The 75 Best Releases of 2020 So Far

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2020 has not been a good year; that goes really without saying. Between the Covid pandemic, Trump, police racism and violence, and continuing environmental disasters, there have been so many dark things going on that its hard to discuss or digest music at all. But in art there’s hope for change, or at the very least the pleasant distraction needed to relax and recharge to continue the fight tomorrow. With that in mind, we have listed our favorite releases of the year so far. The albums are unranked, and honestly they are all worth your time. If Spotify playlists are your thing,  make sure to check out our playlist featuring 2 tracks from each of the records at the end of Page 3, and if you’re planning on buying some of these records, do it this Friday, June 19, through Bandcamp which will be donating 100% of their share of sales to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

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Without further ado, here is our list of the Best Records of 2020 so far:


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Addy – Eclipse

Addy’s debut LP sounds like a widescreen epic made with a bedroom sensibility. The core of these songs lay in songwriter Adam Watkins’s gentle acoustic strumming and their laid-back, wistful voice. But Eclipse is adorned with lo-fi beats, evocative violins, echoing electric guitars and more; elements that bring complexity and build a vivid world. The way “Strawberries” breezily yawns along a gently swaying melody; the way “Garden Snake” tentatively flourishes in contemplative rings of mellow programming; the way “Eclipse” patiently weedles its way into a panoramic finish. These are the ways that Addy seems to be unearthing a low-key gem in real time. Eclipse is a record to kick back and close your eyes to, something worth sinking into over and over again. – Jordan Walsh


AJJ – Good Luck Everybody

AJJ’s newest record came early in 2020 when the world looked bleak as can possibly be, but little did we know it was about to get worse: Bernie would drop out, pandemic, protests across the country, and cops bashing anyone to death they could get their hands on, while the president cheers on. But even then, AJJ was feeling the manic despair of someone who knows the other shoe is about to drop. On folky punk songs with free flowing wild energy, AJJ describe the normalization of Trumpworld, fascism, and how we need to elect a giant guillotine to slice off all the heads of everyone in power in one fell swoop. They drop sarcastic lines that cut through the depression like a joke in a eulogy. “I should speak with someone I don’t know today, people are real. Oh to be awake for such a shitty dream, a bullet in the head of every decent thing.” While you are contemplating that last line, they’ll drop in a vocal effect or a keyboard solo, to stomp out any last grasp of reality that remained. Perfectly off balance, the band will catch you off guard with a hook right when you’ve completely dropped your guard. “The lake of dead black children, that America created, is getting fuller than the founding fathers even wanted.” – Henderson Cole


All Time Low – Wake Up, Sunshine

Taking a year-long hiatus after more than a decade of hitting the pavement hard has probably been the most beneficial point of action for pop-punk veterans All Time Low. With lead singer Alex Gaskarth branching off into an Alt-EDM duo with fellow pop-punk veteran Mark Hoppus and lead-guitarist Jack Barakat dabbling in an indie-pop project of his own, the exploration into different artistic space felt apparent in the best way when the band regrouped to release Wake Up, Sunshine in April. It’s a record that feels both refreshing as it does deeply rooted in everything that’s ever made All Time Low great. Bouncing back and forth from experimental, sonic production, rousing guitars, and heavy drums it is a refreshing reminder of the powerhouse that All Time Low is when they get it right. Wake Up, Sunshine is not just a return to their roots musically, but it is a return to the themes of young love and the ever-chasing-youth that has always been their sweet spot. – Hope Ankney



The Canadian-based project, Austra, has returned with an even more whimsical and well-orchestrated LP, HiRUDiN. This is their 4th full-length record as the band has grown more and more into their art-pop sound. Combining airy synths with electrifying beats and of course, Katie’s signature operatic vocals make more a compelling and complex album in their discography. Tracks such as opener “Anywayz” and “How Did I Know?” showcase the dynamic range that Austra continuously pushes on each record. Emphasizing simplistic, yet elegant melodies to accompany Katie’s vocal range proves that Austra still has so much more to show in their career. – Sarah Knoll


