24. “up at night” (feat. Justin Bieber) by Kehlani
23. “meta angel” by FKA Twigs
22. “Expert in a Dying Field” by The Beths
21. “Nonchalant” (feat. Mamii) by Westside Boogie
20. “Piano Love” by Conway the Machine
19. “If I Had the Heart for Chasing” by Yumi Zouma
18. “Silk Chiffon” (feat. Phoebe Bridgers) by MUNA
17. “Watching You Go” by Let’s Eat Grandma
16. “Hiding in Place” by Queen of Jeans
15. “Return of the Sasquatch” by Your Old Droog & Madlib
14. “Gone Girl” by SZA
13. “Laura and the Beehive” by The Wonder Years
12. “Mount Auburn Cemetery” by Rat Tally
11. “BULERIAS” by Rosalia
10. “United in Grief” by Kendrick Lamar
9. “midnight sun” by Nilufer Yanya
8. “Game Time” by Boldy James
7. “Rotten” by Porridge Radio
6. “New Shapes” by Charli XCX
5. “That’s Our Lamp” by Mitski
4. “Despues de la Playa” by Bad Bunny
3. “Sauvage”(feat. Boldy James) by Billy Woods
2. “Good Will Hunting” by Black Country, New Roads
“You’re the Reason I Don’t Want the World to End” by The Wonder Years
To choose hope over despair is probably the burden of every parent ever with every anxiety and world issue multiplied by a billion. I’ve entered that portion of my life and the weight is heavier than ever. Here The Wonder Years express the unrelenting grief and joy of parenthood. It’s a pop-punk/emo dirge that was perfectly crafted to hit both my nostalgia and current state of mind.
10. Manchester Orchestra “The Million Masks of God”
Check out: “Obstacle” for how sweet and melodic they can be, one of the most beautiful songs they’ve created.
9. Jeff Rosenstock “SKA Dream”
Song to check out: “SKA DREAM”, for a song that criticizes the violent world we live in while featuring rock music with horns — truly a ska dream.
8. Turnstile “GLOW ON”
Song to check out: “Mystery”, this song perhaps best represents what you’re getting on “GLOW ON”, which is melodic hardcore that’s allowed to take twists and turns down different interesting paths.
7. Low “Hey What”
Song to check out: “Days Like These” was one of my favorite songs of the year, but also check out “Don’t Walk Away”, a beautiful and haunting track featuring that same uneasy static fuzz in the background
6. Tyler, the Creator “Call Me If You Get Lost”
Song to check out: “Lumberjack” for Tyler going hard or “Sweet / I Thought You Wanted to Dance” for a 9 minute catchy and sweet slow jam.
5. serpentwithfeet “Deacon”
Song to check out: “Fellowship” is my second favorite song of the year, but also listen to “Malik” for R&B love.
4. Laura Mvula “Pink Noise”
Song to check out: “Church Girl” which like so much of the album is an epic callback to early 90s pop.
3. Olivia Rodrigo “SOUR”
Song to check out: “drivers license” was the best song of the year, but “good 4 u” also rules with its more aggressive we broke up and now I’m sad tribute to Paramore.
2. Snail Mail “Valentine”
Song to check out: There are so many songs I could recommend here but I’ll go with an underrated favorite “c. Et Al.” It’s a sorrowful acoustic dirge where Lindsey Jordan is barely able to get out the words from the resentfulness that hangs in her voice.
Porter Robinson “Nurture”
Song to check out: I chose “Look at the Sky” as one of my favorites from this year, so I’ll also recommend “Mother” which is blossoming with so much sweetness that it overcomes all corniness. Here Robinson’s mother comes to him and reassures him that though it will be difficult she will be there for him. Year 2 of our pandemic-ed world has compounded exhaustion. Porter Robinson has been some dark places and “Nurture” is here to do just that for the listener. It spends time in those places, acknowledging all the difficulties, but offers words of synth-pop comfort that continually hit me right in my soul.
