Best of 2020 - Em's Picks (Cover Artwork)

Best of 2020

Em's Picks (2020)

Staff Picks

I think it’s safe to say that 2020 has melted my brain. It’s hard to think and harder to focus with the uncertainty that has been swirling around for the past 10 months or so. Time has ceased to hold meaning with some days passing in what feels like minutes and others taking what feels like years. But Punknews has brought lots of fun, hope, and has saved my sanity multiple times. I became a news editor at the beginning of this year. I have been reading Punknews since I was thirteen and always wanted to be involved. In summer 2019 I finally started writing reviews for the site and when the opportunity to become an editor arose, I jumped at the chance. I’ve had an absolute blast (for the most part) bringing the good people the news and intend to continue for a long time to come. I am immensely grateful to be working alongside everyone at Punknews who cares so deeply and works so hard. Thank you all.

I’ve learned a good deal about myself and my music habits over the course of the year and I’m going to share some so be prepared. I now have three, THREE, gray hairs (I guess I look more distinguished now). I have gone through a few different phases where I will only listen to either one album, one band or one song on repeat for weeks at a time. This is new. For example, I listened to Last Scream of the Missing Neighbors by Jello Biafra and D.O.A. for a good solid week. And then there was a period of near non-stop ska. At one point I listened to “I Wanna Live” by the Ramones for almost 24 hours. No regrets. I listened to the Lawrence Arms and Run The Jewels for the first time this year and wondered why I hadn’t been listening to them before. Both of their new albums have made it onto my list. I have been listening to Baltimore based punk band Pinkshift a lot too. They released four singles this year and each one has been a highlight. I have had “Rainwalk” and “I’m gonna tell my therapist on you” on near constant rotation and am looking forward to hearing more from them next year.

In a year filled with a seemingly non-stop barrage of stress, music has become more important than ever. Music has offered much need catharsis, a sense of hope, and a feeling of togetherness and community when we can’t physically be with each other. So let’s dive into the list!

Top 20 of 2020

20. Hot Mulligan: you'll be fine

No Sleep Records

Hot Mulligan breathe new life into emo-y pop-punk on you'll be fine. The songs are full of fresh energy, melding standards of the genre with new takes that combine to give them a unique, full sound. The vocals on this album are a highlight for me. The mix of clean and rough vocals and the screams were amazing, full of energy and feeling. you'll be fine is full of solid songs that are fun to listen to.

19 . Illuminati Hotties: FREE I.H: This is Not The One You've Been Waiting For


Illuminati Hotties embrace a more experimental sound on the statement of independence that is FREE I.H and I am on board with it. You never know what to expect from song to song which makes for a fun, exciting listening experience. There are songs that sound like indie pop, punk, garage rock, and even a radio introduction for their made-up station. The more I listen to it, the more I notice.

18. The Drowns: Under Tension

Pirate's Press Records

The Drowns harness their collective energies to kick out energetic punk rock on Under Tension. The songs sound great with great energy, solid lyrics, and a terrific mix of clean and raspy vocals. The band sound like they're having a great time and doing exactly what they want to be doing. The album has brought joy, relieved tension, and made me want to see them live.

17. Bob Mould: Blue Hearts

Merge Records

Bob Mould is pissed off, anxious, and in top form on Blue Hearts. His songwriting and delivery are cutting and pack a punch. Each song carries with it an urgency that fits this year more than ever. Bob Mould confronts and purges his emotions in a way that allows you to follow suit. This album always helps me clear my head and helps me think.

16. D.O.A.: Treason

Sudden Death Records

You always know what you're going to get with D.O.A. They are going to be fast, loud, energetic, and political and they never disappoint. Treason zips by in what feels like minutes. They rip into the corrupt Trump administration with aggressive energy, telling you in no uncertain terms what they think of the state of the world. They throw in a pretty awesome Neil Young cover too. D.O.A. will never stop standing up for what they believe in and their teeth only get sharper with age.

15. Laura Jane Grace: Stay Alive

Polyvinyl Records

I was surprised when Stay Alive came out and couldn't wait to listen to it. It took a few listens to really grow on me but grow on me it did. Laura Jane Grace's voice is incredible, showing off range and filled with emotion. The minimal instrumentation works in the album's favour allowing more focus to be put on her vocals and lyrics. Stay Alive was hands-down one of the best surprises from this year.

14. The OBGMs: The Ends

Black Box Music

Toronto punk rock band the OBGMs bring electric energy on The Ends. There is no slowing down, there is only uncompromising energy full of punk spirit. You can tell that the band cares about what they do with their passion evident on each track as they push their music to new heights. The OBGMs are here to stay and when shows come back, I will be in the pit moshing along.

