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
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!
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!
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.
Another great album of awesome catchy punk tunes from these Canadian national treasures.
“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!
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″!
12 more wonderfully creative garage/post-punk/British pop tunes from these dashing & talented English gentlemen.
Who doesn’t love this band?!
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!
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!
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!
Genius-level snotty, trashy garage punk from the American heartland.
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!
Two of the best Aussie punk bands going team up for one killer full-length record!
The garage/power pop legends are back and clearly aging like fine wine!
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!
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.
From somewhere in Atlantic Canada comes this new masterpiece of trashy, home-recorded punk rock. A vintage Alien Snatch Records release!
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.
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?
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
Look up “perfect power pop” in the dictionary, and this album ought to come up. The classic L.A. sound!
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!
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!
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
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.
25 years on, Kevin McGovern still has The Prostitutes going strong. This, my friends, is real punk rock music!
Who writes better pop songs than Christian Migliorese? No one!
Deluxe bubblegum AM radio pop goodness from Malmö, Sweden. So catchy!
Both tracks ended up on the album.
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.
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!
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…
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
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.
Six new tracks of British Invasion inspired garage rock from these Boston legends. I’ll be writing about Muck’s new album very soon!
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.
Three brilliant tracks of boozy rock and roll from these long-time fixtures of New York City punk rock.
Debut EP from new Boston trio fronted by Justine Covault. Old school country music done right!
Great new solo project from longtime F & L favorite Justin Maurer featuring three tracks recorded with James Carman and two recorded with Matt Rendon.
Speaking of F & L favorites, Brad Marino delivers again with three tracks of power poppin’ rock and roll extraordinaire!
Second official release from Sudbury, Ontario’s finest trio features four tracks of A+ powerpop/punk right out of the Dickies and Buzzcocks playbooks.
In advance of their long awaited forthcoming album, Radio Days have teased us with a couple of bona fide power pop hits…plus a Jam cover!
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.
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!
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.
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!
Rum Bar Records