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The Top 50 Albums of 2020


I love albums. In my mind, they are the perfect way to digest music. Sure, a great song can change the world, but a great album requires artists to do the same thing over several songs in a row. It’s a high wire balancing act; choosing the right collection of songs and ordering them in just the right way to achieve a desired response from the listener. Not only do albums require careful focus from the artists, but in a similar fashion to a movie, the audience has to give it their full and undivided attention for an extended period of time to grasp messaging, subtext, and intent from the notes and lyrics. If you lose focus or find it unpalatable the whole experience can be ruined. Albums become classics when they transcend the acceptable and inspire a rapturous response from start to finish. In 2020, we needed great albums more than ever.

As the world consistently teetered on the edge of peril, we leaned on music like a crutch to stay upright and sane. Confined to our houses with nowhere to go, albums made those never-ending days seem just a little bit shorter and the voices offered comfort and company when it got too lonely. As people took to the streets to protest injustice and support important causes, albums relevant to these times got us fired up to push for change. While the bright moments this year came few and far between, some records provided joy for our celebrations. It could easily have been a terrible year for music as a whole, particularly since live music and touring has been nonexistent for most of it. Musicians could have curled up on the couch with the rest of us and stayed there for nine months without ever producing a single note. That would have been completely understandable! Yet so many chose to flex their creative muscles either pre-pandemic or right in the middle of it, and the results were nothing short of astounding.

We are so incredibly lucky to have more quality music in our lives than we could ever hope to listen to. This year’s Top 50 Albums list fully reflects that, along with the additional 10 honorable mentions because it was tough to stop. I’m thrilled to share it with you, because while we might not agree on everything, my hope is that you’re inspired to continue seeking out new music whether it’s mentioned here or not. While not every album can be as great as the ones listed below, each one does set out to inspire us in one way or another, even if it means helping us figure out what we don’t like. The kindest sentiment I can offer about 2020 is that maybe someday we’ll be able to look back and say it was a shit year for just about everything except for music. The fact that we got so many wonderful records amounts to a small miracle, so let’s treat it as such. Here are the 50 albums (+10 more) that kept me sane throughout one of the most insane periods of our lives to date.

The Top 100 Songs of 2020

Selecting and ranking 100 songs as the “Best of” any given year is a fool’s errand. There’s simply too much music to choose from and the notion that any of these lists can truly encapsulate what it was like to listen to music in 2020 inevitably leaves some important things out or places too much importance on certain artists or genres. In the end it’s all subjective anyway, and what captures one person’s imagination might leave another in the cold. Plus, with so much music available there’s no way you can listen to everything. I know I’ve discovered plenty of songs and artists weeks, months, or years later, only to wish I had known about them sooner so they could’ve been included in a year-end roundup. It’s the way life goes sometimes. But that’s also the benefit of any list like this! For anyone to tell you these are songs that meant something to them in 2020 automatically elevates those tracks above your standard fare. If you’re looking to put your music listening in focus, a list like this can help to some degree.

Honestly, outside of the top 30 or so, the order of the songs in this list are somewhat arbitrary. They were ranked in large part by gut feeling, which is to say that I weighed each one and placed it into the spot that seemed most accurate. This actually could have been twice as long, given how many cuts were made to keep this whole thing manageable. It makes me think the best approach and listening experience would be to use the “shuffle” function on this Spotify playlist quite liberally. Alternatively, if you’re anti-Spotify, I’d encourage you to click around and listen to these songs in a very random way. Give each one at least 30 seconds of your time to get an idea of what it sounds like. That should be enough to determine if you’re interested in hearing more. Maybe next year I’ll get rid of the ranking system altogether. The top 100 songs should be good enough without needing to tell you if one is “better” than another.

The overall criteria for qualification on this list was pretty simple: each song must have been released as a standalone single or as part of an EP or album from 2020. No artist was allowed to appear more than once, though exceptions were made for featured guests (looking at you, Megan Thee Stallion & Ariana Grande). That opened things up a bit to enable more artists to be included and represented on this list. Some Chicago favorites too! And not to spoil any surprises, but you might not find some of these names on other “Best of” lineups so it’s just great to show them some (deserved) love. There’s so much fun and catchy stuff I can’t wait for you to discover, so take your time and please enjoy!

