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Retrospective | Best Post-Rock Albums of 2020

Note: I’ve gone back through and have linked the Bandcamp listings for all the albums on the list below – just click on the heading for each. When checking out these artists, please consider purchasing from those you really enjoy. These are artists who work hard to make music you love, and they aren’t mainstream, making a bunch of money off of it. Please consider supporting them so they can continue to make amazing music.

Edit: I am adding one new album post New Year. I discovered one last album within the first 10 days of 2021, and it was released in the last 2 months of last year. Despite prowling Bandcamp daily, I missed it, but a friend suggested I just add it to the list because of those details. Doing it.

I’ve been dragging my feet on this list until the very last minute. Part of it is due to my inclination towards procrastination, but part of it is because I’ve been absolutely daunted by trying to create some sort of ranking for all the great music this year. In many ways, this is the first year that I’ve truly given much of my life to exploring post-rock fully, with an intensive focus on what is newly released. I took my late year efforts from compiling and exploring the 2019 list last year to a year-round effort this year. It was an fantastic journey, and it’s become clear to me in reading posts from the community and also in just seeing how my tastes have developed and changed over time that any ranking I have will be utterly arbitrary and subjective. As such, I won’t focus on ranking. I’ll indicate the few albums that were utterly shattering for me with *** symbols, but note that that’s just for me. I feel that all of these albums I’ve chosen are amazing, journeys that could be a best of the year for someone out there (and I’ve surely missed some choices for others that didn’t grab me). I hope that some brief summaries will give you reason to go explore them yourself. I’ll break this up into 3 sections: EPs, “Live/Live Studio”, and LPs.

Note: I will highlight several EPs. There were just many really good ones that were on repeat for me for a few days each at the least.

  • ***Fires in Paradise – Longwinter
    I don’t know what to say about this album other than it blew my mind. It feels like exactly the kind of sound I’ve been looking for in post-rock with it’s own spin to sound unique and fresh. It uses interesting instrumentation such as a violin and really digs in under the skin. I can’t wait for the next effort.
  • ***Vorokhtah – Sleeping Bear
    This introduced me to the band — a welcome introduction! They nail a classic blend of what you’d expect from somewhere in the Venn diagram of Flies are Spies from Hell, the End of the Ocean, and Mono. My only complaint about this EP is that its two songs leave me wanting more!
  • ***Letargo – Jardin de la Croix
    Another new band discovery for me. This is arguably more math-rock than post-rock, if that distinction really matters at all, so prepare for some amped up speed and almost percussive use of guitars. A fellow wayfarer of the post-rock way told me that this was likely her most played album of the year, and there’s a reason why: it’s amazing. After listening to it, I have every belief you’ll go through their entire catalog to check out more. The title deceives: it’s anything but lethargic; rather, it’s pure energy and deft use of rock instruments alongside some beautiful nuance like pianos.
    I discovered this one from a mixed compilation (shout out to A Thousand Arms’ Open Language: Volume V [Side A]), and I can’t explain exactly why, but it grabbed me. It’s slower and more doomy (the song is called “iii: is dead” after all), more inspired by something like Black Sabbath and the traditions of post-metal/doom metal. My tastes have grown more in that direction over this year. Yet, in the darkness, there’s some beauty, and if anything, that fits perfectly with the posts of this blog thus far. Sit with: “i: the light”, “ii: inside me”, and “iii: is dead”.
  • ***Chroma – Martlet
    I don’t know what it is about this album. It’s doomy. It’s synthy. It feels like post-rock meets the Blade Runner soundtrack, and it consumed my heart and mind when the 2020 US Election was sitting in limbo in the days after the vote. The names of the songs are just red, white, and blue in foreign or arcane words (they’re Canadian, so I doubt that has anything to do with my mental connection with the election). I think this has nothing to do with nationality and rather everything to do with “Chroma” – color. It feels like an exploration of that concept/experience in the title and the album cover, so we go from the edgy, rough, almost destructive experience of deep red, the cleanse of white, and the cool, almost disconnected jive of blue. I’d like to write about one of these soon. It’s quite an interesting concept, especially as it’s veiled in the wording.
  • ***Morula – Pictures from Nebula
    This album has a punchy zest without losing an ounce of wandering exploration or heavy destruction. The balance is perfect (much like the almost yin-yang image on the cover). According to the Bandcamp description for the album, the album represents a change in the band’s sound and direction. The title (and first song) is a term from biology about a developmental stage in the early embryo, a time of change. The four songs take us through the journey of life. Take the journey. You won’t be disappointed.
  • ***III – Fractal
    The inclusion of the cello on this album makes all of these 3 songs have a heart-tugging extra depth. They perfectly utilize simple compositions that meld the guitar with the cello. As a friend tells me, he’s always interested when bands do a lot with few, simple elements. That’s this album. For me, this has been one of the most soothing albums for a difficult time in the world and in life. It’s soothing and empowering all at once. I highly recommend giving this hidden gem a listen.
  • ***Dione EP – Lai delle Nubi
    These two songs are about the Dione probe. Space themes aren’t usually a grab for me, but this one does it perfectly. As I wrote on Bandcamp: “This beautiful little EP captures its inspiration perfectly without feeling like a “space rock” album, rather having its own sense of depth and journey. It’s beautiful and haunting. One of the best post-rock EPs of the year!

