Art of the Apocalypse: The Best Indie Rock Albums and Songs of 2020

Editor’s Note: A version of this article can also be found on Medium

Never have we needed music more than in 2020. Never have we seen a tougher environment for new music. The constant assault of this year on our collective sanity has made it substantially tougher than normal to focus on and appreciate art. Now imagine how much harder it has been for creators to produce said art during the year. They have either had to block out all of their 2020 stressors in order to create anything or channel those stressors into their creations, all while knowing that touring - the musician’s main source of income in the backwards music industry model - had disappeared in an instant, without hope of returning for…a year? Two years?

Despite <gestures wildly> all of this working against us, we have gotten some fantastic records in 2020. Some were produced pre-pandemic and came out early in the year. Many of these were casualties of COVID, with all grand plans for tour support having disappeared into the ether. Others were written right in the middle of everything, and had to compete for attention with the siege of pandemic and election news. They may have come and gone while you were obsessing over one or more of the big events of the year, but if you missed them then, you should take some time for them now.

Best Albums of 2020

Disclaimer: my best-of lists do not attempt to be all things to everyone. This is about guitar-driven independent rock in 2020. In the space of about five years, some of the more prominent, once reliable year-end music lists have transformed from unique sources of discovery into bland, cookie cutter regurgitations of whatever sold the most during the year (the one exception to this appears to be The Alternative, which cranked out a solid list this year). Most have turned into today’s version of Billboard charts, highlighting only what the few remaining major labels prefer across every genre. In my articles, you get only what legitimately grabs me and, let’s face it, in only a handful of genres. Onward…

Beach Bunny – Honeymoon

This record is stellar. It didn’t fully land for me on my first pass, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because the first half is solid, while the back half just blew me away. The back end of this record is better than anything else I’ve heard in a long time. Colorblind is the only song this year that I just couldn’t put down. It alternates between strong guitar lines behind catchy choruses and playful guitar interludes. It sounds as though the two guitars are singing to each other and having the time of their lives doing it - I just love it and am incapable of listening to it just once. It feels like this song construction is part of an evolution of Beach Bunny’s sound. Dream Boy and Cloud 9 take on a similar style to crush the end of the album. If this is what Beach Bunny is going to be moving forward, I’m all in. The first press is on light blue vinyl and comes with a poster.

Greg Dulli – Random Desire

This record is not getting enough attention. Any Dulli album is likely to appear on my list, but this is the most complete record he has released in a decade, and it’s tragic that the pandemic robbed us of the tour that was supposed to accompany it. (Side note: I think the two best songs he has cranked out during that 10-year stretch - These Sticks and Lost in the Woods - were on The Afghan Whigs’ Do to the Beast, but on the whole, I think Random Desire is a slightly superior album.) The tracks I keep going back to are The Tide, Black Moon, and Pantomima. Black Moon is the quintessential killer closer from Dulli, even though it’s not actually the last track on the album. People seem to have latched onto Lockless as well. I like that one, but I’m still acclimating to Dulli’s newfound low-end vocal warble, and it’s a little overpowering on Lockless. Bottom line: Random Desire is excellent and belongs in a whole lot more end-of-year lists. Released on clear and black vinyl, along with a Barnes & Noble exclusive signed version (black vinyl).

Diet Cig - Do You Wonder About Me?

Diet Cig’s second full-length was definitely a victim of COVID. It dropped May 1, right in the middle of the first real wave. A very good effort overall - poppier and more mellow than their first album, with a few more interlude tracks, but just as many earworms: Thriving, Who Are You?, and Night Terrors will all get lodged in your brain if you give them the opportunity. Flash Flood is the highlight for me, though - that’s the only real high-energy song on the album. I like it most when Diet Cig gets a little thrashy. This band has stayed busy during the COVID months, with frequent streaming performances (it helps that they live together). They also launched a Patreon site a few months ago, and they are one of the bands that is doing Patreon the right way; lots of variety in their content, catering to different types of fans, but consistently knocking out exclusive tracks (one cover per month). And don’t sleep on the track they just put out on the new digital Father/Daughter holiday compilation. I think it’s my second favorite Diet Cig song of 2020. The first pressing of Do You Wonder About Me? came out on glow-in-the-dark and baby pink vinyl.