The Top 25 EPs of 2020


Is it just me, or have more EPs been released in 2020 than usual? Maybe it’s a pandemic thing. Artists trying to fill the absence of touring by releasing something, even if it’s only a handful of songs. You can’t rush or force the creative process, and there’s no rule book that says you need to be productive when there’s nothing better to do. If the world can shut down, then you can too. Not everyone can be Taylor Swift and give us TWO LPs in less than eight months. Let’s just be grateful to the artists who felt inspired enough to give us something in 2020, whether it was a song, an EP, an album, or a combination of b-sides and remixes.

One trend I didn’t anticipate from this past year involved artists releasing multiple clusters of songs at once and eventually combining them into a full length album. For example, Paramore’s Hayley Williams gave us her first solo LP Petals For Armor in May, but back in February we got the Petals For Amor I EP and in April we got the Petals For Armor II EP, which comprised the first 10 tracks from the album. Similarly, Jordana released an EP titled Something To Say at the end of July, followed it up with a second EP titled To You in December, but also combined the two to create the Something To Say To You album. Given the way they were released it’s tough to classify those types of things as standalone EPs or actual albums, but for the sake of clarity I’ve decided the final product should be the only thing that qualifies for year-end lists. On the flip side of that, Dirty Projectors gave us FIVE EPs in 2020 and technically didn’t combine them into an album but rather assembled a compilation titled 5EPs, so those each count separately. If you’re confused, just go with the flow!

There’s a fair amount of weird or off-putting stuff on this Top 25 EPs of 2020 list, and that’s partly by design. One of the things I love most about EPs are how they give artists free reign to experiment without the pressure that comes with a traditional LP. You can play around with song structure and sounds that might not otherwise fit with your current or perceived aesthetic. You can respond to current events in the world without having to write 10 songs on the same topic. For new artists, an EP can be an opportunity to introduce yourself to the world and start to build a fan base. I’m very excited about a few of the artists that gave us their debut EPs in 2020, as evidenced by their inclusion on this list. Chances are you won’t like everything here, but I sincerely hope you discover something new to enjoy and that it expands your consciousness to some degree. There’s a little something for every kind of taste, along with some love for Chicago artists as well. If you’re unfamiliar with any of this music, dig in, sample a song or two, and decide whether or not you want to explore even more.

The Chicago 20 From ’20


The Chicago music scene had a very good year, despite everything that happened in the world (gestures broadly at the flaming dumpster that’s been 2020). Seriously, I’m incredibly thankful for the many, many artists that work hard and make their city proud by releasing wonderful music that inspires and radiates with feeling. While many of these releases came out or were recorded pre-pandemic with an obvious eye on touring to support them, the tragedy of all that getting cancelled was lessened primarily because the albums themselves were so wonderful. It’s been a pleasure to live with these songs and absorb them in ways we otherwise might not have been able to had the hustle and bustle of a normal year gotten in the way. In lieu of concerts and events and social engagements, I got to press play on that Dehd record for the tenth time or drop the needle on Ohmme’s latest until the groove started to crackle a bit due to frequent wear and tear.

As this is a Chicago-based site, I felt it was particularly important to give some additional representation to some of the local artists and bands that helped make my year much more bearable. Many of them are scraping by and doing their best given the circumstances, and they could use your support! Buy some vinyl, downloads, and/or some merch if you can afford it – especially on Bandcamp Fridays (the 1st Friday of every month) when the site waives their cut of fees so more money goes back to the artists. You can also stream their music, which is helpful but doesn’t pay nearly as much. Some also have Patreon pages and accept direct donations on Venmo or CashApp, so look into that too if you’re interested. Most of that information can be found on their social media pages.

When it comes to this list, it doesn’t feel right to assign anybody numbers or claim that some records are better than others. I’d be doing a disservice to the community that is the Chicago music scene by ranking and encouraging competition. My hope is that you’ll check out all of these albums, because each one is worth your time and consideration. They cover almost every conceivable genre, and often play with your expectations by taking some wildly fun detours. So here are my 20 favorite LPs released by Chicago artists in 2020. Can’t wait to hear each one performed live at some of our legendary local venues once it’s safe to do so again!

Six Times Twenty: 120 Great Songs From The First Half Of 2020


If you’re reading this, I’d like to congratulate you on surviving the first half of 2020. To say the past six months have been challenging would be putting it mildly. Pandemics and protests are only the start of our troubles. And even though most of us have been spending a whole lot of time at home, we could still use a break from everything. While I can’t sit here and tell you that the world will somehow magically get better and there’s light at the end of this extremely dark tunnel, my hope still remains intact that life will improve sooner rather than later.

