2020 In Review: And The Winner Is....

on Thursday, December 31, 2020
Before you come at me with your pitchforks and torches, let me preface what I'm doing here with a couple of caveats. Firstly, it's 2020 and, frankly, given what we've all been through, I figure anything goes. There are no rules anymore. Except maybe stay the F at home or, if you have to go out, keep two metres apart and wear a friggin' mask. Seriously, it works. Other than that, it's a free for all. Secondly, as you will see, time played some weird tricks on me with what books I chose as the winners. Yeah, yeah. There are two. But one of the books I read as an Advanced Reading Copy in 2019 and mentioned it in passing here on the blog this time last year. The other, while published already in the UK, won't be out in Australia until March 2021. So don't @ me. I love these books and I stopped caring about time somewhere around April. Enough waffling.

Without further ado, I am pleased to say that my Bait for Bookworms Book of the Year is, for the first time ever, a tie.


I was first sucked in by the jacket design. Not the one you see here, but the one gracing the ARC. Having seen it floating about social media, I became oddly obsessed, despite knowing nothing about the book itself. In a strange serendipitous twist, Katharina from Maclehose was visiting Melbourne late last year and brought a copy with her. She had no idea I'd been coveting it for months, and handed it over, assuring me I'd love it. Talk about an understatement! The Slaughterman’s Daughter was the delightful throwback to the golden era of Yiddish storytelling that I didn't know I needed. An exuberant, joyous romp set in the Pale of Settlement during the time of the last Tsar, it tips its crisped streimel to the likes of Sholem Aleichem, IL Peretz and Mendele Mocher Sforim, yet maintains its own identity as a thoroughly modern and relevant work of literature. The story is bonkers, yet beautiful, a thrilling adventure and thoughtful treatment of issues that transcend time. Fanny Kesimann, the eponymous daughter of the local kosher slaughterman, is Hell-bent on freeing her sister from her status as an agunah (chained wife). Roping in the local eccentric, Fanny sets off on a madcap quest to hunt down her sister’s wayward husband only to fall foul of the Tsar’s secret police when she kills a gang of brigands who try to rob her. It’s hilarious and frenetic and everything I could have wished for to escape these difficult pandemic-drenched times. Oh, and for the pedants out there, I read it again in March and loved it even more.

Long-time readers of this blog, if there are any, might recall my fawning adulation for Philippe Claudel's Brodeck's Report. When it comes to novels about the collective complicity and guilt of civilians in World War Two, there is none better. Ten years to the day since I named it my favourite book of 2010, Claudel finds his way back to the top of my list with the absolutely astonishing Dog Island. Told in the form of a fable, the novel opens with three bodies washing ashore on the beach of the titular island, somehwere in the Mediterranean. Rather than investigate, the locals move quickly to toss the bodies into the island's smouldering volcano and go on with their lives. However, much like in Poe's Telltale Heart, dastardly secrets have a way of seeping out. It is the local teacher, an outsider, who begins to shake the tree. Those harbouring guilt are quick to snap back, accusing him of the most terrible crimes. When a stranger appears in town, apparently to prosecute the teacher's case, things take a turn for the decidely strange. I'm being intentionally oblique here. To give too much away would spoil the cataclysmic impact of what Claudel achieves through this story. Dog Island is literature as moral compass, a savage indictment on the state of our response to contemporary humanitarian crises. Like Brodeck, it explores complicity and the lengths we might to go to assuage our guilt for opportunistic depradations. In a world where people to continue to flee persecution and violence, where they risk their lives and those of their families to reach safe harbour, where they fall victim to callous smugglers or indifferent governments, Dog Island is an absolutely essential read.

And so ends another year. No matter hor you fared in 2020, I wish you all a better 2021, with health, happiness and great reading. I know I say it every year, but I plan to be back here more frequently. Fingers crossed another global catastrophe doesn't put paid to that plan!

