The first annual E/O countdown of the greatest tracks in an incredible year for music.
Is anyone else sick of hearing how bad this year was? It seems like every one of these things begins with a recap of just how terrible the last 12 months were, so I'd rather just focus on how amazing this year was for tunes. We got no shortage of remarkable sounds, thanks in large part to the circumstances of 2020 providing a wonderfully varied bounty of music while also gifting me the time and space to pick up this whole writing thing again, for which I'm grateful.
The following is 100 (and 2) reasons to appreciate that music had your back in 2020.
Editor's Note: The process for selecting these 102 tracks was a long, meticulous and obviously subjective one. I started out by creating a shortlist with hundreds of the best songs of the year (in my humble opinion) before attempting to shorten it down to just 100, which it turns out I couldn't get totally exact after all so you get an extra couple below. By the time I had a final list of songs, I sorted them into ten categories and ranked them within those groups I assigned based on my own judgement and preference. The resulting mess looked something like this:
Whether you preferred 88 to 1 or 67 to 14, the idea wasn't to create an exhaustive or exact list so much as a playlist of the best music of the year and a picture of 2020 through it's best musical moments. I hope you enjoy reading - if you do, please considering subscribing, sharing and of course checking out my Spotify playlist which includes everything on the list! Without further ado, here are Either/Or's songs of the year.
102. Her Revolution/His Rope - Burial, Four Tet, Thom Yorke
101. How to Fall in Love in a Pandemic (Music for a Short Film) - Daithí
100. Water in the Well - shame
99. Jump Rope Gazers - The Beths
The title track from Beths reasonably solid sequel to their 2018 debut was a refreshing blast of power pop on a tracklist that just didn't pack the same punch as Future Me Hates Me's electric garage rock.
98. Boylife in EU - Yung Lean
97. Libra - Aoife Nessa Frances
96. Shadowbanned - Stephen Malkmus
95. Processed By The Boys - Protomartyr
94. Whole World (feat. Maxo) - Earl Sweatshirt
93. Ms. California - Beach Bunny
A scintillating blast of emo punk-pop, Beach Bunny’s irresistible debut clocks in at just twenty-five minutes and doesn’t waste of second of it, with 'Ms. California' the charming standout of a kickass bunch.
92. Trees - Weather Underground
An instrumentally dense gem penned by drummer Daniel Kearns, 'Trees' demonstrated a developing sense of musicianship and collaboration between the four young Dubliners and teased an intriguing new dream pop direction for Weather Underground to hopefully explore further on their full length debut album next year.
91. Model Village - IDLES
I was not a fan of IDLES' clumsily political third album, but 'Model Village' is perhaps the best track that the post punks have ever done, a menacing anthem that brings to mind a more hardcore, less polished version of their predecessors Bloc Party.
90. Spotlight - Jessie Ware
89. Black Qualls - Thundercat, Steve Lacy, Steve Arrington, Childish Gambino
88. Ghosts - Bruce Springsteen
87. The Neverending Story - Jay Electronica
86. Emotional Devotion Creator - Peel Dream Magazine
Shoegaze, how I’ve missed you.
The blissed out, endlessly distorted guitar work of New York’s Joe Stevens and his lovingly crooned harmonies with Jo-Anne Hyun will bring you back to the pinnacle of 90s dream pop, warmly welcoming you back into the fuzzy, ethereal world ruled by My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Ride.
'Emotional Devotion Creator' and Peel Dream Magazine’s lush second record as a whole are so evocative of MBV (and Loveless particularly) that at times it can feel like Stevens is cosplaying as Kevin Shields, but Agitprop Alterna is such a faithful tribute that it’s hard to care.
85. two queens in a king sized bed - girl in red
84. 34 + 35 - Ariana Grande
On her third album in as many years, Ariana Grande swapped pain for pleasure with a low key set of sensual R&B jams on Positions. Coming off the tumultuous life events that led to the creative flush of Sweetener and thank u, next, it was heartening to hear a happier and healthier version of Grande, as she cuts a playfully devilish figure on tracks like '34 + 35' while basking in her most explicit songwriting to date over a slick mix of pop and hip-hop production.
