo eventually happened across French promoter Jean-Louis, known for running Trans Musicales, a festival held once a year in Brittany, France. The festival is famous for providing ‘the next big thing’, with previous up-and-comers including Nirvana, Bjork, Daft Punk and Lenny Kravitz. Love described the festival as nothing she had ever seen before: “It’s these huge massive warehouses in this industrial estate, four thousand capacity for each venue where there is so much world music.
“He invited us down and we didn’t realise how big it was going to be. When we arrived, there as a curtain behind the stage where you could see [into the crowd], so our first gig out in France ended up being at a 4000 capacity venue.”
The duo are aware they're outnumbered in the rock industry – not only are they women, but women of colour – and that the odds might be stacked against them in such a male-dominated industry. They experienced it first-hand over some of the festivals they played in 2019. During rock and metal festival Download, the girls noted they were one of seven females on the line up. “We feel like we need to represent all the women and people of colour [at the festival]” says South. "When we walk around, we cannot see our reflection.”
Instead of seeing it as a downside, the girls see it as a challenge. In the next decade, they want to further promote the movement of a diverse audience at rock shows, “we want to change it up and try and make it more open so more people can be involved in heavy music because everyone has an influence on the culture, rock and punk, but it doesn’t necessarily let everyone in, so we’re trying to do that.”
Nova Twins' debut album, Who Are The Girls?, will be released on February 28 via 333 Wreckords.
When White Reaper called their second album, The World’s Best American Band, in 2017, they had no idea folks were going to take it so seriously. “A lot of people were like, ‘Do you guys really think that’?!” laughs vocalist-guitarist Tony Esposito. “We thought it was a plainly obvious joke but I don’t think it came off that way...”
The Louisville quintet would be the first to agree that on The World’s Best American Band, they were yet to reach their full potential, having not quite outgrown the scrappy, simplistic punk of their early days. But on third album, 2019’s You Deserve Love, they finally side-stepped their underdeveloped garage roots, embracing a bigger, self-described “power pop” sound with its eye firmly fixed on large spaces. Think early 2000s garage revival, with the modern shine of Fidlar and Cage The Elephant and a whiff of polished ‘70s glam.
“It’s hard to have perspective on how the perception of our band is changing,” says Esposito on the band’s six-year journey. “After every show we still load everything back into the trailer and then get back in the van. Nothing happened overnight. It used to be that we only had four or five songs that anybody knew and you could see people singing, but lately people know all the songs.”
If that slow burn has been building steadily towards something monumental, it feels like the band’s apogee is finally in sight. Last year, they signed to Elektra Records, part of Warner, who hooked them up with producer Jay Joyce (Halestorm, Coheed And Cambria) at his Nashville studio to record You Deserve Love. “The one thing we learned from Jay is when making a rock record, there’s got to be some kind of attitude in it,” recalls Esposito. “If you make everything perfect there’s not going to be any sort of feel. We wanted to go back and redo everything because we’re really meticulous and Jay was like, ‘It’s fine! It sounds great, you guys need to stop.' Jay was trying to teach us how to leave things be.”
The advice worked. You Deserve Love is packed with charming, catchy, no fuss rock anthems that will soar this summer when the band head out with Pearl Jam on their European tour – a run which includes a massive show at London’s Hyde Park. Just maybe, these guys might be your new favourite American band.
“I think coming in 2020 is just even more intimacy and writing and more of everything,” says Bishop Briggs, born Sarah Grace McLaughlin, sitting cross-legged on a sofa. She’s being modest – 2019 saw her appear on Jimmy Kimmel, embark on an international tour, and release latest album Champion to a rapturous reception from her already dedicated fans.
Currently on a headline tour in support of the album, Briggs is best known for her huge voice, bizarre trap-inflected beats, and wide-open honesty. Champion, a cathartic break-up album and “total release of [my] soul”, saw her utilising that voice to share her candid lyrics. “The hope for the album was always that it would be the thing that people could turn to when they felt alone or when they felt deep in their heartache and didn’t know a way out,” she confesses, adding, “I hope that next year is easier on my heart, but no guarantees!”
