top 30 songs of 2020
2020 has been a pretty awful year on most accounts. But thankfully there's been some great music released to somewhat make up for what has undoubtedly been the worst year most of us have had to live through so far. Its been a dumpster fire of a 12 months, and at this point I'm just thankful that I had something getting me from friday to friday as new albums and singles dropped throughout the year.
These are my favourite 30 songs of the year, limited to one per artist, and although these are completely subjective and you may not necessarily agree with these choices, these are the tracks that helped me stumble through 2020.
I limited it to 30, which was extremely difficult, and this is absolutely missing a lot of stuff I loved from this year that was sacrificed on account of not wanting to have to write a paragraph on 50-100 songs. So if your favourite song is missing, I'm probably pretty sad about it too.
I've also added a Spotify Playlist that includes each of these tracks so that you can listen yourself. I hope you enjoy!
- LATEST SPIN
Written By Layton Bryce 19/12/2020
30. KING KRULE
With one of the most interesting sounds of recent years, King Krule continues to make intoxicating, beautiful, yet bleak sounding music in 'Stoned Again' that reflects on a long-time relationship with drug use. This is a really gritty sounding track that features an incredible performance from Marshall, as well as extremely surreal and muddy instrumentals that perfectly backdrop the subject of the song.
This track is full of flavour, and although its a particularly grimy taste, it paints an extremely vivid picture of the dark emotions underlying the song. With such mature production quality and performance, its remarkable to think what Marshall might accomplish in the future, considering how young he is. He's one of the most talented young artists around at the moment, and 'Stoned Again' is a perfect display of some of the best stuff he has to offer.
29. CARDI B
WAP (ft. Megan thee stallion)
No other song left quite a mark on 2020 as much as WAP did when it was released back in August. And its exactly the mark we needed left on such an awful year.
I don't really need to introduce this song at all, since if you're reading this, you've heard it already, and you already either love it or hate it. But apart from being absolutely hilarious, with some of the funniest lines of the entire year, its hard to deny how just hard this track actually goes. There's a reason its topping so many publications' year end lists; it's one of the most memorable and entertaining things that 2020 has had to offer.
With hilarious lyrics, great performances and a simple but punchy beat, it's hard not to love the pure ridiculousness of WAP. Hopefully once everything blows over years from now, this is what 2020 will be remembered for more than anything else.
Appearing in one of the years' best metal releases, "I Let It In And It Took Everything" by Loathe, "Aggressive Evolution" is an expertly constructed track that has some of the filthiest and most dissonant instrumentation of 2020.
If you're a fan of Deftones, then a lot of this album, as well as parts of this track, might appeal a lot to you. But while Loathe wears that influence quite heavily on their sleeve, the band also does a lot to establish their own distinct sound, balancing these moments with other sections of low, roaring vocals and heavier, more discordant guitar lines. And this can be seen in the opening moments of the track, which as I mentioned, are absolutely filthy sounding.
I've heard a lot of people mentioning the lack of good metal released this year, but you don't have to look any further than here (as well as Ulcerate's excellent album that fell just shy of this list) to prove that wrong . Don't miss this one.
I had never listened to HEALTH until this album, and although I soon came to realise this wasn't necessarily the most accurate introduction to their music, I still absolutely loved it. Especially this track and the Xiu Xiu featured 'Delicious Ape', which was a real tossup decision for this list.
But I think 'Body/Prison' is the overall stronger song, and the inclusion of synthwave artist Pertubator was a welcome feature that was surprising to hear. This is a very industrial and synthy banger from HEALTH that also seems to be one of their most pop-oriented releases in their entire discography, from what I've heard (that being their first two albums and their remixes).
And although what Health are doing here is very different to their harsher origins in noise-rock and industrial music, its still a surprisingly good entry point into the rest of their excellent catalogue, which you should also absolutely check out if you haven't.
26. CAR SEAT HEADREST
My initial reaction for Car Seat Headrest's "Making a Door Less Open" was pretty lukewarm to say the least, but I still couldn't deny the fact that it had some amazing songs on it. My opinion on the album has improved substantially over the last few months since it came out. And while it probably hasn't earned a spot on my top albums of the year, at least 2 or 3 of the songs on there could qualify for this list. In particular, both 'Deadlines' were a highlight for me on first listen, and have only grown on me throughout the year the more I've listened.
While I could go another year without having to hear 'Hollywood' again, this song along with others from the album have been a real highlight of 2020.
Read the review for "Making a Door Less Open" here.
