Top Albums of 2020

Ok, so, here’s the thing with my top albums list. This is really the only writing I do outside of work emails, so this is a little bit of writing catharsis. However, it doesn’t all just spew out of me at once at the end of the year. Sometimes, I get a thought about an album and write it down. Every year, I have a playlist of every song I love from the year, a separate playlist that highlights no more than one song per album (this is the one that evolves into the playlist I post, and Google Doc with my thoughts on albums. Sometimes when I write those thoughts in the doc, they tend to be a bit longer than the usual paragraph or two I write about an album, especially because they’re divorced from my process of compiling my album of the year. I’ll try to edit them before I post them below, because today’s albums will see some of those treatises come to light. Let’s see what we’ve got for today below.

8. Into It. Over It. – Figure

This is the second time one of Evan Weiss’ projects find their way onto my list this year. If I had allowed the Pet Symmetry collection album onto my list, this would have been the first. Either way, here we are. Figure is the fourth full-length from Evan’s prime act, Into It. Over It., and the first one I’ve really gotten into since his 2011 debut LP, Proper (sidenote: He’s got a real thing for mononym album titles). In the between time, I’ve fallen for Pet Symmetry far more than I ever did for the early IIOI work (what a terrible acronym). While Proper is largely cited as one of the turning points of the emo revival of the 2010-2020 decade, Figure doesn’t try to be a standard-bearer for a new decade. In fact, sometimes it feels like sonically, the album is a little too similar to the bands that have come up in his wake, to the point where this album actually feels like it has some crossover vibes with Pet Symmetry. However, where Weiss really stands out from his peers is his songwriting and lyric delivery. The album opens with the swelling “They Built Our Bench Again in Palmer Square”, which harkens back to Death Cab For Cutie’s “Marching Bands of Manhattan” in the way it uses the full length of the song to build to its crescendo.

I catch strong Pet Symmetry vibes from “Living Up to Let You Down” and “Courtesy Greetings”, which have a vibe and energy to them that feels a little more upbeat than the standard IIOI fare. I’m not saying every song needs to be a downer, but these two tracks specifically feel like they hit a little differently to me. Speaking of songs that remind me of something else – I think Weiss’ time spent with American Football/Owen’s Mike Kinsella rubbed off a bit, as “A Lyric in my Head I Haven’t Thought of Yet” feels like a Kinsella song, both lyrically and in melody.

This is an album that spends a lot of time in the middle of the road, which is not bad, and when it hits its highs, it does so very well. This is the kind of album I recommend reading the lyrics along to as you listen, since even the songs with the weakest music still have beautiful lyrics.

Bonus: On New Year’s Day, Weiss released an instrumental version of the album as well. Given the fact that I think that the lyrics are one of the best parts of the album, I definitely feel like this would be missing something, but worth checking out.

Standout Tracks: “They Built Our Bench Again In Palmer Square”, “Living Up to Let You Down”, “Courtesy Greetings”

7. Dogleg – Melee

My first encounter with the Detroit-based quartet known as Dogleg was back in September 2019 when they opened for Oso Oso and Future Teens in their hometown. I was there for the other two bands, but Dogleg definitely got my attention because they just fuckin’ ripped it apart. That’s most of my review for the album as well, because from the moment the album kicks into gear on “Kawasaki Backflip”, it does not let off the gas. Every song is balls to the wall, thick with distortion, screaming your lungs out punk fucking rock. My only real complaint about the album is that this leads to some songs sounding kind of samey, especially since most of them are single-word song titles. “Which track is ‘Headfirst’ and which is ‘Hotlines’? What about ‘Wartortle’ or ‘Wrist’?” Honestly though, that one complaint boils down to which good song is which. It’s an album full of windows-down, wind-in-your-hair jams, perfect for a sunny day. This album makes me miss shows a lot, because this would have been a fun one to see the band performing live.

