Do "Best Of The Year" lists make sense anymore?
I wonder. They were certainly important when music was only
reviewed in newspapers, magazines, and fanzines, and you
had to go out and buy an album (or try to tape it off the
radio) if you wanted to listen to it more than once. In
those days, critics had access to much more music than the
general public. Now, with almost everything streaming for
next to free, every listener can make their own year-end
lists with as much validity as any critic.
We stopped using the word "best" around here
years ago; these are our top albums, the ones we listened
to the most, the ones we most enjoyed. We won't pretend
to tell you what to like, we're just sharing what we listened
to. My Top 10 are all albums that I reviewed and listened
to the most; the "honorable mentions" represent
music that I streamed and enjoyed and recommend, but didn't
necessarily spend a great deal of time with. And finally,
since this is still "Jersey" Beat, I do a separate
list for artists from the Garden State - again, to recommend
them to you because I enjoyed them a great deal, and local
bands tend to get overlooked in these affairs.
Happier New Year. 2021 can't get here fast enough. - Jim
Top 2020 Albums
Bob Mould – Blue Hearts
Jeffrey Lewis – 2020 Tapes
Coriky – S/T
Screeching Weasel – Some Freaks Of Atavism
The Happy Fits – What Could Be Better
Bloody Your Hands – Sunday Scaries
THICK - Mansplain
Round Eye – Culture Shock Treatment
PUP – This Place Sucks Ass
The Challenged - Wallfighter
Bright Eyes – Down In The Weeds, Where The World Once
The Streets – None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life
of Montreal – UR FUN
Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
The Weeknd – After Hours
Haim – Women In Music, Part 3
Idles – Ultra Mono
Fontaines DC – A Hero’s Death
Old Music Made New:
Holsapple & Stamey – Our Back Pages
Peter Stampfel & The Bottlecaps – Demo 84
Neil Young – Homegrown
The Bouncing Souls – Vol. 2
The Mr. T Experience – MTX Forever
Top 10 New Jersey Albums
The Happy Fits – What Could Be Better?
The Roadside Graves – That’s Why We’re
The Milwaukees – The Calling
Rick Barry - "Ruminations From Barrydise During An
Deena – Some Days
WYLDLIFE - Year Of The Snake
Glenn Morrow’s Cry For Help - 2
Helloimdylan – Happy Tunes With Friends
Tom Barrett – 051480
Val Emmich – Acting The Optimist
Crazy & The Brains – Where The Juice Drops
The Sensational Country Blues Wonders – The World
Will Break Your Heart
The Commons 2 – Silent On The Grove
Lost Romance – Strum It Again
Rockstar Racecar – Hunk Oasis
Paul Silver’s Top 25 Records for 2020
Let’s face it, 2020 was a shithole year. The novel
coronavirus pandemic shut down live music, along with almost
everything else. The economy tanked and too many people
were thrown out of work. Police violence directed at people
of color seemed to accelerate, and mass protests around
the country became violent due to police tactics and right-wing
activists set on causing mayhem that could be blamed on
AntiFa and Black Lives Matter. But through it all, bands
kept finding a way to release new music, some of it recorded
pre-pandemic and planned for 2020 release, and some of it
recorded amidst the chaos and reflecting our shared experiences.
For my part, with nowhere to go and nothing to do but stay
home and avoid interactions with other people at close range,
I spent a good part of my 2020 listening to more new music
than ever, and publishing review columns nearly every week
since the pandemic safer at home orders began last Spring.
I tallied it up, and it amounts to 330 LPs, EPs, and singles
over 44 columns. That makes this year’s “Best
of” list all the harder to construct, because there
was so much good music to choose from. But choose, I must.
So I present to you my picks for best new releases of 2020,
in the order in which I reviewed them. No ranking is implied
THE FRIGHTS – Everything Seems Like Yesterday
Though the songs are recorded with a carefree and whimsical
feeling, there’s a depth to them and an air of uncertainty
about one’s place in the world. It echoes how many
of us project an outward appearance of confidence, but inside
we’re still vulnerable, frightened children. It makes
this my favorite Frights album to date.
SPANISH LOVE SONGS – Brave Faces, Everyone
These are rousing anthems of the trials and tribulations
we all face to make it in life. The music is huge and full
of emotion, with just the right balance of pop melody to
it. Every song sounds epic, even in the quiet parts, echoing
the quiet desperation in the daily lives of most everyone
on the planet.