25. BLACK COUNTRY, NEW ROAD
Black Country are a new band who are yet to release their first album but burst into the scene last year with the excellent single 'Sunglasses', sitting in the same strange vein of new-wave English post-punk as bands such as Black Midi.
And like 'sunglasses' last year, this is a phenomenal track from the band that has me itching to hear their first full release, due in February of next year. 'Science Fair' is a sharp, dissonant and thickly textured song that has an incredible build-up. And like Black Midi's debut release last year 'Schlagenheim', it has extremely tight production that keeps their chaotic sound from delving into sounding messy or muddled.
If this song is any indication of the level of quality to expect from their debut album 'For the First Time' next February, then we could be getting something extremely special from the group. Definitely one to listen out for.
24. FIONA APPLE
On easily one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year, Fiona Apple creates a powerful depiction of depression using the imagery of a heavy balloon physically hindering her ability to properly function by holding her down. The song also reflects themes of toughness and resilience; in staying strong and continuing to climb through hardships despite the pain it may bring.
It's a really gorgeous track, with some of the album's best songwriting from a poetic and instrumental perspective, and it's an empowering look at having autonomy over mental illness despite the suffering it can burden you with. On an already amazing album, this is the highlight from a lyrical, performative and production standpoint, which is really saying a lot. Fiona really knocked it out of the park with this one.
to the door
Talk about a track oozing with character. This feels like it belongs in a cinemascope western, and along with the rest of 'The West is Dead', it's one of the most eccentric things to come out of 2020. There's so much colour in every second of this; whether it's the strange quieter bridge sections, or the full-speed cowboy anthem of the rest of the track, it feels so rich.
It's a weird strain of Art-Punk that's strangely reminiscent of some of Nick Cave's early stuff from a vocal standpoint, among various other wildly eclectic influences. But it's this odd, idiosyncratic sound that gives the track so much flavour.
Did I mention that it slaps? If that opening spaghetti-western guitar line doesn't hook you then I have no idea what will. A great song from a really wonderful album that you should absolutely listen to if it went under your radar this year.
What a bizarre but welcome surprise this metal/pop album was only a few weeks into the year. Poppy knocked it out of the park with every song on this record, but the standout moment was definitely the infectiously catchy 'BLOODMONEY', which was the first moment in the album that many people realised the genre-bending of 'I Disagree' was more than just a gimmick. This song is equal parts pop and metal, and its absolutely excellent in both departments.
The chorus is so catchy you forget you're listening to a metal song, and the guitar solo towards the end of the track goes so hard that you forget you're listening to a pop song. It's the best of both worlds. It shouldn't really work, but it goes down surprisingly perfect.
Read the review for "I Disagree" here.
21. TAYLOR SWIFT
exile (ft. bon iver)
This song is absolutely gorgeous, and possibly the most beautiful pairing of artists of the whole year. Hearing Justin Vernon using a lower register of vocals is a welcome surprise that perfectly complements Taylor Swift in this incredible duet.
The bridge of this song is one of my favourite moments from any pop song of recent memory. Its hard hitting stuff that along with the lyrics is a devastating look into the breakdown of a relationship. There are some echoes of musical theatre as the song plays out like a series of soliloquys that spearhead off each other, balancing the two of them perfectly. An absolutely amazing track.
20. DUA LIPA
Its been a good year for pop. And one of the most popular albums to come out of 2020 just happened to include some of the best and catchiest tracks of the year. 'Physical', 'Levitating', and 'Don't Start Now' are all great tracks off of Dua Lipa's sophomore album, but the song that stuck with me the most throughout 2020 was the project's title track, 'Future Nostalgia'.
This song is such a jumpstart into the album; so full of energy and funk that its impossible to be swept up by the sheer confidence of it, mixing old dance/disco styles with a modern pop blend. There's an electricity to 'Future Nostalgia' and a lot of the other tracks off the album that's extremely refreshing to hear.
It's one of the most likeable pop songs to come out of the year, along with the rest of the album, and its impossible not to include it as one of the standout tracks of 2020.
19. AGAINST ALL LOGIC
The latest album from Nicolas Jaar under the name Against All Logic is a far more abrasive exploration of electronic music than his last collection of tracks back in 2018, using far denser soundscapes and less samples than its predecessor. And these creative tweaks on the album do it a lot of favours that are immediately evident in this opening track, 'Fantasy', which is an amazing, eccentric, and experimental banger.
He's flexed his excellent production abilities on various artists' albums recently, such as on FKA Twigs' 'MAGDALENE' last year, and here he proves that he's also an incredible composer.
