50. Intronaut – Fluid Existential Inversions
Intronaut’s rise to fame over the last decade and a half has been anything but luck, but in a year as turbulent as 2020, the band’s Fluid Existential Inversions somehow moved past the success of their 2015 release and a change of drummers (normally a spanner in the works of any established band). Largely, the group’s newest piece offers up most of the familiar progressive nuance of the scene while adding a heavier all-around presence. Fans will find the likes of “The Cull” and “Speaking Of Orbs” more familiar — their mood reaffirms Intronaut’s more introspective, natural songwriting patterns — but it’s deeper cuts like “Contrapasso”, “Pangloss” or “Sour Everythings” that showcase a bunch of well-practiced musicians moving forward in a truly successful direction. Intronaut continues to meld a clinical display of rhythms into wonderfully crafted melodies while resonating with the success that’s followed them since their debut. –Robert Garland
49. Slift – Ummon
The 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for black hole discoveries that revealed the “darkest secrets of the universe,” but Slift are the ones truly challenging the stretch of cosmic confines. With their blend of psychedelic space rock, stoner, and krautrock, the French riffaholics created an epic journey through space, time, and many, many mushrooms. –Erwann S.
48. Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death
On A Hero’s Death, Fontaines D.C. manage to balance the DIY spirit of their punky beginnings with a newfound sense of atmosphere in a delicate manner. Throughout the record, off-kilter drums are contrasted by distorted, meandering guitar licks (“Love Is The Main Thing”, “A Hero’s Death”) and vocalist Grian Chatten expertly employs his darker tones to enhance the persistent sonic density (“Living In America”, “Oh Such A Spring”). As such, the album presents a perfect middle ground for moderately edgy latte-indie kids like myself: it’s not as in-your-face as many other post-punk records and not as timid as your average indie rock outing. It is, however, very British. Remember to tell yor mothv’r tha’u lov ‘er, please. –Jesper L.
47. Svalbard – When I Die, Will I Get Better?
There’s little to no ambiguity invited when approaching the growing U.K. powerhouse Svalbard. Their mission statement is laid bare in naked lyricism, and how they opt to present such prose –pounding, unrelenting -core music — is as straightforward as it is simultaneously complex. Quality is a guarantee on any given disc, yet the collective decided to advance their sound a step further than previously witnessed, injecting a lush atmosphere that permeates through the record’s duration. Lush melodies, each staged under a gorgeously gazey production style, color the landscape in striking colors, turning individual tracks into incredible highlights. These dazzling guitars are at the center of the group’s output, and the songwriting around them allows charismatic leads to flourish in varied settings. No longer do Svalbard maintain their leaden foot on the gas pedal; an emphasis on restraint enters the fray, leading to a collection of post-metalcore moments where a thrilling climax awaits around every crescendo. It is certainly the most adventurous foray the crew has thus engaged in at this present juncture.
Having an enduring contrast between limitation and unbridled rage propels If I Die, Will I Get Better? ahead of the pack. Equal parts blackgaze and -core, the album contains in its runtime a ferocity that matches politically and societally-motivated phrases, the harsh vocal duties split between male and female contributors, both members aligned in the same objective — the same voice. Carving out a space inside the thunderous percussion are instances of calm where a reflective ambiance soaks into the LP, pondering over the dilemmas or situations observed by Svalbard in the world around them. It can make for an experience that is admittedly jarring to those that expect less uncomfortable clarity from writers; the realm of emo itself cannot often supply sentences as unquestionably obvious in their meaning. At this stage in their career, it’s evident that the British gang aren’t seeking to change their ways in this manner whatsoever. Regardless of where their newest venture will lead, the heart of the band will triumph, be it through blistering hardcore sections or anthemic melodies. On this current trajectory, there’s no other direction but further up. –Mitchell D. W.
46. Neptunian Maximalism – Eons
Belgium is a weird place. A cool one for sure, but there lies an innate sense of oddity so deeply rooted in the country’s identity that Belgian artists often sound different than their peers. Damso managed to be the most streamed artist on the day his latest album got out, Amenra established themselves as unique within the metal scene, and K3 beat the crap out of all other girl bands. In 2020, the most unique Belgian music came in the form of a Brussels band. If avant-garde jazz is Eons‘ main descriptor, the dissonant, tribal, and progressive nature of the record guarantees its appeal beyond a pure jazz realm. Belgium invented the saxophone (shoutout to Adolphe Sax) but left the invention of jazz to others. Now, the crown is claimed back as Neptunian Maximalism further extends the stretch of apocalyptic jazz. –Erwann S.
