The Bam Team’s 5 Favorite Albums & Songs of 2020

Best of 2020 - Run the Jewels, My Morning Jacket, Fiona Apple, Hum, Fleet Foxes

Wow, 2020 … what can we say? This year will certainly be remembered for a lot of things, but none more so than the COVID-19 pandemic that has ravaged both the U.S. and world over the last 10 months and forced the live music industry to mostly shutter as musicians pivoted to livestreams and drive-in concerts to keep the show going as best they could and however possible. Yet along the way, we lost musical legends who spanned multiple generations from Neil Peart to Bill Withers to John Prine to Little Richard to Eddie Van Halen to MF DOOM — some due to COVID-19 unfortunately — making these past 12 months even more painful to endure than they already were. Ready to officially flush 2020 down the toilet and start anew? Don’t worry … you’re not alone!

In retrospect though, it has been a very quiet year for The Bam Team. You’ll notice there haven’t been a lot of updates in this space, and that’s partly due to the lack of live music on Planet Earth right now. But it’s also been a hectic time for all of us as we try to navigate our way out of these dark days and into some brighter ones, and like any good remedy nowadays, new music has definitely played its part in helping us physically and emotionally cope with the chaos.

It’s why after several months of inactivity here, we decided to dust the cobwebs off Showbams and deliver a modified version of our annual “Best of” lists like we have done since this blog first started (see our 2019 picks here). While that doesn’t mean we had time to hear and dissect every new album or song in the last 365 days — we are still in a pandemic after all — sharing our own individual picks offers a fun and stimulating opportunity for us to reflect on the year that was in music.

So, without further ado, Showbams presents The Bam Team’s five favorite albums and songs from 2020.

Listen to The Bam Team’s favorite songs of 2020:


Run the Jewels - RTJ4

Josh Herwitt // Los Angeles

Top 5 Albums of 2020
1. Run the Jewels – RTJ4
One might think that after three critically acclaimed albums with some of the most socially and politically charged material since Rage Against the Machine burst onto the scene, it would only seem natural for Run the Jewels’ act to turn a little stale by their fourth time around. But despite the three-year wait for RTJ4, the longest that the hip-hop duo has gone between releases, the final product — like a fine wine — has only gotten better with time. Anchored by stellar production (a RTJ trademark) and provocative rhymes, the 11-track offering sees the two emcees sounding off on everything from corporate greed to police brutality just days after the tragic death of George Floyd. It also boasts a guest list loaded with star power, with DJ Premier, 2 Chainz, Pharrell Williams, Zack de la Rocha, Mavis Staples and Josh Homme each lending a hand while El-P and Killer Mike inject truth serum into our ears with one verbal haymaker after another. In what proved to be a shitstorm of a year, this was the soundtrack a lot of us needed to survive 2020.

2. My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall II
3. Fleet Foxes – Shore
4. Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
5. Caribou – Suddenly

Favorite live album: Sylvan Esso – WITH

Top 5 Songs of 2020
1. Royal Blood – “Trouble’s Coming”
The British rock duo composed of lead singer/bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher are gearing up to drop their third LP in 2021 and wisely chose to wet our palette with an absolute banger for its lead single. “Trouble’s Coming” has all the makings of a Royal Blood song — catchy bass riffs that sound like they’re coming out of a guitar, heavy-metal drums and Kerr’s falsetto vocals — while charting a slightly different path for the band, one that conjures up some serious 70’s disco vibes. Just watch this scene from Charlie’s Angels to see what we mean, and if you have a pair of fingerless leather gloves handy, you might as well put those on too. We think Sam Rockwell would approve.

