Don’t forget to check out our 50 Best Albums of 2020 as well
50. Anna B Savage – ‘Chelsea Hotel #3’
2020’s new years’ resolution of buzzing British artist Anna B Savage was to ‘wank more’ and to unlearn the things she has spent too many years passively internalizing. Well, needless to say the socially distanced reality of the year probably gave all of us a bit more time for sexual self-care and this song is an ode to that. On the song she cleverly twists the roles usually assembled by women as the passive muse and instead, puts her lover in that position. Anna B Savage’s voice resonates deeply with poignant and relatable lines taken from her own sexual experiences. It’a a tempting, sensual affair … not just for your listening pleasures.
49. Bicep – ‘Apricots’
If life gives you apricots, turn them into a trippy rave anthem. That’s what Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson are always best at. They surprise their listeners by giving familiar dancefloor vibes and sounds a modern twist. This delightful teaser of their upcoming new LP ‘Isles’ features vocal samples of traditional Malawian singers and a 1950s performance by the Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir. And it still ended up being a banger.
48. Madeline Kenney – ‘Sucker’
A smooth and summerly ode about persevering in spite of other peoples’ doubts, accepting the role as a ‘loser’ while eventually overcoming it – Madeline Kenney got a lot to say in this beautiful little indie-folk piece and she couldn’t have asked for a better backing vocalist than Lampchop’s very own Kurt Wagner to underline the song’s bittersweet character.
47. Hannah Georgas – ‘Easy’
In its unagitated beauty this Aaron Dessner produced hymn feels like taking multiply deep breaths in the face of unfolding chaos all around. Hannah Georgas shines bright and beautiful on this dreamy little masterpiece that is entirely carried by its understated beauty and brilliancy.
46. Novaa – ’The Futurist’
No, you don’t have to give in to the system, you can find your own way aside of it. German alt-pop sensation Novaa presents a song that might feel like a tender love song at the beginning but quickly turns into an anthem for science and against climate change ignorance. Protest can come in different shapes and styles and this charming pop song is a lovely example for a more uplifting, utopian way.
45. Perfume Genius – ‘On The Floor’
Dancing between having a crush and being obsessed Mike Hadreas literally finds himself in a dance-off with himself in this Perfume Genius music video. It adds a light-hearted funky groove to the often more dramatic music of his alter ego and it’s one of these songs that really lift your spirit.
44. Marika Hackman – ‘Pink Light’
Recorded in lockdown, ‘Pink Light’ is Marika Hackman’s rendition of MUNA’s 2019 song. While she uses the structure of the original track, her mellow vocals and synth layers make the song uniquely hers. The song balances the upbeat instrumentation and the utter melancholia of the heart-aching lyrics.
43. Bleach Lab – ‘Never Be’
As the stately echo of approaching guitars rolls in, you already know you are in for something very precious. Never Be is the fourth single of the up and coming dream-pop outfit and it might just be their finest musical showcase to round off a promising year: Ambient soundscapes gently embrace the delicate yet raw voice of singer Jenna Kyle. The weight of emotional turbulence slowly sinks in with every second, and so do the gracious guitar fabrics, that echo the opaque sonic worlds of Mazzy Star and the Cocteau Twins. 2021 will be a good year for these folks.
42. Beabadoobee – ‘Care’
Bea Kristiis isn’t interested in shallow sympathy, she just wants people to be honestly interested or otherwise go their own way. With stubborn determination and catchy songwriting the 90s-infected neo-grunge-pop of Beabadoobee provided the much needed anthems for this otherwise quite twisted year.
41. Working Men’s Club – ‘Valleys’
Manchester calling! The opening track of the self-titled debut album from Working Men’s Club is a pumping nod to the heydays of rave culture, carried by a kicking drum, gritty guitars, a playful house piano and the dark voice of band leader Sydney Minsky-Sargeant. It’s a celebration of small town desolation and that never goes out of style.
40. Woodkid – ‘Goliath’
The return of Yoann Lemoine after seven years of Woodkid absence really nailed it with this epic piece of cinematic pop and the accompanied music video. ‘Goliath’ underlined the fact that the French artist is still an audiovisual force to measure with.
39. Medicine Boy – ‘Berlin Sky’
‘Berlin Sky’ is the cinematic second track off the last Medicine Boy LP and it moves within the self-proclaimed Dream Noise genre. The raspy vocals of André Leo harmonize with the sleepy timbres of Lucy Kruger as they croon “I’m gonna love you as the city turns to dust”. Berlin Sky is a dark and gloomy love song at its best.
