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 coronavirus disease 2019 (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. 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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Coachella locks down Rage Against the Machine, Travis Scott & Frank Ocean to headline in 2020

Coachella - 2020 lineup

Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival //
Empire Polo Club – Indio, CA
April 10th-12th & April 17th-19th, 2020 //

Well, if your New Year’s resolution was to see Rage Against the Machine perform at Coachella, it’s time to start packing your bags.

After the legendary rock band posted to Instagram on Halloween that it would be performing in Indio this April and multiple reports surfaced over the last few weeks confirming the news, the California festival made the announcement official with the release of its 2020 lineup.

It marks the third time that RATM have been booked to headline Coachella, with the previous instance dating back to 2007 when Zack de la Rocha (vocals), Tim Commerford (bass, vocals), Tom Morello (guitar) and Brad Wilk (drums) reunited following the group’s unforeseen break-up seven years prior.

Joining Rage at the top of the fest’s famed poster will be Grammy-nominated rapper Travis Scott and enigmatic crooner Frank Ocean, both of whom will be headlining the three-day, two-weekend event for the first time (though they each have played Coachella before).

And in what was nearly an unprecedented move by organizers, 2016 headliner Calvin Harris has retreated to second-line status. It’s just the second time that’s occurred in Coachella’s 21-year history, with the only other artist being Beck when he headlined its inaugural edition in 1999. But the rest of the undercard boasts some highlights like Flume, Lana Del Rey, Run the Jewels (with a de la Rocha cameo as we once witnessed likely), Thom Yorke, Disclosure, Rex Orange County, Daniel Caesar, FKA twigs, Danny Elfman, Louis the Child, BROCKHAMPTON, Fatboy Slim, Caribou, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Charli XCX, Jai Wolf, Madeon, Yaeji, Chicano Batman, Hot Chip, Mura Masa, Duck Sauce, GRiZ, DJ Koze, Carly Rae Jepsen, Peggy Gou, Duke Dumont, Floating Points, J.I.D, IDLES, BADBADNOTGOOD, Daphni, Weyes Blood, Steve Lacy, (Sandy) Alex G, slowthai, Big Wild, TOKIMONSTA, Noname, Friendly Fires, Altın Gün, Crumb, Cashmere Cat, Sampha the Great and girl in red.

Like in more recent years, many of the acts on the bill lean in the hip-hop, R&B and electronic direction while rock continues to get phased out. Nevertheless, it’s worth mentioning that two of Dan Snaith’s projects are listed in Caribou and Daphni, the latter of which will assuredly be a DJ set in the Yuma Tent.

Coachella’s first weekend is scheduled for April 10th-12th, with its second weekend slated for April 17th-19th. With Weekend 1 passes already sold out, tickets for Weekend 2 will go on sale this Monday, January 6th at 12 p.m. PT here.

UPDATE (March 10th): Due to the global pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), Coachella 2020 has been rescheduled for October 9th-11th and October 16th-18th. All passes purchased for the festival’s previous dates in April will be honored in October, with refunds available to those who are unable to attend. Coachella becomes the latest major event to be affected after South by Southwest and Ultra Music Festival were both canceled last week.

UPDATE (June 11th): As coronavirus cases continue to spike in certain parts of the U.S., the sad and unfortunate likelihood of Coachella not occurring in 2020 has now become a reality. Goldenvoice instead has marked some 2021 dates down on the calendar — Weekend 1 will be April 9-11 and Weekend 2 follows April 16-18 with all 2020 passes purchased being honored — though sadly there’s always the possibility that Coachella could be postponed until October again as we near the New Year, when the festival usually reveals its annual lineup.

Ready to take the desert by storm? Look back at our coverage of Coachella over the years here.

Coachella 2019

Run the Jewels spoil 5,000 fans in LA with special guests Zack de la Rocha, Danny Brown & more

Run the JewelsBy Josh Herwitt //

Run the Jewels //
Shrine Expo Hall – Los Angeles
February 1st, 2017 //

When Jaime Meline and Michael Render teamed up to form Run the Jewels in 2013, neither were household names all on their own. Meline, better known as El-P among underground hip-hop fans, had built a modest career as a beatmaker/producer, rapper and independent record label owner, while Render, aka Killer Mike, had garnered some slight fanfare for his collaborations with OutKast and fellow Atlanta emcee Big Boi.