2020 In Review: The Final Countdown

on Tuesday, December 29, 2020
One hundred and forty one books. Many of them great.

Here are the ones I loved the most. (Well, all except my favourite.)

10. Nikolai the Perfect by Jim McIntyre
Some books are just worth the wait. Jim McIntyre has been working on Nikolai the Perfect for almost thirty years. It has, to say the least, trodden a difficult path to publication, despite having been a runner-up in the Unpublished Manuscript category of the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards a few years back. How there wasn't a bidding war over this stunning novel will always be beyond me. A story of dislocation, disposession and long-held family secrets, Nikolai the Perfect is the kind of literature that just doesn't get written anymore. It is classical in the truest sense; lush with lyrical beauty, a finely-crafted pleasure to read. Despite being hailed by both Jane Harper and Toni Jordan in The Age Summer Reading special, the pandemic has meant that Nikolai has flown a bit under the radar. McIntyre has yet to get the recognition he so richly deserves. Still, I suspect time will be kind to Nikolai. This is the kind of slow burn book that will simply refuse to be ignored.

9. Weather by Jenny Offill
Like many fans of Offill's masterpiece in miniature, Dept of Speculation, I've been champing at the bit to get my eyes back on her sentences. And while Weather didn't have anywhere near the cataclysmic power of its predecessor, it was sharp and smart in a different (but still satisfying) way. Ultimately, it struck me as a novel of observational fragments that, when its various threads are pulled together, worked as a State of the Planet address (with a particular focus on the moral decay of America under Trump). In the days following the Biden/Harris victory, I found myself thinking of Offill, hoping that she had found not only comfort and relief, but also a skerrick of hope for what might lie ahead.

8. Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe
Following on from her extraordinary novella, The Fish Girl, Mirandi Riwoe returns with a brillaint slice of historical fiction that has already won a stack of prizes and, for my money, must be the hot favourite to win next year's Miles Franklin Award. Stone Sky Gold Mountain is everything I'd hoped for and more! I'd never given much thought to the Chinese experience during Australia's Gold Rush; back at school it was a footnote, an afterthought. Here, Riwoe places it front and centre to staggering effect. Siblings Ying and Lai Yue find themselves on the goldfields of Queensland, but soon their paths diverge in vastly different but equally challenging ways. Dreams of fortune are unceremoniously dashed on the altar of racism and injustice. There is decency to be found, but mostly in characters who also exist on the fringes and whose futures are similarly bleak. Riwoe bring great moral force to a gripping, immensely readable tale. No wonder it's struck gold with readers. #SorryNotSorry

7. The Watermill by Arnold Zable
A beautiful, engaging amalgam of reportage, storytelling and meditative thought about the power of art in the aftermath of atrocity. Zable takes us across the globe, to four sites of collective national trauma, and, through a cast of remarkable people he met in his travels, helps us understand a depth of common humanity that we might easily overlook when so wholly engrossed in the particulars of our own loss. It’s heartbreaking and immensely powerful but ultimately life-affirming - precisely what we've all come to love about Zable’s extraordinary body of work.

6. Peace Talks by Tim Finch
I picked up this novel on a whim - I liked the cover; it had a gentle, enticing aura. Little could I have expected such a profoundly moving story of grief and hope, delivered through the unlikely vehicle of a peace negotiator trying to come to terms with the brutal murder of his wife. Finch's juxtaposition of Edvard's high stakes work and his melancholy considerations of what might become of his life has a consistent bittersweetness that speaks important truths without ramming them down the reader's throat. A thoughtful, thought-provoking gem.

5. Pew by Catherine Lacey
What a delightfully strange and unsettling book this is! Lacey takes a well-worn premise (stranger appears in small town, trouble ensues), and fashions of it a compelling exploration of identity, belonging, guilt and community. With echoes of Shirley Jackson, Jordan Peele and any number of classic, dark fables (think: The Brothers Grimm), Pew is a timely little novel that is astonishing in its beauty and depth.

