It’s that time of year when we look back at the last twelve months and reflect on the good times and the bad. Well, all I can say is just don’t look back. Run as fast as you can, eyes ahead at all times, so you don’t trip and get sucked into the dumpster fire that was 2020. If you have made it out the other side well done. Nobody has been left unscathed this year, but we’ve kept going even when it seemed pointless. Nothing you ever try is pointless. Music always inspires me, but this year it became a saviour. So without further ado, here are 25 songs that got me through 2020.
IDLES, “Reigns”, Ultra Mono
To absolutely no-ones surprise, IDLES, Bristols best boyband since The Korgi’s, are the first track on the list (there is no ranking here by the way). Their third album Ultra Mono, released in September has a myriad of brilliant tunes, but “Reigns” is a force to be reckoned with. I will always remember exactly where I was and who I was with when I first heard this track. It stood out to me immediately with its industrial rock sound. There’s an essence of late ’90s Nine Inch Nails in this track, and considering NIN were my obsession back then, and IDLES are my obsession now, I feel like I have fully regressed to being 16 again. It’s great!
The Psychotic Monks, “Closure”, Private Meaning First
I cannot tell you how much I love The Psychotic Monks. It was love at first listen, only about a month ago truth be told, but damn these French noise/garage/punk/goth boys are great. Not going to lie, my first thoughts on hearing this track were, “wait a minute, isn’t that the IDLES “Mr Motivator” riff?” and yeah it is, but with both bands making their albums at the same time this is just a very happy accident, and the songs are very, very different. This entirety of album Private Meaning First is horrible, filthy, oppressive and full of dystopian dread. I love it. It is so 2020. They have elements of Swans’ bold experimentalism, the textural dexterity of Sonic Youth, the swagger of post-punk icons PiL, and even Throbbing Gristle’s shadowy electronica. More please!
METZ, “The Mirror” Atlas Vending
METZ 2020 album Atlas Vending is probably the most accessible of their career. “The Mirror” gets the album going in proper METZ fashion. It’s a track that delivers everything you’ve come to expect from the post-punk/garage rock band while still staying fresh and does a great job of building the song to a whirlwind of beautiful chaos where Edkins’ vocals somehow add to the chaos and calm it at the same time, in what is definitely one of the standout moments on the record.
Meat Wave, “Yell At The Moon”
Meat Wave’s last album The Incessant was released in 2017 and it is absolutely brilliant. One of the best ever, ever. You should listen to it. So when the Chicago trio surprise dropped a new song on 18th December, there was an audible squeal from the corner of my bedroom. Needless to say, I am extremely excited that 2021 may bring a new album/or more singles from the band. These lads deserve to be massive, and I really think they will be one day. Find out more about what 2021 holds for them next week here.
DITZ, “Seeking Arrangement” 5 Songs E.P.
Without a doubt, Brighton’s DITZ is my most listened to band of 2020. I am a bit late to the party here, but every single track they’ve released so far is brilliant. DITZ’ 5 Songs E.P. was released in July, and any one of the tracks could have been on this list, but “Seeking Arrangement” is barnstorming. If hearing The Psychotic Monks was like hearing Joy Division for the first time, discovering DITZ felt like discovering Nirvana. Yes, I think they are that good. I hope that 2021 will be the year they release their debut album because I need it bad. And they also do incredibly comfy socks.
LICE, “R.D.C.” Wasteland: What Ails Our People Is Clear
LICE have been around since 2016, making their mark in the Bristol scene, playing alongside The Fall, Fat White Family, shame and Girl Band. In 2018, IDLES took them on their “Brutalism” and “Unity” tours as the support band, and their deranged, exciting and inspiring music was released to the masses. Their debut album is coming on Jan 8th, WASTELAND: What Ails Our People Is Clear, is a satirical concept album that will also be released in the form of a science fiction story. Bananas. If “R.D.C” is anything to go by this album is going to be storming.
*EPILEPSY WARNING* for this video.
Melkbelly, “Kissing Under Some Bats” PITH
Chicago noise rock band Melkbelly‘s “Kissing Under Some Bats” is an odyssey. In the beginning, singer Miranda Winters is working overtime, going between deadpan delivery one moment to a hair-raising cry the next. It also features some darkly playful commentary in the lyrics, “Stop introducing yourself as just a girlfriend / because it’s twee and unnecessary.” Those moments have her voice so delayed you’d think she’s split in two. Then, after this energetic cut up, the song reveals its true strength: the band members do not stop. They play on, each instrument shining through at different moments but keeping together in harmony. It goes on like this until, one by one, the guitar, bass, and drums begin to fizzle out, leaving its listener awestruck.
Viagra Boys with Amy Taylor, “In Spite of Ourselves”
Viagra Boys and Amy Taylor (from Amyl and The Sniffers) teamed up for a cover of John Prine and Iris DeMent’s duet “In Spite Of Ourselves” this month, and it works so well. Definitely one of the more fun tracks on my list, Sebastian Murphy’s faux Southern drawl (he’s from Stockholm) and Amy’s really thick Australian accent should sound so wrong, but it’s oh so right. Lone, drunken karaoke nights ahoy! I can’t wait for Viagra Boys new album, Welfare Jazz, which arrives on Jan 8th—so much great music to kick-off 2021.