Long Neck - World’s Strongest Dog

Long Neck has had one hell of a year. Following the resolution of the public battle between Adult Mom and Tiny Engines Records (I’ll spare you the rehashed details - Google can tell you everything you need to know), Long Neck also extracted themselves from their relationship with the label. They reached an agreement to pay back expenses related to the recording and pressing of their new album, and then took to Indiegogo to crowdsource the necessary funding. Well…it worked. Dramatically. They hit their goal in four hours, and the self-released record came out in April. Just in time for the first wave of the apocalypse in New York. Maybe that’s why I didn’t initially listen to it as much as I should have. I really liked it from the start, but I think bigger things were afoot. I listen to it a lot more now. It is a particularly solid rock record: strong guitars, vocals, and lyrics, with great overall intensity that peaks when it needs to. They Shoot Horses lays waste to its enemies with reckless abandon. Other highlights: Campfire, Cicada, M.D.P. Campfire gets stuck in your head quite easily, especially in light of the live stream series that main Long Neck creator Lily Mastrodimos organizes called Around the Campfire. These are really well done and well worth your time. Lily gets some spectacular bands to participate and the sound is usually really good (far better than many live stream shows I’ve seen). The vinyl came out on a really cool blue swirl and a salmon pink.

Oceanator – Things I Never Said

Oceanator is another Tiny Engines refugee. Elise Okusami, the creative force behind Oceanator, launched her own label, Plastic Miracles, and used that imprint to put out Things I Never Said. This is a great rock record. Elise hits on a number of different styles throughout the album, many of which grow out of slower tempo and strong guitars. There’s one faster-paced song on here, Heartbeat, and it’s my favorite on the record. There’s another track on here, I Would Find You, that should be the soundtrack to a montage of bad things happening in an 80s movie. I mean that it a good way, I promise. Okusami also managed to do one thing that no one has really done well since the 90s: nail the rock epic. Now, the rock epic doesn’t mean the same thing it once did: I’m talking about 5–6 minute songs. That’s about as epic as our 2020 attention spans can handle, though. Hide Away and The Sky Is Falling are two of those anthemic epics, and both are excellent. The first pressing was of Things I Never Said was on two colors: orange and orange with yellow splatter. Big Scary Monsters released a different version in the UK, and the album has since been picked up by Polyvinyl. They are re-releasing it on a couple of additional fun colors in January.

Teenage Halloween – S/T

I saw Teenage Halloween twice in 2019, first with Team Dresch, and later with The Ergs! and Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band, and they killed it both times. They were fully on my radar at that point, and yet…I completely missed their first full-length coming out in September. I have now remedied that problem. This record slays. It’s 24 minutes of emotionally charged indie rock and pop-punk, and you can tell they mean every bit of it. It has the intensity I look for in all music. It’s tougher to find than you might think. Highlights: SMH City, Clarity, Summer Money. The first pressing was on orange and black splatter vinyl, and a second is already on the way.

The Beths – Jump Rope Gazers

The Beths’ second album has not received the media fanfare that the first did (outside of New Zealand). Maybe it’s the higher concentration of ballads on this one, but I don’t listen to it as much as I did their first record, despite it being a very good album. I do listen to a couple of tracks quite a bit. Dying to Believe and I’m Not Getting Excited are the two best examples on here of what I love about The Beths. Both are higher tempo tracks with catchy vocals and deceptively complex arrangements, and both rank highly on my list of songs of the year. Out of Sight and Mars, the God of War are both strong ones as well. And that’s not to say the ballads aren’t good - they are. I just like the other songs more. Jump Rope Gazers was first released on tangerine vinyl, and there was a version that came with a bonus 7″ featuring a demo and an earlier version of two album tracks. Then, there was a Vinyl Me, Please exclusive on yellow vinyl (highly annoying, as it required a Vinyl Me, Please subscription to purchase), and a Rough Trade exclusive on red vinyl (less annoying and available to everyone).