The Top 50 Songs of 2019

It seems like every year I comment about how challenging it is to put together a “Top Songs” list, because unlike albums, which are larger works meant to be taken as a whole, songs are fractions of that whole. There are multitudes more songs in the world than albums, so in essence it’s like splitting hairs. Imagine my surprise then, when this Top 50 Songs of 2019 list came together rather easily. Perhaps there were fewer standout tracks than normal to really catch my attention. It was a slightly “off” year for music, so that might have helped too. Color me clueless as to the actual reason, because all that matters is these are 50 songs I can say without a doubt are the ones I loved and in many cases listened to most this year. My sincerest apologies if your personal favorite didn’t make the cut. Everybody has their own unique tastes, and while I’d hope most of these songs will satisfy, you might feel differently. That’s okay! The songs on this list span across nearly every genre of music and range from dancefloor bangers to depressing bops and back again. My sincerest hope is that you’ll discover something new you haven’t heard before, and may even fall in love with it as much as I have. There are really only two rules I set when composing this list:

1. Songs must appear on an album, EP, or standalone single released in 2019 (so no new Tame Impala, Grimes, The 1975, etc. from 2020 LPs).
2. Only one song per artist, to help spread the love around (featured guest vocals don’t count).

Every song on this Top 50 is accompanied by a link to stream it (and in many cases watch the video) on YouTube. There’s also a Spotify playlist embedded below, organized just like this list, from #50-1. Please enjoy, and feel free to share your own opinions or lists in the comments!

Halfway There: 75 Songs From 2019


It’s easy to get the impression that 2019 has been a relatively quiet year for music so far. There haven’t been quite as many high profile album releases, and few things have really captured the cultural zeitgeist beyond Lil Nas X and perhaps Billie Eilish. We’re in a pretty weird place, right? If you were to ask me point blank what five of my favorite albums were this year, it’d take me a few minutes to come up with a clear answer. I haven’t been listening to less music overall, there’s just less things managing to grab and hold my attention. Or so I thought.

In reflecting on the first half of the year, I wanted to assemble and share a playlist of about 50 songs that I genuinely enjoyed and/or frequently returned to over these last six months. The rules for the list were simple: only one song per artist, either released as a standalone single or as part of a 2019 LP/EP. The goal was to spread the love around, but I had to reach 50 songs first. It was tougher than I expected, until it wasn’t. What started out at barely 50 songs quickly ballooned to nearly twice that amount after taking a closer look at some release lists. A 100 song playlist would have been too much, but 50 ultimately felt like too little.

So here’s the final compromise: 75 great songs from the first half of 2019. They’re arranged in alphabetical order by artist, because official rankings are best saved for a year-end wrap-up. Please enjoy this five hours of music! Play it at your BBQ or just in your car while driving around on a hot day. I hope you discover some tracks and artists you missed earlier this year, or rediscover some fun songs you may have forgotten about over the last few months. Listen through the Spotify embed below, or follow this link. You can also listen to every song (minus Julien Baker & Thom Yorke) on the playlist individually via YouTube by clicking on the title.

The Top 50 Albums of 2018

Time to close out 2018 on a high note. While it’s been a pretty rough year overall for a number of different reasons, I’d like to think this was one of the better years in recent memory for quality music. There’s been a really rich array of artists coming into their own by exploring new ideas and sonic territories, while some of the “old guard” either took a break or released material that might best be regarded as sub par. It’s been a thrill watching brilliant songwriters like Mitski and Janelle Monae hit new career highs in terms of acclaim and popularity, while Snail Mail, Soccer Mommy, Noname, Cardi B, and Kali Uchis all came out with strong debut albums that fulfilled their early promise. If you didn’t find a whole lot of new music to love this year, you weren’t looking hard enough. Maybe this list of Top 50 Albums can help! My sincerest hope is that you discover at least one new artist or record below that you hadn’t heard of or listened to before today, but even if you don’t, feel free to hand write me letters about how wrong these rankings are and all the great albums I somehow “missed” this year. Seriously though, I do love your feedback, so feel free to comment, email, or use the old social media to get in touch and share your thoughts! Oh, and before I forget, here’s some other year-end list things you might want to check out:

Honorable Mention: Albums and Songs
The Top 50 Songs of 2018
The Top 10 EPs of 2018

Drumroll please…
Faronheit’s Top 50 Albums of 2018 are:

