Thursday, December 31, 2020

F & L Best of 2020

We made it to the end of the year! Perhaps "Best of 2020" sounds like an oxymoron to you. Most of us are beyond happy to wave goodbye to this foul year and let it fade into a bad memory. But in a year in which so much was taken from our lives, the importance of music was amplified in 2020. Stuck at home trying to figure out what to do, we always had the option of putting on some music and taking the time to enjoy it. Many of you took this opportunity to make music at home. And even with all of the canceled gigs and vinyl delays, 2020 still gave us a lot of great music to enjoy in our punk/power pop/rock and roll universe. I posted on this blog 251 times throughout the year - far and away a new record for F & L. So for my tenth annual best of year post, I decided to go bigger than ever. I couldn't just do my top ten albums or my top twenty albums or even my top twenty-five albums. For 2020, I'm bumping it up to my top thirty albums. I also decided to double my top singles and EPs list. And on that note, let's get to it!

Top 30 Albums of 2020

30. The Hawaiians - Invading the Summer
In a year in which some of my favorite pop-punk bands (like Neon Bone and The Putz) released albums, my favorite pop-punk full-length of the year was actually by The Hawaiians. Invading the Summer, as the title suggests, is the ultimate summer record. It's like the soundtrack to a '60s beach movie full of surfing, teenage romance, fun in the sun, and unexpected visits from Martians, astronauts, and Bigfoot. You know the Germans always do pop-punk right!

29. honeychain - Pocket Full of Good Luck 
Recorded, produced, mixed, and mastered by singer/guitarist Hillary Burton, Pocket Full of Good Luck is honeychain's second album and first on its new label Die Laughing/Golden Robot Records. A great mix of punky power pop and '90s-style alt rock goodness!

28. The Suitesixteen - Mine Would Be The Sun
Mine Would Be The Sun is the magnum opus that Rob Nesbitt (ex BUM) has spent most of his adult life writing and recording. Beyond a mere concept album, this is like a masterpiece memoir presented through song. A power pop epic!

27. Wyldlife - Year of the Snake
New York's Wyldlife never disappoints. Year of the Snake builds on the band's existing catalog but broadens its sound. If you grew up on big, hooky rock records, this is one you'll wanna hear.

26. Outtacontroller - Sure Thing
Another great album of awesome catchy punk tunes from these Canadian national treasures.

25. The Hi-End - Class Kicks
"High-octane rock and roll" from Boston featuring Johnny Carlevale, Curt Florczak from the B-Movie Rats, and three dudes from the Boston Swindlers. Glammy punk meets hard rock meets good old rock and roll. Out on Rum Bar Records, of course!

24. Ralphie's Red Ryders - You'll Shoot Your Eye Out
These guys are total Vista Blue rip-offs, but ya gotta give 'em props for doing a whole album of songs about A Christmas Story. A wonderful concept executed to complete satisfaction. Fingers crossed they will someday do a "I Like Santa" b/w "I Like the Wizard of Oz" 7"! 

23. Proto Idiot - FUB
12 more wonderfully creative garage/post-punk/British pop tunes from these dashing & talented English gentlemen. 

22. The Exbats - Kicks, Hits, and Fits
Who doesn't love this band?!

21. Tommy Ray! - First Hits Free
Long-awaited solo debut from the Cry! lead singer did not disappoint. Upbeat, catchy pop tunes with raw, brutally realistic lyrics. Expect another album very soon! 

20. The Battlebeats - Search and Destroy
Andresa Nugraha got the one-man-band back together and made a full album of garage-punk smashers that take us back to the heyday of Teengenerate and The Reatards. Long live the '90s!

19. Self-Cut Bangs - self titled
Cayley O'Neill (Dark Time) and Shawn Petsche (Napalmpom) started recording songs at home every Saturday just to have something to do during COVID lockdown. The next thing you know, they had made an album full of amazing indie rock/punk/pop tunes!

18. Webcam Teenz - M.A.F.
Genius-level snotty, trashy garage punk from the American heartland.

17. Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men - Downtime
Nick Piunti, on a creative roll for the past decade, makes his first album with his full band The Complicated Men. Another A+ effort of grownup power pop!

16. Thee Evil Twin/The Missile Studs - 10 Piece Feed
Two of the best Aussie punk bands going team up for one killer full-length record!

15. Psychotic Youth - Forever and Never
The garage/power pop legends are back and clearly aging like fine wine!

14. Nite Sobs - Do The Sob!
A wonderful surprise out of Austin, Texas! Power pop, pop-punk, and '50s rock and roll get stirred together, and out comes this delicious concoction!

