THE TOP 50 SONGS OF 2020
Updated: Mar 5, 2021
Fuck off, 2020. The adults are talking.
2020. A year filled to the brim with hellscapes, injustices and general shit, a world where anything seemed like it could go wrong. Hell, this website was meant to launch last March with a top 50 of 2019, yet it was delayed by the monolithic shitshow that we all got unwanted tickets to. However, with so much isolation and time on our hands, film, television and music became more essential than ever, and it was a stunning year for the latter. Not including that god awful 'Imagine' cover by Gal Gadot and friends sung in fifteen different keys, every week came through with banger after banger, and trust me, it was tough to whittle down, but if I went with my original list, this would be up in August.
Listen to the top 50 on Spotify here!
50. Motion City Soundtrack "Crooked Ways"
Crooked Ways - Single
2000s pop punk (kind of) made a mainstream comeback in 2020, with Machine Gun Kelly proving its mainstay popularity, however average Tickets to My Downfall was in practice.
The mid-2000s was an era when emo-charged pop punk bands like Motion City Soundtrack hit their stride, picking up a sizeable fanbase, then slowly winding down in the 2010s. And they did just that, calling it a day in 2016 to focus less on music and more on family life. Though "Crooked Ways" isn't an all-stations-go comeback single, it's more of a placeholder in the event of their late 2019 reunion, using an assumed bevy of unreleased tracks to keep appetites for a new album satisfied. If this sounds like a deep cut from one of their late 2000s LPs, that's because it technically is, originally written and recorded for one of the Twilight films. It's classic Motion City Soundtrack, one of their softer efforts that feels like an old friend visiting for some coffee and a catch-up. With Justin Pierre's tried and tested formula of merging endearing lyrics with heart-wrenching instrumentation, "Crooked Ways" is both a familiar and fresh cut from the Minnesota outfit that sorely needs a follow-up LP.
FFO: Dashboard Confessional, The Ataris, Jimmy Eat World
49. Bombay Bicycle Club "Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You)"
Everything Else Has Gone Wrong
A similar story to Motion City Soundtrack, London's Bombay Bicycle Club are an intriguing band. After a decade of both homeland and worldwide success, then a 3 year hiatus from 2016, the quartet returned with their 4th LP in 2020, Everything Else Has Gone Wrong. Whether it's an existential title or just an eerie premonition of the year, it's a solid release that showcases some of the band's best work. Lead single "Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You)" is a perfect reintroduction to a group that never seemed to lose their quality over the years, a crisp and light indie tune tinged with electronica and marinated in chilled out vibes. Frontman Jack Steadman hasn't lost his touch, with a great earworm of a chorus that clings effortlessly to the auditory cortex inside your bonce.
FFO: Maxïmo Park, Two Door Cinema Club, The Cribs
48. Chris Farren "FALL IN LOVE 2NIGHT"
FALL IN LOVE2NIGHT - Single
Polyvinyl Record Company
Another perfect song from power-pop legend Chris Farren, "FALL IN LOVE2NIGHT" is charming, catchy and downright colourful to its core. Farren's craft of perfectly sweet love songs flexes its muscles on full display here, with strokes of bedroom pop and glittery leads, embellishing an already gorgeous track. This single actually came to fruition after he and Antarctigo Vespucci bandmate Jeff Rosenstock challenged each other to write a bunch of songs in a month, something a lot of artists found themselves doing during lockdowns.
Out of all of the perfect songs Chris Farren has released this year, this is one of them. Perfect.
FFO: Antarctigo Vespucci, Future Teens, Laura Stevenson
47. Thundercat "Dragonball Durag"
It Is What It Is
Thundercat continues his unstoppable nerdy domination of the music world on "Dragonball Durag", a cut dripping in both sex appeal and seductive groove. The Californian bass maestro (real name Stephen Lee Bruner) shoves his tongue straight through his cheek on this three-minute straightforward self-confidence anthem, crooning in falsetto about cat hair and video games whilst laying out the funkiest of lines he can muster, rivalling even George Clinton's timeless work. It's a realistic viewpoint of romance for modern lovers; with every shortcoming, Bruner manages to pull it into a very happy ending, and it's satisfying as fuck.
It's jazzy, it's funky, and it's definitely deserving of that progressive R&B Grammy in March.
FFO: Parliament, Kamasi Washington, Flying Lotus
46. Black Foxxes "Drug Holiday"
Black Foxxes continue to be an impressive force in the UK alt rock scene, and on their self titled third album, there's no filter, just unabashed rawness. However, on "Drug Holiday", the tempo slows and the volume softens for a stunning performance from the Exeter trio. Emulating the kind of post-hardcore vibes found on Slint's Spiderland, along with a superbly emotional vocal performance from lead singer Mark Holley, it's an almost psychedelic break from the rhinoceros power of the other LP's tracklist.
FFO: Lonely The Brave, Nothing But Thieves, Slint
45. Pictures of Vernon "Leaving"
Counter Intuitive Records
On such a stacked label like Counter Intuitive Records, Pictures of Vernon stood out among their peers in 2020 with bug. And although their debut LP dropped as an April Fool's surprise, it's to be taken seriously, as the North Carolina trio head towards a more floaty indie sound opposed to their previously abrasive punk edge, especially on opener "Leaving". Somewhat clashing the styles of Britpop rivals Oasis and Blur with a tight flair and fun instrumentation, it's a straight banger, and proves that the fellas continue to be a force to be reckoned with.