Bacchae Pleasure Vision

Bacchae showcases their unapologetically loud and thoughtful energy in their second album, Pleasure Vision. Their latest entry confronts how we and society contort our understanding of ourselves, from viewpoints to physicality, all while tied with their tightest songs yet. Songs like “Stop Looking” and “Hammer” examine fitting in, outgrowing, and becoming a better version of yourself. Whether it’s letting go of what’s lost meaning (“Say What You’re Feeling”) or confronting surfacing pain (“Everything Ugly”), Bacchae balances moments of reflection and slower-ballads with their noiser, sharper push-back tracks (“Older I Get”). Their sound is flexible and sharp, driven by unforgettable, incisive melodies that lock in these meaningful, reflective tracks. Pleasure Vision might just cause you to shift your own perspective on self and sound, all in one brilliant release. – Amanda Starling


Bartees Strange – Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy

One of my favorite musical moments so far this year was taking a step away from work to take a walk and listen to Bartees Strange’s cover of “Lemonworld” for the first time. I think I’ll never forget the feeling I had when the cover lifted into new, bombastic territory—I remember stopping dead in the street. There’s no way that Bartees could have known that The National’s claustrophobic, odd little song would feel eerily prescient for our (then) quickly approaching quarantine era, but he has a way of turning that song into something immediate and anthemic. The rest of Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy, mostly composed of covers from The National’s catalogue (depending on the version you have) refrains from the level of loudness, but the collection honors and enhances The National’s originals in different and equally gorgeous ways. “All the Wine” grooves darkly, the spotlight shining on Strange’s soulful vocals. “Mr. November” eschews the original’s aggression in favor of a hypnotic, driving kind of sound. Strange is set to release his debut full-length sometime later this year, and if Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy is any indication, we’re in for something truly special. – Jordan Walsh


Beach Bunny – Honeymoon

There was a fizzing anticipation for Beach Bunny’s debut as their 2018 EP Prom Queen catapulted their brash commentary and lo-fi pop sensibilities to a much larger audience than expected. When the group dropped Honeymoon on Valentine’s Day, they knew what they were doing. On Honeymoon, Beach Bunny does not follow a cookie-cutter template of how to document love. Instead, they give a raw and vulnerable insight on what is often overlooked when discussing relationships in art. This record extends its hand out, formerly inviting you to evade Trifilio’s personal love story, and if it weren’t for the ever-energized musical landscape and Trifilio’s excellent lyrical prowess, Honeymoon wouldn’t hit as hard as it does. Check the record if you want all the bark and bite that the group has to offer going forward. – Hope Ankney


Ben Seretan – Youth Pastoral

Youth Pastoral, the latest album from New York songwriter Ben Seretan, is ultimately an album about catharsis. Influenced by a breakup and Seretan’s own personal experience of losing faith, the album grapples with what it’s like to rediscover yourself when the driving force behind your life is no longer there. Sitting somewhere between spiritual and secular, Youth Pastoral blends together quiet passages of jittery freak-folk with ornate arrangements and a raucous energy, evident on songs such as the album’s breathtaking centerpiece “Am I Doing Right By You.” Healing is an arduous process that requires both time and patience and Youth Pastoral finds beauty in the journey towards self enlightenment. – Michael Brooks


Boldy James / The Alchemist – The Price of Tea in China

Having teamed up previously on 2013’s My 1st Chemistry Set and last year’s Boldface EP, The Price of Tea in China marks Boldy James and The Alchemist’s third collaboration, and it’s easily their best work yet. After starting off the 2010’s with some buzz, Boldy slowly dipped back into the shadows, quietly releasing a handful of mixtapes and EPs throughout the decade but never really making much of a splash. But with the help of Alchemist, who’s rivaled only by Madlib in their ability to help shape an artist’s singular sound into a cohesive vision, Boldy has returned with a masterclass in lyricism and storytelling, elevated by Alchemist’s woozy production. It’s an incredibly evocative record detailing the grim realities of Boldy’s own world, capturing a mood and ambiance you won’t find on any other rap album this year. – Michael Brooks 

