The "Best" 45(ish) Songs of 2020

Being in a band in 2020 makes you braver than the troops

I don’t usually send Hell Worlds out on back to back days but this one doesn’t really count since it’s about music and is therefore “unofficial.” Thanks for reading. “Who cares.”

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A weird thing to say back in like 2016 was Well at least there will be a lot of good art and music in the Donald Trump era and then an even weirder thing to say in the subsequent years was some shit like Where’s all that good punk rock we were promised? because there really has been an absolute glut of great shit released in the past few years. Not explicitly anti-Trump music per se no one did like an American Idiot-style concept album that I can think of (thankfully) but despite horrific conditions for everyone and musicians in particular — especially this year — these sickos all put their heads down and kept on dishing platters and for that I’m thankful. Being in a band in 2020 makes you braver than the troops if you ask me.

In the tradition of last year’s best 118 emo(ish) songs from the 2010s here’s 45ish songs that I liked this year. Most of them aren’t in order because it’s real stupid to try to thread the needle on whether or not a song was your 29th or 30th favorite but the top 10ish or so are all the top 10ish or so as far as I’m concerned. Also I probably forgot a couple due to my brain is no good lately but I’m probably not alone in that. Here’s a Spotify playlist (sorry) of all of them.

Bartees Strange - Boomer

I have this real dickheaded thing I do with music sometimes where if everyone keeps telling me something is good I sort of revert into a contrarian mode (cancel culture is a big problem on campuses imo) and refuse to listen to it out of spite. What a stupid way to live. Glad I got my shit together for Bartees Strange.

Thank You, I’m Sorry - Manic Pixie Dream Hurl

Don’t care how many bands they come out with that sound like this my solemn pledge is to enjoy it every single time.

Waxahatchee - Can’t Do Much 

Weird thing I’m realizing just now is this list is basically just emo-adjacent bands and solo women doing country-ish songs. I’m sure there’s some psychology going on there but it’s not my problem.

The Front Bottoms - Camouflage 

The problem with The Front Bottoms is that Talon of the Hawk was so good everything they ever do after that is going to have people saying hmmm not as good as Talon of the Hawk.

House of Harm - Behind You 

Probably the only dark synth-wave type track on here. I haven’t been doing much cocaine these days due to being middle aged so that probably explains my shift away for the genre in my regular listening habits. Maybe I should get back into it I can’t see any drawbacks in sharing a bloody dollar bill with someone during Covid.

Niiice - Shlonkey Kong 

I’m probably too old for this one.

Future Teens - All Star

It’s a cover sure but the arrangement is just so delightful I’m gonna allow it. It’s not funny either and that is key. No one wants a funny cover. Play the good song as best you can in your own way.

Illuminati Hotties - freequent letdown

Didn’t really love the mixtape or whatever as much as everyone else but this one is a lot of fun in a stripped down Cali beach fuzz pop way.

PUP - Anaphylaxis 

I’m glad PUP exist in the world and I would very much like to be in a room with roughly 100-200 of my closest friends losing our fucking minds while they’re playing. Maybe in 2022?

Empty Country - Ultrasound

The loudest and most energetic song on an album full of forlorn beauty.

envy -  A step in the morning glow

No idea what they’re screaming about here. Still makes me want to battle a rhinoceros to the death in a fully packed stadium on the moon.

IDLES - War 

One time on Twitter I compared IDLES and Shame to that band Slaves and people got mad at me and I’m sorry about that.

Khaki Cuffs - Cool Cat Saves the Kids

Speaking of going to shows when we do finally get live music back up and running I’m going to need them to start at 6 pm and wrap up by 10 pm at the latest. This Covid shit got me going to bed at like 7:30 pm every night now.

Movements - Tunnel Vision 

I will unironically always love bands like this where it sounds like every fucking thing is a whole thing. Travesty-core.

Beach Bunny - Promises

Didn’t really plan on writing something about all the songs on here but I guess it’s too late to turn back now. I just read that they shut down a busy Covid testing site in Los Angeles because the She’s All That remake needed to film there.

Charmer - Doom 

I get a real soft bain when the guitars twinkle.

Nothing - April Ha Ha

“Nothing April. Ha ha.” - Chuck Schumer telling a voter named April what we’re getting in terms of stimulus help.

Samia - Big Wheel

When I first heard this record I thought the artist name was The Baby not the album name and I thought that was pretty funny. I’m the Baby.

Gulfer - Forget (Friendly) 

I don’t know where these guys are from but I would bet roughly $75 it’s Florida.

