National Album Day this year falls at a difficult time for arts in the UK. The industry has been disproportionately affected by the global pandemic, with live performances – many artists' primary source of income – essentially postponed for the foreseeable future.
So in 2020, the nationwide event that is National Album Day serves not only as an opportunity to celebrate the album as an art form, but also the inarguable value of British music beyond its huge economic worth.
The ten records on this list prove that there is nothing able to stand in the way of the UK's wild creativity, which ought to be nurtured and encouraged rather than ignored, insulted or undervalued.
The theme for National Album Day this time around is the 1980s – and we've written all about our 25 favourite 80s albums – but let's not forget the current British music scene is truly as exciting as it has ever been.
Sixteen Oceans by Four Tet
Even now, listening to Kieran Hebden's tenth album as Four Tet leaves us bitter about the festivals of which we were robbed in 2020. We still weren't fully prepared for a summer spent indoors when Sixteen Oceans was released in March, and its infectious, airy house beats felt to be beckoning us into the fields. It no doubt soundtracked many a garden party nonetheless, and stands tall despite some heavy rotation.
View Sixteen Oceans by Four Tet on vinyl
Big Conspiracy by J Hus
It says something about this year that we find it so unbelievable J Hus's Big Conspiracy is less than ten months old. Everything on the album, from Hus’s lazy vocal to the way he shimmies between beats and genres, sounds effortless. A definite step forward from his acclaimed debut Common Sense, this is 45 minutes of crafted transitions, somewhat mellowed but still precise, that showcase his mastery of several styles across a series of cool rhythms. No wonder it has already featured on a number of our best album lists.
View Big Conspiracy by J Hus on vinyl
how i'm feeling now by Charli XCX
Charli XCX's fourth album was written and released during lockdown, encapsulating elegantly the confusion, loneliness and boredom of the time. But, though it will undoubtedly and rightly be used as a kind of sonic photograph in the years to come – both due to its subject matter, and how Charlotte Aitchison used social media to workshop the tracks – how i'm feeling now is a timeless triumph of the Cambridge-born songwriter's knack of finding an absorbing melody among some compelling DIY electronics.
View how i'm feeling now by Charli XCX on vinyl
SAWAYAMA by Rina Sawayama
It would take a fool to attempt confining Rina Sawayama to any particular genre, but suffice to say she proves on SAWAYAMA – the roots of which are in pop music, R&B, hip-hop and metal – that she is a master of many. Born in Japan but a Londoner from the age of five, Sawayama missed out on a Mercury Music Prize nomination due to having indefinite leave to remain but no British passport. More a loss for the industry prize than for the remarkable artist it shunned, it nonetheless opened a discussion about Britishness in art. "If arts awards are creating their own version of border control around their eligibility, I think that's really problematic," she told Vice.
View SAWAYAMA by Rina Sawayama on vinyl
Love + Light by Daniel Avery
Daniel Avery released his third full-length solo album Love + Light with no forewarning in June, only two weeks after recording its final note, representing another bewildering feat of creativity in the most difficult of times. Separated in two parts, apart yet intertwined, the record features some gorgeous slow-moving textures among driving techno that, like Sixteen Oceans, makes us pine for the return of communal listening.
View Love + Light by Daniel Avery on vinyl
I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep by Ghostpoet
Though we were growing impatient, having hungered for Ghostpoet's fifth album since its first single Concrete Pony was released in January, really its arrival in May couldn't have been more apt. At a time when anxiety was at a national high, Obaro Ejimiwe's meditations on his own mental health became only more poignant, and are matched on I Grow Tired... by his ever-increasing mastery of composition, instrumentation and production.
View I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep by Ghostpoet on vinyl
Viscerals by Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs
Despite the band's moniker, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs's approach is far more elephantine as mammoth riffs tear through the speaker cone and plant their feet square in your gut. Playfully eccentric as much as it is colossal, Viscerals shares a Sabbath-like nous for using rhythm and pace as much as pure noise to achieve a truly British style of heaviness.
View Viscerals by Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs on vinyl
Articulation by Rival Consoles
Ryan Lee West's trademark ambient techno is perhaps at its most fluid on Articulation, trance-like at times and untethered from typical rhythms, which likely has a lot to do with his novel approach. During recording, he drew structures, shapes and patterns by hand to find new ways of thinking about music. "I think the goal of a lot of electronic composers is to find a balance between the vision of the idea and the power of possibilities on the computer," he says. "With a pen and paper sketch you can compose and rethink ideas without technology getting in the way."
View Articulation by Rival Consoles on vinyl
Edna by Headie One
Undoubtedly one of the year's most eagerly anticipated albums, released the day before this year's National Album Day, Edna sees Headie One confirm himself as one of this nation's most progressive and enterprising artists – a master of drill but by no means confined by it. A long-yet-lean 20-song set with features from Skepta, Stormzy, AJ Tracey, Mahalia and Drake, its journey is a meandering one between the pensive and the aggressive, the playful and meditative. A return worthy of the wait.
Dark Matter by Moses Boyd
We fell in love immediately with Moses Boyd's first album as band leader and producer, with Dark Matter fittingly getting its release on Valentine's Day this year. You'll find it in the jazz section of your local record shop, but so sprawling is its reach that it could easily sit among an electronic, Afrobeat, R&B or grime selection. The south London drummer draws on an eclectic musical upbringing to drive his genre forward in the fashion its spirit deserves.
View Dark Matter by Moses Boyd on vinyl