45. Crippled Black Phoenix – Ellengaest
For as dark and bleak of an atmosphere that it creates, Ellengaest is a surprisingly accessible album. There are a number of genres present, from post-, gothic-, and progressive rock, to doom metal, to even certain levels of Americana. It is tied together with a number of guest vocalists that make Crippled Black Phoenix’s latest album more than just an album, but an entire experience. Even more surprisingly, however, is that this combination of darkness is not fifty-five minutes of woe. It is instead deeply cathartic, unleashing a number of emotions that, until listening to Ellengaest, you may not have known you even needed to feel. –Mathias
44. Haken – Virus
When I think about it, Vector is a cheeky album. Is Virus the Vector they were hinting at… or were we all still just climbing The Mountain? Still, for a band hitting their stride at the beginning of the decade, their dominance of the progressive scene continues with their newest infectious piece, Virus. In continuing on from the previous (Vector), Haken’s penchant for bombast and building sections unveil a project in tune with itself.
Virus is an effort self-aware, even while intertwining predictability with wacky, straight-forward anthems with noodly instrumental cascades. Virus enjoys having the dependable Haken back-catalog, just so it can push against the walls that define both the band and the larger genre as it moves into uncharted, yet familiar territory. With Virus, Haken move from strength to strength — with little indication of slowing down. –Robert Garland
43. Palm Reader – Sleepless
An atmospheric approach was long overdue. Having previously flirted with such avenues in preceding records, the band behind Palm Reader finally plunged headfirst into the depths of post-metalcore, exploring to the fullest extent the influences that had once been relegated to the sidelines. Where this leads the U.K. collective is a less overt methodology than usual; the guitars are not the punishing weapons of hardcore music, but rather the channel of subtler emotional payoffs, gradually building towards a thrilling culmination that allows melodies to punctuate the mood. Sleepless is a decidedly slower, more patient approach for the group, challenging them to adjust to a new modus operandi that prioritizes the textures of an individual song, trading biting intensity and dissonance for something more polished than before. The effect is comparatively less immediate than the days of Braille, as the ambiance requires more investment by the audience — one must buy in and permit the atmosphere to take hold.
When the band strike gold in their novel style, they create standout tunes in a quality discography. The lead single “Hold/Release” has been well established as a top entry for the group, making effective usage of vocalist Josh McKeown’s varied, distinct performance and the balancing act between heavy climaxes and the journeys into them. The bridge of that song, as well as the chaos of the subsequent “Stay Down”, demonstrate that Palm Reader are certainly capable of bludgeoning an audience, whereas the expansive “A Bird and Its Feathers” resides in a quiet, pensive state of existence. If this is where the Brits decide to remain, it’s clear that they’re on a direct path towards another peak in a career that is presently one of the strongest in the genre. There is infinite potential given the collective’s robust work ethic. After a powerful statement like this, the future is theirs to determine. –Mitchell D. W.
42. Code Orange – Underneath
For all my many gripes with Code Orange and Underneath (that killswitch nonsense on Swallowing the Rabbit Whole can fuck right off), I can’t help but be impressed by the giddy creativity and scrappy energy splattered across every aspect of their latest LP. The Pittsburgh 5-piece’s willingness to fuck around with mismatched ideas and tear down genre boundaries, producing halfway cohesive stretches of music in the process, is admirable to say the least — irrespective of your particular stance on their brand of messy hardcore — and Underneath is a satisfying culmination of everything they’ve sought to achieve over the last decade. Dark, bleak and uncompromising: it hits like a tonne of bricks, adorned with barbed wire and strapped with C-4, ready to blow any seco– –Asleep
41. Roisin Murphy – Roisin Machine
Murphy’s molt into a disco diva has come to an end. Sporting swag outfits and lit eyeliner, her desire vs. regret lyrics feel like the final take on disco. Indeed, despite the album’s philosophy of restraint, there lies a hedonistic vibe that never ventures into excess — thus properly capturing the paradox of disco, a genre that wants to make you dance so that you forget about your heartbreak. An album to slowly dance your worries away. –Erwann S.
