With the year coming to an end, our writers came together to share some of their favourite tracks from 2020. From Yves Tumor to Yard Act, here are the tunes that kept us going through an unprecedented year in music.
‘BALD!’ by JPEGMAFIA
In ‘BALD!‘, JPEGMAFIA sports his hairless bonce as if it were a crown suited for the king of experimental-rap. For me, ‘BALD!’ is the epitomal JPEG song. Peggy’s trademark glitched-out samples interlock masterfully with a kick drum like a well-oiled machine, mixed deep enough to bounce the dust off any speaker cone. Raining down on this water-tight foundation are some of Peggy’s best lyrical flows to date. Brimming with buoyant swagger and reckless charm, JPEG’s bars possess all the vivacity, presence and wit of a rapper in his prime.
‘Boss Trick’ by Real Lies
In February, London-based band Real Lies released their cinematic and desolate single ‘Boss Trick’. As ever, their lyrics contain an urbane, solipsistic sentiment, this latest release upholds the brooding nostalgia fans yearn for, a mood which gained a new significance in lockdown when the line “I felt like I was part of something” felt like a real punch in the gut. Sonically indebted to rave, ‘Boss Trick’ sounds like how a tender morning after often feels. It contains a distant, spectral quality whilst also feeling like it was written just for you – a gentle balance very few can master. With this track, Real Lies offer a mature and affirming farewell to the antics of their previous album, like foggy, car backlights driving away into the blue morning.
‘Fixer Upper’ by Yard Act
Moody Leeds-based post-punk outfit Yard Act burst onto the scene with their self-released debut single ‘Fixer Upper’ in September, and scarcely a day has passed since then that I haven’t listened to it. A satirical take on the mundane reality of middle-class suburbia, the track follows the character of Graham and his plans of home renovation delivered by the moody, sneering tones of lead singer James Smith. Smith is backed by an incredibly tight band including bassist Ryan Needham, who also plays in legendary Leeds-based psych band Menace Beach. If that wasn’t enough to entice you, the single is mixed by Ross Orton whose previous credits include Arctic Monkeys, Working Men’s Club and Amyl & the Sniffers. I saw Yard Act at the album launch of Mush’s 3D Routine in March and they sounded great, I can only see them going up within the independent music scene from here.
‘FREAK’ by Shygirl
Think ‘WAP’ on MDMA, ‘FREAK’ was the first taste South London rapper Shygirl teased us with from her unapologetically erotic EP ALIAS. Dripping in debauchery, ‘FREAK’ is destined for the clubs – Sega Bodega’s industrial production paired with Shygirl spitting “I can bring a girl or I can bring a whole crew / Meet me at the bar, if you lose me, I can find you” evokes so perfectly the after dark hedonism that we’ve all yearned for this year.
‘Kerosene!’ by Yves Tumor
Just in time to save the shit-show that 2020 has been, Yves Tumor re-emerged loud and clear with ‘Kerosene!’ last month. The track, released earlier this year as part of Heaven to a Tortured Mind, reaches new and ecstatic heights with a camp and wonderfully chaotic take on Croneneg’s 1996 film ‘Crash’ to accompany. Dreamy and soothing at times, electric and anguished at others, ‘Kerosene!’ flirts with an exciting array of styles and influences, from pop to glam rock. Guitar solos screech, crooning becomes anthemic and Diana Gordon’s silky vocals drape around Tumor’s throughout. It’s a racy and delightful affair. In a time of uncertainty, one thing is clear: it’s Yves Tumor’s world, we just live in it.
‘Midnight Sky’ by Miley Cyrus
Ever since my first spin of ‘Midnight Sky’, it sounded like a classic. To only add to the matter, Fleetwood Mac frontwoman Stevie Nicks, yes, thee Stevie Nicks, jumped on a remix of the track titled ‘Edge of Midnight.’ The remix mashes up the original, which samples Nicks’ most renowned solo track, ‘Edge of Seventeen’, with the 80’s hit. A celebration of free spirit, described by Cyrus as a “bisexual and pansexual anthem”, ‘Midnight Sky’ was released in August as the lead single from her long awaited seventh studio album, Plastic Hearts, which boasts further features from rock legends Joan Jett and and Billy Idol. Since its release, Miley and her mullet have taken the world by storm with huge covers, backyard jams and stunning visuals, serving an era so exciting that we could have only dreamed of amidst 2020’s mundanity. Having followed Miley religiously since her Disney days, I was always amazed by the sheer strength and versatility of her talent; though long overdue, I relished in seeing 2020 as the year that Miley Cyrus became not just a gimmicky pop star, but widely regarded as a musical powerhouse.
