One thing 2020 has given me is a lot of time for reflection. Quite possibly too much time to reflect. Unemployment and social distancing meant I spent a lot of time listening to music, despite being robbed of live music this year.
The upside of the year is all that time meant I could listen to a lot of music. Spotify clocked me at more than 90 days worth of streaming this year. I jumped on new releases and had the time to explore bands’ discographies I should have been into properly (Hello, Problem Daughter, Decent Criminal, and Cold Wrecks!)
Despite being a Certified Shit Year™, 2020 offered up a ton of great music, and narrowing it down to ten of my favorite tracks was tough. So here’s to singing along to these with all of you soon instead of wandering around my house in sweatpants with a slowly warming beer. Cheers!
Anti-Flag’s 20/20 Vision was probably the record I was most excited about getting my greedy hands on heading into the year.
Despite the delicate intro, “A Nation Sleeps” is a ripper, harkening back to the band’s Terror State era. Drummer Pat Thetic is absolutely unleashed on the drum kit and never lets up. Full of big guitars and Chris #2’s signature aggressive vocal delivery, it is the perfect violent, angry encapsulation for a horrid year full of worse than ever politics and big divides.
Missing out on Anti-Flag touring on 20/20 Vision is maybe one of my biggest disappointments from the onset of the pandemic. The nearly 30-year-old band is best experienced live and viscerally, and “A Nation Sleeps” is just begging to be played live.
Additional must-listen tracks from 20/20 Vision for me include “Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down,” “Un-American,” and “You Make Me Sick.”
I flip flopped on which song from Get Wise to include in this playlist because I honestly adore this entire album. Clocking in at 32 minutes, it’s short but packed full of melody and great storytelling. I eventually settled on “Snow Day” because I love the way vocalists Alyssa Currie and Andy Harmon toss perspectives of a shared experience. The consistent return to the melody on guitar and crashing cymbals give this track a deep texture that belies it’s simplistic, pop punk roots.
Overall, Get Wise stands out because Attic Salt masterfully combines simple, catchy melodies with a more intricate rhythm section for a deceptively varied sound.
My other still very hard to pick favorites from Get Wise are “Washington Street,” “Fool 4 U,” “Undiscovered,” and “Mud.”
The Ride is a damn-near perfect album and “Take My Call” actually is perfect. If you walked within my neighborhood any time after June this year, you almost certainly heard me singing this absolute belter from the lonely corners of my house.
I’m a sucker for great vocabularies, and singer/guitarist Jennie Cotterill’s use of ‘gestalt’ (“an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts”) in the pre-chorus had me more excited than it had any right to. Lyrically, the song is touching in its approach self-inflicted repentance. Her vocal delivery throughout only emphasizes the deeply complicated pain of unspoken regret.
The drums from Myra Gallarza on this song are also out of this world. Her fills and hammering on the bass drum in that pre-chorus and less-is-more approach to building the verses are a testament to her understanding of songwriting. Where so many drummers would have filled any space they found in a song this hype, it would have buried the message. I’ve found myself listening to this song completely immersed in her tom work.
If I had to pick a favorite album from 2020, The Ride would be a very strong contender. More favorites of mine from this one include “Perpetual Motion Machine,” “The Ride,” “Simple Girl” and “Chisme.”
In short, the world is not ready for me to see this song, or anything from The Ride for that matter, played live. I’ll go ahead and pretend to apologize for the cry-singing now.
The Bombpops – “Southbound Stranger” from Death in Venice Beach (Fat Wreck Chords)
“I bought a gun / Not sure I know if I know how to use one / They tell me that there’s nothing to it / Just pull the trigger you can do it”
How concerned were my neighbors to hear me singing this from my vegetable garden all summer long?
Death in Venice Beach found a maturation of The Bombpops for me. The whole record feels deeply personal, like we’ve gotten a real look at who they are, but without loosing their trademark melody and sugar-sweet harmonies. With this record, they’ve broken out of the California Pop Punk mold and into a defined, powerful voice.
The deep sorrow of dealing with your problems alone, hoping someone will come along and notice in “Southbound Stranger” felt incredibly well written and raw for me. Not to mention the way the song ebbs and flows between driving guitar and gentle picking. For me, though, the cherry on top is the lonely, sad delivery via acoustic guitar at the end.
Other favorites of mine from Death in Venice Beach are “Zero Remorse,” “House on Fire,” and “13 Stories Down.”
Broadway Calls – “Meet Me on The Moon” from Sad in the City (Red Scare Industries)
“Up there where there is no air / So I fill my lungs with you”
Perfect song; ten out of ten. I love the lyrics, I love the crashing drums, I love the guitar intro, I love sugar-sweet melody, and I’m absolutely in love with the guitar hook. If I could make out with a song in an alley behind a bar, it would be this one.
Fast and short, this one clocks in just over two minutes and the first time I heard it, it absolutely ripped through my heart. In a year where we all had to give up so much, this kind of near silly day dreaming about getting what you want is the ice pack I needed on this head wound of a year.
