100 Albums & 50 Songs I Loved in 2020

Listen I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve Morning and I think we can say that collectively this the worst year that mankind has experienced in decades. So! I don’t really want to talk about it. What I do want to talk about is all the great music released this year. My listening habits did change this year due to COVID, as I hardly re-listened to any music. This meant a higher album count, but it also means I didn’t fall in love with many songs like normal. Still, I’ve made a list of 50 songs that kept me intrigued and playing on loop. I’ve added vids and descriptions for the Top 20. Also, both of these lists were made pretty haphazardly so I’m likely forgetting something very important. Pls revel in the garbage I like!

(Photo Credit: EW)

50 Songs I Loved: 50-21, A-Z

Adrianne Lenker – “anything” (editor’s note: I compiled this list a few days ago and I now feel like this should’ve made the top 25. Sorry Adrianne)
Car Seat Headrest – “Can’t Cool Me Down”
Death Valley Girls – “I’d Rather Be Dreaming,” “Under the Spell of Joy”
The Devil’s Twins – “Bad Karma” (lovely folks who I recently interviewed)
Dua Lipa – “Don’t Start Now”
Fiona Apple – “I Want You to Love Me,” “Shameika,” “Relay”
Grimes – “4 ÆM”
IDLES – “Grounds,” “Model Village”
Orville Peck – “Summertime”
Ozzy Osbourne – “It’s a Riot” (w/Post Malone) (shut up)
Poppy – “All the Things She Said” (who better to do a t. A. T. u. cover?)
Run the Jewels – “yankee and the brave,” “walking in the snow,” “the ground below,”
Sad13 – “Ghost of a Good Time”
SAULT – “Free,” “I Just Want to Dance”
Static-X – “Terminator Oscillator” (leave me alone)
The Strokes – “The Adults are Talking”
Thao & the Get Downs – “Temple”
Uniform – “Delco”
U.S. Girls – “4 American Dollars”
Washed Out – “Too Late”
Waxahatchee – “Lilacs”
The Weeknd – “Blinding Lights”
Worriers – “Terrible Boyfriend”

50 Songs I Loved, 20-1, Ranked!

#20. Poppy – “Anything Like Me” – Poppy’s sudden heel turn from Internet-infused bubblegum pop into nu-metal was even more shocking than it was great, and it produced some jams. This was my favorite of the bunch. Poppy also soundtracked an actual heel turn.

#19. Uniform – “The Shadow of God’s Hand” – This is what anxiety sounds like! One of the best underground rock bands, living under myriad levels of distortion, pumped out one of their best songs yet. Not for the weary!

#18. Fiona Apple – “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” – Side A of this album is the best half-album of the year, this being the highest-ranked of five songs I fell in love with. The found percussion works the best here, as it sounds like an actual quarantine musical project (though recorded much earlier).

#17. METZ – “A Boat to Drown In” – METZ are, unequivocally, the loudest band I’ve ever seen. And this song rivals their early masterpiece “Wet Blanket” as their most intense song. If I ever get to see them live again, this is what will finally kill my ears.

#16. Wasted Shirt – “All Is Lost” – More on this duo in the albums section, but this is one of the most fun rock songs of the year despite barely having any central rhythm. The dual-shriek kicks off the album, followed closely by a cacophony of guitar and drums. And it doesn’t let up.

#15. Mura Masa & Slowthai – “Deal Wuv It” – This is some weird and occasionally obnoxious British rap but god if this isn’t a super energetic and fun track. It was released very early in 2020 and soundtracked an otherwise slow start to the music year for me

#14. Tame Impala – “Breathe Deeper” – I don’t love Tame Impala like most skinny flannel white guys, but they do have jams. I love the extended bridge to this song, where a long, breezy rhythm suddenly stops with the tape and a whole new song briefly starts. It’s fun!

#13. clipping. – “Say the Name” – The two rapid-fire albums from clipping. over the last two years have been such bold, important and confident works, and this song is the epitome of them. Daveed Diggs raps at a surprisingly normal pace in a frustrated tone over a baritone vocal sample. This one’s not fun, it’s urgent.

#12. Phoebe Bridgers – “Kyoto” – Alright listen I’m short on time and if you’re reading this you probably already have a hard opinion on this song, let’s move on.

