25 Tracks That Defined 2020
If 2020 produced nothing else of positivity in our lives, it provided ample time to soak up new music.
With gigs, club nights, and festivals largely shuttered, our evenings were instead spent seeking out new artists, and re-visiting releases that might otherwise have passed us by.
When the Clash team began collating our Albums Of The Year list, it quickly became apparent just how fertile 2020 had really been - virtually every genre is represented, from underground jazz to nu metal via the burgeoning offshoots of UK rap.
Focussing on our favourite tracks, we decided to forego the ranking system, and simply present 25 favourite moments from this tumultuous year.
Tune in below.
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Perfume Genius - On The Floor
Like a fine wine, Mike Hadreas just gets better with age. Following 2017's ambitious 'No Shape,' 'Set My Heart On Fire Immediately' showed the world that Perfume Genius was just getting started. Heartbreakingly honest as ever, Hadreas' fifth full length also stands as a love letter to the big bombastic pop that occupied the airwaves in decades past.
The album's grooviest cut, 'On The Floor,' manages to marry lyrics on longing and pent up desire with the kind of funk Stevie Wonder was throwing out in his golden age. Every Perfume Genius song hits the soul, but as 'On the Floor' demonstrates, he's now able to get your ass moving while doing so. A melancholy soul anthem. (Sam Walker-Smart)
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Mac Miller – 'Good News'
Obstreperous sobbing and uncontrollable bouts of dancing are two qualities that are usually exclusively juxtaposed. However, due to his untimely death in 2018, Miller’s first posthumous single 'Good News' is certain to make fans do just that on every listen. Plucky guitars and throbbing gentle synths fill the track with a false sense of relaxation, a feeling not matched by Miller’s deeply painful and revealing lyrics.
'Good News' details Mac’s inner turmoil during his final days on earth and sees him coming to terms with his own mortality, before finally accepting there is “a whole lot more - waiting on the other side”; truly haunting. (Mason Meyers)
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Abra Cadabra – 'On Deck'
When Abra Cadabra dropped ‘On Deck’ in July, not even he could have predicted that it would be his biggest song since 2016’s ‘Robbery’. Back then the remix with Krept and Konan earned him a MOBO for Best Song and four years later the same nomination was given to him once again.
It’s a song that is crying out for a live performance and would have been even bigger had the clubs been open, with its thumping bassline and confrontational (and quotable) lyrics sure to have had the whole country mosh pitting in unison. The haunting instrumental from RA$H & Rxckson compliment his deep vocals, combining to create an ominous atmosphere, his flow hitting every pocket, reeling off like Tony Montana’s little friend in Scarface.
When played within the context of his mixtape, ‘Product Of My Environment’, it serves as a worthy single for a top tier project and re-establishes the north London rapper as one of the hottest in the game. (Aaron Bishop)
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Lady Gaga – Rain On Me
Ludicrously over the top and unbelievably addictive, Lady Gaga’s lead single from ‘Chromatica’ was everything she promised it would be and more. A stomping, surging piece of future-leaning pop abandon, it was tailor-made for lavish outdoor shows, festival headline slots, and award-winning ceremonies. As it was, ‘Rain On Me’ ended up soundtracking living room sessions, Zoom meetings, and socially distanced walks, but that’s OK – we’ve long known that the world doesn’t deserve Lady Gaga, and 2020 simply emphasised that. (Robin Murray)
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The 1975 - If You're Too Shy (Let Me Know)
On 'Notes On A Conditional Form', The 1975 explore every conceivable edge and corner of their sound pallet, stretching from emo, to deep house, to alt-folk throughout its mammoth 80-minute run-time. However, they have their best moment about two-thirds of the way through when they unleash 'If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)' and, in the process, produce perhaps the most “1975-sounding” song imaginable.
A heady mix of dance-pop, synth, indie, and pop-rock that shows off the best of what Matty Healy and co. and capable of, packaged around a brilliantly sing-a-long chorus and a goddamn sax solo?! It really doesn’t get much better. (Mike Watkins)
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Fontaines D.C. - Televised Mind
Influenced by The Prodigy and Brian Jonestown Massacre and fascinated by ‘Open Heart Surgery’, the Irish indie-punk band cite an interest “in extrapolating those types of chord progressions and capturing this droning, hypnotic feel.” Melodic basslines, relentless drumming and intriguing lyrics shape the surreal setting.