4. Late Sonata by Bryan Walpert
Seizure Online's Viva La Novella Prize has unearthed some absolutely astounding little books over the years. I have relished novellas from the likes of Jane Rawson, Marlee Jane Ward, Avi Duckor-Jones, Mirandi Riwoe and heaps more, so much so that I make it a habit of buying every winner without even bothering to check if it's going to be my kind of thing. Well, with no disrespect to the previous winners, this year might just have served up my all-time favourite. Bryan Walpert is, so far as I can tell, highly regarded as a poet. Reading Late Sonata it is not hard to see why. The gorgeous flow of his prose is veritably musical; perfectly fitting Late Sonata's subject matter. Stephen, an ageing novelist, attempts to finish his wife's manuscript on Beethoven's Sonata 30 op Cit 109. She, an acclaimed academic, is disappearing into the mists of dementia. While sorting through her notes, he stumbles across various clues about an affair she had that forces him to reconsider not only their marriage, but also his paternity of their late son, and his lifelong friendship with his best friend. Setting Stephen's tortured quest against his own novel-in-progress about an experimental treatment to reverse ageing, Late Sonata is a little book with very big things to say about music, memory, love and the dark complexity of life. It is the only book I read twice in 2020.

3. Fracture by Andrés Neuman
You know how we all have that one book we've been meaning to read forever? When Andrés Neuman's Traveller of the Century was published to great acclaim back in 2012, I picked it up in harcover with every intention of ripping through it post haste. Fast forward eight years and, well, here we are with it still languishing on my shelf. Not Fracture. It never even made it to my shelf. After reading a glowing review in The Guardian, I rushed out to buy it and took it to a nearby cafe. I was instantly hooked. Within the first few pages, I was frantically scribbling passages into my notebook. Then it escalated to photographing entire pages and posting them to Twitter. I never do that kind of thing! Fracture is an exquisite book; the experience of reading it not unlike giving yourself over to graceful meditative transcedence. It is, at least on its surface, the story of Mr. Watanabe, a survivor of both atomic bombs in Japan, who makes a pilgramage of sorts to Fukushima following the 2011 disaster at the nuclear power plant. Of course, that kind of reductive description does the book a great disservice - it is, at heart, a kaleidoscopic portrait of contemporary life, one lived precariously in a perpetual state of an uncertaintly not of one's own making. Structurally ingenious - it is mostly related through the reflections of former lovers - Fracture manages to capture and make bearable the existential horror of our times. I read it at the start of Melbourne's second lockdown, when life seemed particularly bleak and scary. Neuman's depth of humanity, his ability to plumb the depths of existence and find goodness within, gave me much solace. Needless to say, Traveller of the Century is now at the top of my Summer reading list.

2. Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
Hilariously indignant, gorgeous, heartbreaking... Brilliant. A perfectly-pitched dose of acerbic satire aimed at the casual, institutionalised racism in the entertainment industry. Of course, the barbs could easily be transposed to any industry and it’s not a far stretch to see the racism directed towards other minorities reflected in the main character’s experience. Willis Wu hopes to break into Hollywood but, no matter how far he seems to reach, he is only ever a variation of “Asian Man”. The glass ceiling is infuriating but the book itself is an absolute scream. Once again Yu proves himself to be among America’s best comedy writers and, quite possibly, a contemporary successor to Jonathan Swift.

2020 In Review: The Best of the Rest

on Monday, December 28, 2020
Have I mentioned that 2020 was a bloody excellent year for books? I mean, holy crap, it was the worst year for just about everything else but when it came to the books that sustained us through this clusterfuck pandemic lockdown life we really scored big. More than ever I've suffered a crushing dose of existential literary angst trying to narrow my favourites down to ten (spoiler alert: I've cheated). Having finally settled on which books I want to include, I thought I had to do an extra post about the ones I wish I could have included. In an alternate universe, all these books would have been in my Top Ten for 2020. They are that great. Then again, in an alternate universe I'd be at crowded punk shows in a New York basement without fearing for my life (I'm talking Covid, not, ya know, the usual crowded punk shows in a New York basement fear). So, here you go. These were the best of the rest of the 141 books I read in 2020:

Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson
Unrelentingly brutal, rife with injustice and rage, and yet brimming with compassion, hope and beauty, Nardi Simpson's magnificent debut absolutely floored me. Stitched together with rich threads of Aboriginal mythology (realised beautifully with magical-realist flourish), this multi-generational saga is hefty in both size and substance, full of memorable characters and powerful set-pieces. And, strange as it feels to say it, I don't think I've ever felt so warmly invited into aspects of Aboriginal culture, made not only witness but welcome participant. I loved every page of Song of the Crocodile but, moreover, felt grateful to Simpson for all that I came to learn and appreciate through the wonder of her storytelling.

Ghost Species by James Bradley
Some writers are just a class above. With Ghost Species, Bradley proves himself once again to be one of them. Here his deep dive into ecological catastrophe continues but mostly in subtle undercurrent. Centre stage is a perfectly-honed speculative meditation on human evolution: what if we could reboot humanity by cloning a neanderthal from DNA? It is an immensely satisfying thrill ride of a novel both intellectually and in terms of pure entertainment. In a crowded literary landscape, Ghost Species is an astonishing masterwork of speculative fiction - plausible, utterly compelling and, as it progresses, eerily prophetic.

The Lost Shtetl by Max Gross
Sometimes a book comes along with a premise so hilarious, so audacious and so up your alley that you kick yourself for not thinking of it first. Well, kick I did, but I'm glad Gross was the one to conjure this small Polish village lost to time, suddenly discovered and introduced to the modern world, because oy did I love reading this book. Of course, there were the expected stranger-in-a-strange-land gags (I could kind of imagine Peter Sellers and Mel Brooks tag-teaming on bits of it), but Gross took the idea to some very interesting, unpredictable places. With generous schmears of shmutz and shmaltz, Gross struck a fine balance of the hilarious, sacriligious and thought-provoking!

The Queen of Tuesday by Darin Strauss
Speaking of an audacious premise, Strauss's latest novel was about as uproariously chutzpadik as they come: an act of autofiction melded with an imagined affair between the author's grandfather, Isadore Strauss, and America's darling, Lucille Ball. In a year that we mostly felt shit about our lives, The Queen of Tuesday had me smiling more often than any other book I read. Strauss conjured TV's golden era with such love and gusto, and peppered his narrative with so many joyously sly sleights of hand, that I bought into his crazy conceit with absolute conviction. I also had the great privilege (and thorough enjoyment) of interviewing Darin for Detroit Jewish Book Fair.

At Night's End by Nir Baram
I've been a fan of Baram's writing since Good People, his first novel to be translated into English. Those familiar with his books might be accustomed to a certain bluster or swagger and so, like me, will be taken aback - in a suprisingly pleasant way - by the introspective air of At Night's End. This is a pained and deeply personal book, one in which Baram lays bare his soul in the wake of his best friend's suicide. In it, an author wakes up in an unfamiliar city, dishevelled, confused, desperate. Trying to work out what's happened, he suspects the answer might lie in the fate of his best childhood friend. He soon slips down the rabbit hole of fractured memory as he reflects on his younger days, and the bond the two shared. There's a lot to unpack in this novel but, ultimately, At Night's End will have you questioning the foundational myths of your carefully curated identity.

The Silence by Don Delillo
The weight of technology seems to be sitting heavily on many of our great writers because, recently, a fair few books have been pondering the question of what would happen if all technology that we've come to rely on just suddenly stopped. Delillo's slim take has a man on a plane, hoping to get back in time for a sports match, when the cataclysm goes down. The plane crash lands and he survives. It is a story in two parts, the first vintage Delillo at his prophetic best, the second a disaster of confused monologues. I just went with the theme and pretended the printing press failed at the end of Part One.