#11. Perfume Genius – “Nothing At All” – Mike Hadreas ditched his twinkly bedroom pop in favor of a droning, shoegaze-inspired guitar riff. But he kept his pained vocals and lyrics that touch on imperfect lyrics. Somehow, it’s even more affecting. This isn’t a sad song, but it sure sounds like one.

#10. Hamilton Leithauser – “Here They Come” – The first half of this song is a red herring, with Leithauser singing in a muted tone over a soft guitar. But he erupts in his more shrieking singing, with a fuller band. The whole second half retains a constant jovial high – try kicking this one from your head. Also, Ethan Hawke!

#9. Gorillaz/Peter Hook/Georgia – “Aries” – Gorillaz & New Order is just a winning combo, how could it not be? This song drifts along as it subtly becomes one of the year’s best earworms. The lethargic chorus from 2-D is somehow infectious through repetition while the Peter Hook riff is so simple yet so memorable.

#8. IDLES – “Mr. Motivator” – Okay these are the corniest lyrics from a band that already makes cringe-y metaphors and performative politics, but it’s also so high-energy that it’s easy to overlook. It’s raucous and fun while still being topical. I love this band dearly (more on that later) and this still has a great message.

#7. Bully – “Where to Start” – Bully has transformed as a solo project for Alicia Bognanno, who has wielded it as an outlet for her personal issues. This song, a straight grunge song with some her best vocal work yet, is a passionate ode to a lover, but it’s not clear if anyone’s listening. It’s also a good catharsis-inducer for the listener, if you let it be.

#6. Run the Jewels/Pharrell/Zack de la Rocha – “JU$T” – The largely minimalist production of “RTJ4” really lets the four-pronged vocal attack take the rhythm. It’s a bop, but it’s also a brutal attack on the nation’s few pedophile billionaires who run everything. Even if you have huge personal successes, you’re still under their control. Fun stuff!

#5. Phoebe Bridgers – “Garden Song” – The minimalist folk song that basically opens up her brilliant album is my personal favorite from it. The dreamy lyrics about a peaceful future with a loved one mix well with her soft vocals and a barely audible guitar line. This is Phoebe’s comfort zone for a reason.

#4. Grimes – “My Name is Dark – Art Mix” – The tragic downfall of Grimes from cool, feminist indie darling to crypto-fascist mother of a Musk spawn is distressing to say the least. I borderline hate that I still love her music, but I do, especially this song. The lyrics are Hot Topic diary nonsense but the swooping music and her full-volume vocals make this a hell of a ride. Great song for headphones!

#3. Bully – “Turn to Hate” – This is a good song no matter who does it. The original was an alt-country track by Orville Peck (only released last year), but Bognanno’s version proves it was destined to be a grunge song. She approaches this like she doesn’t know someone’s recording and she’s just releasing fury from her system. She has one of the best voices in rock today, and in my opinion, this is the superior version.

#2. Jeff Rosenstock – “Scram!” – The nicest boy in music doesn’t usually get this angry, but I’m glad he did. This is a mean, messy song reminiscent of BTMI!, this writer’s favorite band. It’s the best punk song of the year, a rollicking great time that demands you sing along. I only wish we got another chorus – the song’s too short!

#1. The Beths – “I’m Not Getting Excited” – What I loved about the Beths first album was how they created such great indie songs that wavered on punk from familiar, standard rhythms. It made this – the first song on their second album – all the more surprising, that it’s more downtune and grittier. It’s a necessary, but unexpected progression. The chorus is still catchy and annoyingly earworm-y, but it’s a great total package. This band is for everyone!


I ended the year having listened to 280 albums/live albums/EP’s – a personal best. I was going to write about 50 great ones but then that became 75 and became 100. So here’s 100 albums I loved! Similar to the songs list you just hurriedly scrolled past, I’m going to simply list 75 I loved and want to shout out, with deeper recs for my favorites.

