2020 has been a terrible year for a multitude of reasons, and I’m eagerly awaiting flipping the calendar to 2021. Many industries have been severely impacted in a negative way this year and the music industry hasn’t been lucky enough to escape the issues plaguing so many throughout the world. With touring becoming impossible and longtime venues being forced to close their doors indefinitely, for example, everyone involved with music has had to find ways to adapt and survive.
Despite all the problems that 2020 has presented, many talented artists and bands proudly released a plethora of new content throughout the past 11 months. Speaking personally, music has been one of the outlets I’ve used to distract myself when I’ve needed to disconnect from the world for a bit. So, with the amount of free time at my disposal, I decided to put together a collection of albums that I enjoyed the most this year—50 albums, to be exact!
To be clear, this should not be viewed as a “Top Albums of the Year” list, but rather a “My Favorite Albums of 2020” compilation. Admittedly, there are certain genres that I typically don’t vibe with; while I know there were certainly some exceptional country albums released in 2020, for instance, I didn’t listen to them. Even with all that aforementioned free time, I’m sure that I also somehow missed some great albums in the genres that I dive into a lot.
Still, my hope is that you’ll find an album or two in here that you end up loving just as much as I did when I listened to it. Be sure to let me know your thoughts, I’d love to hear them!
Sidenote: I listened to a lot of great singles and EPs this year, but this five-part series (ten albums per post) will only include full albums. This list is unranked and is organized alphabetically by artist/band name.
Slaughter Beach, Dog – At the Moonbase
Label: Lame-O Records
Once again, Jake Ewald doesn’t miss. Released on Christmas Eve, At the Moonbase was a wonderful early gift for me and many others, and while it’s a late addition to this list it certainly deserves a lot of praise. If it wasn’t already clear, this release cemented Ewald’s place among the best active songwriters—this LP is elite from both an instrumental and lyrical perspective. From start to finish, At the Moonbase is phenomenal; every track flows together well and it’s impossible to find a bad one. It’s hard to rank Slaughter Beach, Dog’s albums because they’re all great for different reasons, but the newest one may represent Jake’s best work.
Favorite Song: Notes From a Brief Engagement (at the Boot & Saddle)
snarls – Burst
Label: Take This To Heart Records
I incidentally found Burst in Bandcamp’s “you may also like” section one night and I’m forever glad that I did. The full-length debut effort from Ohio’s snarls, Burst quickly became one of my favorite emo pop albums of the year. Chlo White and Riley Hall’s skills behind the microphone represent one of the major drawing points of this LP and, combined with the charming melodies and harmonies from song to song, make this sonically one of my favorite 2020 releases. Burst also deserves recognition lyrically: “Everybody thinks I am what they see / Feeling like I have to keep quiet” in “Falling” is definitely relatable, and the opening lines to the closing title track, “When I die / May I burst / With a crack of thunder / And a lot of glitter” serve as a great callback to the band describing themselves as “glitter emo alt rock.”
Favorite Song: What’s It Take
Soccer Mommy – color theory
Label: Loma Vista Recordings / Concord Records
Sophie Allison has quickly become one of my favorite artists. Following her successful studio debut Clean in 2018, intrigue was high to see what she would put together for her sophomore follow-up. It’s safe to say that the newest Soccer Mommy release was worth waiting for, as it represents a giant step forward for the Nashville musician. Allison’s vocals are delightful and simply stunning as she sings about heart-wrenching topics. In “yellow is the color of her eyes,” for example, the lines “Loving you isn’t enough / You’ll still be deep in the ground when it’s done” hit you like a truck. Ditto for the chorus in the closing track “gray light”: “I can’t lose it / The feeling I’m going down / I can’t lose it / I’m watching my mother drown.” Woven in between the poppy and often bright melodies is a deeper and darker message, and it all comes together to form a beautiful album.
Favorite Song: yellow is the color of her eyes
Spanish Love Songs – Brave Faces Everyone
Label: Pure Noise Records
I was a year late on 2018’s Schmaltz, which quickly became one of my favorite albums of all time, so I was excited when Spanish Love Songs announced they’d be releasing a new LP in 2020. I didn’t know if Brave Faces Everyone would be able to top Schmaltz, but after one listen, that question was answered with a hearty hell yeah. The lyrics aren’t necessarily dark but they’re still as heavy, emotionally provocative, and relatable as ever, which is what initially drew me to the band. Don’t discount the sound of Spanish Love Songs, though: they perfectly mesh pop-punk, rock, and emo and form one magnificent track after another. Brave Faces Everyone also had a perfect lyric for 2020: “‘It won’t be this bleak forever’ (And I hope you’re right).”
