Read about my personal best albums of the year, and have a listen to all of my fave tracks!
Hello! It's the end of 2020. Wow, I really thought we might not make it to this point.. but we did. So congrats!
I've had a lot of free time to think about some new content I want to make, and one project is reflecting back on the past 12 months and the recently released music I enjoyed. There were a lot of sad albums this year, I wonder why..
Anyways. I think we all need a bit of audio therapy, so here's a list of my favourite albums released in 2020, and above is a playlist of all my favourite tracks dropped this year. Take a listen and tell me what you're into!
by Phoebe Bridgers
(Indie Rock, Dark Folk.)
Los Angeles, United States
Anyone who knows Phoebe Bridgers is familiar with the way she manages to bury herself underneath your skin. Her debut LP Stranger in the Alps is a terribly sad indie-folk album, but on Punisher, Bridgers thrashes, screams, and sobs in her signature hushed vocals like never before- and it's all so theatrically devastating.
Released in June, Bridgers brought us an early Halloween with Punisher, a project chock-full of horror imagery like ghosts, masks, and haunted houses- and I can't thank her enough for it. The singer/songwriter greets us with the opening track "DVD Menu", where distorted murmurs and wailing violins sets you up with a sense of foreboding about the upcoming listen.
"Garden Song" feels like a sad, hollowed, slow passing of time- and when paired with the smoke-filled music video and a stoned Bridgers, you can see why. Some of my favourite lyrics on the album are in this track, like- "when I grow up, I'm gonna look up from my phone and see my life", and "the doctor put her hands over my liver/ she said my resentment's getting smaller." I listened to an interview with Bridgers on Rolling Stone's podcast where she explains that her sarcastic lyrics come from a place of self-deprecation- she says that she finds humor in depression, that even though it's a universal experience, it's in the nature of the illness to feel isolated and slightly self-obsessed.
I won't be discussing every track, but "Punisher" is one I feel the need to speak on. It makes my heart ache in the absolute best, yet depressing, way. I get head-to-toe goosebumps every time I listen to it. The piano on this ballad is so gentle and beautifully melancholy- in fact, the entirety of Punisher is one big beautiful melancholy melodrama. "I swear I'm not angry, that's just my face." Another two fave tracks of mine are the sisters "Moon Song" and "Savior Complex", as Bridgers describes those as a two-parter. "All the bad dreams that you hide/ Show me yours, I'll show you mine."
Also, fun fact- "Punisher" is about Bridgers' obsession with Elliott Smith. Yeah, seriously. In fact, the term 'Punisher' means "someone who talks excessively about a subject matter that no one has any interest in, or has talked about it to the point where no one cares anymore." On this album, Bridgers coins herself as a 'Punisher' for Smith, and the title track explores her feelings of connection to the late artist.
This is probably my #1 album of the year, I'm a bit of a fangirl for Bridgers. Punisher is nominated for FOUR Grammys for the 2021 awards, so she's bound to win something. Check out the music video for "I Know the End" above for some major Haunted House vibes, or if you want to watch her make out with an elderly woman. Not judging.
Fave tracks: "Moon Song", "Savior Complex", "Punisher", "Kyoto", "ICU", "I Know the End", "Garden Song", "Graceland Too"
Least fave tracks: "Halloween" .. still love it, but I had to choose something.
This Place Sucks Ass
(Pop Punk, Alt Rock.)
This EP took me by surprise.
I'm a PUP fan for sure, but This Place Sucks Ass completely captured me as soon as I heard the starting track "Rot"- or, actually, it grabbed me before I even listened.
The cover art designed by Brandon Lepine (@brandonlepine) is absolutely incredible. Even if this album sucked, I'd still buy at least a t-shirt. The apocalyptic explosions and fire-filled backdrop, the beefed-up warriors shooting flame-throwers at horrifying devil-like bat creatures, all surrounding this exhausted middle-aged man sitting in his underwear on what seems to be his living room couch- it's fucking beautiful. All of the tiny details are hilarious, and I seem to find something else every time I take a closer look- the Cheetos bags, the winged creatures carrying off the beefcakes in the background, and the dead fish floating in it's tank.
Anyways, "Rot" is a powerhouse single. Vocalist Stefan Babcock yells painfully about letting negative thoughts get the best of him, describing these self-destructive tendencies as the rot festering inside of him. "Crawling out of the hole inside of me/ Try to kill 'em before I come undone/ I can tell they're on to me/ I can feel it in my blood."
