Wow, thanks for reading this darn thing! Personally, I don’t like reading lists, and I’ve gotten sick of seeing year-end lists. Like many things in life, they overwhelm me. But I do love writing them. There’s an odd sense of glory I get from finishing them, like cleaning my room when I’ve put off for weeks.
Alas, this isn’t your typical year-end list. For a music writer, I’m pretty crap at making playlists. But this year I began by making one large one, adding in fresh songs that I either immediately loved or struck me in some way. Some of them withered away, their fresh car smell not as potent as when they first hit my ears. There were also a ton of great songs popping out at the end of this misery-hungry year. I’m gonna keep it short and sweet: Here are the tracks that kept me keeping on, that brought some clarity, and made me eternally grateful that even after an exhausting day the music kept playing. Below, I’ve split them into two categories, one where misery loves company and the other that made me think that I was anywhere and anywhen else. Then finally, I have the albums I listened to the most this year.
Bangers That Made Me Want To Commiserate
SASAMI – “Mess”
Right at the beginning of the pandemic, SASAMI released one of her best songs. Only a day before my last day at work—when bars were on the precipice of their existential crisis—the budding musician calmly sang, “looking at the mess I’ve made/Shitty people who think I’m insane.” In under four minutes, SASAMI captures the fed-up, tired, and reflective mindset of someone trying their best to survive in this capitalist shitland. Although her tone never shifts, “Mess” contains bits of detailed humor and a bass line that if personified would easily spit in your face. “I looked at a sign today. It told me that I could be saved. I’m just trying to get paid,” she sings indifferently. Smooth guitar licks curve in the air around her before grungy distortion vomits on her. Nothing seems to phase her. Fittingly, it’s that sort of apathy and indifference that some might use in the coming year as a defense mechanism, the rage and hurt boiling beneath.
Glitterer – “Are You Sure”
The latest from the Ned Russin has been on repeat the past week. As a new year approaches—getting a new label and keeping same problems—the uncertainty and anxiety from that uncertainty laughs in my face. But “Are You Sure,” the lead single from Glitterer‘s forthcoming sophomore LP Life Is Not A Lesson, feels like a cathartic splash of ice water in the face. The unflinching bass and steady drum kicks battle the raging question that Russin yells.
Fousheé – “Deep End”
I’m not really on TikTok. And I can’t remember how I came across this song. Either way, Fousheé’s “Deep End” get’s stuck in my head regularly. Her whisper-singing is as magnetic as her satiny vocals, as alluring as her rapping. I hate that it’s known as a “TikTok Song,” but I’m not surprised that it captured so many listeners. And that’s probably a better hole to be in than “past Voice contestant.” Yes, Fousheé was on the Voice. Lol. Anyway, this song still hits. Ostensibly, “Deep End” has a shadow, a dark side. “Got a short end of the sticks, so we made a fire with,” she asserts. But really, this is a song that embodies the struggle of black women as much as it sings about it. When the song went viral on TikTok, Fousheé had no idea. And when she claimed what was rightfully hers, people didn’t believe her. “Deep End” has now over 8 million views on YouTube.
Alice Gas – “Paranoid”
“Every time I talk it’s like I’m screaming in a void,” is how I felt most of this year.
Serena Isioma – “Sensitive”
Chicago-based Serena Isioma broke out this year with her Serena EP. With its churning guitars and psychedelic funk aspects, the title track is one of the most exciting finds from this year. Isioma’s confidence easily blisters any of her enemies. It’s the perfect, pungent introduction for an artist letting us know she’s going to make it on her own terms. “I’d never sell out for a check, you stupid mutha fucka,” she icily sings at one point. Even though her words are searing, Isioma doesn’t sound bitter. She’s making her way, and she doesn’t have to waste an ounce of energy on assholes trying to derail her, particularly government rats. The latter half of “Sensitve” loses its bounce and slinks into a dreamier tempo. “The government the opps, my enemies,” she quietly raps. “I need a hundred million dollars to fix these broken streets.” By the end, Isioma zooms out and shows us the systemic, competitive mess she’s trying to break out of.