You’d never know watching her live that she’d just been through a major heartbreak. Onstage she laughs, interacting with her fans as she runs back and forth with boundless energy, gushing about how happy she is to be there. She means it, too. Laughing through even her most serious tracks and grinning as she sings an emo medley that climaxes with My Chemical Romance’s Welcome To The Black Parade, 27-year-old Briggs’ emo influence is evident, and the next year will hopefully see her leaning into those roots.
She tells us that she wants to work with Brendon Urie, Taylor Swift, Lizzo or Tyler Joseph in the coming year – a list that’s diverse in evidence of the genreless world she’s creating music in. “I love that there aren’t confines to what an artist can be, just as there aren’t confines to what a human can be,” she adds. It’s a goal that at the rate she’s going seems wholly achievable. The drive that made her perform in every club in LA until she got noticed by a label is self-evident, and the alternative pop, piano and big beats that have her fans screaming in their seats speak for themselves.
The Murder Capital
“Do you ever eat bananas and feel really hungry? I feel bananas make you more hungry.” The Murder Capital guitarist Cathal Roper is reflecting upon the challenges that come from a life on the road – chief among them, it seems, is surviving on a diet of van-worn fruit and meagre service station offerings.
In fairness, they’re a band who should know. During 2019, following the release of their debut album When I Have Fears, The Murder Capital performed just shy of 100 dates, taking their live show all over Europe, supporting the likes of Idles and snagging high-profile festival slots.
Though they may be born from the same Dublin movement that has seen Fontaines DC and Girl Band rise to prominence, to call it a “scene”, Roper says, is to misunderstand that movement somewhat. “It's more like, we all know each other,” he says. “But everyone’s doing their thing and it seems to be working for them. That’s incredible in its own way”.
Beyond just geographical ties, The Murder Capital have seen themselves tied to a number of scenes currently undergoing a resurgence – including post-punk, and a new wave of socially aware and open guitar music. Despite this, Roper says their music remains a personal endeavour. “I look at our music as kind of introspective – it’s James [McGovern, vocalist] talking about where he's at.
“When we're open about mental health, that's an attitude that's being encouraged at the moment. Us being open in our music puts us as a part of a kind of scene. When you talk about yourself, when you put the music out there, it becomes this communal thing. It's a really beautiful thing to see, that the music scene is being open like that.”
2020 will see the band heading out on their longest touring stint, kicking off in Europe in January, then heading to the States until the end of April. But they’re still finding time to work on new material – “we've loads of ideas – we've been writing during sound checks” – and the next album promises to be something entirely different.
“We're not going to do the same thing again, so we're trying to figure out what that is,” says Roper. “We're in the rooms writing now, and then we go on tour in January and I'm sure we'll be writing the soundtrack as well. The ideas are really exciting, it's just learning how to structure it again and be new to ourselves.”
If you stuck these angelic little lads into blazers three sizes too big for them, you might just be forgiven for assuming they were classmates about to embark on their first day of Year 7.
Well, don’t let appearances mislead you. This Wisconsin five-piece have recently signed to the newly-rejuvenated Saddle Creek, and are peddling music inspired by the sort of fuzzed up grunge and college rock that their parents likely lived through first time around.
Sure, it may feel incongruous at first, but if you shove that to the back of your mind, you'll quickly realise it's refreshing to hear this music – steeped as it is in genre conventions and heritage – being picked up and given a whole new interpretation by the next generation of noiseniks. Especially when you consider they were barely born at the dawn of this century.
