Best Releases of 2020 So Far (Part 3)



Real Estate – The Main Thing

To listen to Real Estate’s The Main Thing is to dive down to the bottom of the lake and look up at the glimmering light that filters through the water above. From the sound to the feeling, this record excels at creating an all-encompassing atmosphere in the depths of fluid, water-like dynamics, and a consistent taste of softened indie. For eleven years, Real Estate has delivered projects that never waver too far from their signature sound, and even though that foundation can grow stale—The Main Thing feels like a refreshing sense of nostalgia more than anything else. It is carved in the production and wide-open vocals they’re known for, but there’s etchings of a more matured and languid approach that stands apart from much of their other work. Whether or not it stands as strongly as it should— it feels worthy of praise for the group to try and climb out of the pigeon-hole they have created for themselves. It’s the potential and cohesive dedication to that potential that makes Real Estate’s The Main Thing worth paying attention to. – Hope Ankney

Retirement Party –  Runaway Dog

From the title track’s opening launch, Retirement Party signals they’re building something huge in Runaway Dog. The next chapter in the band’s releases is a catalog of powerfully structured riffs, contagious jams, and coming-of-age lyricism. In “Runaway Dog,” you can feel that very pacing gallop in rolling riffs that just stack upon each other in the most neat, clean structure. They’ve enhanced their style in tracks like “Compensation,” all while pushing into ballad territory that shows off just how dynamic they can be. In a record that laments the fear of loss and confronting it all, Retirement Party proves they have nothing to lose and everything to gain in their current and future entries. – Amanda Starling

Rotting Out – Ronin

Ronin is the first Rotting Out album since 2013, and a lot has happened to the band since then. In 2016, frontman Walter Delgado got arrested for drug trafficking marijuana and served 18 months in prison, which obviously put the band on hold for some time. The way he tells it, he was unsure if the band would ever reform, but now (well, before covid) they’re back and quite honestly better than ever. Ronin is the sleekest record they’ve ever released, but also the heaviest, meatiest, and most exhilarating. Delgado’s vocals are more rambunctious, charismatic, and joyously unhinged than ever, and the arrangements are slightly more intricate than the straightforward skate-core that they came up making. When concerts do finally resume, these songs are going to take walls down. – Eli Enis 

Rough Francis – Urgent Care

Burlington, Vermont’s Rough Francis are one of New England punk’s worst-kept secrets. On their 2020 LP, Urgent Care, they up the octane and politically prescient nature of their garage-influenced punk. With breathless, anxious bursts (“Urgent Care,” “Can’t Fool Me”), foreboding, explosive slow burns (“Teen Zombies,” “Tito’s Revenge,” “Microwaving”), and buzz-saw garage / proto-punk (“Waxed Curb,” “Deathwire”), Rough Francis are pissed off and taking aim at the existing systems of healthcare, societal alienation, and injustice that fuck up US citizens daily. Even more explosive drums from Urian Hackney, rock solid bass groove from Dan Davine, biting double guitar attacks from Julian Hackney and Paul Comegno, and throat-ripping yowls from Bobby Hackney, Jr. combine for Rough Francis’ leanest, rawest LP to date, and, at eighteen minutes over seven songs, easily their fastest. Oh, and this was written and recorded before the COVID-19 pandemic and current protests – so the real question is, why haven’t we all been listening to Rough Francis more carefully? – Adam Parshall 

Run The Jewels – RTJ4

RTJ are still the “antagonist bad guys” from earlier records, but as their platform has risen from the ashes, they have taken up that role and become even more political in their voice. El P delivers easily some of his best beats on any Run The Jewels project. Each instrumental creates a massive variety of sounds and samples, and they continually speed by in forty different directions: drums, horns, alarms, and sirens. The constant fluidity keeps everything sprinting along, in control and on tempo, but only barely so, like the protests this music was meant for. Prepared for this moment, El P and Mike leave it all on the field, draining every flow they’ve got and hopping back and forth tagging each other in and shattering skulls with fierce bars on police violence, and yes also just talking about how fucking cool they are and how pathetic their opponents are. The dense verses are memorable while still rewarding intent listening and research. – Henderson Cole 

