I think it goes without saying how insane of a year 2020 was, but there were things to be grateful for too, and one of those things is the incredible amount of great punk records that came out this year. Aside from the fact that so many of these albums had messages that resonated strongly this year, it was inspiring to see how the punk community came together during some of the toughest times, even in a year where we couldn't get together physically. Throughout the whole year, this vast community protested, amplified voices, launched fundraisers, and helped support so many people, and released a lot of great music in the process. I tried to narrow down the best of it to 45 albums and EPs, but it wasn't easy. Countless great records came out this year under the punk umbrella, and even stopping at 45 meant leaving out some great ones.
This list includes a handful of different punk subgenres, including hardcore, post-hardcore, emo, screamo, ska-punk, folk punk, pop punk, metalcore, indie-punk, and more, and even with all those subgenres included, there were still some punk-adjacent albums that I decided weren't necessarily right for this list, like Hum's
Inlet, Code Orange's Underneath, and Napalm Death's Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism (all three of which are excellent). We also have some punk subgenre lists coming very soon that dive even deeper into some of those styles, and we'll update when those are up, but these are the 45 I felt strongest about from all across the punk board.
Read on for the list. What were your favorite punk albums of 2020?
45 Bob Mould - Blue Hearts Merge
The legendary Bob Mould (Husker Du, Sugar) has been on a roll since forming his current trio with bassist Jason Narducy (Split Single) and drummer Jon Wurster (Superchunk), and his fifth record with them is the most fired-up punk record he's released in decades. The songs are shorter and faster, and the words are angrier and more political. "I'm not going to sit quietly this time and worry about alienating anyone," he says.
44 The Menzingers - From Exile Epitaph From Exile is a full-album acoustic reworking of 2019's Hello Exile, but don't call it "stripped down"; these versions are more involved than the original album, and they just might be even better. The Menzingers' heartland rock-infused punk songs are perfect for this warmer, more rustic approach, and it turns out this band has a real knack for twangy fiddles and bluesy harmonicas. It might not get the crowd pogoing when concerts return, but I hope we hear more stuff like this from The Menzingers in the future. 43 X - Alphabetland Fat Possum
One of the most unexpected comebacks of 2020 was X, who surprise-released
Alphabetland, their first album in 27 years and first with the original lineup in 35 years. Alphabetland would be a big deal just for existing, but it also sounds impressively like classic X. The production is on point, the Exene Cervenka/John Doe harmonies are as tight as ever, and the songs are as blazing as they were four decades ago. 42
We may never get a Fugazi reunion, but this was kinda close. Half of Fugazi (Ian MacKaye and Joe Lally) and all of The Evens (Ian and Amy Farina) joined forces as Coriky, and the result is some of the most Fugazi-esque music that Ian MacKaye has released in years. With the interplay between his guitar and Joe Lally's basslines back intact,
Coriky captures some of those classic Fugazi grooves, and Ian brought back some of his vocal grit from that band too. And beyond the Fugazi comparisons, Coriky succeeds as its own band. Ian and Amy's chemistry is undeniable at this point too, and there's some great Evens-style material on here as well. 41 Days N Daze - Show Me the Blueprints Fat Wreck Chords
After over a decade of self-recording and self-releasing music, folk punk (or "thrashgrass") band Days N Daze signed to Fat Wreck Chords and made their new album
Show Me the Blueprints in a studio with Fat Mike's production team the D-Composers. Not that it's polished or anything, but Days N Daze clean up pretty good. The ability to use studio tools only helped them flesh out their sound for the better, and they came out with one of their most irresistible batch of songs yet. 40 Classics of Love - World of Burning Hate self-released
The elusive Jesse Michaels (who mostly famously fronted Operation Ivy) returned in 2020 with his first new music in eight years, and it's some of the gnarliest stuff he's released yet. He re-activated his band Classics of Love with a new lineup (Sharif Dumani of Alice Bag/Exploding Flowers and Peter John Fontes of Los Nauticals/Surf Front) and released the
World of Burning Hate EP, which is one of the most straight-up old school hardcore style releases he's ever put out. Not even Operation Ivy was this whiplash-inducing. 39 Laura Jane Grace - Stay Alive Polyvinyl
The pandemic put a stop to several musicians' 2020 plans, but it also gave birth to some new ones. Laura Jane Grace wasn't going to make a solo album this year (Against Me! was going to make an album), but she ended up with a batch of songs and nothing to do with them, so she headed to Electrical Audio studio with Steve Albini at the boards, and she laid down 14 new songs with just her voice and acoustic guitar and sometimes a drum machine and a little distortion. Not only was the bare-bones approach caused by the pandemic, but a lot of the lyrics directly reflect this hellish year too. It's a raw, personal record unlike anything else Laura ever recorded, and it's a real gem in her discography.