Barely Civil - Box For My Organs

Oh wait what the fuck I just looked it up and Gulfer are from Montreal. You could not get much more “not Florida” than Montreal. Here’s some shit I wrote in yesterday’s Hell World about Florida and Covid fatigue:

There have been times when I’ve been close to saying fuck it I don’t care anymore myself I’m going back to the gym — which are open in Massachusetts because they cost money — or I think I’m gonna go and get the fuck out of here and go to like… Florida which is basically America’s Gym and pound shooters and eat fried conch with pink old men in pink shorts and then I think better of it because I don’t want to get sick or get anyone else sick but if I’m being honest it’s mostly because I don’t want my wife to get mad at me. 

Spanish Love Songs - Losers 2

Speaking of Covid fatigue a few months ago I ran an interview in here with Jim Adkins from Jimmy Eat World excerpted from the Anthology of Emo Volume 2 (for which I wrote the foreword) and I also wrote this:

I miss not knowing how basically every hour of every day is going to transpire before it even starts all the days are broadened and flattened out now like what happens to a nose when you punch it in.

What I was trying to remember just now was what the last time I “went out” was and I guess it was February 20 as I just learned from looking up this old Hell World from that day. It was the last Emo Night Boston party we threw before the what have you and maybe the last one ever (?) and I was particularly excited for the show going on in the other room that night which was Spanish Love Songs and Free Throw and Pool Kids and The Wonder Years and mostly what I remember from that night was playing phone tag with Dan Campbell and becoming agitated by it because it was very important for me to get him a copy of my book at that time for reasons that no longer seem all that important in the grand scheme of things. A good problem to have relatively speaking from the vantage point of six months into a pandemic.

So anyway Spanish Love Songs may have been one of the last bands I’ll see for who knows how long. Hope I don’t die before I get to see another which as I mentioned before I am going to need to start very early in the evening.

Gleemer - Leadings On

This is a pretty song and I like this band but every time I see their name I think about the Clickhole headline “Legal Bombshell: Mueller Flipped Trump’s Confidant’s Lawyer’s Friend’s Associate Gorpman (Who Could Testify Against Bleemer!) And It’s Not Even Lunchtime” which is now mysteriously deleted for some reason. How far does this conspiracy go?

Svalbard - Click Bait

Not only ripping faces off with the music here they’re doing some trenchant media criticism.

Headline constructed
To be as divisive
As fucking possible
And completely detached
From the rest of the desperate
Desperate click-bait article

Boneflower - Saltpeter 

So much has improved in the TV watching experience but not the LAST button. It was so much better when you could just chunk back and forth instantly.

Anyway both of these words are gross to me but this fucking goes though.

Young Jesus - (un)knowing

I just can’t really write about music anymore I did it for so many years it almost ruined my love of music which is the exact opposite of why I got into it in the first place. I can’t really read music writing anymore either it all feels like erecting an abstraction to interpret something that’s already an abstraction. If I were forced to officially review this song however I would simply say: This is a pretty song and it makes me feel sad.

No Note - Scar Tissue

There was some guy on Twitter everyone was goofing on yesterday fantasizing about being able to go back in time to live through any other era and he chose being a soldier in WWI and living on through the Depression and the Spanish flu and then fighting in WWII as well and I think he may have vastly underestimated how many times he would have died in this hypothetical.

I watched this picture 12th Man the other day (pretty good) about a Norwegian soldier in WWII trying to stay alive on a mission in the snow and every five minutes I thought: I would die here instantly. I wouldn't even try to live through this. Dudes love to be heroes but I'm different I would very simply and easily die all the time if given the chance.

Doves - Carousels 

Big year for 40 something dudes who love tone with new music from Doves and Deftones and Hum. About time we caught a win. Dudes rock.

The Strokes - Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus 

A new the Strokes album in 2020 has no business being this good. Lots of the Strokes content to choose from in the ol’ Hell World archives but this from my entry in The Last Normal Day series is the most recent.

The last time I had fun was a picture of me at the end of February in the middle of a crowd at Emo Night Boston the monthly party I host and DJ with my friends and I’ve got both my hands raised in the air and this look on my face I don’t recognize in myself which I gather must be joy and everyone around me is dancing and singing and sweating and spitting and spilling beer on each other and they’re frozen still in time in the midst of it all now with no idea that it was probably the last time we’d do anything like that for the foreseeable future. 

The last time I had hope was right around then too it was at the University of New Hampshire and Michelle and I had driven up there for a Bernie Sanders rally headlined by The Strokes one of our favorite bands in the world. When we got there the line was so long outside and it was so cold the type of cold where you draft off of strangers’ body heat and use them to hide from the wind and don’t think twice about it. Inside the lineup of electrifying speakers like Colonel West and AOC and Bernie himself and Nina Turner explained to a crowd of around 7,000 people in no uncertain terms that a better country was in fact possible and that we were this close to getting there. 

