10. Barbican Estate – Barbican Estate
This cassette EP was one of the year’s early delights, introducing a band who radiate promise at a time when the future seemed to be closing down rapidly. Barbican Estate released another three excellent new songs over streaming services, but the dark, dramatic psychedelic 4ADream with which they introduced themselves was a powerful statement you can actually own.
9. nessie – salvaged sequence
Hailing from Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido, Nessie are a curious and subtly uneasy band — smooth and clinical in their delivery but fanatically dedicated to upending every possible expectation in their melodies and rhythms. They were featured on the Mitohos compilation featured earlier in this list and definitely fit in with the curious musical Galapagos ecosystem that album sketches out, but their queasy art-pop witchcraft is all of their own.
8. Nisennenmondai – S1 / S2
Released to raise money for underground music spot Ochiai Soup, these two long tracks add up to an EP formed of the ghostly outlines of rock music, where the band’s minimal structures sketch out the spaces where parties might once have lived. Needless to say this was one of the most 2020 releases of the year.
7. Eiko Ishibashi – Orbit
Like her frequent collaborators Tatsuhisa Yamamoto and Jim O’Rourke, Eiko Ishibashi filled 2020 with a string of experimental online releases, comprising six albums and album-length works. In that sense, picking just one from this series of undeniably individual yet also semi-permeable entries feels like it diminishes the context in which they arrived. That said, if I was to pick just one, Orbit, which snuck in towards the end of the year, takes the listener on perhaps the most extraordinary journey across the most expansive terrain. Ishibashi is an artist whose singer-songwriter material and experimental work feel increasingly part of the same dreamlike continuum — something she shares with Riki Hidaka (with whom Ishibashi and Jim O’Rourke collaborated this year on another impressively textured soundscape) — and Orbit is perhaps the place where that can be felt most strongly, the music frequently falling within gauzy visibility of the spaces you could imagine her vocals beginning to play.
6. meiteimahi – Aru Bakuhatsuteki na Nani ka
This EP/mini-album from newcomer duo Meiteimahi was one of the year’s most unexpected delights — a raw, tortured but playful and obliquely catchy collection of songs that recalls early Phew (including her Aunt Sally days) and on third track Kubi the insistent clang of This Heat, but nonetheless sounded completely at home in the unreal permanent hangover of 2020 Tokyo. Beginning its course deep in a pit of drunkenness, derangement, squelchy synths and distortion, it gradually emerges into something sweeter, although no less distorted and psychedelic, and with a lingering trail of corruption at the end.