When We Cease To Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut
Probably the strangest book I read this year, When We Cease To Understand the World is neither novel nor a collection of stories nor essays nor... Shit, I don't know what it was. Whatever. In it Labatut imagines many of the greatest physicists caught up in the spell of their discoveries. The writing is explosive, the collision of creativity and intellectual rigour devastantingly brilliant. I still can't work out what to make of it, nor could I distinguish between fact and fiction (my scientific literacy is... um... a little lacking) but I can say without reservation that this is a work of strange and singular genius.

Thanks for reading. Hope to see you tomorrow when I begin my final countdown.

2020 In Review: Strewth It's Been a Ripper Year For Aussie Lit

on Saturday, December 26, 2020
I don’t usually do this sort of thing, but it’d be remiss of me not to make a special post about Australian books this year because HOLY SHIT it’s been an amazing one for Aussie literature. I read more from here than any previous year and even then I didn’t get to all the ones I had on my pile.

Particularly exciting was how many of my favourite books were debuts. It really stung to think how all these ace new writers didn’t get the chance to properly celebrate their efforts with proper launches, festival appearances etc. If it’s any consolation, I hope you know that you were read and loved and gave us a hell of a lot of happiness and respite through a time of collective trauma. To that end, I started the Apocalypse Zoom Book Club with JP Pomare and we revelled in discussing a bunch of Aussie debuts. Big shout out to all who joined - it was such an ace group and I really looked forward to our virtual hangs every month. As for the books, I especially want to sing the praises of:

- Madeleine Watts for her brilliant, confronting and technically ingenious novel, The Inland Sea. I was left in awe of the power of her central metaphor and the multiplicity of ways she brought it to bear on some of our most pressing issues.
- Imbi Neeme for her thoroughly enjoyable and warm novel, The Spill, that deftly examined the complexities of family and the fallibility of memory.
- Laura Jean Mackay for her mind-bending, magical-realist, plague novel, The Animals in That Country. Has there ever been more audaciously wacky pairing than Jean and her trusty dingo, Sue? And those whales... those whales.

As for more established writers, I was very lucky to blurb a few books and I stand by my love for them. So big shout outs to:
- Robbie Arnott for his truly wondrous The Rain Heron. The image of a bird made from water set against a strange war continues to haunt me.
- Patrick Allington, whose awesome dystopia, Rise & Shine was so brilliantly realised; dark, quirky and thoroughly intriguing. Plus its plague (or ecological catastrophe) made me feel a little better about ours.
- Elizabeth Tan who returned with a second collection of surreal stories that struck me more as premonitions than imaginative fireworks. Smart Ovens For Lonely People had me constantly marvelling at what Tan is able to achieve with the short form.

There were also a bunch of books I actually went out and bought (shock horror), and that gave me much joy to read. I loved Kate Mildenhall’s highly original, feminist spin on the contemporary dystopia, The Mother Fault. Riffing on the likes of Margaret Attwood and Doris Lessing, Mildenhall crafted something entirely her own, a cracking adventure with a lot of food for thought. Kristen Krauth brought me back to my music days with Almost A Mirror, an elegy for (and tribute to) Melbourne’s late-80s rock scene. Every sentence seemed infused with the stench of two day old beer and sticky, grime-filled carpet. Was like heaven to me. Most people don’t expect it of me, but I love a great thriller, particularly if it plays tricks with my brain. To that end, in the space of two books, JP Pomare has become a reliable go-to for me. I always know that I’m going to get a satisfying dose of smart thrills and In The Clearing certainly didn’t disappoint. In fact, I think I liked it even more than Call Me Evie.

I’ll be talking about some other Aussie books as I head towards my Top Ten Books of 2020 so be sure to check back in the coming days. Until then, let’s hear it for Aussie Lit. Can’t think of a time it’s been in a better state!

