Music Year-End List || Niek’s Favorite Albums of 2020

I am a sucker for year-end lists. They help uncover releases I missed, artists I overlooked, and curators worth following. I equally love the process of creating my own lists. There is an instrinsic value and joy in revisiting and reflecting on the records that come out each year. It offers a reminder that some records take time to appreciate, while others’ immediate appeal ultimately proved to be short-lived. One noticable trend in this streaming age is that artists release a crazy amount of great songs, whereas their albums often fail to live up to that promise. Quite a lot of my favorite songs of the year were on releases I left out my top 50. This top 50 celebrates the art of great collections of songs, records I own, records that are on my wantlist,records I’ve played and enjoyed front to back. What about those great individual songs? I will share my favorites in a playlist before the year is over (Update: I made two). I will also publish a list of my favorite singles (7″, digital) and EP’s of 2020 next week (Update: it’s here). And, of course, don’t forget to check out Dennis’ favorite records of 2020.

Ok, less talk, more rock. Below you’ll find my favorite records of the year. Mostly punk, garage, powerpop, rock-‘n’-roll, indiepop and indierock releases.  I’ve added short descriptions of what I love about each record, and sample songs and video’s. If you like what you hear, just click on the album title and AddToWantlist. Oh yeah, and for you streamers out there, there’s a playlist with my favorite song of each record at the bottom of this post. Let’s go!

1. Chubby and the Gang || Speed Kills

The first time I listened to this record, all the way back in January, I was floored. The way the drums and guitars kick in in its opener is a pure adrenaline rush – how perfect do they use that Jimmie Rodgers Snow speech where he links rock-‘n’-roll music with juvenile delinquency? This is an exciting and rowdy hardcore record with enough diversity and melody to appeal to a broader audience. It’s the record I played the most and enjoyed the most in 2020.

2. The Speedways || Radio Sounds

This record has the looks, feel and most importantly the sound of a classic powerpop record from the late 70’s/early 80’s. It’s all hits, no misses.

3. Country Westerns || Country Westerns

Twangy rock for punk dads. I love every damn second of album opener Anytime, and it’s all good from there.

4. Nana Grizol || South Somewhere Else

These guys still keep getting better with every record, or what? Indie rock + trumpets = Hundred Points on Google Android 11.0

5. Virginia Trance || Vincent’s Playlist

My favorite indiepop record of the year. Solid collection of two and three minute jangle tunes that work in all four seasons. RIYL: Twerps and the Stevens.

6. Stiff Richards || State of Mind

Intense punkrock-‘n’-roll record with plenty of bark. One of the bands I look forward seeing live the most when all this has passed.

7. The Reflectors || First Impression

I usually like my powerpop a little faster and less polished, but boy, these songs are hard to resist.

8. Bob Mould || Blue Hearts

Fifth release of the decade by this Hüsker Dü legend, and I like this one best. Just the perfect combination of anger, urgency and songwriting at the right time.

9. Bruce Springsteen || Letter To You

2020 was weird. This Bruce album was exactly what the doctor ordered. I get goosebumps just thinking about Bruce & the E-Street band performing Ghosts live.

10. Bee Bee Sea || Day Ripper

With this record, these Italians prove their garage pop is in the same league as Jacuzzi Boys and Together Pangea.

11. Dennis Cometti || Dennis Cometti

Straightforward, loud and obnoxious, this is Aussie punk in its purest and most enjoyable form.

12. Personality Cult || New Arrows

Dirtnap and Drunken Sailor Records are trusted suppliers of top notch punkrock. This was their best release of the year.

13. Exploding Flowers || Stumbling Blocks

Exploding Flowers play 60’s pop. No wait, they play jangle pop. Or is it psych pop? Power pop? Whatever, this is a great pop record.

14. The Yum Yums || For Those About to Pop

Confession: I never gave these Norwegians a fair chance before seeing them live last year. I have fond memories of that show,  one of the last I attended before the lockdowns. I am a huge fan now, and this record is a testimony of how insanely catchy their bubblegum poppunk is.

15. Eaten By Snakes || Calming Pink

RIYL Japandroids, Superchunk. Wrote about this one here.

16. Dumb Punts || The Big One Two

Twenty three minutes of excellent garagepunk and fuzzy indiepop. They are from Australia. Need more convincing? Just check out the video, this band is great.

17. Outtacontroller || Sure Thing

Another fine collection of straightforward yet effective buzzsaw garagepop hits from these Canadians.

18. Dangereens || Tough Luck

Dangereens, from Canada, channel their inner Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson to create an album that is full on sleazy glam rock n’ roll.

19. A. Swayze & The Ghosts || Paid Salvation

There are a lot of Australian bands on this list. This one sounds the least Australian, instead reminding me of UK guitar bands of the 00’s, but also the mod sound of the early ’80’s. Paid Salvation sounds punchy, is FULL OF HOOKS, and is a highly entertaining record.

20. The Beths || Jump Rope Gazers

At first, this felt like a step back from their previous record. Perhaps it’s because they take the foot of the gas after starting the record with the one-two punch of I’m not Getting Excited and Dying to Believe, two of the best songs they’ve written yet. Lately, I am enjoying the remainder of the record more and more though.

21. Touché Amoré || Lament

Pretty impressive how this emotional hardcore band introduces more melody in their sound without losing any of their intensity. With everything that was going on in the world in 2020, Reminders was one of my anthems. Its chorus hits me in the gut every time.