38. Discovery Zone – ‘Dance II’
After all of her Fenster colleagues already headed for musical solo adventures over the past years, JJ Weihl now finally got her moment to shine as Discovery Zone. This grooving piece of shimmering 80s-infected synthpop is a track about inner conflicts, contradictions and humanity’s weird attempt to transport all our analogue realities into the digital. Well, that might also explain the music video which mixes a real life stroll through the artist’s home town with visual effects. ‘Dance II’ is a wonderful little pop treasure for cosmic disco pleasures.
37. Khruangbin – ‘So We Won’t Forget’
Never forget what matters to you. Khruangbin’s gentle musical reminder to remind yourself about the good aspects in life is not only carried by their trademark Thai funk vibe but by the voice of Laura Lee who takes a more confident in the position in the limelight this time without forcing it. It’s a new vibe for the Khruangbin universe… luckily it still sounds quite familiar.
36. The Strokes – ‘The Adults Are Talking’
In it’s laidback vibe ‘The Adults Are Talking’ is more than a nod to the roots of The Strokes it’s also a clear sign that they are still a force to measure with in 2020, against all odds. Especially Julian Casablancas takes his performance to new heights (literally) on this charming piece of old-fashioned yet timeless indie-rock.
35. Sofia Portanet – ‘Wanderratte’
Dark wave shooting star Sofia Portanet not only introduced the world to the wonderful German word ‘Wanderratte’ (aka the travelling rat) but also to a fascinating microcosm on her debut LP ‘Freier Geist’. Beyond language barriers and genre limitations the artist created catchy songs that were really breathtaking, thanks to her theatrical vocal performance, shimmering synthesizers and the fuzzy garage rock instrumentation that is also sensible on her finest moment.
34. Ultraflex – ‘Full Of Lust’
In the common atmosphere of gloomy 2020 Special-K and Farao brought so much joy in our lives throughout 2020 thanks to their band Ultraflex. It’s not just about the funny costumes, charming lo-fi clips and weird yet confusing sexual tension this whole project spreads – it’s also about the fact that they created some of the season’s most addictive pop gems and “Full Of Lust” is the peak of this passionate affair with 80s synthpop brightness and we all hope this won’t remain a musical one night (or year) stand.
33. The Weeknd – ‘Blinding Lights’
It’s not a question whether you accept the Grammys as legit musical quality control – it’s more about the question when you realize they aren’t. 2020 is the year Abel Makkonen Tesfaye made that realization and snubbing the world’s brightest and most addictive pop smasher of the year really feels like a weird thing to do. I mean, it’s Elton John’s favourite song of 2020. Who are we to disagree? The sparkling 80s-infected R&B pop of ‘Blinding Lights’ is as inevitable as it is effective and … well, simply really, really good. By now The Weeknd plays in an award-free league of his own anyway, right?
32. Romy – ‘Lifetime’
In the year when clubbing became a forbidden fruit The xx member Romy Madley-Croft picked a fitting single to launch her solo career. ‘Lifetime’ became a hands-up ode to dancefloor euphoria, the joy of joint music celebration and a love letter to the feeling of togetherness shared musical experiences can create. It’s a potential festival anthem in the making and the bittersweet circumstances of it release will hopefully only strengthen it for a bright future.
31. Doves – ‘Prisoners’
Following a ten-year old hiatus of the legendary Britrockers, this song really felt like a return to all the things you’ve missed about them. “Prisoners” is the opposite of ‘reinventing the wheel’, it’s the exact reproduction of the old Doves formula, a highly melodic rock anthem that wants to spread its arms around the world and tell you that everything will turn out right in the end. It’s also a self-reflective nod to the band’s own struggle of overcoming pressure and fear. Let’s hope that prison door cell will remain open a bit longer.
30. Jockstrap – ‘Acid’
The London-based duo consisting of Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye was one of the most exciting and surprising new acts to emerge in this wicked year. Signed to Warp Records Jockstrap deliver a sound that’s hard go grab and appears to constantly surprise the listener with its twists and turns. It’s easy to overlook these two in the haze of all releases this year but they are definitely up for more greatness in the future.
29. Lianne La Havas – ‘Bittersweet’
On her self-titled new album the tender neo-soul of Lianne La Havas is more tempting than ever and the easy going mellowness of ‘Bittersweet’ is a perfect example here. A song like a warm summer breeze that gentle caresses the listener’s ears. Quite hard to resist to it, right?