This New Orleans quartet have made some bold choices for
this LP, but I think it’s paid off very nicely. They’ve
expanded who they are as a band while remaining true to
THE SUICIDE MACHINES – Revolution Spring
The Suicide Machines play an incredible blend of rapid-fire
street punk and ska. Lots of bands call themselves ska-punk,
but really are either just punk or just ska. The Suicide
Machines are a genuine ska-punk band, mixing in equal amounts
of both genres to create something fun, bouncy, danceable,
and even political.
DRAKULAS – Terminal Amusements (dinealonerecords.com)
The sophomore LP from super group Drakulas, featuring members
of Riverboat Gamblers and Rise Against, is brilliant, their
best yet. The whole album is an homage to the music of the
80s, but not to hardcore punk. Think garage and power pop
mixed with new wave, like Devo and the Dickies.
DAYS N DAZE – Show Me The Blueprints (fatwreck.com)
They call it “thrashgrass.” I call it great
music. The songs are catchy and bouncy. Banjo, acoustic
guitar, mandolin, washboard, trumpet and gut bucket are
utilized, along with some clear powerful vocals with loads
of snot to produce some of the best acoustic pop punk you’ll
F.O.D. – Sleepville (Bearded Punk/Wiretap/Thousand
Not the Philadelphia punk band of the 80s, this F.O.D. is
a Belgian band that blend Fat Wreck style pop punk, skate
punk, and progressive rock. The arrangements are incredible,
as are their skill as musicians and songwriters. This is
one of the most unique records of the year, for sure.
JOYCE MANOR – Songs From Northern Torrance
This collection is a glimpse into those earliest years of
the band, before the spotlight shine upon them and before
they began playing bigger venues. These are the band’s
earliest recorded tracks, half of them from when they were
an acoustic duo of guitar and drums and half from the earliest
incarnation of the full band. These tracks are ebullient
gems of pop punk and demonstrate the quality songwriting
from the band.
BAD COP / BAD COP – The Ride (fatwreck.com)
Bad Cop/Bad Cop is one of my favorite bands. The blend of
snot and sweetness, the amazing multi-part harmonies, and
the strong social and political statements of the songs
all contribute to music that’s uplifting, educational,
and important. I’m not sure how they do it, but each
record keeps getting better than the one before.
CORIKY - S/T (dischord.com)
Washington, D.C. musical behemoths Ian MacKaye, Amy Farina,
and Joe Lally team up and show that even aging rockers can
still pack a wallop.
ROUND EYE – Culture Shock Treatment (paperandplastick.com)
This band of Western ex-pats, all living in Shanghai, China,
have certainly outdone themselves with this album. It plainly
is Round Eye’s best album to date, by far.
THE BETHS – Jump Rope Gazers (carparkrecords.com)
Ten songs of some of the best indie-pop to come out since
the glory days of the 90s.
BROADWAY CALLS – Sad In The City (redscare.net)
As my country collapses / Can I crash on your couch?”
These are the opening lines of the first Broadway Calls
release in seven years, and they couldn’t be more
relevant. Listening to these songs I feel waves of late
70s nostalgia wash over me. Power pop hits from the days
when guitar pop ruled the radio are a primary influencer
here, and it makes for a damn catchy record, dare I say
THE RAGING NATHANS – Oppositional Defiance
The variety of songs here keeps things interesting, while
the consistency in tone makes these songs uniquely The Raging
Nathans. This is a strong record!
BLOODY YOUR HANDS – Sunday Scaries (bloodyyourhands.bandcamp.com)
The ten songs here are nothing short of remarkably gorgeous.
They’re inventive, original, very engaging, and varied.
This record is very recommended!
THE HAPPY FITS – What Could Be Better (www.thehappyfits.com)
Nothing beats a record where you can just tell the band
had a blast making it, and I can hear the joy throughout
the ten songs on The Happy Fits’ sophomore LP.
MERCY MUSIC – Nothing In The Dark (wiretaprecords.com)
This record is, in a word, outstanding! The music is melodic,
poppy, and edgy, all rolled up into one. The hooks are prodigious,
and the sound is larger than the three-piece they are. This
band deserves to be much bigger than they are right now.
