Best Albums of 2020: Denovali Records

Lieder Fuer Geometrische Stunden (Denovali)
ΠΟΛΙΣ aka Polis (Denovali)
In Origine (Denovali)
Spectral (Denovali)
I Foresee The Dark Ahead If I Stay (2011, reissue on Denovali)

To my ears, the strength of German-based indie label Denovali Records is that there is no single strength; that’s the point. Anything from minimalist ambient drone to classical chamber music to techno and raucous electronic noise has been the menu since its founding in 2005. While the diversity means successive albums can sound jarring at times, the discovery is fun and these 2020 releases are all gems in their own brilliant way.

The duo Sankt Otten is among the smartest 21st century heirs to Cologne-inflected Krautrock, playing a more lyrical and less raucous take on those timeless sounds than, say, Kreidler, another band comparable in talent if not approach. Lieder Fuer Geometrische Stunden (“Songs for Geometric Lessons”) is another tuneful collection of grooves fashioned with guitar, drums and an arsenal of mostly analog synths. A few beatless tracks sit just right among the others and are worthy of Michael Rother’s or Cluster’s more contemplative moments.

For fans of moody, futuristic, noir-ish electronica I highly recommend new albums by Subheim (Greece) and Saffronkeira (Sardinia). Both are vivid, cinematic trips fusing fractured and syncopated beats, lovely orchestral-like sweeps, random noises and location recordings. Shadowy but melodic, they’re not unlike the kind of territory favoured these days by British artist Woob. The Saffronkeira album features extensive contributions from Sardinian trumpet player Paolo Fresu in freewheeling Miles Davis mode, a striking foil against the synthetic textures and clubby beats.

Finally, two more notable albums on the modern classical and jazz tips respectively. The perfectly-titled Spectral is a haunting, beatless opus from Anglo-German film and soundtrack composer Robin Schlochtermeier blending piano, quasi-orchestral synths and location recordings. Just as cinematic but in a very different way is the Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble album, a reissue from the now-disbanded Dutch seven-piece that collects live performances spanning 2006-2011. It’s a moody, mostly instrumental fusion of rock and jazz that’s complete unlike cool and fussy 70’s jazz fusion. It’s gothic and noir-ish, beautiful in its looseness and grittiness, and quite unlike anything else I’ve heard in this space. The band also has three studio albums that are well worth checking out.

Best Albums of 2020 Reviews Index