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.
I Love Your Lifestyle – No Driver
Label: Counter Intuitive Records
In No Driver, this five-piece band from Sweden managed to put out one of the most sonically-pleasing albums of 2020. Saying that this is a perfect summertime album is almost a disservice because you’ll have a good time listening to it at any point in the year, but it really does emit summer vibes from track to track. The opener “Stupid” definitely sets the tone for the rest of No Driver: addicting harmonies, sick guitar riffs—everything is top notch. This is the album that really made me miss going to shows, and I Love Your Lifestyle vaulted to the top of my list for bands to see when touring is possible again.
Favorite Song: Car
I’m Glad It’s You – Every Sun, Every Moon
Label: 6131 Records
Written after a tragic accident in which the band lost a close friend, Every Sun, Every Moon should be the record to propel I’m Glad It’s You to the next level. This indie-rock and emo album is emotionally-driven (obviously), and while it shines in multiple different places, the lyrical work of the California band is gripping and spellbinding. Especially in a year like this one where so many people have experienced endless amounts of loss, grief, and hurt, Every Sun, Every Moon becomes super relatable. Don’t discount the musical aspects of this LP, though: despite the delicate subject matter, bright tracks like “Big Sound” and “Silent Ceremony” mesh well with the slower “Death Is Close” and “Lazarus” (and everything in between) to form a refined and mature sound.
Favorite Song: Silent Ceremony
Jeff Rosenstock – NO DREAM
Label: Polyvinyl Records
I first learned about Jeff Rosenstock when he performed at my college a couple of years ago and, after naturally going through his full discography, became a big fan. NO DREAM dropped suddenly without notice back in May and, in my opinion, instantly became Rosenstock’s best album (although WORRY. will still put up a valiant fight). Simply put, the man is a legend at creating fun, high-energy, easy-to-jam-to albums and this one is no different. From start to finish, the LP is stunning and, truth be told, it’s hard to find any low points throughout. Every track flows together perfectly and the instrumentals are extremely catchy. It’s hard to envision how Rosenstock will top NO DREAM, but he’ll certainly find a way.
Favorite Song: Scram!
Khaki Cuffs – Khaki Cuffs
Label: Chillwavve Records
The Khaki Cuffs project recently called it quits (shortly after former member Sam Greaves entered the spotlight for being abusive and manipulative), but they left us with a top-tier twinkly emo album. Their self-titled offering does a lot extremely well and fits the mold for what a Midwest emo LP should be—guitar-driven tracks with excellent chord progressions, raw but enthralling vocals: it’s all here. From a lyrical perspective, Khaki Cuffs is about what you’d expect, too. From “I feel nostalgic for high school / I don’t know why / ‘Cause I hated it when I was still a kid / But times were simpler then” to “I’ll never live up to the person you want me to be / And I can’t reach the standard that you’ve always set out for me,” there’s something relatable here for everyone.
Favorite Song: i push mongo, fuck you
Knuckle Puck – 20/20
Label: Rise Records
Similar to another band on this list, a new Knuckle Puck release is always put up against their 2015 LP Copacetic, which quickly became one of the best modern pop-punk works. 20/20 isn’t quite on that level but it’s still a really solid offering from an upper-echelon band. It’s lively and entertaining which is what we’ve come to expect from the Chicago five-piece. The choruses and riffs throughout the album are magnificent, and the overall lyrical tone is a refreshing change from the typical pop-punk angst (or “I hate my parents music” as one of my friends would describe it) to something a little brighter and more jovial. Some songs stand out more than others (“Earthquake” and “Green Eyes (Polarized)” are bangers), but there’s really not a bad track on 20/20 which is hard to accomplish and deserves praise.
Favorite Song: Earthquake
Machine Gun Kelly – Tickets To My Downfall
Label: Bad Boy/Interscope Records
We have seen glimpses of MGK’s pop-punk talents before, but Tickets To My Downfall confirmed it: the popular rapper (who has started to ask friends to call him by his real name, Colson Baker) is one of the most versatile artists in the music industry today. This is a prototypical pop-punk album: solid riffs, pleasant hooks, Travis Barker-esque stick skills on the drums (it helps that Barker is actually playing the drums on each track); you can hear the blink-182 influence but that’s not a bad thing. Any of these songs would have fit in really well on an old-school EA Madden or NHL game, which is meant to be a big compliment. If Baker wanted to return to the pop-punk genre for his next album (whenever that may be), it would be intriguing to see the results and subsequent growth.
Favorite Song: bloody valentine
ManDancing – The Good Sweat
Label: Take This To Heart Records
I remember seeing this band perform with Shark Club two years ago and being blown away by their talent during their opening song. Driving home that night, I threw on Everyone Else and Hands On 3 and my thoughts were validated—ManDancing slaps. It was a long two years, but their sophomore LP The Good Sweat was well worth the wait. You can put this five-member group in the indie rock genre, sure, but it’s so hard to find an adequate comparison. ManDancing have created a unique sound that’s endearing and cathartic, and it’s so easy to get entranced by every track on The Good Sweat. Don’t miss out.
Favorite Song: Wall Spot
Movements – No Good Left To Give
Label: Fearless Records
Following their EP Outgrown Things and debut album Feel Something, there was a great deal of anticipation surrounding the next Movements release. If you were expecting Feel Something 2.0 then you were probably a little disappointed, as No Good Left To Give definitely went in a different direction. For those like myself who just wanted to see how the California-based band would grow and develop after three years, NGLTG was a great follow-up to their first album. Movements didn’t go as heavy on this LP but they still churned out 12 polished and terrific songs. I think the lyrics are a bit more appealing than the instrumentals for the most part but both aspects are still worth your time to take in and consume.
Favorite Song: Moonlight Lines
Neck Deep – All Distortions Are Intentional
Label: Hopeless Records
Any album Neck Deep releases always seems to be compared to 2015’s Life’s Not Out To Get You, which is understandable but perhaps a little unfair. Sure, All Distortions Are Intentional is not better than LNOTGY. That doesn’t mean their newest album is subpar, it’s just different and not necessarily in a bad way. This LP is certainly a bit more pop than punk (even more than The Peace And The Panic was), but the instrumentals are still melodious and a number of the riffs are as appealing as ever. At the end of the day, pop-punk is supposed to be fun, and this album definitely accomplished that goal.
Favorite Song: Fall
New Found Glory – Forever and Ever x Infinity
Label: Hopeless Records
After stagnating a bit over recent years, New Found Glory put themselves back on the pop-punk map with Forever and Ever x Infinity. This is probably the group’s best offering in years and it feels as close to vintage NFG as we’re going to get at this point. The album itself is a little rough around the edges (which is meant to be taken in a positive way) and follows the blueprint for an enjoyable pop-punk summer album that you can have a good time listening to on the drive to the beach with the windows down. This band is as old as I am and, unlike me at times, they’ve proven that they’ve still got it.
Favorite Song: Himalaya