Quarter Life Crisis, Frances Quinlan – “Postcard From Spain”
The first single from Ryan Hemsworth’s latest project Quarter Life Crisis is an instant hit. This was one of the few tracks of 2020 that I put on repeat for hours, falling deep into a hole of Frances Quilan’s splintering vocals. It’s a perfect blend of round acoustic guitar strums and shimmers of background synths.
Sipper – “Dance In Room Song”
Imagine taking that last drag of a cigarette, sip of tequila, or begrudged inhale before acknowledging everything and everyone around you fucking sucks. Then, you let it rip, limbs punching the air with furry and vibrance along to the flickering guitar licks and unrelenting drum machine. Everything sucks, but you let it out in any possible way. Dancing. Screaming. Crying. “Dance In Room Song” seems to be a pungent heartbreak (“Love is dead!”) but it also speaks to the frustration of the year, the time slipping through our hands like grasping for a ghost. Over a hypnotic beat that Charlie Brown and gang could dance double-time to, “Dance In Room Song” is a joyous, depressive romp that I’ll be embracing for a while.
Love Fame Tragedy – “5150”
This year was probably the one that made us all collectively realize how important and fragile mental health can be. Sheltering in place has forced us to think about how to stimulate ourselves while saving lives and respecting the health of those around us. Wombats’ singer Matthew Murphy reflects on his mental obstacles on a single for his project Love Fame Tragedy. It’s almost unsettlingly deceptive how laid back and catchy “5150” presents itself. With shimmering keyboard plucks and subtle horn embellishments, Love Fame Tragedy tackles the self-destructive and dark halls of ourselves that we can get lost in. “Some days aren’t so pretty/I want to hit the breaks when I hit the gas,” goes the chorus. The title refers to the California Law Code that involuntary commits individuals to psychiatric care if they present a danger to themselves or others. “Sometimes you want to change when you know you can’t.” Murphy distills that conflicting feeling that one might not get the chance to articulate while caught in the confines of mental strife.
Sycco – “Germs”
Sash McLeod, who makes music under the moniker Sycco, has released some of the best carbonating pop songs of the year. “Germs,” which was written pre-covid, is about the unhealthy attachments had with old flames.
Junior Mesa – “Losing My Grip”
Tired: Quarantine balls. Wired: Hot boxing a quarantine ball.
Lady Gaga – “911”
Perfection from the song to the video.
Fana Hues – “Icarus”
Fana Hues makes flying too close to the sun gorgeous. From vocals to visuals, the Pasadena-based crooner knocked it out of the park. Against a dreamy, wistful backdrop of lax drum hits and prancing guitars, Hues sighs into her heartbreak. “I always crash fall down to the truth,” she sings towards the end. “Momma told me, ‘don’t you never ever give yourself away,'” her voice slightly mimicking that stern maternal warning. Ultimately, the twinkling curiosity gets the better of her. “But that’s just how shit flows.” For Hues, this new burn isn’t stunning, rather a confirmation that the best teachers are our own mistakes. In return, she masterfully crafts a song as a reminder for future flights toward blinding light.
Babehoven – “Dissociative Tally”
A gentle slow burn about social anxiety.
Tracks That Made Me Forget For A Minute
Romy – “Lifetime”
Very, very, very, VERY excited for Romy’s solo debut. This song is like the heavens parting on the dance floor leading you to your soulmate. “Once in a lifetime something matters,” Romy declares as the twisting synths and bouncy ball drumbeats fall away.
PawPaw Rod – “HIT EM WHERE IT HURTS”
So groovy. So funky. So fucking sleek. Couldn’t get enough of this debut single from the LA-based musician.
