December 2020. We made it. The year is almost out. And as is tradition, the end of year lists are pouring in from the media, and we thought it only fair we throw our hat into the ring too.
We did a whip around the See Tickets (virtual) office and after some debate, put together our top 20 songs of the year. It's a real eclectic mix. Something we can be grateful for this year is the sheer amount of brilliant music produced, in spite of the truly unique set of circumstances under which it was released. So, enjoy our rundown of top 2020 tracks, in no particular order...
Grounds - IDLES
In 2020 IDLES returned with their latest album 'Ultra Mono', their third - and if possible, their most politically charged - record to date. From deep in the belly of the album comes 'Grounds', an unnerving track that thunders along emphatically, with heavy guitar that punctuates the song's more biting lines of social justice, and a perturbing drum beat to make even the most casual listener stand to attention. A song about unity in humankind, it's impossible to stop the lyric "Do you hear that thunder? That's the sound of strength in numbers" from echoing in your mind for days.
Golden - Harry Styles
Harry Styles stunned critics, fans and sceptics alike with LP 'Fine Line', released at the back end of last year. With his debut solo record, Styles cemented himself as a star in his own right, paving a somewhat instant legacy in pop music. Following global hit 'Watermelon Sugar' comes 'Golden', a song which shows its strengths in the form of an almost infuriatingly infectious hook, ready to imprint itself in your memory from first listen, and breezy indie-pop melodies that are desperately awaiting your next summer road trip.
People, I've been sad - Christine and the Queens
After two critically heralded albums, Christine and the Queens managed to release an EP this year that somehow surpassed all expectation. 'La vita nuova', released both as an EP and a short film, exposed the most raw and emotional sides of Chris, placing her on a pedestal that surely cannot be raised any higher. In 'People, I've been sad', the precursor to the EP, Chris takes us on what could be the most genuine, provoking and heart-wrenching journey of her career which, despite its emergence pre-lockdown, somehow encapsulated the most isolating and dark moments of 2020.
Superheroes - Stormzy
Stormzy has been a record-breaker, game-changer, icon and hero for so long now, it's difficult to imagine a time in contemporary music where he was not making waves. With the release of 'Superheroes', Stormzy has produced the most pure and joyful celebration of black culture and black icons. In a year where worldwide struggle has not been in short supply, humanity sat up and took notice of the Black Lives Matter movement, and 'Superheroes' is the perfect encapsulation of that moment. Dedicated to the late actor Chadwick Boseman - of Black Panther fame - this track is one that should go down in history, and certainly should be on your playlist.
The Steps - HAIM
'Women In Music Pt iii', the third instalment from the Haim sisters, has been critically applauded across the board for its diverse and evolved sound. And with it, HAIM have truly progressed to another level in their career. Released back in March, 'The Steps' emerged as a guitar-led summer anthem, designed to let out the frustrations of repairing difficult relationships. So as HAIM pave the way to becoming true feminist icons in the music industry, 'The Steps' further emphasises the message that sits at the core of the band's ethos: "women make the best rock music".
Simmer - Hayley Williams
Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams released her eclectic and artistic debut album this year, one of our favourites as noted back in May. Thematically, on 'Petals For Armor', the tackling of identity, beauty and femininity is deeply personal. It has been executed delicately and with the utmost sincerity. But in contrast, trauma has its own, dark place on the album too, and is most brilliantly showcased in the likes of the off-beat and biting 'Simmer'. Williams deals with her experiences of loss, tragedy and PTSD in this, and across the album. An album born out of therapy has no doubt become therapeutic to so many in what has been a truly challenging year.
Say The Name - clipping.
With their latest LP 'Visions Of Bodies Being Burned' - part two to the previously released 'There Existed an Addicition To Blood' - horrorcore icons clipping. bring a truly chill-inducing, mind-blowing collection of experimental hip-hop tracks. Imagine campfire stories, expertly transformed into sprawling, flawless rapid-fire raps, thematically haunting and avant-garde. In 'Say The Name', influence is drawn from iconic cinema (Candyman) and 90s hip-hop (Geto Boys' 'Scarface' sampled for the penetrating hook, and album title). There truly is no sound in 2020 like clipping. 'Say The Name' demonstrates their identity perfectly in less than four minutes.
XS - Rina Sawayama
Japanese-British singer-songwriter Rina Sawayama has segued flawlessly from her 2017 pop EP 'Rina' to producing one of the most interesting and creative records of the year. The poster child for genre fluidity, Sawayama incorporates her love of indie and rock into an otherwise strikingly unique pop sound, tinged with 00s R&B - the song 'XS' is the ultimate example of that. Off-kilter heavy guitar catches you unexpectedly in this anthem dedicated to commenting on capitalism and climate change in the modern world. Never has politics been more quietly disguised in the shiny sound of a pop song that could have been released by a 'Stripped'-era Christina Aguilera.
Wildfires - Sault
Four albums in, enigmatic British collective Sault continue to astound and impress the music press with political blues that, despite their ominous presence and lack of engagement with the media, makes waves. In 'Wildfires', Sault stand quietly but aggressively defiant. 'Wildfires' has impact, especially in 2020 as a time of global social and political unrest. It's bitingly honest, without causing a scene. A peaceful protest pairing beautiful melodies with a blunt lyricism that very elegantly portrays grief, anger, despair and a willingness to fight back against injustice.
Prisoner (feat. Dua Lipa) - Miley Cyrus
In what can only be described as the greatest pop mashup of the year, 'Prisoner' sees Miley Cyrus pair up with Dua Lipa for the perfect example of modern pop writing its own rules and having a great time doing so. Miley Cyrus's return to rock roots this year has been a delight to watch. From covers of Blondie, Hole and The Cranberries, and the prospect of a Metallica covers album on the horizon, Cyrus has been diving deep into classic rock for influence. It's evident in the nostalgic glam rock tones of 'Prisoner'.