28. Skullcrusher – ‘Places/Plans’
Helen Ballentine and her quite unusual pick for an alias came out of nowhere this year but quickly won our hearts with her fragile ambient-infected folk melodies. There’s a gentle “Nick-Drake/Pink-Moon” character that I sense in her debut song “Places/Plans” which isn’t the worst compliment one could give it. In its reflective notion the song is also a fitting soundtrack for the introspective quarantine life we all lived in 2020.
27. Soccer Mommy – ‘ yellow is the color of her eyes’
Sophie Allison’s epic rock experiment spans over lengths, yet without being boring. To add to the hazy vibe of her guitar, the Nashville-born singer invited Mary Lattimore and her harp to collaborate. Fused with the somewhat dystopian sound of distorted synth organs towards the end, the dreamy soundscape has a tinge of bitter nightmarishness engrained in its character. Soccer Mommy vocals of losing touch with reality while the extended touring she has been tied up in, contribute to the vibe of nostalgic homesickness.
26. Sylvan Esso – ‘Ferris Wheel’
Round and round goes the ferris wheel as Sylvan Esso take us on a trip to a time of more carelessness. With charm and easy going confidence Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn created a light-hearted anthem about discovering your own power and awkwardly figuring out how to wield it in these chaotic times. There’s a dark undertone to the song which makes it quite tempting but in the end there’s a lot of captivating hope shining through it as well.
25. Run The Jewels – ‘Ju$T (feat. Pharrell Williams & Zack de la Rocha)
An anthem that sadly arrived just in time for the protests we witnessed on the streets of America this summer. Killer Mike and El-P are not alone on this powerful call to arms, Pharrell also gets his chance to be pissed and longtime friend and RTJ supporter Zack de la Rocha completes that rage against the capitalistic machine of injustice. The key message remains as simple as it is true. ‘The 13th amendment says that slavery’s abolished? Look at all these slave masters posing on your dollar.’
24. Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion – ‘WAP’
Quite possibly the most discussed mainstream hit of the year as it functions on so many levels. Of course, it’s an addictive party banger but also a track celebrates female empowerment, female sexuality and self-determination. Cardi and Mega are the consciously horny dream team that celebrates their bodies and any form stimulation that can be done to them with confidence and an attitude that already scared plenty of conservative white men. Mission accomplished, right?
23. Tame Impala – ‘Is It True?’
Kevin Parker’s delicate dance between cosmic soundscapes and catchy hooks reaches a new peak on this funky disco-fuelled gem. And yes, he can get away with it anytime.
22. Protomartyr – ‘Worm In Heaven’
By now, Protomartyr have carefully crafted their own microcosm which gets harder and harder to define. Post-punk is definitely still one way to describe it. Musically though, Joe Casey and has band transcended that description long ago. The emotional impact of the bleakness and anger on Ultimate Success Today is just as much rooted in a Drone and Free Jazz framing. A frame in which Joe Casey’s lyrics nest like a nervous, meandering flicker; a moth circling the light … this song underlines the tender tension of the group in 2020 pretty good.
21. Destroyer – ‘Crimson Tide’
On his most brilliant moment since the iconic ‘Kaputt’ album Dan Bejar unravels a cinematic synthpop epos, carried by a driving beat, rumbling pass and melodic piano while the Destroyer mastermind unravels yet another cryptic but truly haunting story. The grumpy old crooner rides the fragile line between gentle pop melodies and abstract art, making this sound so important in these fast moving day and age.
20. Hope – ‘Shame’
While the German post-punk phenomenon still owes us a second studio album by the end of this year they at least gave us a wonderful first taste from it. ‘Shame’ was an intense return but in a slightly different way than we might have expected it. It’s relatively reduced and gives the vibrating moog synthesizer all the space it needs to work along with the distinctive vocal work by singer Christine Börsch-Supan who addresses her own anorexia in this song. Shame is about overcoming the fear to talk about it and accepting something that’s not perfect in the eyes of the world but part of her character.
19. SZA – ‘ Hit Different (feat. Ty Dolla $ign)’
It hasn’t been an easy year for SZA as well but one of the finest voices in American soul and R&B delivered a more than fitting return with this wonderful, mellow piece that also saw the legendary Neptunes making a return to the producer booth. That’s just one reason why ‘Hit Different’ reminds you of the heydays of the genre in the early 21st century. SZA’s haunting performance and the infectious groove in her soulful voice are another reason why the world desperately needs a new album from her in 2021.