BOB MOULD – Blue Hearts (mergerecords.com)
Mould has found his anger again, and “Blue Hearts”
is his best work since the late 1980s. These are tracks
that mix bouncy pop and hard-edged guitar noise, the combination
that made the Hüskers such a great band. And that’s
one of the things that make Blue Hearts such a great record,
too. That, and the words, the explosive fury. These make
this album one of the best and one of the most important
DFMK (La Escalera Records/Rad Girlfriend Records/Tiny
DFMK is simply one of the most dynamic rock and roll bands
making music today. Taking cues from punk rock and hardcore,
from proto punks like The Stooges and MC5, from garage punk
and even The Ramones, DFMK sing songs in Spanish about living
life on the edge and in the margins, about nihilism and
drug abuse, about hangovers from long nights in shitty dive
bars, about broken hearts and good times.
JON SNODGRASS – Tace (a-frecords.com)
The album is loaded with contrasts, showing off Snodgrass’
wonderful range, both in writing and performing. There are
some great moments of levity on the LP, plenty of punkish
Americana songs, and good ol’ rock and roll.
HIROKI TANAKA – Kaigo Kioku Kyoku (hirokikyoku.bandcamp.com)
This debut solo LP from Hiroki Tanaka is jaw dropping. It’s
beautiful and it’s touching. It’s a very emotional
record, very personal, very devastating.
PUP – This Place Sucks Ass (riserecords.com)
Besides the usual PUP sort of raucous pop punk songs about
deep anxiety and personality disorders, we get songs that
are constructed a little differently, with more dissonance,
more funkiness, even bits of European ethnic folk music!
MYLES MANLEY – Cometh The Softies (witteron.ie)
Irish musician Myles Manley is a perfect example of why,
sometimes, less is more. The sparse arrangements on the
ten songs on this LP are absolutely perfect the way they
are. The best comparison to Manley’s vocals I think
I can make would be David Byrne. The tentative nature of
the vocals, mated to the minimalist arrangements, the repeated
melodic lines, and enigmatic lyrics speaks to me.
WET TROPICS – Everybody Get In (friendclubrecords.com)
Part surf, part garage, part punk, I haven’t been
this excited about an album in a long time. The three-piece
outfit has a big yet stripped down sound, with prominent
bass, loads of fuzz, and some great indie melodies.
SPARTA PHILHARMONIC – Nature of the Cure
This is the long-awaited follow-up to Sparta Philharmonic’s
triumphant LP, “(trans)migratory birds.” Gorgeous,
lush, orchestral sounds bookend some huge, noisy, and very
BONUS EP: Besides these 25 LPs or mini-LPs,
I couldn’t not include this EP in my year-end roundup,
because it’s so good.
SOULSIDE – This Ship (dischord.com)
After a handful of reunion shows, Soulside found time during
an overseas tour to record their first new music since 1989.
The songs are melodic and powerful, with post-hardcore touches.
Jersey Beat Top 20 of 2020
01. Dan Deacon - Mystic Familiar : Yes,
an electronic/hypnagogic pop album is my number one album
of 2020. Deal with it. This album raised the hairs on the
back of my neck when I first heard it waaaay back in February,
and nothing has knocked it off the pedestal since. It’s
ebullient and brilliant and every hyper-swirl of synthy
popness just sends me off into a state of euphoria. As I
keep listening to it, nothing really new is revealed to
me. It’s the same set of rolling electronica and tweaky
vocals that I heard on first listen. The feel is the same
though, which I think is remarkable. If dreams are answers
to questions that we haven’t yet figured out how to
ask, this is the score to the dream I have yet to figure
out how to have.
02. Peter Broderick - Blackberry : Yes,
he’s a quadruple-threat artist, but to be honest his
long list of credits only makes two stops at my house. The
ethereal, acoustic soundscape-pop album Home from 2008,
and now the playful, neo-folksy Blackberry from this year.
It’s like finding that Harry Nilsson or Barry Louis
Pallisar gem from decades past, except… now. Aside
from the creative, quirky, and casual style of the songs,
it really seems like he’s singing and playing directly
to you, so this doesn’t feel so much like an album
as like a “gather ‘round children'' scenario.