Honorable mentions: Boldy James & Real Bad Man “Real Bad Boldy”; Irreversible Entanglements “Open the Gates”; Indigo de Souza “Any Shape You Take”; Big Jade “Pressure”; boylife “gelato”; Big Ghost LTD & Conway the Machine “If it Bleeds it Can Be Killed”; Katy Kirby “Cool Dry Place”
Some TV shows I wasn’t able to complete that could have made this list: Station Eleven; Pen15; The Other Two; Black Lady Sketch Show; AP Bio
10. The Next Thing You Eat (S1, Hulu)
A food show that seemed to quietly come and go especially compared to David Chang’s other work. I think it may be his best show yet, asking important questions about our future, sustainability, and current processes of bringing food to the table.
9. Sex Education (S3, Netflix)
Sex Education continues to find moments of sweetness within its edgy and grossly comedic storylines.
8. Never Have I Ever (s2, Netflix)
Season two expanded on a charming first season of navigating love, loss, and parents in life as a teenager.
7. Rutherford Falls (s1, Peacock)
Sierra Teller Ornelas and Michael Schur’s comedy about a town coming to reckon with its past atrocities against a fictional Indigenous people may not hit every beat, but it created a world full of likable characters who need to learn from their past. It forced reckoning where needed, while also walking gracefully and showcasing characters (and writers) who have essentially never been on television before.
6. Reservation Dogs (s1, Hulu)
Anything can happen in Reservation Dogs. It’s at times a quirky hangout comedy and at other times a dark drama. There are fantasy elements alongside satire. It’s reminiscent of Atlanta in the way it follows its leads in their hometown (in this case rural Oklahoma). This was a groundbreaking year for Natives in television and Reservation Dogs is as thrilling as they come.
5. I Think You Should Leave (s2, Netflix)
Tim Robinson’s second season of his sketch comedy hit continued to deliver the funniest premises on television. His characters are always oblivious to something and unwilling to yield when confronted making for hilarity and the best Twitter memes out there.
4. Mare of Easttown (s1, HBO)
I haven’t been as excited to discuss a show on a weekly basis as I was with Mare in a long time. The water cooler talk (now mostly done on social media) is a fun part of television that’s dwindled in our age of too much content. But trying to figure out the murderer and other side mysteries (as well as reacting to surprising deaths) had me theorizing with others like I haven’t in a long time.
3. Starstruck (s1, HBO)
This show is essentially the best bits of Notting Hill put into 6 half hour episodes of tv. And that’s great! Jessie has a one night stand with Tom, but doesn’t realize that it’s the famous Tom Kapoor. From there they form an on again off again relationship that spans an entire year. Rose Matafeo might be the funniest person alive and her chemistry with Nikesh Patel is off the charts. This is the best romantic comedy of some time and I highly recommend you watch it.
2. Succession (s3, HBO)
Succession continues to deliver biting insults and depictions of American excess and greed. The family still hasn’t found a successor to their media conglomerate and it’s almost killed them in what is an often infuriating tale of what wanting more does to your soul. It’s also so very entertaining.
The White Lotus (s1, HBO)
Mike White’s dark comedy about tourists coming to Hawaii hammered home what it’s like to exist past all of our reckonings in 2020 and beyond. The privileged come in, sometimes with care and sometimes with callous. Sometimes they have good intentions. Sometimes they’ve voted correctly. Sometimes they’re kind. But when it comes down to it, they choose their privileged state of living and walk away feeling enlightened having learned a valuable lesson from the locals while everyone else continues to suffer. Have a great 2022 everyone!
Pure bliss pop out of the UK, come on chant along with me.
Best moment of the song: 2:54, when the music quiets a bit and you feel like you’re in the midst of an audience, shouting the words out in unison.
9. “Look at the Sky” by Porter Robinson
Throughout the darkest moments of the year Robinson’s music was a bastion of hope. This song best portrays the feeling of latching onto the glimpse that there’s something better to come.
Best moment of the song: 2:37, a guest vocalist comes in to quietly deliver the lines from the chorus: “look at the sky, I’m still here / I’ll be alive next year / I can make something good”.
8. ”Quirk” by Really From
Really From picked up the mantle of 90s second wave emo bands, offering sweeping guitars and the occasional horn section over angsty but quietly expressed feelings. Here, they examine what parents pass on to their children: “quirks”, pains, and all.
Best moment of the song: 2:18, the song quiets with a simple electric strum then builds with a trumpet before both vocalists (who are siblings) overlap and the vocalist’s voice cracks and rapid horn playing takes over.