13. Dramarama - Color TV
Dramarama's first album in 15 years is one of its best yet! A great American rock band firing on all cylinders. John Easdale is an all-time top ten songwriter in my book. 

12. TJ Cabot & Thee Artificial Rejects - self titled
From somewhere in Atlantic Canada comes this new masterpiece of trashy, home-recorded punk rock. A vintage Alien Snatch Records release!

11. Nerve Button - Volume 2 
Maritime sham glam rules the day! This officially rates as my highest-rated punk rock LP of 2020. Contrary to what you've heard, I was not paid in beer to say this. 

10. The Vapors - Together
Well it only took 39 years, but The Vapors finally made a new record! Together is nothing short of classic Vapors. What more could you ask for?

9. Juniper - self titled 
The feelgood release we needed in the summer 2020. Juniper is the teenaged daughter of legendary songwriter and radio personality Michael Shelley. What kind of album should you expect from an artist who loves the Beatles, Beach Boys, Zombies, Muffs, and Fountains of Wayne but also digs Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez? Listen and find out!

8. Lucy and the Rats - Got Lucky
Following a very good debut album, Lucy Ellis and her band mates come through with a totally great sophomore long player. This is the stuff that power pop dreams are made of! 

7. Beach Patrol - Making Waves
Beach Patrol has been a significant band in my life going back to 2006. Making Waves, recorded live in the studio, is in my opinion one of the best albums of the band's career. I remember listening to it in the car every day this past January. That was always a highlight of my day. My god, that sure seems like a lifetime ago! What a pleasure it has been to hear Domenic Marcantonio grow into one of our great American songwriters over the last decade and a half. Songs like "Battlestar Galactica" sound even more profound in the wake of recent events in the world.

6. Kurt Baker - After Party
It's always pop magic when Kurt Baker and Wyatt Funderburk write an album together. After Party completes the trilogy that began with Brand New Beat and continued with Play It Cool. After Party takes you to a magical world where 1980s FM radio power pop never died.

5. Bob Mould - Blue Hearts
Bob Mould was probably the single biggest influence in drawing me into this underground/indie/alternative music universe. Nearly three decades later, he's still at the top of his game. Remember when he was going to retire from making rock records 20 years ago? Thank god he didn't!

4. The Reflectors - First Impression 
Look up "perfect power pop" in the dictionary, and this album ought to come up. The classic L.A. sound! 

3. The Yum Yums - For Those About To Pop!
Morten Henriksen has kept The Yum Yums going strong since 1994, and For Those About To Pop! is his crowning achievement. Drawing from power pop, glam rock, bubblegum, and the pop side of punk rock, each of these 14 tracks is a shoulda-been smash hit. I never thought Morten would top Sweet As Candy, but boy did he ever! 

2. Hayley and the Crushers - Vintage Millennial
From the opening strains of "Put A Little Action In Ya", I knew that Vintage Millennial was going to be something special. Hayley and the Crushers have been playing their "poolside glitter trash" for a number of years now. But with this album, they took things to a whole other level. This is everything I love about punk, pop, surf, new wave, and rock and roll combined into one band. And c'mon, they did a song about Shangela!

1. The Speedways - Radio Sounds
Say what you want about 2020, but what an amazing year it was for music! Seriously: I've got a Kurt Baker album at my #6 spot that would have been #1 in almost any other year! When I sat down to listen to all of the major contenders, it quickly became obvious that The Speedways' Radio Sounds could not be touched. This, of course, is The Speedways' full-band debut album. And when you combine Matt's songwriting with the talents of his band mates, it's an unbeatable combination. Radio Sounds isn't just the best power pop album I've heard this year. It's the best power pop album I've heard in a great many years. It's full of songs about heartbreak, unrequited love, longing, and misery: all of that excruciating stuff that true romantics like me have lived time and time again. Featuring 10 radio-worthy pop hits and an extraordinary pair of side-closing epic numbers, Radio Sounds is a flawless record that I'll surely be listening to for the rest of my days. I wish this band had been around in my 20s!

Honorable Mentions: The Chats - High Risk Behaviour, The Midnight Callers - Red Letter Glow, Chubby and the Gang - Speed Kills, The Putz - Rise and Shine, Sweeping Promises - Hunger For a Way Out 

Top Ten Singles of 2020

10. Secret Caller - "Secret Caller"
Ya gotta love a band with its own theme song! Secret Caller is a band based in the Pacific Northwest with an old school northeastern punk rock and roll sound. Recommended if you like Real Kids, Nervous Eaters, Dictators, etc.