13. Spanish Love Songs: Brave Faces Everyone

Pure Noise Records

Spanish Love Songs have achieved a phenomenal sound that is pure, unbridled emotion. The lyrics are hard-hitting and beautifully written, capturing desperation, urgency, and despair. These songs have ripped out my heat and sewn it back in more times than I can count this year and have helped me move through some of the dark days that this year has brought on. Even though times are bleak, there is still a sliver of hope in every situation that demands to be fought for.


Fat Wreck Chords

PEARS are one of the bands that I equate with consistency and rarely, if ever, disappoint. COVID lockdown and panic was just ramping up when this album came out and lockdown started about a week or so after it was released. Needless to say, this overshadowed the album and I took a break from it. When I returned to the album, it had taken on new life. It sounded fresher and the songs took on new meaning. PEARS was an anxiety oasis, offering an outlet for nervous energy and helping me to work through the uncertainty.

11. Jeff Rosenstock: No Dream

Polyvinyl Records

When No Dream came out it was a complete surprise and absolutely made my day. It was so nice to have a break from the monotony of lockdown and good new music. I started listening to it as soon as I knew it was out and it brought me a feeling of joy and hope. I listened to it three times that day and came back to it a few times during that week. The songs are fun, energetic, and timely. 'Scram!' is my favourite song off the album and has inspired my New Year's resolution to slip 'go kick rocks' into more conversations.

10. Vile Creature: Glory! Glory! Apathy Took the Helm!

Prosthetic Records

Vile Creature is a doom metal duo out of Hamilton, Ontario who have the best album title of all-time hands-down, with Glory! Glory! Apathy Took the Helm!. The album is heavy as all hell and absolutely gorgeous in execution. There are guttural screams, screeches, spoken word, clean vocals, and a song ('Glory! Glory!') that sounds like a choir is singing in a church (or somewhere else with great acoustics). Not one song is under five minutes with the longest clocking in at just over eleven minutes. The length is justified with each song creating a delightful listening experience.

9. Nova Twins: Who Are The Girls?

Nova Twins Ltd in collaboration with 333 Wreckords Crew

I started listening to Nova Twins when their song 'Athena' showed up on the recommended section on YouTube and haven't looked back since. The UK duo are energy incarnate, playing punk rock heavy with layers of distortion and creating a sound entirely their own. The songs are filled with electric spirit that makes you want to move. Who Are the Girls? is full of life and cements Nova Twins as a name to know and a band to watch out for.

8. The Suicide Machines: Revolution Spring

Fat Wreck Chords

Revolution Spring is a pretty great album to come back with after a fifteen-year absence. The Suicide Machines play with a newly refreshed spirit, ready and willing to rip into current events. The album keeps the pace up, going by quickly with upbeat songs that make you want to dance and smash society to pieces while doing so. This album never fails to fill me with energy when I need it most and serves as a reminder that a little inspiration, communication, and unity can go a long way.

7. Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou: May Our Chambers Be Full

Sacred Bones Records

Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou are forces to be reckoned with on their own but when they come together - oh man, hold on to your hats. May Our Chambers Be Full is more than an album, it's a full-on experience. The music is heavy in the best way (like a weighted blanket), atmospheric, and a bit dark with lyrics full of imagery. The interaction between Emma Ruth Rundle's powerful, emotive voice and Bryan Funck's deep, harsh voice is well-balanced and adds that much more depth. I find listening to this album very calming and often sit back and let the music wash over me.

6. Dream Nails: Dream Nails

Dine Alone Records

Dream Nails self-titled album is filled with songs that will put you in a good mood, fill you with rage, and bring about much needed catharsis. The band play with precision without losing their edge, bringing about a sound that melds pop with pure punk rock together into something that is undeniably their own. The lyrics are hard-hitting and powerful, tackling topics such as LGBTQ rights, gender and sexuality-based violence, and bodily autonomy. I thoroughly enjoy this album, from basking in the joy of 'DIY' to releasing pent up rage alongside 'Payback' and 'Kiss My Fist', Dream Nails is a force to be reckoned with.

5. War on Women: Wonderful Hell

Bridge Nine Records

I love War On Women and Wonderful Hell is one of the best albums they've released. The band is cohesive and achieves a strong, full sound that complements the emotion and message of the songs perfectly. The lyrics are powerful and pull no punches when talking about any subject matter, from the abomination that was the Trump presidency to systemic racism to gender-based violence. Shawna Potter's vocal delivery is dynamic and makes you feel the fury and all of the emotion that has been brought to the boiling point over the course of this year. This album has helped me release some rage and made me realize that even when things seem to be at their lowest, hope is alive and well.