83. Staring at a Mountain - Sharon Van Etten
82. XS - Rita Sawayama
81. Borderline - Tame Impala
Tame Impala's third record was a psychedelic pop dreamscape, lushly tinged with disco and funk elements, and while perhaps lacking the arresting nature of Lonerism and Currents, Parker's typically glorious production on tracks such as 'Borderline' ensured fans old and new would be deeply satisfied by The Slow Rush.
80. Shiver - Jonsi
79. AUATC - Bon Iver
78. The Ascension - Sufjan Stevens
There are fleeting moments of escape from the lifeless wall of synths that smother Sufjan Steven's The Ascension whole, with an exceptional title track marking the standout moment of the album as Sufjan slowly builds the most genuinely emotive instrumental and vocal performance on the album to a subtle climax.
77. Song 33 - Noname
76. Idontknow - Jamie XX
It has been a full five years since In Colour, and on Jamie xx's solo return this year, he showcased a darker side to his sound. The vibrant and warm synths that made In Colour such an emotive listen are gone as Jamie navigates a cold and alien soundscape, dueling vocal lines combining with an accelerating drum machine and heavily trance inspired ambient beats on a skillful, exhilarating departure for the xx producer.
75. BEST INTEREST/GROUP B - Tyler, The Creator
74. Ohms - Deftones
73. Broken Boy (feat. Iggy Pop) - Cage The Elephant
72. Pelota -Khruangbin
71. Stendur æva - Sigur Ros (with Steindór Andersen, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson and María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir)
70. Baby - Four Tet
69. Together - Nine Inch Nails
Trent Reznor's duo of ambient pandemic soundtracks were the most engrossing work NIN have released in quite a while, simultaneously soothing and unsettling meditations for the times we found ourselves in this year.
The two parts act as yin and yang to each other, Together (the strongest of the pair, and its outstanding titular 10 minutes) calmly providing gentle, synth shined waves of optimism and peace before Locusts takes the more characteristically NIN approach of fucking you up with its mind altering, nightmarish industrial environment. Taken as a whole, Ghosts V-VI are Reznor and Atticus Ross' most confrontational, direct work in some time, without a guitar in sight.
68. Pain 1993 (feat. Playboi Carti) - Drake
It felt like there was an element of Drake fatigue in the air this year such was the tepid response to Dark Lane Demo Tapes when it dropped in April, but as always there were a number of reliable highlights from another supremely busy year even by Aubrey Graham's ridiculous standards. 'Pain 1993' was chief among them, displaying Drake at his chameleonic best, skillfully ingratiating himself to a 2020 hip-hop audience with a deadly assist from Playboi Carti and Pierre Bourne's wonderfully understated trap-hop production.
67. To S./To R. - Father John Misty
66. Look Over Your Shoulder (feat. Kendrick Lamar) - Busta Rhymes
65. Held Down - Laura Marling
64. Relatively Safe Neighborhood - Postcard Versions
63. Murphy's Law - Roisin Murphy
62. House Music All Night Long - Jarvis Cocker (JARV IS...)
61. Care - beabadoobee
The enormous breakout potential of Bea Laus' bedroom rock could be heard in bursts on her uneven, endearing debut for Dirty Hit, and Fake It Flowers introduced itself with panache on 'Care', as Bea kicked off her debut with her most infectious single to date, deftly blending her penchant for 90s lo-fi throwback vibes and slacker guitar work with the kind of anthemic singalong choruses that just beg for a live crowd.
The playful, Pixies-eque mix of soft-loud dynamics is a twist utilized to perfection across the album in its best moments, with these kind of undeniable earworms aplenty on Fake It Flowers.