Mallrat – “Rockstar”
Mallrat made a song about daydreaming that makes me want to daydream while feeling as though I’m already in one. The sleepy guitar strums that life off into an indulgent chorus. Hearing “Rockstar” is like drinking the perfect amount of bubble soda from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, floating above your house, waving to awed strangers, and soaking up the breeze against your skin. Things are bad, heartbreak is real, but Mallrat envisions a day where things won’t hurt so bad. Instead, her wildest dreams will blossom into reality.
UMI – “Pretty Girl hi!”
UMI is in complete control here. The vibes, the way she gives space to words or squeezes them together, cozy in the backseat, never tripping over herself. “I feel no weight resistance, feel it in the air,” she sings in the opening verse. “Your soul is safe.” It’s beautiful statement of pride, of welcoming all forms of love and existence.
BKTHERULA – “Summer”
Doesn’t matter how old I am, driving with the windows down as the summer heat creeps through, battling the breeze, never ceases to fill me with bliss. Ironically, the Beach House sample producers Scoop and Digital Nas use sound like they microwaved the opening sequence of an old classic romantic film. Everything else falls into place, from the fat bass to the skittering percussive brushes. As freezing rain comes down outside, putting on “Summer” puts me in the front seat where the sun hugged every inch of skin.
100 Gecs – “Hand Crushed By A Mallet” Remix
Junior High me is screaming.
Banji – “Listen”
Crunchy, eclectic synth-pop and guitars that will give you a nice caffeine buzz. Excited to hear more from the Dutch quartet in the new year!
Priya Ragu – “Good Love 2.0”
A wavy, care-free vibe about young love. The breakdown at the end is sick.
Cryogeyser – “Too Much”
Cryogeyser is one of my favorite new acts, delivering one of my favorite tracks of 2020. “Too Much” is like dreaming within a dream, which I have done a couple times this year. (No this isn’t an obnoxious Inception reference.) Despite the reverb and the wispy vocal that recall the Cocteau Twins and Beach House, Cryogeyser delivers some breathtaking lyrics here. “Is it took much if I break up with you in a song tonight? Wrote it a thousand time, hid away till I lost my mind,” sings Shawn Marom. Later the chorus asks if doing that would be a cop out? “Too Much” isn’t really a break-up song; rather, but it’s an unconventional love song as Marom tries to understand what that means to them. “Here’s to us at an age where all this makes sense somewhere,” goes another verse. It’s a potent and wistful lyric I’ll think about for years to come.
Dominic Fike – “Why”
I’m sorry, it’s catchy, junk food-pop I love to eat up!
FLETCHER – “The One”
The opening of this video is a bit cringe…BUT this song makes me miss sweaty bodies dancing in a room, looking to the bar for a shot of tequila or new face to make friends with. I miss the cheesy, messy nights out. FLETCHER brings me out of my head for a temporary dance-pop love affair.
Valentina, Joe Goddard – “Violet Sky – Joe Goddard Remix”
This one takes me to another planet.
Albums That Made My Year Less Sucky
- Punisher, Phoebe Bridgers
- YHLQMDLG, Bad Bunny
- Hannah, Lomelda
- Saint Cloud, Waxahatchee
- Color Theory, Soccer Mommy
- 925, Sorry
- Chromatica, Lady Gaga
- 666 Central Ave, They Hate Change
- Point The Flashlight And Walk, Told Slant
- Songs, Adrianne Lenker
- Man Alive!, King Krule
- WIMPiii, HAIM
- Help, Timothy Duval
- Ungodly Hour, Chloe x Halle
- Whole New Mess, Angel Olsen
- Gaslighter, The Chicks
- R.Y.C., Mura Masa
- Someone New, Helena Deland
- Moveys, Slow Pulp
- Forever, Ya Girl, KeiyaA
- Mia Gargaret, Gia Margaret
- how i’m feeling now, Charli XCX
- What’s Your Pleasure, Jessie Ware
- Warnings, I Break Horses
- I Was Born Swimming, Squirrel Flower
- Jaguar, Victoria Monét