9. The Prostitutes - "Shake Rattle Die"
25 years on, Kevin McGovern still has The Prostitutes going strong. This, my friends, is real punk rock music! 

8. The Feels - "She's Probably Not Thinkin' Of Me"
Who writes better pop songs than Christian Migliorese? No one!

7. MOM - "Tonight"
Deluxe bubblegum AM radio pop goodness from Malmö, Sweden. So catchy!

6. The Speedways - "Kisses Are History"
Both tracks ended up on the album.

5. Vista Blue - "There Goes The Sun"
A sequel of sorts to Vista Blue's power pop leaning release Hit the Floor! You know how sequels usually turn out, right? Well this one actually turned out great! A stunning release from one of my favorite bands on Earth.

4. Romero - "Honey"
Now this is pop!

3. The Speedways - "This Aint a Radio Sound"
The B-side, exclusive to this release, is a cover of the Billy Ocean classic "Love Really Hurts Without You"! The Speedways have got some serious R & B chops! 

2. Hayley and the Crushers - "Jacaranda"
This song arrived in the midst of the darkest days of the year and was a true glimmer of hope. There's a big beautiful world full of amazing people out there just waiting to be explored...

1. The Shang Hi Los - "Sway Little Player"
The Shang Hi Los are a new rock and roll group out of Boston featuring two of my favorite singer/guitarists: Jen D'Angora from The Dents & The Downbeat 5 and Dan Kopko from Watts. "Sway Little Player" is exactly the song the world needed in 2020. It'll make you wanna dance, sing along, and feel good about being alive. Full EP coming out in a couple weeks!

Top Ten EPs of 2020 

10. The New Brutarians - self titled
The debut release from St. Petersburg, Florida duo featuring pop artist Adam Turkel (ex The Beatings) and fashion model Christina Wright. Lo-fi proto-punk rock and roll for fans of the Velvet Underground, Modern Lovers, Johnny Thunders, and Leonard Cohen.

9. Muck and the Mires - Take Me Back To Planet Earth
Six new tracks of British Invasion inspired garage rock from these Boston legends. I'll be writing about Muck's new album very soon!

8. Phone Jerks - "Out of the Gate"
Rip Off Records circa 1997 and Sire Records circa 1977 smash into each other at full speed. The title track is an ode to the failed racing career of Emily and Tyler's greyhound Donair.

7. Heap - Heap EP
Three brilliant tracks of boozy rock and roll from these long-time fixtures of New York City punk rock.

6. Justine's Black Threads - Cheap Vacation
Debut EP from new Boston trio fronted by Justine Covault. Old school country music done right!

5. Jenny - self titled
Great new solo project from longtime F & L favorite Justin Maurer featuring three tracks recorded with James Carman and two recorded with Matt Rendon. 

4. Brad Marino - False Alarm
Speaking of F & L favorites, Brad Marino delivers again with three tracks of power poppin' rock and roll extraordinaire!

3. Tommy and the Commies - Hurtin' 4 Certain
Second official release from Sudbury, Ontario's finest trio features four tracks of A+ powerpop/punk right out of the Dickies and Buzzcocks playbooks.

2. Radio Days - I Got A Love
In advance of their long awaited forthcoming album, Radio Days have teased us with a couple of bona fide power pop a Jam cover!

1. Geoff Palmer & Lucy Ellis - Your Face Is Weird
What do you do when a whole year gets canceled? If you're Geoff Palmer, you contact your friend Lucy Ellis and suggest recording together long-distance. It all started with a wonderful cover of John Prine's "In Spite Of Ourselves", and then it grew into a full EP. Featuring a couple of original songs and a terrific selection of covers, Your Face Is Weird 100 percent lives up to the promise of these two beloved figures of the underground music scene making a record together. The musical version of a Zoom happy hour! The Geoff & Lucy rendition of "In Spite Of Ourselves" remains my favorite musical moment of 2020.

Band of the Year
Hayley and the Crushers
If there was one particular band that almost saved 2020, it was Hayley and the Crushers. This band had my #2 album and my #2 single of the year in addition to releasing the awesome "Church of Flag" single earlier this month. This was certainly not the happiest year, but there's always hope when you take up residence in the Crusherverse. 

Masters Class Album of the Year
Bob Mould - Blue Hearts 
I give this award every year to the best album by a band/artist that's 25 years or more into its recording career. 2020 was the year of the master class artist. Just in my top 30 albums alone, there were appearances by Bob Mould, Dramarama, and The Vapors. I could just as easily have mentioned strong releases from X, The Pretenders, and some guy named Springsteen. But the winner here is Mould, who delivered a brilliant release full of rage and frustration over the current state of the world. One of his best albums yet - and that's saying something! 