Disq’s debut album, Collector, is due out on March 6, and was announced with the release of lead single, Daily Routine. "Daily Routine is a song about an intense personal struggle,” says guitarist and vocalist Isaac deBroux-Slone of the track. “In dark times, life can feel like a cycle that I’m trapped in, repeating over and over with no means of escape. It’s easy to fall into a void, thinking that everybody else has it all figured out, while losing sight of the fact that many others feel exactly the same way.”
Disq tour North America this April.
From the beginning, Loathe wanted to do things their way. Their sound, encompassing sinister tech metal, electronica, nu metal and coiled spring hardcore is hectic and almost impossible to pinpoint. And the Liverpudlians wouldn’t have it any other way.
“If I’m completely honest, I think our band is a slow burner,” says guitarist and vocalist Erik Bickerstaffe. “On repeated listens people will notice different things. The people who stick with us are dedicated and I’d prefer that over an instant, quick wave of hype and people that will just forget about us.”
Slow build or not, when Loathe released their unsettling debut, 2017’s The Cold Sun, it caused ripples across metal’s underbelly, especially in the tech scene where you would think the band’s adroit intricacies would find a natural home – although even in those discerning circles, the band still feel like outsiders.
“We’ve played metal shows and people have been stood there like, 'what is going on?'” Erik admits. “I don’t want to toot our own horn with this but it’s not run of the mill metal, so it will take a while for people to understand it. Genres and scenes don’t matter. It’s for anyone who wants it.”
2020 is set to be a massive year for Loathe, with the imminent release of their second album, I Let It In And It Took Everything, in February. While The Cold Sun was a tense and nightmarish beast which explored an intimidating, apocalyptic vision, its follow-up promises to be an even bleaker, yet far more expansive affair. Grim yet emotive, stifling yet atmospheric, Loathe have created a dark, yawning space interspersed with shards of dreamy, Deftonian ambience and pull from unexpected influences. It is a triumph.
“The Cold Sun was very one lane,” says Erik. “This album moves in different directions. You have songs like Broken Vision Rhythm and Two-Way Mirror and they are totally different. A band like Bon Iver is a big influence. On For Emma, Forever Ago [Bon Iver’s 2008 debut] there’s songs that are acoustic, songs like Radiohead then songs that are 8-bit, crazy electronica. Then there’s a guy like Flying Lotus, who has 70 songs on one album and not one of them sounds the same. It may be surprising to [people] that Metallica didn’t really influence us but that’s the music we listen to, that’s the music that inspires us. That’s what makes Loathe what it is.”
Loathe will release I Let It In And It Took Everything on 7 February 2020 via SharpTone Records.
Championed by the likes of Cilian Murphy and Mercury Prize-nominated producer Tommy McLaughlin, Dublin-based Louder Band Of The Week alumni Pillow Queens have landed themselves support slots with everyone from American Football to Pussy Riot and Idles since the release of their second EP, State Of The State, in 2018.
Their sound, informed by 90s alt-rock and their knack for an expertly-executed harmony – “We’re all fans of 90s alternative rock like Pixies. That’s like the one band we all know we like”, they told us in 2018” – is underpinned by dreamy guitars and infectious hooks. Lyrically, they adeptly tackle challenging subject matters, from the blunt pain of loss and grief, to body acceptance and their experiences as queer women.
"A lot of people find us 'special' because we’re all not men, but that’s a little bit of a low bar to be honest,” they told us in 2018. “There are plenty of bands just like us and even better out there and to distinguish ourselves from the rest is the job of the listener.”
Their debut album is hotly-tipped to be dropping this year, although no official title or date has been released as yet. Watch this space.
Although Badflower have made our class of 2020, the LA noisemakers have been on the cusp of something massive for a while now. After five years together, the band released their third single Ghost in 2018 and, informed by frontman Josh Katz’s own battle with depression and anxiety, it pulls no punches with the brutal reality of self-harm. 'My blood is all around me, I get dizzy if I stand up,' he sings with unflinching honesty. 'The cutting part was easy, but regretting it is so fucked.'