It’s dispensed with a smile and a wink but it’s
just so dang good it makes you happy and envious at the
03. The Beths - Jump Rose Gazers : Much
anticipated second album from the punk pop New Zealand band
that was in my top 2 in 2018. As one can see, they have
not fallen far in my eyes. Not content to rewrite the debut,
they change up the guitar a bit (don’t think better
or worse, just think a sideways shift) and also explore
with different tempos and fleshing out the sound with more
layers. That being said, the band still keeps things in
a succinct package, clocking in at a mere 10 seconds longer
than their “faster” debut. At its core it’s
modern indie/alt-rock, and albeit Elizabeth Stokes has what
I can only describe as a beautiful voice, but it’s
not just that. I don’t think it can be just that,
because this album is rewarding on each listen, and each
time in a different way.
04. Beach Bunny - Honeymoon : After a
slew of singles and bandcamp teasers this debut long player
does not disappoint. There’s a lot of heartache in
the lyrics, with “wishing you were here” and
“was I ever good enough for you?” and lines
like that. But despite the emotional tug, Lily Trifilio’s
voice is tremendously bright and melodic. A lot of times
a power pop sound comes through with a wall of production
or amped up guitars, but here it’s all in Trifilio’s
vocals. Really well-written songs that present in such a
way that it’s good for both bedroom pillow punching
and road trip belting. Impressive.
05. Sarchasm - Sarchasm : “Deadname”
off of their previous album is probably one of my most favorite
punk songs in the last 5 years, so obviously I was coming
into this one with high hopes. I’d have to bust out
the measuring tape to see which album has longer home runs.
The guitars have a satisfying 90s alt-rock crunch, and the
band hangs in the Gilman/Berkely scene, but this isn’t
a throwback at all. If anything, the starting point would
be the wistful indie punk of Mixtapes and the patchwork
speed pop of the Steinways, but ultimately this LP deftly
dodges whatever influences and geography I could throw at
it. Essential listening for those looking for the next just-beyond-coming-of-age-but-still-figuring-things-out
06. Exmaid - Sorcery : That feeling when
it all comes together. A band predicated on being both stylistically
dark and genuinely poppy is already an achievement of fusion,
but this group actually pulls it off with guitar hooks that
sound both sinister and catchy. Miranda Taylor’s vocals
are magical. The target for this release seems like a foggy
mess of goth grrl sonic psych jams, but the band still hits
the bullseye through a wisp of smoke and I’m just
07. Charmpit - Cause A Stir : Once in
a blue moon a band self-describes themselves so accurately
no other words do it justice, which is fine with me since
it saves me the trouble of thinking up something better
than “punk pop anarcho-cuties powered by best femmes
forever.” More commonly (but still useful), a lyric
says just as much about a band, and we get that here with
“Take me on the road I’ve got bees in my butt”
from the song “Jimnastics.” This album is full
of snacks, kissing, DIY stuff, and other things that you
like, so you will probably like this. Tacocat fans will
like this. Old school Mutant Pop fans of the Kung Fu Monkeys
might not connect the dots directly here, but I imagine
the KFM themselves would approve of this jangly, spunky,
08. Pavid Vermin - Take Out The Trash :
Quarantines ain’t got nothing on this pure pop punk
album from Glenn “I was a one-man band anyway”
Robinson. Songs are short, quick, and fun without sounding
recycled or too slick. The vocals sound double-tracked with
additional harmonies on either end, and the guitars are
the reason why we half-sincerely call this buzzpop. The
genre continues to not be completely dead, but most of the
records I’ve listened to this year could have been
cut to EPs. The same can’t be said about Take Out
The Trash, it’s all killer. That’s significant
in and of itself, and then consider Cutting Corners (the
other Pavid Vermin album from 2020) and Lookout! Pavid Vermin
Ruins Some Songs (the other other album from this year),
and I’m left thinking he’s his own best competition
for best pop punk artist of the year.
09. Cayucas - Blue Summer : Easy, breezy,
and sometimes cheesy sunshine pop. What Vampire Weekend’s
first album was to Paul Simon’s Graceland, this band
is to All Summer Long-era Beach Boys. It’s incredibly
lite and infectious. There was a good solid 3 months that
I couldn’t stop singing along to this… can this
dessert really be zero calories?!