Turner asked us all to raise one hand for ourselves so I did and we all did. Then raise another hand for someone else she said and she asked us to fight for someone we don’t know as hard as we would for ourselves and for a couple weeks there when things were still normal I actually thought that enough of us in this country meant it but I was stupid to think that. 

Later on in the night The Strokes played “New York City Cops” and everyone crashed the stage and it seemed like the beginning of a new era and it was just not in the way I thought it was going to be and then we walked back to the car along the slick hilly iced-over streets of Durham taking the tiniest possible steps hoping we wouldn’t slip and break something because if we got hurt we might not be able to afford the medical bills and I wondered what it might be like to not have to worry about things like that anymore and I thought something is going to change man and it was about to indeed just not in the way I thought it was. 

If you haven’t read any of those I wish you would they’re all very good.

The Last Normal Day:
Part 1 by Samantha Irby
Part 2 Zaron Burnett III
Parts 4-5 by Chris A. Smith and Shane Ferro
Part 6 by Kim Kelly
Part 7 by Julieanne Smolinski
Part 8 by Josh Gondelman
Part 9 by Jeb Lund
Part 10 by Joe Keohane
Part 11 by Linda Tirado

For some reason I just finally recently started listening to Albert Hammond Jr. records something that is long overdue considering how much I love the Strokes. His song “Set to Attack” — the perfect halfway point between his main band and his father’s music — is from 2018 but it’s the song I want to listen to the most right now out of all of the ones mentioned in here.

Nature Therapy - Ocean Thunderstorm & Stormy Sea Sounds | Heavy Rain & Thunder Sounds for Relaxing & Sleeping Deeply

The other day I was listening to fake rain videos to go to bed while it was actually raining out and it felt like a metaphor for something. This one dropped in April just as shit was starting to get really weird and it could not have arrived at a better time. Not going to make it on to all the other end of year lists but it was by far my most listened to track. 10/10. I want to be in that house so bad.

Hum - In the Den 

I don't really want to get into a whole thing like everyone is on Twitter today about classic literature but Hemingway is very good! If you haven't ever read For Whom the Bell Tolls or haven't read it since school you should do so it is insanely awesome.

I wrote about it a couple years ago in here when they were lying to us about whether or not separating children at the border was their explicit policy which as it turned out of course it was.

Another thing from Hemingway I think about a lot and posted about back in June back when we were talking about the baby prisons we have now was the scene from For Whom the Bell Tolls when they gather up all the fascists in the town square and march them off the cliff. It’s really hard for the people to do at first because even when you’re in a war even when you spend so much time hating the other side it’s not as easy to execute people as it might have been in your imagination before you actually have to go ahead and carry it out. I suppose directing people to their deaths gets easier after time and with practice though doesn’t it. Once you’ve got a few under your belt maybe you start to lose track of how many you’ve killed.

Quinton Brock - To the Moon 

First time I heard this I was like what the fuck is this I don’t know what this is and a few months later I still do not.

I’m Glad It’s You - Big Sound

Just effortlessly catchy. Ah fuck I almost just choked on a piece of dry ass toast crust I had put by the sink earlier. What a shitty way to die that would be Michelle would come down later after teaching school upstairs and find me and lose her mind and then later the news would come out that I was dead and everyone would be like oh no how did he die and she would have to say like uh he died from…doing too much charity.

Tigers Jaw - Cat’s Cradle

The thing about writing about music is you have to break out all these unnatural seeming words that no one ever really uses outside of a music writing context and it always seems so forced and ruins my ability to suspend my disbelief.

Phoebe Bridgers - Kyoto

Feel like people were trying to get a Phoebe backlash going there for a minute but everyone just steamrolled over it. Too powerful.

Dikembe - All Got Sick 

When this came out a lot of people including me were saying this sounded like Devil and God era Brand New and I think the band got annoyed about that but I’m sorry I know they’re doing their own thing here but it really kind of does and that is a very good thing if you ask me. Everyone wants to listen to music that sounds like this without feeling like a shit head for doing so.

Dogleg - Kawasaki Backflip 

I was gonna say this song makes me want to be nineteen years old again but then I remembered I’d probably be around for the end of the world if I were that young. That’s gonna suck I’d imagine. I’ll be long dead from a toast mishap by then I hope.

Fontaines D.C. - A Lucid Dream 

I used to always do that forced vocabulary shit myself too when I’d write about music a lot. It’s like when you bump into a guy you know and he’s got some kind of new ambitious hat he’s trying to pull off and you’re talking to him like hey man what’s new how’s Covid or whatever and the whole time the hat is the main thing. Just like an oppressive hat.