The Top 50 Songs of 2018

There were a lot of really great songs released in 2018. Actually, there are a lot of great songs released in any given year, and definitely more than a list of 50 can fully contain. But I’ve got to try anyway. The 50 songs in the list below feel like a relatively comprehensive chronicle of what it was like living through 2018, though I suppose if it were truly accurate there’d be a lot more depressing shit that’d turn most people off. Overall I’d say this is a strong balance of mood, tempo, style, and genre I sincerely hope will leave you feeling satisfied. The most fascinating thing to me about this year’s list is that the top two songs are not currently part of any full-length album. As for the unofficial “rules” behind the selections for the Top 50 Songs, there are only two: the song must have been officially released by an artist or band in 2018, and no artist is allowed to be featured more than once (for diversity’s sake). While there are audio streams and in some cases videos to accompany each song (apologies for the couple of live videos, as album versions were unavailable), you can also stream the entire list (minus one song) via the Spotify embed at the bottom of this post, or by going to this link. Please enjoy these Top 50 Songs of 2018, and feel free to share your favorites in the comments or let me know on social media (@faronheit).

The Best of 2018: Honorable Mention


Every December brings the near impossible task of trying to assemble a diverse and comprehensive array of “Best of” music lists that properly showcase the immense talents of so many different artists and bands from across the globe. Nobody has the opportunity to hear everything, but I try my best to digest and rank as much of it as humanly possible. There are always outliers – albums and songs that just barely missed the final cut because there are only a finite number of ranking slots on any given list. The official cut off point here at Faronheit is Top 50, and anything beyond that gets placed into the pool for a second category; the Honorable Mention. Below you’ll find 10 albums and 10 songs that I absolutely loved this year, but couldn’t quite find a spot for when push came to shove. Spared from the ranking system, they’re all listed in alphabetical order. Please check them out and give them a listen anyway, as I promise they’re more than worth your time.

The Ten Best EPs of 2018


In today’s culture of increasingly fractured attention spans, a fair number of people either can’t or won’t devote the time to listen to an entire album from start to finish. As somebody that places a very high value on spending quality time with artists and taking longer musical journeys with them, the recent focus on single songs leaves me just a little bit frustrated. But sitting in that neat little pocket between a single song and an album is the EP, A short (but not too short) statement from an artist just hoping to make an impact early or bide some time until they can do something more expansive, the EP has its merits and flourishes when you’re short on time or attention or both. 2018 saw the rise of some very promising new artists, the debut effort from a supergroup, and some established names trying out some new things – all via the medium of the EP. Here are ten of my absolute favorites, which I hope will lead to some new discoveries that expand your musical palate and strike at your emotional core.

The 50 Best Albums of 2017


Overall, 2017 was a pretty fascinating year for music. If last year was a massive dogpile of great artists releasing great albums (Chance, Beyonce, Solange, ATCQ, Radiohead, Bowie, etc.), this year was more about promising young upstarts working hard to prove their initial success wasn’t simply a fluke. In a very different way, 2017 also saw the return of the “elder statesmen” of indie, in which well-established names like Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, and LCD Soundsystem returned with new albums after being absent for a few years. Exciting as it was to hear fresh material from the likes of The Shins and Broken Social Scene, many of these returns resulted in a slight decay in quality, which may very well have been a sign of the times. It’s difficult to say where Arcade Fire and The National fit into today’s musical landscape, other than the fact that as long-time favorites they’ve earned plenty of trust and leeway when it comes to these matters. Some of these artists have attempted to continue evolving after a decade of trying the same thing and were met with shrugs by fans, while others have been more content to remain in their own lane and hope that fans continue to follow along.

On the other side of the coin, it often felt like fewer new artists managed to make a major impact this past year. Standouts like Priests and Charly Bliss aside, the ability to discover and cultivate fresh talent failed to impact as potently in 2017 as it has in other recent years. That left things largely up to the in-betweeners. Julien Baker, Jay Som, Big Thief, Torres, and others are known but not yet popular enough to earn things like regular radio airplay, yet their records remain deeply impactful and wholly original. Turns out that’s the sweet spot for this year. It remains exciting to hear a collection of artists figure themselves out, and connect with listeners in an interesting and genuine fashion.

Below you’ll find my Top 50 Albums of 2017. While many near the top of the list fall in line with a generally established consensus from plenty of other publications, there are still quite a few personal touches that hopefully help this list stand apart from the rest. I strongly encourage you to seek out any of the records listed if you haven’t heard them yet. All of them are worth your time and effort, though some are more challenging and impenetrable than others. So while you might not fully “get” some of these on a first, second, or third listen, the effort you put into many of them is worth the deeper rewards contained within their folds.