Also – I covered some great local (Boston) artists over at Allston Pudding. Originally, I had ~5 albums from our year-end list on mine, but it felt a little like playing favorites, so I’m going to just say to check out everything we recommended, it’s all brilliant. You can also check out my less garbage-y breakdown of the best stuff over at The Filtered Lens. Okay, since I assume you have the spare time to listen to 100 albums, here’s my 2020 picks:

100 Albums I Loved (100-26):

070 Shake – Modus Vivendi
21 Savage & Metro Boomin – Savage Mode II
ACxDC – Satan is King (please note that this is the grindcore band, not the classic rock band that’s been releasing the same album since 1980)
Adrianne Lenker – instrumentals
Angel Olsen – Whole New Mess
Arca – KiCk i
Bad Bunny – Las que no iban a salir
Bad Bunny – El Último Tour del Mundo
beabadoobee – Fake It Flowers
Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways
Bob Mould – Blue Hearts
Bruce Springsteen – Letter to You (this is the old dudes section of the list)
Busta Rhymes – Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God
Caribou – Suddenly
Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated Side B
The Chats – High Risk Behaviour
Death Valley Girls – Under the Spell of Joy
Deftones – Ohms
Diet Cig – Do You Wonder About Me?
Disclosure – ENERGY
Dogleg – Melee
Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou – May Our Chambers Be Full (this might be #26 on my list)
Esh & the Isolations – Idiot Fingerz (while he didn’t make the Pudding year-end list, this was my favorite local release of the year. Had the pleasure of interviewing him as my first piece)
Frances Quinlan – Likewise
Fuzz – III
Gorillaz – Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez
Hayley Williams – Petals For Armor
HEALTH – DISCO4 :: PART 1
Hinds – The Prettiest Curse
Honey Cutt – Coasting
Hum – Inlet
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – Reunion
Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?
Kitty – Charm and Mirror
Kurt Vile – Speed, Sound, Lonely KV
Lady Gaga – Chromatica
Lil Uzi Vert – Eternal Atake
Liturgy – Origin of the Alimonies
Machine Gun Kelly – Tickets To My Downfall (hate that I enjoyed this)
Mark Lanegan – Straight Songs of Sorrow (i’m halfway into his recent memoir, it’s brilliant and punishing)
Megan Thee Stallion – Good News
Melkbelly – PITH
Moses Sumney – Græ
Mr. Bungle – The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny (Demo) (these songs were written before I was born, but since they were recently re-recorded, I decided it was fine to include. Sorry to Neil Young’s “Homegrown”)
Ms. Piss – Self-Surgery
Napalm Death – Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism
Necrot – Mortal (this is the metal section of the list)
Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts V: Together
Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts VI: Locusts
Oceanator – Things I Never Said
Oneohtrix Point Never – Magic Oneohtrix Point Never
Orbit Culture – Nija
Osees – Metamorphosed
Osees – Protean Threat (Jon Dwyer also released an Osees live album, an Osees remix album and a Damaged Bug album. He’s restless.)
Pearl Jam – Gigaton
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Viscerals
Porridge Radio – Every Bad
Power Trip – Live in Seattle: 05.28.2018 (I wouldn’t normally include a live album in my lists but the world lost one of the coolest musicians alive a few months ago. I had the pleasure of seeing PT once and they brought the Paradise Music Hall down. Rest in Power, Riley Gale)
Princess Nokia – Everything is Beautiful
Princess Nokia – Everything Sucks
Rico Nasty – Nightmare Vacation
Shamir – Cataclysm
Shamir – Shamir
Soccer Mommy – color theory
Spanish Love Songs – Brave Faces Everywhere
The Strokes – The New Abnormal
Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
Teenage Halloween – Teenage Halloween
Thundercat – It Is What It Is
Thurston Moore – By the Fire
TORRES – Silver Tongue
U. S. Girls – Heavy Light
Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud
The Weeknd – After Hours
Wolf Parade – Thin Mind
Worriers – You Or Someone You Know
X – Alphabetland (first album in 27 years !!)
Yaeji – What We Drew 우리가 그려왔던
Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind (this may have made the top 25 but I ran out of time for a re-listen)

100 Favorite Albums (25-1)

#25. The Avalanches – We Will Always Love You – After the middling end result of 2016’s Wildflower, the Avalanches have largely ditched their original concept of sample-based indie songs in favor of original music. There are still samples, but – much like the recent Gorillaz album that just missed the top 25 itself – this album is focused mostly on collaborations that play to the strengths of the guests. What results is a beautiful, flowing dance album that has everyone from Vashti Bunyan to Rivers Cuomo. Despite the band’s continued fracturing, it’s a joyous record.

#24. Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA – So “Army of Me” happened to have just come up on shuffle, but it made me realize that this album is similar to Björk’s Post, in that it’s an experimental pop album where every song sounds totally unique from the next yet the end result is a completely cohesive piece. It’s a smart and patient album, with a diverse mix of styles and influences that feels well beyond its years. Absolutely breathtaking feat for a debut.