Yet, in just four years, Run the Jewels have already reached hip-hop’s mountaintop with their politically charged lyrics and hard-hitting beats. Just take last Wednesday’s sold-out show in LA for example. With the duo’s third studio album still only a few weeks old, 5,000 or so fans poured into the spacious Shrine Expo Hall to watch El-P and Killer Mike fuck shit up (for lack of a better term). And that’s exactly what they did after opening sets from The Gaslamp Killer, Nick Hook, Gangasta Boo and CUZ.

From the moment they walked onstage to Queen’s “We Are the Champions” blasting out of the PA system, much like they did at FYF Fest (read our review here) a couple summers ago, El-P and Killer Mike kept the energy odometer at 100. They jumped right into material from their latest LP Run the Jewels 3, starting with “Talk to Me” and continuing in chronological order, before telling us to raise our hands in the air and flash their patented fist-and-a-gun hand gesture in between songs.

Run the Jewels

By the time El-P and Killer Mike dove into “Blockbuster Night, Part 1” and “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” from their critically acclaimed sophomore record, the capacity crowd was fully entrenched in RTJ’s aggro-hip-hop stylings. But unlike most of the dates on their “Run the World Tour” so far, this one was loaded with top-notch special guests. Going into it, I had a good feeling that we were in for at least a couple knowing RTJ’s penchant for surprises and the fact that we were in La La Land after all. What played out, though, surpassed just about all of my expectations.

As soon as we heard the opening guitar riff to DJ Shadow’s “Nobody Speak” from his 2016 LP The Mountain Will Fall, I thought we might be getting an appearance from the legendary Bay Area producer and turntablist himself. Instead, it was the ensuing song that proved to be our first surprise of the night, as Detroit rapper Danny Brown emerged from the shadows to trade lines with El-P and Killer Mike on their RTJ3 collaboration “Hey Kids (Bumaye)”. Of course, as unexpected as Brown’s appearance was, RTJ had plenty of more tricks up their sleeves. One of them was the aforementioned Gangsta Boo guesting on their crude, raunchy RTJ2 track “Love Again (Akinyele Back)” as she has done throughout the tour, but as the clock hit 11 p.m., El-P and Killer Mike had a few more friends to introduce. BOOTS, the enigmatic singer/rapper and songwriter who worked on Beyoncé, was up next, contributing the same vocals he supplied in the studio for “Early” before a drum set was rolled out for Blink-182’s Travis Barker, who made his presence felt with a dramatic, blood-pumping finish — sticks twirling and all — to “All Due Respect”. And if that wasn’t enough, the Brooklynlanta team made sure we got to briefly meet Dungeon Family member and singer Joi via its RTJ3 opener “Down” before exiting stage right.

But while it’s clear that RTJ have come a long way even since their early days, El-P and Killer Mike made sure to save the best for last at the Shrine Expo Hall. It’s well-known, in fact, that they have brought out Zack de la Rocha from time to time, most recently in Washington D.C. during a pre-inauguration performance last month, but there’s still something exhilarating about seeing the Rage Against the Machine frontman grab the mic and go to work. Lucky for us, RTJ’s encore featured de la Rocha on both “Kill Your Masters” and “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)”, the latter of which is one of the duo’s most powerful and provocative songs. It was a fitting way to end the night, particularly in our current political climate, but at least we have El-P and Killer Mike to help us make sense of it all.

Setlist:
We Are the Champions (Queen song)
Talk to Me
Legend Has It
Call Ticketron
Blockbuster Night, Part 1
Oh My Darling Don’t Cry
Nobody Speak (DJ Shadow cover)
Hey Kids (Bumaye) (with Danny Brown)
Stay Gold
Don’t Get Captured
Panther Like a Panther
Love Again (Akinyele Back) (with Gangsta Boo)
Lie, Cheat, Steal
Early (with BOOTS)
All Due Respect (with Travis Barker)
Run the Jewels
A Report to the Shareholders
Down (with Joi)

Encore:
Kill Your Masters (with Zack de la Rocha)
Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck) (with Zack de la Rocha)

VIEW PHOTOS FROM THE SAN JOSE AND OAKLAND SHOWS.

10 most important Political Protest Songs of the last 50 years

As President Obama looks ahead to four more years, let’s look at the 10 most important political protest songs of the last 50 years, from oldest to most recent. What did we miss? Leave a comment below.