7. ”For Sale: Ford Pinto” by Rosie Tucker
Rosie Tucker uses the uglier realities and experiences of our world (Ford Pintos, licking your fingers of Dorito dust) to explain a relationship that is falling apart.
Best moment of the song: 1:48, Tucker ends the song by repeating “you tell me to…” before finishing her sentence with “to breathe likes it’s easy, like it’s something I’ve been doing for years” — a perfectly wry descriptor for the struggle of daily living.
6. ”Rubberband” by Show Me the Body
Pulsing and noisy; “Rubberband” shocks your body into gearing up for the fight that Show Me the Body is prepping you for. Their thesis is that it’s “no longer enough to survive”, this song will make you want to rise up.
Best moment of the song: 2:20, the music slows and over an ominous bass line Julian Cashwan Pratt half-growls “who’s supposed to live who’s supposed to die” before the guitars begin chugging once again.
5. ”Be Sweet” by Japanese Breakfast
Michelle Zauner opted to keep this song to herself rather than passing it along to other pop artists. The result is the catchiest pop song of the year.
Best moment of the song: 2:24, when she repeats saying “believe” and extends the second one out to “belieeeeeve”.
4. ”Kill Me” by Indigo de Souza
The closer to an excellent album, “Kill Me” offers what is perhaps the best look at Indigo de Souza’s range. She can craft earworms and somber ditties, as well as ratching up heavy and screeching emotions to express her point of view. “Kill Me” provides all of this.
Best moment of the song: 3:16, another example of a song slowing down and then building up to layered versions of de Souza screaming out “tell them I wasn’t having much fun”.
3. ”Days Like These” by Low
We’re certainly living in “Days Like These” and Low take a sort of meta view on this, singing about how we talk about these times we live in. The song works because its beautifully sung melodies are obliterated by blown out instrumentation that nears on a discomfortable listening experience. Doesn’t that represent the year though?
Best moment of the song: 1:18, the melody is bombarded by blow out your speakers static.
2. “Fellowship” by serpentwithfeet
The past two years have really put into focus the things that are truly important. Losing normalcy for so long is so wearying and strips away the facades that are false foundations. So what then are we left with? serpentwithfeet ends an album mostly made up of love songs with an ode to friendships that cut to my core. Keep your friends close, you never know when a reality altering pandemic may upend your world. Those who care for you are so important.
Best moment of the song: 0:53, “Maybe it’s the blessing of my thirties / I’m spending less time worrying and more time recounting the love.”
“Driver’s License” by Olivia Rodrigo
This was my favorite song of the year from the first time I heard it on an impulse listen from a list of newly released songs on Apple Music. It’s an instant entry into the canon of teenage heartbreak, wallowing in such specificity that it brings you back to the moments in your own life where you felt desperately broken. I think it’s bad (maybe even dangerous) to live your life obsessed with what you liked when you were young, but this song is so good that it transcends all of that.
Best moment of the song: 2:18, “because you said forever now I drive alone past your street.” This is one of the best dealing with heartache lines in music history.
Movies suffered this year, with the continual push back of tentpole releases leading to the effective shrug-releases onto VOD where Hollywood’s biggest and best blockbusters could now first be experienced on your iPhone. Because of this, I decided to leave this as a running list, finalizing it the week of our delayed Oscars in April. Here are the films I feel comfortable citing as the best of 2020 as of this moment (as well as a list of what I still need to watch).
Still need to watch: Promising Young Woman; Martin Eden; Another Round; The Nest; A Sun; The Forty-Year Old Version; One Night in Miami; News of the World; Shirley; Kajillionaire
Another in the trend of painting the Victorian-era and its most famous novels as wryly funny farces that showcase the selfish, awkward, and petty actions of its elegantly-clad characters. Autumn de Wild’s take on Jane Austen’s Emma. is sharp-witted, charming, and gorgeous to look at (even on my not so large television at home). Each color is vibrant and each insult pierces as Emma et al deal with the complicated romances of the era.
A weird film set “a few years from now” in a small Brazilian town, so inconsequential you may not notice if it disappeared off the map. This movie has the low-budget strangeness that exists in the first Mad Max movie, with characters acting in ways you don’t understand but merely accept as the way their world is. The second half brings the metaphor a little too into view, but what results is a walloping strike at colonialism, the divide between the haves and have nots, and the agency of the people who exist in forgotten worlds.
