Best of 2020 - Chris DC’s Picks (Cover Artwork)

Best of 2020

Chris DC’s Picks (2020)

Staff Picks

Hello all, you may know me as the reviewer Chris DC, that curmudgeonly fan of metaphors and run-on sentences here on Punknews. This was my third year as a staff reviewer, but this is my very first Top 20 list. This year's been a tough one for me, as for most. I’ve had Covid infect several members of my family, I’ve had a few personal non-Covid health scares, and like so many other people, I’m just simply trying to adapt to this new way of life. It isn’t easy, not being able to go to shows, or spend time in person with friends and family, or really do any of the things that I enjoy and keep me sane. And looking at this list of mine, I think my sadness and frustration is really showing!

My Favorite Records of 2020

20. Steve Earle & The Dukes: Ghosts of West Virginia

New West Records

A concept album based on the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster of 2010, its aura reaches far beyond one event. Earle speaks up for the people of Appalachia, for whom negative, caricatured tropes are cemented in the minds of most of the nation. Ghosts of West Virginia humanizes the misunderstood, and takes to heart the inherent culture of West Virginia and surrounding states; much of which was built upon coal mining. Earle's whiskey soaked brand of country-rock- blended here with bluegrass, the keystone music of the region- tells a story that's compelling, heartbreaking, and likely to haunt you for a long time to come.

19. DRAIN: California Cursed

Revelation Records

California may be cursed, but Drain pull a lot from their states well-storied punk and hardcore heritage. Already one of the most talked about bands in the country before releasing a full length album, California Cursed is sure to rocket Drain to astronomical heights. Drain doesn't let up for a second on the album; they're raucous and wild, blending punk, hardcore, and metal to spit out dark and bitter lyrics. And they have a whole hell of a lot of fun doing it.

18. Naglfar: Cerecloth

Century Media

Naglfar's first album in 8 years, Cerecloth arrives exactly on brand: brutal, melodic, profane, and just a bit cheeky death metal, with obvious outside influences such as thrash and glam. Although the trademark high pitched wail of founding singer Jens Ryden has been departed since their 2003 masterpiece Sheol, the bands foundational style has never budged, lineup changes be damned. Impressive arrangements, whiplashing key changes, and shimmering nuances all highlight the return of one of black metals most revered bands.

17. Spanish Love Songs: Brave Faces Everyone

Pure Noise Records

2020 was Spanish Love Songs' time to shine, and they didn't even know it yet when they released Brave Faces Everyone back in February. The third album by the L.A. emo-punks- it's title being general good advice, but at the time a harbinger of doom- doesn't gloss over any of the difficulties of present day America. It's an aura of general hopelessness throughout these 10 tracks, but if you're expecting a flicker of promise, you haven't been paying attention. Low wages, destructive capitalism, the opioid crisis, the housing crash; Americans have been stuck beneath a brick wall, and Spanish Love Songs document it all with meticulous honesty.

16. Ecostrike: A Truth We Still Believe

Triple B Records

Fitting snugly into the niche within a niche that is vegan straightedge, Florida's Ecostrike come out swinging on their sophomore full-length, invoking influences like Judge and Strife. In other words, this is no nice guy straightedge. Ecostrike is set in their ways, and they're not afraid to scream it to your face. With a great 90s metallic sound, Ecostrike bring back the epic hardcore anthems of yore, with a message that you may not live by, but will definitely respect after listening.

15. Uniform: Shame

Sacred Bones Records

New York's industrial metal giants Uniform returned this year as a trio for their fourth album, Shame. With the addition of a human drummer, Uniform lost a chunk of its industrial side, with no more need for drum machines. Hence, the sound is closer to a traditional metal record. But you're definitely not off the hook yet. Uniform still bring the same sludge, chaos, and violence that they're known for. And yet somehow, they're even more volatile than ever. This is the darkest depths of humanity imaginable, set to an unforgettable sonic experience.