FFO: Blur, Retirement Party, Pulp
44. beabadoobee "Worth It"
Fake It Flowers
“(The song) is simply about teenage infidelity and the mistakes one can make when they’re tempted to do things”, says London's beabadoobee about hit single "Worth It".
She's not wrong. It's an unapologetically honest track, along the same lines as a cut from Weezer's Pinkerton, but updated for Generation Z with a glossy barrage of jangly yet crunchy guitars and punch-you-in-the-face drums. It's tinged with both original and modern slacker rock vibes, taking pages straight out of Pavement's book. Bea's vocals are stunning too, reminiscent of similar acts, without too much scratchiness or overdramatisation (see: Pale Waves). At 20 years old, Bea is proving herself as one of the next indie superstars, with an illustrious decade-spanning career just waiting for her at the door.
FFO: Lauran Hibberd, The 1975, Clairo
43. As Friends Rust "Up from the Muck"
Up from the Muck - Single
Unity Worldwide Records
You like hardcore punk? From the first beat, "Up from the Muck" storms in like a stampede of bulls mounted by clones of Macho Man Randy Savage splashing hot sauce all over the gaff. In layman's terms, it goes. It's the comeback single of Florida's short-lived melodic hardcore punk rockers As Friends Rust, dropping 18 years after their way-too-soon split in 2002. It's a song with lyrics written months before the pandemic that feel eerily more relevant during such unfortunate times, when people need some optimism and the universal sense of not feeling alone; it's a theme a few tunes of this list share. The years haven't been too harsh on the fellas sonically; "Up from the Muck" is probably the strongest and finest track they've put out to date, a melodic and biting cut that proves the old boys have still got their chops.
FFO: Kid Dynamite, The Bronx, Culture Abuse
42. Sunship Balloon "A4 Life"
What happens when the frontman of The Wombats has got a solo endeavour of his own? Well, for Dan Haggis and Tord Øverland Knudsen, they formed celestial alt-pop experimental project Sunship Balloon, and are fast becoming one of my favourite new artists. With "A4 Life", the standout track from debut album Everywhen, Knudsen and Haggis craft a floaty yet tight ambience, with flavours of both modern synth-pop (think Robyn meets Charli XCX) and the classic new wave notes of Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode. It's got a lot of depth to it, and apparently we've got more Sunship Balloon goodness coming soon, so get ready.
FFO: The Wombats, Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode
41. Don't Worry "Deep End"
Deep End - Single
Specialist Subject Records
Essex's sad lads Don't Worry have already had an illustrious career on the UK indie circuit, supporting the likes of Mom Jeans., getting signed to Specialist Subject Records, and continually releasing fine slices of British indie rock. "Deep End", however, is the seed of Don't Worry, composed by Ronan Kehoe and Sam Watson before they were even a full band. Originally lined up for a Rough Trade compilation, then included as a rare track on a Specialist Subject one, "Deep End" is a remarkable deep cut. Sombre yet unmistakably anthemic, the song's themes of unfamiliar change hold strong 7 years on, and Kehoe and Watson's creative storytelling throughout the band's future cuts is showcased with their incredibly intricate lyricism.
FFO: Soot Sprite, Modern Baseball, Nervus
40. Big Black Delta "Lost In Time"
Bill & Ted Face The Music OST
Throbbing with 80s pulses, fried in some guitar heroism and garnished with a lick of alt-pop, Big Black Delta's offering to the recent Bill & Ted Face The Music OST is the perfect opener for the film, soundtracking a recap of what the two dudes have been up to in the past 30 years. The song reflects this, with a sound that spans decades, from the aforementioned pumping electronic drums straight out of the MGMT playbook, to some stylish guitar work akin to the less proggy Muse efforts. Boss work.
FFO: Muse, MGMT, Phantogram
39. glass beach "running"
running - Single
Run For Cover
Speaking of the Bill & Ted Face The Music OST, here's a track that would've been perfect, yet was left off for some strange reason. glass beach are this generation's version of a classic MySpace band, a rather genreless yet threateningly charming outfit based in Los Angeles, armed to the teeth with enough hooks and style to level a medium-sized arena. "running", originally posted on Bandcamp for $100, is both an ode to the hair metal Bill & Ted worship and the glitchy bubblegum pop that the band has rampantly been devoted to since their inception, building to a gargantuan sing-along refrain that sticks to the heart like the cholesterol from a monster cheese and bacon burger . It's a crime that this was ditched in favour of other songs for the B&TFTM soundtrack, but worth a life sentence for not making it the song that saves the world in the film itself. It's a modern epic; maybe worth $50, not 100.
FFO: Origami Angel, Prince Daddy & The Hyena, Wyld Stallyns
38. VALA "Only One"
Only One - Single
Rain Club Records
It's a joyous occasion when Manchester's VALA drops new material. Guaranteed to be covered in a warm nostalgic sound, the quartet craft ditties that find themselves in a perfect balance between 60s Merseybeat and modern dream pop. "Only One" is a breezy tune, sweet and addictive, as singer Joe Knowles croons like a blend of Julian Casablancas and Alex Turner, and the guitars twinkle as much as the glint in Knowles' eyes. It's deadly charming, a lot of fun to listen to, and it's essential summer playlist fodder.