This might be the best-looking animated film I’ve ever seen, designed with a feel similar to a pop-up book, with shades of green abounding. The story is similar to those we’ve heard before, colonialists overtake an area, but one of them befriends their enemy, leading to increased understanding of the other and the position of their loved ones. The story works, each beat hits all the right emotions, but where it truly thrives is in it dazzling visuals.
Ebert has an oft-quoted phrase that movies are an empathy creating machine and I think Nomadland really gets at the heart of this, telling the stories of those who choose to exist outside societal norms. Nomadland is about the drifters of the world. Groups of people who live by themselves in vans, working seasonal jobs before traveling on. Chloe Zao films this lifestyle in its difficulties and its poeticism. Sometimes it feels like the world has no place for these nomads, but at other times they have no place for the world.
Director Lee Isaac Chung’s personal story of a family who moves across the country to start a farm is both thoughtful and funny in its depiction of what it means to be a family, all the sacrifices, the selfish desires, and the quirks we deal with it. It’s also uniquely American, capturing the Korean immigrant experience with all its promised dreams and absurdities.
5. The Sound of Metal
I almost dreaded watching this movie, thinking it would be the person goes through a hard time Oscar-bait we get every year that lead to impressive performances, but altogether mediocre movies. This has an impressive performance at its heart, Riz Ahmed will hopefully become the first person of Muslim faith to get an acting nomination, but the rest of the film is just as good, offering such a deeply sympathetic portrait of each of its characters.
4. Lover’s Rock (A Small Axe film)
One of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series of films about London’s West Indian community across the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Lover’s Rock is pure joy. A cathartic experience that takes place at a house party, filled with reggae music, dancing, and food. The air is thick with romance, with sensuality. In a year in which intimacy and collective joy have been naught, when Black Americans faced continued injustice at the hands of the state, Lovers Rock was an antidote, a completely joyous occasion.
3. Da 5 Bloods
Spike Lee’s latest feature film was released at the height of an intense summer, focused on four Black Vietnam veterans returning to the country to search for something they left behind. It’s a messy film, Lee throws a lot at the viewer, but Da 5 Bloods hits heavy on both action and emotion. Centered around a tour de force performance from Delroy Lindo, the film showcases America’s long history of colonialist and discriminatory behavior, offering a transcendent experience.
2. Dick Johnson is Dead
Documentary filmmaker Katherine Johnson wanted to spend time processing her father’s increasing dementia, acknowledging the fact that he will likely die soon. To do so she works with him on a project where they simulate how his death could ultimately happen, having him play himself in these scenarios. Dick Johnson is Dead is about the impossible task of accepting a loved one’s death, but it succeeds most as a celebration of life.
1 First Cow
Kelly Reichardt’s latest is about two men trying to make their way through the wild western frontier, a land filled with hard men trying to find their way in a new world. When the richest man in town decides to bring in a cow, a luxury no one else can afford, Cookie and King-Lu hatch a scheme to steal milk to make oily cakes which they can then sell to others. It’s a beautiful, poetic, and tender vision of what humanity can be even in the midst of our most brutal tendencies.
Honorable mentions: Time; I’m Thinking of Ending Things; Boys State; Never Rarely Sometimes Always
A gorgeous, passionate, and solemn record that has really launched Bridgers to wide renown. I imagine it will be that way for a long time.
Tame Impala “The Slow Rush”
Released to far fewer critical accolades than Tame Impala is used to, “The Slow Rush” took a while to grow on me, but Kevin Parker’s psychedelic pop creeped its way into being one of my favorites this year.
Fiona Apple “Fetch the Bolt Cutters”
It took a late in the year revisit of this album to truly catch me. This has been heralded as the album of the year by many, Apple has created another astonishing work. From the chirping piano of the opening where she lays bare her desires for love to calling out abusive power mongers in “Newspaper”, Apple creates unique and powerful arrangements.
7. Lil Uzi Vert “Eternal Atake”
Lil Uzi Vert’s second full length is a jolt of energy, at times feeling messy, but he charms his way into your consciousness by maintaining a chaotic and almost puppy dog-like pace for over an hour. It’s a lot of fun.
