2020. I don’t know what I can say about this year that hasn’t been said a million times already, so I’ll keep it brief.
It has really, really sucked. A lot. Like, so bad. Heinous, horrendous. No good. Awful. Somehow, though, we’re staring at 2021, hoping for better. Jury’s still out as to whether or not that’s going to happen.
Right now, as it has been for most of the year, music continues to be a balm. Sonic comfort in an incredibly, increasingly uncomfortable world. One of the few bright spots if I’m being honest.
If you’d like to know what helped get me through this hellscape of a year (other than NHL20, craft beer, bourbon, and my family), take a look at my 2020 favorites below, and follow the links to give them a listen. Most of them are in no particular order - there are simply too many to rank, but I will add some context to quite a few of the releases named to help steer you towards them. And I will, at the very least, rank my 5 or 10 most favorite, though (look for the **). Oh, and I broke it down a bit - full lengths, EP’s, and Live Albums/Special Releases - hope that helps!
Thanks for checking them out. Happy listening.
Carly Rae Jepsen - Dedication Side B - All Hail the Queen.
Vasudeva - Generator - another stunner from one of the most sonically lush and adventurous bands creating music right now. Vibe the hell out with an awesome instrumental indie gem.
Lo Tom - LP2- LP1 was a total surprise - not that it was good, just that it kind of flew under the radar and ended up being great. LP2 continues that trend. Another great rock record from David Bazan and co.
**Deftones - Ohms - one of my top 5 favorites of the year, easily. Somehow they’ve managed to keep getting better, and weirder, and heavier, and this album just absolutely goes for it from the start. Gnarly, angular, ethereal… this band is now and will always be one of my all-time favorites.
**Dryjacket - Going Out of Business - Another top 5 favorite… I adore their last full-length, and this one lives up to it in every single way. This time, immaculate production really brings all their brilliance to the fore, though, with catchy melodies, the noodly guitar work they’re so good at, and more trumpets!
O’Brother - You & I - My friends put out their most ambitious album yet, and it’s a triumph of post-rock experimentalism. It takes some big swings and connects each and every time.
Nnamdi - Brat - One of the year’s most challenging releases, it’s also one of the most fun. A bit all over the sonic map, it’s hard to reconcile that this sits as an exercise in genre defiance as well as a love letter to all of the things Nnamdi loves about music itself.
Katie Malco - Failures - I honestly don’t know how I came by this one, but I loved it as soon as I did. From the UK, Malco channels some of the best of modern indie rock into her own unique flavor, crafting a brilliant record that reminds me of David Bazan and the like.
Soccer Mommy - Color Theory - This one dropped just before someone set the country’s dial to “Full Dystopian,” so that’s kind of my attachment to each track now. I distinctly remember early on in the year listening to this one repeatedly to keep calm. It’s mesmerizing in all the right ways.
**American Fail - Self-Titled - It’s a 20 minute ripper that puts to shame damn near every other punk record I’ve heard in the past 4-5 years. Unapologetically political, but somehow also one of the catchiest albums of the year, I promise you will not be disappointed. One of my top 5 favorite releases this year, without a doubt.
Bad Moves - Untenable - Another one I’m not sure how I got hip to, I’m just glad I did. Big Dischord Records vibes - I’d love to see this band play with Q and Not U or Pretty Girls Make Graves (or, it being 2020 and all, I would actually just like to see them play at all). Super energetic and fun, while also biting and punk rock. A great record.
Into It. Over It. - Figure - This one was a few years in the making, and you can hear the love and attention and craft that went into each and every track. A great mix of new and old IIOI, this one hits all the right spots for me and is simply a joy to listen to start to finish.
Misery Signals - Ultraviolet - One of the few heavy albums that made my list this year - a side effect of the year itself being so goddamn heavy, I guess. That being said, this one has been in consistent rotation for me since it came out. It’s big, loud, and dare I say, even quite lovely at times.
Standards - Fruit Island - Like Vasudeva, this one just puts a smile on my face - you can just hear the fun and joy of music in every weird little noodly note and that’s something I really, really needed this year. It’s another quick instrumental indie jammer, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the melodies.
Bound - Haunts - This one released on Jetsam-Flotsam in October and it’s been in steady rotation since. It’s almost the perfect pandemic record - it sounds like isolation feels, managing to be sweeping and guttural and quite beautiful all at the same time. Another great post-rock release for 2020.
