What a fucking year, right?! I can’t believe what we’ve all been through this year. On the bright side, Donald Trump has been voted out of office. On the other hand, it took hundreds of thousands of deaths that resulted from Trump’s negligence to finally make it possible to unseat him. Also I’m more stoked about Trump losing than I am about who’s replacing him. But at least the Wicked Witch is dead.
As for music, it was a pretty amazing year, with a lot of artists finding really creative ways to perform and put out live music in the realities of a deadly pandemic. I sure do miss live shows, my last one being Against Me! on New Years Eve, but there have been so many great new albums to make up for it. This year probably marks the most hip-hop albums to ever grace my top 20 list, but there’s still a lot of great punk and indie rock on my list this year. So let’s get to it.
Top 20 of 2020
Anti-Flag’s 2017 album, American Fall
, made vague references to the Trump presidency without ever mentioning Trump directly. 20/20 Vision
is a much more direct attack on Trump, going so far as to put his ugly mug on the cover and include two sound bites of him in the songs. It’s a relentless tirade against America’s worst president to date that’s both politically exciting and deeply cathartic. The bonus tracks on the deluxe version, called 20/20 Division
, are definitely worth checking out as well.
Favorite Track: “Unamerican”
19. The Suicide Machines: Revolution Spring
15 years after The Suicide Machines’ greatest album, War Profiteering is Killing Us All
, Jason Navarro and company finally return with one of the best reunion albums of the year. Navarro’s lyrics are as on point as ever, taking aim at police brutality, the Flint water crisis, and in-fighting amongst the political left, amongst other topics. It’s a rollickingly fun ska punk album that hits hard politically while still taking a few moments for more personal and poignant tracks. The band had a lot to live up to, and there’s a lot of things that could have gone wrong (like writing another song about dogs), but this album truly lives up to the band’s legacy.
Favorite Track: “Trapped in a Bomb”
18. Eminem: Music to Be Murdered By
Even as his constant paranoia about haters and critics grows to the level of a disorder, Eminem still shows himself to be one of the best rappers in the game, and one of very few mainstream rappers that could go toe to toe with anyone in the underground. Say what you will about him, and I’m sure you will, but Em is still in his prime.
Favorite Track: "Yah Yah" (featuring Royce da 5'9", Black Thought, Q-Tip and Denaun)
While I wish we had gotten a new Against Me! album this year as Laura Jane Grace had been planning, a lot of things in 2020 didn’t turn out the way they were supposed to. Instead, what we got was a beautiful, intimate solo album from Laura Jane Grace, and that’s about as good as consolation prizes get. This album just gets better with each listen, as Grace lets herself get introspective and vulnerable. COVID-19 ruined a lot of things this year, but nothing can stop Laura Jane Grace from making great music.
Favorite Track: “The Mountain Song”
Although it’s not as revolutionary as the band’s previous two albums, PEARS
is still a truly great hardcore album. PEARS never bring anything but their A-game, even when they’re making more conventional hardcore. Their manic energy resonates through this album, and it’s absolutely infectious.
Favorite Track: “Naptime”
The queens of harmonized feminism are back with their third album! The last album they put out, Warriors
, took the number one spot on my list a few years back. The Ride
is not as consistent as Warriors
, but at its best moments it surpasses what Warriors
achieved. So, while this remains low on my list because of a few duds (I really can’t stand “Community”), there’s a ton of good material on this album to check out.
Favorite Track: “Originators”
14. Green Day: Father of All Motherfuckers
A controversial choice to be sure, but while some recoiled at Green Day getting motown-dancable and at their liberal use of handclaps, I was just happy to see them branching out for the first time since Warning
came out 20 years ago. Green Day had grown boring and stagnant with their last album, Revolution Radio
and bounced back with a vengence on Father of All Motherfuckers
. It’s a joyous party album that’s not without it’s artistic side, and easily the best album Green Day has put out since American Idiot
Worriers return on You or Someone You Know
with their third album of some of the strongest melodies in indie-punk and some of the most killer pop hooks as well. Frontperson Lauren Denitzio remains the focus and sole consistent member, in what has essentially become their solo project. Denitzio is a powerful songwriter, and this album is emotionally raw and poignant. Mikey Erg contributes drums on this album, one of his many, many bands, and adds some great rhythms to Denitzio’s melodic poetry.
Favorite Track: “End of the World”
War on Women pulls absolutely no punches on their third album. Frontwoman Shawna Potter is vicious in her attacks on misogynists and fascists, including an opening track that jokingly encourages women to murder their husbands. It’s not an easy listen at times, but Potter revels in that discomfort to teach you a thing or two. This is the highest ranked hardcore album on my list, and for very good reasons because nobody is utilizing hardcore in quite the ways War on Women are.
Favorite Track: “Aqua Tofana”
11. Liv Lavedy: Hella Spiders 666
A last minute addition to my list because of the artist sending me a request to review it, this punk/rap album is everything I needed in my life. It’s an unapologetic defense of trans rights and an overt attack on conservative American values. I can’t wait to see where this artist goes next!