Worst Party Ever - Fox

Imagine someone using the term “woke” as a pejorative to you in person? You’d be like yeah that's wild man. Ok see you later I gotta go home to my house now.

Higher Power - Lost in Static

I just read a tweet from an AP reporter that said “Biden says he wants to convince Lin Manuel Miranda to write another musical about Janet Yellen” and now I don’t want to think about music anymore. How many more of these things are there?

Stay Inside - Silt

I was just reminded of this bit from All Quiet on the Western Front.

Comrade, I did not want to kill you. . . . But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response. . . . I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony—Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?

Nothing to do with this song but thought you might appreciate it. This Stay Inside song is so fucking good I probably should make it number one. Ah who cares I suppose.

Loathe - Two-Way Mirror

I’m reading this fascinating story in the Washington Post right now by Wesley Lowery — who I interviewed in here a couple months ago — and others. It’s about an exceptionally prolific serial killer named Samuel Little. He admits to killing 93 people over 30 years.

During an interview with investigators in Ohio, obtained by The Post, Little disturbingly referred to his victims as succulent fruits he could enjoy without penalty.

“I’d go back to the same city sometimes and pluck me another grape. How many grapes do you all got on the vine here?” he said. He boasted of avoiding “people who would be immediately missed.” For example, he said, “I’m not going to go over there into the White neighborhood and pick out a little teenage girl.”

That strategy, coupled with tactics that left little physical evidence, was highly effective. Police officials acknowledge that the vast majority of murders attributed to Little would never have been solved without his voluntary confession.

Soccer Mommy - Circle the Drain

Somehow I got stuck in some kind of loop the other day where this song just kept playing over and over again on my computer and I didn’t mind. It was actually nicer that way. Everything was nicer I mean.

Touche Amore - Limelight 

Did you know Nike’s Just Do It slogan was influenced by the final words of another killer a guy named Gary Gilmore who was executed in 1977 for two murders he’d committed. Dan Wieden the advertising guy who came up with the phrase credits Gilmore’s “Let’s do it” with inspiring him.

Lydia Loveless - Daughter

What is my body worth to you
Without your blood in it
Is my story worth the read
Without your name on it
Where you find me at the bottom of a lake
What a headline that would make

There’s never been a better time to be alive
The arms of opportunity are spread wide
I wanna be a part of you but it’s not enough
If I gave you a daughter would you open up

This song is so sad but beautiful. I want to wrap myself up in. Makes me want to disappoint someone so they can write a song about how disappointed they are in me.

Deftones - Urantia 

This was the only record I officially “wrote about” this year reviewing it for Stereogum. Here’s what I said about this song in particular.

Look, I didn’t come up with all this overwrought space and god metaphor shit out of nowhere, it’s right there in the song titles. Don’t look at me. “Urantia,” for example, is where much of the album story canon comes from, I suspect. “The Urantia Book” is a text first published in the 1950s that attempts to wed religion, science, and philosophy, a sort of Bible Part 2, this time with an empirical method involved(?), supposedly delivered by angels(?). It describes the formation of the galaxies and millions of other planets with intelligent life overseen by God, and also follows the life of Jesus with bonus sidequests and shit that we didn’t get in the first telling. At least I think. It’s 2,000-plus pages and they don’t pay me enough to do that much research for a record review. I know it all sounds like Muse fucking around in a YouTube k-hole, but that sort of stargazing sense of wonder and smallness in the face of the infinite pervades the album so it’s got to be worth mentioning. (Muse’s first few records are good again, by the way, we’re taking those back).

Sometimes Ohms also simply sounds like Moreno is singing about fucking, too, so it’s not all heady shit.

Oh right, “Urantia”: It’s also a Deftones song. A song with riffs like staccato machine gun fire panned in the headphones so it feels like it’s all around you but paced just off when you don’t expect it, like I suppose how chaotic gun fire would actually go; I don’t know much about being surrounded by gunfire to be honest. And then in the midst of all that there’s a dude on like a toppled building singing Tears For Fears songs that sound like they’re about breaking off his romance with God. It also has the album’s first or second catchiest everyone-in-the-stadium-raising-their-hands-to-the-sky-to-scream-it-out-together chorus. “Pompeji” and “Radiant City” (which Cunningham has called his favorite on the record) compete for that superlative as well.


It’s Things Can Only Get Better by Howard Jones. Also a total fucking jam.

Bush - Machinehead

Champ stays the champ until someone beats the champ. Still hasn’t been done. Congratulations once again to Machinehead by Bush the best song of the year for the 26th year in a row. Good luck to everyone else in 2021. You’re gonna need it.