#23. The Microphones – The Microphones in 2020 – So I debated which list to put this on, given the album is one solitary, 44-minute long song. But it is, conceptually, an album. After ~10 minutes of Phil Elverum playing two chords, it follows him as he details his musical journey, from the start through The Microphones through Mount Eerie. Elverum – the only person here – has had an abysmal couple years, as detailed in the two recent, brutally emotional Mount Eerie albums. Here, he sounds more detached, seeking some sort of catharsis by recounting everything – a tell-all from a normally reclusive guy. It’s not for everyone, but it’s engaging if you give it a chance.

#22. Adrianne Lenker – songs – Speaking of emotionally devastating songwriters, Lenker holed herself up in quarantine, detached from her Big Thief bandmates, and produced this album of heartbreaking, acoustic songs. There’s nowhere to hide from Lenker’s onslaught of pained vocals and traumatizing lyrics. These songs are recorded as if they’re necessary for Lenker’s continued survival. My favorite Lenker song is Big Thief’s “Shoulders,” about witnessing your father kill your mother, but this album’s “anything,” about attempting suicide on Christmas Eve, is a close second. Fun stuff!

#21. Bad Bunny – YHLQMDLG – I’m a dumbass white boy who doesn’t keep a tab on Latin music or speak a word of Spanish, but I know bangers when I hear them. This album – the best of three Bad Bunny albums this year – is chock full of them. It’s a 65 minute long party, and a journey through a whole array of stylistic influences. Only a few songs here stretch over four minutes, keeping the listener on their toes through constant tonal shifts. Bangers are universal!

#20. Poppy – I Disagree – It feels disrespectful to put this over Bad Bunny but, I did say this was my personal garbage list. Poppy’s sudden dive into metal produced an album far better than I expected. Poppy’s piercing vocals add an interesting element to the music, and adds just enough uniqueness to upset the metal purists – usually a sign of something good. It borders on corny, but it’s extremely fun all the same.

#19. Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now – The first big quarantine project that dropped remains one of the best. The cover, Charli lounging in bed; the lyrics, about how boring life has become and how much she misses her friends as she site around and watches TV. There’s love songs, glitch-pop, ballads, and EDM anthems, all songs that sound like they’re designed to be played live; a product not meant to be cruel but nostalgic. It’s fun in the music and the shared misery for the world pre-COVID. Charli doesn’t miss.

#18. Duma – Duma – This album, a debut, is what you get when you throw all standards and tropes out the window. It’s a healthy mix of industrial, grindcore, black metal, trap and world. If that sounds confusing, well it is. The Kenyan band throw regional influences into an already morphing black metal scene. It’s a challenging, beyond abrasive listen only meant for hardened listeners. Some songs show a softer side, while some lack any sort of rhythm altogether. It’s simultaneously unlistenable and brilliant. Also, I ruined an otherwise digestible Allston Pudding playlist by sneaking a song from this album in.

#17. Perfume Genius – Set Your Heart on Fire Immediately – Mike Hadreas has developed a knack for creating emotionally affecting songs out of very little. This album gives into those desires, as the best songs feature some of the simplest rhythms and vaguest lyrics. But it’s all beautiful – Hadreas resorts to his comfort zone of pained vocals and songs about off-kilter relationships good and bad, be he ditches his normal dream-pop in favor of guitar and shoegaze influences. Any new album from him has become appointment listens, and this one is no different.

#16. clipping. – Visions of Bodies Being Burned – If the title didn’t give you the general feeling of this affair, then the booming bass vocal sample that opens “Say My Name” will. A follow-up to 2019’s equally brilliant There Existed an Addiction to Blood, this album is a near-hour attack of bludgeoning bass and urgent lyrics, far more direct and relevant than some of the band’s earlier sci-fi conceptual stuff. Daveed Diggs focuses less on breaking the vocal landspeed record to deliver straight-forward lyrics, mired equally in art and politics. clipping. should really be bigger than they are.