CLAYMATION! Since when did people stop doing this? "Anaphylaxis" has a gorgeous video, and the song itself is like an audio recreation of a panic attack- PUP describes the feeling of going into anaphylactic shock after being stung by a bee, but near the end begins to question whether these feelings of anxiety are actually allergy-related. "Is it just me, or the weed in my tea, or maybe it's something else entirely/ Like some allergies, or just me being me, or both?"
"Nothing Changes" is my favourite track, I think? All I know is that it made me tear up, which is a good sign. You can't help but draw comparisons between the lyrics and the current on-and-off lockdown all us Canadians are living in, "Thought I could fill the void, but if I'm being honest with myself/ Nothing ever changes, no nothing ever changes/ Thought I could just crank up the noise, and maybe it would drown it out/ But nothing ever changes, no nothing ever changes." I'd call this a pretty appropriate theme song for 2020.
Even though the song seems like a drag, PUP leaves us with a heartfelt note of optimism at the end that left my eyes more than a little misty. "And even if the wait is long, and all the words are wrong, put the recorder on and I'll begin again," "I just need a quiet lull, some books and alcohol, to get me through the night, then I'll begin again." "Nothing Changes" stands as a strong contender for one of the band's best songs to date.
I was surprised by how much I love this EP. I think everybody needs a bit of PUP in 2020 because, well, this place really does suck ass.
Fave tracks: "Rot", "Anaphylaxis", "Nothing Changes"
Least fave tracks: "A.M. 180", just because it's a cover. A fucking awesome one though.
Visions of Bodies Being Burned
(Alternative Hip Hop, Industrial Rap.)
Los Angeles, United States
I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but I only discovered clipping. this year. I found them through their 2016 EP Wriggle- which is, uh... very taste-specific. It's noisy, sexually explicit, and a little too try-hard edgy. But I immediately noticed their stand-out quirkiness, and I'm always drawn to weird shit. So when I heard the rap trio were dropping an album this year, I readied myself- and jeez, this is a freaking cool project.
clipping. are known for their spooky themes, and oh boy, they sure deliver on Visions of Bodies Being Burned. Their seventh release explores every genre of horror, managing to tap into whatever sends a chill up your spine on at least one of the sixteen tracks. Religious sacrifice on "Make Them Dead", forest dwelling witches on "She Bad", and possibly cannibalistic swamp hillbillies on "Eaten Alive"?
I can't exactly pinpoint the story behind "Say the Name", but it seems to be about a demon wreaking havoc. There's a woman pregnant with the devil's child, a whole lot of gore, and a reference to Picasso's "Guernica"- one of the most famous anti-war paintings to exist, featuring a scene including a gored horse, a bull, screaming women, dismemberment, and flames. "The hook gon’ be, the coldest pimp slap/ Coat rack for man’s skin, let it air dry/ Swiss cheese’d a brother already half-dead/ Brain leakin’ out a hole in his forehead."
YESSSSSSS! I love this track. "'96 Neve Campbell" describes the power of the 'last girl', with bars hyping up horror films' badass survivors. "Who you calling a bitch?/ This bitch run shit so you best run/ This bitch no play, this bitch know guns/ This bitch no die, you this bitch son/ This bitch gon' be the last one." This is the ultimate scream queen theme song.
The only music video clipping. released for Visions of Bodies Being Burned is the one above, for the tracks "Enlacing" and "Pain Everyday"- it's definitely more artsy than scary, but also totally an uncomfortable experience.
"Check the Lock" unnerves me, don't listen to this alone in your bedroom at night. I made that mistake. The track describes an extremely paranoid man obsessively checking the locks to his home, expecting some unpleasant visitors. "Lights out, can't nobody see in/ But he see the lights outside, they be creepin'/ He behind the blinds but the .45 peekin'/ Thought he heard the sirens but maybe he was tweakin'."
clipping.'s project ends on "Secret Place", a sort of escape from the album you just experienced. You survived the night, and you're greeted with sounds of wildlife as you run through the forest, eventually meeting with civilization as honks and engine roars show you've reached a highway.
For fans of experimental hip-hop like Death Grips, or those who are looking for some excellent horror themed music, check this thing out.
Fave tracks: "Say the Name", "'96 Neve Campbell", "Something Underneath", "She Bad", "Pain Everyday", "Check the Lock", "Body for the Pile"
Least fave tracks: "Make Them Dead"
Women in Music Pt. III
(Soft Rock, Pop Rock.)