‘Murphy’s Law’ by Roisin Murphy
Songs of the year, you say? Well, how could we omit a tune that anchors itself in an adage that states “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong” in a year like 2020. Roisin Murphy, formerly one half of 90s trip-hoppers Moloko who has blossomed into a weird and wonderful dance-pop shapeshifter, gifted us the disco-house gem ‘Murphy’s Law’ just in time for the first lockdown. Her seductive drawl sweeps over funky piano chords and a driving four-to-the-floor while we bum-wiggle and bake copious amounts of banana bread. Inevitable failure never sounded so sexy.
‘party 4 u’ by Charli XCX
After circulating online for a while, ‘party 4 u’ was finally given its official release as part of future pop pioneer Charli XCX’s reflective quarantine project, how I’m feeling now. One of the many XCX collaborations with PC Music faithful A.G. Cook, ‘party 4 u’ is a delicate, progressive outcry of emotion. Although it repeats ‘party’ 150 times (if my math is correct), the track is more of a metaphor for someone not being present despite having given them the world than a literal celebration, going against the grain of a typical Charli song (see ‘Girls Night Out’, ‘After the Afterparty’ etc). The rising synth pattern is sheer heaven to the ear and a new layer to the track is discoverable with every listen (and having cemented itself well within in the ranks of my 2020 Spotify Wrapped, there’s been a lot of them). Everybody say thank you Charli and A.G..
‘Peanuts’ by Yard Act
Hailing from our very own Leeds, local lads Yard Act’s latest offering, ‘Peanuts’, is their best yet. Like an amalgamation of Fontaines DC and John Cooper Clarke, with an added Yorkshire twang, James Smith’s hilariously deadpan lead vocals are distinctly poetic; this poeticism made crystal by the minute long, instrument-less monologue that acts as the ‘filling’ in this new wave, post-punk sandwich. With political divide increasingly ever-present in every aspect of our lives, good, honest left-wing punk rock is starting to once again make a headway towards the mainstream and, with bands like Yard Act, it appears future of the genre is in safe hands.
‘Physical’ by Dua Lipa
Released back in January, I was overcome with amazement when I first heard ‘Physical’, the follow up single to Dua Lipa’s smash hit ‘Don’t Start Now’. I knew instantly that despite being one of 2020’s earliest releases, ‘Physical’ would be a huge contender for the top spot on my and many others’ end of year lists. Produced by Jason Evigan and Koz, ‘Physical’, which pays homage to Olivia Newton-John’s track of the same name, is a power pop anthem that transcends time – it wouldn’t be out of place heard playing from a fluorescently lit 80’s arcade radio, nor blaring from the sky in a futuristic cyberpunk dimension. Though prematurely robbed of nightlife this year, moving my sweaty body to ‘Physical’ in its full gay club glory with my best friend (who cherishes the song just as much as I) captures my most treasured moment of 2020 – a memory I have sourced as a glimmer of hope for what the future may one day promise again.
‘ringtone (Remix)’ by 100 gecs (feat. Charli XCX, Rico Nasty, Kero Kero Bonito)
100 gecs’ chaotic debut album 1000 gecs quickly became a staple for fans of experimental pop upon its release in 2019. Earlier this year, Laura Les and Dylan Brady revamped one of the project’s catchiest songs, ‘ringtone’, bringing in collaborators Charli XCX, Kero Kero Bonito, and Rico Nasty to create a PC music anthem for the ages. Erratic and fun (as always), the track somehow manages to switch effortlessly between Charli’s usual electropop, Sarah Bonito’s smooth indie vocals, and Rico Nasty’s flawlessly sharp rapping. With bass heavy production featuring both an electric guitar and a barking dog, there’s so much going on that the remix demands a second listen – it leaves you echoing Laura Les’ words, asking “Wait, Charli, can you sing the chorus again please?”
‘ROUGH 7’ by JPEGMAFIA (feat. Tommy Genesis)
JPEGMAFIA made it difficult to pick a favourite track this year, consistently releasing one incredible capitalised single after another (honourable mentions go to ‘BALD!’, ‘LAST DANCE!’, and ‘THE BENDS!’). ‘ROUGH 7’ is a standout track of the year, however, juxtaposing a mellow beat, short piano riff, and soft refrain (“I guess they just don’t know how much you mean to me…”) with Tommy Genesis and JPEGMAFIA’s increasingly agitated and dynamic vocals. “I feel like a God when I rhyme”, shouts JPEGMAFIA at the climax of his verse – and rightfully so. The full album collating his 2020 singles, EP!, is out now; save that shit like JPEG.
