Our Favourite Songs of 2020

How do you summarize the music made in a year like 2020? The act of ranking artists or describing a short list of releases as “the best” of any given time period has always been an exclusionary task, and doing so in a time when the world has been completely upended by a global pandemic simply feels impossible. Instead, we’ve decided to celebrate our favourite songs handpicked by seven different New Feeling writers with the intention of being as subjective as possible, while raising up a multitude of voices that you might not hear about anywhere else. This is the music that soothed us during countless moments of anxiety, channelled our anger, and pumped us up when we needed to push back. Read on and press play through an unordered list in reverse alphabetical order followed by our personal top 10s.

Zoon – “Landscapes” (Paper Bag | Hamilton, ON)

Repeating, dazed guitars are the amber holding “Landscapes” together, as if the song were a moment of saccharine stillness that glimmers over and over. Songwriter Daniel Monkman emphasizes the restlessness within that inertia to craft a sense of tension and unease that never quite gets a release, fading out before it ever finds a resolution. (Michael Rancic)

Jonah Yano – “shoes” (ft. Tatsuya Muraoka) (Innovative Leisure | Toronto, ON)

I don’t think a music video has affected me more than Jonah Yano’s “shoes.” Its accompanying single is a collaboration between two generations, with Yano supplying vocals over a recording of his father, Tatsuya Muraoka, playing a Japanese bar in the late ’90s. Soundtracking their reunion after 15 years (footage of which is placed at the end of the video), “shoes” is a tender, hopeful, and generous look into the complexity of a late-blossoming father-son relationship. (Katerina Stamadianos

WUT – “White Walls” (Self Released | Vancouver, BC)

An eviction crisis always looms over Vancouver’s DIT venues, but the threat felt imminent at the beginning of 2020. A groundswell of crowdfunding campaigns rose up as grassroots artist-run centres struggled to cover the costs of surging property taxes. Among those organizations was the Toast Collective, which WUT bassist/vocalist Tracy Vath helps run. The gummy, deceptively twee “White Walls” sums up anxieties about losing arts spaces to sterile coffee shops. In Low Tide Properties‘ new utopia, community comes at the cost of libraries, food banks, artist centres, and social housing. Fending off real estate vultures is a daily chore, but through song and organizing, WUT are up to the task. (Leslie Ken Chu)

Wares – “Tall Girl” (Mint | Edmonton, AB)

Like all of the songs on Survivor, “Tall Girl” is a beautifully mixed cocktail of instrumentation. Each time I listen, I find myself isolating all of the different instruments and tones, while appreciating how perfectly they work and interact with one another. It’s mixed very well. Cassia Hardy has assembled the perfect band to communicate such a beautifully written song. “Tall Girl” is a gut wrenching gateway to a larger, cohesive album, which is easily her best work yet. (Lenore Maier)

TiKA – “Sideways” (Next Door | Montreal, QC)

“Sideways” opens with glistening chimes and vibrant acoustic guitar chords. But thunderous drums blow through dissonant sirens and sax, threatening to sink the levity like a sonic manifestation of the insecurities that plagued TiKA when she wrote the song. Stemming from a period of confusion and shame over a friendship she felt she ruined, the title refers to feeling lopsided without the other person. “Sideways” is a creative watershed for TiKA and a monument to her life changes: rebuilding her confidence; learning to love herself, including coming out as queer; and relocating from Toronto to Montreal. She initially feared “Sideways” was too emotionally raw, but as her current path shows, if she continues to follow her instincts, she can only find herself in high places and in even higher spirits. (Leslie Ken Chu)

sydanie – “Purple Carousel” (Self Released | Toronto, ON)

“Purple Carousel” is a blink-and-it’s-over drum and bass hit that has not gotten its due respect this year. sydanie twists and turns through a relationship of urgent intimacy, celebrating a love “hyperactive” and “reactive.” But instead of falling into the wormhole typical of a passionate love story, she narrates a course toward self-assuredness: “I’m seeing what you see in me/ Put your lips on my body when I say yes.” Coupled with Casey MQ’s energizing production, “Purple Carousel” deserves to be played loud. And while it may not have gotten the chance to blare out of club speakers yet, it’s time to replicate that feeling from the comfort of your home. (Katerina Stamadianos