#15. Grimes – Miss Anthropocene – I’ve said earlier and in other posts about my soured feelings towards Claire Boucher, but damn, I still love this album. It’s closer to her earlier works than her more conventional Art Angels, though that also remains her peak. It’s experimental pop that falls somewhere between genres; “Violence” is indie-radio ready while “So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth” is dreamy art-pop. Musically, it’s her most eclectic mix, taking everything she’s done before and producing something new from it. Lyrically it’s a mess of faux-scene kid cyberpunk garbage but, we can’t expect much more from the partner of a crypto-fascist billonaire who makes le epic jokes on Twitter.

#14. illuminati hotties – FREE I.H: This Is Not The One You’ve Been Waiting For – It lives up to the title! This album, a collection of discarded and/or incongruous ideas that Sarah Tudzin passed out while working on a proper album, is not like what she’d done before. She seemed taken aback by the positive response to this collection that was only given out as a holdover, but it shows how masterful of a songwriter she’s become in only a few years. A mix of her classic tenderpunk (it’s a thing, folks) and some harder-edge stuff, it’s a fun and whiplash-inducing quick little mix. She accidentally set the bar very high for her next proper release!

#13. Wasted Shirt – Fungus II – This one was huge for me on a personal level as it brought to creation one of my dream collaborations – Ty Segall and Brian Chippendale. The former, a beyond prolific garage rocker and the latter, the veteran drummer of noise band Lightning Bolt. I expected chaos, and I got it. In a rare move, Segall mostly takes a backseat and lets Chippendale control most songs, which means this sounds closer to a Lightning Bolt album than anything. The more riotous and uncoordinated the album gets, the better it gets; just a mess of avant-garde guitar and drums and indecipherable vocals. There’s a very limited audience, but I’m the target demo.

#12. METZ – Atlas Vending – I mentioned it earlier, but METZ is the loudest band I’ve ever seen, and their frenetic, ear-busting sound is often committed well to tape. But this – their fourth – feels like the first great album since their 2012 debut. Individual tracks matter less than the collective, punishing whole. But closer “A Boat to Drown In,” mentioned in the song portion, might be the loudest song they’ve done yet. METZ is the reason I need live music to return.

#11. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia – That’s a transition. This is the fun pop album we need to dance to alone in our rooms. It’s telling that it came out in Before Times. The album tries to predict the future of pop music, and although it couldn’t predict what would come just weeks later, it gives us a hope for a confident, disco future. Love odes to partners and yourself are all across this, what might be the most fun album of the year. Dua Lipa sticks the landing on the always important sophomore album.

#10. Backxwash – God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It – Like some other releases on this list, this album excels in short blasts of songs and a brief runtime. Unlike other albums on this list, it’s horrorcore – rap inspired by horror imagery. In this case, it’s sample-heavy and inspired heavily by Black Sabbath and Satanic imagery. But the lyrics are very real, coming from the heart of Backxwash, a black trans woman from Zambia residing in Canada. It’s a brilliant and painfully honest melding of ideas that’s unlike anything else I listened to this year. If you’re not convinced, keep in mind this won the Solaris Prize, awarded to the best Canadian album of the year and held by luminaries like Kaytranada and Arcade Fire.

#9. Uniform – Shame – I’ve been frustrated with the last couple Uniform albums as I felt like they didn’t lean totally into their gimmick. Shame, however, floored me. Strip everything away and Uniform is a rock band, but they layer everything under mountains of distortion and violent lyrics for an end result that sounds like something you’re not supposed to hear. The opening one-two punch of “Delco” and “The Shadow of God’s Hand” is the best opener of the year, and it never lets up. Just a harsh, noisy anxiety thrill ride. SO MUCH BLOOOOOOD!

#8. SAULT – Untitled (Black Is) & Untitled (Rise) – Two separate albums, but they were released only two months apart and serve the same purpose, so I’m treating them as one. SAULT is a mysterious UK R&B collective that melds crisp production, ear-popping funk and topical lyrics on race. The thirty-five songs across these two albums are basically all groovy earworms that are impossible to stay still to. Some, like “I Just Want to Dance,” have lyrics that echo that. Some, though, like “Strong,” are calls for unity and strength in the face of systematic racism. The beauty of these two albums is how subtly the group delivers urgent messages into your brain, as if subliminally. Rarely is political music designed to be so universally appealing, but these albums are.

