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 RecordsA 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
18. Naglfar: Cerecloth
16. Ecostrike: A Truth We Still Believe
Triple B RecordsFitting 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 RecordsNew 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
12. Elvis Costello: Hey Clockface
Concord RecordsDozens 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 ActivitiesSplinters 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
9. Be Well: The Weight and The Cost
M. Good Productions IncIt'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
6. Change: Closer Still
React!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
4. Tricky: Fall to Pieces
False IdolsTurning 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.
2. Modern Color: From the Leaves of Your Garden
Other People RecordsLike 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
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.