Play Hard

4 albums from 2020 to start your Sunday off right

Because Sundays should be for slow sounds and fierce females

Written by High Life North
Published 28.11.2020


The wistful, indie-folk of Taylor’s eighth studio album has basically been the soundtrack to our Sundays since its release back in July. And we’re still not over it. In our opinion (although it’s definitely not just us), folklore is Taylor’s best album yet. Written and recorded in COVID–19 isolation and almost entirely produced by Aaron Dessner of The National, the multi-record breaking album sees Taylor swap her catchy pop tunes and preoccupation with her public image for a collection of tracks that are altogether more introspective. As the title suggests, folklore is made up of stories, but these are stories that are entirely Taylor’s to tell. Instead, she merges fantasies, histories and memories with her unique set of dreams and fears. The result? The story of a 17-year-old learning to apologise sits alongside the tale of Taylor’s grandfather landing at Guadalcanal in 1942, and the darkly-comic portrayal of a misfit widow getting gleeful revenge on the town that cast her out. In her own words, with folklore Swift ‘draws stars around scars’ – and what a constellation she has created. 

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If Arlo Parks isn’t on your radar already, check her out. The London-born songwriter describes herself as the girl who ‘spent most of school feeling like the black kid who couldn’t dance for s**t, listening to too much emo music and crushing on some girl in her Spanish class’. But more importantly than all that, she’s one of our musicians-of-the-moment: offering us track after track of confessional, often devastating poetry reminiscent of Portishead in their prime while being bracingly fresh. Although she doesn’t technically have an album for us to gorge on yet, she’s released nine EPs this year alone – giving us plenty of soul for our Sunday. And if you’re only going to listen to one of her songs (for now – we know you’ll be back), make it Black Dog. Named after Winston Churchill’s metaphor for depression, Arlo tackles the weight of mental illness with the deftest of touches.

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We think Sunday sounds are best served soulful and slightly sardonic, and Phoebe Bridgers is a wickedly-woeful wisecracker. Phoebe has revealed that writer Joan Didion was on her mind as she wrote Punisher, and the same dryness of expression, the same preoccupation with that strain of chaotic boredom particular to Californians, is discernible throughout the record. Described as a ‘millennial Warren Zevon’ – even is she does sing about sexting instead of heroin withdrawal – in Punisher Phoebe gives us atmospheric indie-rock in abundance, while never quite shaking an under-riding sense of anxiety.

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It’s no surprise 2020 has been a year for changing directions, and Waxahatchee – musical outfit of Alabama songwriter Katie Crutchfield – is no different. With Saint Cloud, she has traded in the indie-rock neurosis and hulking rhythm sections of her previous album for a more mellow, Americana-fuelled homage to her hometown. Perhaps it’s partly an effect of the sobriety she’s recently embraced, but it feels as though, with Saint Cloud, the haze has lifted; Katie has, more or less, come out of the other side of the tales of breakups that littered Out In The Storm, and the quality of her songwriting can really be seen. Although nestled in heartache and hard-won wisdom, Katie hops out of her tracks with a smirk from time to time – meaning that playing the album on repeat is almost impossible to resist – but the tone she invariably creates is one of bruised stoicism. Poetically reflective, Saint Cloud transports you to a summer bonfire as it’s just starting to die down as much as it makes you curl up all the more under your blanket and look out into the greys of winter. Magic. 

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