60. ooh la la (feat. Greg Nice & DJ Premier) - Run The Jewels
59. Heartless - The Weeknd
Sex, drugs and self loathing - it must be The Weeknd.
After Hours was a striking amalgamation of Weeknd's mainstream pop power and the conscious hip-hop and souled out blues of his early years. On quite possibly Abel Tesfaye's best work since his debut, the singer got introspective while playing off a wicked mix of silky smooth funk and disco beats, dual-playing his classic charismatic dark loner against the devilish playboy persona of Starboy, and no track better exemplified the return to the dark side than the villainous heel turn of 'Heartless' and its pitch black hip-hop.
Broken-hearted or just plain heartless? With The Weeknd at his best, it's never just about the night before, there's always a morning after.
58. Never Come Back - Caribou
The standout cut from Dan Snaith's fifth album as Caribou was the electronica musician at his most accessible, yet 'Never Come Back' was also a subtle exercise in exploration over the course of its five minute run time. In other circumstances this could have been a global club hit for the summer, but you still get the feeling that house parties around the world will be coming back to this one for years.
57. Weightlifters - Car Seat Headrest
Making A Door Less Open was an uneven listen but there were still glimpses of Toledo's instinctive gift for lo-fi guitar rock melodies beneath the half-baked electro detours, with 'Weightlifters' the highlight of the bunch. As the oldest song on the record having been written originally in 2015, it's closer in sound to Teens of Denial and enough to make you wish that Will had focused on his always inventive guitar work a bit more for the final album. Toledo describes 'Weightlifters' as ''a little bit Nine Inch Nails'' with its droning guitar line inducing the kind of anxiety throughout the track which is explored in further detail through the emotive lyrics which find the author willing his body to fix his broken mind.
56. Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You) - Bombay Bicycle Club
55. Mariana Trench - Bright Eyes
The apocalypse never sounded sweeter on Conor Oberst's eloquent return as Bright Eyes on Down In The Weeds Where The World Once Was, and 'Mariana Trench' was a particularly uplifting highlight, weighing up our relative insignificance in the context of nature and Earth while also teaching us a humbling lesson about living through modern times.
54. Something to Rap About (feat. Tyler, The Creator) - Freddie Gibbs, The Alchemist
53. Juro Que - ROSALÍA
An insatiable burst of flamenco fused with modern R&B - it could only be Rosalía. The Spanish icon is long overdue the kind of massive global chart success befitting the quality of singles like this.
52. Summer of Now - James Blake
Blake had a producive 2020, best summarized by his low-key Before EP release that saw the producer lay down some blissed out electronica beats across four tracks in seventeen minutes. The 32 year old released some typically heavenly piano ballads while still making time for more club-oriented production work this year, and these two forms combined on Before in dazzling fashion, making for a perfect late night soundtrack during the November lockdown. Most notable was stunning closer 'Summer of Now', a potential indication of an alluring new direction for Blake to explore deeper on future releases.
51. stardew - Purity Ring
50. The Difference - Flume, Toro y Moi
49. Lifetime - Romy
48. feel away (feat. James Blake & Mount Kimble) - slowthai
47. We Will Always Love You - The Avalanches, Blood Orange
The Avalanches hadn't lost a step in the last 4 years as evidenced by this fantastic lead single which kicked off the album cycle for the group's third studio album and follow up to 2016 comeback Wildflower. Employing the mellow R&B stylings of Blood Orange and a couple of typically immaculate samples in the form of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles as well as 80s Irish-American vocal trio The Roches, 'We Will Always Love You' was an exquisite return that hinted at what psychedelic electronica goodness was to be expected from its namesake album.
46. Hit Different - SZA, The Neptunes, Ty Dolla $ign
45. Cosmonauts - Fiona Apple
44. Whole New Mess - Angel Olsen
43. Selfless - The Strokes
42. WAP (feat. Megan Thee Stallion) - Cardi B
Strip away the undeniable cultural significance and politics of Cardi B's sex positive phenomenon and you've got another sensational hip-hop banger from the 'Bodak Yellow' singer, who continues to blaze a trail in female rap music while remaining furiously true to herself and gleefully upsetting prudish conservatives.