Los Angeles, United States
HAIM returned this year with their third full-length studio album Women in Music Pt. III, following their 2017 LP Something To Tell You, and 2013s Days Are Gone. At 16 tracks, the 2020 project is the lengthiest album from the sisters so far, and is home to the largest collection of break-out singles. Danielle, Este and Alana explore heartbreak, depression, misogyny in the music industry, and booty calls on this buffet of sounds and styles.
The usually indie-rock trio experiment with a handful of genres on Women in Music Pt. III, like R&B vibes on "3AM", country/folk guitars on "Hallelujah", and jazzy sax mixed with 70s guitar tracks on "I've Been Down". It's actually shocking how many songs on WIM sound like chart-topping singles- here are a few of my faves.
"Summer Girl", the very last track on the LP, is surrounded by bluesy horns, punchy drums, and lighthearted lyrics about summer love. In the video above, the saxophonist follows behind the sisters as they walk through the sunshine filled streets of L.A, stripping out of ridiculous layers of clothing. "Lightning in your eyes, you can't speak/ Falling from the sky, down to me/ I see it in your face, I'm relief/ I'm your summer girl."
"The Steps" is a freaking awesome empowerment anthem where HAIM let their lovers know they're independent women who won't be talked down to, and don't need to be doted on. "Every time I think that I've been takin' the steps/ You end up mad at me for makin' a mess/ I can't understand, why you don't understand me." "And every day I wake up and make money for myself/ And though we share a bed, you know that I don't need your help/ Do you understand?
You don't understand me, baby."
Fun fact- this video was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.
"Now I'm In It" might be my favourite song on this album... but don't hold me to that. During a Genius lyric breakdown, the sisters say the inspiration came from Este's bout of post-tour depression, her negative self-talk, and attempts to shut down those voices. The video follows vocalist Danielle as she drags her feet from day-drinking at a bar, to working a miserable shift at a diner, to rummaging through a thrift store before collapsing outside. She's rescued by her sisters, who carry her in a stretcher before running her through a car wash, hoping to knock some happiness back into her. As Alana said in HAIM's Genius interview, "We'll always be there for each other, and I think that's the best part of being sisters." "Looking in the mirror again and again/ Wishing the reflection would tell me something/ I, I can't get a hold of myself/ I can't get outta this situation."
I'm ecstatic to see HAIM return with their best project to date, and I'm looking forward to all the future goodies the sisters have to drop.
Fave Tracks: "The Steps", "Now I'm In It", "3AM", "Summer Girl", "Don't Wanna", "All That Ever Mattered", "FUBT"
Least fave tracks: "Leaning On You"
Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez
(Alternative Rock, Alternative Hip Hop, Electronic, Art Pop, etc.)
London, United Kingdom
The world's most successful virtual band are back, and with some of their best work to date. 2-D, Murdoc, Noodles, and Russell are back with Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez- a collaboration project between a bunch of artists, where each track is accompanied by a video and livestream released monthly. Created at the beginning of 2020 just before the pandemic started, the collab project focuses more on crafting catchy singles, rather than their usual focused and apocalyptic future themed records- and it works.
"PAC-MAN" is a fucking bop. This grimey performance from ScHoolboy Q is reminiscent of early Gorillaz singles, and what they do best. "You can freak me out/ You can throw me in the lion pit/ You can borrow my hands/ And tell me I'm not here."
"The Pink Phantom" is a stunning track, and a pretty ballsy piece to attempt. Albarn and 6LACK are great, but Elton John absolutely blows them away with his out-of-this-world vocals that mirror the grand pianos and all over striking, rich sound. It's a goddamn king of a song. "I tried to get to Atlanta/ On a peach blossom highway/ I'm tryin' to put these posers out of mind/ In a sky made of diamonds."
Fast, upbeat, and crazy catchy, "Momentary Bliss" features slowthai and Slaves. The track is highlighted by Slaves' hard-rock and punk influences, and slowthai's classic English grime. "It makes me sick to think you ain't happy in your skin/ It's wearing thin to think light bulb don't blink/ Just flickers, so dim, then it pops and withers/ You're a Turkey Twizzler, you deserve school dinners."
Gorillaz are riding high, and on Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez, they've included enough singles for just about anyone to enjoy.
Fave tracks: "The Lost Chord", "Pac-Man", "The Pink Phantom", "MLS", "With Love To An Ex", "Opium", "Momentary Bliss", "Dead Butterflies"
Least fave tracks: "Friday 13th"
The Great Dismal
(Shoegaze, Dark Alt Rock.) Philadelphia, United States
One of the most cinematic albums on this list is The Great Dismal from Philly alt-rockers Nothing. Riding a similar wave to that of Phoebe Bridgers' Punisher, The Great Dismal is haunting, dark, and often times disturbing. While Bridgers prefers a melancholy horror, Nothing goes for the dirty, bloody, homicidal end of dark rock- describing their 2020 project as an album that "explores existentialist themes of isolation, extinction, and human behavior in the face of 2020’s vast wasteland," how festive.