#7. The Beths – Jump Rope Gazers – If you couldn’t tell by me calling a Beths song my favorite this year, I love this band. Their sophomore album follows their debut in an appealing combination of punk energy, indie sound, and pop songwriting. They are defiantly indie, and there’s nothing revolutionary happening across Gazers, but their songs are insanely catchy with a high replay value. It’s a confident performance, especially from singer Elizabeth Stokes, whose vocals wonderfully fit whatever emotion any given song calls for. This album is more of a romp than anything else I heard all year. It’s 2020 still. We take these.

#6. Bully – SUGAREGG – For Bully’s third album, Alicia Bognanno stripped away her bandmates to record by herself, although it still resembles a full band effort. This was less the product of quarantine and more one of personal demons. Her songwriting has never been subtle, but she really lets us into her mental health struggles on this one. Bully is fundamentally a grunge band, and SUGAREGG would not sound out of place next to Celebrity Skin. These are straightforward rock songs under layers of distortion and wailing, emotional vocals. Her catharsis hits like a cold shower, and the fact that these songs are so catchy feels like a happy accident (it’s not). Bognanno is one of my favorite current singers, and this is her best work yet.

#5. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters – Given the infrequency, a new Fiona album is a landmark event. And this one feels like the definitive quarantine album – recorded mostly alone in her place, featuring found percussion and outside noises kept in the background. Ironic that it was all recorded prior to COVID. Side A starts with an incredible run of six of the year’s best songs, mostly experimental indie-pop songs that use a certain looseness to play with structure. Side B adheres more towards standard Apple stuff, but it’s all extraordinary. Throughout, she waxes nostalgic about her worst periods and the people who taught her confidence, as well as odes to those she loves. Her poetic borderline-spoken word vocals are better than ever, too. Is this her best album? That’s a *high* grading curve.

#4. IDLES – Ultra Mono – Everyone that has heard UK punk group IDLES seems to have a hard opinion on them. The love & hate mostly all comes down to the corny lyrics. I’ll admit that they lay too heavily into the cringe here – the opening line is Joe Talbot making a sword noise, and a few songs later he has a deeply weird line about Kathleen Hanna & Trump on an otherwise great song. But the extremely direct leftist politics feel refreshing in a way other bands haven’t been able to accomplish lately. Not to mention, IDLES have always managed to capture a live energy in their albums, making songs that are super rhythmic while also being completely chaotic. They had big shoes to fill – I think their previous album Joy As An Act of Resistance is earnestly my favorite album – but they delivered. Some people think IDLES are just being performative but – isn’t that all punk?

#3. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher – Wow yes this young white man in a flannel shirt loves Phoebe Bridgers, how cool and unique! But talk about a star-making album. Not that Bridgers was obscure before, but this elevated her to a household name, and for good reason. It’s the best indie album of the year, one filled with minimalist folk rhythms and deeply personal lyrics that combine youthful experiences with elderly nostalgia. It as the makings of a quarter-life crisis. The beauty in the lyrics is that no matter how personally specific Bridgers gets, there’s always a fundamental emotional issue that we can place in our own lives. There’s a reason I called this AOTY in other posts.

#2. Run the Jewels – RTJ4 – Run the Jewels do exactly one thing and they do it remarkably well – albums full of shortish, urgent rap songs with minimalist production that flow together like one long song. The title RTJ4 feels like an afterthought but it isn’t – it’s an abbreviation of their usual title. It tracks that the songs on this album are even more minimalist and even more topical and relevant than ever before. I still think their classic second album is the best, but this is the first RTJ album where I feel like I love every song. And the fact – mostly coincidence! – that it dropped right at the height of tensions after George Floyd’s murder made it feel like the most important album of the year. Both El-P and Killer Mike are in top form, and the guest spots are well-chosen; check the insane combination of Mavis Staples and Josh Homme! RTJ4 isn’t going to win over anyone who remains unconvinced, but it plays to all of their strengths in their tightest collection yet.

#1. Jeff Rosenstock – NO DREAM – It was game over for the AOTY contest when this dropped. Jeff, the singer of my longstanding favorite band and one of the nicest people alive, released one of his best-ever albums. It’s grittier and meaner than he’s been in many years, emulating his work in the mid-2000’s rather than his recent solo stuff. Like any Rosenstock album, though, it’s a loud, unhinged mess of energy with some softer ballads and pointed, critical lyrics that note how things could be better while still appreciating what we’ve got. His typical sad nostalgia is all on display, but there’s some tongue-in-cheek humor too, not something he’s done much of lately. NO DREAM touches on about every emotion you can think of, and does so in such an unpredictable and loud way that it feels like the perfect encapsulation of this godless year. Angry, funny, sad, screaming, whispering, alone, a group, nostalgic, optimistic, and all in 40 minutes. The Jeff Rosenstock experience. The 2020 experience.