Jaar explores a lot of really interesting electronic textures on this song, which introduces the album perfectly as the more vigorous experience that it is, with lots of really strange drum patterns and vocal distortions that add to its eclectic sound. It's an excellent way to open the album and an excellent song in general.
I wasn't as enamoured by IDLES latest album as many people were, but that doesn't mean that I wasn't thoroughly impressed by some of the material on it. 'Grounds' is a really great track that had me the most excited out of any of the singles released, and I love it just as much as the year has winded to an end.
The song uses space extremely well to create a balance between different instrumental sections before perfectly bringing everything together in its final moments. It's a really well structured track, and frontman Joe Talbot delivers a great performance to go with it. Even some of the fine details such as the reverberating end of the opening guitar line really add a lot to the texture of the song, which is due a lot to the amazing production by Kenny Beats. A really solid track from the band that I hope to hear more like in the future.
Read the review for "Ultramono" here.
17. KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD
It's been a busy few months for me so there are a bunch of new releases I haven't gotten around to reviewing yet. But now that I'm more free this album is at the top of my list. (spoiler alert, I liked it).
And without talking too much about the rest of the record yet, for me the song that still stands out the most is the album's leading single 'Honey', which is one of the bands more stripped back tracks as of late. It's a gorgeous microtonal acoustic song that actually works even better in the context of the album than it did as a single (more on that soon). It's a good time from start to finish, with some bouncy basslines and a typical gizz 7/4 time signature. Its classic King Gizz through and through, and its wonderful.
16. LAURA MARLING
One of the most beautiful songs of the year. I waited way too long before finally listening to this album, and once I heard this song I was instantly struck by it.
It's extremely subtly put together, with nothing more than a lightly picked guitar and some gentle strings to accompany Laura's beautiful voice. And the lyrics are deeply touching and sorrowful to the point of tear-jerking. It's emotionally powerful, and it's staggering that its able to create such a profound feeling of melancholy with extremely simple yet affective songwriting.
It's difficult to place what is so affecting about this track, whether its Laura's voice, the lyrics, the gentle acoustic accompaniment, or a combination of the three. But either way, it's not a song to miss.
15. TOUCHE AMORE
While not being quite as devastating as Touche Amore's last album 'Stage 4', 'Lament' had its fair share of emotional gut punches, with 'Limelight' really standing out as one of the most potent tracks the band has released.
'Limelight' highlights the trauma the band has had to go through in the last few years, and how although they may have had to endure too much to take on their own, they would always have people there for them while in the face of adversity. Although it doesn't sound inherently positive, there's an optimism underlying the track and the rest of the album that was just definitely not there in 'Stage 4'.
And on top of that, its just an amazing song, with a great feature from Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra. Its powerful, emotional, and its some of Touche Amore's best stuff; a welcome return after a four year gap since their last studio album.
god's own children
A criminally underrated song from a criminally underrated EP that was released early during the year. Obongjayar is a relatively new artist but he's already making some of the most exciting music I've heard this new decade. The mixture between afrobeat, soul and RnB works so incredibly well while also being one of the most unique things of the year.
'God's Own Children' in particular is absolutely spectacular, and is an empowering celebration of race, culture and collectivism. It sounds so rich and vibrant, with incredible vocals from Obongjayar to complement the insanely great production.
Read the review for "Which Way is Forward?" here.
13. RINA SAWAYAMA
One of the biggest bangers of the year. I've shown this track to multiple people and it hasn't fallen flat with any of them. Its the definition of a crowd pleaser. The fact that Rina was snubbed at the Brit Awards, Mercury Prize and the Grammys this year is a huge disappointment, since this is absolutely one of the best pop releases of the year. And this song as well as many others off 'SAWAYAMA' should realistically be winning awards left, right and centre.
Like Poppy did with 'I Disagree' this year, Rina blends together hints of genre-bending elements throughout this track and the album, which creates some really interesting textures not often explored within pop music. But it does so without losing the accessibility or entertainment factors of pop. Its full of flavour, and ridiculously moreish.
PUP released one of my favourite albums of last year, 'Morbid Stuff', which had literally no weak spots. So it was no surprise that when they dropped the B-sides for the album it was just as good as the stuff on the actual record, and possibly even one of my favourite tracks from the band in general.
This is one of PUP's most frenetic and anxious songs yet, and feels like a panic attack as Steven Babcock sings frantically about having an anaphylactic reaction, which is somehow made into an extremely entertaining song. I don't know how they pull this stuff off, but they do.