Scott Hardware – “Joy” (Telephone Explosion | Toronto, ON)

“Joy” lifts off in its opening seconds and never stops rocketing skywards. The soaring centerpiece of Scott Hardware’s Engel is propelled by the relentless disco hi-hats of drummer Jonathan Pappo, cresting into peaks of sublime strings and hammered keys from the palette of piano house. Scott’s vocals are filled with both a sense of awe and a pleading desperation, revealing that his arduous search for personal passion is one aimed inwards: “I dig my hands into the dirt/ And my hands to the centre of the earth/ In search of my joy.” (Jesse Locke)

Cedric Noel – “Nighttime (Skin)” (Self Released | Montreal, QC)

Cedric Noel’s “Nighttime (Skin)” is a celebration. As he told Aquarium Drunkard, “It’s a reminder for me that I’m Black and to be proud of that.” Cyclically, a mighty wave of distorted guitar chords carries you to deep waters where you float, blissfully, while your ears ring because of your mode of transportation. In the song’s quiet verses, Noel’s words feel even louder than the preceding instrumentation. Filled with tenderness and gratitude, he meditates on his identity and sings, with awe-inspiring results, “But I am still in love with how I parade my worth around/ The nighttime sinks as I come out/ Skin so black!/ I am proud!” (Laura Stanley

LXVNDR – “Purple Punk” (Self Released | Charlottetown, PEI)

Fusing a tinny, distorted guitar hook with hypnotic bass and drums, “Purple Punk” is an edgy groover that LXVNDR gracefully, confidently dominates. The lyrics take stock of great personal challenges, using them as an opportunity for growth. LXVNDR cuts through these trials and deceptions with an unyielding focus, at once charming and compelling. (Michael Rancic)

Juniper Bush – “Hindsight” (Transistor | Winnipeg, MB)

“Hindsight” embodies everything I love about so many Manitoba bands: unassuming, instantly classic, and seemingly indifferent to whether or not the world takes notice. Juniper Bush gives the assurance that the torches once held by bands like My Bloody Valentine and Garbage are burning bright in Winnipeg. (Lenore Maier)

Foisy. – “Mémoires II” (Nord Est | Montreal, QC)

On the closing track of Marc-André Foisy’s debut LP, he shakes off the album’s worth of dust that has accumulated. In the nine preceding, shyly delivered songs, Foisy. is haunted by the ghosts of his past. He spends much of his time hiding, watching, and figuring out how to set them free. But the Montreal musician stands up tall on “Mémoires II,” shaking his head and opening the windows. He is not fully free – “Je partirai sans que tu vois/ Je partirai mais je reste ici avec toi,” he admits in the final verse – but something feels different. Foisy’s voice remains soft, but a cacophony of jubilant screams and the winding frenzy of a repetitive piano melody ignite him. The sense of urgency is electric and may inspire you to let go of your own ghosts. (Laura Stanley)

Marie Davidson & L’Œil Nu – “Renegade Breakdown” (Ninja Tune/Bonsound | Montreal, QC)

Marie Davidson introduces a bold about-face on the title track from Renegade Breakdown. While its pumping beats and burbling bass may be familiar to fans of the Montreal musician’s steely electronic productions, she reinvents herself as a theatrical glam-rock chanteuse guided by the guitar pyrotechnics of longtime collaborator Asaël Robitaille. Davidson’s sneering, sloganeering lyrics make it clear how disinterested she is in being pigeonholed into a single sound: “I’ll tell it to your face, once and for all/ My life is anti-strategic.” (Jesse Locke)    

Backxwash – “Spells” (feat. Devi McCallion) (Grimalkin | Montreal, QC)

Dressing the stage with the distant howls of a pack of wolves, a sampled chant from Zambian singer Angela Nyirenda, and a narcotic hook from Devi McCallion (Black Dresses), hearing Backxwash bound across it all to serve a battle-ready protection spell against colonial snake oil magic is so sweet. “I told my mama that the devil got a place for me,” she raps, but then flips the Christian scripture: “I’m going to hell and then I bet you I’ll be safe for weeks.” Everything’s black and white here, but Backxwash fucks with that binary to underline its persuasive function and the way that’s used to control and subjugate (“my only option is devoting myself in minstrel”). That’s one hell of an exorcism. (Tom Beedham)