Tackling the echo chamber and what happens when vast approval from others strips away the personality. Their views are reinforced, resulting in the individual’s inability to feel wrong, losing the autonomy to arrive at one’s own thoughts. The line “What ya call it” is the same as “umm”, a word people in Dublin used to express distraction. (Susan Hansen)
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J Hus ft. iceé tgm - Helicopter
So much has happened since, that we sometimes forget the Farda blessed us with a near impeccable album in January. Helicopter is the standout cut. The chords of TSB’s production set the tone, dripping with an effortless cool which marries perfectly with Hus’s melodic delivery.
The track’s opening bars embody everything that is so great about Hus on 'Big Conspiracy': “Shaitan in police uniform, Feds in a helicopter, I seen pigs fly but I never seen a uniform, Tryna find cover on somebody’s front lawn.” It’s social commentary, playful and prescient all at once, from an artist who's learnt to levitate above all the bullshit. (Robert Kazandjian)
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V9 & KO - Right Or Wrong
2020 saw UK Drill become ever-more sonically expansive. V9 & KO’s Right or Wrong is the perfect example of this, taken from the Homerton Sensei’s excellent 'Yūdokuna' mixtape.
Teenage producer ES’s oriental melody and lurking bass create the atmosphere of a karate dojo. It’s the perfect backdrop for some serious lyrical sparring. V9 is an artist blessed with an impeccable ear for beats, who takes risks with the productions he chooses without watering down his forceful approach.
On 'Right Or Wrong' his aggressive, charged up attacks collide with stablemate KO’s punchline-heavy bars. Its forward-thinking Drill that never loses sight of the genre’s gritty essence. (Robert Kazandjian)
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Pa Salieu & Backroad Gee - My Family
Pa Salieu and Backroad Gee have had a great year, spearheading a genre-blurring wave of UK Rap that celebrates the nuances of African identity while remaining unmistakably British.
On the brooding Fanatix produced 'My Family', their natural chemistry and combined energy threatens to go nuclear. Pa’s generalship on the mic is in full-effect here. He’s authoritative and menacing, taunting the beat with onomatopoeic gun shots.
Backroad Gee is raucous and unpredictable, and offers the track’s most quotable bars: “Tell my babes, off her wig, We’re going to war, load up the bells.” It’s fitting, because when this goes off in the dance, it will take head-tops clean off. (Robert Kazandjian)
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India Jordan – 'For You'
Like many, taking solace in music was how I spent most of 2020, but few offered shelter quite like India Jordan’s ‘For You’. A peak time banger with more than a hint of introspection, its soaring melody and sleek sample prompts dizzy grins and a welcome, utterly cherished escape.
While it’s a shame we couldn’t share the collective joy with strangers on bustling dancefloors, no matter – it’s surely a setlist mainstay for every DJ once we’re back in our beloved sweatboxes. With ‘For You’, India Jordan bottled clubland euphoria and brought it to us when we needed it most. (Lee Wakefield)
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Ojerime – 'Give It Up 2 Me'
Written and recorded during a period of great emotional upheaval, Ojerime wove together sax and South London grit on a fever dream of a track: her sonic rejoinder exposing the grey area between intemperance and wistful euphoria. The track’s climax is its finest moment, little else in sharp focus but a harmonic acapella sliding up the scales, gradually filtering through a void, lulling the listener into a zen-like, inhibition-free zone.
‘Give It Up 2 Me’ and the accompanying mixtape 'B4 I Breakdown' continued the metamorphic transformation of Ojerime from an obscure gem to a crown jewel. (Shahzaib Hussain)
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Nick Hakim – 'Qadir'
The defining cut from Nick Hakim’s sophomore album WILL THIS MAKE ME GOOD, ‘QADIR’, is a stark and soulful remembrance of Hakim’s friend, who passed away at age 25 in 2018.