(1963) Sam CookeA Change is Gonna Come

Upon hearing Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” in 1963, Cooke was greatly moved that such a poignant song about racism in America could come from someone who was not black. (Source: The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time). This was an era of segregation, and Cooke was very popular with white audiences due to his hit “Twistin’ the Night Away,” so it took guts to create this song and perform it before the Civil Rights Movement had really begun.

(1964) Bob DylanThe Times They Are A Changing

In 1985, Dylan told Cameron Crowe for Rolling Stone, “This was definitely a song with a purpose…I wanted to write a big song, with short concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way. The civil rights movement and the folk music movement were pretty close for a while and allied together at that time.” This song, along with “Blowin’ in the Wind,” cemented dylan as a lead counter-culture figure.

(1969) Creedence Clearwater RevivalFortunate Son

Many of the best US political protest songs relate tot he Vietnam War, and one of the best is “Fortunate Son” by CCR. Fogerty is pretty blunt and loud in speaking for the working, middle and low-income earners, the sons drafted to fight. John Fogerty told Rolling Stone, “Julie Nixon was hanging around with David Eisenhower, and you just had the feeling that none of these people were going to be involved with the war.

(1970) Gil Scott HeronThe Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Probably the biggest influence in hip hop history, even after his death in 2011, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is Gil Scott Heron’s most important and influential poetic track. Heron wins the listener over with his humor, but it’s one of the best political protest songs of all time due to it’s subversion during the Nixon era.

(1970) Crosby Stills Nash & YoungOhio

“Ohio” was written by Neil Young as a reaction to the US military personel killing of four Vietnam War protestors at Kent State University, the event that effectively ended US support of the disastrous war. CSNY added to the pressure with this classic, catchy song that ensured that the the Kent State shooting stayed on the mind of the American public for months and years to come.

(1973) Bob Marley & Peter ToshGet Up,Stand Up

Like “Ohio,” “Get Up, Stand Up” is an overtly political song. Unlike CSNY, Bob Marley is best known for being the most prominent Raggae musician of all time, smoking copious amounts of marijuana, and for his political protest songs. (Alright, CSNY probably smoked lots of weed) And this track owns the best lines in political protest music history: “You can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the time. So now we see the light! We gonna stand up for our rights!”

(1984) Bruce Springsteen Born In the U.S.A.

This song was mistaken as a positive American anthem for years, and still is today by many. Ronald Reagan even used this song in his 1984 reelection campaign and tried to claim Bruce as a supporter! Lyrically the song takes a realistic approach the effects of the Vietnam war on those that were forced to go fight in Southeast Asia, but if you manage to only listen to the chorus, it can be seen as a patriotic anthem. Brian Doherty wrote, “The song’s lyrics are about a shell-shocked vet with ‘no place to run, nowhere to go.’ Bruce once said it’s about “a working-class man…It’s like he has nothing left to tie him into society anymore. He’s isolated from the government. Isolated from his family…to the point where nothing makes sense.” It’s not an overt political protest song, but it’s way closer to that then a national anthem.

(1989) Public EnemyFight the Power

“Fight the Power” was brilliantly used as Radio Raheem’s jam of choice and musical motif to the classic Spike Lee film Do The Right Thing. It was Public Enemy’s breakthrough song, and it incorporates references to many parts of African-American culture, including civil rights samples, black church services sounds, and the music of James Brown. And laying the smack down on Elvis Presley & John Wayne for their on-the-record white supremacist views certainly is the cherry on top of this political protest firestorm of a sundae.

(1992) Rage Against the MachineKilling In The Name

Rage was one of the most politically active groups at a time when political protest songs weren’t and aren’t very common. “Killing in the Name” is the quintessential Rage Against the Machine song, with it’s confronting vocals that link police to racism with the line “Some of those that work forces, are the same that burn crosses,” and with the ending refrain “Fuck You, I won’t do what you told me.” Zach de la Rocha & Tom Morello almost inspired a riot at the Democratic National Convention in 2000. Then de la Rocha abruptly left the group, but Tom Morello has continued his political activity, most recently getting involved in the Occupy WallStreet movement.

(2012) Killer MikeReagan

Hip hop artist Killer Mike put out an excellent LP this year called R.A.P. Music, and Mike’s passion and effective deconstruction of Reaganomics & the man himself is stinging. He explores the Iran Contra scandal, privatization of the prison system, how all US presidents are puppets to the elite (including Obama). One of the best tracks of 2012, “Reagan” shows that political protest songs are far from dead.