14. Bruce Springsteen: Letter To You


For the first time in six years, The Boss brought his old friends The E Street Band into the studio with him for Letter To You. In an effort to be as spontaneous and natural as possible, they rolled through the recording in just five days, harkening back to the old days of tight schedules and even tighter budgets. Like the ghostly image of Bruce staring back through a snowfall on the album's cover, the aging rocker explores nostalgia more than ever before. Which is ironic, considering he wrote 'Glory Days' half his life ago. Still, it's also one of Bruce's most authentic works, with some of his strongest songwriting to date.

13. War on Women: Wonderful Hell

Bridge Nine Records

War On Women aren't exactly known for sugar coating their thoughts, and Wonderful Hell is no exception. Baltimore's feminist punk champions bring their unwavering attitude and no-frills chaotic sound to their best album yet. The period between their last album in 2018 and now has been'¦trying, to say the least. But the plus side of it all is that it just gives War On Women more ammunition. As long as there's social and political injustice in the world, WoW will be here to make rollicking, catchy, in-your-face anthems about it.

12. Elvis Costello: Hey Clockface

Concord Records

Dozens of albums in, Elvis Costello's creativity will simply not slow down. Of course, thankfully, nobody's asked it to. Hey Clockface comes out much richer and more diverse than his previous effort, Look Now in 2018. While that album was a bit misguided- it's dark jazz mood ending up simply a pageant of spiritless moans- Hey Clockface is one of Costello's most multifaceted albums to date. Touching on jazz (done well this time), new wave, punk, and poetry, Costello throws the year's best party.

11. End: Splinters From an Ever-Changing Face

Closed Casket Activities

Splinters From an Ever-Changing Face is as concise of a metal album as they come. END is a clearly a well-oiled machine, thanks in no doubt to their highly experienced roster. They maintain the same general sound throughout the album; same respective effects, same tones, same mix pattern. But they also manage to make each song unique, through the art of composition; they play around with tempo, arrangement, time signatures. It's a brutal work that will have you crawling on your bleeding knees back for more.

10. Nothing: The Great Dismal

Relapse Records

Refreshed by a significant lineup change, Nothing's The Great Dismal became a big step forward for the band. The sound is cleaner, with the fuzz and distortion play being used much more sparingly, resulting in a more traditional hard shoegaze sound (think Swervedriver or Slowdive), and a focus on dynamics. This makes The Great Dismal Nothing's loudest and most cavernous sounding album to date. Not to mention, their most deeply personal in content. Exploring the ins and outs of Domenic Palermo's mind is never a cakewalk, but the record goes wider, encompassing the band as a whole's story as well, with a welcome balance of optimism.

9. Be Well: The Weight and The Cost

Equal Vision Records

Just one of many 'supergroups' to debut this year, Be Well consists of members of Battery, Bane, Converge, Only Crime, and others. They've called their album, The Weight and The Cost, punk rock for grownups, and that's spot on. The songs deliver a mature perspective, especially the running theme of dealing with depression as a father. They play a loaded blend of post-hardcore and DC emo, which some may dismiss as throwback. Pity for them though; The Weight and The Cost is an inspiring banner of redemption for the fragile who still fight on.

8. Matthew Good: Moving Walls

M. Good Productions Inc

It's a high level of dreariness that would make a Matthew Good record stand out as such, but Moving Walls manages to achieve it. It's one of his most minimalist works to date, using the extra space to enhance the vocals. It's necessary too, as Good's use of lifelike characters, mental health confessions, lonesome imagery, and an overall genuine craftiness in describing his slightly skewed worldview, could be the best it's ever been.

7. Bob Mould: Blue Hearts

Merge Records

Bob Mould spent much of the last decade exploring some grim themes, most notably the downsides of aging. As perhaps a celebratory antithesis, Mould went back to his youth for 2020's Blue Hearts. He returns to the hard charging sound of his days in one of punk rock's most innovative bands with a renewed sense of urgency and rage. Not to mention a laundry list of powers to fight, such as the President, climate deniers, and homophobes. Mould hasn't screamed this much in decades, but there's never been a better time to be angry.