What begins as a bruised lamentation on loss: the enveloping shroud of grief and its reverberating effects on individual and community; becomes a haunting and hypnotic meditation on the enduring resonance of memories. Nick Hakim momentarily steps out from behind the reverb and the smokescreen of cogent psychedelia - the ensuing effect is salvific. (Shahzaib Hussain)
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Jadya G – 'Are U Down'
While many venerated the Canadian-born, London-based DJ’s underground hit ‘Both Of Us’ - a piano-laden paean to prototypal Chicago house - the more amorphous alternative came in the form ‘Are U Down’: where rattling hi-hats, submerged, synthetic kick drums, pitched-down vocals and breathy coos merged to form one of the most cerebral, body-talk dance releases of the year.
On ‘Are U Down’, Jayda G reminds us the dancefloor is a prized haven, a precious sanctum for nocturnal dwellers and dancers to navigate and indeed embrace, their own fragility. (Shahzaib Hussain)
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moa moa - 'Yellow Jacket'
As debut singles go, moa moa cracked the code with 'Yellow Jacket'. Psychedelic threads weave with pop sensibilities as the band introduce themselves to the world. Exploring the paranoia of love and lust whilst managing to avoid inducing the same feelings in the listener, it induces nostalgia whilst managing to navigate around the risk of being too painful a reminder of such an uncontrollable experience of youth and vulnerability.
One can only hope that going forward, their raw, DIY quality is not squandered by their success, with their only their second track, ‘Spinning’, being released via Square Leg Records. (Megan Walder)
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Tom Misch x Yussef Dayes - 'Nightrider'
‘What Kinda Music’ offered a sonically strong sound throughout the album and whilst there were several outstanding tracks, ‘Nightrider’ was one of the most significant. Aided by soft drums, a cosy synth and a mellow guitar, the single induces a desire to go on a late night cruise as indicated by its title.
Tom and Freddie complement each other beautifully and listeners can enjoy a warm, chilled collaboration between alternative UK R&B and hip-hop. As an independent, non-pop artist, Tom Misch and Yussef Dayes show that neither your genre, label (or lack thereof) define the ability to create a high quality body of work. (Tochi Imo)
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Enny – 'Peng Black Girls' remix ft Jorja Smith
Straight out of East London, ENNY has blessed us this month with a remix of her track ‘Peng Black Girls’, featuring flawless vocals from Amia Brave and the one and only Jorja Smith.
The soulful R&B track is a celebration of black women, touching upon a range of different faced issues. From cultural appropriation (“Want a fat booty like Kardashians, no / Want a fat booty like my aunty got, yo”) to lack of representation (“These black girls need to be in the shows/ Be on the runways, not just mood boards”) the track calls for change, whilst unapologetically bigging up the “Peng black girls in my area code...” (Ana Lamond)
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Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist - ‘Look At Me’
Freddie Gibbs released his storming full length project ‘Alfredo’, a critically acclaimed album that undoubtedly ranks as one of the finest Stateside hip-hop releases in 2020. The project hinges on his relationship with producer and close friend The Alchemist – the two understand one another, and this allows them to take daring risks.
Moving from introspection to braggadocio within seconds, ‘Look At Me’ epitomises their quicksilver approach – a micro-manifesto for the project as a whole, it’s a thrilling ride, one that shows Freddie Gibbs effortlessly moving into a new league. (Robin Murray)
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Victoria Monét - Experience
“They just don’t make them like this anymore” is a phrase that is far too often attributed to lazy new releases that remain beholden to past trends in a way that is far too cynical for anyone to take seriously. In very rare cases, however, it really is true that an artist creates something new that treads the middle ground of the past and the future so well that you can’t help but just sit back and be in awe of it.
Victoria Monét’s remarkable song 'Experience' is one such lightning bolt. Flanked by production whizkid SG Lewis and everyman crooner Khalid, Monét creates something so ear wormy, so mindbogglingly wonderful that it is genuinely difficult to find the words to do it justice. A bassline straight out of the best of 70s funk, vocals that are utterly angelic, and a central rhythm that feels like it taps into the very core of humanity.
It’s a proper groover and one that 2020 would have been even more unbearable without. (Mike Watkins)
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Don Toliver – ‘After Party’
Pushing a distinct and high-octane sound through the bustling vibrations of both R&B and rap, Don Toliver, over the past year has captured global recognition for his signature woozy tone. Paying ode to his rising success, 'After Party', taken from his debut album ‘Heaven or Hell’, is undoubtedly a stand-out track from 2020.
