2020 sure was a shit year, eh? Through all of the anxiety of the COVID-19 pandemic, the weeks of political fury and riots, the isolation caused by said pandemic, and the absolute chaos of the United States presidential election, it was easily one of the worst years in my lifetime.
However, that didn’t stop this year from being full of fantastic music, which helped make this garbage fire of a year somewhat more bearable.
Here are some reviews for my top 10 albums of 2020, plus some EPs and honourable mentions.
The records I chose here are the ones that helped make this year more bearable, the ones that made up my soundtrack to the year. Those in the honourable mentions are records that I really enjoyed, but got to a little to late to make much of an effect on my listening habits of 2020, though I’ve been finding a lot of enjoyment out of them in late 2020/2021 so far.
So let’s get at it! Here are my favourite albums of 2020!
I didn’t want to do any sort of critical ranking of them, since each album affected me and helped me cope with the year in different ways, so I’m simply listing them in alphabetical order.
Artificial Dissemination – Modern Day Peasants
Modern Day Peasants is exactly what I wanted in a punk album in 2020. 10 songs of solid, hard-hitting punk rock that’s equal parts serious and sarcastic, with solid doses of fun throughout. I honestly think it’s their best record so far, with their 2015 album Take Us To Your Leader as a close second.
As with their previous work, every song on here shows up, beats you around the head, and then leaves before you really know what hit you. But with other punk records that take the same approach, every song on the album is unique and catchy enough that it stays with you, which isn’t an easy feat to pull off. The entire record is loaded with hooks that I continually found stuck in my head for hours after listening to the album. And at a quick 10 songs in 22 minutes, I found myself playing it over and over again on repeat nearly every time it landed on my turntable.
Compared to their previous work it definitely has a darker, more aggressive feel to it which reminded me a lot of some of the more aggressive punk-veering-on-the-edge-of-hardcore bands in the early 90s like Born Against and Econochrist, but with much catchier songs.
D.O.A. – Treason
In 1983 D.O.A. released their classic album War on 45, taking fierce aim at the Reagan administration, its virulent warmongering, and mythologized version of America; a clean, white suburban ideal that was what wholly unrealistic for the vast majority of the country. 2020’s Treason acts as a follow-up and is equally as uncompromising in its critique of our neighbours to the south.
2015 saw D.O.A. with a new lineup consisting of Joe “Shithead” Keithley on guitar and vocals, Mike Hodsall on bass, and Paddy Duddy on drums, as well as a return to the hardcore punk rock style they pioneered on albums like Something Better Change and Hardcore ’81, and this album is a welcome continuation in that vein.
Songs like “All The President’s Men” and “It’s Treason” are fast, furious, and thoughtful condemnations of the Trump administration, which has been wreaking havoc on America and the world since before the 2016 election. Meanwhile “It Was D.O.A.” offers a bit of levity to the situation, paying homage to all the roadies, sound techs, and drivers who’ve put their lives, sanity, and backs on the line in service of the band.
Two tracks on the album are transplanted from their 2018 album Fight Back, “Just Got Back From the USA” and “Gonna Set You Straight”. Normally I’d dock points for a band reusing songs from a previous release on a new record. But on this album it works, and I don’t think the record would be the same without them.
Treason is a solid hardcore punk album that comes out of nowhere, slaps you around the head for 19 minutes, and leaves you with a renewed sense of informed rage at the complete disaster that the Trump administration has wrought on the country and the world. It’s D.O.A. doing what they do best; being loud, angry, and drives you to want to do something about the shit situation we’re all in right now.
Dead Cells – I
Somehow, Dead Cells debut album is exactly what I wanted in a punk album in 2020. If this year’s “Top 10” list is any indication my soundtrack to the year has been equal parts furious straightforward punk rock and moody yet powerful post-punk, and this album feels like a perfect synthesis of those two moods.
Combining somewhat riffy guitar leads and powerful driving rhythm parts and a vocal style that mixes both oldschool punk snot and a sense of desperate post-punk angst, this album combines everything I love about early hardcore punk before it was classified as hardcore, and the more recent wave of gothy post-punk.
While you wouldn’t expect such a high-tempo album to be as catchy as it is, I constantly found myself humming along to it hours or even days after I listened to it last. Of all of the albums I listened to this year I can absolutely single it out as one that made me ache for live shows and being able to completely lose myself thrashing around in a mosh pit, only to gather myself just in time to shout along with its hooks and choruses when the time came.
If this band never put out another record I’d still stand by everything I’ve said here, but I’m seriously hoping they keep on writing material of this quality. Goddamn, I love this thing.
