Rachel Goodman’s top 30 alt-rock and alt-pop songs of 2020

Tame Impala, Caribou, Washed Out, Trace Mountains, The Big Moon, Future Islands, Strfkr, Surfer Blood, Surf Rock Is Dead, Of Montreal, Hazel English, Suburban Living, Jack River, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Secret Machines, Pink Skies, Tomo Nakayama, Best Coast, Smith Lyle & Moore, Phoebe Bridgers, Ultraísta, Jessie Ware, Yumi Zouma, The Nude Party, Acid Tongue, Jay Watson, Will Butler, Hot Chip, Khruangbin

Rachel Goodman’s top alt-rock and alt-pop songs of 2020. L to R; Row 1: Tame Impala, Caribou, Washed Out, Trace Mountains, The Big Moon, Future Islands. Row 2: Strfkr, Surfer Blood, Surf Rock Is Dead, Of Montreal, Hazel English, Suburban Living. Row 3: Jack River, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Secret Machines, Pink Skies, Tomo Nakayama, Best Coast. Row 4: Smith, Lyle & Moore, Phoebe Bridgers, Ultraísta, Jessie Ware, Yumi Zouma, The Nude Party. Row 5: Acid Tongue, Jay Watson (Gum), Will Butler, Hot Chip, Khruangbin, Hoops.

As we’re all stuck at home, I feel like the only thing I’ve really accomplished this year is listening to new music. I weeded through a huge list of alt-pop and alt-rock songs I loved and finally was able to get this list down to 30. I cried a little when I cut a few favorite artists. This is officially the year of crying. There are a lot of new artists (for me) as well  as some old favorites like Phoebe Bridgers and Tame Impala. While 2020 no doubt sucks, I am thankful for these brilliant artists.

This is list isn’t in a particular order other than the first three, which I consider to be the best of the best. As for the rest? I loved them all too much to hurt their feelings. The appearance of Phoebe Bridgers int he middle, for example, doesn’t mean it’s not the fourth best, OK?

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Illustration: Skott Bennett/STAFF.

Tame Impala, “Lost In Yesterday,” The Slow Rush

This album alone got me through the pandemic. Tame Impala was the last band I saw live before the world shut down. Kevin Parker is back and this song stands out with a perfect hook and chorus. It’s catchy and danceable, and still has the psychedelic Tame Impala sound.

Caribou, “Never Come Back,” Suddenly

An experimental loop that continues deep into the song over Dan Snaith’s (Caribou) vocals are hypnotic. I get lost in this five-minute banger. This song would fit right in at the house clubs of the ’90s. It’s so ridiculously addicting. Add Snaith’s falsetto and kick up the beat, and you won’t stop dancing.

Washed Out, “Too Late,” Purple Noon

Does bedroom pop ever go out of style? Washed Out, Ernest Greene, better known as Washed Out, always manages to make all his songs sound fuzzy and as if you’re swimming in a pool of water. “Too Late” has a slightly hazy and dream-like sound with hypnotic beats that will stick with you. It’s the perfect chillwave song when you’re stuck at home all day long. And check out the fan-made quarantine video.

Trace Mountains, “Lost in the Country,” Lost in the Country

This is the perfect tune for a long road trip trip through the country. It’s airy, expansive and just floats above you. If pastoral rock is not a genre, it needs to be. Dave Benton, gave this song a hook that soars alongside the earnest lyrics. If you like Kurt Vile or The War on Drugs, this one’s for you.

The Big Moon, “Your Light,” Walking Like We Do

The driving riff commands your attention as the song begins. The gorgeous vocals by Juliette Jackson are captivating. But it’s the harmonies from the other women of this London quartet that really bring the song together. The fun, danceable chorus and will have you singing along.

Future Islands, “For Sure,” As Long As You Are

Future Islands continued right where they left off. This slightly dark yet bouncy pop song has an infectious hook. The build-up turns into an anthem that will have you jumping to its brooding, atmospheric chorus.

Strfkr, “Never The Same,” Future Past Life

“Never The Same” is a turn from Strfkr’s more synth-pop and electronic sound. Here we get a stripped-down song led by acoustic guitars. I just love the ’60s jangly pop psychedelic vibe the song brings to life.

Surfer Blood, “Karen,” Carefree Theatre

Surf rock has never sounded so great! Surfer Blood’s intro with blistering guitar playing is total beach epic fun. The video with the band members singing in outdoor showers, decked out in Hawaiian shirts, is emblematic of the song. It’s light, carefree and has one catchy chorus.

Surf Rock Is Dead, “Diabolik,” Existential Playboy

I’m not going to lie that when I saw the name of this Brooklyn band, I had to check it out. The shimmering riff is permeates the song. The jangly, sunshine-soaked pop melodies will stick with you.

Of Montreal, “Polyaneurism,” UR FUN

When Kevin Barnes releases anything, I’m always curious where this experimental, artsy band will go. “Polyaneurism” is reminiscent of earlier Of Montreal albums, with a neo-glam psychedelic pop sound. It’s jangly, bouncy, and in true Barnes fashion, the video is comprised of dogs.

Hazel English “Off My Mind,” Wake Up!

This glittery sun-drenched dreamy-pop song is filled with gorgeous melodies. Aussie-American Hazel English’s vocals have a shimmering, ethereal sadness that stand out here.

Suburban Living, “Dirt,” How To Be Human

Philadelphia quartet Suburban Living perfected indie pop on this gem. These swirling guitars and gorgeous melodies make me get up and spin around.

