The 20 Best Tracks of 2020
What will define this year’s music in retrospect?
Like no other
History will speak volumes about this unprecedented year for many reasons. While we’ve been on lockdown, under stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders, quarantining, practicing physical and social distancing, masking up, and hand washing, the anxiety around homeschooling and work-from-home Zoom calls, combined with the desperate need and push for racial equity, all swirling against a backdrop of fake news and disinformation campaigns, amplified by social media echo chambers, have truly made 2020 a year like no other.
Here at the end of the year, the death toll continues to climb as we await vaccine rollouts, knowing that even asymptomatic folks not wearing face coverings can spread the coronavirus, we eagerly anticipate what the Biden-Harris administration might do to help soothe a frayed nation, and deliver some stimulus to help bring the impending economic recession under control. Meanwhile, we’re still reckoning with much-needed public safety reforms (whether it’s to defund or re-allocate funds for more supportive social benefit). And to cap it all off, the sitting president is attempting a coup by failing to accept the election results even after the Electoral College has sealed Joe Biden’s fate as President-Elect.
Out of an abundance of caution, I’ll avoid going any deeper into the COVID-19 pandemic, the BLM struggle for racial justice, or the devastating economic downturn here, except to ask:
How has music responded to all of this?
For one thing, with almost zero ability for in-person live performances this year, those musicians who’ve been able to hang on to some semblance of musical work-life have been holed up at home (or in their studios) like everyone else, which has presumably led to a significant increase in music recording. I can think of a few artists who’ve released more than one album this year. Taylor Swift has released a couple and SAULT—who has 2 tracks in my top 10—have also. In one of the more astounding feats, NNAMDÏ released 3 albums this year; one experimental hip-hop/R&B (BRAT), one punk rock (Black Plight), and one John Zorn/Frank Zappa-esque jazz odyssey (KRAZY KARL).
Music has always been a way for artists and listeners to process what’s happening in our lives, and when the going gets tough music gets innovative as artists stretch their pallets to paint audio-scapes of difficult new realities. I can’t quite put my finger on it yet but I think we’ll eventually look back at this musical moment and see significant growth.
One thing I can put my finger on is that the top 11 tracks in my 20-best list feature female vocalists, and women dominate my 120-best list too; an exciting parallel with the rise of Kamala Harris who’s about to become the first female Vice President of the United States of America.
Without further ado:
The 20 Best Tracks of 2020
20: Red Arrows by Douglas Dare
19: God by Luke Vibert
18: Alucinao by Against All Logic, Estadio Unido, & FKA twigs
17: Cloud into River by 123 Mixtape
16: Killer Kid - In Dub by Angela Aux & Sam IRL
15: I NEED YOU TO (BREONNA TAYLOR) by Tobe Nwigwe
14: The Model - Dub by Prince Fatty, Shniece McMenamin, & Horseman
13: Be Honest by A. K. Paul
12: Home - Louis Futon Remix ft. Tommy Foy by Somni
11: Self Design by Dirty Projectors
10: YOU SO DONE by Noga Erez
09: Hold Me by SAULT
08: Grasshopper by Tkay Maidza
07: Night Garden (feat. Kenny Beats & Baker) by BENEE
06: ATM (feat. Missy Elliott) by Bree Runway
05: Oh No by Biig Piig
04: Venezuela by La Chica
03: Overlord by Dirty Projectors
02: Dora by Tierra Whack
01: Wildfires by SAULT
Here’s the playlist
Deeper Dive: The 120 Best Tracks of 2020
Disclaimer: The 120 Best Tracks of 2020 may wind up containing more than 120 tracks due the potential that more amazing tracks will be released between the time the list was first published in mid December and the end of the year.
Note: Words and phrases called out in bold in this article emphasize their uniquely high use and importance in 2020.