Here’s a list of my favorite music of 2020! 2020’s been a rough year for a lot of pop culture, but the music has been pretty great. I’ve found a few key albums that have really blown me away this year, so I’d like to talk about seven of my favorite albums of the year. Like my Best of the 2010s article, I will keep this limited to some select criteria:
1. Full albums/EPs only, no singles (sorry Michael)
2. No soundtracks (sorry Eirik)
3. Only one album per artist/group. (sorry PROTODOME)
With that out of the way, let’s dive right into my favorite music of 2020:
Crema Binaria by chibi-tech
Right at the beginning of 2020, when the year was crap but not yet dreadful, we got another wonderful album from chiptune arch-mage chibi-tech in her first release in almost three years. It’s only two tracks long, but holy crap are they two tracks worth listening to. Like The Mutual Promise before it, it sends you on a blistering musical journey with two songs that are quite long, but have not the faintest hint of filler in them. Emulating pop song singing through chiptunes alone is something I’ll never get bored of, because it wins me over every time.
4000AD, by PROTODOME
PROTODOME is back, baby. Six long years we waited for him to get his PhD and finally grace us with new music, and he delivered with an absolutely foot-slamming-on-the-gas new album. A 1-bit album. Aside from the fact this album is already crazy for the fact that PROTODOME published an entire academic paper about its creation, it’s also some fantastic music. It mixes jazz, classical styles, kind of funky stuff, and also probably I’m not good at describing any of this because I’m bad at music talk. But it’s a wonderful experience and you’re missing out if you’re not already listening to it right this instant.
lost in world, by Vince Kaichan
This wasn’t huge on my radar but somehow became one of my favorites anyway. I learned of Vince Kaichan through several really great contributions to STAFFcirc and Chiptunes = Win’s compilation albums, but this was the album that really made me a fan. Each track is frenetic and spellbinding, kind of dance-like but more beautiful just to listen to. Happy in a kind of dark way. It’s another short album but very much worth your time.
L.A. Excavation, by BONEHENGE
Another early release before the world completely went to YA Dystopia levels, if you haven’t heard this and aren’t already listening, I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever convince you of anything in life. This is DINOSAUR SKA. Let’s say that again, together this time: DINOSAUR SKA.
Yeah. Listen to it! Now!
Moon Jellies Fly First Class, by Hunter Van Brocklin
Moody, cute aquatic tunes that soar you through completely new worlds. If Aivi Tran’s recent Twitter thread about the Digital Fusion genre has sparked a new conversation about the whole world of electronic/chiptune/video game/jazzy music, then I think Moon Jellies Fly First Class is one of the best recent examples of where this “new” genre can be headed as the 20s forge forward.
And can you believe these tracks were made for a Sample Pack Contest? I can’t. Making this music good with arbitrary sound samples takes a ridiculous level of skill and I am thoroughly impressed.
SNESQUE II, by Zackery Wilson
When this album was announced, I was honestly a bit unsure about it. Yeah, I loved the original SNESQUE album to pieces, but another album with exactly the same central conceit, six years later? I was worried this would be more like a B-sides of tracks that weren’t going to be quite as fun or memorable.
HOO BOY was I wrong. SNESQUE II is absolutely fantastic, and in most respects blows the original out of the water. According to my MusicBee stats his is my second-most-listened-to album of the past year and it’s a huge margin over #3 (which is Electric Daydreams, as you might expect). Every single track in SNESQUE II is a showstopper, using SNES soundfonts to obliterate your eardrums in the best way possible. I can’t even begin to pick a favorite track. Each one has such wildly different textures, even if the structures are all very similar (by design), that I might just love them all equally.
If mainstream pop music ever gets production as good as the stuff Zackery Wilson puts out, then maybe I’ll actually start listening to it. But until that day comes, I am much more satisfied staying with the Digital Fusion genre, especially if it means more music like SNESQUE.
Of course, this was only my SECOND-most-listened-to album of the year. This list isn’t ranked or anything, but I do have to say I have a #1 for the year, and it’s very well-deserved.
Eat Your Dreams, by nelward
Phenomenal music. Just… Wow.
For reference, nelward already put out two singles compilation albums earlier in 2020, and both of those had some lovely tracks that have been a regular part of my weekly playlists for many months now. He could have stopped there and still had some of my favorite music of the year.
But then Eat Your Dreams came out and wrecked the world. It’s short—only eighteen minutes long—but taken as a whole it’s impossible not to love. Like typical nelward it’s filled with jovial chippy silliness, but this one’s not exactly a happy time. No, this is nelward in 2020, and it’s the kind of musical evolution you’d expect after a year as horrible as this one. It’s silly, but it’s far darker, far more serious than I expected. The compositions swirl around your ears, and the lyrics pop around waiting for you to decipher their many-layered meanings.
This is also the only album I have ever listened to in my life that makes a reference to Waffle House hashbrowns and, come on, you have to give it some credit for that.
Eat Your Dreams is absolutely one of my favorite albums of all-time by this point, and I recommend it to everyone who is willing to listen.
I have no idea what kind of music awaits us in 2021, especially in the realm of electronic/chiptune/digital fusion that eats up most of my listening time. But if a year this bad can deliver such great music, then next year is surely going to be even better. There’s several artists I’m really hoping release something new and big (Blitz Lunar, Michael Guy Bowman, MisfitChris, coda, among others), but no matter what comes, I’m still really excited for it.
Let’s hope for the best in 2021!