I know, you’ve probably seen countless album of the year lists. And you’ll see countless more. And you’ve probably got your own put together, too. But that’s the beauty of it all, isn’t it? Music is such a subjective form of art, that arguing over whether an album is “good” or “bad” is sort of a waste of breath. There’s nothing wrong with liking or disliking an album, but is music ever really bad? I’ll give you Brokencyde. Maybe that one ska album from Hoobastank. Okay, definitely that Hoobastank record.
Regardless, we love music here at Substream so any chance we get to ramble about music, we’re going to do it. 2020 has obviously been a hell of a year, you don’t need another think-piece from us about that. But the music released this year has been incredible. In a time where most musicians have had their most free-time…well, ever, we’ve been afforded some great tunes to keep us company through this shit-storm.
Earth may be a hellscape, and it all collectively might be the modern Rome burning. But you know what? We’ve got a hell of a soundtrack to the end of the world. Read on, baby.
DIGITAL CONTENT EDITOR LOGAN WHITE’S FAVORITE ALBUM: Spanish Love Songs – Brave Faces Everyone
What a fucking record. Admittedly, I was a little late to the Spanish Love Songs party this year. I think I caught on about a month or so after the record came out, and I immediately texted a few of my closest friends and was like “Holy fuck, you have to listen to this .” Two of them immediately shot back saying they already knew, and the other two checked it out and it hit them the same way it hit me. From the opening of “Routine Pain” in which the band immediately reference a quote from Scott Hutchinson, with their lyric “On any given day, I’m a 6 of 10,” painfully nodding to the following from Hutchinson’s final interview before he died by suicide, “On a day-to-day basis, I’m a solid six out of ten. I don’t know how often I can hope for much more than that. I’m drawn to negatives in life, and I dwell on them, and they consume me. I don’t think I’m unique in that sense. I’m all right with a six. If I get a couple of days a week at a seven, fuck, it’s great.”
But don’t worry, emotionally it’s all downhill from there. Musically, it’s all uphill. It’s the balance in life, you know? Their Genius page refers to Spanish Love Songs as a “grouch-rock” band, and recommends them to listeners who are fans of boxed wine, divorce, and self-doubt. For what it’s worth, I find it hard to disagree with that.
Brave Faces Everyone is a record that I’ve listened to it in full at least once a week since March, and of course listen to individual songs in the meantime. Spanish Love Songs wear their trauma and troubles on their sleeve, with no attempt to mask the pain of it all. For most of us, life is a cruel and giant pain in the ass. This shit isn’t easy. On “Self-Destruction (As Sensible Career Choice),” vocalist Dylan Slocum opens with “All I hear is patience / All I have are missed bank payments” and you know you’re in for a song that’s a gut-punch to those struggling to survive each day. “It won’t be this bleak forever / yeah, right,” Slocum croons in the chorus, with a vocal delivery that is earnest and yet sounds like he’s on the verge of a breakdown.
But where Brave Faces Everyone excels is through it’s diversity. Not every song is about the millennial struggle of wondering how we’ll continue to afford to live. “Generation Loss” touches on the struggles of addiction and losing those close to you. “Losers” is an emotional cry for help, that literally screams “It gets harder, doesn’t it?” in the chorus. “Dolores” is a song that calls out gun violence in America, and this country’s resistance to do quite literally anything about it, painting the picture of a hospital in action after a mass shooting — detailing everything from a doctor having their hand in someone’s chest, their shirt covered in red, and hearing on the news that it was “Just another white man with a grudge” who committed the crime. “Optimism (As A Radical Life Choice)” sings about the struggle of working towards being a better person ethically (“Can’t even have my coffee without exploiting someone / or making another millionaire a billionaire”) and being happy, when everything around you is crumbling, and of course the fear of being in a large crowd when a mass shooting takes place (“It’s the clear backs, it’s the two new fire exits / I’m buying a beer / Don’t wanna think of where I’m running / If another asshole takes a shot”).
Brave Faces Everyone lays it all out on the line, sharing their struggles in life with us and giving us something to listen to that offers comfort, without solutions. After all, isn’t that life? We’re all struggling on a day-to-day basis, until we either get rich or die with debt. And that sort of dark reality is where Spanish Love Songs excels. Through this shit-storm of a year, Brave Faces Everyone has aged like fine wine — offering itself to be more relatable with each passing moment. It’s a record that hurts a lot. But goddammit does this record rip. From start-to-finish there’s not a song that you’ll want to skip if you like angry, sorta aggressive alt/rock — it feels wrong to call it pop-punk, instead, it’s this angry millennial rock that deserves your attention.