38 156/Silence - Irrational Pull SharpTone
The metalcore revival continues to grow, and one of the genre's brightest new voices is Pittsburgh's 156/Silence. If you haven't heard of them yet, you'll be hearing more and more about them soon;
Irrational Pull was one of those records that felt like it came out of nowhere and anyone who heard it was instantly won over. With a frantic mix of tech-y leads, bludgeoning chugs, and a passionate bark, comparisons to classic bands like Poison The Well and The Dillinger Escape Plan are easy to make, but 156/Silence do that sound so well that it never feels too revival-y or too indebted to other bands. 37 PUP - This Place Sucks Ass Little Dipper/Rise
PUP's 2019 album
Morbid Stuff is one of the best melodic punk records in recent memory, so it should come as no surprise that this year's This Place Sucks Ass EP rips too. It's an odds-and-ends collection with Morbid Stuff outtakes, a new song, and a Grandaddy cover, and it's a reminder that everything PUP touches right now turns to artistic gold. PUP know just how to balance aggression with pop smarts, off-kilter song structures with traditional ones, and it results in insanely catchy songs that sound like no other band in the world. 36 Year of the Knife - Internal Incarceration Pure Noise
Following three EPs and a compilation, Delaware metallic hardcore crew Year of the Knife finally issued their first full-length and it very much lives up to the anticipation that this band has been building up over the past few years. It was produced by Converge's Kurt Ballou, who's the perfect fit for a pummeling record like this one. While many of YOTK's metalcore peers are toying with studio tricks and electronics, YOTK go for a rawer, barer approach to hardcore that flirts with old school death metal more than it flirts with industrial or nu metal. Lyrically, the record largely takes on loss and grief, and music this coarse is perfect for stories this devastating.
35 Rotting Out - Ronin Pure Noise
Rotting Out are back after a seven-year gap between albums, and they just might be better than ever. Nobody screams like the unmistakable Walter Delgado, and if he sounds even angrier than ever, that might be because this is Rotting Out's first album since he served an 18-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to charges of possession of marijuana. In a time where we're seeing increased awareness about the racist tactics that fuel the war on drugs (and slowly making more steps towards decriminalization),
Ronin hits especially hard, but this isn't opportunistic political music. These are deeply personal stories about living in a world of white supremacy as a person of color, and growing up with an abusive father. It's all set to a backdrop of energized '80s-style hardcore, vital enough to rival the genre's pioneers. 34 Get Dead - Dancing With the Curse Fat Wreck Chords
The shapeshifting San Francisco punk band Get Dead are constantly bringing new elements into their sound, and on their excellent fifth album
Dancing With the Curse they incorporate folk punk, ska, street punk, hardcore, hip hop, and more. It might sound messy on paper, but Get Dead always find the common ground between these styles of music. Dancing With the Curse takes after albums like London Calling and ...And Out Come the Wolves (and Sam King's voice has all the attitude and grit of the latter), albums that embraced all kinds of music and saw it all through the lens of anthemic punk. It can be a little hyperbolic to namedrop classics like those, but Dancing With the Curse earns it. 33 Power Alone - Rather Be Alone Indecision Records
Power Alone is the latest band of Eva Hall (Gather, Rats In The Wall), and their debut album
Rather Be Alone is one of the nastiest hardcore records of the year. Save for one melodic song (the super catchy "All We've Got"), Eva delivers a ferocious bark over cement-shattering chugs, and it's the perfect vessel for her cutthroat lyricism, which tackles corporate greed, abuse, mental health, and other real-world issues with an unwavering determination to create change. 32 Drain - California Cursed Revelation
Drain's debut album
California Cursed is jam-packed with enough evil thrash riffs to get any Slayer or Pantera fan throwing up devil horns, but this Santa Cruz band manages to turn that evil into something as bright, warm, and colorful as the album artwork. And for how metal their riffs are, Drain feel entirely punk. Their songs are short and sweet like a punk band (and they play 12-minute live shows), and their attitude is entirely punk. Obviously they're not the first band to straddle that line, but something about Drain separates them from your run-of-the-mill Suicidal Tendencies/Cro-Mags-worshipping crossover thrash band. They just feel like a breath of fresh air. 31 Viva Belgrado - Bellavista Aloud
