Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

Jim Testa

Paul Silver

Mark Hughson

Richard Quinlan

James Damion


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 Testa

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

Honorable Mention:
Bright Eyes – Down In The Weeds, Where The World Once Was
The Streets – None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive
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 Running Away
The Milwaukees – The Calling
Rick Barry - "Ruminations From Barrydise During An Apocalypse" EP
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

Honorable Mention:
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 here.

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 themselves.

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 (
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 (
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 hear anywhere.

F.O.D. – Sleepville (Bearded Punk/Wiretap/Thousand Islands Records)
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 (
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.

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 (
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 (
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 (
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 danceable?

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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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 of 2020.

DFMK (La Escalera Records/Rad Girlfriend Records/Tiny Dragon Music)
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.

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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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 political tracks.

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 (
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 same time.

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 soundtrack.

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 in awe.

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, kicking-ass-with-cuteness album.

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 Records.

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 themselves.

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 of 2020.

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, please.

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 delivers.


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 me feel.

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

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