Listen Up: The Year in Music

For someone who does not work in the music industry, my neighbor Xabi Vazquez sees more live music than anyone I know — or at least did before the world and the tunes stopped spinning. So when I heard that he compiles an annual list of his favorite new songs, I asked to publish it here.

Now of course this is not for fans of opera or classical or jazz — you’ll have to find your own expert for that. And maybe it’s not as ecumenical as Barack Obama’s list. But if you like rock/pop/hip hop and the spaces in between, this is a great way to mark 2020. And here is last year’s 100 Best of the 2010s, for 8 hours of listening pleasure.


Long-term readers are used to seeing 50 or so jams in the best-of list. In this edition, they only get around 30. Why? Not sure if it is because artists have not been as prolific this year due to COVID, or if it is that I have not been as attuned to the happenings in the music scene with all the other stuff going on. Either way, fuck 2020. I hope you and your family are all healthy. See you in 2021, hopefully in a sweaty, crowded venue listening to some live music. The full playlist can be found here.

Fire – Waxahatchee. This song blew me away this year. It’s one of those songs that made me stop what I was doing when I heard the first note and listen until the end. And then play it again. Superb.

Bad Decisions – The Strokes. At their height, The Strokes perfectly embodied that feeling of going out in New York in your 20s, in packed crowded bars, until really late. This song really makes me want to be back at a crowded bar in New York. Just not until really late – Nola wakes me up at 6am.

Xian Man – Stephen Malkmus. Not only is this the best song in Malkmus’ latest album, but it also features the excellent Matt Sweeney.

Crimson Tide – Destroyer. The best song from the best album of the year.

Deadlines (Thoughtful) – Car Seat Headrest. An odd foray into electro-pop from the band with one of the most curious names out there. This was on repeat for a whole week when it dropped.

Music Makes Me High – The Avalanches. Pure, timeless joy.

It Just Doesn’t Happen – Destroyer. Destroyer’s latest release is the last great album of the pre-COVID era. I was supposed to go see them live right as all hell was breaking loose earlier this year, and I thought it would be better to stay away from a crowded, sweaty indoor space. That was the first of many great shows I should have seen this year.

Future Power Sources – Marlowe, L’Orange, Solemn Brigham, DJ Trackstar. Easily the best hip hop song this year. Marlowe continues to capture that old ’90s vibe in a more modern aesthetic.

Teenage Birdsong – Four Tet. Long-time readers of this list should be accustomed to at least one song by Kieran Hebden every year. And is that a flute?

Articulation – Rival Consoles. My sister-in-law likes to make fun of some of the songs on my list, referring to them as “songs that sound like they come from a video game.” This one totally does. Sorry, Catesby.

Blinding Lights – The Weeknd. Easily the best pop song this year. The fact that The Weeknd did not receive a single Grammy nomination completely baffles me.

On the Floor – Perfume Genius. If you have never listened to Perfume Genius, do yourself a favor and start. There are few artists out there like Mike Hadreas.

Never Come Back – Caribou. This song reminds me of St. Barth’s for some reason. And not just because whenever I go there, I never want to come back.

A Hero’s Death – Fontaines D.C. Last year’s Dogrel was one of the most stunning debut albums I have ever heard. Fontaines D.C. came back quickly this year with A Hero’s Death – which is another great record. The title track rips.

Hashish – Thurston Moore. If you were to ask me to name my top 10 favorite guitarists of all time, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and [Tribecan] Lee Ranaldo would certainly be up there. This song is a perfect example of all that makes Moore great — just so many cool bits in there.

Bridge & Crown – Protomartyr. Protomartyr reminds me so much of a harsher, more dissonant version of the Smiths.

Sat By A Tree – Dan Deacon. Dan Deacon’s canceled show bummed me out so much this year, particularly because I was going to go see it with a buddy that had never seen him live before. It’s such a great experience – if you have never seen it, go.

JU$T (feat. Pharrell Williams & Zack de la Rocha) – Run The Jewels, Zack De La Rocha, Pharrell Williams. RTJ4 did not quite pack the punch that their previous albums did, but this one sure is a banger.

Baby – Four Tet. This may be the poppiest you will hear Four Tet ever.

Tondo – Disclosure, Eko Roosevelt. That bass line that drops at 0:50 is *fire*. And when the vocals come in at 1:20? *chef’s kiss*

Home – Caribou. This song reminds me a lot of the Avalanches – which is not a bad thing.

A Boat to Drown In – Metz. Few rock bands today remind me of the “glory days” of independent rock in the ’90s like Metz. Just good, solid, rawk.

Long – Porridge Radio. Dana Margolin is one of those singers that belts out her tunes with urgency, like she HAS to let all that stuff out…I am also a sucker for repetition.

Televised Mind – Fontaines D.C. I love how good the guitars in this song sound live.

Embers – Elder. Elder’s latest release is certainly more polished, less metal than the previous ones, but it’s a good addition to their catalog.

Long Road Home – Oneohtrix Point Never. Probably his most accessible song. Lyrics! Melodies! The vocals remind me of a song, and I can’t quite put my finger on which one – it’s been bothering me all year.

Ghost Of Soulja Slim – Jay Electronica. The mystique and anticipation surrounding this album meant that it was never quite going to live up to the hype, but it is damn good. This was my favorite track – Jay-Z!

Laugh Now Cry Later (feat. Lil Durk) – Drake, Lil Durk. I think my family and I listened to this song every time we got in our car this year.

Blind Youth Industrial Park – Metz. This song reminds be a lot of the late Nirvana stuff.

Grass Stains – Haroula Rose.This is the first time this list includes someone I went to high school with! This song is so good…

Lilac – Porridge Radio. When I finally get to see Porridge Radio live, I want them to close with this song. And play it really really loud.

ily (i love you baby) (feat. Emilee) – Surf Mesa, Emilee. Fun fact: this dude’s name is an homage to one of the maps from the game CounterStrike.


1 Comment

  1. Thanks so much for this !