Check out one of the videos of the year below in all it's explicit glory:
41. Levitating - Dua Lipa
One of the greatest shames of the year was not being able to hear Future Nostalgia played out to its true potential in its natural club environment, but perhaps more importantly Dua Lipa's electrifying disco pop bangers kept us dancing through the pandemic. Centerpiece 'Levitating' was its showstopper, and beats out some of the biggest singles of the year ('Don't Start Now', 'Physical', 'Break My Heart') for Dua's spot on my list.
40. Dying Breed - The Killers
The Killers are well aware of what they do best, and on Imploding the Mirage they laid down a fantastic set of synth rock bangers with the assured skill befitting a band of their now veteran status. Brandon Flowers and co. have not so shyly leaned into the showier elements of their image in recent years, and this self-aware extravagance translates surprisingly well to record as the Vegas quartet went balls out on a bombastic, stadium sized Springsteen tribute across ten barnstorming tracks, none typified better than sensational lead single 'Dying Breed'.
39. BRON - Lykke Li
38. If You're Too Shy (Let Me Know) - The 1975
37. How Lucky - Kurt Vile, John Prine
KV was in a contemplative state this year as the his typically psychedelic stoner rock took a back seat for some country inspired acoustic jams on Speed, Sound, Lonely KV. This smooth set of folk tunes was a delightful breeze that showcased Vile's laid back charm at its easiest, headlined by a lovely collaboration with long time influence, the late John Prine, on a cover of his own 'How Lucky'.
36. Love in Mine - Big Thief
'Love in Mine' found Big Thief frontwoman Adrienne Lenker at her most tender and enthralling on an unabashed love song, which remarkably only found its release as a B side for last year's UFOF vinyl. Either way, it was a gift for fans to hear a digital release in 2020, and in hindsight a hint towards the wonderful solo work Lenker would go on to release later in the year, which features further down the line on this list.
35. Midnight Sky - Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus' oddball eccentricities and chart topping success always seemed like a temperamental formula that had never come quite right on record, until November - Plastic Hearts saw Miley reveling in a super fun homage to glam rock while also leaving plenty of room for electropop bangers in ferocious lead single and album highlight 'Midnight Sky'.
'Sky' also saw release as a cool mashup with Stevie Nicks on the thrilling 'Edge of Midnight', but the original can't be beaten.
34. Shameika - Fiona Apple
33. Summer Girl - HAIM
Danielle Haim's understated, touching jazz pop ballad for boyfriend Ariel Reichtstaid following his cancer diagnosis is one of the most heart warming and poignant songs of the year, showcasing Haim's ability to make you feel as well as pop a groove.
32. Cayendo (Side A - Acoustic) - Frank Ocean
Expectations are always insanely high when Frank Ocean releases new material, but it truly seems there is no wrong this man can do. The double release of 'Dear April' and 'Cayendo' in March made waves on streaming services, yet it was the latter of the two that truly resonated for me. There aren't too many words left to use to describe the pure beauty of Ocean's voice, and this Channel Orange-esque ballad is no exception with bilingual vocals accompanied on a sole electric guitar. The minimalist instrumentation of the track ensures that Frank's performance is front and centre, allowing the raw emotion of these words to speak for themselves and ensuring that any kind of language barrier is effortlessly transcended.
31. 4 American Dollars - US Girls
30. On The Floor - Perfume Genius
29. I Know The End - Phoebe Bridgers
28. Murder Most Foul - Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan's post millennium discography has gone under the radar to some extent, but I do believe that when all is said and done, we will look back on Modern Times, Tempest and Rough and Rowdy Ways as bonafide and underappreciated classics in his repertoire along with the more obvious greats.