Run The Jewels - RTJ4 - I mean, how could this not be on my list? Bop after bop, and every one of them has something to say.
Ratboys - Printer’s Devil - This one caught me completely and totally by surprise. It’s a raucous ode to the midwest by way of Chicago, with the punk and indie influences making the album as a whole a genuine surprise every time I listen.
**Gulfer - Self-Titled - A perfect album start to finish. Pound for pound, probably the my most played record of the year since it came out. I wasn’t sure they could top their last, Dog Bless, but somehow managed to do so with ease. A top 5 favorite of mine for 2020. Absolutely cannot recommend this one enough.
**Dikembe - Muck - This band continues to evolve and make everything that works about their last record and improve on it tenfold. Maybe their best produced/sounding album, it’s also their most sonically adventurous and I am here for it. I will forever love this band, and adore this album. A top 5 favorite for me this year, surprising no one.
The Smith Street Band - Don’t Waste Your Anger - I’ll be the first to admit that this one took a while to grow on me. But I revisited it about a month ago and found it to be… really, really damn good. This is a rock and roll band through and through, and frankly, they should be huge. Earnest, sweeping, big rock vibes throughout.
Touche Amore - Lament - This is a mileage may vary kind of band for folks, I think, but they’ve figured out what works for them (and their devout fanbase) and cranked it up to 11 for this one. An absolutely vital band for a while now, they’re at the top of their game here. Heavy, big vibes, emotionally punishing and cathartic as only they can be.
Options - Wind’s Gonna Blow & Windows Open - Both releases are very much their own thing, but also feel of a piece - maybe two sides of the same coin. Alt/indie from multiinstrumentalist Seth Engel, you can feel the weight of 2020 in both of these releases and they’re essential listens, right now, for that alone. For folks who like fuzzy, airy, heartfelt jams, each of these albums offers something to love.
Cloudkicker - Solitude - This is another one that took me by surprise - it’s a loud, heavy, harsh, pummeling instrumental metal/thrash/post-rock opus and damn, it’s really, really good. You’re either into what’s happening by the end of track one, or you’re not. Rewarding each and every listen, though.
Maxwell Stern - Impossible Sum - Last, but certainly not least, my friend Max put out a great solo record. Big Midwest Rock Vibes, it’s always a pleasure to hear someone stretch themselves a bit and really pick apart who and what they are to find something fresh. If you’ve dug anything from Signals Midwest or Meridian, get your ears on this one ASAP.
Pup - This Place Sucks Ass EP - a great epilogue to what they did on Morbid Stuff, this is a brisk, jarring, angular jaunt into the mind of Canada’s finest Punk/Rock outfit. A great listen start to finish.
Kult Krimes - Heavenly Mess & Divine Invasion EP’s- the vocalist from Small Leaks Sink Ships put out two of the weirdest and most oddly endearing EPs I listened to this year. Check ‘em out, asap.
Holy Fawn - The Black Moon EP - too short, but goddamn does this band just straight up rip. Esoteric and crushing post-rock/metal from Tennessee.
Circus Trees - Delusions EP - a trio of siblings from the East Coast, they’re just getting started. They take some big swings here with confidence many of their older post-rock peers are still searching for.
Nnamdi - Black Plight, Impatient, Stressed Out EP’s- the dude’s a music machine and each one of these releases is like some aspect of his psyche in music form. Punk, Hip Hop, Jazz… just, yeah.
Live Albums & Special Releases
The Smith Street Band - Live at The Triffid & Viva La Rev- absolute rock and roll gold, start to finish, on each of these live recordings. Melbourne, Australia’s finest export.
Into It. Over It. - Live at The Red Room- a great retrospective of sorts from one of my favorite musicians and his bandmates.
Murder By Death - Lonesome Holiday- I hate most Christmas music but wow do I love Murder By Death and this album is incredibly good.
Nnamdi - Krazy Karl- the less you know about this one, the better. It’s wild.
Deftones - White Pony X Black Stallion - I love Deftones. Always have, always will. I can’t believe this album is 20 years old, I can’t believe I’m that old. Also, the Remix album is surprisingly solid. Long live Deftones.