Live/Studio Live
Note: I’m combining albums that are a live recording or a “live studio” recording as one similar idea that is somewhat different in execution than other, non-live albums. I feel this deserves a separate category because there are a few good entries in it.

  • ***LIVE SESSIONS 2020 – Tides from Nebula
    This starts off with and includes the first several songs from From Voodoo to Zen which was one of my 2nd rated album of last year. Honestly, this live version doesn’t miss a beat. These “sessions” are just as good as the studio album and even accent the songs slightly differently. I recommend listening to both.
  • Dread Sessions – Volume 1 – Tangled Thoughts of Leaving
    This album caught me by surprise, and I don’t know how to describe it. These guys truly do produce tangled thoughts in a minor key, and it’s a kind of tangle that pulls you in and along into the dread (which is honestly aptly named). You’ll find yourself wrapped in and gasping for air after a couple songs. It’s unique and much worth exploring, but prepare for being entangled.
  • ***Live from Cracow Music Scene – Transmission Zero
    Oddly, Transmission Zero’s self-titled LP from 2019 didn’t do much for me. I kind of lost interest somewhere in the middle of it. It’s not bad. It’s actually fantastic, but I think my connection to the genre still had some growing to do at that point. This live version changed that for me. Something about it has just a bit more energy while still having just as fantastic of execution. I think re-ordering the songs actually helps too. In any case, this live version was so good that it made me go back and love the original. Check them both out.
  • ***Live at the Chapel – Astodan
    Honestly, my first deeply loved album release from this year was Astodan’s 2nd studio album (you’ll see it below). I just discovered this live mix of songs from their first two albums a couple days ago (it was released about 6 weeks back). It’s absolutely amazing. The sound may be even more evocative on a few songs, and it’s brought me to a deeper understanding of their music, one I’d like to dig into in a future post. I’d suggest trying this album, and if you love it, go get both of their other albums, as you’ll likely love them both.

Note: again, I have just picked the albums that have spoken to me, and honestly, I don’t feel that I can even include every album I enjoyed!!! Don’t fret if I didn’t pick one that spoke to you. I only hope this leads to some new discoveries for some fantastic artists.