FFO: The Last Shadow Puppets, The Magic Gang, The Vaccines
37. The Wrecks "Fvck Somebody"
Big Noise Music Group
I think I've covered enough love songs so far, so how about one of the most fun yet devastating anti-love songs dropped in recent memory: "Fvck Somebody". It's a hilarious tune that has its cynical tongue lodged in an acidic cheek, and singer Nick Anderson sells it every single second of the runtime. The Wrecks have made a name for themselves from coast to coast in the US, from home state Los Angeles to the hustle and bustle of New York City with their blend of power pop and emo, and "Fvck Somebody" is yet another surefire killer track in their wide arsenal of world-dominating tuneage. The rawness, sarcasm and frank honesty of the lyrics mixed with the signature DIY power pop ethos of the band makes "Fvck Somebody" an absolute screamer of a song. Anti-romantics: here's your new anthem.
FFO: All Time Low, Vampire Weekend, Waterparks
36. Dinosaur Pile-Up "It's Tricky"
It's Tricky - Single
After major label success with their 4th LP Celebrity Mansions, North American tours with The Offspring, Sum 41 and Shinedown, 2020 was truly Dinosaur Pile-Up's for the taking. We might have to wait for their world domination just a little bit longer, but to tide everyone over lockdown, the Leeds trio dropped something we didn't know we needed: a cover of RUN DMC's mega-hit "It's Tricky" Amongst the slosh of downer acoustic lockdown renditions of tunes, this effort is a gargantuan monster, fit to spar with Godzilla and King Kong on their best days. Matt Bigland and co. spit every line hard, the breakdown is inspired as fuck, and the reworking of the composition to compliment DPU's style is pitch-perfect.
FFO: Beastie Boys, Pulled Apart By Horses, FANGCLUB
35. Pippin "No Preservatives"
Noisy but delicious. That's all I have to say about Stoke noise-punk trio Pippin and their brutally short but spicy self-titled EP, which clocks in at only 4 minutes and 6 seconds. So then, what makes "No Preservatives" such a compelling choice for the top 50 then? It's the breakneck speed. It's the chronic pain you'll experience after slamming your head back and forth. It's the screeching yet somewhat hypnotising screaming vocals (I'm still yet to understand what the song is about a year on). Most importantly, it's a fucking impressive DIY debut from a new band that have come literally screaming out of the gate. Eyes on 'em.
FFO: BORIS, Spazz, Minor Threat
34. The Menzingers "Hello Exile"
Dickheads with an acoustic guitar. We saw at least one of them during our respective lockdowns, waiting for the chance to bust out "Wonderwall" at a house party once again. But give someone like The Menzingers an acoustic environment, and they soar. The Philadelphia punks have made a name for themselves with punchy punk pieces, but here, they've taken a stab at stripping back their incredible 2019 effort Hello Exile. Postponement of live shows brought them frustration, but also the drive to bring a more detailed rendition of the record, and the title track "Hello Exile" benefits greatly from this treatment, swapping out the country twang of the leads and the thumping drums for an atmosphere that arguably helps the song excel above its predecessor. Singer/guitarist Greg Barnett's are beautiful here, slightly haunting, yet still tinged with that optimism fans have come to love, and the arrangement is fucking gorgeous, showing a more succinct side to the loveable punks.
FFO: Foo Fighters, The Gaslight Anthem, The Wonder Years
33. Poppy "I Disagree"
Remember Poppy, from those weird and shiny YouTube videos? Well, she's pop metal now. And she always wanted to be, but not until now has she had the gumption to push forward. She's dabbled in this kind of thing before, but on I Disagree, she's fucking off people in positions in power, which is reflected quite straightforwardly in the title track. With a hefty mix of nu-metal and heavy metal with some of the electronic influences that has propelled the likes of Bring Me The Horizon recently, the track feels like a pounding beast, chugging along in the verses and choruses, then letting loose on the middle-8. As for Poppy's lyrics and performance, she's perfect in this kind of setting, her melodic skills firing on all cylinders, and it's quite obvious her then-deteriorating creative relationship with collaborator Titanic Sinclair had a hand in the rebellious lyricism, giving the song that extra bite it needs to be a powerful statement against the grisly giants of the music industry. Sludgy and fun, let's hope the genre-hopping LA artist sticks to her guns on this style.
FFO: BABYMETAL, Grimes, Allie X
32. Bamily "Dream Crusher"
Oh Damn EP
If indie-pop's kings are the likes of Two Door Cinema Club and Vampire Weekend, then London's Bamily are surely next in line for the esteemed throne. A follow-up to debut EP Family With A B, Oh Damn is a more fleshed-out effort, packed with the smoothest of laid-back boppers. Closer "Dream Crusher" is the epitome of Bamily's hard work on the EP, opening with a brain-invading hypnotic looped acoustic line, before punching into a calm storm of lush melodies and dreamy soundscapes. This is a massively effective soundtrack for the narrative of pining after someone so much that they're the focal point of your dreams, and the subsequent fear of waking up alone. It's this kind of gentle unassuming tune that's going to skyrocket the lovely quartet into the upper echelon of indie stardom, filling dancefloors when the party gets a bit too hectic.
FFO: Gengahr, Mac DeMarco, King Krule
31. The Homeless Gospel Choir "Art Punk"
This Land Is Your Landfill
Don't be fooled by the name, Pittsburgh's The Homeless Gospel Choir isn't the latest charity chart fodder, but a one-man punk project led by Derek Zanetti. This Land Is Your Landfill is the first full-band effort, and Zanetti greatly benefits from the fuller sound. "Art Punk" is the foundation of this new direction, opening with a gorgeous scratchy string quartet intro, before going full power pop, simultaneously twinkling and roaring. A fuzzy melancholic yet fun outing, it's a delicious nugget of pessimistic goodness.
