None of us here at RIFF would blame you if you just wanted to forget 2020 ever happened. We certainly do. But one of the few brights spot was that some pretty good music came out, so if you decide you want to find the year’s silver lining it’s right here. Let’s test the limits of how much nostalgia can distort our memories with a look back at 2020 in music.
RIFF’s 75 Best Albums
Last year we did our top 50 albums, but this year we got braver and more adventurous, and there was so much good music that we went up to 75. Our team included Alex Baechle, Skott Bennett, Chloe Catajan, Mike DeWald, Roman Gokhman, Rachel Goodman, David Gill, Max Heilman, Tony Hicks, Tim Hoffman, Sam Richards, Onome Uyovbievbo, Piper Westrom, Daniel J. Willis and others went over the year’s musical output and ranked them in what is, objectively, the most correct order.
Album review editor and resident hip-hop expert Tim Hoffman compiled our 20 favorite hip-hop albums of the year.
Finally, Rachel Goodman gave us the 30 best alt-pop and alt-rock songs of the year.
Columns and Favorites
Usually we all list our favorite concerts and our photographers list their favorite shows and photos but, well… you know. We won’t go into it. But you know. That said, a few of our photographers put together a virtual exhibition of their best work from January, February and March before… you know.
RIFF veteran and our entire Chilean bureau, Joaquin Cabello, listed his 10 favorite concerts because that show-off got to see 10 shows last year. The entire list took place before March 10, at which point he left the country. It wasn’t a bad decision.
For the rest of us who didn’t crack double digits in shows attended, we listed 22 shows we were looking forward to but didn’t get the chance to see. It was a group effort and probably would have made for at least two of our best-of lists if not for that whole plague thing.
The Tuesday Tracks crew whittled down its six best new music discoveries of the year.
Our illustrious editor Roman Gokhman was busy interviewing artists by Zoom. He listed 16 of them in a long humblebrag with photos. I’m sure none of us are jealous that he spent the year chatting with the likes of Micky Dolenz, Lindsey Stirling, Lisa Loeb and Damian Lillard. I’m certainly not jealous. Not even a little. … The jerk.
I (Daniel J. Willis, if you didn’t notice the byline) showed that level of cheer and joy by not just writing about the worst of the year in music but in society in general. It was originally about 3,000 words but got trimmed down to something manageable. On the other side of the coin, I picked my top five songs of the year as well.
If you want to hear from a much better columnist instead, Bay Area legend Tony Hicks both looked back at 2020 and made resolutions for 2021. I highly recommend reading his columns if you’re short on time, then mine if you read them quick.
Believe it or not, bad things happened in 2020. Our In Memoriam column eulogized some of the artists we lost last year that meant something to us. In a year that saw more death than most in American history, some of those hit us especially hard.
Finally, we looked ahead to 2021 with some albums we’re looking forward to—plus one we’d like to be but definitely aren’t—and an entirely serious, very scientific list of predictions about what concerts will look like this year. You can trust us, we’re music journalists.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.