Sugar Horse, “Your degree Is Worthless And Your Parents Aren’t Proud of You”, Druj E.P.
As well as being brilliantly titled, “Your Degree Is Worthless And Your Parents Aren’t Proud Of You” by Sugar Horse, is one of the best things I’ve heard all year. Like two songs merged seamlessly together in all their horror and beauty. The first part is instructions about reporting your own death, “tell your friends/tell them your dead“ while the second half is an almost celebration of rebirth with the line “start over again”. I’ve definitely watched the video too much—it reminds me partly of The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry Video” which used to scare me as a child when their eyes glowed red. Sugar Horse’s video is scary in a “Satan is coming to eat your soul” kind of way though. So that’s nice. However, the song is incredibly uplifting by the end, which is why I’ve listened (and sung along) to it about a thousand times this year.
Bambara, “Miracle”, Stray
Opening Bambara’s album Stray is “Miracle” with their signature sound of bold blackness; a tunnel-of-darkness musical chamber. Crafted around a grumbling bass, which sounds like a volcano about to go off, and tied in a matte-black leather bow by the layering of strums, it’s emotionally charged and sets the atmosphere for what’s to come: Sex and death.
Deftones, “Error”, Ohms
Deftones are probably my favourite band of all time. On the same day that IDLES released Ultra Mono, Deftones released Ohms, proving that 2020 wasn’t all bad. Ohms is quite possibly Deftones best ever album. Every single track is brilliant, and every day I choose a new favourite. I’m going with “Error” for the sake of this list, however, because of the silky smooth voice of Chino Moreno, drumming that’s front and centre and sounds so slick, and a riff that’s absolutely killer. Listening to Chino’s soaring vocals in the chorus is an ethereal experience.
The Pleasure Dome, “This Room Is For Gold And There Is No Use For It” The Glorious Land
Yet another (boy) band from Bristol on my list. Clearly, Bristol is the epicentre of the Earth when it comes to great music. Bristol has always been cool, but now it’s like a little Seattle…with a West Country accent. The Pleasure Dome’s “TRIFGATINUFI” is a song about frustration in more ways than one, the track details the collapse of a relationship, while also channelling the band’s anger after December’s election result. Remember when elections were boring?
SUUNS, “Fiction”, Fiction E.P.
SUUNS is a Canadian band from Montreal whose music is a refreshing blend of Krautrock, neo-psychedelia, and art-punk. The self-titled “Fiction” is melodic, yet Shemie’s voice plays out like a warped additional instrument as opposed to the usual vocals that let their lyrics tell a story. This is one of those mellow songs that you just need to listen to in 2020 for a moment of chill.
Mush, “Blunt Instruments” Lines Redacted
Leeds-based art-rock trio, Mush released their new single “Blunt Instruments” and the new album Lines Redacted is to be released in February 2021. Dan Hyndman and the now three-piece band create their ‘Mushiest’ music yet, delivering on the all brazen punk and sardonic funk that their debut hinted at but with things going harder: more guitar-noodling, abstract/surrealist observations and tone geekery.
Lines Redacted introduces a string of different narrators. Each provides a different reflection on the Armageddon scenario that we are slowly entering, whether that’s bemoaning it or gleefully willing it along. This first single, “Blunt Instruments” sets the landscape for the record. The protagonist attempts to conduct a surrealist post mortem of an apocalyptic event and re-orientate himself with his new dystopian surroundings. Ultimately, he finds some schadenfreude in the collapse of things. It’s a mush of Devo, The Undertones and Super Furry Animals, and that’s fun.
Pottery, “Reflection”, Welcome to Bobby’s Motel
“Reflection,” arrives square in the middle of Pottery’s 2020 album, Welcome to Bobby’s Motel, and is absolutely breathtaking. It’s here that Pottery reveals their depth—exquisite vocals and strings that soar and transport you to a summer’s night outside the Motel pool, where all the guests slurp elegantly on cocktails and the music echos through the mountains. It’s the sound of the Amalfi Coast, linen suits, Spandau Ballet, catching someone’s eye, and the smell of citrus in the air. Just gorgeous.
Loyal Lobos, “You Were Bored”, Everlasting
“You Were Bored” is one of, if not my favourite song of the year which was a total surprise as I had never heard of her before. Andrea Silva, professionally known as Loyal Lobos hails from Bogotá, Colombia. She left for Los Angeles after high school to get away from the oppressive, slut-shaming culture. Her debut album Everlasting is an eclectic bilingual symphony of vibes. “You Were Bored” is just beautiful and feels you with elation despite its lyrical themes. Best of all, Silva drops in a Phil Collins-esque “In The Air Tonight” drum break in here. It genuinely made me raise my head with a “what’s happening here then?” look when I first heard it, but no, it works perfectly. Thank you for using the “Collins Drumbreak” Loyal Lobos, it’s been too long.
