Best of 2020 - Tom Trauma's Picks (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Best of 2020

Tom Trauma's Picks (2020)

Staff Picks

I must admit, I didn’t think I’d be writing one of these for 2020. I’m pretty sure I said as much in my 2019 recap. Of course, this turned out to be a year that none of us expected, and I managed to write another 40 or so reviews. I’m at about 460 in my 6 1/2 years with Punknews. I’d still like to get to 500, but if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that plans are made to be broken.

The podcast that I co-host with my pal Liverpool Neil, Punk Till I Die, is still going strong. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the things that kept me sane this year. (Along with my family, and an extraordinary amount of booze.) We’ve had a great time talking to punks from all walks of life, telling old personal stories, and playing some great punk. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should.

With the lack of live shows, I turned my attention to my record collection. I took a lot of comfort in adding ridiculous amounts of vinyl. While I’m not doing a separate list, I must mention a few of my favorite EPs, in no particular order. The new six song, ten inch from from Territories, When the Day is Done, was a solid follow up to their 2018 self titled debut. The Queers did memorable splits with The Jasons and The Two Tens. Dead End America was the punk/hardcore supergroup put together by Steve “Thee Slayer Hippy” Hanford who managed to record Crush the Machine before his untimely passing. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Michigan pals The Lippies and Rebel Spies each dropped great digital EPs too.

As usual, there were a handful of excellent reissues. Circle Jerks’ Group Sex was the head of the class, but the Adrenalin OD and Boneless Ones reissues on Beer City Records were too good to overlook. Ditto the Mr. T Experience on Sounds Rad. Sloppy Seconds” 1995 live album finally got a proper vinyl press thanks to Failure Records & Tapes. Smogtown’s Fuhrers of the New Wave on upstart Garage Rock Records probably got the most spins at the Trauma house.

I got the vast majority of my top 20 on vinyl, with a couple stragglers on CD. It’s a good mix of old favorites and relative newcomers, mostly right in my classic punk and thrash wheelhouse. If this year had a silver lining, it was that I was able to listen to a ton of music. I’ll once again give you my normal disclaimer - this list is not objective. These are MY favorites. I’m old. I like what I like. Without further ado, here are my top 20 long players of 2020.

Top 20 of 2020

20. Napalm Death: Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism

Century Media

It's always a pleasure to get new music from the consistently good Napalm Death. The truth is, this might have been higher on the list if I'd had time to give it a few more spins. For what it's worth, some heavy publications are calling this AOTY. Even the title sort of sums up 2020.

19. AM: BA


This Polish band made a record that feels like the bastard child of Discharge and The Minutemen. It's powerful punk even without being able to understand a single word they're saying. You can feel and relate to the desperation.

18. Cro-Mags: In the Beginning

Mission Two Entertainment

Another record I wish I'd listened to more. Harley Flannigan leads a great return to form for the NYHC legends. I guess this probably settles once and for all who the real creative mastermind of the band was. Definitely their best album since Best Wishes.

17. Midnight: Rebirth By Blasphemy

Metal Blade Records

Another record I need to give more spins. This Cleveland band is essential listening for the discriminating headbanger. There's plenty of thrash, punk and black metal. It's like Motorhead meets Venom. Seriously, what's not to like?

16. City Escape Artist: Puncture Wounds

No Pants Records

This Pittsburgh band elevated their game on their third full length. It's full of well written and well played punk songs for grownups.

15. Psychosomatic: The Invisible Prison

Nefarious Industries

Psychosomatic is thrash band from Sacramento that has been kicking around since the late '80s. Somehow, this was the first time I ever heard them. It's classic thrash plus punk, hardcore and death metal.

14. Seized Up: Brace Yourself

Pirate's Press Records

Some old geezers from old punk and hardcore bands get together to make a great political hardcore/crossover album. Seized Up are also members of Santa Cruz favorites like Bl'ast! and Good Riddance, along with current and former members of the Distillers and All You Can Eat. It's pure musical righteous rage.

13. Today is the Day: No Good To Anyone


Today is the Day, AKA Steve Austin, made an album that at times feels a bit mellow by previous standards. Still, it's a powerful album filled with heavy subject matter, even if it's not delivered quite as violently as usual. Another great album from these underground legends.

12. Heathen: Empire of the Blind

Nuclear Blast

A lesser known classic Bay Area thrash band returns with an inspired album. Heathen will forever be linked to Exodus, but they are also a musical force in their own right. They play sprawling, progressive, technical thrash, and their fourth album can stand up to their best work.