Bob Mould – Blue Hearts

Holy hell, folks, Bob’s pissed. When the first single from this album, American Crisis, dropped as a teaser, I knew we were in for something special. I like basically everything Bob Mould releases, but this is the best complete album he’s put out in some time. It is clear Bob took out his frustrations with the state of the country/world on his poor instruments in making this record. It’s not a subtle one, and it’s got a driving energy that hammers its lyrical points home. This is the closest-sounding album to Hüsker Dü that Bob has released since that band existed. I think it’s fair to say angry Bob is the best Bob, at least if you are looking for loud guitars. Highlights: Next Generation, Siberian Butterfly, American Crisis. Released on a really cool black/white/blue tri-color vinyl as well as black.

Ratboys – Printer’s Devil

Ratboys have classically been a little mellow for my tastes. I’ve always really enjoyed their faster-paced stuff, but have never gotten fully locked in before now. Then came Printer’s Devil. I Go Out at Night is a particularly beautiful song, and as it stands, one of my favorites of the year. Anj and Alien with a Sleep Mask On are two other highlights, but it is a great record all around. Despite not being able to tour, the band has been super active with live stream performances. They did a whole virtual tour, and if you haven’t caught one of their streaming performances, you should, as they will charm you to death. The first press of Printer’s Devil was on several colors with fun names: sandstorm, lake blue, mist grey, and dissolve red. That’s obviously the blue one above. There’s a second press with some additional fun colors.

Best Songs of 2020

I discussed many of these tracks above, but there are some other to cover, as not all came out on albums. First off, can we take a moment to recognize that we got new Archers of Loaf material this year?!? It’s damn good, too. Four songs, two singles…and then the planned accompanying tour dates disappeared into the COVID void. All are good, but Raleigh Days is the best of the bunch. It sounds like vintage Loaf, and I am here for it.

Next up: Anika Pyle did it again this year. She only put out a couple of songs in 2020, but one of them was this indie-pop gem: Poetry vs. Reason. This song would have taken the top slot for me if I hadn’t gotten so wrapped up in Colorblind.

Then, we have Fishbone. As you may or may not have heard, Fishbone is red hot. Fishbone has also been playing in recent years with their full original lineup (minus Kendall), and it’s been amazing to see. This year, news broke that they recorded a new album with Fat Mike, for 2021 release. They teased one track in a live performance - a modern take on Strange Fruit called Estranged Fruit, and holy crap is it good. Since it’s not officially out yet, I will save that song for next year’s list. However, Fishbone also performed a cover of Alice in Chains’ Them Bones for the Museum of Pop Culture Founders Award. For this, they had the full original lineup - Kendall included. And they just slayed it. That one makes the 2020 list, even if it was a live performance and not an official single.

And finally, we got news this year that Sincere Engineer had been signed to Hopeless Records, and with that news, we got a new track, Trust Me, and it kills. When I first heard this band, I considered it a guilty pleasure. The more I listened to their first album, Rhombithian, though, the more I realized that, no, they’re a work of emo-punk beauty, and they crush it without exception. This is their newest, and it makes me pretty excited for the next album.

So here we are…my top tracks of 2020:
1. Beach Bunny – Colorblind
2. Anika Pyle – Poetry Vs Reason
3. Archers of Loaf – Raleigh Days
4. Greg Dulli – Black Moon
5. Sincere Engineer – Trust Me
6. Ratboys – I Go Out at Night
7. The Beths – Dying to Believe
8. Long Neck – They Shoot Horses
9. Diet Cig – Flash Flood
10. Oceanator – Heartbeat
11. Greg Dulli – The Tide
12. Beach Bunny – Cloud 9
13. Fishbone – Them Bones (live)
14. Bob Mould – Next Generation
15. Teenage Halloween – SMH City

These songs and many more can be found on my Best of 2020 playlist:

Best of 2019 in Indie Rock

Here we are…the last year-end summary of the decade. I’m in an amazingly different place at the end of the decade than I was at its onset. It was a different world, I was living in El Salvador, and I had completely lost the ability to find new music. Several years later, I got my mojo back and figured it all out again. As always, you will not see all of the same artists on my best of list as you will on the industry’s biggest names. I don’t try to span every genre. These are the records I found myself listening to most often this year. Let’s get at it.