Bonus: Check out the band’s love letter to the Kevin Smith classic Clerks with the music video for “Wartortle”

Standout Tracks: Kawasaki Backflip, Bueno, Prom Hell, Fox, Wartortle

6. Acceptance – Wild, Free

The release of this album was really weird. First, half of the songs were released, one song at a time, as an EP titled Wild, then the rest of the songs started to trickle out as it was released as a full album. This confused the hell out of me, and I didn’t realize it was the build to a new album until the album was actually out. I just kept seeing new Acceptance tracks in my Spotify recommended list, each with a new album title. I don’t know if that’s on the band or the label or what, it was just weird.

I didn’t love Acceptance’s last album, Colliding by Design. The synth-heavy approach felt like too much of a departure from what I loved about the band on Phantoms or Black Lines to Battlefields. Maybe that was a bit too “old man shakes fist at sky” of me, but aside from a handful of tracks, that album was not what I wanted out of Acceptance in 2017. With Wild, Free, the band somehow steps back in time to fill in the gap between Phantoms and Colliding by Design. This album brings the band much more into focus, and while there is still a big synth presence on the album, they are used much more strategically and sparingly.

This feels to me like the Acceptance I remember from 2005, and actually gives me a little more appreciation for the 2017 release as well. This album got me back on the wagon for the band after I thought I might have fallen off.

Standout Tracks: Cold Air, Release & Let Go, Son of the City, Wasted Nights

5. Hot Mulligan – you’ll be fine.

I said at the beginning of last year’s posts that Hot Mulligan’s debut LP, Pilot, was my Top 2018 Album of 2019. I played the ever-loving shit out of that album in the year after its release. On forums and message boards, I was happy to wear the Lansing-based band on my sleeve and tout them as the harbingers of the next great pop-punk wave, the likes of which we hadn’t seen since the days of blink-182, New Found Glory, and Fall Out Boy rode the airwaves like kings. When they announced they were working on a new album, I was excited for their potential. In my head, I knew what the album could be. When I heard the first track dropped from the album, “Feal Like Crab” (not my spelling error, that’s the name of the track), I hoped it wasn’t indicative of the album, because it was not the pop-punk banger I was expecting it to be.

This album reads like a band torn among themselves. You see bits and pieces of who they were, and who they could be, but it feels like a band with multiple personalities sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want Pilot II out of this album. Not more of the same type of midwest-emo-flavored pop-punk they made their name with. I wanted to see growth and evolution, and that’s there, it just feels like they don’t stick the landing on it. Not every band needs to make a Your Favorite Weapon to Deja Entendu leap as they move into their sophomore album, but this album is more like a quilt, with patches of new sewn onto the holes that were cut out or worn away. It tries to be more of the same, and something different, and doesn’t manage either very effectively.

One of the things I enjoy most out of Hot Mulligan’s earlier work was the range and chemistry that the bands singers, Tades Sanville (lead) and Chris Freeman (second lead and backing vocals), have. The opening track of Pilot was a great example of this – from singing to shouting, the song builds a great amount of vocal layers in a way that was very reminiscent of Taking Back Sunday or The Wonder Years. It feels like the band leans too heavily on the screaming on this record, as Sanville is often at the top of his lungs at the beginning of the song. Always starting at that point makes the softer vocals sometimes feel like they don’t align with the song.

Another thing that makes this album feel a bit disjointed is the discrepancy between the song titles, which are very much still in the early Fall Out Boy vein of “random for random’s sake”, and subject matter, since some tracks tackle heavy topics like rape and suicide. They want to joke and laugh, but they want you to take them seriously as well. It feels like growing pains – the mistakes and missteps you make when you’re trying to figure out who you really are.

I know I just spent three paragraphs tearing this album down, but don’t get me wrong, you’ll be fine is a very good album. In fact, I would say that some of the tracks on it are some of the best the band has ever made. It still has plenty of hooks and melodies that got stuck in my head long after listening. As a whole though, it could have been a much more cohesive and evolved album had the band decided who they want to be when they grow up, or if they want to grow up at all. 

Standout Tracks: OG Bule Sky, *Equip Sunglasses*, Green Squirrel in Pretty Bad Shape, SPS, BCKYRD

Oh no. I didn’t edit it down that much. I apologize in advance for the next post.