As the behemoth closer to Dylan's latest work (a fabled Dylan spot, this is 'Desolation Row' and 'Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands' territory we're talking here) , 'Murder Most Foul' earns every single second of its near seventeen minute run time as we are taken on an evocative, winding journey back to the JFK assassination which Dylan recounts in violent detail, all the while weaving in and out of a fever dream about 21st century America as The Beatles, Woodstock, Uncle Sam, Marilyn Monroe and Bugsy Siegel star among a cast of what seems like thousands in the latest masterwork from our greatest living poet.
27. betty - Taylor Swift
The teenage love triangle of 'cardigan', 'august' and 'betty' (a trio of tracks written from the perspective of each character in a summer love affair) showcased Swift's eternally underrated gift for storied songwriting and endlessly charming wit. The trilogy's masterful conclusion was the wonderfully nostalgic sound of 'betty', a track that takes a trip back to the innocent, sweet country blues of Taylor's early albums while simultaneously showing us the sharp poetic brilliance of the now 30 year old, a decade and a half into her career.
26. Cameo - Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
Fran Kearney said he wanted to write a ‘’bedrock of hopefulness’’ on Sideways to New Italy and as such its ten tracks were a perfect dose of laid back, feel good summer rock, the kind that was in seriously short supply throughout 2020.
Don’t be fooled by the band’s chilled stoner vibes, RBCF’s distinctive radio rock come jangle pop guitar jams may go down smooth like summer wine but the Australian five piece are a deceptively talented gang led by an exceptional trio of singer-guitarists, each of whom shine on 'Cameo', the best track of their young careers.
25. anything - Adrienne Lenker
24. I Don't Belong - Fontaines D.C
Frontman Grian Chatten described the opener to A Hero's Death as a 'dismissal of expectations' and you can certainly hear a major shift in tone between this and previous album starter 'Big', as a more purposeful and weighty band performance allowed Chatten space to explore deeply poetic lyrical themes in his distinctively swaggering style.
23. claws - Charli XCX
22. Lilacs - Waxahatchee
This stunning country ballad was the standout of Waxahatchee's fifth studio album Saint Cloud, which put Katie Crutchfield front and centre as the personable frontwoman wrote a series of frank and vulnerable meditations on her decision to get sober.
21. Personal History - Ailbhe Reddy
The moment Ailbhe Reddy became the breakout Irish artist of the year was about three and a half minutes through 'Personal History', the titular showpiece of her debut album, as the young singer-songwriter beautifully examines modern love and relationships with some wonderfully conversational lyrics and striking alto tenor before the song (and album) breaks into a breathtaking climax.
20. Punisher - Phoebe Bridgers
Truly great songwriters can make you feel as though there's no one else in the world at times, just you and them in those moments when you feel a connection so deep that you're almost certain a song or lyric were written for you, as if the writer were making a confession meant for your ears only.
''What if I told you
I felt like I know you
But we never met''
Phoebe Bridgers sings to Elliott Smith on Punisher's mesmerizing, haunting title track, and it's one of those transcendent moments. You can see Bridgers as the same teenager so many have been, listening to Smith in her bedroom and dreaming of writing something close to Elliott, just to touch somebody the way that Smith touched so many with his incomparable gift for storytelling and songcraft.
The irony is that this is also the moment that Bridgers, and by proxy Punisher, ascend to a level of poetic majesty the like of which her idol could command any time he picked up a guitar or put pen to paper. Phoebe Bridgers isn't Elliott Smith, but moments and songs like this, of which Punisher boasts plenty, put forth the case that there is a comparison to be made, and that is a special thing in itself.
19. Me And You Together Song - The 1975
The 1975's heavily anticipated Notes On A Conditional Form was an inconsistent end product, which was all the more disappointing considering the excellent set of singles which were dropped across the year preceding its release. Of the eight (yes, eight!) tracks made available to fans before NOACF arrived, among the most fruitful genres that the band explored on Notes was the delightful sound of 90s jangle pop that gave birth to 'Me And You Together Song', an absurdly joyful trip down nostalgia lane and one of the album's many diamonds in the rough.