Favorite Track: “Hella Spiders 666”
I keep saying that The Bombpops are not as good as they’re going to be someday, but Death in Venice Beach
is a huge leap towards the greatness I know they’re destined for. It may not be their masterpiece yet, but this album is a near-masterpiece of darkness wrapped up in fun, catchy music. It feels good to be proven right about this band!
Favorite Track: “13 Stories Down”
Some legends are legends for a good reason, and X demonstrates that beautifully with the longest awaited album of the year (that I know of, anyway), coming 27 years after their last studio album, and also being their first to feature the original lineup in 35 years. Now some have faulted them because some of these songs aren’t new and have been featured as bonus tracks for other albums over the past 27 years, while others fault the album for ending on a spoken word track. I don’t see much validity in either criticism. Whether these songs were written last year or in 1994, they’re performed with the same energy and vitality as the band’s very first album.
Favorite Track: “Delta 88 Nightmare”
Jeff Rosenstock is so talented it almost gets boring talking about it. Even his album POST-
, which nobody else seemed to like but me, was head and shoulders above a lot of bands’ best albums. Rosenstock continues with his typical style of quirky humor and weird-ass punk rock on NO DREAM
and, basically, if you like what he’s put out so far, you’re going to enjoy this album.
Favorite Track: “***BNB”
Coriky is literally just The Evens with a bassist. Which is fine because I’m always down to hear a new project from Ian MacKaye in whatever form that takes. Not that Amy Farina ever takes a backseat to her more famous husband, with the two of them sharing lead singer duties as always. It’s bare bones indie rock with some truly stunning melodies. One of my favorite things about Coriky is that they delayed the release of this album in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, in part because they wanted to make sure that independent record shops were open to sell it, which is in keeping with the overall Dischord records ethos.
Favorite Track: “Clean Kill”
Wow, this has been quite the year for comebacks and reunions, with The Lawrence Arms returning with their first album in six years. But you may have noticed, when Punknews did our Lawrence Arms week earlier in the year, I didn’t take part in it. That’s because I’ve never been a Lawrence Arms fan. I guess that’s one of those bands that just passed me by unnoticed. But with everyone talking about their new album, I had to check it out, and I instantly fell in love with those gorgeous melodies. I guess that makes me a fan now?
Favorite Track: “Belly of the Whale”
Run the Jewels are another artist that I’ve been sleeping on for way too long, but I finally got hooked by their fourth album. El-P and Killer Mike are extremely talented rappers who come together in the spirit of racial unity to create the most Black Lives Matter-centric album of 2020. I’m planning to make my way through their back catalogue once I get bored with this album, should that ever happen.
Favorite Track: "Just" (featuring Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha)
I learned about Sa-Roc this year because I realized that I didn’t know a lot of female rappers and I wanted to change that. So I went to a hip-hop Facebook group and asked for some recommendations. Someone told me that Sa-Roc was one of the best in the game, and boy were they right. The Sharecropper’s Daughter
demonstrates some of the best rhyme skills I’ve seen all year, not to mention some of the best beats. Regardless of gender, Sa-Roc is one of the best and most prolific rappers out there today, and this is the highest ranked hip hop album on my list.
Favorite Track: “Goddess Gang”
Get Dead definitely wins the award for most improved band of the year. I’ve tried to get into their stuff in the past and never found any of it particularly interesting. But Dancing With the Curse
came out of nowhere to take the number three spot on my list, making it the highest ranked punk album on my entire list. They combine punk, ska, folk, and even hip-hop elements, tying it all together with Sam King’s brilliant lyrics. This is another band that I can’t wait to see what they do next.
Favorite Track: “Disruption”
On the nineteenth album from the Mountain Goats, you wouldn’t think John Darnielle would be able to find new ways to reinvent himself or his band, but, of course, you’d be wrong. On Getting Into Knives
we get a fuller sound from the band, even incorporating blues elements into the Mountain Goats’ signature indie-folk sound. It’s the most layered and complex sound we’ve ever heard from a band that once consisted of one man, a guitar, and a tape recorder. All this in spite of the fact that the band usually puts out an album or more of new material every year. Darnielle remains the most mind-bogglingly prolific artist in indie rock today, and somehow every album he puts out is brilliant.
Favorite Track: “Get Famous”
Returns don’t get much more triumphant than this! After an 11 year breakup where the band insisted that The People’s Key
would be their final album, Conor Oberst and company return with a beautiful and complex album, one of the greatest in their catalogue of already brilliant albums. Every song is a delight from start to finish, as Oberst weaves in his usual dark, emotional lyrics that give way to a cathartic trip back into the light. I’m a sucker for good lyrics, and Oberst is one of the best lyricists in any genre today, but musically it’s one of the band’s most diverse albums, incorporating a little bit of every Bright Eyes album to come before this. It’s an epic masterpiece, and hopefully the beginning of a new chapter in Bright Eyes’ career.
Favorite Track: “Mariana Trench”
So that’s my list, and the end of the craziest year I’ve seen in my whole life. Here’s hoping 2021 is a huge improvement. Always remember that black lives matter, respect trans identities, and of course, FUCK YOU, GET PUMPED!