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.
niiice. – internet friends
Label: Brace Cover Records/Chatterbot Records
A great sophomore follow-up to 2018’s Try to Stay Positive, niiice.’s internet friends has everything you could want in an emo/punk album. The Minnesota three-piece cooked up some spicy riffs and head-banging melodies for this LP that will get stuck in your head almost immediately. It’s high-energy and, with everything that has happened this year, it really makes you miss hearing tracks like the ones on this album in a live environment. One of the biggest highlights of internet friends is the closer “lockjaw.” It starts off fairly subdued but then builds into something much bigger until it comes gracefully crashing down; once you hear Roddie Gadeberg say “I’m tired but I don’t wanna go / I’m tired but I don’t wanna go home” at the end, you suddenly realize the journey you’ve just been taken on.
Favorite Song: FRESCO MODE
Olde Pine – The EPs
Label: Olde Pine / Justin Brown
I might get accused of cheating with this selection, but I make the rules around here so deal with it! The Worcester-based group decided to release a compilation of their old EPs Reservoir, The Steve French EP, and Have A Bad Day as a full-length album titled The EPs. If you’ve never heard of Olde Pine, this is a great way to get introduced. The three EPs are combined chronologically and it’s neat to listen to the progression of the band’s talents from 2011 up to 2018. That appealing Midwest emo twinkle is definitely present but the raw vocals and sick stick skills on the drums make all of these tracks worth listening to.
Favorite Song: Have A Bad Day
Oldsoul – You Were Overwhelmed
Label: Counter Intuitive Records/Chatterbot Records
One of three Counter Intuitive bands to make an appearance in this article, Oldsoul gave us all a beautiful LP in You Were Overwhelmed back in February. The Massachusetts indie-rockers built on their solid freshman offering Coy, refining their sound and taking leaps forward melodically and lyrically. Jess Hall’s vocals particularly stand out; they’re warm and inviting and are reminiscent of talented vocalists like Jolie Lindholm (Dashboard Confessional/The Rocking Horse Winner/The Darling Fire) and Brittany Byrne (Skyeline). Each song on this 44-minute album is riveting and powerful and they all have the potential to take you on an emotional rollercoaster the more that you listen to them. Extra credit for having one of the best album-enders of the year in “Every Time I See You Breaks My Heart.”
Favorite Song: Every Time I See You Breaks My Heart
Oolong – About Your Imaginary Friend
Label: 3rd Row Records/Sun-Eater Records
This group from Long Island seems set to become the next big thing to come out of the emo community. About Your Imaginary Friend was an exceptional debut album that easily showcases the talent of Oolong and it’s exciting to think about where they can go from here. Sam Becht’s work on the drums brings this LP to life but that’s not meant to discount the riffs (which are zesty) and the raw vocals (which some people aren’t a fan of but I’ve always enjoyed). Even the lyrics are solid and they don’t fall into the trap of being cliché. There’s a lot to like here, and for a freshman album there’s not one bad song; they all slap.
Favorite Song: My Afternoon’s Shotgunned
Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
Label: Dead Oceans
I remember hearing “Kyoto” about a month after it released and being instantly hooked on Phoebe Bridgers. Little did I know that several weeks later, I’d sit down to listen to one of my top-two albums of the year in Punisher. When something is as hyped as this LP has been, it’s easy to wonder if all the acclaim and praise is truly worthwhile. Let me be the first (well, probably not the first) to tell you: it is. Over the past few weeks, I’ve mentioned how several albums were among my favorites of the year sonically, but Punisher takes the number one spot in that regard. Everything flows together perfectly and each track is magical in its own way. Combine that with Phoebe’s serene vocals and you have an elite, 11-out-of-10, must-listen album.
Favorite Song: Savior Complex
Pictures of Vernon – bug
Label: Counter Intuitive Records
I was first introduced to Pictures of Vernon on the split they did a few years back with Mom Jeans. and Prince Daddy, so it was exciting when they dropped their first full-length album in April. The North Carolina-based band changed their sound a bit with this release, but it’s still a fun and upbeat LP with a lot of redeeming qualities. The indie rock elements are still there on some tracks like “Kickflip Luis’ Roof Gap” and “Air Guitar,” but I’m personally a big fan of the pop undertones on other songs like “White Rabbit” and the closer “Sunny Happy Demons.” It’s always polarizing when a band decides to take a different path with their music, but in my opinion it worked out incredibly well for Pictures of Vernon and they deserve praise for it.
Favorite Song: White Rabbit
Ratboys – Printer’s Devil
Label: Topshelf Records
It’s necessary to give Ratboys credit for always finding ways to develop and evolve their sound over the years. Listen to 2015’s AOID and then 2017’s GN and you can hear a slight change. The same holds true for their most recent effort Printer’s Devil, and while it’s more of a revamp than a slight change this time around, the new sound is very much welcomed. You can still hear some homages to the past on a track like “A Vision” that reminded me a bit of “Pivotal Dates” from AOID, but as a whole Printer’s Devil is much more powerful than anything the group has previously released. It’ll be interesting to see if this is the direction the Chicago indie-rockers choose to pursue in the future because it seems to suit them quite well.
Favorite Song: My Hands Grow
Retirement Party – Runaway Dog
Label: Counter Intuitive Records
This was the album that made me want to start collecting vinyl this year. Retirement Party became a big favorite of mine after seeing them open for Mom Jeans., Just Friends, and Awakebutstillinbed two years ago and I was eagerly awaiting their next LP. Runaway Dog was definitely worth the wait as the Chicago three-piece exceeded all expectations. This album is a masterpiece lyrically just like Somewhat Literate was but Avery Springer, James Ringness, and Eddy Rodriguez refined their sound—the chord progressions and riffs of Springer and Rodriguez are extraordinary and Ringness displayed splendid skills on the drums. This kick-ass band is now 3-for-3 on releases (I’m including the Strictly Speaking EP because that was also a banger), and it’s hard to see how they won’t be 4-for-4 whenever their next album drops.
Favorite Song: Runaway Dog
Sandboxing – Discography
Label: Fire Hazard Records
I was lucky enough to see this Philly group perform in person back in 2018, so it was neat when they released Discography four months ago. Fun fact: You might recognize the song “Sweet Columbia, Pt. 2” from the intro to the Sound Town podcast! This album basically combines the band’s older EPs along with a few other tracks which results in nine fun emo-rock songs that will inevitably get stuck in your head at some point. All of the songs definitely stand out from a songwriting perspective, and the quartet of David Juro, Evan Ballew, Hank Byerly, and Jimmy Conroy complement each other well from song to song. The Sandboxing project may or may not be over (at least for the short-term), but at least they left us with this offering if they decide to step away permanently.
Favorite Song: Mambos No. 1-4
Shoobies – Cult
Label: Retro Horror Records
Following some intriguing EPs over the past several years, Jersey Shore four-piece Shoobies dropped their debut album Cult in February and hit a home run. The emo-pop tracks are upbeat and, at the same time, emotionally provocative which makes sense considering the band describes their songs as “sad music to dance to.” At times their sound shares some similarities to that of Sonic Blume and Cayucas—the bright, almost enchanting vocals, the dream-pop instrumentals, and the captivating lyrics all make this album one you should listen to. Shoobies is one of my favorite NJ bands and Cult gives them a great base that should lead to well deserved exposure.
Favorite Song: Telephone