FFO: Jeff Rosenstock, Frank Turner, AJJ
30. The Smashing Pumpkins "Cyr"
I've got two words to describe The Smashing Pumpkins' best song this year: nosferatu disco. "Cyr" is a staggeringly tremendous pounding goth disco tune, soaked in early 80s new wave instrumentation, swapping the usual Rat distortion pedals and fuzzy Strats for trickling cold synths and a thumping beat, courtesy of returning original members James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlain. If 2018's Shiny and Oh So Bright was fan service for the reunion of 3/4 of the OG lineup, then "Cyr" is Billy Corgan swiftly moving on and trying something new and ambitious. CYR itself as a double album can feel excessive, but this single is a cut above the rest, leading to the possibility that maybe with a different direction and Corgan behind the desk, we could be on track for Pumpkins renaissance.
FFO: Placebo, Nine Inch Nails, R.E.M.
29. System Of A Down "Protect The Land/Genocidal Humanoidz"
Protect The Land/Genocidal Humanoidz - Single
Of all the awful things that happened in 2020, the attack on Armenia and Artsakh was one of the more heinous events. In response to the atrocities against their cultural homeland, System Of A Down reformed and released their first new music in almost 15 years. "Protect The Land" and "Genocidal Humanoidz" are both straight to the point, with lyrics dealing with the cruel treatment of their nation at the hands of Azerbaijan. "Protect" is an emotional protest anthem for the ages, honing back to the band's Hypnotize/Mesmerize era, whilst "Humanoidz" is a faster affair, reminiscent of Steal This Album! and proves both Daron Malakian and Serj Tankian haven't lost their incredible vocal flow. And though this release may not lead to an immediate follow-up album for fans, it's a symbol of hope for the people of Armenia, and you can support displaced families of Armenia through the Armenia Fund.
FFO: Scars On Broadway, System Of A Down, Serj Tankian
28. SPQR "Nuthin Gud"
No Brain, No Pain EP
Nuthin Gud Records
Liverpool's art-pop darlings SPQR seem unstoppable at this point. On their third EP, with an album cooking in the oven, the quartet has built a formidable collection of quirky and experimental music that spans various genres. For example, No Brain, No Pain's opener "Nuthin Gud" mixes a friendly indie-pop guitar hook with a dark psychedelic edge, fronted by Peter Harrison's eerily stunning vocals and backed by Jack Sanders and Bex Denton killing it in the bass and drum departments respectively. The recent addition of Connor Dickson on guitar and synth has further fleshed out their ever-developing style, and Harrison's poetic lyrics boost the haunting atmosphere to stratospheric levels. It's a gorgeous number that leads onto one of the best EPs put out in recent memory.
FFO: Everything Everything, Eyesore & the Jinx, The Blinders
27. CRASHFACE "System At It"
System At It - Single
One sentence to sum up the debut of London's CRASHFACE? Balls to the fucking wall.
The punk duo are unapologetically loud with a capital L on their frenetic single "System At It", a song all about the subconscious daily grind and battling the monotonous systempeople find themselves in. It's simple but effective punk rock, and has led to even more bangers from the duo and a deal with Marshall Records, so keep an ear out for the loudness and an eye out for their sneering mugs.
FFO: Dinosaur Pile-Up, Wargasm, VUKOVI
26. Billy Cobb "Blockbuster Video"
Billy Cobb is quite the extraordinary fella. His output seems to never slow down, releasing multiple full-length endeavours alongside one-off singles and experimental EPs. 2019 saw him delve into one of his most rewarding projects: what if Weezer did a small bedroom EP? The result was the stupendous Zerwee, arguably better than anything the actual band put out that year, breaking Cobb out as a songwriter to watch, with a follow-up eagerly anticipated. Zerwee, Pt.2 is longer and more ambitious than its entree-sized predecessor, an LP that strays away from exacting Weezer and goes for a more personal feel. The standout song for me is "Blockbuster Video", probably the most nostalgia driven song to end up on this list, and that's saying something with the current 80s/90s revival trends. Whilst an argument could be made that "Blockbuster Video" is very much a spiritual successor to something left on the Pinkerton cutting room floor, it's a basic tale of everyone's favourite rental store; from the laughs, the screams, the awe of home cinema, to its eventual downfall in 2014 to streaming services. It reeks of Butterkist popcorn and out-of-date bags of Doritos, only in the best way possible, with Cobb's emulation of Rivers Cuomo's awkward raw vocals pitch perfect and the instrumentation humming with the kind of warmth Weezer should have focussed on in 2019.
FFO: Rivers Cuomo, Ozma, Michael Cera Palin
25. The Chats "AC/DC CD"
AC/DC CD - Single
Bargain Bin Records
Hand on heart, The Chats are one of the best bands around right now. Their tenacity, their cheek, their Australianism(?); everything about them is loveable. After a successful run of singles and subsequent smash debut, they could've easily sailed along on that for a year or so. But they continue to impress with "AC/DC CD", a tribute to the hard rock gods that could've been a shallow rendition of Brian Johnson and co., and instead delivers as a quick and witty punk number that shouts out some of the best hits from "the second greatest band in history". If you weren't already in love with the three rascals, then the barky vocals, spunky guitar, and rapid-fire drums ought to do it.
FFO: IDLES, Descendents, Skegss
24. Fonzy & Co "Hella Sweet"
Is It Me? EP
Sadly as I'm writing this, Bristol's Fonzy & Company have announced a hiatus just months after their power second EP Is It Me? dropped. It's a shame, since lead single "Hella Sweet" is the kind to propel the quintet to the next level. A sugary sweet tune with strains of Americana and vibrant groove, it stands out on an admittedly stacked EP, lined with a playful male/female vocal harmony and some killer keys that screams perfect pop rock. Here's hoping the band will pick it up again one day and give us more like this, as it's something I sorely want to hear more of.