If La Dispute went in a more screamo direction after
Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair instead of an indie rock one (and sung in Spanish), it might've ended up sounding something like Viva Belgrado's new album Bellavista. They nail the proggy post-hardcore passages and talk-singing that LD were known for in the early days, but they also embrace European screamo bands like Daïtro and they swirl these influences into something they can call their own. (They also work in some hip hop cadences in a way that fits right in.) The songs are as tech-y and complex as they are undeniably catchy, and they don't really sound like much other music that came out this year. 30 Chamber - Cost of Sacrifice Pure Noise
One of the most thrilling debut albums I've heard from this whole metalcore revival we've been having is
Cost of Sacrifice by Nashville's Chamber. They combine the utter chaos of late '90s Botch, Converge, and Dillinger Escape Plan with the cleaner production of 2000s metalcore, but they never fall victim to the cheesier radio-rock side that those 2000s bands often embraced. They also work in a little of the dark atmosphere of Deftones and the frenzy of early Slipknot without going full "nu." It reminds me of a whole slew of things from roughly 1997-2003, but it's all packaged together in a way that feels like it could only have come out now. It taps into the best parts of that era's heavy music while avoiding the cringier ones, and it's just an onslaught of killer songs that rip from start to finish. 29
NØ MAN is the current band of all three members of the classic screamo band Majority Rule (Matt Michel, Kevin Lamiell, and Pat Broderick), and their vocalist is Maha Shami, who sang guest vocals on Majority Rule's "Packaged Poison" from their 2002 split with pg.99. Maha is a vicious, ear-piercing screamer and a vivid lyricist in her own right, and NØ MAN's sophomore album
Erase is a force to be reckoned with. It's as much of an essential album today as Interviews with David Frost was in 2001, and NØ MAN avoid living in the shadow of their former band by just living in the present and being themselves. Erase doesn't really sound like Majority Rule; it's its own beast, and it's some of the most exceptional screamo/hardcore of the year. 28 Be Well - The Weight and the Cost Equal Vision
Brian McTernan hadn't written songs or sung in a band for about 20 years until his old band Battery reconvened for a new song in 2017 (in the time in between, he produced classic albums by Converge, Cave In, The Movielife, Strike Anywhere, Thrice, Hot Water music, Circa Survive, and much more), but after realizing how much he missed singing, he got a new band together featuring the incredible lineup of Fairweather members Peter Tsouras (guitar) and Shane Johnson (drums), Darkest Hour's Mike Schleibaum (guitar), and Bane/Converge's Aaron Dalbec (bass). They're called Be Well, and their debut album
The Weight and the Cost is one of 2020's finest melodic hardcore records. When producing, Brian always had a knack for making bands sound huge but still real and raw, and that's exactly what The Weight and the Cost is. It's influenced by bands like Turning Point, 7Seconds, and Gorilla Biscuits but has the cleaner production style that Brian perfected with bands like Hot Water Music and Strike Anywhere, and Brian uses these rippin' songs for some of his most personal songwriting yet. The whole album is great, but it all builds to the climactic, closing track "Confessional," a song where Brian hopes his daughter doesn't have to face the same mental health struggles that he did. It's genuinely chill-inducing. 27 Glacier Veins - The World You Want to See Common Ground/Equal Vision
On their debut album, Portland's Glacier Veins have bundled ultra catchy mid 2000s pop punk-style hooks with atmospheric, post-rocky guitars and a more modern indie-emo vibe, and the result is one of the most irresistible punk debuts of the year. It's as nostalgia-inducing as it is fresh and new, and it's an album I just could not stop coming back to. Songs like "Feel Better Now" and "Everything Glows" would've been huge alt-rock hits if they came out in 2005, and they sounded pretty damn great in 2020 too.