6. Porridge Radio “Every Bad”
A raw and passionate rock record that is filled with singer Dana Margolin’s repeated witticisms. It’s the kind of album that lends itself to shouting along with a crowd, a particularly unfortunate attribute this year, as the album was released the week of lockdowns. “Every Bad” contains Margolin’s deepest convictions and longings, the most harrowing of which comes in “Lilac” where she struggles through her failings before concluding “I don’t want to get bitter / I want us to get better / I want us to be kinder / To ourselves and to each other”, unleashing it at a near scream for the track’s final two minutes.
Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats “Unlocked”
Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats’ collaboration only ranks this low because it may not actually be a full length album. Clocking in at 18 minutes across 8 tracks, some may consider this an EP, but I see it more along the lines of a punk album, both because of this length and the pure tenacity both artists produce here. It’s a perfect high octane rap record.
4. Charlie XCX “How I’m Feeling Now”
The first notable quarantine recording, Charli XCX’s “how i’m feeling now” is filled with the sort of bottled energy you would expect from being forced to stay inside. It’s restless, with beats amped up to blow-out-your-speaker levels.
3. The Chicks “Gaslighter”
I hadn’t really ever listened to the band formerly known as the Dixie Chicks prior to this year, and the album’s first single “Gaslighter”, didn’t really win me over. But after listening to the album all the way through, I was hooked and don’t think I listened to any other album more this year. It’s an album filled with heartbreak, of moving on, and confronting those who have weighed you down in the past. It was a true comfort to me all year.
2. Soccer Mommy “color theory”
Sophie Allison expands on her bedroom rock songs to provide luscious and quietly soaring explorations of self doubt. Soccer Mommy is my favorite artist working in indie rock right now. “color theory” shows Allison, who is only 23, has further progressed from her stunning debut and is set to create great music for a long time.
Run the Jewels “RTJ4”
Released early to provide soundtrack to nationwide protest, the fourth LP from Killer Mike and El- P continues the rip roaring, face smashing, and degutting hip hop the group is known for. El-P’s beats almost invoking the feelings of the most punishing rock songs, driving forward rather than finding grooves in which to settle. Killer Mike relentlessly offers his trademark rhymes and alliteration, in a riotous album that’s as relevant as ever.
This is ostensibly a children’s show, though it’s format (a talk show parody), writing staff (veterans of the alt-comedy scene), and guests (again, lots of alt-comedy people), make it hard to call it that. It’s a weird show, about two aliens (who appear as puppets) trying to figure out what makes Earth tick, so they host a late night talk show, bringing in various guests to interview about a certain topic. I love that something like this exists in 2020, a time where media seems to be created according to whatever algorithm tells them they will find the most success. The show breaks so many of those barriers and while not perfect is a strange delight.
9. Never Have I Ever (Netflix)
A high school comedy about Devi (played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) trying to figure out her place in the world. It’s a charming show that grows as you watch, detailing difficulties both small (like Devi trying to get a boyfriend) and large (Devi’s father has recently died before the show starts).
8. Pen15 (Hulu)
I didn’t know where to place this as technically it’s only the first part of season 2, filming was interrupted because of, well, you know. I turned to this expecting to find the ridiculous laughs that creators/stars Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle brought playing versions of their teenage selves (they are in their 30s now). While season 1 tackled some deep issues, season 2 almost turns dark in its depictions of slut shaming and the tenuousness of friendships. I did not expect to need a pick me up after watching this show, but I suppose it was just that kind of year.
7. Normal People (Hulu)
Based on Sally Rooney’s novel (which I have not read), Normal People is about the romance/friendship of two Irish teenagers, following their lives years into the future as they go through the ups and downs of the modern world. It’s sweet, loving, and frustrating, featuring two standout performances from Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones. If you’re looking for a winter watch, the gray landscapes of Ireland just might fit your mood.
6. The Mandalorian (Disney+)
I fell way behind season 1 and ended up catching up with it out of obligation—I did not really like that season. With season 2, I again turned it on out of obligation, but from the moment the sand people are introduced as characters with agency and a big battle occurs with a sand monster I was hooked. For me the show works better as an excuse to highlight the weird and (frankly) cool parts of Star Wars. Creatures and costumes and set design are probably what make Star Wars great, not necessarily the mythology. That’s what this season does, highlighting the Baby Yoda puppet work and offering glimpses of coolness that you once experienced as a kid.