2. My Morning Jacket – “Wasted”
3. Run the Jewels – “JU$T” feat. Pharrell Williams & Zack de la Rocha
4. Pearl Jam – “Dance of the Clairvoyants”
5. Sylvan Esso – “Ferris Wheel”

Favorite remix: Bonobo – “Final Days” (Michael Kiwanuka)


Hum - Inlet

Andrew Pohl // San Francisco

Top 5 Albums of 2020
1. Hum – Inlet
This four-piece’s fifth studio effort came as a complete surprise when it dropped in June, and it was honestly THE album I needed. Being knee-deep into the COVID-19 pandemic, I wasn’t sure what the rest of the year would look like musically, and it was exactly the type of record that hits all the marks for me. It’s sonically huge, it showcases Hum’s trademark ultra-layered, dense instrumentation and it ebbs and flows between energetic and emotive. Inlet was easily my most-listened-to album in 2020.

2. Coriky – Coriky
3. PEARS – PEARS
4. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
5. Run the Jewels – RTJ4

Favorite live album: NOFX – The Decline (Live at Red Rocks)

Top 5 Songs of 2020
1. Run the Jewels – “Walking in the Snow”
Oh man, this track was just the thing I needed during what may have been one of the most tense times in modern history. And like all of RTJ4, it absolutely crushes as El-P and Killer Mike bring their signature styles to full effect on this dramatic, yet bouncy tune. The middle section, which sees Mike taking the lead, is not only effective, prophetic and timely, but it also serves as a reminder that the time for action is now and that history has a tendency to repeat itself if we’re not careful. Check out the song’s brand-new music video here, too.

2. Hum – “Desert Rambler”
3. IDLES – “War”
4. Middle-Aged Queers – “Gary’s Making Biscuits”
5. PEARS – “Zero Wheels”

Favorite remix: Squarepusher – “Pink Maggit” (Deftones)


Fiona Apple - Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Rochelle Shipman // Los Angeles

Top 5 Albums of 2020
1. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
I almost feel cheated that my two No. 1 picks went to the same artist, but this year belonged to Fiona as much as it did to Dr. Fauci. FTBC busted us out of our mental prisons and allowed us to imagine our lives were more exciting than they actually were in 2020. It reminded us that we are strong enough to survive anything, to use our voices to speak even louder for what we believe in and that we can work on our own healing even if we can’t quite get outside. Ms. Apple set women free together.

2. Fleet Foxes – Shore
3. Mura Masa – R.Y.C.
4. Kari Faux – Lowkey Superstar
5. Liv.e – Couldn’t Wait to Tell You…

Favorite live album: Dolores Diaz & The Standby Club – Live at O’Leaver’s

Top 5 Songs of 2020
1. Fiona Apple – “Shameika”
This is a badass, “can-do” tune that was inspired by a passing comment made decades ago, one Fiona surely never thought twice about until now. And as she pounds the piano with the strength of RBG, it’s clear that this is the song 2020 needed — not to mention that it came full circle, inspiring Shameika herself all these years later. Sweet.

2. Noname – “Song 33”
3. Open Mike Eagle feat. Kari Faux – “Bucciarati”
4. Liv.e – “Lessons From My Mistakes…but I Lost Your Number”
5. Quakers feat. Sampa the Great – “Approach with Caution”

Favorite remix: Thundercat feat. Smino & Guapdad 4000 – “Dragonball Durag”

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Albums you’ll want to hear in 2017

2017 albumsWritten by Josh Herwitt //

For as bad as 2016 might have been, there’s no question it yielded some excellent albums. So, what’s in store for 2017? It’s still early, but from what we know right now, there’s plenty of new music on the horizon — and a lot of it we can’t wait to get our hands on.

Here are 10 upcoming albums (in chronological order by release date) that you’ll want to hear and could very well end up being on some “Best of 2017” lists in another 12 months.


Bonobo – Migration

Bonobo - Migration

Release date: January 13th
Record label: Ninja Tune

British musician, producer and DJ Simon Green has organically built a loyal following among electronic music fans for almost two decades with a unique sound that combines downtempo electronica with trip-hop and world-music influences. Since 2013’s The North Borders, he has moved to Los Angeles and recorded his sixth LP Migration, which boasts a few notable guest appearances from Nick Murphy (fka Chet Faker), Rhye and Hundred Waters.