(not the Timberlake thing).


If you read all this way – why? What’s in this for you? But really, thanks! I plan on using this blog again more regularly next year, I’ve abandoned it for too long. And remember, we’ve all had tough years and much as today/tomorrow feels like catharsis, we can’t let our guards down now. We’re not out of this yet, we need to stay safe. But remember we’re all in this together and there’s no shame in reaching out to loved ones if it becomes to much to bear. It was a weird year, let’s hope that doesn’t keep up. See you for another 10k word post next NYE!

Jeff Rosenstock – “We Cool?”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “You, In Weird Cities,” “I’m Serious, I’m Sorry”

Last year at some point, The Huffington Post published an article detailing bands that write a lot about drugs. And while most readers were left marveling at the fact that Tom Waits has survived it all and is still recording, I noticed that Jeff Rosenstock’s previous band pops up in the lists. It’s worth noting, as I’ve done so many times in the past, that Bomb the Music Industry! is my favorite band. By a whole lot. St. Vincent is a relatively distant second. So I was ecstatic to see BTMI! getting this coverage, even if 1) They were already broken up (to which I wrote this weepy post), 2) Most of the songs are unabashedly sad and, 3) It was in the Huffington Post. Now that he’s on his own, Rosenstock has the freedom to broaden his range. And although he does, “We Cool?” is still dominated by sad-drunk indie-punk songs.

Rosenstock sings “Malt liquor doesn’t make you young” in “Get Old Forever,” and “I’m always getting high when no one’s around” in “You, in Weird Cities.” Those are just the first two songs. “Nausea” and “Beers Alone Again” speak for themselves. He didn’t influence this wave of sad punk and emo bands, he practically invented it. The themes on “We Cool?” might echo those of (every BTMI! album), but we’re always going to be sad and infuriated, so it’s not at all a rehash.

Turn on nearly any track on “We Cool?” and it might sound like a BTMI! song left on the cutting room floor. But it’s a different record – it flows, musically, but not in the way that “Scrambles” or “Vacation” do. “We Cool?” balances different influences against each other. Weezer hot track “Novelty Sweater” bleeds into keyboard-heavy pseudo ballad “Nausea,” which then transitions into the harmonica-featuring “Beers Alone Again.” Rosenstock isn’t as constricted to a central theme, emotion, or season, like he was in previous bands. Instead, Rosenstock is investigating what it means to be a solo singer-songwriter. Perhaps it’s the maturity that comes along with the title, or perhaps it’s the first true solo work of someone who’s already a songwriting veteran at 32, but Rosenstock falls into singer-songwriter mode often on “We Cool?” He references ‘a god you never believed in’ on “I’m Serious, I’m Sorry,” which is itself a very singer-songwriter type song. And he focuses more on his voice – something BTMI! never focused on, to the point where they wrote a song about it (“Vocal Coach,” actually maybe my least favorite BTMI! song, but for other reasons). But for a punk singer-songwriter, Rosenstock’s vocals actually come through well, especially on “Nausea” and “I’m Serious, I’m Sorry.”

There’s debate over whether this is his first or second solo album – I say second. Either is correct. “I Look Like Shit,” released in 2012, was a collection of covers, B-sides and unreleased songs that had little flow to it. “We Cool?” is Rosenstock’s first cohesive solo album, and unlike “I Look Like Shit,” it’s highly re-listenable. It gets better after a few listens, even. What ultimately makes the album strong is that it isn’t associated with any of Rosenstock’s previous bands. He’s solo; it’s what he wants to do, even more on his terms than before. Sure, BTMI!’s John DeDomenici plays on the album, but it’s a Rosenstock show now. And although he strays beyond any conventions of structure, he sticks with the reluctantly-maturing, drunk-punk adult songs. Ten years ago last month, Jeff clicked upload on an album eventually titled “Album Minus Band,” under the Bomb the Music Industry! guise, expecting no response, not even from ASOB fans. Now, he released “We Cool?” a week early for no reason, to a wide, patient fanbase.

-By Andrew McNally