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Louder Than War writers are a canny bunch and compiling this list was a task and a half! A bastard to sort out as you can imagine. I’ve gone on writers votes here and the winning top three were so close in the running as you will see when you read further. This year our list is dominated by strong women who stormed our airwaves with some clever songwriting and tunes that have wriggled into the conscience of our like minded scribes, who again prove to have a diverse taste as ever. Just check out the playlist and decide who picked what and go on a journey into our warped wonderful minds that make us tick…

20. Cold Water Swimmers: So Young

Number nine in our albums of the year, Cold Water Swimmers have excelled with the excellent So Young. A dark yet lifting song that oozes the quality coming from Chris, Selina and Carrie, the coolest three piece around to have released a debut album that will melt your heart.

19. Yard Act: Dark Days

A strong track from a band that have claimed the airwaves with their spoken word art rock that has shimmers of a spoken word Jarvis Cocker, The Fall and Talking Heads. A refreshing band who are going to ramp up their success when their debut album hits the streets. Dark Days stands out from the normal.

18. John: Stadium Of No

Stadium Of No continues the riot of clever hardcore that bludgeons the senses into submission with a mental shredding of sheer noise that thrills and ends abruptly with a bang. Newton says of the track: “In parallel to the recurring motif of twenty-four hour work that runs throughout the album’s track listing, stadiums appear as hopelessly redundant monuments when they’re empty – only activated by the bodies that inhabit them. The song’s a nod to the often-overwhelming conditions of our present: a stadium-like crowd of opinions trying to shout on top of one another.” There’s no getting out of here now.

17. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis: Hand Of God

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis release one of the most spine tingling albums of the year and Hand Of God is testament to how haunting and beautiful his music continues to be. A track to lose yourself in and get immersed into the world of Cave and Ellis.

16. The Battery Farm: When The Whip Goes Crack

North Manchester’s Battery Farm yet again hit our Top Twenty tracks list. It’s a piledriver of slow start grunge with hints of big hitters like Muse meets hardcore noise with shit loads of dark melody flowing throughout. A big stab at stadium punk if I’ve ever heard it. A support with the mighty Evil Blizzard beckons next February.

15. Altermoderns: She’s Not Yours

Ged Babey says: “It’s cool. And it’s a great song. A feminist empowerment anthem – but performed by hetero-norm-couple. Watch Glauco’s face when ‘She doesn’t need a man..’ is sung at him. I have to admit that the way their accents and enunciation affect the vocal is what makes it uber-cool. It brings to mind Nico, Kleenex and the Mo-dettes: artists with vocalists who sang in English, when it wasn’t their mother tongue.”

14. Lump: Animal

Andy Brown says: “Animal wraps you in a sonic cocoon, with a brilliantly strange undercurrent ensuring we’re never too relaxed. There’s something satisfyingly indefinable at its core.”

13. Fontaines DC: Televised Mind (Dave Clarke remix)

Techno magician Dave Clarke ramps up the much loved Televised Mind from LTW favourites Fontaines DC and turns it into a massive club banger for the masses to stomp their feet.

12. Amyl & The Sniffers: Security

Security punches an emphatic defiant fist in the air, a song that under the surface is one of sought acceptance says our man Nathan Whittle who reviewed our Number One Album Of The Year here.

11. Hello Cosmos: Loud Is Beautiful

Andy Brown says: “Robinson’s motivational lyrics are further elevated by Yorkshire-based saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Elara and Seattle-based MC, Telle. “I had to blow up the past” sings Robinson as he explains the band’s ethos, “to start the future”.” A funky hip hop bastard that could teach Mike Skinner a thing or two.

10. Idles: The Beachland Ballroom

A tense Joe Talbot launches into a soul ballad backed with that trademark crunching guitar sound cranking up, yet kept on a leash to a slow burning bouncing tune that will surprise the most hardcore fans of the AF Gang.

9. Sharon Von Etten & Angel Olsen: Like I Used To

A cracking country pop track of grandiose statement with sultry vocals that slide in and out of harmony with Angel Olsen. Catchy as fuck and hooks a plenty filled with some great piano licks.

8. Loud Women: Reclaim These Streets

Reclaim These Streets has been described as a feminist Band Aid but it’s so much more than that (and fortunately, it did not require any input from Bono). It’s an absolute stonker of a record – music from the heart and soul with a message, the importance of which can never be overstated or overemphasised.

7. Amyl & The Sniffers: Guided By Angels

Nathan Whittle says: “Guided By Angels starts with a rolling bass and drum rhythm, a sparse and simple guitar that builds under the vocals, the song powering forward through an almost post-punk sound, cathartic brutalism that layers up. It threatens to explode but never does. Pent up, internal energies sparring. It’s an expression of the last year and a half for many and cleansing in its release.”

