These clouds on the screen / from the state in between


Somehow half the year is already gone, while I’m still mentally stuck in March, having been holed up at home since then. Normally I’m quite content to stay at home and stay away from people, but with everything going on, getting fired, spiraling whenever I cough, feeling powerless to change anything from my four walls (and a very very limited budget), etc. etc., I’ve found it hard to even focus on listening to music. Not even just hard to focus, but hard to make myself turn music on, as if it’s somehow a huge physical feat I don’t have the strength to accomplish. Basically, if I can’t listen to it on Bandcamp and my headphones aren’t right beside me, I’m not listening to anything. Surprisingly though, I have already filled a whole page on Discogs for my favorite albums of the year list, so I must be listening to music semi-frequently, somewhere along the nondescript days that have just been blurring together into a big foggy smudge. I’m certain it’s thanks to some of these albums that I haven’t completely lost it, even if they’re largely only registering on a subconscious level.

And so, below is my First Half list, complete with links to the Bandcamp pages (if they exist) for easy listening. Due to the foggy smudgeness of things, my descriptions (particularly for anything that came out April or later) might not be all that helpful, but hopefully you’ll check some of these out. I’ve put the albums in order of discovery not preference (because that is arbitrarily reserved for the full end of the year list…). BTW, Bandcamp is waiving their fees tomorrow (Friday, July 3rd), meaning the artists get all the profits, so please consider purchasing anything you like below then and help our artists survive!

1. Vvilderness – Dark Waters (This was the first 2020 album I heard, and I was immediately certain it would be in my Top 5 at the end of the year. It’s a perfect piece of atmospheric black metal from Hungary that is mostly the one-man deal following in the footsteps of the 2017 release, Devour the Sun, but this time with some lovely vocals from Japanese singer Kazumi. Also some gorgeous album art.)

2. Grin – Translucent Blades (I believe this was the first vinyl I bought of the year, and it remained on the display shelf for at least a solid month as it’s some of my favorite album art. A lovely piece of psych/sludge/doom from a duo in Berlin.)

3. Scáth Na Déithe – The Dirge Of Endless Mourning (A solid black metal album about Irish folklore, from Ireland.)

4. Sightless Pit – Grave Of A Dog (The first release from this metal/metal-adjacent supergroup of sorts composed of Lee Buford of The Body, Dylan Walker of Full of Hell, and the ridiculously brilliant Kristin Hayter a.k.a. Lingua Ignota. There’s a lot of stuff going on in this album, much of it a bit scary, a lot of noise, a lot of unexpected things [unexpected, that is, until you remember who is in the group]. For me, Kristin Hayter’s vocals have kept me returning to this album again and again, and it will likely be in my Top 5 by the end of the year. Also has one of my favorite songs of the year so far, “The Ocean of Mercy”, with lyrics taken from a Robert Burns poem, “Farewell to the Highlands” – it’s a stunner.)

5. Drown – Subaqueous (This album consists of two songs that are each over 20 minutes long, and is what funeral doom would sound like if played/recorded under water, à la Dethklok [“not IN the ocean, INSIDE the ocean”].)

6. Fluisteraars – Bloem (Black metal from the Netherlands, with a folk-y vibe.)

7. Ian William Craig – Red Sun Through Smoke (The newest from Ian is heavy on the piano and vocals, and also the feels. The 2nd last song, “Open Like a Loss” brings in some of that disintegrating/looping tape thing Ian excels at and adds some doomy vibes, and it might be my favorite song from him ever.)

8. Velnias – Scion Of Aether (I think I clicked on this when I saw that it was produced by Billy Anderson, who’s produced such things as Sleep’s Holy Mountain and Dopesmoker, Bell Witch’s Mirror Reaper, and Holy Grove’s last album. It does not disappoint. Not entirely sure which metal subgenre to put it in – blackened doomy something, I think.)

9. Ossaert – Bedehuis (More black metal from the Netherlands, with some fantastic vocals.)

10. SEA – Impermanence (Doomy/psychy/sludgy [post-]metal with a sprinkle of emo, from Boston.)

11. Spell – Opulent Decay (There’s just something intriguing about this album from the first note. It sounds retro – not necessarily retro like trying to sound like an old heavy metal/rock/goth band but retro like as if it’s being played through an arcade game. Excited to hear more from this Vancouver band.)

12. Vinnum Sabbathi – Of Dimensions And Theories (I love love love this album, out of Mexico. It’s a mix of some great space rock/doom with sci-fi-flavored samples, including stuff from the NASA archives. Next album I’ll know to grab a vinyl immediately – they sold out shortly after I got just the digital version at the end of March, and now copies are only available for ridiculous amounts on Discogs.)

