What follows is a list of my favorite releases of 2020 in no particular order. There was so much more great music than this in 2020, but rather than give you a 60-item list, I pared it down to the dozen (or so) most crucial. I did the same for reissues and also shared some personal milestones from this year. Everyone talks about how 2020 was a fucked year, but if you don’t think it was a great one for music, you weren’t paying attention.
Sirkka: Kuluttava Kone cassette (self-released)
Perfectly executed hardcore punk inspired by the Finnish greats of old. One of those releases that leaves your jaw on the floor every time you play it.
Physical media status: This had been sold out since it came out early in 2020, but after I wrote about Kuluttava Kone in my staff pick last week, the band got in touch to say they’ll be releasing a small repress of pro-duplicated tapes very soon. Sorry State will have copies!
Public Acid: Condemnation 7” (Beach Impediment)
Universally acknowledged as one of the most exciting bands in the hardcore punk underground, Public Acid proved why that’s the case with their new EP. Nasty and brutal with an artsy, progressive edge.
Physical media status: The first pressing sold out from the label within a couple of days, as did Sorry State’s distro copies. I see it’s still kicking around in a couple of online distros, though a patient person can wait for the imminent repress.
Straw Man Army: Age of Exile 12" (D4MT Labs)
To say that Straw Man Army emerged out of nowhere would show you’re not paying attention, because the creatively fertile D4MT Labs group has been pumping out hit after hit for several years now. However, this Straw Man Army LP is on another level, more melodic and song-oriented than most of that group’s output, but the streamlined style makes the cutting lyrics hit that much harder. Highly recommended for fans of Zounds and Crisis.
Physical media status: The first pressing appears to be gone, and it seems like most distro copies have been gobbled up as well. However, I hear there’s going to be a UK pressing on La Vida Es Un Mus, which Sorry State will carry if those are the only available copies.
Rigorous Institution: Survival 7" (Roach Leg)
Rigorous Institution’s previous 7” on Black Water blew me away, but Survival… fuck, what a record! I remember this hit the internet shortly into the plague days, when complete societal breakdown seemed like a real possibility. No one painted that picture more clearly than Rigorous Institution. One of the most epic things punk produced in 2020.
Physical media status: Sorry State still has copies!
Riki: S/T 12" (Dais)
California’s Riki released a cool 12” EP a couple of years ago (Sorry State still has copies in stock), but their debut full-length catapulted them to another level. This isn’t punk rock… it’s synth-pop, but the punks love it, me included. FFO Fatamorgana, Special Interest, Boy Harsher.
Physical media status: This LP has already been through a few pressings, each on different colors of vinyl. Sorry State is out of stock, but hopefully we can get more copies as early as next week.
The Annihilated: demo (self-released)
Another hardcore release that blew me away. The 80s US hardcore sound has always been close to my heart, and I don’t think anyone did it better than the UK’s the Annihilated (though they add a pretty big helping of their indigenous oi! music a la Negative Approach).
Physical media status: If you didn’t get one of these already, you’re fucked.
Romero: Honey 7" (Cool Death)
“Honey” is my most played song of 2020. Romero’s music is outside my normal wheelhouse, but something about this songs gets me, and I feel like I’m weightless every time I hear it. Everything about it is great, but I think my favorite part is the way the chord progression unfolds. This song is as solidly constructed as Egypt’s pyramids.
Physical media status: The 7” went through two pressings and both seem long gone. However, Romero has a new single on the way, also on Cool Death Records.
Humant Blod: Flykten Från Verkligheten 7” (Desolate / Havoc)
Looking for the most ripping record of 2020? I can’t think of anything that bests this one. A few New York punks (notably from Extended Hell) flew in a couple of Swedes (including Poffen from Totalitär) for the weekend to record this studio project. How much more ripping could it be? None. None more ripping.
Physical media status: While this record’s first pressing sold out and was briefly in high demand, the labels have done an outstanding job of keeping this available. Sorry State is out but hopefully we can get more soon.
Krigshoder: Krig I Hodet cassette (Suck Blood)
Another transatlantic project band, this one pairs folks from the Suck Blood Records / Blazing Eye / East LA scene with Daniel from Norwegian punks Negativ. A serious contender for the “most ripping” title, but with an added element of bouncy catchiness borrowed from the 80s Norwegian classics.
Physical media status: This is currently sold out, but Suck Blood represses their releases sporadically. Hopefully we can get more at some point.
Fried E/M: Modern World 12” (Lumpy)
Another pure USHC banger, St. Louis’s Fried E/M gave us that catchy, snotty, raging stuff we all crave. FFO Career Suicide, Circle Jerks, Sick Pleasure.
Physical media status: Still in stock at Sorry State!
The Cool Greenhouse: S/T 12" (Melodic) / Alexa 7" (Melodic)
The Cool Greenhouse’s song “Pets” was my favorite track of 2019, and the two records they released this year did not disappoint. While they’ve yet to release a bad song, “Alexa” is my pick for “can’t miss Cool Greenhouse track of 2020.”
Physical media status: Copies of the LP are scarce in the US as the label’s US distributor has been sold out for a while, but you might find a copy or two if you dig around. As far as I can tell, Alexa wasn’t distributed at all in the US, though there are still copies available at UK shops. Basically, you can get both pretty easily, but you’ll have to order from overseas.
ISS: Too Punk for Heavy Metal 7” (Total Punk) / Spikes cassette (self-released)
ISS continues to be one of the most innovative, exciting, and fun bands in punk rock. The a-side of their 7” on Total Punk is one of their best tracks, but they don’t release duds.
Physical media status: Too Punk for Heavy Metal is still in stock at Sorry State, but Spikes sold out in a matter of days and I don’t see a repress happening given how labor-intensive it was to make these.
Misanthropic Minds: Welcome to the Homeland 7” (Sewercide)
It feels weird putting a release that just came out a couple of weeks ago on the best of list, but this is one of 2020’s highlights. Another one that pushes the rage-o-meter into the red, this sounds like if you applied Urban Waste’s production values to Koro’s density and energy level. Not to be missed.
Physical media status: Both the label and Sorry State are sold out and I haven’t heard about whether there will be a repress. However, since this just came out, you should be able to find a copy at another store or distro.