Top Albums of 2020

It’s done! 2020 is finally over! That year was something else, wasn’t it?

In a “normal” year, most of my music listening happens at the office, driving in the car, or sometimes while cooking dinner at home. In 2020, the numbers spent doing those first two things pretty much nosedived, and my actual listening hours reflect that. I only listened to music half as much in 2020 (5,122 tracks) as I did in 2019 (8,843 tracks). However, the number of artists I listened to felt far more varied in 2020 than it did in 2019. I spent a lot of time searching for something new to listen to during the early days of the pandemic, when there weren’t many new albums being released. I didn’t really find a whole lot outside of my usual wheelhouse though, even when music releases picked back up in the later half of the year, so the names you’ll see in the upcoming days are all pretty familiar. There’s a few new ones in the list and in the honorable mentions below, but all in all, if you’ve been paying attention these last few years you could probably put together a pretty reliable bingo card for this year’s releases.

Normally I throw honorable mentions in the mix sometime midweek to break up the odd number of albums per day, but I have so many honorable mentions, and a category that kind of runs parallel to that, so that’s what I’m leading off with this year. So, without further ado…

Honorable Mentions for 2020

These are albums I listened to and enjoyed, but they didn’t have enough weight to make the list of top albums. All worth giving a listen to, though!

  1. The Injured List – The Difference Between Giving Up & Losing
    This pop-punk duo, based out of Adrian, MI released their first album in nearly a decade in 2020. It’s a good, solid album, with a couple of great hooks on it. I really wanted to fall in love with the whole thing, but it’s a candy bar of an album. It’s super sweet, you enjoy it while it’s there, but afterward you just feel kind of empty.
  2. ManDancing – The Good Sweat
    This album has range, going from muted to explosive. It’s a great midwest emo album, and has some real good jams on it.
  3. I Am the Avalanche – DIVE
    I feel like every year, Vinnie Caruana is releasing something under one of his projects, either The Movielife, his solo gig, or this year’s chosen one, IATA. This album feels like an IATA release in the same way The Movielife’s last outing didn’t sound like a Movielife album. It feels like getting back to a known quantity here.
  4. Knuckle Puck – 20/20 | Weigh the Anchor – Right at Home
    A good pair of pop-punkers I didn’t get too far into.

Top Albums of Previously Released Songs Released in 2020

In my first draft of my list, some of these made the proper list, and some of them got moved into Honorable Mentions, so I wanted to use this space to recognize all the albums I enjoyed this year that were made up of songs released in previous years. Let’s see what ranked this year in re-released songs.

6. MxPx – Life in Quarantine

Thanks to the pandemic, we saw a lot of artists posting quarantine versions of their songs online, which felt like a fun way to use the hours locked up in your house. Especially if you’re a super-talented musician who has a whole studio in their basement, like MxPx’s Mike Herrera. When he wasn’t busy recording quarantine videos with Goldfinger, he was recording acoustic versions of some of MxPx’s fan favorites from throughout the years. Since the recordings were all high-quality, at the end, they were all released as an album. Some classic left-coast pop-punk jams have been reimagined as solo acoustic pieces, so that Mike can help his listeners cope with the weight of the pandemic.

5. The Wonder Years – Burst and Decay (Volume II)

The Wonder Years released the prime volume of Burst and Decay back in 2017, where it made my list for that year thanks to a powerful version of Cardinals, one of my favorite TWY songs. Alongside announcing Volume II, they had also planned a tour for 2020 where they would play two sets every night: one acoustic, one electric. I had tickets to this tour, but like all shows, it was a consequence of the pandemic, which is a real bummer. I enjoy the first B&D more than the second, but it’s still a great EP.

4. The Postal Service – Everything Will Change

This album is a 2020 release of a 2014 concert of a 2003 release, so this one really milks this category. However, the most incredible part of it is how listening to it transports me back in time. The moment the first notes hit for “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight”, I get chills. I remember what it was like first listening to The Postal Service and thinking about how magical the initial release of Give Up was. Ben Gibbard and Jenny Lewis absolutely tear it up performing these songs live. Even though the songs are electronic, they’ve got the life of songs performed by a full band, likely due to the energy of the vocalists and the crowd. It’s a time capsule of an album, and so enjoyable to listen to.

3. Derek Sanders – My Rock and Roll Heart

This one really came out of nowhere for me. This five-track acoustic EP from the Mayday Parade frontman is comprised of covers, many of which from pop-punk and emo’s finest acts. The first one I had heard was his cover of Jimmy Eat World’s “A Praise Chorus”, but he also covers Saves The Day’s “Rocks Tonic Juice Magic”, Something Corporate’s “Punk Rock Princess”, and The Juliana Theory’s “August in Bethany”. There’s love and care put into each cover, and you can tell that these songs really mean something to him. Solid little EP, and a good first solo release for him.

2. Pet Symmetry – Runway Looks: The Pet Symmetry Collection 2012-2020

While this album contains one new quarantine song from the band, “S.S. Decompressed”, it is mostly a release of their earlier B-sides, EPs, and demos. Also, a five second track of Bernie Sanders introducing them at a rally they opened. If I didn’t break out this separate category, this would have been a top three ranking album simply because it has one of my favorite songs ever: “A Detailed And Poetic Physical Threat To The Person Who Intentionally Vandalized My 1994 Dodge Intrepid Behind Kate’s Apartment”

1. NOFX – The Decline (Live at Red Rocks)

Speaking of my favorite songs. My favorite punk rock song with three movements in the 15 to 20 minute range is NOFX’s 1999 release, “The Decline”, especially when it comes to internet connected jukeboxes at dive bars. However, the song doesn’t just exist as a novelty. In the era of Trump, it still exists as a commentary on modern American society, even more so now than it did during it’s initial release. Its themes of anti-truth acceptance, the rise of religion’s influence on politics, the tightening autocratic grip of the American government, and the divide between classes all still ring true in the year when we saw a pandemic destroy the middle class while the rich got richer. It only seems appropriate that NOFX release a live version of this album in 2020. Recorded pre-pandemic, with an orchestra backing them, the song still hits as hard as it ever has. You can see the whole thing on YouTube.

That’s it for today! The real deal begins tomorrow, so come on back then.