Features Music Year End 2020 Scene Point Blank's Favorites: Year End (2020)

Year End 2020

Music: Scene Point Blank's Favorites: Year End (2020)

What a year. The (probably apocryphal) curse goes "may you live in interesting times" and we're truly learning what it means to be alive during a period that history will constantly look back on. For all of the struggles the world faced with natural disasters, racial injustice, the global pandemic, disputed elections and disastrous trade agreements (Brexit, not Star Wars), we've also seen some incredible music.

Some of it was inspired or even faciliated by the above events, and some of it is in spite of them. In any case, this is a year that's going to live on in our memories for a while to come. Join us as we look back on the best music to soundtrack this intense, damaging and complex year, and our favorite releases that we listened to during it.

Overall list (1-15)

1

Run The Jewels

RTJ4

Jewel Runners

It was a surprise to see Run The Jewels’ RTJ4 as Scene Point Blank’s top-billed record for all of 2020, but it demonstrates the widespread scope of its impact on many of our writers. The hip-hop duo of Killer Mike and El-P operates in their own stratum within mainstream rap, excelling far beyond their original underground roots. There must be something about RTJ’s aggressive, hard-hitting style that rings true for our ears at Scene Point Blank, like the crunchy guitar that opens up “walking in the snow.” The only downside here, if we need to find one, is that RTJ’s releases can burn bright and fade into the consciousness too quickly, which might speak more to our rapidly changing political focuses than their ability to hold our attention. RTJ4 will be remembered as a reflection of the ugly, endlessly frustrating reality that was America in 2020, but as they phrased it when they released the album two days early, “we hope it brings you some joy.” (Campbell)

2

Smut

First Kiss

Iron Lung

Punk rock, man. Sometimes a band just does it right. Iron Lung released First Kiss on February 28 and it’s a doozy. There are only 8 songs here, and they fly by in probably 10 minutes. It’s fast and furious, with a whole lotta swagger and vitriol. The record sounds like aggression, pure and simple. I’m generally not an angry dude but this record has some alleyway anger that can’t be denied. Raw vocals and pummeling drums define the sound, mixed atop some driving bass rhythm and tempo-shifting power chords that know when to chugga chugga and when to slow down. The short blasts of aggression peak and circle, but close out nicely with some time to catch your breath in between. It’s punk rock schooled by the classics, but with enough variety and punch that it’s never stale or outdated. Not even for a second. (Loren)

3

The Lawrence Arms

Skeleton Coast

Epitaph

When a band is releasing its third new record since 2006, you’d expect some inconsistency. The Lawrence Arms seem to be timeless though. Skeleton Coast shows that despite miles between the band members’ current homes, years between albums, and now decades of writing songs together, they can consistently deliver songs that cover the full emotional spectrum without feeling overblown or heavy-handed. At times this record is extremely depressed, then at others it brims with told-ya-so sarcasm and even hints of joy. It’s the same band I kind of liked on Ghost Stories, the band I loved on Apathy & Exhaustion and the band that’s matured and refined their approach ever since. (Loren)

4

Paysage d'Hiver

Im Wald

Kunsthall Produktionen

Paysage d'Hiver (winter landscape when translated from the original French) is the work of Tobias Möckl, and is an expression of how it feels to wander a land wholly covered by ice and snow, that it can feel like home and it will embrace every fibre of your being. Being transported to another world is a constant theme in Paysage d'Hiver’s black metal. Im Wald runs for two hours, however, with such hypnotising and complex songs, that time becomes nothing at all. The music is akin to guided meditation; it's paced wonderfully, the story so beautifully written that pulling yourself from its encircling arms becomes a struggle and its layers of sound aiding in your own detachment from reality. So much so that after Im Wald has finished you are reaching to press play again, to enter the winter landscape and embrace the bleak atmosphere. (Cheryl)

5

Envy

The Fallen Crimson

Temporary Residence

I doubt that many musicians would claim to not be slightly jealous of Envy's career trajectory. From humbler beginnings as a hardcore band singing in a non-native tongue, to issuing splits with the likes of Thursday and Jesu, releasing albums through Stuart Braithwaite's Rock Action, and palling around with Steve Aoki, they've been met with almost universal acclaim and success in their pursuit of a singular artistic vision. The Fallen Crimson is a strong album that sees Envy newly reified and ready to step into daring new directions in the coming decade. But even if they revert back to streamlined, head-busting metalcore I'll be here for it. After The Fallen Crimson, they can do whatever they want, and you'll be guaranteed a gripping and satiating aural experience. (Mick)

6

Fiona Apple

Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Epic

After 8 years, Apple is back with her most expressive and experimental album yet. "Fetch the Bolt Cutters" isn't just the title, it's the entire theme of the record. Often times, you can tell when an artist is at their creative peak. It's rare when an artist appears to be at their peak state of self-expression. Apple uses music as a tool of expression like never before. While her vocals sound like they flow independently from the piano keys or drum beats, in the end, each avenue that each instrument takes end up leading to the same point. It's like a Jackson Pollock painting in musical form. After two and a half decades into her career, Fiona Apple may have just released her best album yet. (Aaron)

