2020 saw Jeff Rosenstock release his excellent new album NO DREAM (which topped our list of the best punk albums of 2020), do an awesome full-band livestream, and release even more new songs via his 2020 DUMP on Bandcamp (including “Collapse!”, which we included in our 2020 ska year-end list. To cap off the year, he made us a list of his own favorite albums of 2020, and it’s full of entertaining, unique commentary that couldn’t have come from anyone else. Take it away, Jeff…
THIS LIST IS TOUGH TO MAKE!!!!! I felt like there was so much nonstop good music coming out that I haven’t even had the chance to listen to it all. IT’S NOT ALL GONNA FIT ONTO THIS LIST. Friends in GLADIE, PUP, Worriers & Maxwell Stern all put out great records. Phoebe Bridgers put out a record I thought would be pretty good and ended up just stopping me dead in my tracks (my car). Of Montreal put out their best record in like a decade!!! Captured Tracks put out this collection called Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983-1987 that seems to be an era of music that was tailor made for me / I’ve never heard of any of it?! THE SUICIDE MACHINES put out their first record in like a decade. Microphones in 2020 was INSANE. Soul Glo‘s Songs to Yeet at the Sun is INSANE INSANE INSANE. Newly unearthed Mort Garson and Hiroshi Yoshimura wowowow. Megan Thee Stallion starting her record by annihilating Tory Lanez. We were blessed with NEW ALBUMS FROM DAN POTTHAST both in solo form on Cars for Sale and his kickass band Sharkanoid and he just can’t stop writing good songs. BORIS put out their best record in a LONG time. Run The Jewels got back to putting out sick records. The Cribs have been riding a hot streak for over a decade that keeps on going with Night Network. THAT FUCKIN’ TERRACE MARTIN DENZEL CURRY KAMASI WASHINGTON SONG “PIG FEET”?!?! HAVE YOU HEARD THAT?!?!?!?!
I dunno. I could go on. TEENAGE HALLOWEEN? CLASSICS OF LOVE?! THAT FUCKING GULCH RECORD?!?!?!?!?!!?
Anyway, I tried to just pick the records I feel like I spent the most time listening to, stuff that was kinda new for me to discover, and that I didn’t recall seeing on like every list. AND I KNOW I MISSED A LOT!!!!!!!!!!!
2ND GRADE – HIT TO HIT
This album doesn’t stop! The melodies! The power-pop goodness! Shit to drive around or drink your morning coffee to, or sit around at night. They made a record with TWENTY GOOD SONGS and they zip by fast enough that it isn’t a drag to get through. This album is the opposite of a drag, it’s a buncha warm sunny last day of summer vibes. Hell yeah I love it.
AJJ – GOOD LUCK, EVERYBODY
AJJ is a band that consistently puts out great records. This one was a grower for me, but like all the others soon enough it showed its true power and had me just staring off into space thinking “oh, fuck.” There’s a certain amount of topical lyrics on here, but (unfortunately) these issues are not time sensitive. They’re not gonna just going to go away once this year is gone or once we have a new president or whatever is misguided. The darkness within this record is not just zeroed in on how badly people can treat each other, but how it feels to be treated like trash, discarded and ignored. It’s a fucked up world and it often feels like there’s no hope. It’s ok to be honest about that. AJJ stays honest while making a beautiful record.
BAD MOVES – UNTENABLE
I LOVE BAD MOVES. I love that everyone in the band sings. I love that they’re a punk band with dedication to both perfect pop songs and great lyrics. They’re smart and fun and those are two good ones. BAD MOVES ARE HERE FOR YOU. The song “Working For Free” spends three minutes deep in a groove as they go off on the fucked up nature of low wages, unpaid labor and tip-based jobs, the world that we live in that was built by people who don’t get paid fairly so the rich can keep the power consolidated in their corner… and it’s a fucking BANGER!!! BAD MOVES RULES!!!
DISQ – COLLECTOR
Our drummer Kevin sent this in our group message a month or two ago and I haven’t stopped listening to it. It a rock band and hey, I’m young and cool and I like rock and/or roll music and this is some pretty funky stuff daddy-o! I’m a sucker for a good melody, and this record is just LOUSY with ’em. Save some for the rest of us! I also respect that there is a total disregard for tempo at certain points, you just feel like anything can happen and then it all snaps back into place. I don’t know anything about this band and I like it!
ILLUMINATI HOTTIES – FREE IH
Hahahahaha FUCK YEAH. I don’t know if it’s the mixtape format or laughing at the label you are trying to get out from under, but this record is FUN and we all needed a fun record this year (hey, 2020 amirite y’all???) but ALSO ! these songs are just SO DANG GOOD. For example you’ve got a song like “melatonezone” that is fuckin’ with some calypso/reggaton stuff during the verses and somehow drops into a perfect sludgy pop chorus.