40. Bright Eyes – Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was
Coping with debilitating loss on Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was, Conor Oberst looks inward and filters his wide-eyed and brittle-voiced wonderments through panoramic lenses to deliver showstopping tune after tune. Punctuated with regular sonic shake-ups and musical cartwheels, it’s a high-profile display of a life in disarray — one nevertheless grounded by heartfelt lyrics that should comfort those who’ve been through similar crises. That he arrives at familiar conclusions on despair and hope is a moot point, of course, given the catharsis he shares with us. This is a warm, inviting, and enticing album of healing. And in a world ever-marred by collective trauma, it could never be more welcome. –neekafat
39. No Note – if this is the future then I’m in the dark
Several artists released music in 2020 to the point where, irrespective of one’s own genre preferences, there was something to listen to and enjoy. From the underground to big name entities, it seemed as though the industry was operating at an apex, filling up release schedules where touring would normally belong. In this context, No Note seem to have trouble fitting in, and not solely due to their obscure nature; their output was one that, in a year of multiple releases, shouldn’t exist. No advertising was crafted in anticipation of its reveal. No word-of-mouth was committed to. Hardly any shows were played, no pages were created — if not for four stray votes on Rate Your Music, nobody would bat an eye. This a group that coped with mental stress, mounting dilemmas, emotional troubles, and an eventual dissolution, leading to the record being unceremoniously dumped on bandcamp with Red Hot Chili Peppers song titles. Success was guaranteed to be alien to No Note’s opus, which could be attributed as much to external as internal stimuli. Despite all of this, if this is the future then I’m in the dark sits on a list for a music website’s top 50 of the latest calendar cycle. Amongst a sea of competing musicians, all certainly capable in their own right, the defunct Baltimore trio have emerged into a high position of praise. Why, compared to peers, should anyone care about a product that wasn’t cared by its own maker?
In a way, it seems entirely appropriate for No Note to be exactly where they are today. Picking through any sort of nonfiction or fiction story, the concept of ‘the underdog’ is one that society consistently adores: that plucky, determined protagonist that’s down on their luck but swinging for the fences, ultimately overcoming the domineering forces of the antagonist. Especially in the backdrop of a tumultuous year where it felt as though everyone was a loser, nobody gained a single thing, and dreams withered in the face of a seemingly uncontrollable pandemic, No Note scored a pyrrhic victory; they found a niche, small as it may be, where they could be appreciated. By the stubborn will of those who heard them, if this is the future… became something that could be tossed into a stray conversation or two — a massive watermark for a disc that was doomed by design. This wonderful piece of the underground industry survived when it shouldn’t, fought a battle and won when predicted it couldn’t, then made its way into where it stands today.
Beyond whatever broader connections can haphazardly be concocted, the sheer talent and enjoyability of the LP the band managed to construct is enough of a reason to place it in the spotlight. Merging the realms of post-hardcore, metalcore, and grind, No Note published one of the more unique experiences to impact listeners in the past few years. For a genre such as screamo, where groups are more than willing to play by-the-numbers, the Maryland gang are outliers, tossing the ominous nature of Daughters, the violence of Me and Him Call it Us, and the explosive technicality of Converge into the wildness of Orchid. Intense cooperation between members allowed for tracks to grow organically, using a particular percussion passage or lead guitar as a certain starting point, then performing bit by bit until the pieces came together — every song a puzzle where the box couldn’t be used as a guide; in all, everything proceeded smoothly without a road map, simply abiding by the desires of the men behind the instruments. Whether or not No Note return is an open question, though what is undeniably confirmed is that their creativity demands attention, and what they accomplished is nothing short of amazing. A development this impressive deserves its accolades in 2020 and for years to come. Screamo acts should be furiously jotting down pointers. –Mitchell D. W.
38. Keaton Henson – Monument
Grief is an intangible grip around your heart. It won’t let you live, and it won’t let you go. Life is a game of hide-and-seek versus this tormenting feeling, a beast that feeds on a sense of guilt that doesn’t belong to you. It’s a veil that has been laid on you against your will, and no matter how hard you try to shake it off, it sticks to your soul for what it feels like forever and a half. Music can give it shape — a rare chance for you to, at least, channel some of that anger out of your system — even if it’s only for a few minutes. Plenty of artists have had grief as a muse, painting and sculpting her hideous image in a myriad of different ways, but nobody understands and channels this evil like Keaton Henson. The fragility of his music, an extension of his brittle persona, finds in Monument, his eighth full-length, an even stronger reason to be: the loss of his father. No feeling can be compared to having your ties severed with the very source of your own existence, and Henson’s own battle with the unforgiving embrace of sorrow serves here as a beautiful tribute to the memory of his father, a “monument,” in the word of the artist. –Dewinged
37. Havukruunu – Uinuos Syomein Sota