13. BADA – BADA (Bada is an instrumental noise/experimental rock supergroup of sorts that includes Anna von Hausswolff. I’ve listened to this album countless times already, and I only wish I had preordered the vinyl, as the very small run sold out pretty much before it was even released.)

14. The Mountain Goats – Songs For Pierre Chuvin (A return to the more lo-fi/tape-recorded sound.)

15. Hermóðr – As Silent as the Stars (1-song EP from prolific one-man black/ambient metal band in Sweden. And when I say ‘prolific’, I mean it – as I’m writing this, I just realized there’s another EP already.)

16. Mark Lanegan – Straight Songs Of Sorrow (This album was up on Bandcamp for a couple weeks and then it suddenly vanished, unsure why. So I haven’t listened to it for a while now [given that non-Bandcamp = too much effort right now], but I remember that it’s quite heartbreaking.)

17. Horror Vacui – Living For Nothing (Found via Sarah of BangerTV‘s comment on the Bandcamp, “Really cool atmospheric post-punk that sounds plucked from the 80s.” From Italy, Horror Vacui includes Marzia, who’s solo project, Marthe, was on my list last year.)

18. Wailin Storms – Rattle (A blues-y, dirty, twangy, rocky thing from North Carolina.)

19. Thievery Corporation – Symphonik (Includes reworkings of previously released songs to have a more symphonic feel, based on a concert the band did with a live orchestra. Always great to hear more from these guys.)

20. Moses Sumney – græ (I think this was a find via KEXP, and I’m so glad to have found it. It is an absolutely sprawling work, that is hard to classify and requires many full listen-throughs. The breadth, genre-jumping, and pure talent reminds me of Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love!. I’m hoping to get a copy on vinyl when I can, as there’s a lot of little treats in this album that would sound so much better on real speakers.)

21. Jóhann Jóhannsson & Yair Elazar Glotman – Last And First Men (A weird memory that is associated with this album at least for now is that I ordered it right before the call that I knew would be the call about getting fired. There was the option of ordering just the soundtrack or a deluxe version that came with a copy of the film, and I remember thinking, ‘f@ck it, I’ll go for the deluxe version, I probably won’t be able to afford anything like that in half an hour.’ I still haven’t watched the film, even though it’s narrated by Tilda Swinton and bound to be beautiful. I just haven’t been ready for something too sad, which is what I assume it’ll be given it’s the film Jóhann was working on when he died.)

22. Tony Allen, Hugh Masekela – Rejoice (I think I also found out about this album from KEXP, though maybe it was Henry Rollins, as I knew of Tony Allen via his work with Fela Kuti. I had ordered a copy of the vinyl without hearing it before I was fired and thought I had cancelled the order when I found out, but then, thankfully, the record store called me when the copy came in, days after Tony Allen died.)

23. Árstíðir Lífsins – Saga Á Tveim Tungum II: Eigi Fjǫll Né Firðir (A continuation of last year’s black metal release, also entirely sung in Old Icelandic, with a bit more atmosphere and less chanting.)

24. Bell Witch & Aerial Ruin – Stygian Bough Volume I (A fantastic funeral doom/folk collaboration. I’d say you’ll like this if you like Bell Witch’s masterpiece, Mirror Reaper, but the vocals are primarily Aerial Ruin‘s lovely Aaron Weiss-esque-ness, so it depends how open you are to this not being Mirror Reaper. This will probably be my #1 at the end of the year, and includes what will likely be my favorite song of the year, “Heaven Torn Low” [parts I + II].)

25. Mong Tong 夢東 – Mystery 秘神 (Psychedelic sampled-based synth pop from Taiwan. I just found this a couple days ago via my Bandcamp feed and I’ve already locked myself out of free listens. Planning on picking up a copy of it on vinyl on Friday, along with Dhidalah’s Threshold, which is on the same label, Guruguru Brain, run by the Kikagaku Moyo guys. Dhidalah [a lovely psych/space rock piece from Japan] might just end up on my list in the end – I didn’t include it here because it was released in 2019, but since it was a late 2019 release and I didn’t find it until this year, I think I can stretch the rules.)

Available for preorder Bandcamp: Eremit – Desert of Ghouls (EP. Comes out July 17. Super excited to hear anything from these sludge/doom guys, after their Carrier of Weight made my list last year.)

2020 releases/reissues of older material on Bandcamp: Kjartan Sveinsson – The Last Farm (soundtrack); Amenra – De Messe/ De Metanoia (soundtrack); Rowland S. Howard – Teenage Snuff Film (vinyl reissue)

Title quote: “In Our Blood”, from Clearing the Path to Ascend