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Whatever 2020 threw at us, there was no shortage of excellent tunes to help see us through. As the music industry and live shows were battered by the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, artists seemed more intent than ever to connect with their fans with new music, and fans leant on them more to put the feelings of the times into words and music. Across all genres and corners of the world, here are the songs X-Press writers will remember as their soundtrack to a year like no other.

20. Matt Berninger Serpentine Prison

On Matt Berninger’s solo venture, The National frontman paints beautifully with the greyest of pallets. With his melancholy baritone, Berninger sounds like a man on the edge of sobriety and contending with this struggle, as he describes having “a pretty hard time without drugs, without love.”

19. Bill Callahan Protest Song

Protest Song is a Callahan masterclass in minimalistic songwriting, with instrumentation so stripped back, the song is hardly there. But although it may be one of the quietest protest songs ever recorded, the implications of the simple lyrics and slight intonations of Callahan’s voice pack a hefty punch.

18. Juice WRLD Righteous

The first single released since Juice WRLD’s tragic passing late last year, Righteous felt like a fitting memento to the late Chicago rapper. This meditative groove, and the video that accompanied it sees Juice taking on his demons of addiction and anxiety in a triumphant stare down. It’s rare to hear a song that makes you feel so empowered and melancholy at the same time.

17. Sports Team Here’s the Thing

Beneath the guise of cheerful indie pop, Here’s The Thing is a brazen critique of those little ideas in life we’re led to believe as fact. Written in the wake of Brexit and under a particularly notable Tory rule, the notions this song furiously condemns are all the more pertinent.

16. Phoebe Bridgers I Know the End

It wouldn’t be a “best of 2020” list without a track from Phoebe Bridgers. I Know The End, aptly the closing track of Punisher, epitomises the melancholy Americana sound Bridgers has perfected. The storytelling on this song is immersive to say the least, and demonstrates that the album’s acclaim is truly warranted.

15. Black Country, New Road Science Fair

Sizzling and ecstatic post-genre work from one of the most exciting British bands of recent times. The youthful exuberance that Black Country, New Road exhibit is more than matched by true talent: moody control of tempo that would make Slint proud, art school jazz blasts that swish in when it wants, and a lead vocalist with an utterly magnetic and aching howl.

14. The Japanese House ft. Justin Vernon Dionne

Amber Bain’s song writing is always brilliant, and this song is no exception, with lyrics hitting so close to home it feels painfully bittersweet, and the swirling, dream-like soundscape only multiplies that feeling. The little extra magic that Justin Vernon adds to the track helps it to really shine, feeling like a passionate declaration of love, and a painful realisation of how silly that is – all rolled into one.

13. IDLES Mr. Motivator

Mr Motivator was a raw slab of IDLES punk that won them new admirers, while also providing an abrasive running commentary on a crazy year. It saw the British band at their crudely colourful best, detailing everything from “Conor McGregor with a samurai sword on rollerblades,” to “Kathleen Hanna with bear claws grabbing Trump by the pussy.”

12. Skullcrusher Places, Plans

It would be hard to find a band name that is less indicative of the sound of a band than Skullcrusher. The non de plume taken by Helen Ballentine as she left a career in graphic design to explore music as a full time proposition is miles away from her aching alt folk songs. Places/Plans is a stark acoustic confession that is strikingly vulnerable as if a ghost was singing to you about loneliness.

11. One Four ft. The Kid Laroi My City

In a collab that we didn’t we know we needed, One Four teamed up with The Kid Laroi to deliver what felt like Western Sydney’s answer to Straight Outta Compton. The Kid Laroi provided the polish with arguably his best hook in a massive year for the 17-year old. Meanwhile, Mt Druitt’s kings of drill One Four brought the power, asking “who’s with me?” sounding like the mouthpiece for the forgotten suburbs, kicking back against a society blaming them for what’s “been happenin’ since back in the day.”