SAULT, “Wildfires”, UNTITLED (Black Is)
The mysterious band SAULT’s third album arrived on Juneteenth, right as the world was in the thick of Black Lives Matter protests and renewed discourse about white oppression against people of colour. UNTITLED (Black Is) tackles these topics with restraint, calmly unpacking them over a meditative collection of funk, spoken-word, repurposed protest chants and soul.
On “Wildfires,” the vocalist wonders why another officer killed another person for no reason. “You should be ashamed,” the singer asserts. “The bloodshed on your hands / Another man / Take off your badge / We all know it was murder.” In the next breath, she snaps back to the reality: Though we’re crying right now, we won’t be afraid to keep fighting. There’s also dual meaning in the title; the band sees fire as a cleansing, burning the country’s old ways of governance for something fresh and new. “Wildfires” resembles a rebirth.
Wye Oak, “Fortune”
Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack have played music together and apart in Baltimore for most of their lives. On stage, they perform with raw energy and sophistication, creating a surprising amount of noise for two people. Their music can be classified as 21st-century folk music, imbued with dense shoegaze guitars, nearly melodic rhythms, and impeccable splashes of electronic colour. The singles “Fortune” and “Fear of Heights” have been played repeatedly by me all year.
Mamalarky, “You Make Me Smile”, Mamalarky
“You Make Me Smile” was penned by Mamalarky singer Livvy in her car after an encounter with a stranger during a breezy day at the park that made her reflect on her own romantic life. It is a song about unpacking feelings that have been repressed for a long time. It reflects the exquisite pain of having a crush on someone you can never have. This track features on the bands absolutely brilliant debut album which you should definitely listen to if you like psychedelic-indie-garage-folk-dream-pop.
Hayley Ross, “Tumbledown”, The Weight of Hope
Hayley Ross is an outlier, a one-off, a self-starter and quiet disruptor who refuses to be pinned down. Having seen this gorgeous track “Tumbledown” featured on Netflix series Orange Is The New Black, the Brighton singer-songwriter released her much anticipated debut album at the beginning of 2020: The Weight Of Hope. Mixed by John Leckie, the record was mastered at Abbey Road Studios. The whole album is glorious and reminds me of a time in early 2020 when people were actually kind to each other. Remember that?
Ren Harvieu, “Yes Please”, Revel in The Drama
This track is my most played of 2020, so Spotify tells me. I am a little surprised by that considering most of what I listen to is garage rock or chamber psych as all the cool kids are calling it these days. Why this smokey little number then? Well, I heard it first on Radio 6 and was completely seduced by Ren’s voice. She sings about a tantalising sub/dom relationship, and that’s all you really need to know. Yes please. Sexy AF.
Bobby West, “All My Years”
North-Liverpudlian Bobby West started as a boxer, then turned his hand to music, forming the band The Broken Men who supported Echo & The Bunnymen. Then in 2020, Bobby released his first solo work.
Like a council estate Sinatra, his golden vocals self-deprecate in alluring harmony. There is a rare authenticity within West’s croon.
He howls gritty lullabies over his collection of crooked ballads, inviting the listener into his world. At a glance, West’s world is one of beauty, shimmering guitars and resonant pianos, but in Lynchian fashion, he strips away the veneer to reveal twisted tales of spent love, bad romances and the pitfalls of modern culture.
Prom Queen, “Surrender”
Leeni Ramadan’s music has been a staple in my house since I saw Prom Queen play at the UK Twin Peaks Festival in 2017. Leeni’s mash-up of the Twin Peaks theme tune, done in a Stranger Things theme tune style put them on the map. But there’s a whole lot more to Prom Queen than that. Taking you back to the 50s and 60s with their dark doo-wop sound that would fit perfectly in any David Lynch production, there was no way I wasn’t going to love them really.
Goat Girl, “Sad Cowboy”
Goat Girl originated in London 2015 when the four women kept crossing paths at the same gigs and events. They soon started their own band, and with their uniquely defiant sound and enthusiasm, they soon got the attention of Rough Trade Records. “Sad Cowboy” will likely feature on their sophomore album, On All Fours, which is to be released in January 2021. This album veers away from the confrontational lyricism and uncovers a previously unseen depth and vulnerability. It’s gorgeous whichever way you look at it.
Crosses, “The Beginning of The End”
One of Chino Moreno’s (Deftones) side projects kindly dropped this new track and made many fans Christmas Day far better. It’s a cover of 90s band Cause and Effect, and there is absolutely no denying it has an extremely strong Depeche Mode vibe. Absolutely no complaints there.
So there we have it. 25 astounding songs released in 2020 that allowed me to forget the hell we are living in for a little while. It has been a remarkable year in music and a particularly tough one for artists who cannot tour and promote their new records. If you have the means, support your favourite bands and artists by buying merch, watching their online performances or buying tickets for future gigs as a thank you to them for keeping you calm, lifting your spirits, or giving you the strength to fight.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you check out some of the acts above if you haven’t already. You never know when your new favourite band will come along. Like love, probably when you’re least expecting it.
Wishing you all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2021. Stay safe.