5. Mrs. America (Hulu)
I had never heard of Phyllis Shlafly before watching this show, so for me a lot of the fun of this was learning about recent history (however dramatically skewed it may be). There’s been a lot made about whether this show is sympathetic toward Shlafly (and whether it should be if it is). I found it to be fairly neutral, showing her to be a character who is fine with accepting her role as secondary to her husband’s even if she never really was that. More importantly, I found it to be a fascinating look into movements and the tensions and compromises that occur to find success in what you believe to be right. At what points do our disagreements necessitate a split? Should you compromise if it results in small success?
4. Ted Lasso (AppleTV)
If Friday Night Lights were a half-hour comedy, this is probably what we’d get. Ted Lasso is a sincere show about an American college football coach who gets hired by an English soccer club as part of a nefarious plan. Ted Lasso’s approach is all inspirational quotes and sweet viral videos. The kind of sincerity that reality cuts into pieces. Yet, this show pulls it off. It wonders if in pure kindness we can find the success and the fulfillment we long for and it proceeds to win you over despite your doubts.
3. How to With John Wilson (HBO Max)
Produced by Nathan Fielder, How to with John Wilson is ostensibly a documentary series where John Wilson tries to teach the answer to some mundane question. What follows is a series of rabbit holes and interviews with quirky characters across the country. Wilson personally captures it all with his camera (he’s rarelyseen in the show) and helps tell the story using years of footage he’s captured that represent his awkward, stuttering voice over. The key to the show’s success is Wilson never leans too hard into mocking his subjects (who include hardcore proponents of the Mandela Effect and anti-circumcision activists, among others), instead he follows them, hoping to find insight about life’s peculiarities. It’s a weird show, one that is best compared to Nathan For You, especially when that show took detours to explore its subjects’ interiorities. All in all, I think it’s a love letter to New York City and the vastness of humanity that is represented within.
2. I May Destroy You (HBO)
I May Destroy You follows Arabella, played by series creator Michaela Cole, who experiences a sexual assault while out at a night club. Created from Cole’s own experiences, I May Destroy You is a dark, but ultimately illuminating story of what comes after. It’s an uncomfortable watch almost all of the time, because of the nature of its subject, portraying consent and the traumas of lines being crossed. It achieves this through a comedic setting, Cole is a comedian after all, but there’s nary a light moment that isn’t followed by immense dread. Sexual assault is overwhelming for those who experience it and Cole makes us as an audience grasp with all these questions, not letting us stand by in silence.
The Good Lord Bird (Showtime)
Based on a novel by James McBride, The Good Lord Bird follows Reverend John Brown on his mission to end slavery in the 1800s. Brown (played by Ethan Hawke in a tour-de-force performance) is beyond passionate in his desire to end slavery, killing in the name of the Lord and justifying it as righteous violence. The show takes this violence seriously while also undermining it with a comedic edge, displaying Brown as the zealous abolitionist he was, but noting that he’s a little out of his mind. This is all seen from the perspective of Onion, a teenage boy who is mistaken for a girl and remains dressed as such because you shouldn’t disagree with a white man. It’s about the ways in which even the most well- intentioned white people can barrel through the world causing unintended damage, doing good for others while neglecting that truly helping others means giving them a choice. Yet, the show doesn’t deny that John Brown did in fact help to end slavery through his violent crusade, lighting the spark necessary to start the Civil War. History is complicated as are each of our desires and motivations. People can be bad and do good things and can also do bad in trying to do good. Good Lord Bird revels in these complications in a violent, entertaining, and often comical way.
What a year. Obviously this has been memed to death as the year faded and we arbitrarily look to “2021” for brighter times. I had meant to do a top 25 list of my favorite songs, but I’ll chalk it up to 2020 and the difficulties of making anything happen. The songs below are my favorites from the year. This year more than ever I tried to pick songs that truly encapsulated what it felt like to live in 2020. I hope to release lists for best TV shows, albums, and movies soon, so keep checking this space. Here’s to 2021!
10. “exile” by Taylor Swift (feat. Bon Iver)
Perhaps the most indie-head poser choice from the excellent surprise album that Swift dropped mid- quarantine, but this duet with Bon Iver is gorgeous with its layered vocals, which overlap to express the feelings of a tumultuous relationship. There’s just nothing better for us sad sacks, thank you Taylor.
