Tuesday Tracks: RIFF’s best finds of 2020

Mr. Bungle, Charlie Burg, Kurt Baker, Mobley, Teenage Wrist, Secret Machines

Clockwise from top left: Mr. Bungle, Charlie Burg, Kurt Baker, Mobley, Teenage Wrist and Secret Machines.

If there’s one silver lining in the dark cloud of 2020, it’s that staying at home has left much more time open for listening to new music. We on the Tuesday Tracks crew were certainly happy to delve into the sonic ocean to find some buried treasure. For every Tuesday Tracks writer, the hardest decision comes down to the “pick” of the week—the song that really stood out the most. The only decision harder than that is looking over each pick to find the track that stood out the most. Except for me. In my last entry before my departure from this column, Mr. Bungle was the perfect way to go out.

2020 in Review, Best of 2020, best albums of 2020, best concerts of 2020, 2020 in review, The Most OK of 2020

Illustration: Skott Bennett/STAFF.

Six writers and six picks—six tracks we’ve kept with us since the dropped and will surely come back to for years to come. End this year’s musical explorations strong by adding these cuts to your playlist.

— Max Heilman


Roman’s Pick: Mobley, “James Crow” On first listen, I thought the refrain on this song was about the Foo Fighters (chase Grohl!) It’s definitely not, but closer inspection of this jumpin’ rock tune is actually about America’s institutions that have enabled racism to persist. That made me appreciate it even more. Catching listeners with a funky groove before forcing a deathly serious yet important conversation was Mobley’s goal. And I was ensnared. It’s so upbeat and soulful that it makes perfect sense that the combination of arrangement and lyrics would empower us to confront a dark history and hopefully rise above it as well.


Max’s Pick: Mr. Bungle, “Eracist” As someone who discovered, loved and fell out of love with thrash metal, I was not expecting to enjoy the latest from Mr. Bungle as much as I did. Look no further than “Eracist” for a fantastic dose of high-voltage heavy metal. It’s one of the more mid-tempo cuts on the album, but my God does it hit hard! With Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian and ex-Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo as comrades in arms, it’d be hard to imagine the song not being at least listenable. Turns out, it’s actually a masterwork of good old-fashioned thrash. Mike Patton has some of the best vocal performances of his career on this song, as lead guitarist Trey Spruance and bassist Trevor Dunn exude genuine joy in playing the first Mr. Bungle release the way it should have been played in ’86. “Eracist” is everything great about thrash metal, in its rawest, most well-executed form.


Chloe’s pick: Teenage Wrist, “Earth Is A Black Hole” Teenage Wrist’s “Earth Is A Black Hole” has lived in my head rent-free since the day it dropped. That piercing, sinuous hook during the chorus hits like a sucker-punch of adrenaline. It definitely delivers in terms of being a banger, while also measuring up to flustered lyrics about a transient existence. The band’s following single, “Taste Of Gasoline,” touches up on that message as well. From what I can piece together so far about the forthcoming album, its sonic and thematic directions dive into some intense ideas. I’m really stoked for the next release, which feels nice and slightly odd after a year of listlessness and upset. 


Amelia’s Pick: Kurt Baker, “Over You” — This fun, energizing ’70s-inspired electro-pop anthem features all the right blends of multilayered riffs, distorted palm muting and Baker’s electrifying vocals. Though Baker can’t seem to move on from an unforgettable past love, it’s safe to say many people will be ready to dance through the final moments of 2020 with a resounding “Over You.” The 30-second intro alone is enough to brighten the room with its catchy guitar patterns and vibrant beats. But when Baker finally enters with the line, “Girl you build me up but put me down/ You’ve got my heart running ’round and ’round,” the song takes off like an explosive fireworks show.


Rachel’s Pick: Secret Machines, “Everything Starts” The Secret Machines, who rose in the 2000s with the likes of Interpol and The National, are back again. The band teased its 2020 album, Awake In The Brain, with “Everything Starts.” Now a duo, Brandon Curtis and Josh Garza have perfected their space-rock post-punk sound. The guitar lines by late member Benjamin Curtis, brother of Brandon Curtis, fill the space and shimmer into the ether. The song is expansive and atmospheric, becoming a sonic masterpiece. Its beautiful, lush soundscape supports Brandon Curtis’ melancholic, yet hauntingly beautiful vocals. And the drumming by Garza holds the song tightly together. The standout is the fuzzy guitar riffs that seem to soar. This song was a beautiful, unexpected gift that provided a cathartic escape. It elicits fresh emotions with each listen.


Aarushi’s pick: Charlie Burg, “Channel Orange in the Living Room” — Charlie Burg’s song is one of my favorite tracks from this year. It reminds me of all the times my friends and I would hang out on our college campus and vibe to Frank Ocean. Burg sings about listening to Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange album with someone he just met, bringing the listener into an intimate moment 0f shared appreciation of sublime art. He creates a universal feeling of nostalgia from a decidedly personal moment. It’s a song I haven’t stopped listening to since it came out in April because his voice remains so captivating.

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