The best overlooked albums of 2020

Essential records that may have slipped past the old radar

If you’re someone who typically misses out on the year’s best music in the moment, well 2020 may actually be worth a damn after all. No one is going to hold you accountable for failing to keep up with release calendar during a pandemic.

Luckily, there’s still time to wow your family and friends over Zoom this holiday season with your knowledge of the year’s best new tunes.

Here is a generous dose of great albums from past 12 months that may have escaped your radar.
 

Ten Kills The Pack – Force Majeure

Earlier this year, singer-songwriter Sean Sroka shared his collection of seven “city folk” songs under his Ten Kills The Pack Banner. Force Majeure, Ten Kills The Pack’s debut EP, is best understood through Sroka’s own words.

“These songs have lived in different places, they’ve seen some shit,” Sroka told Exclaim! “We bounced from apartment to loft to apartment to record for a few tired hours each night. I think it contributed to the minimal and distinct tone of the EP. We tracked after working all day while drinking wine to keep pace and had to be quiet to avoid noise complaints from neighbours. This forced me to embrace new subtleties, and I think it’s where some of the intimacy and character comes from. It’s why I think the EP managed to capture the various lives you can live in any given city.”
 

PUP – This Places Sucks Ass EP

For a band that spends as much time on the road as an independent professional wrestler, PUP had to find a new way to keep busy in 2020. The Toronto-based punk outfit used the pandemic’s forced downtime to churn out a new EP, the excellently titled This Place Sucks Ass. This six-song set also features a fantastic cover of Grandaddy’s indie-rock classic “A.M. 180.” – Scott
 

Kacy Hill – Is It Selfish If We Talk About Me Again

Kacy Hill’s Is It Selfish If We Talk About Me Again. sees the 26-year-old artist exploring self-acceptance across each of the album’s 11 tracks. On top of catchy, synth-pop and R&B instrumentals, Hill sings of treating yourself with patience and trust in the face of pain or major conflict. The artist tackles everything from loneliness to insecurity, filling each track with advice for her past self, while ultimately rejecting her desire to dwell on the previous experiences, delivering lines like, “No one’s gonna tell you/ It isn’t all about you.” – Chelsea Brimstin
 

Dboy – New Records in Human Power

Ultimately, it’s the music that matters, but in the case of Welland, Ontario’s Dboy the gimp masks and head-to-toe satin outfits really accentuate the vibe. Dboy’s New Records in Human Power is 17 minutes of blistering punk that instantly clears the band a space next to contemporaries like Cancer Bats, Single Mothers, and The Flatliners. – Scott
 

Jackie – New At Drugs

Local three-piece indie-pop outfit Jackie delivered an excellent collection of tunes this year in the form of their six-song EP New at Drugs, which saw veteran producer David Newfeld (Broken Social Scene, Super Furry Animals) work with the band. A video for the title track was directed by Dominika Monicka (The Weeknd, Billie Eilish). – Scott
 

Nada Surf – Never Not Together

While Nada Surf debuted in 1996 with the severely under-appreciated High/Low, vocalist Matthew Caws’ delivery remains as youthful sounding as ever on their excellent 2020 effort Never Not Together. Power-pop is alive and well, apparently. – Scott
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070 Shake – Modus Vivendi

070 Shake released her compelling debut album Modus Vivendi back in January. “Modus Vivendi” truly lies at the centre of each track, as it is a Latin term used to describe an arrangement between two opposing parties that hope to coexist peacefully. The new record sees the New Jersey artist seeking that sense of harmony, not only in her relationships with women, but also with herself. The production on Modus Vivendi is unmatched, giving 070 Shake the freedom to truly soar to new heights with her vocals and lyricism. – Chelsea
 

Porridge Radio – Every Bad

Brighton four-piece Porridge Radio have shared their sophomore album Every Bad. The dynamic collection sees singer-songwriter Dana Margolin at the album’s centre, delivering twisted, finessed lyrics and powerhouse vocals. Moving from their minimal sound into a new sonic fever dream, Every Bad comes packed with a perfect balance of quiet instrumentals and intentional dissonance. – Chelsea
 