18. Francis Of Delirium – ‘Equality Song’
‘You’re born, you get your period and you get raped sometime’ – What an opening line! But it’s fitting way to start an anthem about equality, a song that was born out frustration about the sheer lack of it in our society today. It sees talented 19-year-old Jana Bahrich railing against the systems that deny women justice. This is finest melody-loving indie rock greatness, carried by the fearless energy of the young songwriter and that special stubborn attitude you need to deliver an anthem like this.
17. Helena Deland – ‘Someone New’
The title track of Helena Deland’s first actual full-length is a song that sounds like a watershed, of tensions breaking and things snapping into place, from the rattle of drums that kicks the song up a gear to the catharsis in Deland’s drawn-out plea to give herself “a fucking break”, where the guitars rise up to meet her. Identity, self-image and self-doubt are at the heart of this record and his great tune, of course.
16. Girl in Red – ‘Rue’
Inspired by the character Rue from celebrated HBO series ‘Euphoria’ and her own struggles with mental health Swedish songwriter Marie Ulven takes the music of her alter ego Girl In Red to new heights with this piece. Gone are the days of lo-fi bedroom folk but even despite the more polished and cinematic character you can still sense a feeling of intimacy and emotional rawness in this song. Ulven still feels like a friendly and understanding ally in this chaos that’s called life.
15. Future Islands – ‘For Sure’
I’m not sure whether Future Islands are actively trying to write the best pop song but over the past years they’ve gotten pretty close. ‘For Sure’ might be their most on-point release since the iconic ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’. Once again, the verses are already pretty convincing and very melodic but once Samuel Herring enters the chorus it feels like the skies break open and this song’s getting larger than life. Yes, for sure.
14. Thundercat – ‘Black Qualls’ (feat. Steve Lacy & Steve Arrington)
Stephen Lee Bruner lives fort the bass and the unstoppable funk energy it can create and as Thundercat he’s constantly seeking for the very essence of this music. ‘Black Qualls’ brought him one step closer to the core of funk and the contributions from Steve Lacy are Steve Arrington are helpful allies in his quest to make the listener move.
13. King Hannah – ‘Crème Brûlée’
Usually a Crème Brûlée is a quite sweet and tasty affair but in the case of Liverpool-based duo King Hannah and their debut single by the same name it’s more of a bittersweet experience. The first half of ‘Crème Brûlée’ is already pretty haunting but it gets even better once the two-piece unfolds the track’s full instrumentation. It’s pure, raw and honest from start to finish as King Hannah manage to capture a lush intensity that really leaves you with your mouth open.
12. Anderson .Paak – ‘Lockdown’
An anthem for the American reality of the summer of 2020, between Corona chaos and civil rights movement. Instead of heading for an aggressive musical direction Anderson .Paak went deeper and delivered a truly mesmerizing and gentle way to document this historic period. It’s a soulful and more laidback approach towards the frustration of the black community; a reflective protest song and therefore a good way to cope with all the anger the Black community has been feeling for so many years.
11. Taylor Swift– ‘Exile’ (feat. Bon Iver)
It’s an unusual year and at the end of it the idea of a gentle duet between ex-lovers featuring Taylor Swift and Justin Vernon on vocals doesn’t feel as weird as it would have at the beginning. But ‘folklore’ changed the perspective on America’s sweetheart once again and this gentle track is a dismantling argument against any antipathy, especially since it marks a return for Vernon to his ‘pure’ and deep voice.
10. Mura Masa – ‘Teenage Headache Dreams’ (with Ellie Rowsell)
Teen angst might remain timeless, teenage depression gets blurry over the years, the older one get. Somehow this powerful anthem is a reminder of that feeling and Wolf Alice singer Eillie Rowsell adds a beautiful fragile note to the track that is part dance, part indie-rock, part noise and therefore a perfectly musical mixture of all the chaotic feelings of this time in life.
09. Caribou – ‘Never Come Back’
Dan Snaith’s new found confidence as Caribou is best represented in this uplifting floor filler that feels more like a matter of heart than one of the head. It’s such a shame that we weren’t allowed to publicly dance to this sweet house music anthem in 2020 but we surely will in 2021!