Bravely/Hodera – Changing/You’re Worth It

Matthew Smith has two different releases so far this year, and they’re both fantastic. First releasing the sophomore album Changing through his solo project, Bravely, Smith has added another volume to the folk saga that is gentle yet stirring. Two months later his full band, Hodera, released an EP called You’re Worth It that reiterated the stylistic differences when the other members are involved. Bravely is bare and direct, focusing on the storytelling. Hodera is faster, kinetic, and saturated. There are obvious connections to the themes, as Smith is the primary lyricist, such as the refrain of “you’re worth it” in Bravely’s “This Time Around” being the title of the Hodera work. They are both solid bodies of work, and really bring together the best parts to split the difference. – Luke Ferrara 

Brian Fallon – Local Honey

Brian Fallon is usually known for his upbeat heartland rock and roll, but on Local Honey, he turns things down a bit. Fallon’s third solo record is closer to sparse country or folk than it is to summery rock music, almost like a reaction to his Motown-inspired, soulful last LP Sleepwalkers. It should make one thing absolutely clear: Fallon’s one of the best (and most versatile) songwriters of his generation. – Zac Djamoos 

Caroline Rose – Superstar

Caroline Rose’s second full length, Superstar, is billed as a concept album about fame, full of references to Chateau Marmont and bright lights. However, it works better as an exploration of how far the walls can be pushed within pop music. Rose makes bright, bold music that feels like it’s a few degrees away from the kind of pop you could sell to Katy Perry. It’s that level of deviation away from the norm that makes songs like “Do You Think We’ll Last Forever?” and “Nothing’s Impossible” stand out. That said, the record’s back half is full of bizarre moments like “Pipe Dreams” that teeter closer to indie rock.  – Eric Bennett 

Carpool – Erotic Nightmare Summer

Non-American emo bands have been kicking America’s ass recently. Bands like Terrible People and Forests from Asia and Ultimate Frisbee and Shakers from Europe just have had a better feel for that scattered and occasionally melodic sound that make “emo” as I like it best, in the style of bands like Dikembe, You Blew It, Glocca Morra, Algernon, etc… Fortunately for us living here, Carpool are bucking that trend with a powerful new record that shows America’s basement scene has still got it. Erotic Nightmare Summer dropped in the midst of the protests against police violence during a pandemic, so you may have missed it, but it’s Jimmy Eat World-esque hooks, and gruff yelled vocals along with guitar solos and mini breakdowns make for just the perfect combination for a hot summer house show. “I’m fucked up not doing the best, I wish that these thoughts had stayed inside my head.” Highlights like “The Salty Song”, “Come Thru”, and “Whiskey & Xanax” are the catchiest songs of the summer that’re about having a mental breakdown, and when we eventually get to see them live you can find me in the pit. – Henderson Cole 

Caspian – On Circles

Caspian’s carved out their own niche in the post-rock world. On Circles is, more than anything else, a testament to the band’s mastery of the genre. The gorgeous “Flowers of Light” calls back to their brighter Waking Season days, while “Collapser” teeters on the edge of post-metal. Songs like “Wildblood” and “Ishmael” don’t recall any other styles, though; they’re proof that Caspian is a band entirely their own. – Zac Djamoos 

Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now

It is incredibly rare to find a pop icon as famous as Charli XCX (when her last LP Charli dropped in 2019 she reached the 7th most listened artist on Spotify) who can also be as open and candid as her. When the worldwide quarantine began, she took to Instagram and self-imposed a two-month deadline to write and record an album from her L.A. home. Using Instagram’s live feature to hold weekly roundtable discussions, Charli met with fans to preview new beats and even enlisted their help in co-writing lyrics. The result is a glitchy, self-dubbed future pop masterpiece that is even more ambitious than her last release. What’s most important is how cohesively the album flows, as if it were one of her DJ sets at a club. “Pink Diamond” proves to be a jarring opener with the bass boosted to 11; yet somehow delicately flows into “Forever” and “Claws”, the first two singles. Feeling more anthemic and showcasing a softer side to Charli, they serve as great predecessors to the album’s core, which catches Charli at her most delicate – softer production perfectly complementing the more introspective and endearing lyricism. In classic Charli fashion, the back third is a testament to her Pop 2-era musicality, led by whirling synths and the glitchy production from the formidable PC music collective. how i’m feeling now successfully brands itself as bedroom pop, yet wouldn’t sound out of place being blasted through the PA at Pitchfork fest, and it’s that multi-faceted application that garners such widespread and well deserved appeal. – Chris Musser