6. Little Simz: Introvert

Gordon Rutherford says: “The thing that elevates Introvert is the strings arranged by Rosie Danvers, who has fulfilled a similar role in the past for Jay-Z and Kanye West. Quite simply, if you lifted the rap off the tapes, you would be left with a modern classical masterpiece. That fusion of lush orchestration and rap is a combination as irresistible as Pernod and blackcurrant. It works so persuasively thanks to the contrast. We have that furious and potent rap of the inner-city, skimming atop sweeping cellos and violins. It creates something of a musical chiaroscuro, something utterly stimulating.”

5. Bob Vylan: GDP

The excellence continues from the powerful duo with a hard hitting track and insane video that’s full of irony and flows like a motherfucker. As Bobby says:

“This single explores a lot of the topics we’re known for, racism, class, social struggles in a way that may not be so obvious on first listen, but when you hear lines about friends being stabbed because they come from a place and live a lifestyle that encourages violence to get what you want, you can’t help but ask yourself ‘well how did that environment begin?”

4. Benefits: Empire

As our man Keith Goldhanger says: “This is ‘punk rock’, if you’re one of those who remember those intense Crass gigs that we visited once our King’s Road attire was knackered and we’d realised we’d been cheated. It’s easy to compare this to Throbbing Gristle, Whitehouse and Pop Group, as well as those making this kind of racket in their own bedrooms during lockdown, but the secret here is in the sincerity and the execution that Kingsley has mastered. It helps being this angry as well, of course, but we just wish we didn’t have to shout because ‘It’s all we’ve got left’. Empire is genius and should be aired on every TV and Radio show in the UK (and further), but of course, this isn’t up to me either. It’s up to all you lot out there.”

3. Wet Leg: Chaise Longue

Our main man John Robb got very excited about Wet Leg earlier this year: “Their Chaise Longue track is a genius slice of post punk minimalism driven by an incessant drum machine, impatient bass, deadpan lyrics and exploding guitar” Love them or hate them they’ve released a classic earworm that has captured the imagination of a whole army of fans.

2. Dry Cleaning: Scratchcard Lanyard

Audrey Golden says: “In Scratchyard Lanyard, Shaw’s monotone voice, with occasionally clear enunciation, highlights the strange ways we make meaning from spoken words. In the first verse, Shaw repeats the phrase “you keep it,” yet puts vocal pressure on different parts of the words each time around with “you keep it” followed by “you keep it.” It’s almost as if Shaw’s voice inhabits multiple speakers at once. At the same time, such repetition also becomes dialogic, as if she’s engaged in a solo call-and-response narrative. Single words themselves have multiple meanings that produce playful and absurdist images in Scratchyard Lanyard and across the album: “And thanks very much for the Twix/ I think of myself as a hardy banana with that waxy surface and the small delicate flowers/ A woman in aviators firing a bazooka” Twix bars, Bazooka bubble gum, Bazooka gun. The lyrics invite our minds to reel with the layers of each word, and the English-language oddity that “gum” is, of course, just a single letter removed from “gun.” Here, Dry Cleaning offers escapist wordplay rooted in consumer culture anxieties.”

1. Self Esteem: I Do This All The Time

Jon Kean says: Hearing the chorus of “Look up, lean back, be strong” and being reminded that “All the days you get to have are big,” make you feel as if just being is enough to be your best self. Other people’s standards can get in the bin. Taylor has spoken about her ambiton to make a track that was like Baz Luhrmann’s Sunscreen, but for millennials. She has called it, “The best thing I’ve ever made.” That kind of swagger is entirely justified when you have something to look up, lean back and be strong about.

A top twenty tracks that highlight a year of excellent music that has kept us entertained through the shitty post lockdown times and proves to us all that talent shines through no matter what bollocks and obstacles are thrown at us. Sit back and get into our full playlist of up to a hundred tracks we’ve all held special and see you next year!!

Click to Listen To The Top 20 Rundown on Louder Than War Radio!

Compiled by Wayne AF Carey with thanks to all our contributing writers: John Robb, Nigel Carr, Melanie Smith, Naomi Dryden Smith, Irina Shtreis, Nathan Whittle, Ged Babey, Neil Hodge, Jon Kean, Dan Volohov, Martin Mathews, Gareth Allen, Sam Lambeth, Elliott Smith, Tim Cooper, Audrey Golden, Gus Ironside, Paul Clarke, Phil Ross, Keith Goldhanger, Susan Sloan, Ian Canty, Iain Key, Ian Corbridge, Cassie Fox, Andy Brown and Christopher Lloyd. Apologies to anyone I’ve missed!

A big thanks to Sister Ray. 

Words by Wayne Carey, Reviews Editor for Louder Than War. His author profile is here

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"I'm a 50 year old man, and I like it!" A music nut from North Manchester residing in Northwich. If it's good I'm on it. Most genres covered but mainly alternative post punk indie with a love for all things psych.

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