08. IDLES – ‘Mr. Motivatior’
Despite any back clash and even if the odds might be against them – Bristol’s hardest working punk lads are still killing all the haters with kindness and use joy as an act of resistance and they never did it better and more charming than with this furious rock and roll monster. Hold hands, keep your smile wide and chase the pricks away by doing that. This is a stubborn friendly middle finger against the gloomy cynicism in this world and hell yeah, we could all use that.
07. Becky And The Birds – ‘Wondering’
Swedish singer and songwriter Thea Gustafsson unfolds a haunting meditation on loss and love written after the passing of a loved one. Her pitch-perfect vocals range to the highest falsettos and are accompanied by laid-back beats that got that special laidback 90s R&B vibe. At first listen, the sunny and hazy vibe of the instrumentation covers up the existential topics of the lyrics. But there’s more beneath that surface and that makes Becky And The Birds such an exciting new artist.
06. Fontaines D.C. – ‘I Don’t Belong’
The theme of not belonging anywhere is not an entirely new one in the field of pop and indie music. Instead of lamenting about that fact the Irish post-punk lads celebrate it with moody confidence on the opening track of their second album. There’s something quite relieving about not belonging and not fulfilling any expectations and this is the gloomy anthem for all these people.
05. Braids – ‘Snow Angel’
Uncertainty, angst and a desperate desire to make sense of it all – barely any song captured this feeling better this year than this epic almost ten-minute long anthem from Canadian indie-art-pop band Braids. Although singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston originally wrote the lyrics in the wake of Donald Trump’s election in 2016 the content unfortunately remains as urgent as it was four years ago and maybe the Covid circumstances underline this vibe. It’s a song about existential fear in the modern world, including a gut-wrenching spoken-words part form the singer that says it all.
04. Gordi – ‘Aeroplane Bathroom’
Speaking of existential angst – it can happen in the strangest and most unpredictable situations. For Australian songwriter Gordi it literally was the bathroom of a plane where a sudden panic attack forced made her question pretty much everything. It was the starting point of her new album and a new understanding as an artist. When the calm and relaxing ballad arrived just in time for the beginning of the first Corona lockdown it became the perfect fragile and calming soundtrack for this time of uncertainty. This is 2020’s most fragile power anthem.
03. Porridge Radio – ‘Sweet’
Written like an exchange between a mother and daughter this gritty track delivers brutal honesty and shows how songwriter Dana Margolin isn’t shying away from her emotions. ‘Sweet’ channels all the frustration but also determination of a child that struggles to find a connection to her parent. In the end she Margolin turns her feelings into a mighty scream, one that says: “I’m here, I’m wrecked but I’m okay” and I honestly can’t stop rooting for her ever since the first time I heard it.
02. Sufjan Stevens – ‘Video Game’
There’s apparently nothing Sufjan Stevens can’t do, even delivering a catchy piece of synthpop that will stuck in your head all day. In a funny twist he uses the metaphor of a video game and the character of a gentle mass-pleasing pop gem to actually state that he’s not interested in pleasing the masses or fulfilling the role somebody approach to him. He’s doesn’t want to be the modern day Dylan that captures the heart and soul of dying America but… well, unfortunately that’s exactly what this year’s album ‘The Ascension’ did. Doing it in this form only underlines his greatness.
01. Phoebe Bridgers – ‘I Know The End’
Popular culture loves flirting with the apocalypse and dystopian vibes but maybe 2020 was the first year that brought our reality alarmingly close to the fiction. Burning forests, an aching planet, a fascist maniac in the White House and a global pandemic that forced us to distance from all the important social activities that remind you of what it’s like to be human. “The billboard said ’the end is near’“, reflects Phoebe Bridgers shortly before the climax of the track that closes her sophomore album ‘Punisher’ before all hell breaks lose and you actually get the feeling of ‘Yes, this is it. The world’s end.’
Even before that finale the ballad is a haunting affair, painting Bridgers’ reflections on the world she lives in with the help of shiny yet quite dark colours. “A slaughterhouse, an outlet mall / Slot machines, fear of God” – if that doesn’t sum-up the America under Donald Trump what else does? Bridgers has been brilliant before the critical praise of 2020 but on this song she reaches an entirely new level. The sadness turns into a loud scream and a noisy outbreak at the end; a musical outburst that feels like a cathartic release. Then you open your eyes, realize that the world is still spinning and the end is just the start of a new chapter. And it’s upon us to write a better a story now.
Of course, this list can’t contain all the best songs of 2020 so we put a few extra ones that didn’t make it into the Top 50 and compiled them all to one big Spotify playlist to recap the past months. Find it right here.