18. ringtone (remix) [feat. Charli XCX, Rico Nasty, Kero Kero Bonito] - 100 gecs
Regardless of your feelings on 100 Gecs transgressive brand of experimental electronica, 1000 Gecs was without doubt one of the most fascinating debuts of any genre in recent memory, if for nothing else than how aggressively it pursued Laura Les and Dylan Brady's abrasive ideas and harsh sound.
The duo's 2020 remix album was a similarly novel experience, re-imagining signature tracks like 'ringtone' so boldly that the original versions and their remixes sound like the musical equivalent of a roughly sketched drawing to a Salvador Dali-esque work of abstract art.
Boasting one of the best choruses of the year and a formidable trio of diversely talented features, 'ringtone' is the rare remix that leaves its predecessor in the dust and evolves into an entirely new animal itself. We're talking Magikarp to Gyarados level shit here.
17. Your Reply - Frances Quinlan
16. Starstruck - Sorry
One of the debuts of the year came from North London as Sorry unleashed their oddball concoction of neo-Gothic post-punk on the wonderfully warped 925. Best friends Asha Lorenz and Louis O Brien don't duet so much as argue, cut across and butt in on each other throughout 925's trippy forty three minutes and it's their unconventionally alluring dynamic that carries their first record to such heights.
An organic, spontaneous hybrid that pulls no punches and never looks back, 'Starstruck' captured all of this madness and more while boasting potentially the most contagious guitar hook of the year.
15. Aries (feat. Peter Hook & Georgia) - Gorillaz
Gorillaz' Song Machine project (in which the band released a song or 'episode' on a monthly basis) was a triumph for everyone's favourite animated artists. An excellent mix of guest musicians led the group's most intriguing output since their reformation, and none more so than Joy Division and New Order veteran Peter Hook, who was utilized to perfection on 'Aries' back in April, a self proclaimed ''happy tune'' that harkens back to the sound of magnum opus Plastic Beach with its shimmering synth keyboards and Albarn's bright vocal refrain.
14. circle the drain - Soccer Mommy
Sophie Allison’s sophomore album saw the 22-year-old expand on the grunge pop sound of Soccer Mommy’s stunning 2018 debut with a deceptively bright, lo-fi pop sound. Allison’s meditations on depression and anxiety stood in sharp contrast to the band’s newfound warmer sound as the young frontwoman subtly weaves a set of darkly lyrical accounts together under the guise of the group's catchy guitar hooks on tracks like 'circle the drain', Color Theory's undoubted zenith.
It's a style reminiscent of Alanis Morissette, no doubt a pillar of inspiration for the current generation of young female songwriters, and certainly not a bad comparison for Soccer Mommy's protagonist to be courting just two albums in.
13. Good News - Mac Miller
As someone who admittedly was never a massive fan of Mac Miller, it was startling to discover how much 'Good News' affected me on my first listen, and every subsequent one since. A heartbreaking account of the rapper's final days, the lead single from posthumous collection Circles was not just a tragic farewell to the legions of Miller disciples, but also an extraordinary glimpse at the kind of artist that Malcolm McCormick was becoming.
12. Exile (feat. Bon Iver) - Taylor Swift
On 'exile' Justin Vernon delivers one of his best vocal performances in years, stripping away the digitally manipulated sound of 22, A Million and i,i on a compelling duet that uses his rustic and emotionally raw vocals to perfection in the four minutes he spends on folklore. 'exile' gifted music fans worldwide a dream collaboration they never thought they wanted and now can't get enough of, following a worthy sequel on evermore's title track and closer.
