By Angel Kim
With all the new music that came out last year, it seems as if everyone and their mother released an album or single in 2020- and I mean that in the best way. No matter how optimistic we were going into last year, things got pretty difficult pretty quickly, so having a superb soundtrack to go along with the times helped. We aren’t yet out of 2020’s wake and a lot still needs to change, but in the meanwhile, I’ll be playing these albums and singles for a long time.
SAWAYAMA – Rina Sawayama
Beginning with the strongest possible album opener “Dynasty”, SAWAYAMA is a ride until the closer “Snakeskin”. The album’s production artfully blends early ‘00s pop influences with heavier sounds such as metal in lead single “STFU!”, which I patiently wait to hear live once COVID is no longer looming. A large lyrical theme in the album is Sawayama’s Japanese-British identity, though she also discusses capitalism in “XS” and climate grief in “Fuck This World (Interlude)”. If you’re unfamiliar with Sawayama, her Jimmy Fallon performance is quite riveting, and her facial expressions in it are Kate Bush-esque.
Giver Taker – Anjimile
Boston-based musician Anjimile released their debut album Giver Taker last September through Father/Daughter Records, and has quickly become one of my favorite artists. Many are comparing their indie-folk sound to Sufjan Stevens, who Anjimile cites as an influence along with Iron & Wine, Zimbabwean artist Oliver Mtukudzi, and 80s pop music that their parents played during their childhood, according to their interview with Rolling Stone. Some highlights are “Maker” which features some of my favorite lyrics (“I’m not just a boy, I’m a man / I’m not just a man, I’m a god / I’m not just a god, I’m a maker”), “Not Another Word”, and “To Meet You There”.
In Sickness & In Flames – The Front Bottoms
As a shameless The Front Bottoms fan, In Sickness & In Flames really defined my 2020, and it’s not even because of the title or the line “It’s like I’m wearing a mask” in “make way”. The album features a return to indie-folk-pop punk characteristic of their “old sound”, combined with ventures into pop that feel fresh. Also, there’s something about the way that singer Brian Sella delivers lyrics, from “You and your mental illness / Whole time think I’m someone else” to “I wanna be that person again / The one that I am right now,” that simultaneously feels introspective and cathartic…
Dreamland – Glass Animals
After discovering Glass Animals through their second record How To Be A Human Being in 2016, my expectations for Dreamland were high- and they definitely delivered. While each track in How To Be A Human Being is based on a different character, Dreamland is a much more personal journey based on singer Dave Bayley’s experiences. In addition to featuring high-energy bangers like “Space Ghost Coast To Coast”, the album also has moments of yearning, as the kids now say, in tracks like “Helium”. I also love how the band commits to their album concepts aesthetically, just take a look at their website to see what I mean.
Ungodly Hour – Chloe x Halle
The album may be called Ungodly Hour, but the sister duo’s flawless harmonies say otherwise. With lines like “Good vibes only” in the hit “Do It” and “I had to learn to love me lately” in “Lonely”, it’s simply impossible to not feel at least a little hopeful after listening. Some highlights are “Tipsy” and “Wonder What She Thinks of Me”, which were produced by Chloe and Halle Bailey themselves, and the title track, produced by Disclosure.
Getting Into Knives – The Mountain Goats
The Mountain Goats’ 2005 hit “This Year” was a sure anthem for last year. However, I also often found myself listening to one of the two albums they released in 2020, and their 19th studio album overall, Getting Into Knives. Frontman John Darnielle’s lyrics tell fascinating stories, such as my personal favorite, “Rat Queen”, being told from the perspective of a rat: “Victory sweet as the dregs of the fast food dumpster / Look how they jump when we show up / Like they’ve just seen a monster.”
Printer’s Devil – Ratboys
I started listening to Ratboys after seeing them open for Soccer Mommy in 2018 and being intrigued by their name. Their sound is indie rock with the slightest hint of country, and a lot of the album’s lyrics reflect on childhood and growing up. Though Printer’s Devil features a heavier sound than the previous two Ratboys albums, softer tracks “My Hands Grow” and “Victorian Slumhouse” are also highlights.
Caroline – Arlo Parks
The lyrics that Arlo Parks writes at 20 years old are nothing short of amazing. “Caroline” tells a story of watching “a fight between an artsy couple escalate” in a graceful and illustrative way. Parks had exciting collaborations with Glass Animals and MICHELLE in 2020, and her debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams, is coming out on Jan. 29. There’s a lot to look forward to!
The Key to Life on Earth – Declan McKenna
Declan McKenna’s sophomore record Zeros was released in 2020, but “The Key to Life on Earth” is the stand-out single. The synth riff is out of this world- fitting for an album that’s also full of space references.
Video Game – Sufjan Stevens
Synth pop from Sufjan Stevens is something you don’t realize you need until you hear it. The song is in his 2020 album The Ascension and the music video features “Renegade” dance creator Jalaiah Harmon. Stevens’ statement says that “she is dancing for herself, not anyone else. Her choreography is sophisticated, nuanced, and fun. She is a star. She keeps it real. She keeps it moving. She keeps it true. What a blessing!”
Joan of Arc on the Dance Floor – Aly & AJ
It’s a feminist synth pop song, and it’s a banger! The video pays homage to “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928).
Afterglow – Luna Li
“You got some dust in your head / We ran out of things to have said / No-oh, I’ll catch you in the afterglow,” Luna Li sings in “Afterglow”. With some beautiful instrumentals featuring harp and violin, this song feels like a stroll through a garden as the sun sets on a warm evening.
Mess – SASAMI
Every woman’s felt like this song at least once (or many times)… right? Favorite lyrics: “I keep on licking the dirt off the ground / Singing along to the idiot sounds”
Call Me – Empress Of
Lines like “Call me, call me, call me your disaster” against pretty dream pop instrumentals almost makes one forget that the song was made for the horror movie “The Turning”. “Call Me” is different from Empress Of’s usual dance pop sound, so it was interesting to hear her do something different. She also released her third album, I’m Your Empress Of, in 2020.