Sada Baby – Skuba Sada 2

Detroit rapper Sada Baby spent the beginning of 2020 rapping in circles around his competition, releasing an unfathomable amount of new music at a frenetic pace. But hunting down these songs wasn’t always easy for casual listeners, Sada Baby mostly ignored major streaming services and instead uploaded his music to DatPiff and YouTube. These unconventional methods helped to transform Sada into one of the internet’s favorite rappers, and the excellent Skuba Sada 2, which compiles some of his hardest hitting tracks to date, serves as a victory lap for the spellbinding MC and to some, an introduction to his inimitable universe. – Michael Brooks 

Short Fictions – Fates Worse Than Death

Short Fictions didn’t qualify for The Alternative’s 2019 year-end lists because their record was released in late December– which is lucky for me because now I get to write about how these hometown heroes, armed with twangy guitars, horn lines, and blastbeats, made the perfect album for our apocalyptic anger in 2020. A concept album loosely strung together by a fear of global warming, Fates Worse Than Death has aged well in the age of Coronavirus. “I spent the day inside” Sam Treber croons on the very first lyric, and later, “I’m always here alone inside my bedroom.” The best part of this album, though, is the way Side B responds to the anxieties of Side A, finding motivation in solidarity and friendship, recommitting to the work of building homes and cities, and imagining a world beyond the disastrous effects of capitalism. – Harrison

Skatune Network – Ska Goes Emo

Think of Skatune Network’s Ska Goes Emo as a love letter to our favorite hits across the emo and indie rock scene. Jeremy Hunter, the mastermind behind fresh takes of your favorite theme songs and genre-spanning singles via Skatune Network, has done it again. They’ve perfectly orchestrated and remastered tracks with the sonic elements that take the energy of each emo single and reinvigorated it with gorgeous themes and nods to the ever-rich ska community. Remember how much fun it is to yell out Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”? Add a ska breakdown and it’s magical again. Think you love My Chemical Romance’s “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)”? Add in Night Witch’s Rosie Richeson and you’ve captured both brilliant musicianship and fan adoration. That’s really what makes Skatune Network so magical – how much both Jeremy and collaborators love the music, and it shows. In short: Ska Goes Emo is a reminder that everything is better with some belting horns and joyful heps.  – Amanda Starling

Snarls – Burst

Snarls describe themselves as “glitter emo pop” and they definitely figured out the most succinct way to get their point across. The songs on Burst are emotional, shining expressions of pop-rock, they seem to shimmer and sprawl around the edges but they never lose their focus or clarity. One of the best songs on the album is “What’s It Take,” which starts off vibrant and wry but breaks for a dramatic, showstopping interlude that brings the song into the territory of twinkling emo greatness. The song’s ending chant of “what’s it take/to be touched by you,” surrounded by a thickening cloud of sound, is intoxicating, more gripping with every listen. Later, the existential glimmer of the title track closes one of the best debut LPs of the year with a question of death (“when I die/ may I burst?”) that sounds more like an affirmation of living. – Jordan Walsh 

Soccer Mommy – Color Theory

Sophie Allison’s got a way of perfectly capturing the feeling of fleeting youth. On Color Theory she abandons the sort of childlike lovesickness and naivety that marked her debut in favor of a darker, more mature look at depression and grief. “Circle the Drain” demonstrates this aptly – “Things feel that low sometimes,” she intones, “even when everything is fine.” – Zac Djamoos 

Spanish Love Songs – Brave Faces Everyone

What are some of your greatest fears? Getting stuck in a meaningless job? Being unable to escape crippling anxiety? Bleakness that only seems to grow by the minute? Spanish Love Songs take what most of us try to push to the back of our minds with a hard hitting record, both instrumentally and lyrically. No matter what song you listen to, it’s hard to not be emotionally moved by it and need some time to reflect, like they some how knew how much of a disaster this year would be and the comfort an album like this can provide. Asking “It gets harder doesn’t it?”, it seems like the best you can do is put on a brave face and keep going. Lindsy Carrasquillo 

The 1975 –
Notes On A Conditional Form

When a band gets to be as big and revered as The 1975 are, they’re doomed to either rest on their laurels and rewrite their hits over and over with increasing apathy, or make a stylistic shift and possibly alienate the fans that helped them achieve such success. Luckily, The 1975 seem to know what they’re doing when they reinvent themselves. That, and their fans are surprisingly open to their ambitious nature (don’t ask fans of The Used’s self titled about their thoughts on Heartwork). On the expansive, 22-track Notes on a Conditional Form, The 1975 dip their toes in punk, dabble more into the electronic interludes and loops previously explored on I Like It When You Sleep…, and even feature the likes of Phoebe Bridges on one of their acoustic-driven tracks and vocalist Matt Healy’s father on a piano ballad. The result is the band at their most apparent happiness and heart’s content, refusing to get pigeonholed. While not my favorite record from the band, standout track runs such as I Think There’s Something You Should Know -> Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied -> Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy) truly showcase just how impeccably executed the multifarious nature of their discography can be. I think Notes on a Conditional Form has something anyone can hear and grasp onto, and the beauty in that is that it’s just them making the music they want to make. – Chris Musser 