26 Sharptooth - Transitional Forms Pure Noise
Sharptooth made a case for themselves as one of the most promising new metalcore bands around on their 2017 debut LP
Clever Girl, but Transitional Forms raises the bar in every single way. The production, songwriting, and performances are all a huge step up from their debut, and the music is more varied. Transitional Forms finds Sharptooth navigating between bludgeoning metalcore, atmospheric post-metal, melodic hardcore, and more, and Lauren Kashan proves to be both a piercing screamer and a soaring singer. She's also a powerful lyricist, and uses this album to tell the "story of my personal struggle with the societal, interpersonal, and internal constructs that have left me feeling small, afraid, broken, and utterly hopeless." It's personal and political at the same time, in a way that's totally and utterly ruthless. 25 The Lawrence Arms - Skeleton Coast Epitaph
Chicago punks The Lawrence Arms have been going strong since the '90s, and though they don't release albums as frequently as they used to (
Skeleton Coast is their first in six years), every one they do put out is worth it. They're a rare punk band who have figured out how to progress and mature their music without abandoning the sound fans know and love, and they manage to make it feel fresh every time. Skeleton Coast feels wiser and wearier than The Lawrence Arms' '90s/'00s classics, but it rips just as hard. As ever, they nail a balance between singer/songwriter intimacy and punk fury, and the impact of their songwriting is undeniable. These songs really drill their way into your head and stay there. 24 Nuvolascura - As We Suffer From Memory and Imagination Zegema Beach/Dog Knights
With their sophomore record, LA's Nuvolascura have written one of the most in-your-face screamo albums of the year. A lot of the genre's best albums this year leaned post-rocky and atmospheric, and not that Nuvolascura don't have atmosphere, but
As We Suffer From Memory and Imagination is blunt and forceful in a way that a lot of Nuvolascura's most talented peers are not. It was expertly produced by Jack Shirley (Deafheaven, Loma Prieta, State Faults, etc), and Jack helped them achieve a sound that's crisp and clear but without a single frill. It feels like you're right there in the room with them, and in a year where that was completely impossible, it's worth treasuring an album that gives you that same feeling. 23 Owen - The Avalanche Polyvinyl
It's been over 20 years since Mike Kinsella's band American Football released what many consider the greatest emo album of all time, and he refuses to slow down. American Football's last album -- 2019's
LP3 -- may actually be better than their legendary debut, and this year Mike kept the momentum going with The Avalanche, the first album in four years by his solo project Owen. The 2016 American Football and Owen albums were born out of the same writing sessions and felt like two sides of the same coin, but The Avalanche and LP3 feel like two distinctly different beasts. Not that LP3 isn't personal (it is), but The Avalanche is some of Mike's most personal songwriting yet, and some of his most devastating. It's a light sounding record, but it's emotionally one of the heaviest releases of the year. Like the 2016 Owen album, Mike made this with help from Bon Iver's S. Carey and frequent S. Carey collaborator Zach Hanson, and the three of them really have undeniable chemistry at this point. S and Zach have helped Mike turn Owen from the noodly acoustic emo of his early 2000s days into a warmer, folkier project, and the more simplistic backdrop gives the lyrics even more room to take center stage. With songs this detailed and heartbreaking, it's the perfect approach. 22 Bad Cop/Bad Cop - The Ride Fat Wreck Chords
Bad Cop/Bad Cop have been around for less than a decade, but they quickly found themselves at the forefront of a new wave of Fat Wreck Chords bands. They embrace the label's classic '90s sound, and Fat Mike's D-Composers team produce their records, but BC/BC write urgent, powerful songs that are too vital to feel retro or nostalgic. Their third album
The Ride lashes out at the Trump administration's immigration policies on "Certain Kind of Monster" and "Pursuit of Liberty," it addresses Stacey Dee's battle with breast cancer on "Breastless," and it has a handful of songs that look at self-worth, mental health, and self-examination. "These are political statements—self-love is a huge fucking statement," said Stacey Dee. It's true, and at a time when sexism and transphobia and white supremacy runs rampant, from the streets to social media to the White House, the songs about embracing yourself for who you are felt as radical as the overtly political ones. 21 Boneflower - Armour Dog Knights/Zegema Beach/The Braves