10. Don Blake - Anti-Charisma Wholesale EP :
“Penitent One” is near perfection. Relentlessly
fast, melodic, and filled with equal amounts of regret and
harmonies. This has been on repeat since release day. Who
would have thought that quality skate punk would be coming
from Manchester UK in 2020? Well, other than Bloated Kat
11. Young Man In A Hurry - Jarvis : There’s
something mysteriously captivating about this one. The lead
track, “A Natural Love” being an instant classic
probably helped, but maybe it’s the fact that their
speediest song is “Give Me Patience”, and at
every other turn they find ways to make you tilt your head.
The sounds alternate from fuzzy to soothing and it’s
full of life and affirmation. And while the style lands
pretty squarely in arty cinematic rock/chamber pop territory,
this doesn’t really sound like The National or Sufjan
Stevens. This is of course a 2020 release, but they haven’t
really hung their hat on any particular era of indie music.
They’ve carved out a nice little space and time for
12. Cut Worms - Nobody Lives Here Anymore :
Ok, this one is tough. Hollow Ground was in my top 3 in
2018 and this is a pretty far slide... but I’ll be
danged this thing just keeps crawling back into my rotation.
The Everly Brothers sing-alongs from the previous album
are all but gone, and in their place are tunes that saunter
along, perfectly content with taking their dear sweet time
to get in your brain. This is singer-songwriter pop that
still sounds a bit like Don and Phil, and a bit like at
least one of the Beatles, but not the content we know from
their heyday. This is more like later-career stuff, which
we sometimes don’t appreciate until down the road.
Ask me next year where this ranks, it’s still moving.
13. The Challenged - Wallfighter : Anthemic
pop punk from a longstanding NYC trio. Four songs in and
you might think “Whoa, this is almost *too* epic,”
and yes the album is front loaded in that way. But track
five sounds like 90s Green Day (as does track ten), and
in track nine they bust out a gosh darn harmonica. I don’t
know why I am writing track numbers instead of song titles.
Fans of this band will find plenty to like here, and newcomers
shouldn’t be afraid to start here and work backwards.
14. Slow Pulp - Moveys : I’ve been
associating the album title with movement all this time,
only to have the computer self-correct the title to “movies.”
I mean, I still don’t get it, but ok. Another full-length
here with exquisite female vocals falling under the indie
umbrella. But where Slow Pulp differs from the rest of my
list, is that they go full dreamy. They skirt around emo,
hint at shoegaze, and even have a bedroom funk song at the
end, but overall nothing but mellow moods, comforting vocals,
and floaty guitar tones.
15. Hum - Inlet : My comeback release
of the year. This band is still fuzzy, still loud and soft
at the same time, and more or less they could have released
this in 2000 instead of 2020 and I wouldn’t have batted
an eye. Whatever the audio equivalent of looking into the
past with rose-colored glasses is, this is it. Thanks for
reaching out again, guys. I’ve missed you.
16. Clem Snide - Forever Just Beyond :
My comfort food release of the year. I know what indie-folk/americana
I’m getting here. I’ve always liked this band,
and I know I will like it again. I will go back to this
band when I want to relax rather than engage. I must note
that my term specifically refers to the sound here - Eef
Barzelay’s earnest and only slightly Nashville vocals,
easy strumming with lots of support - steel guitar, keyboards,
horns, etc. I feel like I need to qualify my love in that
regard because this album is all about death and depression.
Now that I think of it, this is a really good encapsulation
17. Built To Spill - Play The Songs Of Daniel Johnston
: Doug Martsch has always had a pained, semi-cracked
voice, and the off-kilter pop of Johnston fits the aesthetic
of the band well. In fact, this kinda reminds me of The
Normal Years-era Built To Spill, and that’s a really
cool thing. The originals were press-play-on-the-tape-recorder-and-go,
usually with a crummy acoustic guitar, but this tribute
is filled with accomplished playing and a cozy sound. For
a band that’s known for being guitar-centric pedal
tech indie jam rock, showing such restraint is a testament
to Doug and company’s wisdom, reverence for the source
material, or both.