11. People, I've been sad - Christine and the Queens
'People, I've been sad' arrived just a few weeks before the world seemingly fell apart in March, and the timing really couldn't have been better. An crushingly intimate account of the type of loneliness that felt universal just a few short months ago, 'People' finds Christine at her most honest, confessing her darkest thoughts in a mixture of English and her native French over a minimalist synth pop beat. As usual with the Queens best work, the power is in Chris' total commitment and unmistakable presence, whether it be on stage or in studio.
10. Sweet - Porridge Radio
''I'm bored to death
Dana Margolin snarls into life to introduce us to Every Bad, before the Brighton quartet kick in with a startling post-punk wall of noise, thrashing their way through their second album with the kind of abandon and conviction of a band far beyond their years. Margolin is a woman possessed throughout, the undoubted focus of attention as she exorcises her demons over top of her sinister guitar lines and the drum, bass and keyboard assault courtesy of a tight backing trio, who you feel are more than happy to leave Margolin the spotlight she so fitfully demands, most captivatingly on the deceptively titled 'Sweet'.
9. The Steps - HAIM
The Haim sisters traverse an exponential amount of sounds with tremendous skill and poise throughout Women in Music, but none as triumphantly as the sizzling country rock of 'The Steps', a joyously bitter yet bright break up anthem that allows Danielle Haim a moment to shine like never before with a towering, swaggering performance that redefines the frontwoman just minutes into the band's third album.
8. forever - Charli XCX
From the opening twenty seconds of lead single 'forever', it was clear as day that we were going to hear something special on how i'm feeling now, Charli XCX's lockdown masterpiece. Synths crash into each other like the world is falling down around you as Charli fights through the chaos with the kind of vocal hook that will stay with you all year. Much like everything on HIFN, 'forever' is chaos and beauty intertwined, an abrasive lullaby as imperfect as it is unforgettable.
7. Sunblind - Fleet Foxes
In spite of its prevalent Autumnal theme, there is a strong element of Indian summer to Fleet Foxes' Shore, with the lazy sun and unseasonably warm air that hangs over its delicate compositions. Welcoming listeners in with the seamless one-two transition of 'Wading in Waist-High Water' into 'Sunblind', we are first greeted by the tender vocals of the hitherto unknown young singer Uwade Akhere over an impossibly softly strummed acoustic guitar before being bathed in the warm American water of 'Sunblind' as Pecknold pays loving tribute to a whole host of influences including Nick Drake, Elliott Smith and Richard Swift on a stunningly vibrant ode in their honor.
6. Kyoto - Phoebe Bridgers
Punisher’s ode to imposter symptom showcases all the best qualities of a songwriter in her undeniable prime, as Bridgers recounts a day in the life on tour in the Japanese metropolis with her singular mix of confessional poetry, uniquely goofy comic touch and the kind of natural gift for melody and hook that seems rarer than ever in rock.
5. The Pink Phantom (feat. Elton John & 6LACK) - Gorillaz
Song Machine celebrated its glorious mash up of guests from every corner of the musical spectre, and no song brought seeming polar opposites together as dazzlingly as The Pink Phantom, as Damon Albarn, Atlanta rapper 6LACK and the legendary Elton John came together on a psychedelic pop ballad for the ages.
Elton’s towering, bombastic verses and piano chords are the foundation on which Phantom is built, as 6LACK’s oddly melancholic autotune weaves around John and 2D/Albarn, as the Gorillaz leader wistfully, mournfully longs for the return of a former lover.
4. The Birthday Party - The 1975
For all the genre hopping and musical exploration on The 1975’s ambitious if slightly overcooked Notes On A Conditional Form, it wasn’t the punk rock, electronica or synthpop that stuck with me all year – it was the twee, absent minded folk of 'The Birthday Party', not for it’s delicately plucked strings or playful, carefree structure, but for the band’s ultimate weapon – the character of Matthew Healy and his words. 'The Birthday Party' finds Matty on an almost stream of consciousness lyrical tangent reacting to his first relapse since kicking heroin, as he navigates growing older and perhaps not all that wiser amidst the song’s titular strikingly painted backdrop. It’s a poignant, searching, desperately honest glimpse into one of the most creative musical minds on the planet in 2020, with a suitably bittersweet ending to match its naked vulnerability as Matty concludes he is depending on his friends to say clean, ‘’as sad as it seems’’.