Boasting his ability to create infectious hooks, the Houston-native navigates his way through a fun-filled night to remember. Enriched from start to finish with rolling 808’s, a heavy bass and anthemic lyrics, Don Toliver formulated the perfect track that will have you ready for a night out! (Elle Evans)
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Charlotte Day Wilson – Take Care Of You
Plenty of songs have been written about pining for someone in the middle of the night, but rarely have they been as sensuous as this.
Over a steady, almost soporific groove, Canadian torch singer Charlotte Day Wilson and The Internet’s Sydney Bennett pour their hearts out, though never in a way that’s overwrought or histrionic. Instead, Wilson’s beautifully understated croon and Bennett’s delicately scratchy vocals impart feelings of devotion and longing, with a subplot of intoxicating lust threatening to break the surface.
A heady mix of lo-fi soul and alternative R&B that reaches another plain when the distorted drums kick in towards the end, ‘Take Care Of You’ is a stunningly mature and affecting work. (Joe Rivers)
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Fiona Apple - Ladies
Fiona Apple’s career has long been defined by acts of confrontation - against the music industry, a myriad of disappointing men, and even herself. On ‘Ladies’, the striking centrepiece of her acclaimed fifth album, she seeks solidarity, asking the women who may go on to date her ex to not see each other as enemies.
"No love is like any other love/so it would be insane to make a comparison with you," she bellows as the song reaches its climax. On an album of daring experimentation, it was Apple’s willingness to seek out a kinder, more generous world that felt like her boldest statement. (Conrad Duncan)
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Jessie Ware - What’s Your Pleasure?
The standout single on Jessie Ware’s luxurious fourth album takes her talent for brooding sensuality and applies it to the dancefloors of 80s New York. Backed by pulsating synths and groaning guitars, Ware reimagines herself as a lascivious disco diva calling on a lover to satisfy her. Her vision of pleasure is a multifaceted thing (“Push, press, more, less”) and most importantly, it is a thing to be shared.
While some artists turned sex into a circus this year, she celebrated it as an intimate, maybe even transcendent, thing. To paraphrase Marvin Gaye, exciting stuff if you’re lucky. (Conrad Duncan)
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Cardi B ft Megan Thee Stallion - WAP
Who would have thought that one of the most musically defining moments this year would stem from the empowering feminist words from both Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion with 'WAP'.
Whilst I'm pretty sure "THERE'S SOME WHORE'S IN THIS HOUSE" was belted from the top of everyone's lungs this summer, the No. 1 single has put women owning their bodies and their WAP's at the forefront of music and rightfully so. Whilst we wait for Cardi's second album, let's embrace the rest of 2020 (thank God it's almost over) with our WAPs and hands in the air! (Shakeena Johnson)
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Dizzee Rascal ft Ocean Wisdom - ‘Don’t Be Dumb’
Grime veteran Dizzee Rascal and Ocean Wisdom merge forces on this terrific track ‘Don’t Be Dumb’ straight off of this year’s highly anticipated album, ‘E3 AF’.
The dark, atmospheric production sets off the two lyrical champions into a ridiculous back and forth of ruthless flows and bars, setting the levels astonishingly high for the rap scene. The two artists share this menacing beat to display the art of MC’ing in its true form and its ferocious pace is bound to get your heart racing. Indeed, ‘it’s Dizzee and Wizzy / we get hella busy’ is something no one can argue this year. (Ana Lamond)
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Christine and the Queens – People, I’ve been sad
Lockdown’s true Gallic queen, Chris delivered not only an EP of new material but a bonus collection of remixes, too. That’s notwithstanding her activism, and her regular IG Live performances, all of which helped offer bright sparks amid the year’s ongoing murk.
‘People, I’ve been sad’ offers Christine and the Queens at her most riveting, a slo-mo slice of 80s leaning digi-pop that seems to wring the maximum emotional impact from every single note. Dulcet and refulgent, it felt like a long-awaited phone call from an old friend, or an unexpected letter in the post. A shoulder to cry on when we most needed it, ‘People, I’ve been sad’ was one of 2020’s real moments of pop empathy. (Robin Murray)
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