(If you listen to the record and like what you hear, consider supporting Spanish Love Songs on their patreon. They’ve got multiple different tier options, each coming with something cool. Their monthly covers are worth it alone. Find me another band like this that could cover Nickelback, The Killers, and Townes Van Zandt all in a few a month span. You won’t.)
2. Sam Hunt – Southside
Modern country music is so much different than it was in the early-2000’s when I was growing up. The 90’s/early-2000’s type country was much different than the generation of country artists before it. But you know what, who cares? Part of why country music has never lost it’s popularity is because for the most party, country fans accept those changes in the genre. Sam Hunt is a perfect example of what modern country music sounds like, and why it’s so freaking good. Following a successful career as a songwriter, 2014 saw Hunt branch out and release his debut record, Montevallo — which wound up shattering multiple Billboard chart records, earned him a Grammy-nomination, and catapulted him to the forefront of country. His follow-up, Southside, was finally released earlier this year and contains the 2017 smash hit, “Body Like a Back Road,” which took Hunt’s popularity to new heights.
For the most part, if you liked Montevallo, you will have zero complaints about Southside. Personally, I find it a step above Montevallo. It takes his R&B-tinged brand of country music to new heights, almost leaning more into it than country at times with songs like “That Ain’t Beautiful,” “Drinkin’ Too Much,” and “Breaking Up Was Easy In the 90’s,” which is potentially the best song on the album.
3. Anti-Flag – 20/20 Vision
The legendary Pittsburgh punk band never truly disappoints, do they? I remember it was around this time last year when I spoke with guitarist/vocalist Justin Sane after getting an advance of the record, and we were talking about the election and what was going to happen. Neither of us were entirely confident in what was going to happen, and perhaps neither of us are entirely content with the outcome and what has happened since. But, the goal for 20/20 Vision was clear, straight from the album artwork and the opening of “Hate Conquers All,” Donald Trump was public enemy number one. Certainly not the only damned creature in the swamp that oh-so-desperately needs drained, but perhaps the most public and prominent one.
Throughout 20/20 Vision, though, it’s clear that Anti-Flag is fed up with — well, everyone. Trump has always been the symptom of a larger problem, and that’s made explicitly clear with 20/20 Vision as the band takes head on neo-nazis and white supremacists, yet still offers some sense of optimism at the end of it all with “Unbreakable” and “Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down.” At this point in their career, you either like Anti-Flag or it’s not your cup of tea, per se. It’s a fast, angry as hell punk-rock record — what else would you come to expect? But if you’re a fan of punk music, it’s a must-listen of the year.
4. I Don’t Know How But They Found Me – Razzmatazz
God bless Dallon Weekes and Ryan Seaman. For iDKHOW’s debut record, Razzmatazz, this duo pulled out all the tricks from up their sleeve — at least so we think. Only their third formal release, following 2018’s 1981 Extended Play EP and 2019’s Christmas Drag EP, Razzmatazz finds the group taking the project to new heights. The record brings back, of course, all of their signature 80’s and synth sounds, but keeps it modern and exciting. It never sounds like they’re just re-hashing their older material, and often-times brings stuff that almost sounds a half-step away from 70’s disco. It’s a retro-sounding record, fitting into the storyline of the band themselves — but if you are just a casual listener, the music lends itself to you in ways that make it endlessly enjoyable all the same. The sky is still the limit for these rising indie-rockers, even as “Leave Me Alone” reached the top of the alternative charts. The future is bright, and when concerts come back, find your way to the nearest iDKHOW show. Razzmatazz shows that they’re more than your average indie band in the year 2020, standing out in an ever-growingly more crowded corner of music.
5. Breland – Breland EP
I know, this isn’t an album. But it’s got 7 songs and that’s a weird in-between for EP’s and albums. Plus, my album of the year last year was an 8-track EP so you know what, we call this house rules here. Breland dropped one of the more interesting EP’s of the year, which features multiple country stars, without necessarily being your typical country-sounding record. “My Truck,” and it’s later remix with Sam Hunt, lead the way on this hip-hop/country infused release. The lazy comparison that some have made is to Lil Nas X, but truthfully the two stylistically aren’t that similar. Where Lil Nas X leans more on trap/hip-hop, Breland goes more to pop music. “In The Woulds” is perhaps one of the catchiest pop songs of the year, and features Chase Rice and Lauren Alaina to give it some country vibes, but not any that are over-bearing. “WiFi” is another standout track that deserved a place on the radio, but likely it’s not too long before Breland gets there.
6. Young Culture – Young Culture
7. The Weeknd – After Hours
8. Dustin Lynch – Tullahoma
9. Super Whatevr – Don’t You Wanna Be Glad?
10. Bartees Strange – Live Forever