The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody

The Flaming Lips - Oczy Mlody

Release date: January 13th
Record label: Warner Bros.

Wayne Coyne and his psychedelic sidekicks have been busy over the last few years, recording Beatles cover album With a Little Help From My Fwends in 2014 and releasing a collaborative LP with Miley Cyrus the following year. On their 15th studio effort, the difficult-to-pronounce Oczy Mlody that drops on Coyne’s birthday, the Lips return to the days of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and get a little help from their pop-star “fwend” on closing track “We a Famly”.


SOHN – Rennen

SOHN - Rennen

Release date: January 13th
Record label: 4AD

London native Christopher Taylor has been known for working extensively with such artists as BANKS, Lana Del Rey and Rhye, but his transition in becoming a legitimate solo act was cemented with the release of his 2014 debut LP Tremors, which peaked at No. 31 on the UK charts. Now calling LA his home, he has spent the last three years constructing Rennen, his second record as SOHN that’s led by “Signal” and its frighteningly beautiful music video.


The xx – I See You

The xx - I See You

Release date: January 13th
Record label: Young Turks

No impending album in the first quarter of 2017 may have as much hype around it as The xx’s I See You, their long-awaited follow-up to 2012’s Coexist. The build-up to its release in the last few months has seen the London trio perform on SNL, where they showcased lead single “On Hold” and debuted “I Dare You”, and play shows in Eastern Europe to go along with the news of guitarist/vocalist Romy Madley Croft’s recent engagement.


Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound

Cloud Nothings - Life Without Sound

Release date: January 27th
Record label: Carpark Records

Lo-fi noise rockers Cloud Nothings have come a long way since Dylan Baldi started recording songs in his parents’ basement. With their last two LPs — 2012’s Attack on Memory and 2014’s Here and Nowhere Else — garnering critical acclaim from the music media, the four-piece will release Life Without Sound, its fifth studio album and first with lead guitarist Chris Brown now officially a member of the band, later this month.


Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life

Japandroids - Near to the Wild Heart of Life

Release date: January 27th
Record label: ANTI-

Known for their DIY approach and high-energy performances, Brian King and David Prowse are back after what some may have considered a brief hiatus since touring in support of their 2012 studio album Celebration Rock. This time, the Canadian garage-punk duo is signed to a new label, with its third LP Near to the Wild Heart of Life set to drop on ANTI- in a couple of weeks before embarking on a 20-date North American tour this winter.


Elbow – Little Fictions

Elbow - Little Fictions

Release date: February 3rd
Record label: Polydor

2017 marks a big year for Elbow. The Mercury Prize winners have been going at it for 20 years, and to celebrate the occasion, frontman Guy Garvey and company are unveiling their seventh studio album Little Fictions, which features collaborations with The Hallé Orchestra and their choir after longtime drummer Richard Jupp announced in 2016 that he was leaving the group to pursue other creative projects, from expanding his drum school to various charity work.


Sampha – Process

Sampha - Process

Release date: February 3rd
Record label: Young Turks

Sampha Sisay, who performs under his mononymous stage name, has built much of his reputation on working with high-profile artists like Drake, Kanye West and Solange. But almost seven years after unveiling his debut EP Sundanza, the South London electronic musician, singer-songwriter and producer is finally dropping his own full-length effort, highlighted by previously released singles “Timmy’s Prayer” and “Blood on Me”.


Ryan Adams – Prisoner

Ryan Adams - Prisoner

Release date: February 17th
Record label: PAX AM/Blue Note

At the age of 42, Ryan Adams is as prolific as any musician out there right now, with Prisoner marking his 16th LP and the follow-up to his Taylor Swift cover album. And while he has been teasing the record for about six months, originally hinting at a possible November release, the alt-country songwriter gets ready for his next chapter, which he says was inspired by 80’s rock giants like Bruce Springsteen and AC/DC despite coping with a very public divorce at the time.