Broadway Calls is a band that I’d had on playlists, but never listened to whole albums with much intention. Sad in The City fully changed that. Packed with catchy melody and deep bass tones I haven’t grown tired of it in the six months I’ve had it on repeat. Additional must listens from this one include “Big Mouth,” “There Is A Glow,” and “You Gotta Know.”
Dave Hause (ft. Lilly Hiatt)- “Doublewhiskeycokenoice” from Paddy/Patty EP (Self released)
“Praise God and pass the bottle of Beam / Cause I never can seem to say what I mean / Don’t know if I would, even if I could / Amen”
Leave it to Dave Hause to perfect an already perfect song. Stripping this Dillinger Four classic down to a plodding piano gives the song a delicate sort of sorrow without loosing its signature tongue-in-cheek humor. The French horn adds this eerie sense of foreboding – you can feel last call coming in on us and we don’t want to go home just yet.
Dave’s five-track Paddy EP is a tribute to D4, covering “Minimum Wage is a Gateway Drug,” “The Father, The Son and The Homosexual Single Parent,” “Super Powers Enable Me to Blend in With Machinery” and “The Great American Going Out of Business Sale” on top of “Doublewhiskeycokenoice.” Recorded entirely during 2020 and distanced from his collaborators, it showcases both his incredible sense of song building and emotional depth. All the while he delivers us a love letter to Dillinger Four, when we didn’t even know we needed it.
Dave Hause is a fucking treasure, and maybe the best actual musician out of all of us.
God, let me scream ‘oh glorious nothing’ along to this song at the top of my lungs, arms wrapped around complete strangers in 2021! Limited Joy grew on me, but it wasn’t an instant love. Now Devon Kay’s melodies keep me up at night, running circles in my head.
Morbidity is a theme throughout the record (the vinyl insert features obituaries of all of the band members), and I love how Devon approaches the void of existing in his signature up-beat, plastered smile style. The synth and horns compliment his vocal delivery, creating a sound so huge you feel like you could wrap your arms around it. It feels like a big, old church hymn pulling excitement from the pews.
“Anything At All,” “252 Brighton Ave,” and “His and Hearse” are more must listens from Limited Joy. Good luck getting them out of your head.
Maxwell Stern, maybe more widely known for his part in Signals Midwest, is one of my favorite storytellers. His lyricism is full of a deft vibrancy and realness and his 2020 solo effort Impossible Sum does not disappoint. Written well before the pandemic (this song was released as a single in March), it found a poignant home in 2020. On very first listen, I found myself sobbing by the time I hit the second chorus.
Our days have been plagued by wanting more and missing what we can’t have. As Maxwell sings, “And though I’m thankful for everything I’ve been given, it’s only human to want a better deal.” Man, do I want a better deal lately.
Other favorites of mine from Impossible Sum are “Warm in Your Car,” “Born at the End of a Year,” and “Light Later Lately.”
This song, and album, slid under just in time for me feel like I could put it on a 2020 list. Paradise is Red City Radio’s first full-length with a new lineup and leans heavily on their Americana roots.
“Gutterland” is everything I love about Red City Radio: beautiful backing harmonies, singer Garrett Dale’s scrawling vocal delivery, and shredding guitar all over. The lyricism is what I love from Garrett, as well. He snarls out “No one cares if you’re mentally stable / They only care what you bring to the table / I’ll bring a fucking chainsaw” before ripping into a huge guitar solo, which is maybe the combo code to making me lose my mind. I want this song live!
The pièce de résistance of “Gutterland,” however, is the completely unexpected vocal rhythm Garrett launches into at the beginning of the song. It’s illogical, but somehow absolutely perfect.
Also worth a spin off Paradise are my favorites “Did You Know?,” “Love A Liar,” and “Freemont Casino.”
Suicide Machines – “Trapped in a Bomb” from Revolution Spring (Fat Wreck Chords)
“I will bring you whiskey in the winter / And flowers in the spring / I will bring you whiskey in the winter / In summer, anything”
I will personally fight 2020 for taking the Suicide Machines touring on Revolution Spring, their first record in 15 years and long awaited debut on Fat, from the world. What a gift to steal!
GOD the bass line to this song! Rich Tschirhart is a full-on madman for not only writing something like this, but for somehow playing it. Has he made a deal with some sort of devil? Does he had robot fingers? Honestly, it’s sort of not fair to other bassists.
On top of this is vocalist Jay Navarro’s plaintive lyricism, showing the scene veteran’s skill in song writing. An emotional song about loss and the guilt and grief that comes along with it, he shows the Suicide Machines are more than just a ska band making a comeback. I also love the odd lyrical structure of “Trapped in a Bomb.” Much like the way we deal with and process loss, Jay’s experience here comes to him in waves and we are along for the ride.
Revolution Spring is a monster of a record with 16 songs, but that’s what 15 years will do for ya. Don’t skip “Awkward Always,” “Flint Hostage Crisis,” and “To Play Caesar (Is to Be Stabbed to Death).”