Jack River, “Dark Star,” Stranger Heart

Australian Holly Rankin is the multitalented musician behind Jack River. If Gwen Stefani fronted a shoegaze band in the ’90s, this is what you would get. Sugary-sweet vocals over shoegaze guitar riffs soar is total perfection on this tune.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, “Cars In Space,” Sideways to New Italy

Melbourne’s Rolling Blackouts Coast Fever sound like fellow Aussies Midnight Oil on this track. Also like Midnight Oil, RBCF is tight and has gorgeous harmonies. Add in some jangly, layered guitars, vocals that swell and hooks to die for.

Secret Machines, “Everything Starts,” Everything Starts

Secret Machines did not disappoint in their comeback. From the signature dark, layered and brooding guitar notes, this song straddles the line between melancholy and lightness. It’s nothing short of haunting, sorrow and beauty.

Pink Skies, “I’ll Be Here A While,” SPECTRA

Pink Skies is likely to be confused with Tame Impala. From the soaring, spacey keys to catchy vocals, this song is expansive psychedelic pop greatness. Pink Skies is Oakland musician Arieh Berl, and he’s not to be missed.

Tomo Nakayama, “Get To Know You,” Melonday

This dreamy synth-pop tune is reminiscent of The Lightning Seeds. It has a catchy percussive beat that weaves through its entirety and the chorus is refreshing.

Best Coast, “Everything Has Changed,” Always Tomorrow

Gritty guitars? Check. In your face vocals? Check. A ’60s lo-fi surf rock sound? Of course! California duo Best Coast is back. Bethany Cosentino sounds as fierce as ever. Her lyrics are poignant (she just got sober) and catchy. This song is dirty, gritty and it rocks.

Smith, Lyle & Moore featuring Dhani Harrison, “Fate,” EP1

“Fate” blends indie folk with a ’60s pop sound. At times it sounds like a lost track from The Traveling Wilburys. Considering their fathers were in that band, it’s not that big a surprise. The trio, along with Harrison, is at its best on the harmonies. The song warms your heart.

Phoebe Bridgers, “Kyoto,” Punisher

Phoebe Bridgers is the it girl of indie rock but she backs up the hype. Her vocals have a beautiful ache and glide over this song. However, this song os a departure from Phoebe Bridgers’ usual low-key ballads. This is an uptempo banger that soars.

Ultraísta, “Tin King,” Sister

Ultraísta is a trio comprised of Radiohead super-producer Nigel Goodrich, drummer Joey Waronker and vocalist Laura Bettinson. This song is fast, crazy, and has a frenetic energy. Once the propulsive percussion kick in, it goes into overdrive. It’s a video game coming to life with Bettinson’s hypnotic vocals. At 150 seconds, you have time to breathe before it starts again. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Jessie Ware, “What’s Your Pleasure?” What’s Your Pleasure?

“What’s Your Pleasure?” is one intoxicating song. It’s a hot electronic dance number that you’d expect on a ’70s dance floor. The chorus is sultry, dark and moody. Ware has become the ’70s disco diva of the 2020s.

Yumi Zouma, “Cool For A Second,” Truth Or Consequences

“Cool For A Second” is an infectious dream-pop number with beautiful melodies mixed in with swirling guitars. Singer Christie Simpson’s vocals are hypnotic, dream-like, and will stay with you.

The Nude Party, “Shine Your Light,” Midnight Manor

This one’s reminiscent of early Rolling Stones. It has that bluesy rock sound and you can feel Jagger’s strut in there. Add some psychedelic twists, a hint of light indie folk and pop, and you get The Nude Party. But, its that jangly hook that will stay with you.

Acid Tongue, “Bullies,” Bullies

This psychedelic rock song has an ear-worm chorus. The lyrics are slightly ridiculous, but I guarantee you’ll be singing them long after it ends: “Rich kids and bullies, they’re always out to get you … they’ll swallow you whole.”

Gum, “Out In The World,” Out In The World

Multi-instrumentalist Jay Watson (Tame Impala) wrote this gorgeous atmospheric, psychedelic track with swirling guitar melodies and expansive synths. The song is drenched in sun, with just the perfect amount of haze and washed-out vibe.

Will Butler, “Surrender,” Generations

“Surrender” had me he hooked from the handclap intro. This song by Will Butler (the Arcade Fire) has a call-and-response structure and feels like the reprieve we all need. Yet, the video will remind you of what’s going on int he world.

Hot Chip featuring Jarvis Cocker, “Straight To The Morning,” Straight To The Morning

Electro-dance rock act Hot Chip paired up with Britpop god Jarvis Cocker of Pulp on the electro-disco banger of the year! It’s danceable, yet Cocker’s signature vocals can’t be missed.

Khruangbin, “So We Won’t Forget,” Mordechai

Jazzy and lounge-y funk band Khruangbin is back. “So We Won’t Forget” is sleek and sexy with a down-tempo beat. Laura Lee’s vocals are seductive over the groovy guitars by Mark Speer.

Hoops, “Don’t Panic (Coldplay),” English Breakfast

There was only one way to end this. A song titled “Don’t Panic” is too apropos. This is my favorite song by Coldplay and this cover does it justice. The song has the most beautiful haziness and fuzz, adding texture. It keeps the signature vocal style yet adds Hoops’ atmospheric touch.

Follow writer Rachel Goodman at Twitter.com/xneverwherex and Instagram.com/xneverwherex.

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