FFO: Morningwood, The All-American Rejects, Foo Fighters
23. PUP "Rot/A.M. 180"
This Place Sucks Ass EP
Deserving of the award for "Most Apt Title Of 2020", This Place Sucks Ass from Toronto punks PUP is a formidable follow-up to 2019's breakout LP Morbid Stuff, a short but sweet and sour collection of songs said to be "too frenetic or too unhinged" for their third effort. "Rot" is a perfect example of the frenetic side of PUP, sounding more like a cut from their darker self-titled debut instrumentally, but with the sardonic charm of Morbid vocally. It's a fun little tune, reflective of the dire year it was produced, but with that signature PUP sneer to give it a slightly less black heart. I was struggling to choose one song to highlight, but I didn't want to repeat the System Of A Down "cheat" I did before, so also ending up here is their cover of "A.M. 180", originally by indie overlords Grandaddy. I've only really put this here because a) it's a cracking cover, akin to the original but more blown out and with a punky tinge, and b) because it got me listening to Grandaddy, who are fucking fantastic, and if you haven't already, get on it, dweeb.
FFO: Grandaddy, Pkew Pkew Pkew, Spanish Love Songs
22. The Magic Gang "Take Back The Track"
Death of the Party
Sophomore slump? In the case of Brighton's The Magic Gang, it's not a term they would know, as second LP Death of the Party shows maturity, growth and experience from their prior self-titled debut. The proof is in the pudding on lead single "Take Back The Track", a disco-tinted ditty for those desperate to get back on the dancefloor. The quartet are tighter than ever here, with Kris Smith's smooth vocals lending very handsomely to the groovy tune, and Paeris Giles' unrelenting drum pattern blending perfectly with the guitar and bass work. "Take Back The Track" is a surefire jam that proves why The Magic Gang is everyone's favourite indie band going right now.
FFO: Inhaler, Blossoms, The Strokes
21. Sleeping Bag & Rozwell Kid "Letterman"
Dreamboats 2 EP
Sleeping Bag & Rozwell Kid
A long-awaited follow-up to 2013's first collaboration between West Virginia's Rozwell Kid and Indiana's Sleeping Bag, Dreamboats 2 is yet another beautiful marriage of the former's punky bite and the latter's slacker vibe. Opener "Letterman" is like a recap segment, reintroducing us to why we loved this coupling so much the first time around, Aspects of both bands are on full display, with sludgy punk guitars punched up by signature harmonics and a whistle melody that won't stop until you participate along with it. It's fuzzed out Rozwell Kid with the nonchalance of Sleeping Bag, topped with Jordan Hudkins and Dave Segedy's spiralling yet chilled lyrics.
FFO: Martha, Great Grandpa, Hard Girls
20. TV COMA "Congratulations"
WUSS (2021 release)
Weezercore is a term that can be loosely chucked around at power pop bands who seem a bit dorky and are decked out with Strats and Boss DS-1 pedals. And whilst being a bit more laddish than nerdy, Brighton's TV COMA definitely have that 90s pop rock edge down to a tee. A melting pot of Weezer-tinged instrumentation, the snarky cheek of Blur's Damon Albarn in the vocals, and the venue-pumping potential of early 2000s Feeder, "Congratulations" is a cutting sarcastic break-up song for the modern millennial, highlighting the almost impossible exercises of escaping an ex through the digital age and dealing with a fiercely messy split. It's soundtracked with a bouncy rhythm and the kind of guitar work that would make Graham Coxon wipe his glasses and blush slightly. TV COMA have been making splashes up and down the UK with their intricate power pop bangers, so look forward to more of this fried gold when their debut album WUSS drops later this year.
FFO: Weezer, Blur, Feeder
19. Elevant "Smalltown"
Here Come The Cold Sweats
Elevant's first album in four years, Here Come The Cold Sweats was a labour of love for the Liverpool-based alt-rock outfit, especially frontman Michael Edward, who described the record as "a bunch of songs about the stresses of life that didn't come out for ages because of the stresses of life". "Smalltown" alone makes this worth the hefty wait, an aurally chilling snappy number that floats with arpeggiated guitars in the verses, then gets disgustingly deep on the simple yet gorgeous chorus. There isn't a single wasted note here; everything is impactful, from Edward's haunting vocals, reminiscent of Radiohead's Thom Yorke, to the modern-day emulation of Smashing Pumpkins' classic rhythm with the punch of bass and drums from Hannah Lodge and Tom Shand, evoking the kind of synergy that Gish-era D'arcy Wretsky and Jimmy Chamberlain would envy.
FFO: The Smashing Pumpkins, Queens Of The Stone Age, Radiohead
18. Georgia "Never Let You Go - Alternative Version"
It's funny how you come across some artists, isn't it? I used to use Guitar Hero, Kerrang! and HMV as my main outlets, and now we've got algorithms on various streaming platforms to do the hard work for us. But London's Georgia is a different case. Simply because of a friend being tagged on Instagram since their name is also Georgia, I discovered Seeking Thrills, one of the most exciting releases in British synth-pop in recent memory. It's packed with bangers from start to finish, but it's this alternative version of the pulse-pounding "Never Let You Go" that tops off such a grand record. The bass feels more alive, punching alongside Barnes' infectious beats and adding a punky edge to the verses that blends into the more pop-centric choruses surprisingly well, not to mention a darker new wave air than the original. It's more pop-oriented than the Chicago club influenced record it features on, but it's nevertheless a standout number on one of 2020's most interesting releases.