The Strokes – The New Abnormal

Somewhere between Room on Fire and Angles, the leather jacket and cigarette went from being seen as a half-loving lampoon to religious iconography, and The Strokes became a part of the hallowed halls of Big Important Albums conversations. I propose that the question can no longer be “Is This Is A Great Strokes Album.” Who cares. This is the band that gave us the “Take It Or Leave It” Letterman performance, everyone wound so tight you can practically watch the blood vessels in their eyes burst. This is a band that made the “Someday” video and still ultimately got so wrapped up in the critical debate over what the Strokes Sound is that they themselves became unsure what it was supposed to be. The New Abnormal is an album that soars, it flags and bloats, it simmers without boiling, it shimmies without completely cutting loose and dancing. And somewhere in the self-conscious myth fulfillment, TNA keeps finding a live wire that runs from song to song, electrifying the glistening chorus of “The Adults Are Talking,” the strutting verses of “Eternal Summer,” the synths in “At The Door” and “Why Are Sundays So Depressing,” and every inch of “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus,” their best single since Room On Fire. – Keegan Bradford

Trace Mountains – Lost in The Country

Since the break up of LVL Up, Dave Benton has been performing and making music under the name Trace Mountains. While their first release with this new project came out in 2018, their follow up this year, Lost in the Country, feels like a reimagining. There are songs like “Cooper’s Dream” that call to mind the infectious choruses of Dave’s work in LVL Up, while also finding time to grow and experiment. Moments like the record’s long, winding title track, and on “Absurdity”, where a standard linear structure is eschewed in favor of letting the music find its way. It’s a record that feels both carefree in its construction and meticulous in its execution. – Eric Bennet

Ultimate Frisbee – Race Me

Ultimate Frisbee a relatively unknown emo band from Barcelona, just dropped this debut EP, and I’m already a huge fan. The instant you listen to this record you will know if you like it. It has the bare honesty, raw group vocals, and twinkly guitars which built a foundation of the most recent version of the “emo” sound. Even still, sounding like old favorites doesn’t make something good. The internet is full of tired imitations and FFO bands. What makes Ultimate Frisbee so exciting is their ability to perfectly execute all the facets of the genre while also bringing a unique energy from their hometown scene that hasn’t been heard much internationally. Their lyrics, mostly in English but occasionally in Catalan, are as angsty and bitter as you would want like, especially in a time like this. “m’agradaria ser millor persona, m’agradaria ser una persona (I want to be a better person, I want to be a person).” A great band like this can get you excited about an entire scene, and I’m pumped to see what comes next for them and other Spanish bands I haven’t heard yet. “You said my head’s in the clouds, at least I don’t have a ceiling.”  – Henderson Cole

Varsity – Fine Forever

Varsity’s new record Fine Forever is like a refreshing summer tea; it’s smooth, it’s cool, and it settles your mind for a moment as you indulge in it. The 70’s tones are poignant and the groove is hypnotic. While not a huge departure from the band’s previous work, Fine Forever is more a blending of the positives from each predecessor. – Luke Ferrara

Violent Soho – Everything is A-OK

Australia’s Violent Soho are one of the most underrated bands in the world. What else is new? You would think that after releasing a gem of an LP like WACO in 2016 they would have caught on more over here, but its not easy when you live on an island on the other side of the world. Yet they came back with maybe an even better record with this new one. Capturing the frantic energy of McLusky, the brooding vocals of classic Smashing Pumpkins, along with their own Aussie style, the result is a more than listenable LP with some of the more memorable tracks I’ve heard this year. – Henderson Cole

Virginity – Death to the Party

Death to the Party is to With Time what Spanish Love Songs’s Brave Faces Everyone is to Schmaltz. This EP has Virginity improving on their over the top, all over the place debut in a meaningful way, solidifying a sound and performing it just as it should be. The band perfectly balances pop punk and power pop with just enough of an orgcore spice to keep you on your toes. While more dense, more consistent, and fully fleshed out, Virginity has not lost any of their self-deprecating charm and offer enough to bring in new listeners and leave fans new and old thirsting for more. – Scott Fugger 