2020 In Review: Secondary Stars and Other Satellites

on Thursday, December 24, 2020
Well, 2020 was certainly... something. All my lofty ambitions to finally get the trusty blog up and running again fell to shit like all my plans. All OUR plans. Hell, I couldn't even bring myself to read between March and sometime around July. As it is, I've only managed 141 books for the year which isn't terrible but isn't exactly great either.

On the upside, it's been an unusually great year for new fiction and, once I got back into the swing of it, I read some extraordinary books. I'm glad to say that's particulalrly been the case with Australian fiction. I feel we're in some kind of golden era and, holy moly, this year might well have been its apex.

So here we are at the end. We might be exhausted, limping... nay, dragging our way to the finish line. But we made it. And so, once again, I bring you a series of posts where I wax lyrical (read: pontificate) about the things I've loved. Starting, as always, with the odd socks.

The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson
Maggie Nelson had just published a cycle of poems about her murdered aunt, Jane, when she got word that the case had been reopened and an arrest made. It was long believed that, despite significant differences in MO, Jane was killed by John Collins, aka the Michigan Murderer. A chance DNA match, almost 40 years after the fact, proved otherwise. The Red Parts is a breathtaking deconstruction of the trial that followed calling into question the legal process and its players, as well as family lore, memory and criminal responsibility. It is personable, personal and engaging while also being intellectually rigorous and satisfying. Not only the first book I read this year, but also one of the best.

Naamah by Sarah Blake
Noah's Ark gets a queer, feminist, magical realist retelling in Sarah Blake's extraordinary debut novel. Naamah is such a brilliant engagement with the traditional text; it challenges narrative convention - questioning silences, amplifying forgotten or ignored voices - in an incredibly intelligent way without ever sacrificing readability. At times it is quite confronting, and the time shifts and magical flourishes might not be to everyone's taste, but if you are willing to give yourself over to what Blake has set out to do you will find it infinitely rewarding. I also had the chance to chat with Sarah about her book, thanks to the good folks at Detroit Jewish Book Fair.

The Possession by Annie Ernaux
An intense, passionate and often creepy novella set in the aftermath of a failed relationship. Obsession fuels the dissection of life after love, when the narrator learns that her ex has taken a new lover.

Borges and the Eternal Orang-Utans by Luis Fernando Verissimo
A small, wonderfully loopy romp through the world of Poe and Borges by way of a locked room murder mystery. Oftentimes hilarious, but brushed with swathes of philosophical and literary insight, this was one of the most enjoyable little books I've read in a long time. Oh, and I was kicking myself that I didn't pick the murderer!

The Topless Tower by Sylvina Ocampo
Ocampo's writing is often overshadowed by her marriage to Adolfo Bioy Casares and friendship with Borges, but she was bloody great in her own right. This wonderfully surreal novella matches almost anything written by the aforementioned "superstars" - a boy is tricked by the devil into entering a painting of a strange tower. Once inside, he too begins to paint, only to find his creations spring to life.

In a year that saw so many great books being published, I simply couldn't read them all. So here it is once again, my Shelf of Shame. The books I really wish I'd had the chance to read but didn't have the time. Needless to say, all is not lost. A fair few have made the jump to my summer reading pile. But, until then I hang my head and prostrate myself before these wonderful writers, hoping that they can forgive me.


With 2020 being such a dumpster-fire shitshow of a year, it was one hell of a relief that it also happened to be a really great one for music. I had less time than I'd have liked to listen given how much I was stuck at home (I do have a toddler, after all), but here are the albums that really did it for me. Including my number one which, it is fair to say, is my favourite album in many, many years.

