2020 certainly has been a thing but as you’ve probably been able to tell by reading my blog for the last few weeks, it’s been a GOOD thing for your humble narrator. With that said, it fills me with great joy to be bringing you my 5-5-5 lists again this year after taking a year off. This is a three-part series where I follow in the footsteps of some of my favorite music blogs and present my favorite music of the year. This is going to be broken down into three parts — 5 favorite new releases of 2020, 5 favorite NOT new releases that I rocked hard in 2020 and 5 songs I made my eardrums bleed with — both new and old — in 2020. With a few close calls worth mentioning, I’ve chosen to provide a few honorable mentions per post as well.
All three sets, as per usual, are in no particular order.
This is part 1 of 3.
TOP 5 NEW RELEASES OF 2020
Audrey Horne – Waiting for the Night
Release Date: February 25, 2020
My Favorite Tracks: This is War; Pretty Little Sunshine; Waiting for the Night
I have a weird rule when it comes to listening to new releases — I don’t want my first exposure to a band to be their live record. Most of the time when I see a list of new releases complete with a preview video linked from YouTube, if the song is a live recording, I don’t even bother. For some reason, however, I chose to listen to the title track and I was BLOWN. AWAY. Audrey Horne is a Norwegian power-metal supergroup comprised of members of various black metal bands who apparently all love KISS and Iron Maiden. That knowledge was enough to pique my interest but when I played the song, I was sold. Their songs are all perfect for singalongs, the music is powerful yet melodic, heavy yet easy on the ears. I love these guys … and then I realized — do you know what other band I was introduced to with a live record? Fucking KISS. My rule is dumb, please check these guys out.
The Lees of Memory – Moon Shot
Release Date: July 3, 2020
My Favorite Tracks: Live Without; Far Beyond; Crocodile Tears
You already know if the Lees put out a new record that I’m buying it and it’s going to land on this list. The band’s lead guys Brandon and John hooked me up with a demo version of Far Beyond a couple of years ago and I’ll just say it was … weird. The beauty of the Lees of Memory, however, is that unlike their previous venture — Superdrag — the Lees can go in many different directions, not only between records but even on the same one. Just when you get used to their shoegaze sound, they’ll hit you with a flower-power ballad, then a freedom rock tune, then a quasi-punk thrasher and everything in between. Moon Shot has the guys going in yet another direction that’s somehow even more experimental with elements of shoegaze, power-pop, punk and even funk. I’ll be honest, their last record The Blinding White of Nothing at All is a masterpiece and super hard to follow … but they did, and they did it really, really well.
Machine Gun Kelly – Tickets to my Downfall
Release Date: September 25, 2020
My Favorite Tracks: Bloody Valentine; Concert for Aliens; Play This When I’m Gone
Well, this record has no business being as good as it is. I’m not a fan of Machine Gun Kelly’s hip-hop career but I was definitely intrigued when I found out that not only was he releasing a pop-punk record, but it was also a collaboration with the great Travis Barker. I have a love/hate relationship with pop-punk, mostly because so much of it is either whiny or pee-pee-poo-poo and I’m too old for both of those things these days. MGK does a great job of keeping the crybaby to a minimum and I don’t recall hearing any piss-shit jokes. With that said, the record itself is hardly original. The melodies, the chord progressions and the overall sound come straight out of a Pop-Punk-by-Numbers book but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If New Found Glory pulled from another arsenal, it might work but it would be weird — see also Sum 41 and the Wonder Years. The positive thing about this, however, is that if generic pop-punk is done well, then it’s pleasing and it’s good. Not all bands can do this (hello, Simple Plan) but MGK somehow did it.
Run The Jewels – RTJ4
Release Date: June 3, 2020
My Favorite Tracks: Walking in the Snow; JU$T; Never Look Back
Run the Jewels dropped a record on us that 2020 needed badly. When things were as dismal as they’d ever been, Run the Jewels spoke for everyone. Their themes are timely with a lot of focus on civil rights, strained relationships with the police and several other hot-button topics that would leave full-blooded conservatives either scratching their heads or fiercely triggered. The beats are hard as shit and their lyrics are some of the best I’ve heard from hip-hop in years. And can we talk about the guest collaborations on this record? Mavis Staples? Zach de la Rocha? Josh Homme? A varied guest list for a hard-hitting hip-hop masterpiece created by a couple of guys who can’t seem to do anything but drop hit after hit. I’d say RTJ is the Wu-Tang of this era of hip-hop but you probably already knew that.
Sharptooth – Transitional Forms
Release Date: July 10, 2020
My Favorite Tracks: Say Nothing (in the Absence of Content); Evolution; Nevertheless (She Persisted)
I’m a huge fan of this band. Their previous record Clever Girl is a real thrasher and let me know that hardcore punk is alive and well. One hit wonder? Not even close — Sharptooth only came back harder, faster and heavier. And when I say heavier, let me just say that my first comment on this record was “this shit is heavier than most of you guys lift” and it’s not a lie. Each song comes in at around 3 minutes or less and each is packed with mad amounts of social commentary spouted by one of the angriest, meanest and most impressive frontwomen I’ve ever heard. As if that wasn’t enough, add in a guest appearance by Anti-Flag’s Justin Sane and you have a record that’s a perfect example of how punk is supposed to work — loud, fast, motivational and not for the faint of heart.