Oh man, was I happy to discover this album this year. It's grungy and psychedelic, a shoegaze royalty shrouded in cold, edgy mystique- and yet, for a project drenched in existential dread, hope manages to poke it's glowing head through the fog on every couple of tracks.
"Say Less" is the secondary track on the album, and one of the strongest singles on the LP. It's loud and foreboding, showcasing exactly what the band do best. If extremely filthy, naked, possibly homicidal old men are your thing- watch the music video below. It's pretty sick.
(Fun fact- the track "April Ha Ha" features Sandy, Alex G. Seriously.)
All the music videos are amazingly gory and creepy, I especially love the video for "Bernie Sanders"- I like to think the bony protagonist is praying to the devil to get Bernie a seat in the White House, or like dozens of comments have joked, some decent healthcare. The guitars wail and Doyle Martin's vocals echo like an exhausted phantom, in a good way. "Convoluted narrative/ Encompasses all/ Manner of digressions/ Digressions/ Convalescence/ In Beat Cafe/ Shibuya meltdown/ Kato, come save the day, day/ Save the day."
Another killer track (haha) is "Famine Asylum", where the combination of alt-rock and grunge styles sound like a single straight off of Smashing Pumpkin's Siamese Dream. The dream-like, hazy production and American Psycho-esque music video create quite the horrific psychedelic experience. "In the famine asylum/ All set for annihilation/ Draped in Thermonuclear/ A mercy blow from it to us."
Domenic Palermo, the founder of Nothing, said this of their 2020 record: “The Great Dismal refers to a swamp, a brilliant natural trap where survival is custom fit to its inhabitants. The nature of its beautiful, but taxing environment and harsh conditions can’t ever really be shaken or forgotten too easily.” Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.
Fave tracks: "Say Less", "Catch a Fade", "Bernie Sanders", "A Fabricated Life", "Ask the Rust"
Least fave tracks: "Blue Mecca"
by Soccer Mommy
(Indie Rock, Soft Rock.)
Ah, the princess of indie rock. At least, that's how I like to think of Sophie Allison- the singer-songwriter behind Soccer Mommy. Allison became a notable figure in indie rock after releasing her third LP Clean in 2018, and now she's returned in 2020 with color theory, where Allison manages to bottle perfect 90s nostalgia with remarkably vulnerable lyrics about illness, both mental and physical. The LP moves through blue, grey, and yellow- and explores themes of depression, loneliness, and chronic illness. Although the sound is bigger and brighter, the artist's lyrics are grimmer, and overflowing with raw emotion.
color theory opens on "bloodstream", where Allison sings in her trademark casual and wistful vocals about self-harm, depression, and her longing for her simpler childhood years. This is definitely one of my favourite tracks, and is a strong opener, as her fearless honesty follows her songwriting throughout the album. "What did you have that I didn't?/ And why am I so fucked?/ There's someone talking in my forehead/ That says, "I'll never be enough."
Allison's love for 90s nostalgia is at it's strongest on "circle the drain". This track sounds like a chart-topping single plucked straight from a previous decade, it's brilliant- and gives me serious goosebumps. The accompanying video is a grainy love note to skateboarding and 90s teen rebellion. "And I think there's a mold in my brain/ Spreading down all the way/ Through my heart and my body/ 'Cause I cling to the dark of my room/ And the days thin me out/ Or just burn me straight through."
Jesus, this is one of the best songs Allison has ever written. "yellow is the color of her eyes" details the singer-songwriter's struggle to continue touring while her mother's health declines due to chronic illness. This seriously makes me weepy, especially since I know what it's like to have a chronically ill family member. "I'm thinking of her from over the ocean/ See her face in the waves, her body is floating/ And in her eyes, like clementines, I know that she's fading/ And the light of the sun is only a daydream."
"lucy" is a pretty sick track. Catchy and seemingly lighthearted, you might not recognize the dark lyrics until you take a closer look- where Allison writes about, essentially, being tempted by the devil. "I can't help the feeling/ That irks me, that I'm falling down/ From heaven through the earth/ To hellfire to wear his crown/ Oh, Lucy, please/ Quit taunting me."
Soccer Mommy certainly earns a spot amongst the greatest indie-rock outfits creating music today with color theory.
