Despite the terrible circumstances of this year, 2020 still brought us some incredible music. Olivia and Taylor went back through their favorites of the year- check out our choices!
Walls – Louis Tomlinson
In his first solo album since One Direction’s hiatus, their most underrated member took a step into electronic-tinged rock music and absolutely nailed it. Tomlinson was always the more pop-punk influenced member of 1D and those inspirations bleed through in both the lyrical content and the instrumentals on Walls. It’s one of my favorite solo efforts from the 1D boys and has remained in rotation throughout the year.
Heartwork – The Used
Listening to Heartwork for the first time took me right back to my early days of discovering The Used. The record somehow manages to be heavily nostalgic and timely all in one go and is the band’s strongest album in years. The band also enlisted the help of scene heavyweights like Mark Hoppus, Jason Butler and Caleb Shomo for the record’s features, each one taking this album to new levels. It’s a shame that 2020 tours were unable to happen because Heartwork deserves to be played in front of massive crowds.
In a Dream – Troye Sivan
Troye Sivan has never released a bad album and that streak has continued with the astonishing In a Dream. These seven songs have been a staple in every one of my playlists this year and for absolutely good reason. Sivan’s dreamy, meandering vocals combined with the fervent and danceable music make this record feel like swimming in deep blue waters.
Be – BTS
I became a Korean music fan midway through quarantine and there’s simply no turning back now. BTS released their second album of the year and perfectly captured the yearning, frustration and sliver of hope that 2020 has provided. The band has always spoken directly to their fans through their music and this mini-album is reassurance for both the group and their ARMY that life will get better if we give it time. I could obviously go on forever about BTS and their impact but, simply put, Be is one of the best offerings we could have gotten this year.
Death of an Optimist – grandson
Atlas favorite grandson decided to close this crazy year with a crazy album. Death of an Optimist is everything that Jordan Benjamin embodies in his real life- from powerful political statements to the pain of everyday struggles. As always, every song hits like a punch to the gut, with grandson holding nothing back in his lyrics. It’s pretty clear that he put his heart and soul into this record and it simply demands your attention again and again.
Whatever, Man – Blackstarkids
This band wandered into my life not too long ago and immediately won me over. Whatever, Man is shimmery pop that evokes nostalgia while also sounding like nothing you’ve heard before. This is a group that’s making music that they truly love and that’s a powerful thing when it comes to attracting new listeners- and it’s clearly working. The band’s vibes remain immaculate and I consider myself lucky to have their music in my ears.
Twisted Rivers – The Weeks
When quarantine started, The Weeks had already recorded Twisted Rivers and releasing it this summer was exactly what the doctor ordered. The band’s meandering Southern rock is charming and fun, rolling right along through all eight songs with no filler. I can’t get enough of this band or this album and the depth they’ve shown in their lyrics only makes me more excited for what they’ll do next.
Burn – Foxy Shazam
After six interminable years away, one of the wildest rock bands of our generation is back. When I read that Burn was coming in December, I had to revise this entire list once I’d heard the latest eccentricities to come from the mind of enigmatic frontman Eric Nally. Burn is everything we could ask of a Foxy record in 2020- the band is unhinged as ever in the very best way and I couldn’t be more excited at their return.
In Life – Stray Kids
2020 took a sharp left turn when it comes to my music taste and the deep dive into KPOP was the most unexpected development. BTS became my gateway group into the genre and Stray Kids came out of my explorations to surprise me. They’re young and talented, showing off the skills of each member on the stellar In Life. If you’re just diving in to KPOP, Stray Kids won’t disappoint.
Future Notalgia – Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa is our generation’s disco queen, and I’ll hear nothing different. While her eponymous debut had elements of pop throwbacks, Future Nostalgia fully leans into the funky synths and sparkling melodies that defined the genre in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Key tracks “Don’t Start Now” and “Physical” are just begging to be played at the roller rink, and they’ll be in every DJ’s system when the clubs open again. Until then, we’ll be dancing to these electro-tinged beats in our rooms like we’ve been doing all year.