The Shins – Headworms

The Shins - Heartworms

Release date: March 10
Record label: Columbia

By the time The Shins unleash their fifth LP this March, it will be nearly five years between album releases for the Portland-based outfit. Of course, it’s no secret that bandleader James Mercer keeps a tight schedule between The Shins and Broken Bells, but on Heartworms, the Albuquerque native made sure to include “So Now What”, the song he wrote for the “Wish I Was Here” soundtrack that he later said was “one of the best things” he has ever done.


The following artists and bands are expected to release new albums in 2017 but have yet to confirm an official release date and/or an album title:

ANTEMASQUE
Arcade Fire
Broken Social Scene
Bruce Springsteen
Chic
Chromatics
Depeche Mode
Diddy
DJ Premier
Gorillaz
Grizzly Bear
GZA
Haim
Jesu/Sun Kil Moon
John Mayer
Kanye West
The Killers
LCD Soundsystem
Lupe Fiasco
Major Lazer
Mastodon
Modest Mouse
My Morning Jacket
The National
The Offspring
Pond
Ride
Sky Ferreira
Spiritualized
St. Vincent
T.I.
Troye Sivan
Vampire Weekend
Wyclef Jean
Zack de la Rocha


Albums you’ll want to hear in 2016

2016 albumsWritten by Josh Herwitt //

Now that we’ve said our goodbyes to 2015, it’s time to start looking ahead to 2016 and what lies ahead when it comes to new music. Although it’s still rather early and new albums are sure to be announced after this writing, there’s plenty of ear candy that’s already set to be released in 2016.

Here are 10 upcoming albums (in chronological order by release date) that you’ll want to hear and could very well end up being on some “Best of 2016” lists in another 12 months.


David Bowie – ★ (Blackstar)

David Bowie - Blackstar

Release date: January 8th
Record label: RCA/Columbia

The 20th studio album from Ziggy Stardust will be one of the first to hit stands in 2016, and although the 68-year-old legend has said that his touring days are over, Bowie is still capable of making an intriguing record, much like he did in 2013 with The Next Day. From what we’ve heard on ★, be it the 10-minute title track or in recent weeks “Lazarus” (the song that Bowie is also using in his off-Broadway musical by the same name), we’re eager to hear the rest.


Tortoise – The Catastrophist

Tortoise - The Catastrophist

Release date: January 22nd
Record label: Thrill Jockey

It’s been more than six years since Tortoise last released an album, but the Chicago post-rock outfit will unveil The Catastrophist, led by first single “Gesceap”, later this month. Featuring vocal contributions from Yo La Tengo’s Georgia Hubley and Todd Rittmann of Chicago bands U.S. Maple and Dead Rider, the new LP was inspired by music closely tied to Chicago’s jazz and improvised music scenes that the city commissioned the band to write back in 2010.


Ty Segall – Emotional Mugger

Ty Segall - Emotional Mugger

Release date: January 22nd
Record label: Drag City

Segall announced his eighth studio album by mailing a VHS tape to Pitchfork less than two months ago, and if that wasn’t eccentric enough, the prolific garage rocker followed it up with a dedicated website for the LP, which includes a hotline number to call and two videos — one that shows him and the band wearing baby masks and another that sees him playing a doctor while explaining what “emotional mugging” is. Despite Emotional Mugger not extending quite as long as Segall’s previous solo effort Manipulator did, many of the track names are worth a chuckle, from “Breakfast Eggs” to “Baby Big Man (I Want a Mommy)”.


Bloc Party – Hymns

Bloc Party - Hymns

Release date: January 29th
Record label: BMG

Long known for pioneering a sound that bridged the gap between indie rock and electronic music, Bloc Party return in early 2016 with their fifth studio album and their first with new members Justin Harris (bass, keyboards) and Louise Bartle (drums). Debuting material from Hymns, including newest single “The Good News” at FYF Fest (read our festival review here) in August, the British quartet will also offer a deluxe edition of the LP with four bonus tracks.