7

Ulcerate

Stare Into Death and Be Still

Debemur Morti Productions

Stare Into Death and Be Still is incredible. Let’s just get that out of the way first and then we can move on to the why. Or at least, try. Ulcerate have been evolving their highly technical death metal for a long time (the band formed in 2002) and while 2016s Shrines of Paralysis was a monument to change, the Ulcerate of 2020 is a wholly different beast. The band have stepped up their control of the chaos that burns beneath the surface of their songs – their music has long had the tendency to teeter on the brink, to be one step away from falling into a swirling maelstrom – and on Stare Into Death and Be Still, they have fully embraced that aspect. Stare Into Death and Be Still is a record to be revered, and will be for years to come. (Cheryl)

8

Geld

Beyond the Floor

Iron Lung

This is d-beat but not as we know it. It’s still a relentlessly paced hardcore blast and there is enough shit-kicking ferocity to make you yearn for the days of yore when we could still go to gigs. Ah, to be able to mosh to songs like "Trench" or "Invader". But it’s not all speed, Disclose worship and d-beat stomp, even though hardcore is very much the essential ingredient. The band isn’t afraid to slow down, throw in some squeaky feedback and other noise-rock elements to break up the pace. It slows the pulse down but attacks your mind instead. Beyond the floor is top stuff and for those that want their hardcore just a little bit out of the box. (Mirza)

9

Broadway Calls

Sad in the City

Red Scare Industries

Sad in the City doesn’t mince words, opening with the lines of “If my country collapses/ can I crash on your couch…” in “Never Take Us Alive.” The band play super melodic pop-punk that focuses more on singalong harmonies than kick, punch and bite, but the lyrics give a little more attitude than you might guess just listening to the beat or an instrumental take. Sure, it’s crisp and produced melodic pop-punk. But it has those intangibles that the Lookout! bands had that made it cross boundaries and feel authentic. Don’t think of it as pop-punk, think of it as leather jacket rock. (Loren)

10

Pallbearer

Forgotten Days

Nuclear Blast

Pallbearer’s evolution from their early days as a dark, funeral doom leaning band into a prog-embracing emotive force is well documented in their back catalogue and as Forgotten Days expands the horizons of their sound, Pallbearer open up their hearts for all the world to see. This record is vulnerable and honest in its humanity and much like their previous work where Pallbearer were known for giving glimpses into their past through their music, Forgotten Days delves further beneath the surface to show the cracks in all their painful glory. (Cheryl)

11

Bright Eyes

Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was

Dead Oceans

After almost a decade away you'd assume this legendary outfit would be rusty, or at the very least, starting to sound passé. Instead we hear the sound of a mature set of artists, comfortable with their sound and putting Conor Oberst back on his pedestal as one of the great songwriters. (Matt)

12

Worriers

You or Someone You Know

6131

If it weren’t for playing in a certain scene, Worriers would likely be branded as a pop band instead of punk. The band is DIY all the way, with a growing discography, plus a back catalogue of previous bands dating into the early 2000s. You or Someone You Know is a natural progression for anyone who has followed Worriers. It’s a little less upbeat and more reflective, and it utilizes pop hooks but counters them with deep and personal, real life emotions. If you handed this record to an unfamiliar listener, I don’t think they’d bring up the punk scene at all. That’s not a bad thing by a long shot. It’s diverse and meaningful art. More importantly, its sparks connection – and one that will span any silly genre line. (Loren)

13

Chubby and The Gang

Speed Kills

Static Shock

Cheeky British punk rock is chaotic and survives on seat-of-the-pants energy, stuck in the 70s, but also revitalising and current, finishing with a tribute to the Grenfell Tower disaster. Let's see how long they can sustain this for. (Matt)

14

Deftones

Ohms

Reprise Records

More effortless-sounding soundscapes of heavy-as-hell riffing and lush distortion layered with Chino Moreno's soaring, searing vocals. Deftones make this stuff look easy, even on their ninth record, and meld raw power with beautiful moments of tranquility. (Matt)

15

Oranssi Pazuzu

Mestarin Kynsi

Nuclear Blast

The avant-garde used to be something that was looked upon as something altogether too strange, something to be listened to in private and whispered about to that one friend you had that also liked weird stuff. Now, it’s a marker of exciting experimentation, it’s celebrated, even, as a style that is moving music forward and giving some genres new leases of life. Oranssi Pazuzu’s music might be rooted in black metal, something which comes across in their dark aesthetic and Jun-His’ screams, but they are much more than that. Part krautrock, part psychedelia, part black metal, part something not of this world. Oranssi Pazuzu have seen the future and it is terrifying. (Cheryl)

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Words by the SPB team on Dec. 21, 2020, 6:21 a.m.

2020 photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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Scene Point Blank's Favorites: Year End (2020)

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Pages in this feature:

  1. Overall list (16-30)
  2. Individual staff lists
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