Lost Cities – KIDS
“What if we all woke up on a spaceship?” Indie rock group KIDS sets the tone with the first line of Lost Cities, a journey into a rich, otherworldly soundscape not unlike Walk the Moon’s What if Nothing. In a year when it’s quite literally impossible to escape, it’s refreshing to dive into someone else’s headspace even for less than 40 minutes—Even if the story being told is one of heartbreak and wandering aimlessly in the days and months after it. KIDS are trying to stay afloat in the sea of depression, but they’re doing it with anthemic choruses and trumpets. And they’re bound to find happiness again while out exploring the universe.
weird! – YUNGBLUD
YUNGBLUD didn’t so much appear on the scene as set it on fire, take it by storm. He was fed up with the world and wasn’t afraid to let us know it, and his borderline manic energy lent itself to hyperactive shows. That’s not to say he’s angry; on the contrary, he’s more gleeful on stage than other acts the Atlas team has seen. And now that he’s been in the spotlight for a few years, he gets to reflect on his experiences thus far. YUNGBLUD is growing up, which positions weird! as a coming-of-age album, especially with its cover art that looks like “The Breakfast Club” in 2020. Genre is ignored, weirdness is celebrated, and every element is deliciously exaggerated.
I’m Okay – Honest Men
The title track of I’m Okay opens with, “Outside polished clean,” and it’s the perfect descriptor for Honest Men’s debut album. It’s the band’s core discography, polished clean to highlight their guitar-forward indie rock sensibilities. It’s also an exploration of the facades people put on to hide the absolute chaos happening inside their heads. Formed at a battle of the bands in Waco, the trio moved to Austin in 2018 to pursue music and released singles and EPs (and a curated playlist that is *chef’s kiss*) but never an LP. Now we have I’m Okay, a delightful little record to lighten the mood in a heavy year.
Healer – Grouplove
Grouplove knew we needed them and so they returned. The group’s three-year hiatus was much needed, both because they had to find a replacement drummer and because Hannah Hooper underwent a major brain surgery in 2019. It’s been a long road to recovery, and Healer reflects that. Smash singles “Deleter” and “Inside Out” feel like breakthroughs that fit right in with Grouplove’s catalog, but the majority of the album is more reserved and contemplative. In many ways, the ‘new’ Grouplove is feeling their way forward balancing the experiments with the familiar.
Dreamland – COIN
The members of COIN live in three different cities, but they’ve perfected the art of working in bits and pieces, fits and starts, without losing their signature sound. In that same way, Dreamland was pieced together with painstaking care, and it reflects on the trio’s lives over the past two years. It was the first time they had been on lengthy tours, and they learned that life doesn’t stop while they’re away. Marriages fail, bones break, and so many things in life are uncertain—COIN reflects on this, mostly on the B-side. However, they see there are endless things to love and appreciate, and they’re trusting the process.
Women in Music Pt. III – HAIM
Anyone who dismissed HAIM as a knockoff Fleetwood Mac is eating their words. Sure, the sonic throwbacks are woven throughout Women in Music Pt. III, but this time around, there are R&B and country rock elements that add dimension and depth. This is the Haim sisters’ most multidimensional record to date, as if a switch flipped and they were ready to step outside of their comfort zone both sonically and lyrically. Their crisp songwriting paints vivid pictures of everything from deep depression to sisterly love, and that’s on range.
Dreamland – Glass Animals
Take a psychedelic trip down memory lane and backtrack it with hip-hop beats, and you have Dreamland in a nutshell. On the album, Glass Animals create a juxtaposition of futuristic dream pop and interludes from 90s home videos to create an introspective moment suspended in time. It’s hazy, it’s hypnotizing, and it’s disorienting. The group also does something rarely seen in past releases: tell their own stories, which they’ve avoided for fear of seeming selfish. Though Dreamland is autobiographical in those ways, it doesn’t lose its weird.
Big Vibe – Seaway
Summer 2020 simultaneously passed in the blink of an eye and dragged on so each day blended into the next. There was no Song of the Summer, and there was certainly no cruising down the beach—that is, until we got Seaway’s Big Vibe. The quartet’s most refined album yet is solidly in the alt-rock section of the spectrum, and its tracks are anthemic in a way that would work just as well on a movie soundtrack as on a festival main stage. Earworm riffs, feel-good lyrics, and sonic swells set the tone, and the (big) vibe is just right.
Story by Olivia Khiel and Taylor Gilliam