Charmer – Ivy

Charmer’s 2018 self-titled full length felt like a final salvo in the twinkly wars, an album full of noodly riffs and cathartic build-and-release structures that made a final argument for a fading corner of the genre. The band threaded the gap between The World Is… and Brave Bird’s respective approaches to wringing every last drop of emotional resonance out of searing mid-tempo bangers, with songs that get in and out quite a bit quicker than either of the aforementioned. Ivy isn’t a sea change for the band, but it shores up the ragged edges, never quite leaving emo behind, but doing something much richer and fuller than they ever have before. The songs on Ivy hang out in the 2:30-3:00 range—Charmer’s established comfort zone—but the band covers more ground than on the self-titled. The riffs never twinkle aimlessly: the guitars are gritter, and they jab and feint around one another with fierce purpose. “Windbreaker” howls into the wind; “Track & Field” finds a propulsive groove and slowly breaks it down, blending lovestruck into forlorn until the two become indistinguishable. The production is so smooth and warm that it gives the false impression that these songs are careful or mannered. Charmer is still pouring their hearts out, they’re just too good at what they do for it to come off like a mess. – Keegan Bradford

Chika – Industry Games

When I first heard Chika it was on amateur cell phone camera social media posts where she was rapping and rapping, crushing it on video after video, beat after beat. But social media rappers pop up all the time, even though she had bars, I was hopeful that she would be able to take her career to the next level with some official releases. Well after dropping a bunch of tracks over the last couple years, she now has her first real album, Industry Games, and it’s as good as anyone had hoped. Over a wide variety of beats including more traditional chiming samples, swelling horns, strings, and vocal backing tracks she executes flows on a number of topics including her rise from social media and her continued plans to take over the music world. “I know I ain’t got no hourglass figure, but I can get smaller while my pockets getting bigger.” Sometimes it takes on a more spiritual vibe over church organs, other times it’s straight street rap, and there’s even a club track, but all the time Chika is rapping and rapping, because that’s what she does. Her NPR live session is proof of her versatility. I’m excited to see what comes next, because the sky’s the limit. – Henderson Cole

Denzel Curry / Kenny Beats – UNLOCKED

Denzel Curry is undoubtedly one of the best active MCs and Kenny Beats is quickly becoming one of the premiere producers in all of hip-hop. This collab project is some of both of their best work, and its sample heavy formula and ADHD scatter of subjects feels as if you stumbled onto something you weren’t supposed to: a secret radio station from an alternate dimension. In its 8 tracks and ~15 minutes, DC spits in every single direction (even dropping a rarely attempted DMX flow on “DIET”), while Kenny opens the gate to the Twilight Zone with his foreboding beats and scattered samples. Around every corner, every beat, every measure, Kenny has something for you. And DC will make sure that you are listening as tracks pop in and then disappear only to come back in another form. “I don’t got candy, but I’ll turn your head to gushers, sucker, when you see the barrel better pucker”. This is dark hectic music from artists at their peak, perfectly suited for this simulation. – Henderson Cole


Diet Cig — Do You Wonder About Me?

Do You Wonder About Me? is a saving grace of fun in what has been a dark and difficult year. Diet Cig’s music and live shows have always had a way of turning growing pains into a sugar rush of punk rock, and their second LP is their most streamlined, focused burst of energy yet. Opener “Thriving” is one of the catchiest songs of the year, an anthem of self-love that’s bristling with positivity. This is not to say that Diet Cig shies away from darker subjects, the incredible “Broken Body” booms with thunderous introspection, vocalist Alex Luciano asks “why can’t I be on my own team?” before exploding into a chorus that asks another, even more heartbreaking question, “if my body’s broken/ does that mean that I’m broken too?” But if there’s an album that makes me miss live shows, it’s this one—so much of it feels cathartic in a way that makes me want to jump around and sing my heart out. Still, the songs on Do You Wonder About Me? offer some solace when it’s turned up loud as can be, even if it’s just in your empty living room. – Jordan Walsh