FFO: Robyn, Kate Bush, Depeche Mode
17. Semisonic "You're Not Alone"
You're Not Alone EP
Semisonic will be a familiar name to those traipsing out of bars at the crack of dawn from the early 2000s onwards, as barkeeps wryly chuckle whilst the piano notes of the mega-hit "Closing Time" ring out. They're a quality band, and I implore you to check the rest of their stuff out. Sadly, they went on hiatus in 2001, but they're back with new tunes, and "You're Not Alone" shines above the rest. It's simple Semisonic goodness, sounding like it's come straight from their golden era of the late 90s, whilst also being heavily relevant; singer Dan Wilson wrote this about people feeling isolated and worried about the state of America two years before the 2020 pandemic. It communicates a sense of comfort and strength, the kind needed in any sort of hard times. Wilson's Grammy-winning songwriting chops are at maximum power, with that same blend of straightforward warm guitars and hooks for days that Semisonic mastered back in the 90s. Trust me, they do it better than most.
FFO: Fastball, Oasis, Everclear
16. Sticky Mistake "Snot Brain"
Punky Pete EP
Shark Wave Records
Released late last year, New York's Sticky Mistake pack a mighty punch with their throwback sound to the underground hardcore punk of the 1980's. Every track on Punky Pete is slathered with the spirit of a sweaty, snarling punk rocker, but "Snot Brain" stands out as the powerful frontrunner. The instrumentation is tinged with a bit of the lo-fi goodness of Slaughterhouse-era Ty Segall Band and the raw production from Blond Blood's Rory Branagan screams DIY as fuck, in the best kind of way.
FFO: Black Flag, Ty Segall Band, Minor Threat
15. Dua Lipa "Break My Heart"
There's been a revival trend every few years of a previously massive musical style that's always found its way to the pop pantheon, where it's eventually oversaturated and diluted to the point it becomes common fodder. However, Dua Lipa has followed some, you could say, new rules. After breaking out with a fresh dance-pop sound on her self-titled debut, her follow-up Future Nostalgia is a cataclysmic explosion of aural greatness, and "Break My Heart" is the epicentre of the record's finely crafted pieces of throwback pop. There isn't a useless note here on the track, that harkens back to 70s, 80s and 90s pop in just one song, an impressive feat for veteran songwriters, let alone a fresh new artist on their second LP. The groove is frighteningly catchy as all hell, and the beat is undeniable; you WILL dance to this in your kitchen at 2am making a grilled cheese toastie. Well, I did.
FFO: Miley Cyrus, Jess Glynne, Deee-Lite
14. Joji "Run"
Fucking hell, Filthy Frank and Pink Guy feels like an era ago. I didn't want to mention the anarchic boundary pushing past of Joji (real name George Miller), but it's admittedly been an incredible experience watching him transition from telling people to shut the fuck up to becoming one of modern hip-hop's most interesting figures. "Run" is Miller on top form, with one of the best vocal performances of 2020, and the lean towards lo-fi rock with that creeping guitar tying everything together during the verses and choruses is damn perfect.
However, no-one was expecting such a rip-roaring and emotional guitar solo to come from such soulful hip-hop, let alone one of Miller's tracks. An absolute home run of a tune.
FFO: Oliver Tree, Rich Brian, The Weeknd
13. Salt The Snail "Junkyard Cat"
Junkyard Cat - Single
Society Of Losers
If anyone is gutted about the lack of live shows in 2020, it's Widnes madmen Salt The Snail. The trio/quartet/quintet/sextet (depends on what day it is) are a monolithic and prolific spectacle on the North West punk circuit, armed to the teeth with Red Stripe, inflatable cats, and enough adrenaline to put Johnny Knoxville on his arse. "Junkyard Cat" is a surprising entry for the band, doused in both petrol and sincerity, with standout lyricism from ringleader Krystian "The Wildcard" Hudson like "I wanna be your Delirium Tremens" grabbing as much attention from unsuspecting listeners as the deviously infectious riff. Each band member comes together in blissful chaotic harmony on this cracker of a tune, especially the coupling of Hudson's authoritative vocals and George "The Baron" Yelding shouts of "TAKE IT EASY!" on the chorus, showcasing that Salt The Snail are destined for dizzying heights when the world has stopped shitting the bed and lets them out to play once again.
FFO: Fu Manchu, Reuben, The Membranes
12. Blond Blood "Surf God"
Surf God - Single
Shark Wave Records
"Whatever you can do, Gill can also do" feels like a legendary quote to stamp out the dismal year of 2020 with, and surf punks Blond Blood are the ideal deliverers of such hallowed words. A megalodon-sized hit of sun-soaked goodness, "Surf God" continues an impressive slew of releases for the Manchester quartet, hinting at growth in a band that seems to be going nowhere but up. As crisp and punchy as a can of R.White's Lemonade on a sweltering summer afternoon, it's a refreshing and anthemic surf-rock banger destined for every beach playlist you've got stored away for a sunny day.