22. 2nd Grade || Hit To Hit

Velodrome is such an irresistible Hit, that you almost overlook the other Hits on Hit to Hit. #hits

23. Pinegrove || Marigold

The guys and girl in Pinegrove take writing songs seriously and it pays off. I love the buildups to cathartic releases in their work.

24. En Attendant Ana || Juillet

If you’d draw a line between postpunk and indiepop, En Attendant Ana would be somewhere in the middle. The drums, guitars, bass and vocals complement each other perfectly on these songs. You know a record’s good when your favorite song keeps changing.

25. Jeff Rosenstock || NO DREAM

Jeff Rosenstock is a modern day punkrock treasure.

26. Lucy and the Rats || Get Lucky

While spinning this record at home, my four-year-old wondered why this band kept playing the same song. She did like the song though, and so do I. This is a major step up from their 2018 debut. Generous dashes of punk, powerpop and 60’s girl group create the recipe for success.

27. Swampmeat Family Band || Muck!

This record was a pleasant surprise, and it deserves a bigger audience. The Swampmeat Family Band is made for summer festivals. If you like the Nude Party, you will love this one.

28. Lunchbox || After-School Special

After-School Special is a fun C86 indiepop record. The off-kilter horns on Gary of The Academy put a smile on my face every time, and that was before seeing this video.

29. SBDC || Feeling Of Winning

RIYL Joan Jett, Pale Lips, the Runaways. Wrote about this one here.

30. Andy Hampel || Nightshift

Solo-effort by Connections frontman that sounds alot like the lo-fi indie rock of Connections. And that is a good  thing.

31. Beach Bunny || Honeymoon

Sugary indie guitar pop. I’ve tried to resist, I failed.

32. Smokescreens || A Strange Dream

Another fine record by this LA indie pop band. A tad more dreamy and airy than their previous record which was one of my favorites of 2018.

33. Mark Vodka Group || Debut

Blasting out nine songs in 15 minutes, Mark Vodka clearly is sympathetic to our limited attention-spans. 15 minutes leave plenty of time for another round of these lo-fi scorching yet melodic punk tracks.

34. Vintage Crop || Serve To Serve Again

Wait, another Australian band? Vintage Crop refine their own brand of stop-start punk full of cool guitar riffs on this record.

35. Fake Names || Fake Names

Side project of Brian Baker (Minor Threat, Dag Nasty and Bad Religion) and Dennis Lyxzén (Refused), reminiscent of latter day Dag Nasty? Count me in!

36. The Nude Party || Midnight Manor

My early disappointment with this record has been replaced with increasing enthusiasm.

37. Slander Tongue || Slander Tongue

If you appreciate the guitar work of Johnny Thunders, check out the sleazy garage rock-‘n’-roll from these Germans.

38. Char-man || Power Of The Night

The first ten seconds of this record sound like early Green Day. The only other similarity with Green Day in the remaining 24 minutes is that these garagepopsongs are short and catchy.

39. Hamilton Leithauser || The Loves Of Your Life

Like most of his work, including The Walkmen, this takes some time to fully appreciate. It’s worth the investment though.

40. Dirt Royal || Great Expectations

One of those albums that is easy to overlook. But, lately I’ve really been enjoying this record full of midtempo three-chord powerpop and call and response vocals. Some of these songs are so  catchy they feel like one giant staple of (pre)choruses.

41. Cocktails || Catastrophic Entertainment

There is a deceptive quality to the powerpop of Cocktails. Once you start noticing the subtle guitar licks in their songs, you become aware of the excellent songwriting abilities on display.

42. Mujeres || Siento Muerte

There were plenty of entertaining garagepop releases in 2020. This is another one, from Spain. Fun fact: I discovered this band on the festival where the idea for this blog originated.

43. Pavid Vermin || Cutting Corners

In 2020, Pavid Vermin put out two full length records, a Lookout! Records tribute album and a four-song EP. There are a lot of great old school poppunk songs among these releases, but as an album Cutting Corners stands out.

44. Waxahatchee || Saint Cloud

Absolutely the most pop record on this list, and one that will pop up in the majority of year-end lists. Katie Crutchfield pulls at my heartstrings with songs like Can’t Do Much, Lilacs, The Eye, Hell, Witches and War.

45. Veronica Bianqui || Veronica Bianqui

RIYL Mattiel, Shannon Shaw. Wrote about this one here.

46. Teenage Halloween || Teenage Halloween

This is an exciting punkrock record. It’s got horns, it’s got keys, it’s got melody, it’s got LOADS of energy and agression, and it’s got a singer singing his heart out. It’s a record for “anyone who feels out of place and wrong in the world they are forced to live in,” and I can only imagine the sense of community this band brings to their live shows.

47. Be Well || The Weight And The Cost

Be Well singer Brian McTernan produced over 40 records in my record collection. Featuring members of Battery, Bane and Fairweather, the emotional hardcore of Be Well feels fresh yet familiar.

48. Fievre || Fievre

Best thing to come out of Argentina since Marcos Senesi. Wrote about this Ramoneros here.

49. Elvis Costello || Hey Clockface

Elvis Costello shows his many faces and sounds inspired on these recordings. I am not a fan of everything on it, but as a whole the record works very well.

50. Public Eye || Music for Leisure

Featuring three members of melodic hardcore band Autistic Youth, Public Eye moves into postpunk territory with attention grabbing guitars.

Spotify Playlist (50 songs, one per album)

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