The Essential Letdowns – All Seriousness Aside
I’m an absolute sucker for contemporary punk bands who manage to perfectly capture an old-school punk sound. With their debut album All Seriousness Aside, The Essential Letdowns show both a loving appreciation for and deep understanding of what makes so many of those albums great.
Somehow this album manages to feel like a synthesis of Rancid’s And Out Come The Wolves, crossed with Teenage Head’s self-titled album, with a hefty Elvis-style blues/rockabilly influence as well, and I mean that in all of the best possible ways. Some tracks especially reminded me of the Forgotten Rebels album In Love With The System, but sonically rather than thematically.
As a debut album, I don’t think they could have done better. Really excited to see what they do in the future.
The Fallout – The Times Have Never Changed
I love The Fallout, and as someone who loves The Fallout I can safely say The Times Have Never Changed might be their best record so far.
In 2018 the band released a 7” EP Raise Your Flag And Other Anthems, their first release since Patty O’Lantern (Class War Kids, Brutal Youth, Dragged In) joined the band. While that EP was absolutely solid, it was only a quick preview of what the band would do on this album.
Patty’s inclusion on this record sees the band adding a welcome pop-punk sensibility to the band’s working class, Clash-influenced sound, and I mean that in the best possible way. As much as I adore The Fallout’s three earlier albums, Patty’s “woah’oh” backing vocals add a completely new, yet familiar dimension to the songs. Almost like if Screeching Weasel went on a massive Clash binge and decided to write some non-reactionary/contrarian political punk anthems.
One of the stand-outs for me is the new version of the Class War Kids song “One Last Struggle”, an almost naively optimistic political punk anthem whose reputation was unfortunately tarnished by the actions and behaviour of Davey “Brat” Zegarek (Fuck That Guy). This new version is every bit as heartfelt and optimistic, but it feels somewhat more poignant than the original.
Other stand-out tracks are “The Times Have Never Changed”, “Meat Of The Matter”, “Wage Slave”, “Red Light Union”, “Raise Your Flag”, “Failure Of Character”, and “Invincible”, a deeply personal tribute to Todd Serious, the late singer for the amazing Vancouver punk band The Rebel Spell. I’ve been a massive fan of The Rebel Spell ever since my first time seeing them at a house show in Kitchener, Ontario in 2007, and I’d be hard-pressed to write an equal or better song about my feelings about Todd and his influence on my life and Canadian punk in general.
Häxan – Aradia
I feel kind of weird trying to write a proper review of this one since I’m not much of a metal fan, and even with the metal I like I tend to be really picky about it. So take any comparisons I make to any other bands with a bit of a grain of salt ‘cause I’ll be the first to admit that I might not really know what the hell I’m talking about.
That said, this album fucking rocks. From its slow moody intro track to the 8-minute long closer The Alchemist, every time I put on this record I find myself involuntarily headbanging to it, regardless of what else I’m doing when it’s on.
To me it sounds like halfway between early Black Sabbath and the late ‘60s psychedelic occult proto-metal rock band Coven. Every track is absolutely packed with heavy groovy riffs and amazing vibrato-y, almost operatic vocals from singer Kayley Haxan, with songs that know exactly what to bring to the table without hanging around long enough to get boring.
One of my biggest criticisms of a lot of metal is that, to me at least, a lot of the songs tend to drag on, relishing in their own riffs to the point of sounding masturbatory. Granted, that probably has as much to do with the metal I’ve been exposed to and my own personal tastes and biases when it comes to music.
With Arida, I’m both hooked and engaged for the entire 42-minute run of it, which is rare for me with metal. Hell, now that I think of it I don’t think I’ve ever dropped the needle on this one without playing it at least twice. That said, I’m having a difficult time finding the right words to describe the sound of this one. So rather than taking the risk of trying to talk about this one further and embarrassing myself by failing to articulate what a solid metal album this is I’m just going to tell you to go out and listen to it.
Horror Vacui – Living For Nothing
2020 was one gloomy-ass year. And as such, I was so grateful for this album. While it was released in March I actually didn’t get around to giving it a solid listen until late August when my seasonal horror movie binge began earlier than usual. But once the needle on my turntable hit the groove on the vinyl it rarely left until mid-November.
To those new to the band, Horror Vacui are easily one of the best goth-punk bands going right now, and Living For Nothing might be my favourite album of theirs so far. The entire album is drenched in chorus effects and reverb that makes it sound like it was recorded in the catacombs of an Italian church. It’s everything I wanted in a goth album when I was first getting into the genre, but with a punk energy that a lot of the 80s bands seemed to lack, in my opinion.
If this record had come out in the 80s it would have been an absolute classic among the likes of Bauhaus’s In The Flat Field or Sisters of Mercy’s First Last And Always.