The Adults are Talking - The Strokes
Returning seven years since their last album, indie veterans The Strokes seem to have spent their time away on self-reflection, as latest release 'The New Abnormal' seems somewhat introspective. We're sure when The Strokes named their album, 'The New Abnormal' they had no idea how accurate that would be in 2020. But, a new Strokes record is probably just what fans of the genre needed for a tiny sense of relief and normality in these times. Released last month, 'The Adults Are Talking' takes furious aim at modern America and is aurally comparable to 2013's 'One Way Trigger'. 'The Adults Are Talking is a refreshingly creative and still somewhat familiar return to form for The Strokes, and we're here for it.
On Track - Tame Impala
It's been a banner year for Tame Impala thanks to the release of 'The Slow Rush' in 2019. The record became their highest charting album in the US to date. Tame Impala also won the NME Awards' first ever award for Best Australian Band and Best Song in their brand-new Australian category with 'Borderline'. In this piano-led track, Kevin Parker gives a dreamy ode to optimism, spattered with impactful drums and that signature Tame Impala synth we all know and love. This is a track perfect for introspective moments and daydreaming of brighter days.
Garden Song - Phoebe Bridgers
In 2020, Phoebe Bridgers has thrived. As one of the all-female nominees for Best Rock Performance at the GRAMMYs, Bridgers has proven herself a trailblazer and pioneer in the field. With her latest album 'Punisher', she set herself apart from the competition in terms of songwriting, constantly penning intricate, complex and deeply impactful narratives in her songs. 'Garden Song' is no exception. Through the looking-glass of nostalgia and hazy memories, 'Garden Song' is the epitome of wistful melancholy. A dreamy lullaby of days gone by that we wish we could revisit.
Time (feat. Ariana Grande) - Childish Gambino
In true Childish Gambino fashion, the promotion of his latest album release was unflashy, unexpected, and almost blink-and-you'll-miss-it. As a record though, it's a different story. As noted in our blog earlier this year, '3.15.20' is experimental and sprawling in its sound, with huge affecting melodies, intense breakdowns and aurally-pleasing culminations of almost every genre he has touched upon in his back catalogue. 'Time' stands out as a real crowd pleaser in the tracklist. It's a great example of the journey that Gambino has embarked upon over the years. With global superstar and pop sweetheart Ariana Grande in tow, it's an instant classic.
If You're Too Shy (Let Me Know) - The 1975
Indie pop sweethearts The 1975 return with another record, 'Notes on a Conditional Form', that surpasses its predecessor. And from deep in the heart of the mammoth 22 track album comes 'If You're Too Shy (Let Me Know)' which features backing vocals from the hugely talented FKA Twigs. The song is the band's highest charting single in the UK charts to date. It's easy to see why. From many years of crafting their sound, it's possible they've achieved exactly what they were aiming for: a blissfully nostalgic sound, uniquely The 1975 which is equal parts fresh and familiar.
Hypercolour - Camelphat, Yannis, Foals
In 'Hypercolour', GRAMMY Award-nominated Camelphat have fulfilled a dream: to collaborate with Foals, a huge influence of theirs. The feeling was mutual. What comes of this desire to blend genres, passions and admiration is a anthemic electronic delight, with one of the most recognisable and infectious electronic songs heard in many years. As one of the most well established and celebrated producers in the field, Camelphat pull off this collaboration with expert precision and the result is pairing of hypnotic synths and a vocal performance you won't be able to get out of your head.
Afterthought - Joji, BENEE
From the former YouTuber Joji's new album 'Nectar' comes 'Afterthought', an echoing and understated track featuring the talents of up-and-coming singer-songwriter BENEE. This haunting duet is a near-perfect pairing of talents. Both as subtle as they are strong, the vocals compliment and bounce off one another in spectacular harmony. 'Afterthought''s strengths lie in its quieter moments, and knowing exactly when to use them. It's a sorrowful ballad, which beautifully captures torment, loss and the feeling of letting go.
Valleys - Working Men's Club
West Yorkshire lads Working Men's Club take look at life growing up in small towns and hoping for more in 'Valleys' from their self-titled debut. It's emphatically honest. The repetitive and often jarring synth-work coupled with a monotone vocal really drives the point home the sense of hopelessness. "This valley is my hearse. When will it take me to the grave?" they ask. Well, quite. In a time of lockdowns and stay at home orders, it hits pretty close to home for many of us. From start to finish, 'Valleys' builds an impending sense of urgency and anxiety that is quite ingenious and undeniably unsettling.
Woman (feat Lianne La Havas) - NAO
In a stunning ode to women comes the appropriately titled 'Woman' from NAO, featuring Lianne La Havas. It's a perfect pairing of two huge talents, in a song is filled to the brim with soulful vocals and melodic sunny beats. The song's statement is clear - let us celebrate womanhood in all its glory. And it does it expertly. One of the most feel-good tracks of the year, 'Woman' will make your body move whether you like it or not. It's a song that would fall into place in any musical era of the past few decades. A timeless sound with a timeless message. "If God is a woman, on Sunday I'ma worship us".
Cars In Space - Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
'Cars In Space' is an up-tempo number that feels almost designed to get you moving. It showcases exactly what indie pop is known for. RBCF execute it with perfection; juxtaposing joyful, upbeat, sun soaked composition with lyrics that might not necessarily agree. In the band's own words, it's "“the swirling words and thoughts before a breakup”. But let it be known that 'Cars In Space' manages to steer clear of the typical constructs of a break-up song and produces a bold, creative and classic indie track that wouldn't put the band out of place in any awards list next year.
Listen to the playlist here:
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