‘Sad Cowboy’ by Goat Girl
Opening with ethereal keys and a grooving bassline, freshly released single ‘Sad Cowboy’ is undeniably Goat Girl, but not as we know them. Moving on from the success of 2018’s self-titled debut album, the south London four-piece have finally returned with a crisper, funkier and more electronic sound, fleshed out with punchy guitars and cowbells. Sensitive and poetic lyrics crooned by sultry frontwoman Lottie Cream float through the music and a trancelike, electronic instrumental section gives an insight into a more mature and sophisticated direction for the band. We cannot wait to hear what other treasures album two holds.
‘Salv Goes to Hollywood’ by Sega Bodega
Producer Sega Bodega, the contorted electro mastermind behind London-based label NUXXE (co-created with Shygirl and Coucou Chloe), found his way to the very top of my Spotify Wrapped this year with his pulsating single ‘Salv Goes to Hollywood’. Shifting seamlessly from expansive, moody tones to corrosive glitch, Sega Bodega has carved out an uncompromising, and much needed, niche in club music – where Bicep’s repetitive trance has started to feel a bit stale.
‘Something to Rap About’ by Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist ft. Tyler, the Creator
“God made me sell crack so I’d have something to rap about,” claims the ever confident Freddie Gibbs as he asserts his presence on The Alchemist’s lavish, luxurious beat. Gibbs’ dark lyricism touching on his involvement with crime juxtaposed with Tyler, the Creator’s description of newfound affluence mesh perfectly, contrasting two distinct worlds against the opulent backdrop of The Alchemist’s production. Tyler raps “I used to be a Goblin under them bridges, now I’m a businessman”, perfectly embodying his rise from a young Odd Future member to acclaimed musician, proving his deserved spot amongst Gibbs on the track.
‘Spotlight’ by Jessie Ware
A smooth, sultry disco-pop ballad for the ages, ‘Spotlight‘ was released as the third single from my personal album of the year, Jessie Ware’s What’s Your Pleasure? The album’s opener, a stunning string arrangement, welcomes the listener into Ware’s world, which feels as though it’s set high in the heavens. Amongst the musical delicacies that Jessie Ware graced us with surrounding the release of What’s Your Pleasure, ‘Spotlight’ was the standout, with the track being given an even greater master for the album’s official release. Despite the singer-songwriter having nearly quit music due to poor commercial success and exhaustion from touring, Jessie quiets her qualms with ‘Spotlight’, delivering what is truly her magnum opus.
‘Surf N Turf’ by Lime
‘Surf N Turf’, released in early February, is the debut single from spunky Brighton-based newcomers Lime. The female four-piece combine sardonic and punchy vocals with psychedelic beach-pop influences as they weave a trance-like track brimming with energy and jangly guitars, proving that they are a cheerful, yet sharply post-punk, entity to watch out for in 2021. ‘Surf N Turf’ is the perfect introduction to this talented band, pairing cheerful tambourine and pedalboard effects with deadpan yet slightly surreal lyrics, creating an exquisitely sunny and jubilant track which compels you to get up and boogie from the off.
‘Ungodly Hour’ by Chloe x Halle
May 2021 be the year Chloe x Halle finally break into superstardom because Lord knows they deserve it. The titular track from their sophomore album has been the highlight of their output this year and blends smooth soulful R&B, a myriad of gorgeous vocal runs and sultry late-night flirtation. Their duality, the yin-yang of Chloe’s intensity and Halle’s calmness, is simply enrapturing. Sidenote: the duo’s VMAs performance of this track was one of the pop culture highlights of 2020 and features blinding strobes, airtight choreography and stunning cyborg-inspired styling to boot.
‘You’re Too Precious’ by James Blake
James Blake has been on a bit of a mad one this year, releasing an EP of his most dancefloor ready music to date, making songs with slowthai and dyeing his hair peroxide blonde. My favourite thing that he’s done this year, however, is this beautiful track ‘You’re Too Precious’. A spiralling, fluttering love letter to his partner, it combines delicate, layered percussion with gorgeous piano textures, and as a very amateur Ableton producer I feel pained every time I hear the perfectly soft reverb surrounding Blake’s voice.
Listen to all of our writers’ favourite songs from this year here:
Header image: JPEGMAFIA at Pitchfork Music Festival 2019 Credit: Matt Lief Anderson via Pitchfork.