FFO: FIDLAR, SWMRS, Bass Drum of Death
11. Supermilk "Bullheaded Boy"
Death Is The Best Thing for You Now
September 7th 2019 was a sad day in the UK underground indie scene, as Doe called last orders at The Lexington, never to grace us with their delightful tunes again. Singer Nicola Leel did a Wombats and moved to New York and guitarist Dean Smithers has got himself playing guitar here and there, including live shows with Supermilk. But what is Supermilk? Drummer Jake Popyura has been quietly hunkering down over the years, recording a couple of EPs under this moniker (check out Rare Delusions as soon as you can), and finally dropping this debut full-length LP in 2020. Death Is The Best Thing For You Now is both similar and different to his previous outfit, a playful DIY effort packed to the brim with layered vocals, winding guitar work and sneakily simple rhythms, all attributes found on "Bullheaded Boy". The lead guitar riff lets everything wrap around it into a weird and wonderful twisting indie tune that threatens to wander on forever, but finishes at a perfect point. Popyura's craft is enviable on this one, a fine toothed lead single destined for cult status.
FFO: Doe, Speedy Ortiz, Devo
10. Tojo The Dwarf "Cool Young Death"
Cool Young Death - Single
Tojo The Dwarf
You may not recognise the lo-fi tones of Tojo The Dwarf, but that's the same voice of Pippin's bassist and resident screamer Spencer Rixon. This one-man solo project has been gliding along over the years, but lockdown, as in many other cases, brought out a flurry of creativity. "Cool Young Death" is a witty biting commentary on the obsession and repetitiveness of social media, wasting your mid-20s like a zombie. It's ground that's been tread on many times before, but Rixon's take is an exciting one, sonically sounding like Pavement and Guided By Voices collaborating in the 21st century, whilst lyrically being a delightfully crafted look under the microscope of the millennial life in 2020.
FFO: Guided By Voices, Pavement, Alvvays
9. Clever Girls "Spark"
Constellations (2021 release)
"And this hallway stinks like piss, but I still feel her fingertips pressed against my lips" DJ of Clever Girls softly exclaims on "Spark", the third single released in the lead up to this year's full-length Constellations. It's a line delivered with a mix of tenderness and down-to-earth sensibility that we've come to love in the Vermont quartet, but alongside a more evolved meatier indie rock sound that they've developed since 2018's Luck. Here, the tone still has a lot of emotion, but there's some darker hints, with the imagery of gasoline and late-night fights contrasting with the dreamier composition. The song as a whole is a rich aural experience to behold, gorgeously woven and devastating in execution, highlighting why they're such a damn interesting entity in the world of indie rock.
FFO: Surf Dads, Courtney Barnett, Phoebe Bridgers
8. The Dirty Nil "Doom Boy"
Dine Alone Records
Here's one for the lonesome thrash metal lovers. Ontario's The Dirty Nil have been making waves in the underground rock scene for over a decade now, but everything is crossed for new album Fuck Art to be their breakthrough into the mainstream rock arena. Lead single "Doom Boy" is a love letter to the scrappiness of 80s indie, the crunch of 90s alt rock, and the punch of 2000s pop-punk, concocting the mixture of all three into a magical journey, akin to that of a night in the back of a Dodge Caravan. From the chugging speed metal guitars to the heartfelt performance from frontman Luke Bentham, it's a non-stop fun fest dedicated to all doom boys out there searching for a Slayer-loving, satan-hailing significant other.
FFO: Milk Teeth, Culture Abuse, Dinosaur Pile-Up
7. Lauran Hibberd "Boy Bye"
Boy Bye - Single
Written and recorded during lockdown at her homestead on the Isle of Wight, "Boy Bye" may be Lauran Hibberd's prize jewel in her crown as UK slacker pop queen. Glazed with gritty guitars and saturated in hooks, "Boy Bye" is Hibberd at her best, giving the limitations of isolation the middle finger on this Transatlantic collaboration with iconic producer Suzy Shinn, who has brought out the greatest quality in every inch of this nostalgic yet modern extravaganza. Hibberd's brand of cheeky self-awareness and witty narrative are on full display in the lyricism with the kind of sneer Shirley Manson would conjure up in the early Garbage days, whilst the entire composition soars when the chorus comes around and kicks whatever slobbish bloke that needs to hear this straight in the teeth. The theme of being tired of having to 'feed' someone to keep them around is a prevalent one that will stick with both her teenage fanbase and older listeners, reminding us not to take things for granted when we're up Shit Creek without a paddle. It's simply boss, an instant modern classic.
FFO: Garbage, Zuzu, The Muffs
6. The Strokes "Ode To The Mets"
The New Abnormal
I've been waiting for this for over 7 years; a full LP from New York's indie kings The Strokes. The Future Present Past EP in 2016 was a fun little project whilst the band rediscovered themselves after the middling reception of Angles and Comedown Machine, but on The New Abnormal, they're the best they've been since their breakout success in 2001, and with closer "Ode To The Mets", possibly exceeded the solidity of Is This It. This slow and dreamy number is simple in execution, yet dazzles like a million-dollar grandiose display of artistry. Singer Julian Casablancas' dabbles in 80s musicianship with his other outfit The Voidz is apparent throughout the record, moreso here, where the bloops and beeps of Space Invaders morphs into an incredibly hooky synth line grabs you by the ears and seeps into your brain. And whilst the lyrics are wallowing like an elegy, the song is underlined by an air of forwardness that hints that The Strokes have a lot more up their sleeve once they're done reminiscing. A wholly epic yet soft closer, "Ode To The Mets" may not have anything to do with the New York baseball team, but the quintet have knocked it out of the ballpark here.