The word "screamo" was widely misused in the early/mid 2000s to describe a lot of pop punk/emo bands who screamed sometimes, but there were bands (like Thursday) in that era who wrote catchy, anthemic emo songs that
really were indebted to screamo. Madrid's Boneflower are another of those bands, and their sophomore album Armour is the best thing they've done yet. It owes as much to the raw sounds of '90s screamo as it does to the earworm hooks of '00s emo as it does to soaring post-rock (and there's a little black metal too). It has the raw intimacy of a band playing a basement show with the crowd huddled around them, but these songs sound huge, and Boneflower sound like they should be huge. Maybe they will be one day, but for now, Armour remains one of the more special post-hardcore gems in recent memory. 20 Envy - The Fallen Crimson Temporary Residence Ltd
A lot of classic screamo bands were short-lived, but Tokyo's Envy are a rare one who have maintained longevity and everlasting relevance. They helped shape the genre in the '90s, released splits with Thursday and Jesu in the 2000s, toured with Deafheaven and La Dispute in the 2010s; their influence is felt on so many screamo and post-rock adjacent bands, and they continue to put out new music that keeps them as interesting as all the Envy-influenced bands who have risen to prominence over the years. This year's
The Fallen Crimson -- the band's first album in five years -- is up there with the band's best work, and it feels as fresh as any of today's newer screamo bands too. The Fallen Crimson finds Envy continuing to explore the prettier post-rock side that they've embraced in later years, and it does so without losing the intensity and the ferocity of their earlier work. It can be easy to take a band for granted after 25 years, but when they keep churning out music this compelling, it'd be a crime to stop paying attention. 19 War On Women - Wonderfull Hell Bridge Nine
War On Women are the kind of band who will write fired-up punk songs about systemic injustice no matter what the political climate looks like, so we're lucky to have gotten a new War On Women record in the most politically tense year in recent memory. At least one of these songs sounds like it was written directly in response to the chaos of 2020 ("Seeds"), but even the songs that aren't explicitly about current events landed with an impact that hit especially hard this year. Shawna Potter remains a masterful vocalist who can mix stadium-sized choruses, hardcore punk grit, and unflinching lyricism, and she's matched in intensity by guitarist Brooks Harlan, who nails the balance between punk simplicity and metal riffage. Throughout the album, they take on police brutality, mistreatment of indigenous peoples and immigrants, sexist remarks about female politicians, and more, and the answer to all of it comes in the chorus of the title track: let's raise some wonderful, beautiful hell.
18 The Suicide Machines - Revolution Spring Fat Wreck Chords
With an album title like
Revolution Spring and the searing indictment of police brutality on opening track "Bully In Blue," you'd think The Suicide Machines wrote this album after witnessing all 50 states protest George Floyd's murder at once in May, but it came out two months before that, and frontman Jason Navarro says the album title is referencing something more personal than it may seem. Still, these veteran ska-punks have been a political band for decades, and having not released an album since the fired-up, Bush-era War Profiteering Is Killing Us All, this was a band who needed to come back and leave their mark on the Trump era. Like The Suicide Machines' '90s classics, Revolution Spring owes as much to real-deal ska as it does to real-deal hardcore, effortlessly dismantling the stigma that '90s ska-punk is too cheerful or too far removed from both ska and punk's roots. The songs are as refreshing and impactful as TSM's classics, and they're among the band's most lyrically intense work, with songs that tackle not just police brutality but also the Flint water crisis, climate change, and more personal topics like the suicide one of Navarro's close friends on "Trapped in a Bomb" and the introspective, self-examining "Awkward Always." Whether he's looking inwards or outwards, Navarro's storytelling is as incisive as it is fun to listen to.