10. Ball Park Music Cherub

When Ball Park Music recorded Cherub they knew it was some of their best work yet, but were reluctant to put it out as a single thinking at over five minutes long it would have a hard time attracting radio play. Conversely, fans and critics alike were drawn into the meandering melody from the Brisbane act, particularly in frontman Sam Cromack’s pondering sigh as he espoused lines like: “Happiness weighs a tonne/ It’s all speckled in luck and heavy as fuck/ I never could pick it up.” Somehow intimate and epic, this thoroughly relatable slice of introspection blossoms into a mesmerising musical climax.

9. Julia Jacklin To Perth, Before the Border Closes

Is it really all that surprising that the eloquent and emotive Jacklin produced one of the first great songs to contend with the coronavirus pandemic? This melancholic track simmers with tentative rhythm, building to a swirling climax that captures all the chaos and confusion of finding oneself in such unprecedented times. “Everything changes” is the simple but powerful choral refrain; sometimes hearing someone else go through the same thing as you can be comforting. It’s what Jacklin’s tender songwriting has always done better than most.

8. Gorillaz ft. Tony Allen and Skepta How Far?

How Far? was released as the fourth single for Gorillaz’ seventh studio album, Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez. It was also the first posthumously released material featuring Tony Allen, an afrobeat drummer featured on the song, who died of abdominal aortic aneurysm at the age of 79 in April. The track was a worthy tribute to Allen as the British animated primates, along with grime star Skepta, delivered one of their most colourful and complete tracks for some time.


7. Methyl Ethel Majestic AF

The standout track from Methyl Ethel’s Hurts to Laugh EP truly lived up to its title with its epic build. With washes of strings and its Eastern keyboard melodies, it feels like it draws from Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir but adds a pop sheen.

6. The Weeknd After Hours

While Blinding Lights played the role as the record-smashing hit single, After Hours’ true crown jewel arrived in its eponymous title track. With its hypnotic trap-synth production combined with an electro-infused switch up at half way, the six-minute epic sees The Weeknd at his melancholic, self-indulgent best: “Where are you now when I need you most? I’d give it all just to hold you close.”

5. Spacey Jane Booster Seat

“It makes me cry when I listen to it sometimes,” Spacey Jane’s Caleb Harper says of the track. And rightly so. Booster Seat instantly emerged as the fan favourite from the Perth band’s breakout debut album Sunlight earlier in the year, possessing all the charm of your regular Spacey Jane joint, but boasting a maturity and emotiveness unlike their slew of previous hits. You’d be well within your rights to label this as their best offering to date.

4. Cardi B ft. Megan Thee Stallion WAP

Coming from two of rap’s current biggest hitters, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, WAP is a three minute celebration of female sensuality and sexuality at its most carnal. While WAP is far from the first time the two have rapped about sex, and hip hop’s females, from Adina Howard to Lil Kim, have not shied away from risque topics in the past, it is the pair’s brazen approach on WAP that sets them apart from their contemporaries.

3. Sufjan Stevens America

Sufjan Stevens’ 12-minute single America could not have come at a better time. Arriving amidst a worsening COVID-19 pandemic in the US, plus the fervent Black Lives Matter movement (which he has long voiced support for), plus the climate crisis, and not to mention another Trump election campaign as the world watched on in fear and trepidation. It was, and remains a protest song for our times.

2. Eminem ft. Juice WRLD Godzilla

The best rapper in the game even outdoes himself on this masterclass of spitfire rhymes. The third verse alone deserves to become the stuff of legend, as Shady takes just 31 seconds to rap 224 words containing 330 total syllables (coming in at an unbelievable 10.65 syllables per second and 7.23 words per second). It’s rare for a track to make your jaw drop like this one does simply for the sheer talent on display, but it was made all the more significant for its inclusion of the late Juice WRLD, who softened the blow somewhat with his smooth flow, in a pairing we’ll sadly never experience again.

1. Drake Toosie Slide

Dropped in the first week of April, Toosie Slide captured the emotions many felt as the reality of COVID’s impact on the world became apparent. Named after social influencer Toosie’s steps, the song was uniquely downbeat and reflective for a song with dance steps, and it was this element, combined with Drake’s appraisal of his insecurities, that helped make the track relatable. With many entering self-isolation for the first time, and the future unknown, it was reassuring to know of one certainty “basically, I’m saying either way, we ’bout to slide, ayy/ Can’t let this one slide, ayy.”

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