18. Gerbera - Stay Where You Are EP :
Quarantine indie bedroom pop from New Jersey, recorded solo
style by Erin Hays from Full of Fancy/ Clever Girl. I’ve
always been impressed with her singer/songwriter capabilities,
but the sound really nails it here. Jangly guitar, awesome
vocals, simple but supportive rhythm section, all wrapped
up in a lo-fi-ish package that might’ve been born
out of necessity, but it’s in those instances where
it usually sounds just right. Less pandemic but more this,
19. Secret Machines - Awake In The Brain Chamber
: If this band sounds kinda almost familiar to
you, like it’s something that reminds you of 00s-era
dream pop/space rock, your memory does not deceive you.
This band’s last release was 12 years ago, but this
sounds as thumpy and buzzy and catchy as ever. Secret Machines
ride in multiple wakes of bands that succeeded in the past
(Jesus & Mary Chain and MGMT come to mind). They write
songs that kinda almost sound familiar, but change it just
enough to be original. Production-wise they play it straight,
without any arty warbling that ruined many an act during
the aforementioned late 00s. It might look like a checklist
of safe moves, but when these tracks pop up in shuffle I
keep listening. Must be doing something right.
20. Bacchae - Pleasure Vision : Another
avenue to explore here, this time courtesy of a DC outfit
that will hopefully turn basements into queer punk dance
parties asap. The band ricochets off the walls from riot
to post-punk to pop and sometimes a blend of all three.
For every accessible gem like “Hammer” or “Open
Wound” there’s a gnarly, Gang Of Four-meets-Butchies
track that keeps you on your toes but never puts you out.
Catchy as heck melodic hooks entrenched within awkward riffs
and rhythms is a tough feat to accomplish, but this band
It goes without saying that shy of the height of the Black
Death in 1347, 2020 has been about the worst year imaginable.
Fortunately, there were some very cool releases throughout
the past twelve months that helped to get me through quarantine,
ludicrous conspiracy theories, and conversations about “droplets”.
These are in no particular order, as I love them all equally.
Strange Lips -"Bitter" EP: This
thunderous Brooklyn outfit started of the year with this
brilliant introduction, and I thought 2020 would be awesome.
That did not happen, but I cannot wait to see this band
destroy people in live settings in 2021.
Refused - Malignant Fire: It goes without
saying that it is always great to hear from Refused. They
continue to reinvent and revolutionize their sound.
Anthrophobia - Altered States: How bad
a year could it really have been if Frank Phobia gave us
new music? Do not actually answer that, but if this one
strayed from your radar, go find it.
Steve and the Not Steves w/ Fletcher from Pennywise
- “Cell Divide” EP: Fletcher’s
instantly recognizable guitar tone blends perfectly with
one of the best punk-pop bands in America. They are hiding
in isolation on Long Island right now, but not for long.
Dissecting Table - Human Gear: This one,
along with my next selection was exactly the destructive,
abrasive din I needed. It just sums up the year.
Merzbow - Screaming Dove: Masami Akita
has been producing brain-splitting noise for decades, and
the caustic fury of this EP is the epitome of how 2020 made
Sharp Violet - “She’s So Strange:”
This amazing Long Island treasure experiment with
tempo and tone on this effort, revealing a continued evolution
of their talent.
Melody - Teacher’s Pet: Melody is
sixteen; sixteen! At sixteen, I was proud of myself for
memorizing all the lyrics on Nuclear Assault’s Handle
With Care, (still a boast worthy achievement) and Melody
writes biting, sophisticated pop gems.
Haux - Violence in a Quiet Mind: With
a haunting voice and delicate musicianship, this is the
perfect record for a dreary day full of self-analysis and
regret. Or the past nine months.
Foxies - Growing Up is Dead: This was
the biggest surprise of the year for me, as I found myself
singing “Call Me When Your Phone Dies” in my
head after one listen, and it never ceased.
While I certainly buy more records than I’ll ever
have time to listen to, I in no way keep up with the charts
or new releases. As I look back on music in 2020, I can
easily trace the albums I listened to and enjoyed the most
- the ones that made an instant impact or did so over time
and closer listen.
Run the Jewels – RTJ4
Code Orange – Underneath
Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutter
Coriky – S/T
Bob Mould – Blue Hearts
Airstream Futures – La Feu Et La Sable
PJ Harvey – Dry (Demo)
Soulside – The Ship EP
Tom Barrett – 051480
The Bobby Lees – Skin Suit