Aquakultre – “Legacy” (Black Buffalo | Halifax, NS)

Floating in on a lazy river, the title track from Aquakultre’s debut album basks in sun-dappled introspection and starts spiralling: “I haven’t learned to fly,” Lance Sampson sings, “but the damage is done/ I’m trying to provide.” As responsibility dawns on him, the ensemble he’s built around himself – Nick Dourado, Jeremy Costello, Nathan Doucet – starts climbing to glorious heights, kicks off, and drifts back to earth with ecstatic style and grace that cushions its own landing. And then they’re right there ready to do it all over again. Aquakultre is family, and if this is Sampson’s legacy, it’s already a gift. (Tom Beedham)

New Feeling Members’ individual lists:

Laura Stanley 
The Weather Station – “Robber” 
John K Samson “Fantasy Baseball at the End of the World” 
Foisy. – “Mémoires II”
Dana Gavanski – “Small Favours”
Cedric Noel – “Nighttime (Skin)”
Marlaena Moore – “I Miss You”
Jennah Barry – “Roller Disco”
Thanya Iyer – “Always, Be Together”
Kathleen Edwards – “Glenfern”
Yves Jarvis – “Victim”

Katerina Stamadianos
sydanie – “Purple Carousel”
Prince Josh – “The Joy”
EX POM – “Allowed Here” 
Shababson, Krgovich and Harris – “Tuesday Afternoon” 
Pansy Boys – “Heart Shaped Silver Charm” 
Jonah Yano – “shoes” 
Blue Hawaii – “Not my Boss!”
Ciel – “Hope Breaks” 
Yves Jarvis – “Victim”

Michael Rancic
cry out – “Your Shame Not Mine” 
Backxwash – “Into The Void” 
crisis sigil – “away” 
Zoon – “Landscapes” 
Untradition – “40” 
LXVNDR – “Purple Punk” 
Ferrari Garden – “Currency” 
Dijah SB – “Just Be Cool”
Aquakultre – “Wife Tonight” (Remix) 
Thanya Iyer – “Alien”

Lenore Maier
Aladean Kheroufi – “Sorry if I Hurt You”
Wares –  “Tall Girl”
Marlaena Moore – “I Miss You” 
TiKA – “Sideways” 
Matthew Cardinal – “Mar 12th”
The Sadies – “The Most Despicable Man Alive”
Hot Garbage – “Easy Believer”
Lamb to Slaughter – “Taylor Jade”
Juniper Bush – “Hindsight” 
Witch Prophet -“Musa” 

Jesse Locke
Aquakultre – “I Doubt It”
U.S. Girls – “Four American Dollars”
Shababson, Krgovich and Harris – “Friday Afternoon”
TiKA – “Sideways”
Marie Davidson – “Renegade Breakdown”
Backxwash – “Stigmata” 
Scott Hardware – “Joy”
Cindy Lee – “Heavy Metal”
No Joy – “Nothing Can Hurt”
Teenanger – “Straight To Computer”

Leslie Ken Chu 
FSHKLL – “Run-Out” 
Aquakultre – “Legacy”
Alpen Glow – “DJ of Your Dreams” 
Hiroki Tanaka – “Snowdrops” 
TiKA – “Sideways”
Le Couleur – “Silenzio”
SBDC – “Every Drunk in the World”
WUT – “White Walls” 
Zoon – “Help Me Understand” 
Sadé Awele – “Take It Easy”

Tom Beedham
Lido Pimienta – “Nada”
Backxwash – “Spells”
Nap Eyes – “So Tired”
Aquakultre – “Legacy”
Nyssa – “anybodys”
Jessica Moss – “Opened Ending”
Jessy Lanza – “Anyone Around”
Indweller – “Vessel”
E-Saggila – “Cellygrin”
Matthew Progress & Joel Eel – “General Motors” 

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