Every year, we make a playlist of the best 100 songs of the year, and we write about the top 10. Make sure to check out last year’s playlist and top 10 write-up. We hope you enjoy these new songs, and the brief summaries below. If you do, please follow Freezepeach on Instagram and Spotify for more. We’d also love to hear any feedback, thoughts, and opinions you all may have on the best music from this crazy year. And one more thing: it’s been a particularly tough year for musicians and artists… if you can, please support your favorite artists directly through purchases on bandcamp, buying physical CDs or vinyls, or giving donations. Cheers to a better 2021. 🍑
10. anything – Adrianne Lenker
For anyone looking for a musical remedy to the oppressive nightmarish beast that is 2020, Adrianne Lenker’s song, anything, should be added to your queue. In anything, her scrappy wholesome vocals bring to life a deep and modest yearning; she just wants to be with the one she loves. She doesn’t want to think about anything nor talk about anything – she just wants to be. Lenker’s lyrics strike an emotional chord, evoking sympathy from all who have gained a newfound appreciation of the simple pleasures and fortunes of life, which have been brought into greater focus as our surroundings have been blurred.
Last year, Cattails by Adrianne Lenker’s band Big Thief was named our song of the year.
9. 12.38 – Childish Gambino (ft. 21 Savage, Ink, Kadhja Bonet)
Back in April, we wrote about how Childish Gambino’s new album 3.15.20 is too amorphous and eclectic for its own good. There are flashes of brilliance and great music throughout the album, but they come and go without being fully realized. On 12.38, Childish Gambino finds his comfort zone. Flexing his creative muscles and his sense of humor, he launches into a 4-minute verse that could easily be the best and most memorable of 2020. As he narrates a wacky nonlinear day-in-the-life episode that includes taking mushrooms and hallucinating about his ex, realizing he’s been robbed when a Patek receipt appears on his account, and telling a girl “fuck an omelette, you can eat off my face.” As it develops, the verse sounds more like a monologue from a screenplay than it does a rap verse, which explains why Donald Glover is in peak form.
8. Cut Me – Moses Sumney
There’s nothing subtle about Moses Sumney. The lavish wardrobes, fashion statements, and always-exposed 6’4” chiseled frame of the indie R&B singer are all emphatic. And there’s the album cover for Sumney’s 2020 album græ, which depicts the backside of the singer’s naked body starkly slumped over a rock at the base of a waterfall. Then there’s the music: often quiet and delicate sounding, it too tends towards menacingly bold artistic statements. For example, what is sonically a smooth and fluttering song, Cut Me is ultimately an ode to masochism and dependence on self-harm. Equipped with his exquisite vocals, Moses Sumney becomes a magician, converting the ugly into the utterly seductive.
7. SMH – MAVI
MAVI’s style is more poetic freestyle than traditional rap. The ebbs and flows of shifting cadences and run-on rhyme schemes hide the lyrics’ calculated intricacy behind a facade of stream of consciousness. MAVI’s sound is much akin to that of Earl’s recent album Some Rap Songs, which is defined as much by its lo-fi production as it is by its figurative encoded lyrics. On his single SMH, MAVI picks up where Let the Sun Talk left off: demonstrating his elite rapping ability. Whether it’s heady social commentary, braggadocious bars, or sage advice, all of MAVI’s lyrics sound like combinations of words you’ve never heard before – a compliment that also applies to his supporter and mentor Earl. As for MAVI’s lyrical advice, he raps: “taking wear and tear to the chest tat, try to keep the traps of trespassers lengths away from the headcap.” And then there’s the social commentary: “stuck in Anthropocene where moot is the standard, and movement ungranted, unless you snooping for a human zoo to loot and transplant in, attune your cruiser to the tune of mass panic.” We’ll leave you with that.
6. Lilacs – Waxahatchee
Katie Crutchfields’s Lilacs is a song about embracing life’s challenges. Existing somewhere between folk, country, and Americana, it fits neatly into her new album, Saint Cloud, which she says was born out of her decision to get sober back in 2018 during the Primavera festival in Barcelona. The chorus in Lilacs contains the type of vulnerability that makes Waxahatchee’s music so compelling: “And if my bones are made of delicate sugar, I won’t end up anywhere good without you.” It’s lyrics like these that strike the perfect balance between the poetic and the concrete. Grounded, but also imaginative. In a Pitchfork interview, she describes the song’s message in her own words:
“It’s a reminder that none of us are ever done doing work. You have to keep taking care of yourself forever. You’re never going to have an answer. I had a really shitty day, where a lot of my codependency stuff was bubbling up. I was frustrated, angry, and pointing the finger at everyone but myself, and was writing this angsty song about it. Somewhere in the midst of that I realized, “Oh okay here we go again, this is my trip that I’ve always been on…Then when I was writing the chorus, I was trying to find a way to make it hopeful, like, “It’s cool, this is part of life. Everybody has stuff that is always coming back around, and you have to find the tools to repair yourself.”
5. QADIR – Nick Hakim
On the cover of the single QADIR, there is a picture of Nick Hakim’s late friend by the same name, who passed away back in 2018. The song is mournful and touching, made by someone who can’t understand why there’s such a “complexity to being kind.” In his bid to reconcile this confusion, he makes the human flaw of lack of compassion sound downright absurd, as he implores us to care for each other, and for our loved ones “who might be shrinking, into a sunken place.” With dribbling hand drums, floating synths, and his own crawling voice mixed with tender background vocals, Nick Hakim hovers in a distressed spacecraft, bouncing around the galaxies in search of a miracle on earth.