Walter Etc. – Dark Comedy Performance Piece of My Life

Walter Etc. hit you with some harsh harsh truths on this record, delivered in a somewhat melodic, but occasionally more spoken word folky delivery. Living up to its title, the record is truly a dry dark comedy, about the vocalist’s despair and breakup with his girlfriend. Sonically and lyrically its reminiscent of the early (and excellent) albums from The Cribs. Sure your girlfriend left you, but at least now you have more free time to… do yard work and think about your ex girlfriend. Wallow in the misery and crack a few jokes along with this gem, while you ballroom dance drunk alone in socks. – Henderson Cole

Waxahatchee – St. Cloud

While Katie Crutchfield had flirted with country influences here and there on her previous records as Waxahatchee, St. Cloud is the first record of hers to lean fully into it. The result is spectacular; St. Cloud is one of the year’s best LPs, sure to grab fans of hers who might never have thought themselves drawn to country. “Lilacs” finds the singer channeling Dylan, and “Fire” might be the purest showcase of Crutchfield’s vocal talents yet. – Zac Djamoos

Wednesday – I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone

Whether we realize it or not, nostalgia is often employed as a defense mechanism to help battle our loneliness. The human brain has the ability to recall even the most insignificant of details from a past memory, but our own altered perceptions can occasionally cause us to distort what’s real and what’s not. I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone, the sophomore full-length from Asheville-based quintet Wednesday, encapsulates the haziness of how we look back at the past, featuring eight infectious tracks completely immersed in an infinite abyss of reverb soaked grandeur. – Michael Brooks

Westside Gunn – Pray For Paris

Griselda, the Buffalo NY rap group made of up Westside Gunn, Benny The Butcher and Conway are not new, their style is not new, and in fact they were probably already “classic” before they ever even got noticed. But once they started to get the press they deserved, it was like a treasure trove was discovered, with their dozens of albums as individuals and as a group, all gems. They carried this hot streak into in 2020 with more great releases chock full o’ bars, and then pandemic struck. Westside Gunn was infected with Covid, but refused to go down. Buffalo is like that. Healed, he dropped Pray for Paris, perhaps his best work to date. Charming piano samples, alarming lyrics, virtuoso flows, he’s got it all and nothing, not even a plague can stop the fly god. “There ain’t another rapper that’s alive that can match my pen. Back again, mac clap your men“. – Henderson Cole

Worst Party Ever – here, online

Worst Party Ever came of age like countless bands in the iPhone era: hastily recorded acoustic songs thrown up as collections of demos on Bandcamp. The reason you’ve heard of Worst Party Ever is that, unlike all those other bands, Worst Party Ever is very, very good. Not unlike Shueneman’s Instagram feed, the songs lyrically are moody snapshots devoid of context, vivid glimpses of emotional turmoil, changing relationships, and falling asleep on floors, in cars, in the closet, etc. While the music that made its way online was largely Andrew Schueneman’s solo material, the full band was a constant fixture in southwest Florida’s growing DIY music scene in the mid-2010s, albeit with a rotating cast of members. In the last few years, the lineup has solidified as a three-piece, and here, online is a reintroduction (and the best named record of the year). Even the rerecorded versions of old songs like “False Teeth”—formerly “Worst Party Ever” the song—have been renamed and reimagined. The urgent, driving guitars and thunderous drums are a welcome change and a sign that a new, more purposeful Worst Party Ever is here to stay. The standout is the unexpectedly groovy “what about you?”, the band’s first earnest attempt at a pop song, and a success by all measures. – Keegan Bradford

youbet – Compare & Despair

I had never heard youbet before, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I tuned into their new record Compare & Despair (I mean look at that album cover). But by the end of the first track, I was wailing along, entranced by the bedroom pop production, winding lyrics, smooth melodies, and varying tempos. Samples weave their way in between building melodies, and highlight the shining vocals. Almost an indie/country record at points (almost in the vein of Ratboys), while at other times feeling like a solo basement act with a drum machine (a la Colleen Green), this LP is full of constant surprises without ever feeling like it’s trying too hard. “Get of my head, you’re just an anxious sound.” – Henderson Cole




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