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.
Dogleg – Melee
Label: Triple Crown Records
This album was getting an extremely positive reception on Reddit after it dropped, and for good reason—it absolutely slaps. Melee released around the time the coronavirus pandemic firmly took hold of the world and it proved to be a perfect soundtrack not only for that period of time but for the entire year. The Detroit four-piece completely shattered the expectations for their debut LP and crafted an Album of the Year contender for many. It opens with the fun and energetic “Kawasaki Backflip” and closes with one of the best album-enders in recent memory in “Ender.” The journey between those two songs is freeing and relieving, featuring gratifying riffs, loud and engaging drums, and so much more. If all of the albums in this series were being ranked, Melee would be towards the very top.
Favorite Song: Fox
Eastwood – It Never Gets Easy
Label: Pure Noise Records
You might recognize Eastwood’s Cole Crutchfield from the popular hardcore quintet Knocked Loose, but this debut LP is much more subdued in comparison. Following their enticing 2018 EP Past Ghost, Eastwood have taken another step forward with this album. Crutchfield explores a number of different genres throughout It Never Gets Easy. Take the first three songs, for example: the pop-punky opener “Fair-Weather Friends” leads into the folk-rock sounding “False Start” which is followed up by a late-90s to early-2000s rock track “Two Dollar Hamm’s.” All of this is to say that Crutchfield is an incredibly dynamic and talented artist who (along with the other three members of Eastwood) managed to create an exceptional album that has something for everyone.
Favorite Song: Fine
Fletcher Lake – Local Summer
Label: David Robson
It’s impressive what David Robson was able to put together as a one-man operation under the band name Fletcher Lake. A pair of LPs sandwiched around a five song EP over the past two years showcased his potential, and the steady growth culminated in his third full-length album Local Summer, Robson’s best work yet. Aside from “Took the Bait” and “I Guess,” all of the music and lyrics were once again written and performed by the Asbury Park-based musician. The album is fun and upbeat, with Robson incorporating catchy power-pop and rock elements throughout the 11 tracks. At the same time, though, Local Summer is cathartic and introspective especially when you dig into the lyrics a bit. With Fletcher Lake recently expanding to four members, this is a group you’ll want to keep an eye on.
Favorite Song: Remote Learning
Floral Tattoo – You Can Never Have a Long Enough Head Start
Label: Floral Tattoo
Floral Tattoo’s second full-length album was released on January 3rd, which seems like multiple lifetimes ago with everything that has occurred in 2020. Still, You Can Never Have a Long Enough Head Start has held up quite well and, in many aspects, foreshadowed the type of year that was in front of us. Lyrically this LP is a masterpiece with so many lines capable of eliciting an emotional response. From “I would give anything to feel that way again; 19, unburdened by responsibility or the fear of going outside” to “I don’t know who I am–steadily losing desire to try to figure that out. I don’t think I want to know,” the Seattle-based four-piece band is going to take you on a feel trip. For any emo or shoegaze fans, this album is a must-listen.
Favorite Song: Danny, Be Well
Gleemer – Down Through
Label: Other People Records
Two and a half years after their sophomore release Anymore, Gleemer’s highly anticipated LP Down Through lived up to the hype. Featuring a strong opener in “Brush Back” and a terrific closer in the title track “Down Through,” the Colorado emo/dream-pop group composed a 34-minute journey that seemingly goes by much quicker. At times, it almost feels like it could be the score to a movie or television show. The melodies are addicting, the vocals are appealing, the instrumentals are tight, the lyrics are compelling: Gleemer found multiple ways to improve upon their first two LPs which ultimately resulted in a polished and spectacular third full-length album.
Favorite Song: Spread Out
Good Looking Friends – The Light of the Well
Label: Good Looking Friends/We’re Trying Records
I don’t remember how I came across this Brooklyn band but I’m forever glad that I did. Their second LP The Light of the Well hit me at just the right time; it brought upon feelings of nostalgia and inward-looking vibes that I wasn’t expecting but fully appreciated. This group managed to mesh a bunch of different genres and playstyles together into one sonically-pleasing album. The math rock/midwestern emo tone is certainly present at times, but The Light of the Well also incorporates some folk, indie-rock, and lo-fi elements that are pleasing to listen to. And let’s not forget the penultimate track “Tanagra” which is a dazzling experience with a crescendo that would rival those found in your favorite post-rock tunes.
Favorite Song: No Thanks
Grin & Bear – Be Gentle
Label: Good Friend Records
Be Gentle is the type of album that you aren’t aware you need until you listen to it. The collaborations with members of Sentient Moss, Halogens, and ManDancing (among others) drew me in but the entire album was an absolute joy to traverse through. It became a go-to during the early part of the year and 11 months later it’s remained a personal favorite. The combination of rock and emo musical styles works really well throughout the 12 track LP; the vocals are welcoming and the instrumentals are bright and lively. Be Gentle overall provides an almost calming presence whenever you listen to it which turned out to be much needed in 2020.
Favorite Song: First Reaction
Gulfer – Gulfer
Label: Topshelf Records
Coming off of their well-received LP Dog Bless in 2018, the emo community was eager to see how Gulfer would fare with their third full-length album. It’s safe to say that this self-titled LP has quickly become their best offering. Building upon their success over the past several years, the four-piece band from Montreal have matured in many ways on Gulfer—the math rock sparkle is apparent but more refined, the lyrics become increasingly relatable the more you listen to them, and the melodies from track to track get stuck in your head pretty easily. The worst thing a band can do is stagnate, but Gulfer has found a way to keep progressing and we’re all better off for it.
Favorite Song: Heat Wave
Have a Good Season – Shapes I’ve Never Seen
Label: Have a Good Season
It’s important to make a good first impression on a debut LP, and Have a Good Season definitely did with Shapes I’ve Never Seen. At 47 minutes over 12 tracks, this isn’t a quick trip to the corner store—this album is an expedition, and you owe it to yourself to become fully engrossed in it. The opening track “Intro” will surely pull you in and then, before you know it, you’ll have experienced a sublime potpourri of musical styles that will impact you in ways you weren’t prepared for. After six years, this is HAGS at their best, and Shapes I’ve Never Seen has given them a great base to build upon for future releases.
Favorite Song: Before the Gold Rush
Hot Mulligan – you’ll be fine
Label: No Sleep Records
It’s hard to pick an Album of the Year but you’ll be fine is firmly in the top three somewhere for me. The first time I listened to this, I was beyond blown away; this album is pop-punk and emo gold. Their 2018 release Pilot was really good, but you’ll be fine is lightyears ahead of that. The guitar riffs will have you wildly playing an air-guitar wherever you are (even in your car, which is probably kind of dangerous), you’ll be headbanging to the drums, and you’ll be singing the vocals back (if you’re like me, very badly). When touring is safe again, this is one of the shows that should be on your list because it’ll be electric.
Favorite Song: Green Squirrel In Pretty Bad Shape
(Cover Photo credit: Other People Records)