The 50 Best Songs of 2017


The burden of choosing only 50 songs to help define the year in music feels wrong and just a bit insane. After all, there are literally tens of thousands of tracks to choose from, and the ability to discern the difference in quality among them can often seem akin to a parent being forced to choose a favorite child. So my decision process when assembling this list was challenging to say the least. It did leave me with enough regret to compose an additional “Honorable Mention” list, which you can check out right here if you’re so inclined.

Before we get started, I wanted to briefly explain a couple of rules I implemented when making selections for these top 50 Songs. First and foremost, no artist may be featured more than once on the list. That rule doesn’t apply to guest spots or features. It’s how *spoiler alert* Kendrick Lamar and Kamasi Washington managed to make it onto this list twice. Secondly, every song on the list must have been officially released in 2017 as part of an album, soundtrack, or single. In other words, you won’t find any leftover songs from 2016 here, nor will you find any pre-release singles for early 2018 records. There are a few tracks on this list from artists that didn’t release an album or EP in 2017, but still delivered one-off singles. Those songs may wind up on yet-to-be-announced records for 2018, and if that’s the case they will automatically be disqualified from “Best of” consideration for next year.

As for the songs featured in this post, I’m fully convinced and committed to proclaiming they’re the cream of the crop. They’ve managed to provide a guiding light for me over the course of this dark year, while also pushing back against the status quo. Their ability to excite, innovate, and comfort is unparalleled. If you don’t understand what they’re trying to do on the first listen, give them another shot, because a few of these are real growers. It is my sincerest hope that this list manages to bring back some fond memories of shows or albums you heard earlier this year and loved, or provides inspiration and discovery of artists and songs you might not have heard of before now. So please absorb these tracks into your life and let them work their magic. Click the play button on each one to hear a stream, or just scroll to the very bottom of this list for a Spotify playlist featuring every track except for one. See if you can figure out which for the 50 that is! Join me after the jump, as we take a closer look at the 50 Best Songs of 2017.

The Best Songs of 2017: Honorable Mention


Of the thousands of songs I heard this past year, narrowing a list down to my favorite 50 was exceptionally tough. There was plenty of heartbreak and disappointment upon the realization that some great songs were being left off of that final list. So in the spirit of giving attention to even more great music, please take these extra 25 tracks and give them a listen if you aren’t familiar with them already. They’re listed in alphabetical order so as to not prioritize any one over another. The only rules are that the tracks must have been part of a 2017 album, soundtrack, or single release. While you can click on the play button below any song title to hear it streaming (via YouTube), there’s also a Spotify playlist embedded at the very bottom of this post should you prefer to listen that way. Cool? Cool. And make sure to keep an eye out for my Top 50 Songs of 2017, which will immediately follow this post.

The Ten Best Concerts of 2017


Just like an album or a song, a truly great live show can change your life. Unlike an album or song, live shows are a communal experience that only exist for a brief moment in time before they become a distant memory. That’s why it’s so important to be as present as possible when you’re at a venue or music festival, to keep that memory locked inside your brain instead of locked inside your phone. Of course I’m as guilty as the next person for taking photos during a show (see all the examples below), but I do my best to only take a few and then put the device away.

Having said that, 2017 marked my busiest and most exciting concertgoing year to date. According to calculations, I attended shows on 71 days this year, and that’s not including the insanity of multi-day festivals such as the Pitchfork Music Festival, Lollapalooza, and Riot Fest. When all is said and done, my best guesstimation is that I saw 167 performances total, which takes opening acts and festival sets into account. So yeah, a lot of live music. It’s not nearly as much as the 500+ shows NPR’s Bob Boilen has pulled off in recent years, but I’d like to think it’s a solid amount for somebody that also has to maintain an active work and social life (not saying Bob Boilen doesn’t have either of those, but he arguably has more…flexibility).

Needless to say, it was tough choosing only ten performances from 2017 to highlight. Then again, this list could easily have been the ten best live shows I attended at the Empty Bottle this year, since they hosted an incredible array of big name bands and artists vastly underplaying at their tiny venue in celebration of their 25th anniversary. Instead, things are just a little more diverse than that, focusing on the moments that really stood out to me for one reason or another. Some were emotionally moving. Others were genuinely surprising or fun. The thrill of discovering something new, and the pleasure of hearing a set list comprised of many of your favorite songs. There was so much to love, and it’s my sincerest hope that you are inspired by this list to check out more live music no matter where you live. After all, science says that regularly attending concerts makes you happier.

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