Favorite Song: Self-Destruction (As a Sensible Career Choice)
The Beths – Jump Rope Gazers
Label: Carpark Records
I got hooked on this Auckland four-piece after coming across “Whatever” over the spring, and was super excited to find out they’d be releasing a new album in the summer. Jump Rope Gazers exceeded all of my expectations and proved to be a great successor to Future Me Hates Me. The mix of power pop and indie rock works so well here especially when combined with the bright and pleasing vocal work of Elizabeth Stokes and Co. Despite the cheerful tone throughout, there’s definitely an emotional component present that many will be able to relate to, which makes the album even more appealing. It’s hard to start off with two top-tier releases in a row, but The Beths have done just that and seem poised to make it three whenever they drop their next album.
Favorite Song: Out of Sight
The Front Bottoms – In Sickness & In Flames
Label: Fueled By Ramen
The popular New Jersey duo came out firing almost a decade ago with their self-titled debut and followed that up with the incredible Talon Of The Hawk in 2013. 2015’s Back On Top was solid, but The Front Bottoms stagnated a bit with 2017’s Going Grey. Their latest offering is a step back in the right direction. TFB’s sound has matured a bit on this album and while it’s clear that they’re not going back to that indie folk punk/rock aesthetic anytime soon, In Sickness & In Flames isn’t quite as pop-heavy as I was expecting. The album as a whole seems more refined, and tracks like “jerk,” “montgomery forever,” and “leaf pile” seem like they’ll have some staying power over the next several years, which is something I couldn’t really say for anything on GG. This certainly isn’t the band’s best work, but it’s still good and worth your time.
Favorite Song: montgomery forever
The Strokes – The New Abnormal
Label: RCA Records
When a big band is set to release their first album in seven years, hype levels often get to a hard-to-reach point. Give it up for The Strokes for matching that hype level with an impressive LP that easily surpasses 2013’s Comedown Machine. Bringing in legendary producer Rick Rubin clearly paid off as The New Abnormal (a fitting album title for 2020) is quite possibly the best album they’ve released since the early part of the century. The guitars are lively, Fabrizio Moretti breathes life into the drums, and frontman Julian Casablancas sounds sublime. At its core, The New Abnormal serves as a fun alternative/indie rock album which is something that’s always welcome, especially in a year like this one.
Favorite Song: Selfless
Tim Heidecker – Fear Of Death
Label: Spacebomb Records
Many know of Tim Heidecker the comedian, the guy from Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, On Cinema at the Cinema, and much more. However, not as many know about Tim Heidecker the musician, the guy who released his best studio album to date at the end of September. Along with having an elite album cover, Fear of Death is definitely as advertised: “a Serious Album about Serious Topics.” Interwoven between lovely and catchy folk-rock instrumentals are captivating lyrics where Heidecker deeply examines his own mortality, a topic that we all consider at some point in our lives. Heidecker was able to work with some uber-talented musicians on Fear of Death and it shows, as the album was without a doubt one of the best of 2020.
Favorite Song: Backwards
Yawning – Sometimes, Things Break.
This Hamilton, NJ-based band unfortunately broke up after Sometimes, Thinks Break. which is a shame because it was an enjoyable listen that showcased their potential. A nice follow-up up to 2019’s Liquor Art, Yawning were able to mesh some catchy math rock elements with a defined emo/skramz sound to create nine tremendous tracks. These guys kind of reminded me of a rougher and louder Tiny Moving Parts; some of the riffs throughout would definitely fit in well on a TMP release. The lyrics aren’t anything to scoff at, either: the line “I can’t be alone / I’m having so much trouble and you’re not by the phone” in “Mean Jean,” as an example, is very captivating.
Favorite Song: My Name Is Alvin Flang
Yours Truly – Self Care
This Australian quartet put out one of the best pure pop-punk albums of the year with their full-length debut effort Self Care. Mikaila Delgado’s voice shines as she stakes her claim to becoming one of the best vocalists in the scene, and it carries well with the classic early to mid-2000s pop-punk guitar melodies formed by Teddie Winder-Haron and Lachlan Cronin. Brad Cronan also adds a lot to each track with his work on the drums and really helps contribute to that ideal pop-punk tone. This is definitely a band you’ll want to keep an eye on over the next couple of years as they further refine their sound and release more impressive content.
Favorite Song: Glass Houses
Just to have some fun, I figured I’d wrap up this series with my five best albums of 2020 out of the 50 that I’ve written about over the past month. Without further ado:
- Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
- Hot Mulligan – you’ll be fine
- Spanish Love Songs – Brave Faces Everyone
- Jeff Rosenstock – NO DREAM
- beabadoobee – Fake It Flowers
I hope throughout the course of this five-part series you’ve found at least one new band to follow. With some fun releases on the horizon next year, here’s to a great 2021!