Fresh – Withdraw

I’ve said quite a lot about this record, and I’m not done. It’s brilliant. Just fantastically crafted. I liked their first album enough to keep paying attention. Prior to Withdraw’s release, I heard the track Willa and knew it was going to be a special record. There is no stronger run of songs on any album this year than Nervous Energy/Going to Brighton/Willa. Fresh combines strong indie rock guitar work with clever lyrics and catchy as hell choruses. The album closer, Revenge, is an anthem you will be screaming for years. It took some work, but I got to see Fresh on their brief first U.S. tour a couple of months ago and highly recommend you see them wherever and whenever you can. The first pressing was 300 copies on yellow vinyl and 200 on split yellow and green vinyl.

Tacocat – This Mess Is a Place

Tacocat continued on the trajectory of their recent albums on their official Sub Pop debut – away from the harsher guitar sound and in the direction of straight pop songs. And it works – there are a few supremely catchy songs on this one, most notably Grains of Salt, Rose-Colored Sky, and Crystal Ball. They released I Grains of Salt before the album came out and I listened to it to death. The subject matter of this album varies a bit from previous efforts, as some tracks deal with the band reconciling what’s going on in the world around them. Good stuff. The Loser Edition was on jade-green vinyl. A black vinyl version is also out there.

That Dog – Old LP

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this record. You just never know when a band makes their first album in 22 years. Well…they nailed it. Old LP is a beautiful record. And it unmistakably a That Dog album, jumping from a distinctly 90s guitar edge (as in Just the Way) to a symphony (Old LP), with fabulous vocal harmonies throughout. The title track, Old LP, is a heartbreaking tribute to the Haden triplets’ father, who passed away in 2014. After the record came out, I had a few weeks to train myself to keep it together before seeing them play it live. I got close, but I failed. It’s a gorgeous, but difficult, song. Released on black vinyl and yellow vinyl. The yellow one was mostly exclusive to Kickstarter backers, but the had a few left over, which they sold in their Hello Merch store.

Martha – Love Keeps Kicking

That was this year? How is that possible? I feel like I’ve been listening to this record for at least two years. I have not. For anyone who has listened to Martha before, this record will fit expectations: powerful pop-punk earworms. Any track on here could get stuck in your head for days on end. Really strong showing, start to finish. Favorites: The Void, Into This, Wrestlemania VIII. The U.S. vinyl was on Dirtnap and came in opaque maroon (200), opaque pink (200), and black vinyl. The UK version (on Big Scary Monsters) was on blue with blue splatter (300), red (700), and black vinyl (1,000).

The Subjunctives – Sunshine and Rainbows

Holy hell, I needed this one. This was the first full-length from The Subjunctives, the latest band from Ean Hernandez of Sicko. And it is awesome. It sounds a lot like what I would imagine a 2019 Sicko record would sound like, if you added a handful of sadder lyrics into the classic mix of upbeat, nostalgic, and funny ones. Ean and company reminded us with this record that they were, are, and will forever be pop-punk royalty. This is how the rest of us should be doing it. Pass It On should get stuck in your head, Hey Dad is infectious, but with some depressing undertones beneath the pop-punk exterior, and Dumbass is the office worker’s anthem that we’ve all needed. And to make sure it lives up to its 90s roots in full, there is even a hidden track at the end of the last song…which is fine in my home music library, but dudes, you’re messing with my Spotify playlists. It’s out on Top Drawer Records on red vinyl.

Charly Bliss – Young Enough / Supermoon

Charly Bliss surprised us with an EP late in the year here, so they get a double entry. Their second full-length, Young Enough, is very different from their debut. Gone is the fuzzy guitar noise that first drew me in. They doubled down on pop songs and synth for this one, and added some darker subject matter. It’s clearly a much more personal record than anything they’d released before. On first listen, I wasn’t sure about it, but it grew on me quickly. Then I saw them perform it live, and it jumped several additional notches for me. The boundless energy Eva poured into every song made them come alive for me much now fully. I think The Truth is one of the best overall songs they’ve written. Young Enough came out on blue vinyl in the U.S. (Barsuk) and UK (Lucky Number). There was also a Vinyl Me, Please exclusive version on orange vinyl with blue and white splatter (limited to 300).