If you want to hear an LP that sounds exactly like its cover art, look no further than Uinuos Syomein Sota. Its tracklist may be indecipherable and unpronounceable to the linguistically-challenged, yet the enchanting soundscapes raised from the ashes by Havukruunu speak louder than any words could. The Finnish riff-smiths’ 2020 project is nothing short of epic: a sprawling and ethereal pagan adventure, chockablock full of riffs and tentative, atmospheric flourishes. Their interweaving of folken melodies and old school heavy metal with relentless tremolo and drumwork only elevates the LP experience further — so much so that even a black metal cynic such as myself had cause to beam like an idiot throughout its runtime. Whether it’s this capacity to convert the unconverted or its mastery of emotive songcraft that makes Uinuos Syomein Sota quite so special, I can’t be sure, but what I do know is this: in the frosty months still to come, Havukruunu will remain a comforting companion of mine, and perhaps they should be yours, too. –Asleep
36. Grimes – Miss Anthropocene
Thankfully, the vengeful nature-God persona that portends to make Miss Anthropocene‘s concept as wince-inducing as Grimes’ punchline of a public life is, well, not so. At most, it serves as an elaborate smokescreen for these incredibly personal songs to breathe behind. No matter how extreme her use of metaphor can be (opener “So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth” compares her anxieties of child-rearing to that of a fallen angel crashing to the ground), I wouldn’t say she’s hiding behind it. Thanks to her gob-smacking vocal performance, she manages to capture an emotional scope equal to her sonic ambitions, which have also upped the ante. Her production is more confident than ever here, each song taking on a different identity as she shades and scatters sounds as she sees fit. These new talents in and outside of the booth are never more clear than on “IDORU”, in which she slowly twists a blindingly saccharine love song into a conflicted tale of giving in to the intoxication of love despite knowing it’ll never end well. It’s a beautiful feat. She claims that much of this record bore out of her increasing exasperation with the never-ending press storm of her current life (a far cry from her indie roots), so it’s clear that Miss Anthropocene was also meant to remind us of something simple: Grimes is a person, too. And for an album built around themes of villainy and misanthropy, this is the most human she’s ever sounded. –neekafat
35. DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ – Charmed
2020 has been a ridiculous year, and this is a ridiculous album. Charmed can only be described as three goddamn hours of infectiously chill house, unified by quick, meme-y interludes and samples. That, and its ability to convey the unique sensation of losing consciousness at a shady club with nothing but the catchy, repetitive melodies of DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ to keep you awake. –Jesper L.
34. Dark Tranquillity – Moment
In a time when much of contemporary metal resides in stylistic extremes, whether technically or sonically, it is gratifying that bands like Dark Tranquillity still manage to deliver a formula that remains, in its substance, both simple and engaging. The band’s melodic signature sound doesn’t intend to innovate or break new ground; on the contrary, it is the finished product of a musical personality matured through decades, much like an old oak with roots deeply plunged into the soil. Moment is thus a familiar echo that reminds us that sometimes the greatest virtues lie in the simplest things. –Fernando Alves (Notrap)
33. Motorpsycho – The All is One
The Swedish space rock cosmonauts have been at it for more than thirty years making the best album of their long and fruitful career. When you think they got it, they surprise you with new material which as is as good, if not better, than the last one. Their output in the last decade has been quite impressive, not only because of how generous it has been, but also because of the inherent quality that has become the seal of their craft. A few other illuminati and I have been yelling at this site’s clouds trying to get you all into Motorpsycho for years. And finally, 2020 — a dreadful year that will be remembered for COVID-19 woes but also for the absolute brilliance of the N.O.X. suite — has provided a well-earned recognition to one of the most important rock bands of modern history, and you were there to make it happen. –Dewinged
32. Defeated Sanity – The Sanguinary Impetus
Death metal veterans Defeated Sanity have been around the block a couple times, and without question are as equally brutal as they are technically efficient. Their 2020 piece further solidifies their stranglehold on a death metal prestige held only by those at the top of their game. The Sanguinary Impetus is awash with some of the best whimsical moments death metal has ever had… and by ‘whimsical’ I mean ‘getting bludgeoned with a sledge hammer.’ With a Colin Marston mastering, it’s no wonder The Sanguinary Impetus manages such a massive, all-encompassing soundscape. Defeated Sanity continue to claim supremacy within their own craft. –Robert Garland
31. IDLES – Ultra Mono
So long as IDLES keep making music, I know I’ll keep listening — not because each and every project of theirs is guaranteed to be a winner, but because I know in my gut that Talbot and co. will continue to bring a metric fucktonne of heart and grit to whatever they do for as long as they do it. Ultra Mono oozes that iconic IDLES umph, seeping through every bouncing (post-)punk riff and mangled one-liner. The relative restraint and polish of 2018’s exceptional Joy as an Act of Resistance gives way to levels of reckless energy that not even their debut possessed, and the resultant mess of an LP is a fucking joy to witness. What Ultra Mono lacks in cohesion, it makes up for in soul — and that and that alone will keep me coming back to IDLES for years to come. –Asleep