JER – SINGLES
HELL YEAH! I am stoked! I’ve seen Jer goin’ bezerk on their Skatune Network Youtube channel for a while now, and I’ve always wondered “why aren’t they writing their own songs? I bet they’d be good.” And I was RIGHT! Everybody owes me a dollar. This has a lot of the hallmarks of the punk/ska I grew up listening to – relateable lyrics, good melodies, varied instrumentation and great energy. JER doesn’t fall into any of the kinda more cringey ska tropes, but even if they did it’d be fine ’cause the songs are freakin’ good. It’s ska when it needs to be, it’s something you can play for your modern cool indie friends and be like “this is good” and they’ll say “yeah it is” and then you’ll be like “oh shit I owe Jeff a dollar.” Stoked for a full-length some day.
LEO TAKAMI – FELIS CATUS AND SILENCE and hey fuck it WENDY VALLEY – GENTLE MUSIC FOR DIFFICULT TIMES
Hey I’ve gone over my alloted picks but what is that a CRIME?! I’m not really sure how to describe ambient or ambient adjacent music, but both of these records brought me a lot of calm and peace this year. I checked out Felis Catus because I thought the cover looked cool and Wendy Valley cause a friend from work dropped it in the chat. “Felis Catus and Silence” the SONG has a really playful guitar melody that I could listen to on loop for hours. Wendy Valley’s woozy synths and flutes feel like stepping into a warm welcoming haze. See, I tried to describe it not so good huh? Whatever, just put it on, close your eyes and breathe……
MIKE HUGUENOR – X’ED
Full disclosure, Mike plays guitar in my band and I played guitar in the livestream band for this record. But he’s also been one of my favorite songwriters for OVER A DECADE yaaaaah playing in great bands like Shinobu and Hard Girls. This record is wild though. He decided to make a record using only the guitar, at a time when the guitar has briefly dipped out of the pop music zeitgeist (it’s comin’ back don’t be scared brah). He’s also one of my favorite lyricists and singers, but he decided “nah, I’m not gonna do any of that shit.” And you know what? It’s somehow still good. It’s an experimental record but it’s not pretentious. It’s novel and smart but it’s not better than you. The melodies are catchy, the music is dynamic, but it’s not like anything else on this list that I’m describing as “catchy” or “dynamic.” X’ed is a really special record that explores both the simplicity of a singular instrument and explosion of ideas that comes when you can do whatever the fuck you want with it.
NNAMDI – BLACK PLIGHT but ok let’s say BRAT too and fuck it KRAZY KARL BABY too
This was NNAMDI’s year, right? All three of these records were inventive, unique and exciting to listen to. BRAT’s weirdo-pop jams and KRAZY KARL’s ultra-anxious avant-garde cartoon shit were both great. Black Plight is the one to me though. It is a short breathtaking listen. I feel like the first time I put this on thinking “oh cool a new NNAMDI EP!” I just stood still until it was over. Lyrically unreletning and fuckin’ for real. “You can fix a Target but you can’t bring a person back to life” is THE TRUTH. We all watched an endless stream of our country’s militarized police force attacking its own citizens who are tired of seeing our fellow human beings get murdered because of the color of their skin. Watching cops receive no punishment for any of it. Kettling protesters in on a bridge a tear gassing them. Giving water bottles to teenage white supremacists who are murdering people.
It’s a lot to digest and this record doesn’t waste a single word. Musically, I know that NNAMDI and I are both fans of the music of Sean Eldon / Cold Electrics and once I heard that I’ve been eager to hear him drop some DC-style math rock shit and yeah, like I’ve been saying, this record blew me away.
OCEANATOR – THINGS I NEVER SAID
I really liked Oceanator’s last EP and when we played together in Brooklyn at the end of 2019 they playing a few newer fast-ish pop-punk-ish jams and my ears perked up and went “ooooh pop-punk” and a twinkle shot out of my eyeballs. I was kinda surprised when this record started with Elise’s characteristically H E A V Y A S S guitar but it blends seamlessly with the more uptempo stuff and makes this record a compelling dyamic listen. And lyrically she’s singing about our fucked up doomed sad existence and hey if you haven’t guessed by now I’m into that shit.
RETIREMENT PARTY – RUNAWAY DOG
This is a really good explosive record. I wonder if the band got the final master of this record and was like “oh fuck, this sounds SICK!!!” and high fived a bunch. This kinda brings me back to a lot of the bands I’d look forward to seeing at house shows, either when Bomb was touring the country or at spots in Brooklyn. Avery Springer is such a good singer and that rhymes so you know it’s gotta be true. Retirement Party do a lot of my favorite song stuff, they do it really well and they sound really good doing it. IT’S THAT FREAKIN SIMPLE!!!!
Okay bye! NO DREAM FOR PERSINDET!
Stream No Dream, and some of Jeff’s picks, below.
Browse our Best of 2020 tag for more year-end lists.