Then they went and dropped Supermoon. They described this EP as in between the sound of their first and second albums, and I concur. The whole thing is great. Threat, Slingshot, and the Supermoon are all excellent tracks. The vinyl for this one is coming out next year.

Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band – Flyover

Nato Coles & the Blue Diamond Band should probably be from Jersey, but they are an unabashedly Midwestern band of rock n’ roll misfits. Their latest album, Flyover, is packed full of American rock vignettes. I’ve always thought their stuff fit really well with The Gaslight Anthem, except with Gaslight, I always got the sense that they were playing a part. The Blue Diamond Band is not – they are every bit what their songs say they are. The record is strong throughout, but the 1-2 punch of Standing on the Corner Alone and The Roadrunner is my favorite part. Flyover is out on Don Giovanni on black vinyl.

Upset – S/T

Upset has the distinction of being the only band on here I enjoyed listening to, but knew next to nothing about. So I looked them up. Hold up, Patty Schemel is in Upset? From Hole?!? Who knew? Anyway, I’d picked up their drop a few years ago and thought it was really solid, so I got their full-length when it came out last month. Also very solid – classic indie rock song composition and fun throughout. The two tracks that really stand out for me are Tried & True and Mullet, both of which appear late on the album. Released on the ever-dependable Lauren Records. 300 copies on butter cream vinyl.

And here, for your listening pleasure, is a playlist featuring all of the above and more. 2019 had a lot of songs that were clearly designed to be the heavyweight closer for their respective albums. I put them all at the end of the playlist because of that, but then realized that most of my favorites for the year were buried at the end. Also, “Old LP” was the no-question closer, so I moved the others up. Buy the records! Listen to the playlist, too!

Pette Discogs’ Best Albums of 2016 (and Late 2015)

‘Tis time. My annual music review has been something I have put together for several years, but I have generally limited it to a personal Facebook post. That seems a little silly, considering these vast tools at my disposal to reach at least 5-10 additional people who might care. So, I’m expanding the reach this year. Here we go: my favorite albums of 2016 (and late 2015, if I did not get to it by 2015, but it counts because I make the rules). The first few entries here are interchangeable in my rankings – they are all albums I have listened to incessantly since I discovered them.

1. Tacocat – Lost Time
I was way late to the game on Tacocat. Then, I was listening to extensively curated female-singer-indie-rock channel on Pandora, and Pandora and I had a discussion, which essentially amounted to Pandora saying, “Um, you like Tacocat, dumbass. No, really. Get on that,” and me saying, “Mmhm.” We had that conversation about three times before I paid attention. Pandora was correct, and I have remedied the problem. I am now caught up. The good news is this happened at the perfect time: about a month before the release of a new Tacocat album, followed by not one, but two rare DC tour appearances. It’s true: I  Tacocat and you should, too. Their newest album, Lost Time, covers all kinds of fun topics, but I will leave that to you to work through.

Highlights: Talk
I Hate the Weekend
Dana Katherine Scully

2. S P O R T S – All of Something (2015)
Heartfelt, energetic, solid indie rock with a distinct hint of a midwestern sound. This album grabbed me immediately…I just didn’t hear it until early 2016. I read a review of All of Something shortly after I heard it that made it sound as though this band had all the makings of one that was not long for this world (some members – but not all – graduated from college and moved from Ohio to Philly). It hasn’t done them in yet.

Highlights: Saturday
Reality TV

3. Bloodboy – Best of Bloodboy EP
No, Bloodboy is not a hardcore or metal band (at least not yet) – just solo singer/songwriter Lexie Papilion. I am still trying to figure out how I found my way to this EP. It contains sounds one would normally expect to find exclusively in ’80s songs (and for those of you saying, “I love ’80s songs!” I did not mean that as a positive). It works, though. It really works. These are phenomenal songs. Intense, biting, and infectious – I have been listening to this EP repeatedly for the past couple of months. If only there were a physical product so that I could give her money for her music… Anyway, this EP is a stellar debut and I look forward to what is to come.