11. The Fullers: Cheers


These New Jersey natives fronted by Punknews contributor Peter Vincelli made a fun record about the people you come across hanging out at the bar. Does anybody remember what it's like to hang out at the bar? This is the next best thing to being there.

10. NOFX/Frank Turner: West Coast Vs. Wessex

Fat Wreck Chords

This was not a perfect album by any means, but there was a lot to love. Turner especially shines with his innovative takes on some old NOFX favorites. This also manages to tap into the mad nostalgic love I have for the the 2002 NOFX/Rancid split in the much missed BYO Split Series.

9. The Raging Nathans: Oppositional Defiance

rad girlfriend records

Dayton's The Raging Nathans' 4th full length is their leanest and meanest to date. It's also the most serious thing they've done, and it contains some of their best songwriting to date. That's even more impressive when you consider their almost continuous output. There's not a weak or unnecessary track on the album.

8. Testament: Titans of Creation

Nuclear Blast

It's not really surprising that my top metal album from 2020 comes from an old favorite. I've been a Testament fan since 1987's Practice What You Preach, and have loved everything the band has done since Alex Skolnick rejoined in 2005. This record is surprisingly diverse, and is another solid piece in an excellent discography.

7. The Suicide Machines: Revolution Spring

Fat Wreck Chords

It's funny, I never got into the 3rd wave of ska. At all. That being said, I enjoyed Jason Navarro's post SM projects. I guess I've finally come full circle. This album speaks to me in a way that none of its predecessors did. I guess the message that these middle aged guys are peddling finally resonates with this middle aged guy. Overall, this was a great comeback record for these Motor City Madmen.

6. X: Alphabetland

Fat Possum Records

What a pleasant surprise this record was! Their first in 27 years, and first with the original lineup in 35 years. These first wave LA punks sound as sharp as ever on this breezy collection of songs. They're not afraid to look back, while managing to keep their feet planted in the present. This is how old punk bands need to do comeback albums.

5. The Cheats: Cussin' Crying 'N' Carrying On

Screaming Crow Records

The Cheats are another band that has been around for quite a while that I only discovered this year. Since 2001, this Pittsburgh quintet has been cranking out sleazy, greasy punk and roll. The songs are about living hard, crashing hard and having the scars to prove it. When you're fed up with politics, crank up The Cheats really loud. I guarantee you'll feel better.

4. The Queers: Save The World

All star records

People are quick to forget that Joe Queer is one of the greatest traditional pop songwriters in all of punkdom. On their first proper studio album in a decade, The Queers aim for that sweet spot between Love Songs for the Retarded and Don't Back Down. They manage to fairly consistently hit their lofty mark. I'm not afraid to admit that I'm thrilled with all the new Queers material in 2020. Get off your high horse and just enjoy these dirty, juvenile and entirely charming songs.

3. Gross Polluter: The People Get...What the People Get

Garage Rock Records

Gross Polluter are another new to me band that I've come to love. The SoCal surf/skate punks evolved from Smogtown, another great band that you should check out. No punk band did a better job of taking the piss out of punk in 2020 than Gross Polluter. These guys aren't bound by the political correctness of the "punk" bands that are packaged and sold to us as lifestyle music.

2. The Drowns: Under Tension

Pirate's Press Records

The Drowns are so sincere and so catchy. They have the most potential upside of any band on this list. They combine great songs and passionate performances, and the end result is something really special. I can only hope that the disaster that was 2020 didn't derail this band that just seems to keep getting better.

1. Screeching Weasel: Some Freaks Of Atavism

Monona records

What year is it? How can there be great new albums from Screeching Weasel and The Queers? I don't know how it happened, but I sure am glad it did. Screeching Weasel, Ben Weasel actually, has made some good music in recent years. No one expected a truly great post Jughead SW album, but here it is. Some of you won't be able to get beyond Ben's baggage to give this a fair shake, but it's your loss. I am currently not so patiently waiting for my orange vinyl first press to show up.

That was 2020. As far as 2021, I hardly dare make any predictions. Hopefully shows return. Hopefully bands, labels and venues survive. I will probably continue to phase in my inevitable retirement. Whatever happens, I appreciate the love and support I’ve gotten around here over the years. It really does mean a lot to me. I also appreciate everyone who’s taken the time to read my silly nonsense. Be well, and I’ll see you (hopefully in the pit!) next year.