It's so short and punchy that it's almost difficult to comprehend everything that is being thrown at you throughout the track, but it's an absolute blast the entire time. The track was eventually released in an EP later this year called 'This Place Sucks Ass', which is also filled with a collection of other great tracks, but this takes the cake as one of the years' best.
Gorillaz had an interesting method of distributing music this year, releasing a song every month until dropping the first 'Season' of what seems to be a series of albums they plan on releasing in the future. And almost every song that came out was amazing. Literally. It was so hard to choose which one to include on this list because I fell in love with most of them.
But the one that I thought had the most colourful and fun sound to it was 'Momentary Bliss', featuring Slaves and Slowthai, who do an absolutely amazing job here. It's upbeat, it's catchy, and its intoxicating in its energy. With a great progression and amazing performances, particularly from Slowthai, what more can you want?
This is classic Gorillaz, taking the best of the best contemporary artists and using them to elevate what is already a great and developed sound. Don't just give this a listen, give the whole project a listen. There's enough variety on there to please everyone. But for now, 'momentary bliss' is what's landed as one of the best tracks of the year, subject to be swapped out at any point for any other track off the project that is equally as deserving.
10. EVERYTHING EVERYTHING
My girlfriend hates this song because I play it so much. I'm not doing it on purpose, it's just that 'Big Climb' is so unbelievably good. I literally can't get enough of it. This is definitely one of my favourite Everything Everything songs, and the colourful, vibrant sound along with its juxtaposing underlying messages of climate change and human carelessness is the band at their very best.
This song was head to head with the track 'In Birdsong', also off RE-ANIMATOR, however in the end this was the track that really caught me, and I think its a more accessible and enjoyable song overall. I really can't say enough good things about 'Big Climb'. Its one of the best rock/pop tracks of the year and I feel like this album was unfortunately overlooked by many. Do yourself a favour and listen to this track.
Read the review for "RE-ANIMATOR" here.
9. CHARLI XCX
Charli XCX made an entire album over the span of about a month during the COVID quarantine in 2020. And the insane thing is that its some of the best music to come out all year. And 'claws' is one of the best songs to come out this year. Produced by Dylan Brady of 100 gecs, this is a gorgeous love song that is one of the sweetest things I've heard in a while. And it just sounds so great too.
Combining bubblegum bass with electronic and industrial influences, 'claws', along with the rest of Charli and Dylan's music, continues to push the boundaries of what pop is, and they're doing it with startling accuracy in every single decision being made.
Read the review for "how i'm feeling now" here.
8. JEFF ROSENSTOCK
the beauty of breathing
Jeff Rosenstock is one of my favourite artists, and the way he depicts anxiety in his music, especially in his 2016 album 'WORRY', is nothing short of incredible. His latest album does this extremely well too, most notably in the track 'The Beauty of Breathing', which is a really funny look into attempting to meditate to calm anxious thoughts.
Rosenstock has a great way of taking small, seemingly insignificant anecdotes like this in order to create pretty profound ideas in his music. And this track does that really well. Alongside that, in typical Jeff Rosenstock fashion, this song is so damn catchy. And so is the rest of the album. He's one of the best artists working today and he should get more recognition than he probably does. Listen to this song and listen to N O D R E A M, it's excellent.
Read the review for "N O D R E A M" here.
7. YVES TUMOR
So, this is technically two separate tracks, but they came bundled together in the single they were released in, and they should really be discussed as a singular song. And together they make one of the years' best songs, sitting right in the middle of Yves Tumor's lysergic odyssey, 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'.
This is pure psychedelic bliss. Every second of these songs are overflowing with thick and vibrant sounds. Its dynamic, vivid and absolutely electrifying, packed to the brim without ever taking time to retread any ground. This is the sort of thing I'd hoped to have heard from Tame Impala's latest album, which felt lacking in energy where this album is oozing with it.
These tracks are somehow both insanely chaotic and weirdly catchy at the same time. And they're constructed with really breath-takingly textured soundscapes that make them some of the most interesting songs of the year.
6. THE STROKES
not the same anymore
I said in my review for 'The New Abnormal' that this album was Julian Casablancas finest moment (alongside maybe Human Sadness by The Voidz). And there's no better place to see that than in the album's second-to-last track 'Not the Same Anymore'.
This track takes about 2 minutes to get to the chorus, taking its time before revealing all of its best qualities. But once it finally does hit the chorus, Casablancas' voice absolutely soars. This song is sorrowful, beautiful and the highlight of what is in my opinion the best Strokes album to date (which I imagine may be an unpopular opinion).