4. After Hours – The Weeknd
The Weeknd’s Super Bowl halftime slot is the ultimate certification of his status as a global pop star. The endless cycle of drug and sex addiction has infiltrated every corner of his music since Trilogy, and is sustained through his mainstream breakthroughs Starboy and After Hours. But recently it’s become ever so slightly diluted, and less hypersexual, which has made his music accessible to the massive audience it deserves. On The Weeknd’s incredible After Hours, a tragedy, he masterfully showcases the cyclical nature of addiction to the fast life’s triumvirate (sex, love, drugs), through ecstatic highs and dangerous lows. The balance between nocturnal vice and dance floor pop has never felt so fluid. All that being said, no song on the album is more addictive than the outstanding R&B-house title track After Hours.
3. I Want You To Love Me – Fiona Apple
Fiona Apple’s new album Fetch the Bolt Cutters cements her legacy as a musical genius, granting her entry to a rarefied group reserved for a few artists each generation whose visions are well ahead of their time and their impact on music is unrivaled. Similar to her past music, the songs on the new album are carried by Apple’s piano-playing, but the addition of homemade percussion sounds coming from things like banging on pots and pans and the bones from her dead dog make this album entirely unique. Many publishers ranked the album in their top 5 of 2020, with Pitchfork and others citing it as the top album. The opening track I Want You To Love Me is pure catharsis. With existential considerations, Apple is finally letting herself love for love’s sake, without having to justify her desires any longer. She does so through the most arresting lyrics of the year:
I move with the trees
In the breeze
I know that time is elastic
And I know when I go
All my particles disband and disperse
And I’ll be back in the pulse
And I know none of this’ll matter
In the long run
But I know a sound is still a sound
And while I’m in this body
I want somebody to want
And I want what I want
And I want you
2. Kyoto – Phoebe Bridgers
Previously one of indie rock’s best kept secrets, misfit Phoebe Bridgers’ new album Punisher rides the budding wave of musical melancholy with elegant grace. Her songwriting throughout Punisher is beautifully transparent and defiantly unfiltered. With lyrics that are disarmingly honest (sometimes awkwardly so) and references to specific quirky things like poking around in a 7-Eleven, watching chemtrails, and parking at Goodwill, the song Kyoto conveys the feeling of being lost psychologically and geographically. It’s about her time on tour in Japan, where she apparently felt imposter syndrome, and hated being on tour while hating the thought of going home at the same time – “I just always want to be where I’m not” she writes on the song overview on Apple Music. Despite the downcast meaning of the song, the way Bridgers belts the song’s chorus alongside upbeat horns makes Kyoto the soundtrack to an accomplishment – knowing you’re lost is the first step in finding your way.
1. Lockdown / Lockdown (Remix) – Anderson .Paak (ft. JID, Noname, Jay Rock)
Lockdown is a brilliant song in both form and function. Taking it at face value, it would be easy to laud Lockdown as a catchy protest song that captures the attitudes and experiences of those inspired to join the Black Lives Matter protests, and stop there. But that wouldn’t be doing it justice. It’s the nuanced message about the defiance of protesting during a lockdown, combined with the many paradoxical elements such as the misleading uptempo vibe, that make Lockdown the musical statement of the year.
Assuming form follows function, let’s start by looking at the song’s function – or its purpose. In the opening sequence, .Paak shares his thoughts about protesting during a lockdown: “who said it was a lockdown? Goddamn lie.” Put another way, social justice doesn’t pause because of a lockdown. If you wait around for permission to protest, then you’ll never get an opportunity, because there’s never a right time. .Paak challenges the idea of prioritizing lockdown measures over social justice and over the voices of the Black Lives Matter movement. “We thought it was a lockdown,” he croons, explaining the initial hesitation around joining the protest during the pandemic. But this hesitation quickly gives way to conviction, and a galvanizing clarity within the artist who realizes that persisting systemic racism supersedes any temporary lockdown orders. Playing reporter at large, .Paak raps about what he sees happening on the street level, including militant policing which only justifies the protests further.
And the song’s form? In the Lockdown hook, Anderson .Paak expresses his fear of missing out (FOMO) on a Civil Rights protest as if it were a house party down the street. The opening lines introduce this concept from the beginning: “You should have been downtown, the people are rising, we thought it was a lockdown, they opened the fire.” The accompanying bouncy bass lines and melodic catchiness enhance the cheerful sound of the music, but really it’s all a facade masking the lyrics’ gravity. The typical fun-loving swagger in .Paak’s voice makes it possible to overlook the poignant lyrics about getting shot by the police with rubber bullets and being the target of tear gas sprays. In reality, going downtown to join a protest is the exact opposite of going to a party. Lockdown’s beauty lies in this dichotomy between leisure and duty; the trivial and the revolutionary; and the relationship between the two.
While we originally chose the original Lockdown as our song of the year, we decided the remix was too good and too closely related to be left out. The jaw-dropping verse from JID, and impressive verses from Noname and Jay Rock give more depth to the song that always felt destined to be a collaboration. So, at the end of the day, we’re considering the remix an extension of the original, and crowing them both as song of the year.
Listen to all 100 top songs from 2020 on our Spotify playlist
*Thanks to Genius for the song lyrics included in the article.