Songs like My Funeral My Party, Frustration, and Unreachable would have been absolute classics had they been released alongside those albums, but thankfully it came out this year, giving us all a fresh dose of aggressive gloom that was amazingly therapeutic during this dumpster fire of a year.
Easily one of my favourite albums of the year, go check this band out.
Spectres – Nostalgia
Spectres are a band I’ve been a huge fan of ever since I discovered them with their 2012 album Nothing to Nowhere. In my opinion, they’re a band where every record they put out stands head-and-shoulders above the one they put out before, and Nostalgia is no exception. On every album Spectres seem to move slightly further and further away from their furious anarcho-punk inspired gothy post-punk and towards a more emotional, melodic take on the style they established for themselves on their early albums.
That isn’t to say that this album lacks the fury of their earlier records, far from it. Every track simply drips with energy and power, but with a heavier emphasis on melody, hooks, and atmosphere. The song Pictures from Occupied Europe is every bit as furious as their earlier material, but has a degree of sophistication that I don’t think the band really reached until 2016’s Utopia (my absolute favourite album of that year next to The Maras – Welcome to Wax Beach).
I really don’t know what else I can say about this album without coming off as a gushing fanboy. So please, go out and listen to this fucking record.
War on Women – Wonderful Hell
War on Women are one of my favourite bands going right now, and Wonderful Hell is easily their most pissed-off album so far.
I’m really at a loss as to whether this record or their previous effort, Capture The Flag is my favourite album of theirs, but there’s no denying that Wonderful Hell is their heaviest, most energetic, and most furious record they’ve put out so far.
A lot of War on Women’s signature sound comes from their guitar work, which I’d best describe as a combination of punk, hardcore, and chunky metal riffage, and on this album that work completely excels.
For me one of the standout tracks is the fourth one on the album, Stolen Land. Beginning with what sounds like school children singing Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land (I’m always a sucker for an ironic use of that song, see: the Zounds and MDC reworkings of that tune) before breaking into a heavy breakdown with singer Shawna Potter screaming “You create the refugee, then you hate the refugee” in a scathing indictment of both US international policy and immigration policy under not only the Trump administration but also the ones that preceded it.
Nearly every track on here manages to perfectly balance their signature guitar work, bitterly biting socio-political commentary through a strong feminist lens, and catchy melodic vocals that stick in your ears like a Ceti eel (Whoo! I knew I could squeeze a reference to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in here somewhere!).
While I’m not sure if this is my favourite album of theirs it’s hands down one of my favourite furious, pissed-off, and articulate political punk album of the year. But that being said, the more I listen to this record the more I get hooked into it. Who knows, maybe in a few weeks this might become my War on Women record.
World/Inferno Friendship Society – All Boarders Are Porus To Cats
As someone who loves anarchist punk rock, the World/Inferno Friendship Society are an absolute joy to have around. While their last album This Packed Funeral came out back in 2014, every time they release a new album it’s always a joyous occasion.
Mixing old-timey swing jazz, blues, crooner vocals, anarchist politics, and a wonderful sense of playfulness, I think they’re one of the more unique punk bands, and especially political/anarchist punk bands out there, with their 2007 Addicted to Bad ideas as their absolute masterpiece.
Unfortunately I can’t say I’d count this album as being among their best. However, it’s loads of fun with nearly every track on the album being wonderfully catchy with a great danceable swing to them.
My biggest complaints about this album are that it doesn’t seem to have a cohesive theme, and that it ends rather abruptly. With albums like Red-Eyed Soul, Addicted To Bad Ideas, The Anarchy And The Ecstasy, and This Packed Funeral, every album had both a theme and a solid structure to the albums, and this one seems to lack that. While it does come across as an album of songs they’ve collected over the past few years it’s a wonderful record to listen to, but compared to those previous efforts it does seem lacking.
I know this might come across as a somewhat negative review for something on my top 10 list, but you know what? Even if it isn’t their best effort hearing a new World/Inferno album in 2020 is definitely an absolute treat and I highly recommend checking it out if you’re a fan of the band. If you’re not, listen to Addicted to Bad Ideas, The Anarchy And The Ecstasy, and This Packed Funeral before jumping into this one. Or maybe it’ll be a good introduction to such a weird and unique band.
1. Anti-Flag – 20/20 Vision
2. Bad Cop/Bad Cop – The Ride
3. Bob Mould – Blue Hearts
4. Dragged In – L.P. I
5. Napalm Death – Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism
6. Ötzi – Storm
7. The Suicide Machines – Revolution Spring
1. Blacked Out – Wasted Breath (EP)
2. Classics of Love – World of Burning Hate (EP)
3. The Damned – The Rockfield Files (EP)
4. The Fallout – Casualty (EP)
5. Subsistance – Unstoppable (EP)
6. Therapy – Therapy (EP)