6. Change: Closer Still


It seemingly came out of nowhere, but one of the best debuts of the year is undoubtedly Change's Closer Still. The brain child of Aram Arslanian, a veteran of such youth crew bands as Betrayed and Champion, Change delivers highly energetic, melodic hardcore in immaculate form. The music may be bound by tradition, but the greatly personal lyrics are well suited to the modern world. Dark at times while always offering positivity and hope, Change, as in the name itself, should be your new mantra.

5. Country Westerns: Country Westerns

Fat Possum Records

New York energy meets Nashville production on the self-titled debut of Country Westerns. This pub rock/Americana gem focuses on dynamics, both in content and in sound. Lyrics of wanderlust and longing interlace with the 12-string guitar and gritty but towering vocals. This is golden-age indie rock, and Country Westerns have restored hope for the lost art of the road trip album.

4. Tricky: Fall to Pieces

False Idols

Turning to a more concise and raw sound in the wake of a personal tragedy, Tricky's sorrowful, yet ultimately triumphant, Fall to Pieces may not eventually be hailed as a masterpiece in line with, say, Maxinquaye. But while the acclaim for his debut solo record is universal, Fall to Pieces should not be far behind. The streamlined arrangements are surely a departure from Tricky's norm, but the record is delicate, ethereal, personal, and absolutely beautiful.

3. Year of the Knife: Internal Incarceration

Pure Noise Records

On their debut full-length (a designation which arguably could have gone to the 2019 EP Ultimate Aggression), Year of the Knife have already written their name on the wall, and it's there to stay. A deeply emotional record, YOTK delve into extreme pain, loss, and hopelessness. And it isn't a search for answers or, usually, a glimmer of hope. It's simply relatable, and that's the whole point. The brutal, pummeling, death metal-laced hardcore is expertly crafted, so much so that Internal Incarceration feels more like a singular world of its own than just a record. This is the best hardcore album of the year.

2. Modern Color: From the Leaves of Your Garden

Other People Records

Like Title Fight, Ceremony, and Turnover before them, Modern Color continues to move further away from their more aggressive roots on From the Leaves Of Your Garden. While some of the songs still have punk rock bones, albeit with quite mellow vocals, for most of the album the band has turned to a jangly dreampop sound. However, it's still not all one big glaze-over. They can still turn up the energy as the mood suits; kicking up the drums, powering the riffs, and even the pleasingly smooth vocals still bring out their occasional attitude problem. The genre-bending result is lavishly dimensional, and a sheer pleasure to get lost in.

1. Fiona Apple Fetch the Bolt Cutters


I'm no apologist, so only my smallest of sympathies go to the punk purists reading this. But I have to call 'em like I hear 'em. This album is stunning, and undoubtedly my favorite of 2020. Apple may have shown plenty of vulnerability in her music over the years, but one thing she doesn't have is fear. She conveys the destruction of herself, all of the darkness, all of the loss. She has weapons aimed at her, but she's never flinched or cowered from them. Now, aged 42 and on her 5th album, she uses the same courage that allowed her to weep so freely in her art, to instead use her art to find herself in a new state of independence. There's a precociousness that comes across on the very roughly recorded final product. You hear background noise, missed notes, chatter; all things that could easily be removed. But all the little mistakes are left intact, as they are a part of the process. And that's reflective of Apple's songwriting. She's older, she's wiser, she's been to hell and back. Her mistakes and her low points are a part of the process, and they should not be erased. On Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Fiona Apple is ready to use the weight of her experiences, not to drown with, but to hurl with all her might and break the hell out.

Thanks as always for reading! Going into 2021, I hope that everyone can find a little comfort, because we deserve it. Discover a new band, or start your own. Check in on your loved ones. Embrace the little things. Sometimes we have to grab our happiness where we can get it, so whatever it means to you, hang on to it and don’t let go. And above all, please be kind to one another, and to yourself.