Healy compared the ending of the song to the ending of The Graduate in a typically candid episode of the Song Exploder podcast back in August, declaring that not to be a true ending, because ‘’that’s not how life works’’. Four albums in, you get the extraordinary sense that The 1975 and Matty Healy are still somehow only beginning to explore their vast potential for greatness.
3. Delete Forever - Grimes
Grimes takes a moment to breathe on Miss Anthropocene before rave bangers 'Violence' and '4ÆM' kick in to take us on an electropop trip for the ages, and that breath is the sublime bliss of 'Delete Forever'.
Claire Boucher wrote this introspective folk-inspired track on the night of Lil Peep's death, and as such it's a frank examination on the nature of addiction. Above a euphonious cacophony of banjo and strings, Boucher gushes that she ''Can't see above it/Guess I fucking love it'', exposing a kind of vulnerability rarely witnessed in her often elusive songwriting.
This is Grimes at her most confessional, the most affecting ballad of the year from the unlikeliest of sources, a window into the soul of a true visionary.
2. Ladies - Fiona Apple
''Ladies, ladies, ladies, ladies…'' In the opening seconds of Fetch The Bolt Cutters’ definitive tour de force, Apple gentle, almost chastising delivery of the title word is something akin to a polite tapping of a champagne glass, signalling attention for a performance or speech. Five minutes later it is transformed into a rallying war cry, a ferocious call to arms for the female race and a triumphant conclusion to the most powerful song of the year. What makes it so? Perhaps it's Apple's incomparable delivery, undeniable wisdom, irresistable wit or the wondrous combination of all three throughout these spellbinding five minutes and twenty-five seconds.
'Ladies' manages to simultaneously exist as a furious bid for female unity, a unique celebration of womanhood, and perhaps most intriguingly, a meditation on Apple's guilt toward fellow members of her sex whom she feels she may have betrayed in past relationships. It is a powerful, timely examination of female spirit, and 2020 is better for its existence.
1. the last great American dynasty - Taylor Swift
In a year where Taylor Swift revolutionized her career and stunned audiences with two eloquent indie folk wonders, ‘the last great American dynasty’ stands as her finest achievement. The ultimate strength of folklore is in its stories, and ‘dynasty’ unveils a bestselling novel in the space of less than four minutes.
This was an album in which Swift shifted the lens away from herself and turned it onto a vividly imagined fictional space where she developed rich, complex characters and intricately carved song trilogies in which they lived, yet ‘dynasty’ draws a portrait of a real historical figure and its own author in a dazzling blend of folklore’s storytelling majesty and some deeply personal reflection on the part of its songwriter.
‘dynasty’ tells the life story of vilified American socialite Rebecca Harkness – a woman of enormous wealth and scandal whose notorious reputation amongst her fellow townspeople was the result of outrageous local gossip from pitchfork bearing locals who objected to her living well on her fortune after her husband’s death. Swift’s world building, character detail and humor are unmatched, yet ‘dynasty’’s astonishing climax is the real highlight, as Taylor abruptly switches to a first-person narrative to draw parallels with her own reputation and the controversies that have accompanied her all encompassing fame over the past decade and a half, connecting her own story with the ghost of Harkness and the poignantly drawing the bond that has been forged between the two through their Rhode Island home across generations. It’s a wonderfully fitting moment in a year where Swift has changed her own narrative and once again challenged and exceeded expectations. Put simply, it is the best thing that Taylor Swift has ever written, the defining moment of a career which has dominated the pop culture landscape for a generation, and the ultimate expression of artistry from the loudest woman this town has ever seen.
Thank you for reading. I'll be back with my Best of 2020 Albums next week so stay tuned - Merry Christmas!