The song ends with a minute of purely instrumental synth lines which bring it to a quiet conclusion, unravelling itself slowly and giving itself far more room to breathe than their songs have ever done before, which is extremely refreshing from the band. Its a great new direction The Strokes have gone for here, and I hope throughout this next decade they continue to release quality material in this same vein.
Read the review for "The New Abnormal" here.
5. PERFUME GENIUS
on the floor
'On The Floor' is a sensual and gorgeous track that explores a feeling of emotional withdrawal from a loved one, while also lacing within it the broader themes of life and mortality that are discussed further throughout the rest of 'Set My Heart on Fire Immediately'. It perfectly walks the line between the profound feelings of sadness and love that the album projects, while also being extremely smooth and invigorating.
Michael Handreas proves himself with every album that he's one of the best artists around, and this track is absolutely a testament to that. The music video, also directed by Handreas, is an excellent supplement to the track, and can be found here.
Read the review for "Set My Heart on Fire Immediately" here.
4. PHOEBE BRIDGERS
I know the end
What a way to end an album. 'Punisher' is a slow burn for the most part; a subtle and gorgeous record that speaks volumes in its quieter moments. But the very last song 'I Know the End' instead decides to conclude with a bang rather than a whimper. After a gradual build-up we hear loud choruses, horns and screams; sounding almost apocalyptic in comparison to the far more reserved texture of the rest of the album.
Its a potent way to conclude 'Punisher' and is an incredible accomplishment for Bridgers, who hasn't shown off her ability to create such large sounds until now. But she's definitely proved that now. And she's great at it too.
In fact, 'I Know the End' is so excellent that it almost overshadows some of the rest of the album, which is already in of itself amazing. It's the song that keeps me coming back to the album again and again months after I first heard it, and I doubt I'll be able to get it out of my mind for months to come.
Read the review for "Punisher" here.
3. RUN THE JEWELS
A few words for the firing squad (radiation)
In another excellent way to conclude an album, Run The Jewels create a slowly escalating tribute to family, love and the origins of their careers.
This is an incredibly hard hitting song, where both El-P and Killer Mike pour their hearts out over the death and injustice brought to their loved ones, as well as on a broader, systemic level regarding class-struggle and racism. The track has a great build-up which explodes into an amazing saxophone solo from Cochemea Gastelum. This brings the album to a spectacular close before a brief epilogue that plays out like an end credits track of a saturday morning cartoon. The song really does just have it all.
It's a great synthesis of many of the themes discussed on the album, and the instrumental only pushes to make the message feel even more powerful. Its one of the best hip-hop tracks of the year and some of RTJ's best work yet.
Read the review for "RTJ4" here.
Clipping really outdid themselves this year with the second instalment of their Halloween releases 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'. But the undisputable highlight of the album was the absolutely incredible 'Pain Everyday', which almost instantly became my favourite track from the band particularly because of its insanely layered and cathartic climax.
This is the group at their best in all aspects. The production is ridiculously good from Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson, and Daveed Diggs delivers an amazing performance (as always) that ties the track together in a way that few rapper/producer collaborations are able to accomplish.
The use of breakbeat drum-patterns and swelling strings during the song's final moments is nothing short of masterful, and the song has a cinematic quality that is rarely pulled off this well. I cannot recommend this track enough.
Read the review for "Visions of Bodies Being Burned" here.
1. LINGUA IGNOTA
o ruthless great divine director
If you’ve listened to the last album released by Kristin Hayter under Lingua Ignota; CALIGULA, you’d know that she has one of the most beautiful but haunting voices, and along with the absolutely incredible and bizarre mixture of classical, industrial and noise music that she uses to accompany her, she is by far one of the most interesting artists of this generation.
But even with all that considered, I still wasn't ready for this song.
This is her best work yet, condensing an incredible scale of emotion into such a small amount of space, which ends up collapsing into absolute chaos by the end of the track. The final moments are nothing short of terrifying, as she shifts from singing into a hateful shriek, with the instrumental feeling legitimately overpowering.
I have listened to this song an obscene amount of times since it came out, and the ending is still one of the most breathtaking things I've heard in a very long time. This is definitely not going to be for everybody, but it is far and away the best song of the year in my opinion, and this along with the incredible covers that Hayter has released throughout 2020 have made her one of the highlights of the year, without having even dropped an album. But hopefully we won't have to wait too much longer for that.