Wednesday 23 December 2020

Robyn's Top Ten Albums of 2020

There is no doubt that this has been a difficult year, filled with uncertainty, frustration, trauma, and a strange sense of unreality. But what it has also shown is the vitally important role that art plays in our lives. It was the film and television producers, the writers, the content creators, and the musicians who kept us company, provided escape, gave us something to share in, and buoyed our spirits when we couldn’t see friends or family and felt increasingly frustrated by everything happening on the news. So it feels even more fitting to take the time to pay tribute to the albums that I really enjoyed this year.

10. Folklore by Taylor Swift

I’m sure that this is going to be a controversial choice for my top ten, but I truly love this album and it simply had to make my list. While I don’t regularly listen to a lot of music that falls outside of punk or its subgenres, I follow a lot of popular artists and I’m generally interested in keeping up with what’s happening in other genres. So when Taylor Swift dropped a surprise new album that sees her collaborating with The National’s Aaron Dessner, I was immediately interested. What I found is a beautifully-crafted storybook of an album, brimming with wistful imagery and outstanding lyricism. As a literary student who essentially reads for a living, it’s perhaps unsurprising that I am drawn to the exceptional storytelling on Folklore; but I also love its indie sound. The album is stripped-down, giving a sense of intimacy and increased emotion, but also layered and well-produced. My favourite track is “Epiphany”, which compares Taylor’s grandfather’s act of service in WWII to the frontline healthcare workers serving during the pandemic. It compares the sense of loss and daily trauma encompassed by these events, simultaneously honouring those who place themselves at risk (both physically and mentally) in helping others and mourning an international tragedy. This album captures so much of the mood of this year, and it’s certainly deserving of being named one of 2020’s best releases.

9. Sad In The City by Broadway Calls

I’ve never met a Broadway Calls album I didn’t like, so it’s unsurprising that I’ve really enjoyed the band’s latest offering. The opening line asking “if my country collapses, can I crash on your couch?” captures the dystopian energy of the last year (or four in America), and sets the scene for some joyful catharsis. So even while you sing along, chanting “everyone’s sad in the city”, you can’t help but have a huge smile on your face. These are high-quality pop-punk bangers, and would seriously have scored higher on my list if it weren’t for the other exceptional albums released this year.

8. Death In Venice Beach by The Bombpops

The Bombpops are a band I’ve always liked but never fully committed to. But after just one listen to the new album, I was totally hooked. Death In Venice Beach delivers a stream of ultra-catchy pop punk jams with clever lyrics and great production. There is also a hidden seriousness to this album, since it details Poli van Dam’s battle with addiction. A song like “13 Stories Down” is really fun and upbeat, even as it describes the lowest points of alcoholism. This personal side of the album and the light it shines on the problem of addiction give the songs a little more heft, and the quality of the songwriting shines through the entire album. This is some of the best music The Bombpops have put out and certainly some the best music produced this year.

7. Wonderful Hell by War On Women

War On Women’s call to “raise some wonderful, beautiful hell” is the perfect rallying cry for a year that saw a major resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement and where the pandemic exacerbated pre-existing social inequities. I enjoyed War On Women’s previous release, Capture the Flag, but this album just hit differently in the current moment and I think the band’s songwriting is just getting better with each release. The album is full of heavy guitar riffs, big melodies, and Shawna’s unmistakable vocals. A triumphant combination of righteous anger and defiant positivity.

6. 20/20 Vision by Anti-Flag

Back in March, South Africa went into a hard 3-week lockdown (which of course ended up being extended). We weren’t allowed to leave our property, not even for short walk around the block, and just one family member could make the weekly trip to the grocery store to stock up on essentials. I had a large stack of marking to get through and many student concerns to deal with, and the new Anti-Flag album became my refuge. This is the band’s answer to Trump’s America: the hate it fostered and the deep divisions it widened. It’s full of the anthemic choruses you would expect from Anti-Flag, providing high-energy social commentary and calling for sustained resistance. The quality does not lag across the 11 tracks, which are full of great hooks and catchy lyrics. It’s an excellent addition to an already impressive music catalogue of a band who have been playing together for almost thirty years.

5. Revolution Spring by The Suicide Machines

It’s been a very long time since we’ve had a new Suicide Machines album, but hot damn it was worth the wait. The incredible bass tone on this album alone would be enough to make it a contender for my top ten, but it also delivers a delicious mix of punk and ska, with a few hardcore elements thrown in for some added flavour. Actual conversations Brett and I have had about this album include simply saying “it’s so good”, “yeah, right?!” to each other over and over again. A bop from start to finish.

4. Seamless by Pardon Us

Less than a year after their first album, Pardon Us dropped a new release absolutely packed with fun melodic-punk tunes. There are so many things I love about this album: the gruff lead vocals, the background harmonies, the incredibly catchy melodies, the thoughtful lyrics, and the sheer danceability of these songs. The band have really built upon their previous success and delivered a tight and polished sophomore album.

3. Life, Death And Everything In Between by Stöj Snak

The latest album from Danish folk punks Stöj Snak opens with an intense and haunting call to life that hit me like a physical force the first time I put this album on. Niels Højgaard Sørensen’s vocals are unlike any other singer out there: powerful, textured, and highly emotive; and the music brings together a brash punk energy with more soulful and folksy elements. The album really has ‘everything’: want to dance even while the world’s burning? Put on “Trees”; want the most perfect singalong about sticking it out even when life gets hard? “Bliss Point” has got you covered. It closes with a ballad about identity, change, and the journey of life that is beautifully expressed and incredibly moving. Just perfection.

2. You or Someone You Know by Worriers

Worriers’ previous album, Survival Pop, made my top ten list in 2017; but for some reason the first couple of times I listened to You Or Someone You Know I just didn’t connect with it. Then one afternoon, it finally all made sense and I marvelled once again at Lauren Denitzio’s fantastic songwriting and vocal skills. Despite the first track dealing with living through what often appears to be the “End Of The World” and many of the songs tackling difficult personal issues, the mood of the album is self-assertive and uplifting. And between the big melodies, deep grooves, and gorgeous guitar flourishes, the lyrics are direct and honest. A fantastic new release from Worriers that I’ve come to love more and more.

1. Brave Faces Everyone by Spanish Love Songs

Little did we know back in February when this came out that “Brave Faces Everyone” would become the perfect slogan for this year. I already knew then that this would take the number one spot on my list, and no matter how much I have listened to the other albums on this list, I have still listened to this one more. This is an album about facing up to daily fears and struggles, and choosing to try. This is something that I think everyone can relate to, whether that’s dealing with the drudgery of your job, mental health issues, or major life changes. Although the previous releases from Spanish Love Songs have been excellent, I think this is their best album to date. With its soaring choruses, flawless vocals, and a sound so big that it feels wrapped around me, it may possibly be one of my favourite albums of all time.

* Entries 3 and 4 on this list came to me via endorsements from Emma. This is not the first time I owe Emma thanks for an excellent recommendation, and I’m sure it won’t be the last (but thanks once again!)

This top ten was written by Robyn Pierce.

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