Best Debut Release of 2020 
Juniper - self titled
As I referenced above, Juniper's debut album gave us all a reason to smile at a time when it was tough to smile. In collaboration with her dad (Michael Shelley) and a formidable cast of indie rock superstars, Juniper created a delightful and charming pop record that was a ray of sunshine in gloomy times. I can't imagine being at the center of an album this amazing at the age of 15! Something tells me we will be hearing a lot more from Juniper in the future.

Top Reissue of 2020 
The Lemon Drop Gang - I'm Not The One!
Originally released digitally back in 2016,  the stunning debut album from The Lemon Drop Gang went largely unnoticed outside of Tucson, Arizona. This year, Rum Bar Records gave the album a proper physical release, and the world took notice. The Lemon Drop Gang features Johnny O'Halloran (Magnatone, Tina and the Total Babes, Nikki Corvette and the Stingrays) on guitar and his wife Steph (Tulip Sweet and Her Trail of Tears) on vocals. I'm Not The One! blends the influences of '60s girl groups, power pop, '70s punk and new wave, and the American Southwest to weave disturbing tales of psychotic love. These songs will haunt your dreams, and that's a good thing!

Top Compilation of 2020 (Single Band)
Guerrilla Teens - All The Hits
The most regrettable band breakup of 2020 was the Lovesores. But we barely had time to lament the passing of this band, as Scott "Deluxe" Drake quickly formed Guerrilla Teens with ex Lovesores guitarists Saul Koll and Jeff Fieldhouse and Portland punk rock fixtures Tim Connolly & Anna Anderson. The band released a series of COVID demos throughout the spring and summer, which are conveniently compiled on All The Hits. This is a whole new band. But if you liked The Humpers and Lovesores, you'll be into Guerrilla Teens as well.

Top Compilation of 2020 (Various Artists)
With Sweet Time Booking unable to hold its annual festival this year for obvious reasons, Sweet Time RNR Comp! was released in response. This 26-track extravaganza collects high-quality songs from some of the best bands from today's international punk/garage/rock and roll scene. Check it out, and you will surely discover some great new punk groups you hadn't heard before! 

Best Addition to Bandcamp:
Over the years, it's been amazing to discover that beloved bands of mine have been making their long out of print releases available on Bandcamp. This year, the almighty Figgs did just that. On the Figgs' Bandcamp, you'll find most of the band's releases from the past 27 years along with all of the new stuff. If you've yet to familiarize yourself with one of the greatest catalogs in the history of rock music, dig in! 

Top Label of 2020 
Rum Bar Records
There was not much doubt about this one. Even as the world as we knew it largely went on pause this year, Malibu Lou went into beast mode and released so much great music that I'm still trying to get caught up. Just looking at my tops list alone, Rum Bar was associated with three of my top ten EPs, my #1 single, and my #3 album! And on top of that, the label issued some amazing releases from recent years (the Short Fuses, Natalie Sweet, The Lemon Drop Gang, etc.) on CD. All in all, Rum Bar's 2020 output exceeds 60 titles and is well-worth perusing on Bandcamp if you're looking for a rainy day activity! 

And there you have it. Everything referenced above represents just a tiny fraction of all the excellent garage, punk, power pop, and rock and roll music released in 2020. As I sit a half-year away from this blog's tenth anniversary, I find it crazy to believe it's been that long since F & L debuted. I can mainly attribute the endurance of this blog to the fact that it's fun to do. I don't write negative reviews or even attempt to write proper reviews at all. I write only about the music that I'm most excited about. I'm not a critic, and I'm not an influencer. I like to think of this blog as a higher tech version of when I used to make tapes of cool songs for friends back in the day. And it's all possible because so many of you continue to make and/or release music that I genuinely love. So let's look forward to good things in the new year - in both music and life!


mickfletcher said...

great stuff but pavid vermin, the beach boys never surfed should have featured somewhere

Stormbringer said...

I recently discovered your blog and you are opening a whole new world of music to me. Thanks a lot for such a detailed summary of 2020!

Chazza said...

what did you think of the new Screeching Weasel album "Some Freaks Of Atavism"?

Lord Rutledge said...

Some Freaks Of Atavism is really good. Weasel's best album in a long time.

Javier Iglesias said...

Josh, thank you so much for this new list of the best albums of the year. For me, one of the best moments of the year is seeing your list published with the best albums of the year. As always I have loved your list, I would only have put the REFLECTORS a little higher on the list. A band that has left me with my mouth open and I'm dying to see them live in Spain. A big hug Josh !!!.