FFO: The Voidz, Franz Ferdinand, The Killers
5. Out Of Love "My Perfect World"
I Am Not Me EP
I've already talked about how the live scene in the UK basically got the middle finger when talking about Salt The Snail before, but imagine being a band in their infancy, yet to gig with a fully primed debut EP raring to go, and then watching your debut show get postponed for an unknown amount of time. Fortunately for London's Out Of Love, they've got plenty of people frothing at the mouth to catch them on the post-pandemic live circuit. Armed with soaring flangy leads, a chugging fuzzy rhythm and the crispest drums, this anthem about an ideal world is an instant punk screamer, with the gang vocals grabbing you by the shirt and spitting the qualities of "My Perfect World" like PUP just drove a Ford Transit van into your front room. Deeply hooky and shockingly catchy, the quintet may have just got things started, but you can tell from their tenacity that they're here for the long run.
FFO: Gender Roles, Other Half, PUP
4. Fuzz Lightyear "Animal"
Disgustingly grimy and drenched in both bleach and Bleach, "Animal" is the debut offering from Fuzz Lightyear, the latest grungy garage punk band straight out of Leeds. The best way to describe this song is dingy and damp, a lot like the basements of house shows that this kind of fodder packs to the brim. "Animal" is a mounting behemoth, revealing layer after layer as singer Ben Parry goes from an effortless croon to purely venomous by the track's peak during its final moments, which would catch Usain Bolt off guard at the speed and severity it comes in. Everyone involved gels; Parry's Cobain-like guitar and vocals are hypnotic, Varun Govil's bass drones through the mix like a militant rottweiler, and Josh Taylor's unthreatening drums become a masterclass in brutality. Cobain would be proud of these lads.
FFO: Nirvana, Metz, Dinosaur Jr
3. Weezer "Beginning Of The End (Wyld Stallyns Edit)"
Bill & Ted Face The Music OST
It's a chore to be a Weezer fan in the 21st century. Had they just faltered out after the original critical dismissal of the now-legendary Pinkerton, they'd be a nostalgia trip, a deep inhalation of the 1990s for 30 to 40-somethings. Instead, they've soldiered on for decades since then, bringing in multiple generations of fans, with a lot of ups and downs along the way.
However, as patchy as they are, when you give Rivers Cuomo & co. time to shred, they shred. Almost like a meal supplement for the oft-delayed Van Weezer, "Beginning Of The End" is a tour de force made of ripping hair metal guitars, knockout punchy drums and a superbly fucking infectious chorus (sampled from Billy Joel of all people). Cuomo peels back a bit more of his inner guitar hero persona, tapping away on the solo like his life depends on it, adding some of that theatric panache fellow label-mate Brendan Urie has perfected with Panic! At The Disco. The handiwork of the melodies and harmonies is some of the best Weezer has produced since 2016's White Album, and the repeat button just begs for you to grace it with your index finger. Whether this is an entrée to Van Weezer or just a movie soundtrack one-off, it's yet another reason why the California quartet are such an intriguing and beloved outfit who can still pull off anthemic bangers.
FFO: Van Halen, KISS, Panic! At The Disco
2. The Losing Score "Eat Floor, High Fibre"
Eat Floor, High Fibre - Single
The Losing Score
2020 was a year headlined by shit, but for Shrewbury's The Losing Score, it'll be remembered as the start of a downright delightful new era for the band. Their sophomore EP Closed for Season exhibited a stronger sound from the emo-punk trio, with each member shining bright in their own way, producing one of 2020's best efforts. The boys could've capped the year off right there and then, but they weren't done with us just yet.
"Eat Floor, High Fibre" is a fucking monstrous track, The Losing Score's greatest offering, the kind of song that could close out a stadium show to rapturous applause. Singer Brodie Normandin is on top form, vocally, lyrically and instrumentally speaking, weaving a narrative involving Christmas film Batman Returns without any cheese nor lack of wit. The tale of a woeful Christmas, sick in bed, scamming companies only to get stung later, too unmotivated to get up or do anything; it evokes a particular feeling that I bet everyone has had at some point during the holidays, that empty space between Christmas and the New Year, almost feeling absolutely fucking daunting, but in reality, it's just dead air. Time and time again, Normandin shows off his ability to create vivid imagery in these 4-minute crackers, backed by Jack Smith's thunderous skin slamming and Callum McIntyre's chugging bass. It's a pure delight to listen to over and over again, and even if you switch it off, that lead lick will stick in your head for weeks.
FFO: Joyce Manor, Remo Drive, Prince Daddy & The Hyena
1. Jeff Rosenstock "Scram!"
Specialist Subject Records
"Don't you wanna go away?" is a sentiment felt all over the world during the heights of the pandemic in 2020. It's funny, because a few months prior, it would relate a lot more to taking a break from life, from social media, from all the screens, whereas in 2020, we all just wanted to escape the awful world we all had to experience. And that's the beauty of Jeff Rosenstock. He's a timeless songwriter who conveys these universally felt sentiments of injustice, anger, and fight, and turns them into some of the catchiest fucking punk numbers this century. "Scram!" is relentless, mixing the best of Rosenstock's career into a cool 3 minutes, from the bouncing ska guitar in the verses (The Arrogant Sons of Bitches) and the rip-roaring choruses (Antarctigo Vespucci and We Cool?) to that musky thick hardcore breakdown (Bomb The Music Industry!) as Rosenstock and co. belt at the top of their lungs.
It's what we've come to expect from Jeff four LPs in, but somehow he keeps exceeding expectations. NO DREAM itself is some of his best work, released out of nowhere when everyone needed solace in music, so it's no wonder why it's hit a lot of the top lists of 2020. But for us, "Scram!" and, as an extension, NO DREAM, are both #1 for The Cactus Paradox.
FFO: Rozwell Kid, Martha, The Arrogant Sons of Bitches