Dogleg – Melee

Detroit, Michigan’s Dogleg delivered one of the year’s best punk/emo efforts with their debut full-length Melee. It’s 35 minutes of explosive, buzzsaw guitar work, standing behind vocalist Alex Stoitsiadis’ balancing act between hysterical shouting and skirting melodies. – Scott
 

Fenne Lily – BREACH

Bristol singer-songwriter Fenne Lily returned with her sophomore album BREACH this year. The refined new record sees Lily singing about finding yourself in your twenties, from self-medicating with weed on “Alapathy” to worrying about the ways that social media changes how you see yourself on “Solipsism.” Lily’s blunt, yet poetic lyricism truly shines on this vulnerable record, as she delivers lines like, “You sent me a head on my birthday/ You said it was made with love,” “I get sick on second best/ You get off to God is dead,” and “I still see you as some kind of reassurance that someday I’ll be understood.” – Chelsea
 

NOBRO – Sick Hustle

Montreal-based four-piece NOBRO packed four anthemic, hard-hitting punk songs into their 2020 EP Sick Hustle. Clocking in at 11 riotous minutes, directions for consumption include, but are not limited to, singing along, pumping your fists, and repeating. – Scott
 

Sylvan Esso – Free Love

North Carolina duo Sylvan Esso made their return with the release of Free Love this year. “At the heart of Sylvan Esso is this really fun argument,” singer Amelia Meath explains. “Nick [Sanborn – producer] wants things to sound unsettling, but I want you to take your shirt of and dance.” Marking their third full length release, the core of Free Love truly revolves around this conflict, as they strip back the tracks to skittish synth-based tunes. Free Love highlights Meath’s narratives more than previous releases, as she sings of apathy, climate change, and intimacy. – Chelsea
 

Aminé – Limbo

Portland rapper Aminé has released Limbo, the follow-up to 2018’s ONEPOINTFIVE. This new record sees Aminé at his most pragmatic, moving from his quintessential happy-go-lucky tracks like “Caroline” to concerns of the sustainability of his artistic integrity. From “Kobe,” a track inspired by the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, to the catchy album opener “Burden,” where he raps “Beat so cold it made Aminé want to open up,” the new collection serves as a transitional state for the artist, as he’s eager to make his mark on adulthood. – Chelsea
 

The Aces – Under My Influence

The Aces released their bold sophomore album Under My Influence this year, and it sees the group exploring a new signature style. While moments on the album can feel almost unfinished, the Utah girl group has reinvented their sound, drawing on the infectious low-key pop of their debut, while bringing in grungier, catchier instrumentals. From the funky, energetic opener “Daydream” to the generational commentary of “My Phone Is Trying To Kill Me,” this album explores everything from unhealthy attitudes to nostalgic storytelling to the fluidity of sexuality. – Chelsea
 

Hum – Inlet

Shoegaze/space rock icons Hum returned with a new album in 2020, their first in 22 years. The Illinois-based band managed to pull off a record that sounds like it was conceived in the 90s without sounding patronizingly nostalgic. Inlet offers an immense wall of sound that contrasts perfectly with Matt Talbott’s often tender vocal delivery. It’s the follow-up to Downward is Heavenward that fans have spent two decades praying to the rock gods for, and an excellent entry point for the newly interested. – Scott
 

Jeff Rosenstock – No Dream

One of punk’s most prolific songwriters struck again in 2020, dropping a new album out of nowhere. No Dream represents what is perhaps Rosenstock’s most fully-realized and cohesive effort yet. It’s a perfect little summer soundtrack, rife with self-reflection and resentment for the state of the world. – Scott
 

METZ – No Dream

In October, Toronto noise rockers METZ made their return with their new album Atlas Vending. “Change is inevitable if you’re lucky,” frontman Alex Edkins explains of the album. “Our goal is to remain in flux, to grow in a natural and gradual way. We’ve always been wary to not overthink or intellectualize the music we love but also not satisfied until we’ve accomplished something that pushes us forward.” – Chelsea
 

No Joy – Motherhood

Montreal’s No Joy shared their first new full-length album in five years, Motherhood, back in August. The new 11-track collection sees No Joy expanding their shoegaze sound into a dreamy, trip hop territory. Packed with a wide range of poppy, driven tracks, Motherhood sees No Joy’s Jasamine White-Gluz at her most exploratory, diving into new sound after new sound. – Chelsea