9. “Is There Something in the Movies?” by Samia
A pretty straightforward end of the album ballad that finds its place here because of 35 seconds where Samia shifts from hushed longings into an emotional and impassioned cry. Sometimes all it takes is moments like this that stick with you and you wish to hear over and over. This is one of those for me.
8.“Garden Song” by Phoebe Bridgers
The official album opener and first single from Bridgers’ sophomore album is another somber and quietly beautiful track, if you’re listening to these one by one I’m sure you’re sensing a theme.
7. “circle the drain” by Soccer Mommy
Sophie Allison’s ode to self doubt and depression is representative of a lot of how I felt and I’m sure most of us felt at one time or another this year. She sings “hey I’ve been falling apart these days / Watching my heart go ‘round and around / Circle the drain I’m going down / Tryna seem strong for my love / For my family and friends / But I’m so tired of faking”. I don’t think there’s a much better way of putting it.
6. “Martin & Gina” by Polo G
There’s a couple of outliers on this list and this is one of them, a joyous song about trying to get the girl that ironically comes from an artist known for writing sad songs. Polo G’s vocal inflections are infectious resulting in a song I couldn’t get out of my head for most of the year.
5. “Dressing America” by TORRES
TORRES sings this ode to her love with a restraint that falls somewhere in between joy and frustration. Her amour keeps coming up with excuses to doubt their relationship, but TORRES assures her “Come on, woman / I tend to sleep with my boots on / Should I need to gallop over dark water / To you on short notice”. It’s a beautiful song of devotion, with bits of lingering doubt that prevent it from becoming a full on love song.
4. “My Best Friend’s Wedding” by The Chicks
I went back and forth on many songs from this album to include in this top 10, but I ended up choosing this. The chorus goes: “I see a wildfire comin’ / Burnin’ the world that I’ve known”. While this is not explicitly about an actual wildfire, when they sing those words the emotion is palpable, taking the sorrows felt from the end of Natalie Maines’ relationship and transporting each feeling into 2020 where California wildfires destroyed so much and prevented one of the only comforts we had at the time in the ability to hang out outdoors.
3. “Take_it_Back_v2” by Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats
This is a straight up riot; a punch to the face both in the verses and beats. Curry uses multiple voices to the point that I had to look up whether there were guests on the song. Kenny Beats samples a song from “Shake Hands with Danger”, a video from the construction company Caterpillar raising awareness about safety on construction sites. It feels like something from an old cowboy movie. You may need to wear a hard hat just to listen to it.
2. “walking in the snow” by Run the Jewels (feat. Gangsta Boo)
RTJ released their fourth album early, saying that the album felt timely in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police and the protests that followed. Their music has always felt like protest music and “walking in the snow” features a song where Killer Mike imagines the cops choking him repeating Floyd’s words, “I can’t breathe”. It’s haunting and infuriating. Our world has tragedy on repeat and our country consistently treats Black Americans as subhuman. “walking in the snow” wraps all of the sorrow and the fury into one.
1. “The Ascension” by Sufjan Stevens
“The Ascension” brings everything I’ve felt for the last four years together in one 6-minute magnum opus. Everything I once thought about the world seemed to sink before my eyes, opening up a hell on earth that I suppose I knew existed, but not in the ways that were revealed. When it comes time to stand up for goodness where were those who taught me to be good and to stand for what’s right? Sufjan sings: And now it frightens me, the thought against my chest To think I was asking for a reason explaining why everything’s a total mess And now it frightens me, the dreams that I possess To think I was acting like a believer when I was just angry and depressed And to everything there is no meaning, a season of pain and hopelessness I shouldn’t have looked for revelation, I should have resigned myself to this I thought I could change the world around me I thought I could change the world for best I thought I was called in convocation I thought I was sanctified and blessed But now it strengthens me to know the truth at last That everything comes from consummation, and everything comes with consequence And I did it all with exultation while you did it all with hopelessness Yes, I did it all with adoration while you killed it off with all of your holy mess What now?
The song ends with Sufjan singing “what now?” Some have seen the end music as a hopeful ascension of good, while others see this unanswered question as him embracing the unknown. Maybe it’s both hopeful and dark. But what better question is there as we head into this new year, leaving behind one that was universally awful: What now?