Pitchfork’s 100 Best Songs of 2020
Whether your year was more “people, I’ve been sad,” “certified freak, seven days a week,” or “fetch the bolt cutters,” the best songs of 2020 provided a brief escape from the turmoil outside our windows. They offered a comforting shoulder to cry on, a lit match to long-simmering rage, and a temporary substitute for the dancefloors and mosh pits the pandemic stole from us. Until the day we get to gather again in sweaty clubs, packed basements, and sold-out arenas, we’ll keep turning to these 100 tracks to soundtrack our lives.
Check out all of Pitchfork’s 2020 wrap-up coverage here.
100. Ela Minus: “dominique”
After years of playing in emo bands and releasing candy-coated electropop, Ela Minus splits the difference on “dominique.” The standout from her debut LP, acts of rebellion, is a depressive ode to sleeping all day and never leaving the house set to bright, buoyant melodies. Even as she teeters on the edge of the abyss, wasting away with coffee and liquor as her only companions, she finds humor in the downward spiral: “I should probably eat something that’s not liquid,” she deadpans. Recorded more than a year before much of humanity was sheltering in place, its themes of isolation and delirium feel prescient, offering a view from indoors that, for many, will look like a reflection. –Matthew Ismael Ruiz
Listen: Ela Minus, “dominique”
39. Phoebe Bridgers: “I Know the End”
“I Know the End” packs an album’s worth of ideas into five minutes and 45 seconds. One moment the Punisher closer is a hushed acoustic ballad, the next it’s a swelling mid-tempo strummer, and then it explodes into an orchestral fanfare, and each section has its own emotional arc. It’s something like Phoebe Bridgers’ version of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush,” in which fear and bombed-out desolation are buoyed by an undercurrent of defiance. She has a rare ability to connect the fragmented images passing by the window to what she feels inside: She shows us funnel clouds dropping from the sky, a slaughterhouse, and a shopping mall, and turns each into a signpost for her own confusion. As the song builds, despair is tempered by a burst of energy that hints at survival. When it finally detonates and a seeming cast of thousands join in to shout “The end is here!” we come to understand her apocalypse as one frightening and cathartic in equal measure. –Mark RichardsonFurther Reading: Phoebe Bridgers on the 10 Things That Influenced Punisher
24. The Weather Station: “Robber”
“Robber” unfurls like a cerebral crime drama, the kind that lures you in with a moody pilot and leaves you glued to your couch until you figure out whodunnit. Tamara Lindeman sketches out a villain—the titular thief, silent and cool—before lifting the veil on larger forces at work: laws, banks, a rotten system that forces people to act in their own self-interest. The song’s rhythm is insistent and unsteady; saxophone and electric guitar spray like seafoam, wild and untamed at the edges. By the time “Robber” reaches its urgent climax, Lindeman has transformed a personal reckoning with societal failures into a reflective prompt for the listener. Can you blame yourself for ruthlessness if you were never given a choice? –Jamieson Cox
13. Soccer Mommy: “circle the drain”
If asked to pinpoint the primary emotional experience of quarantine, you might go with listlessness, or fatigue. But neither quite nails it. With a bit more prodding to open up, maybe you’d land on: I’ve been falling apart these days. Sophia Allison of Soccer Mommy nailed our constant recursion, atrophy, isolation, gall, and grief back in the early spring. It’s more than just the chorus lyric of “circle the drain,” the lead single from Allison’s synesthetic indie rock album Color Theory; it’s how she sings it. The line’s path is dizzying, catching an updraft on falling apart, that feeling of rust as our sweatpants become thinner with wear. Then it floats back down and alights on these days, the great borderless period of time in which we find ourselves. The song’s warm familiarity, which Allison modeled in part after bright pop-rock hits of her youth, like Sheryl Crow’s “Soak up the Sun” or Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn,” gives it the quality of a quilt filled with stones. It’s comforting but heavy, the weight of the world on your chest—even, as Allison reminds us, when everything is fine. –Jeremy D. LarsonFurther Reading: Soccer Mommy Breaks Down Every Track on color theory
Listen: Soccer Mommy, “circle the drain”
9. Phoebe Bridgers: “Garden Song”
On her debut album Stranger in the Alps, Phoebe Bridgers stopped analyzing her dreams. “I don’t believe in that stuff anymore,” she admitted in “Funeral,” a song about being consumed by the tragedy of a classmate’s death. Bridgers has said that her first album documented her trauma, while her second, this year’s Punisher, is about understanding how she processes it. So on its lead single, “Garden Song,” Bridgers is dissecting her dreams again, delving into her subconscious to understand what she wants and what it feels like to actually get it.
Buoyed by plucky guitar and Bridgers’ bare, delicate vocals, the song gently folds time—and the evolution of desire—on itself like a baker kneading dough. One minute, Bridgers is a self-assured 17-year-old; then, in a recurring dream, a college student yearning for sex; then an adult tending to the garden she’s always wanted. There’s no real beginning or resolution, just flickers of past memories, longing, and anxiety patched together like her mind’s own hedge maze. And while moments of glimmering contentment emerge from the fog, eventually reality seeps in: the garden she’s cultivated will forever be haunted. –Vrinda JagotaFurther Reading: Phoebe Bridges on the 10 Things That Influenced Her New Album, Punisher
Listen: Phoebe Bridgers, “Garden Song”