St. Lucia – Matter

St. Lucia - Matter

Release date: January 29th
Record label: Columbia

Jean-Philip Grobler released the debut LP for his Brooklyn-based, synthpop project St. Lucia toward the end of 2013, and late this month, the South African native will unveil his follow-up to When the Night. If you were curious as to how Matter will sound in comparison to his first full length, Grobler has a geographical analogy to describe both: “If the last album sounded like the tropics, this album is the desert.”


Black Moth Super Rainbow

Black Moth Super Rainbow - SeeFu Lilac

Release date: N/A
Record label: N/A

Thomas Fec has become well-regarded in indie-electronic circles for his work as Tobacco over the last several years, but for more than a decade, he has also served as the frontman of Black Moth Super Rainbow, the Pittsburgh psych-rock group that’s preparing to drop its sixth studio album later this year. As BMSR fans await the LP’s official release, the band surprised many in mid-November by streaming its new mini-album Seefu Lilac, which features “neon flavored outtakes from a 6th album that doesn’t yet exist.”


Animal Collective – Painting With

Animal Collective - Painting With

Release date: February 19th
Record label: Domino

After streaming new material on loop at Baltimore’s BWI Airport the day before Thanksgiving, Animal Collective are now just a few weeks away from the release of their 10th studio album. Taking some much-needed time off after its latest tour so that David Portner and Noah Lennox could focus on their own side projects, the band refined its songwriting approach for Painting With, removing the long, ambient passages that were often synonymous with their previous LPs and also collaborating with Welsh musician John Cale and multireedist Colin Stetson.


Wild Nothing – Life of Pause

Wild Nothing - Life of Pause

Release date: February 19th
Record label: Captured Tracks

Jack Tatum remains the brains behind his indie-rock/dream-pop project Wild Nothing, having been its founder and lone songwriter since 2009. Feeding off the success of 2012’s Nocturne, Tatum consciously wanted to reinvent himself as a musician while recording Life of Pause in Los Angeles and Stockholm with producer Thom Monahan, and if his double-sided single “To Know You”/”TV Queen” is any indication, we’re starting to see what he means.


Poliça – United Crushers

Poliça - United Crushers

Release date: March 4th
Record label: Mom + Pop

Poliça lead vocalist Channy Leaneagh may have been pregnant last year, but you wouldn’t have known it from the way this Minneapolis synthpop group has continued to work in the studio. In following up its successful sophomore effort Shulamith from 2013, the five-piece takes a more political approach on its third full-length album United Crushers, which boasts first single “Lime Habit”.


Charles Bradley – Changes

Charles Bradley - Changes

Release date: April 1st
Record label: Daptone Records

You have to wonder if Charles Bradley was a Black Sabbath fan growing up as a kid, because his new album Changes draws plenty of inspiration from the legendary heavy metal group’s Vol. 4. While his cover of the famous Sabbath hit serves as the LP’s title track, the “Screaming Eagle of Soul” continues to win us over with his rags-to-riches story (Bradley was at one time homeless before becoming a cook and working various odd jobs) and his undying charisma.


The following artists and bands are expected to release new albums in 2016 but have yet to confirm an official release date and/or an album title:

AlunaGeorge
ANTEMASQUE
Band of Horses
Beck
Blink-182
Chairlift – Moth
Chromatics – Dear Tommy
Crystal Castles
Death Grips – Bottomless Pit
Deftones
Diddy – No Way Out 2
DJ Premier – Last Session @ 320
Drake – Views From the 6
Frank Ocean
Gary Numan
Gorillaz
GZA – Dark Matter
Haim
James Blake – Radio Silence
Kanye West – SWISH
Kings of Leon
LCD Soundsystem
Lupe Fiasco – Drogas
M.I.A. – Matahdatah
M83
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Major Lazer – Music Is the Weapon
Mark Kozelek
Metallica
Metronomy
Modest Mouse
My Morning Jacket
No Doubt
Pete Yorn – Arranging Time
Radiohead
Rihanna – Anti
Spiritualized
The Jesus and Mary Chain
The Killers
The Strokes
Zeds Dead