Highlights: Keep Your Disease
Hey Kid
Fuck Yourself (I find it endlessly entertaining that Amazon refers to this one as “Fuck Yourself [Explicit]”…y’think?)
Mom, I’ve Changed

Oh, just listen to the whole thing. It’s all good. The last track doesn’t hold my attention quite as much as the first five, but it’s still good.

4. Blowout – No Beer, No Dad
Blowout sounds like early Lemuria…I mean they REALLY remind me of early Lemuria. This is a fantastic development – I miss early Lemuria. It’s catchy indie-punk songs at their finest. This is their first full length, and it has also been occupying my stereo with great regularity in the latter part of this year.

Highlights: Guts Grown Up
Cents Cents Money Money
Green Couch

Continue reading


Well, check that out: I went and made a Pette Discogs blog.  This format should make it easier for me to post about some of the individual records I have researched in recent years.  I have replaced the blog-ish part of the main site with this one and am loading all of my old posts from that site on here so that they are archived better.

Overhaul Complete (Mostly)

Alright – here we go.  I am basically done with all of the site updates I wanted to perform.  Amongst our updates are fear, surprise, a ruthless efficiency…sorry…reflex…this is what is new:

– Every record on the site now has its own page.  You can still view the full pages of entries if you care to read them all as a story, but it will now be much easier to get to one specific entry.  All of my full discogs on here now have index pages, thereby enabling you to get to those individual entry pages with greater ease.  I am building index pages for all of the partial discogs on here as well, but that’s another big project that I will finish gradually (that would be the “mostly” done to which I alluded in the title above…).

– I added a full band list, which includes every band that has any kind of entry on this site.  The partial discography links are not live yet…again, I’m doing that gradually.  I did not want to hold up the rollout of the rest of the site for that.

– I have included a forum to help fuel your record collecting needs.  There is a link in the menu above, but it can be found here: Pette Discographies Forum.

– There have lots of little behind-the-scenes upgrades that should help me expand the site better in the future.  You don’t care about those details, but I promise, they took a long time.

I hope the new site is enjoyable.  Now, let’s get back to the new content, shall we?  Next up…Fishbone.

Lots of Updates Coming

I know it has been forever since the last update on here.  That will all change in the very near future.  I have been working on another large scale site design update for a while now.   Nothing is live yet, but I am almost done.  It will make the site much more user friendly.  I have been reluctant to make any big content changes until I finished the redesign.  Add in an international move, and 2010 was a slow website update year.  I have a lot coming over the first couple of months of 2011, though.  Stay tuned!

Unprecedented Sub Pop Auction

It is time.  I am going to refocus my collection slightly, and spend some time on getting some higher-end items from my want list.  To that end, I have decided to unload my complete Sub Pop Singles Club V1 set – all colors of all singles (except Love Buzz).  There are certainly some records in the set that I want to keep in my collection.   I have already replaced those items.  This is a unique opportunity for a lucky collector somewhere.   Tell your friends!

Big Sale

Well, I have decided to unload a bunch of Sub Pop test pressings.  I had been amassing them for a giant trade a while back, but the other party disappeared, and I have not heard from him in over a year.  I think it’s time.  I can’t keep that much cash tied up in records I don’t plan to have in my collection forever, so…there you go.  A big batch is up over at our favorite auction site, so take a look at my current listings should you have some interest.  It’s not all test pressings, either.  There are some nice rarities for sale as well.

Pette Discographies Overhaul

Welcome to the new Pette Discographies site, updated for the 21st century! I have rebuilt the whole site, essentially from the ground up. I have held off on a great deal of updates due to the grand overhaul, so there should be a lot of new entries coming soon. I still have some image touch-up work to do on some of the images, but that work is almost entirely done. If you see something that is not working correctly, please let me know. Stay tuned to this page for all sorts of new updates in the coming weeks.