Disq takes classic garage-rock tones and pushes them to the nines on Collector. Their brash vocal delivery combined with the heavy strumming of guitars and distorted sound overall harks back to the rock sound of the late 60’s. The band push the envelope on melodies on each track, making each part of the song interesting. Teetering between tradition and experimentation, the band deliver a unique take on the genre. Surprising the listener with each chord and lyric sung. Expressing the narratives of their teenage lives moving into adulthood. Disq truly revive a music style that we saw in the 60’s and all throughout the history of rock, but with an attitude that feels contemporary.  – Sarah Knoll


Dogleg Melee

I don’t even know where to start with Dogleg because in some ways they feel like a band you either get or you don’t. The band has raw power with a tinge of darkness that makes them feel like they’re from another era. I just can’t tell if that era is 2008 or 2031. Each of the 10 tracks on Melee feature soaring guitars, pounding drums, and uniquely melodic, but gruff vocals, all of which have plenty of room to breath. Fortunately, the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater remasters comings to consoles later this year will have nearly the same soundtrack as their originals. Unfortunately that means you’ll have to pull out a real life skateboard if you want to shred while listening to Dogleg. – Scott Fugger


Drain — California Cursed

Sadly, Drain’s debut album California Cursed was built for the type of mosh pit chaos that doesn’t exist at the moment. The Santa Cruz hardcore band play an addicting blend of bouncy NYHC and California crossover, with hooks that are both catchy and heavy. They’re the perfect band for this current point in hardcore’s timeline, as the domination of metallic hardcore is slowly being replaced by a new wave of stagedive-worthy melodic hardcore bands. Drain’s vocalist Sam Ciaramitaro has an exuberant delivery that embodies a tongues-out, horns up energy, and his bandmates are fuckin’ tight as hell. California Cursed is one of the best hardcore records of the last couple years, so we’re just going to have to keep those bedroom pits going until concerts return and these songs give way to total mayhem. – Eli Enis


Elvis Depressedly — Depressedelica

The latest and long-awaited Elvis Depressedly album might be the closest Mathew Lee Cothran has come to making a bonafide masterpiece. The North Carolina musician has been putting out drab lo-fi pop music across a handful of monikers for over a decade, and although there are many individual moments throughout his massive catalog that are downright perfect, Depressedelica contains a couple clusters of experimental indie-pop brilliance. From his forward-thinking use of auto-tune on “Jane, Don’t You Know Me?”, “Can You Hear My Guitar Rotting?” and “Control”, to the fuck-it-all comfort of the brisk closers, “Let’s Break Up The Band” and “New Love In The Summertime”, Depressedelica is the work of an unrelenting creative continuing to evolve both radically and naturally. – Eli Enis

Floral Tattoo – You Can Never Have a Long Enough Head Start

The first proper song on You Can Never Have a Long Enough Head Start sounds like the last song on a Neutral Milk Hotel album: carnival-colored swirls of sound, a ferris wheel on fire cheerfully flying off its axis and into the night sky. There’s a spoken word section in the middle. There is no chorus—attempting to define the song’s structure is like holding an ice cube, ruining it by trying to bring it too close. The songs are as big and chaotic as the feelings inside ’em; the album is best experienced by putting the headphones on and turning it up to dangerous volumes and letting it become your world for an hour. Every song sounds like a triumphant closer, or maybe exactly the opposite: the opening theme song to a show about aimlessness and adventure, a soundtrack to couchsurfing your way through the years where the only thing that feels important is figuring out what feels important. It’s every bad thing in your life piled into the trunk of a ‘98 Toyota that smells like gas even when it won’t start; it’s the whole thing shifted into neutral and lit on fire and sent rolling the fuck down Queen Anne Hill. – Keegan Bradford

Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Fiona Apple has emerged from seclusion once again, and at a time when everyone was forced to be as reclusive as she was during the making of Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Taking the embrace of percussion highlighted on 2012’s The Idler Wheel…, Apple ups the ante; using everything at her disposal to bolster the homespun feel of the record, even if the only thing there to hit is the back of a chair. Songs like “Cosmonauts” and “Shameika” are some of the best things she’s ever created and reinforce her piano-rock prowess, cementing her as an icon of our time. – Eric Bennet



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