With over 25 million streams on Spotify, it’s become a genuine phenomenon and you only need to look at the thousands of comments on the band’s YouTube channel to clock the deep chord the song has struck with fans. “People understood it,” says Josh, “If you write songs that are special and are meaningful to you, you have a better shot of people actually giving a shit about what you’re saying.”
That candid sense of realness is the thread that runs through every nuance of the band’s emotional, hooky debut album, OK, I’m Sick, which tackles the destructive nature of relationships, veganism, mental health and Trump – with the track Die including the lyric, “Impeach the asshole, and all of his friends”.
“We played the song for the first time live yesterday [18 December 2019 - the day the US House of Representatives voted to pass articles of impeachment],” says Josh. “There was an energy in the room. I’ve never seen a crowd of people so giddy to scream that [lyric] back at us.”
Badflower’s single vision is to create music that is relatable and inspires societal change, to be a band for this generation. “There’s younger bands coming out that are trying to sound like Led Zeppelin and that’s not going to bring rock back,” says Josh. “You’re just redoing something that was already done. If you want to bring rock back, you have to talk about relevant things, you have to talk from the perspective of someone who sits on Twitter and Instagram all day. Even the 50-year olds are on their phones the same way as the 15-year olds are. It’s the same way across the board, it’s just that people aren’t talking about things from that perspective for whatever reason. We’re not afraid to do that.”
Black Belt Eagle Scout
Another relatively recent addition to Saddle Creek's roster, Black Belt Eagle Scout – AKA Portland-based, multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Katherine Paul – draws on a number of musical influences from her Washington home state to create a sound that is equal parts squalling guitars and softly-crafted sentiment.
While first album, Mother Of My Children, was a riff-stuffed, grunge-inflected guitar album, second album At The Party With My Brown Friends, released in 2019, is a subtler, more considered affair. Paul uses her music to draw attention to global issues including climate change and indigenous identities as well as personal struggles such as loss, grief and heartbreak and the power of desire and friendship.
"I grew up on the Swinomish Indian Reservation in NW Washington state, learning to play piano, guitar and drums in my adolescent years," says Paul. "The very first form of music that I can remember experiencing was the sound of my dad singing native chants to coo me to sleep as a baby.
"I grew up around powwows and the songs my grandfather and grandmother sang with my family in their drum group. This is what shapes how I create music: with passion and from the heart."
One of a couple of bands on this list who can count Iggy Pop among their supporters, Southend alt-rockers Asylums have developed themselves a dedicated following since they formed in 2014, thanks to their knack for channelling the sound of youthful disillusionment and good, old-fashioned sticking it to the man.
Musically, imagine that members of The Bends-era Radiohead, Spiritualized and Nirvana had got together to write fuzzed out, anthemic grunge-pop, and you're just about there.
Iggy isn't the only alternative music big shot to have hopped onboard the Asylums train. Steve Albini also joined ranks to produce the band's third album, due to drop later this year.
"Back in 2014 when we started Asylums and our own label Cool Thing Records, we didn't have any expectations or sense of entitlement to a career – it was something we wanted to do purely for creative reasons," says vocalist and guitarist Luke Branch.
"The last 6 years has been one hell of a journey and in the last 12 months things have intensified further. We have been awarded the PRS Momentum Grant, played in Norway and Germany, supported Iggy Pop and a few months back we made a third album with one of our heroes Steve Albini.
"In 2020, we will release that album, play a selection of shows which we think our fans will enjoy, we will strive to make great visual statements to accompany the themes in the music. We will also be releasing a series of albums and singles by other artists on our label and launching a radio show!
"It's still all about creativity, advocating the arts and putting forward interesting ideas. We love playing music for new audiences and putting on a visceral show. At heart Asylums is a great live band and we cant wait to announce some more awesome shows in the coming months.
"The first single from album three drops on 31st January and is called Catalogue Kids."