  • ***Bathala – Astodan
    As I just said, this was my first real post-rock love of the year. It takes song titles from world mythology, feeling like a deep dive into story telling and archetypes. In that regard, it feels like a different approach to epic post-rock, and something about that intention transfers to the style of music. It’s a bit more on the post-metal end, but there’s a lot of nuance to love. I would suggest listening to this album and losing yourself in the story.
  • PENUMBRA – Barrens
    This album is a unique addition here in just how much synth influence it has. It overwhelms you with the droney synths in a way that makes it truly stand out. It’s a very powerful album, one that can blow you away into space if you sit with it.
  • ***Final Quiet – Flies are Spies from Hell
    If I were forced, I would pick this as my album of the year. It’s just an instant classic for me, much like We Lost the Sea’s Triumph and Disaster last year. This one, however, is a perfect blend of piano and tremolo guitar for one of the most emotive experiences you’ll ever have. Interestingly, it didn’t feel negative at all to me, and hence, I was surprised recently when I read reviews that emphasized that it is an album about death and is, hence, depressing in their takes. Maybe reading my current posts on here will make it clear that I wouldn’t find such a topic to be that way. If anything, I imagine this more as a loved one at a dying person’s bedside, speaking over a life well-lived and all the memories shared. It’s breathtaking. Here’s what I wrote on Bandcamp: “This album is a perfectly orchestrated musical journey into the mind and heart. It’s amazing how one track flows to the next, how intimate softness is followed by epic crescendos, and how piano is married with guitar to really pull at every emotional note throughout each song.
  • ***ZWARTGROEN – All shall be well (and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well)
    This album may be the best I’ve heard play with the nautical journey theme since the first two albums by The End of the Ocean, and I can’t think of better praise than that. It feels so perfectly crafted and unique, despite that theme that lends itself to trope. I’m not going to beat this summary on Bandcamp from when I was listening to it nonstop, so here it is: “To me this is about the existential journey that is life, the entangled duality of death and life (black and green – zwart (black) groen (green)). The mastery of the album lies in its playing with this entangled duality to the fullest. We begin the journey by taking the helm to steer with the most ebullient tonalities, go through many stages of adventure which explore a variety of emotions, and end up with a sailing off into the darkness of death with a fully elegiac close.
  • True Meridian – gazelle(s)
    This album didn’t pull me as much as the previous, but these guys are one of the most interesting post-rock bands out there. They further explore their own style and ideas in this album, really utilizing the violin, and feeling like they are exploring the soul of the American West. Give this band some love with a listen.
  • Brightness of an Endless Light – Zealand the North
    This album simply feels solid. Every song is simple yet a perfect progression which leads perfectly to the next. I have returned to it off and on throughout the year because it feels so well-crafted with a perfect key for hope, strength, and resolve, just like the brightness of an endless light.
  • ***Mirrors – still motions
    This album is a surprise. You’ll go in thinking it’s just going to be ambient with some chamber orchestration with the first progressions, and then it pulls the rug out from under you with epic, pounding post-rock. The band named themselves perfectly with “still motions”, and the sound and name make me think of a variety of concepts from Taoism with yin and yang and “turning the light around”, making stillness into movement. While the elements this band uses are post-rock standards through and through, they take these ideas and progressions and make their own sound and identity. This is a promising debut that, like the title of the first song, may be an epiphany for you.
  • ***Melon Light – Holy Garden District
    Much like the cover image for this album, the album’s music feels like some holy, technicolor monster ripping into rock? flesh? and making space for a heart. The tag “surf rock” on Bandcamp feels like both a misnomer and the missing piece in explaining what makes this sound different. I couldn’t tell you what makes this addictive, but I found myself repeating this album for days at a point this year, and I can honestly say it doesn’t sound like anything else on this list. It’s a meander through some sort of surf/spaghetti western/epic post-rock experience that you’ll have to listen to yourself to really get the sense of.
  • ***Stella Mori – I Hear Sirens
    This would likely be my number 2 album of the year, although sometimes I think it’s number 1. I had heard I Hear Sirens previous albums and felt somewhat mixed about them. This album blew away any expectation I could have had. The artwork, the title, the song titles… Those layers of polish are just the perfection on top of this album that takes you deep into a cosmic journey – Stella Mori meaning the death of a star. It feels like a reverence for the cosmos and pushes you to look up at in wonder, just like ancient philosophy would have us do. This album is an absolute must and much like Final Quiet above is an instant classic for me. Here’s my take on Bandcamp: “This album is simply breathtaking. It’s definitely one of the best of the year, and the name resonates with the feel of the album: a cosmic exploration into what it is to be a child of the universe, watching the death of a star.
  • ***Athalase – Ro
    This album is post-rock perfection. It hits most anything you would want from a general post-rock album and then some. I feel like it is not only one of the year’s best but one of those albums that can lead one to fall in love with post-rock. It hasn’t gotten the notice I feel it deserves.
  • ***Coastlands – Death
    Prepare to face the destruction of death in this album. Coastlands goes full post-metal and crushes you without falling into the standard doomy dynamics that post-metal can get stuck in. It’s epic, empowered, and gorgeous. This came out near my birthday, and it ended up being a perfect birthday present.
  • ***Oscillate – pg.lost
    One of post-rock’s finest returns with an amazing album. As I listened to it for the first time, I couldn’t help but feel like each song was perfectly constructed, even though pg.lost says they had to take a very different approach to song writing with the time of the pandemic. It paid off, and this one will take you on an oscillating journey through everything this band has to offer, which is some of the most solid rock in post-rock.
  • ***Continuance – Noir|Reva
    This album is interesting to me in part because it speaks to my personal development both in loving this genre and in my life this year. I first heard this early in the year (was released March 3) before I was moved to work from home, as I distinctly remember listening to it at the office (was moved home about a week into March). At the time, it felt off. It didn’t connect with me. I listened to it again two days ago, and I had to buy it. It was perfect. It’s one of my faves for the year now. The meshing of rock, synth, and chamber elements all into one smooth, compelling set of songs is effortless and moving. Try “Come Back Apollo” and “They Do Exist” for some absolutely beautiful post-rock. I think you’ll immediately get how deftly constructed this album is. I cannot wait to see what these German masterminds come up with next.
  • Where The Flowers Grant You Wishes – Black Narcissus
    Have you ever imagined what a post-rock journey into a fantasy book would be like? That’s what I feel this album is. There is so much enchanting artistry and layered storytelling to every song, not to mention the evocative album art. Furthermore, they use voice samples (or found footage as I like to call it) to great storytelling effect a few times on the album. It’s nothing short of insane how much is here to experience, especially from a two-piece band! This is only their second album. I highly suggest checking it out. See my edit note at the top of this post. It was for this album. Do not miss out like I did.

All right… I had to pare down this list significantly, and because of that, it ended up being almost completely *** items. That was not originally how I thought this would turn out! I hope the rest of you are as enthralled with this year’s stellar offerings in post-rock!

Rock on!


2 thoughts on “Retrospective | Best Post-Rock Albums of 2020

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