4. The Lawrence Arms: Skeleton Coast

Epitaph Records

Nothing could have prepared me for how much I like the Lawrence Arms. I did not expect to like the band (I don't know why), so I never listened to them but holy shit, that changed this year. I now know most of the words to every song on Skeleton Coast by heart. When certain songs ('Last, Last Words' and 'Dead Man's Coat' in particular) come up, no matter where I am or what I'm doing I feel compelled to sing along (and often do). The songs are extremely catchy with great lyrics and amazing vocals. Chris McCaughan's clear, melodic vocals mixed with Brenden Kelly's gravelly, raspy vocals is at perfect balance and gives each of their songs that much more character. Now I can't stop listening to the Lawrence Arms, send help (just kidding, send more CDs).

3. Run the Jewels: RTJ4

Jewel Runners

Run the Jewels come out swinging and only add to their momentum as the album goes by with no feeling of slowing down or stopping anytime soon on RTJ4. Killer Mike and El-P are able to switch effortlessly between themselves without feeling disjointed. There is a sense of respect and camaraderie which is apparent on every track. Hard-hitting issues such as social injustice, police brutality, and corruption are critical themes that are tackled with powerful, emotional, uncompromising conviction especially on 'walking in the snow' (feat. Gangsta Boo) and 'pulling the pin' (feat. Mavis Staples). Ultimately, RTJ4 carries with it message that things can be changed from the way they have been by the people, a message of hope that is much needed during these trying times.

2. Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine: Tea Party Revenge Porn

Alternative Tentacles

When I listen to Tea Party Revenge Porn, it commands all of my attention. This is an album that will NOT be put on in the background. Good luck trying to do anything without Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine drawing you in and making you listen. The band is on their A-game and came prepared to blow the roof off the place with energetic, well-paced songs that are full of personality and spirit. Jello is at the top of his game, attacking his lyrics with a relentless intensity that only grows stronger as the album progresses, slowing down for nothing. Tea Party Revenge Porn happened at the right time, with the right people, and will stand the test of time.

1. Alice Bag: Sister Dynamite

In The Red Records

Sister Dynamite by Alice Bag is my top album because it never fails to put me in a good mood. This year has been very difficult, and this is one of the albums that I have returned to again and again when I need a boost of confidence. The songs are filled with energy, emotion, and powerful lyrics that hit home on multiple levels. The music has a recharging effect that makes me want to dance and motivates me. It is impossible to listen to Alice Bag without feeling like you have the strength to take on the world.

Top 5 EPs of 2020

5. The Shell Corporation: Told Ya So

206 Records

The Shell Corporation kick ass on Told Ya So. The songs are catchy and fast with lyrics that drip with much needed humour alongside scathing social commentary. The lyrics will also make you picture the horrors that must be a Lysol enema. The band plays energetically, and the vocal delivery is superb. The songs flow together seamlessly and create an EP that is a pleasure to listen to.

4. The Sewer Cats: Zelda

Hell Hath No Fury Records

The Sewer Cats deliver fun punk fury on Zelda. In my opinion this is easily one of the best things that came out this year. The songs are short, fast and fun filled with fierce, tireless vocals and classic, fuzzy punk sound. The EP closes with the most fun song of 2020, 'Cat Gifs'. The very existence of this EP makes me so happy.

3. NNAMDÏ: Black Plight


Nnamdi released one of the most powerful EPs of the year with Black Plight. The lyrics are passionate, weighty, and important. The songs confront police violence and systemic racism head on. The music is undeniably rock-y and provides a great backdrop for the lyrics to come across.

2. Pup: This Place Sucks Ass

Rise Records

Pup are another band that rarely, if ever, disappoint. This Place Sucks Ass is full of great songs and goes by in a flash. The songs are full of pure Pup energy and really fun to sing along to. I can't wait to see these songs played live someday, especially 'Rot'.

1. Classics of Love: World of Burning Hate


Classics of Love (now Jesse Michaels, Sharif Dumani, and Peter John Fontes) are relentless on World of Burning Hate. They deliver five near-perfect hardcore songs filled with fury and exceptional lyrics that never let up in urgent energy. Since the EP came out this summer, it has been a staple for me. I love everything about it and it never fails to brighten my day.

And there you have it! Thanks for taking the time to read my list. Stay safe, take care of yourselves and others, and wash your damn hands so mosh pits can happen again. Here’s to a great 2021!