Fave tracks: "circle the drain", "bloodstream", "yellow is the color of her eyes", "stain", "royal screw up", "lucy"
Least fave tracks: "up the walls"
by Run the Jewels
Brooklyn/Atlanta, United States
RTJ are back, thank god.
The hip-hop supergroup have returned with their fourth full-length album RTJ4, where they talk capitalism, racism, and throwing a party in a utopian society. Not only is RTJ4 one of the strongest LPs of 2020, it's also the best protest album of the year. Although it was written before this summer's global #BlackLivesMatter protests in response to the murder of George Floyd, it was released a week later, and couldn't have come at a better time.
I'm a sucker for animated music videos, and this one for the opening track "yankee and the brave (ep.4)" with Adult Swim is just.. wow. Super fucking sick. This buddy-comedy-esque video shows El-P and Killer Mike fleeing from a team of robot cops. Of course- El-P is from New York, so he represents the 'Yankee', and Killer Mike is from Atlanta, so he's 'The Brave'. "Yankee and The Brave are here/ Everybody hit the deck/ We don't mean no harm/ But we truly mean all the disrespect."
The second track on RTJ4 is possibly the most radio-friendly song RTJ have ever written. "ooh la la" describes the party Killer Mike and El-P hope to throw once the world reflects their ultimate utopia, and throws out all forms of currency. The rap duo hope to one day "start fresh with love, hope and celebration," and this song is certainly one hell of a banger. The video shows a crowd of party-goers burning piles upon piles of money. "Ol' Dirty Bastard, go in your jaw, shimmy, shimmy, ya/ Got the semi in the hemi, go and gimme, gimme, ya/ Pugilistic, my linguistics are Jeru the Damaja/ And I rap it pornographic, bitch, set up the camera."
"walking in the snow" is one of the most political songs on RTJ4. The duo call out police brutality, the dangers of blindly following leaders, and how by shrugging and looking the other way, you're defending the same institution that may put you in a cage next. "And every day on the evening news, they feed you fear for free/ And you so numb, you watch the cops choke out a man like me/ Until my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, "I can't breathe"/ And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV/ The most you give's a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy."
I want to leave this review with a quote from El-P about the record. "Hope doesn't mean blindness, hope doesn't mean unawareness- those two things are not codependent. I love the fact that we could make a record that is intense at times, and speaks to the shit that's going on in a real way that is painful, but doesn't leave you feeling drained and depressed, and won't leave you feeling hurt. Y'know? It leaves you feeling, hopefully, energized and excited."
Fave tracks: "ooh la la", "yankee and the brave (ep.4)", "out of sight", "walking in the snow"
Least fave tracks:
by Beach Bunny
(Indie Rock, Soft Rock, Pop Rock.)
Chicago, United States
Chicago indie-rockers Beach Bunny debuted their first full-length LP back in February, and it's chock-full of bubblegum indie-rock goodness.
Lili Trifilio's transparent lyrics about love and heartbreak are sweet and easy to digest, and Honeymoon sounds like a pastel pop-rock funfetti cake. The band moves through each stage of a breakup, exploring non-committal partners, splitting up & missing an ex, jealousy, and finally, moving on. Beach Bunny prove that they're just as capable as indie-rock's biggest players with their debut LP.
The opening track on Honeymoon describes the feeling of betrayal when an ex-partner disrespects you, and leaves things on bad terms. The video follows Lili unable to break free of her dreams and through into reality, as she passes through memories unseen & unheard by the people around her. This is one of the strongest, and one of my fave, tracks on the album. "A part of me still hates you/ How could you love someone and leave?/ When you're all alone in your bedroom/ Do you ever think of me?"
"Rearview" is a particularly devastating moment on the record, where Trifilio critiques her value, and wonders if her ex-partner ever cared for her in the first place. The roaring guitars and drums on this chorus make me stop in my tracks. "I'm sorry, I'm trying/ I hate it when you catch me crying."
A seemingly uplifting, 'light at the end of the tunnel' finale to an album mainly about heartbreak, "Cloud 9" is a love song wrapped in bubblegum, although it also highlights a bit of a co-dependency issue. But- this music video is adorable. "When I start to tumble from the sky/ You remind me how to fly/ Lately, I've been feeling not alive/ But you bring me back to life."
Much like the beginnings of their pop-rock predecessors like Soccer Mommy and Snail Mail, Beach Bunny has released the album that put them on the indie map.
Fave tracks: "Promises", "Rearview", "April", "Cuffing Season", "Cloud 9"
Least fave tracks: "Colorblind"