I'll kick this off by cheating. Four excellent albums from four dependable bands.
If you like your fuzz punk with a touch of the Ramones and a dash of FIDLAR, these British upstarts are your new favourite band.
Jim Ward may never shake off his At The Drive In past but, for me, it's his time fronting indie rockers Sparta for which he should really be championed. What a great album, even if it kind of flew under the radar.
2020 was the year Bridgers really came into her own. Equal parts sweet and haunting, with an urgent, dark undercurrent.
I've never been much of a fan, but these guys delivered a surprisingly buoyant slab of punkish rock that found its way onto my speakers far more than I'd have expected.
Complex. Difficult. Intense. Obtuse. Brilliant. Amazing. Holy shit.
There's righteous musical anger and then there's War On Women. An absolutely incedniary album of fight songs that tackle some very difficult subjects with perfectly juxtaposed grace and rage.
Vinnie Caruana can do no wrong in my books and while no IATA album has lived up to the debut, Dive is a very welcome addition to an almost flawless catalog of honest, humane, working-class punk rock.
I've become accustomed to hearing Dave McCormack's voice as Bluey, so it was refreshing to hear it again where I first came to love it. A typically enjoyable, quirky indie pop album by these Aussie legends.
The jury is still out on Ben Weasel but there's no denying that when he's on fire he is on fire. And right now he's on fucking fire. Some Freaks... is quite possibly my favourite album of his BoogedaBoogedaBoogeda. Yeah, it's that good.
Horns and Hammonds abound in this glorious throwback to the golden age of two-tone ska.

I somehow missed the boat on Illuminati Hotties when they put out Kiss Yr Frenemies, but this new album totally sucked me in with its irresistably jagged electicism.

Derek Zanetti, the angsty troubadour of the broken American Dream, is back with full band and a quiver of songs that somehow weaponise despondence and melancholy to deadly effect. Don't get me wrong, these songs simmer with hope and even a little joy, but damn they'll do a number on your heart along the way.

Every time I smugly think I've nailed conversational Hebrew, an album like this comes along and laughs in my face. And while I might not have the slightest clue what they're singing about half the time, Tabarnak's joyous party punk was my go to album for smiles in a year that seemed hell bent on denying me any.

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. If that's true then NOFX ought to feel pretty darn flattered at the moment. American Fail, a 22 song medley in 20 minutes (it's really one song subdivided into chapters), nods so blatantly, so frequently, so furiously to NOFX's masterpiece The Decline, I'm surprised it doesn't have whiplash. That said, it's incredible in its own right, almost providing a thematic and historical update to its predecessor.

Umpteen years on and the former Husker Dü frontman and all-round punk legend is still raging. Granted he has lots to rage about right now, but Blue Hearts finds Mould completely reinvigorated and writing some of th catchiest hooks of what is an already stellar career. Forget Dylan and Springsteen, this was the old codger with the most to say in 2020.

I'm pretty sure these guys are actually incapable of doing wrong but I wasn't expecting an album this bloody great. Skeleton Coast is TLA doing what they do best - honest, catchy, heartfelt punk that captures life in all its roller coaster vicissitudes.

You know what? There just isn't enough bombast in contemporary rock. So all hail The Lemon Twigs with their flamboyantly, excessively retro greatness. Think Bowie meets Supertramp meets Queen meets early Kiss or Alice Cooper. It's absurd but holy crap it's great.

Oh, Jeff Rosenstock. There's nobody quite as prolifically, consistently awesome as you. NO DREAM is fast and funny and warm and silly and thoughtful and just about everything I want in an album. Keep doing you, my friend. Keep doing you.

This year I almost didn't write a list. Not because there weren't a bunch of good albums that came out, not because I didn't get a lot of listening pleasure from a whole ton of great bands, but because back in January an album was released that instantly captured the moment then went on to define the entire year. No matter what new release came along to briefly grab my attention, I always came back to Spanish Love Songs' unassailable masterpiece, Brave Faces Everyone. Capturing the despondence, melancholy and defeatism of an entire generation with poetry worthy of the greats, and finding the perfect music to not only carry but enhance the message, Brave Faces Everyone is one of the greatest, most honest and heartfelt acts of artistic expression in any form this year. It's also the best album I've heard in about a decade. Very few albums can lay claim to being era-defining. To me, this is.