I’m counting down my 100 favorite songs of the year. Just a reminder that I only include each artist once on the list in order to share the love.
50 Social Ambitions – “Do You Remember the First Time?”
Swedish duo Social Ambitions mine classic synthpop vibes, but their song “Do You Remember the First Time?” is decidedly 2020. It’s an infectious, melancholic tune that opens with a blast of electronic charm, then quickly reminds us, “They closed down the bar.”
49 Klack – “Faith in Me”
Klack, the Wisconsin duo made up of Null Device’s Eric Oehler and Caustic’s Matt Fanale, are masters at melding their broad musical influences into one cohesive, modern sound. “Faith in Me” is a fun track from their excellent Probably EP. I love the way it combines Belgian New Beat with traditional synthpop song structure.
48 ES23 – “Only Melodies Remain”
“Only Melodies Remain,” the title track from ES23’s fourth studio album, contains trancey electronics and pure vocals that are the hallmarks of futurepop, a sharp contrast from their earlier aggrotech sound. They’ve evolved with exquisite production and strong melodies.
47 Bootblacks – “Traveling Light”
“Traveling Light” is the first single from Bootblacks’ 2020 album, Thin Skies, and it has a fiery, propulsive beat that would feel right at home on a gloomy, smoke-filled dancefloor. I honestly can’t tell if that’s a drum machine or a kit. Jason Corbett of ACTORS produced, and you can sense his polished post-punk gloss.
46 X Marks the Pedwalk – “Sunrise”
“Sunrise” might just be the bounciest track from X Marks the Pedwalk’s tenth studio album, Transformation, which features a more minimal approach to their post-hiatus sound. The superbly crafted song pumps along with a steady beat and twisting futurepop sounds that recall Covenant’s brighter moments, but it’s the optimistic, “new day” message that really resonates with me.
45 Provision – “Still”
Provision is a dark electro band from Houston, Texas, whose latest album, Hearts Turn Dark, includes this head-bopping jam that piles of layers of contrasting electro sound. There are twinkling keys and fiery pads that seem to collide on top of each other, and I love the whispery sound of “still” that pummels the chorus: “You’re still the one.”
44 Kiss of the Whip – “Be Mine”
I love when Kiss of the Whip goes full-on synth. “Be Mine” retains the Baltimore project’s dark, post-punk vibe, but it’s driven by pulsating electronics that give his music a unique and compelling sound. Some of the verses on this contain growly, aggrotech-style vocals that add another dimension to the song.
43 Night Club – “Die in the Disco”
Night Club released two fun singles (“Miss Negativity” and “Gossip”) from their 2020 album, but I am weirdly drawn to another track, “Die in the DIsco.” Maybe it’s because I haven’t been to a club in nearly a year now, but these lyrics really speak to me: “Take me to a place where I can dance until I’m dead.” I even love the weird and fabulously queeny interpolation of Lesley Gore’s “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to.”
42 Velvet Kills – “Bitch Face”
“Bitch Face” is a dark, seductive song from the Lisbon band Velvet Kills. If those lyrics aren’t filthy enough for you (“I’ve got your head between my…”), check out the NSFW music video.
41 BlueForge – “Fading & Fall”
BlueForge is a brand new synthpop duo from Berlin. “Fading & Fall,” a track from their debut album called Pre-Star, is a catchy synthpop tune that showcases singer RooDee’s deep, romantic voice.
40 Erotic Elk (feat. Karin My) – “Watching You”
Swedish synthpop band Erotic Elk released one of my favorite songs last year, “The Living Pain.” It was their only song in 2019, and “Watching You” is their only song in 2020. Likewise, it’s also breathy and gorgeous. Karin My provides harmonies on the chorus. I am so ready for these guys to release another full-length.
39 State of the Union – “Behind that Dress”
The hugely underrated LA band State of the Union is no stranger to big concepts. His 2018 masterpiece, “LA Soldier,” a song about people experiencing homelessness, is just one of many time’s he’s tackled socio-political issues with profound grace and consequence. He does it again in 2020. “Behind that Dress” is a feminist anthem about women’s potential being snuffed out by male objectification and violence.
38 Frozen Plasma – “Sailor”
On Frozen Plasma’s fourth studio full-length, Gezeiten, which translates to tides, the German futurepop duo takes on a nautical theme that represents the ebbs and flows of life. The best tracks on the album are the ones like “Sailor” and “Nautic” that tackle the nautical theme head-on.
37 Minuit Machine – “Don’t Run From the Fire”
Minuit Machine bring intense, dark power to their latest release. “Don’t Run From the Fire” is the sound of a strobe light illuminating a darkened corner, as mysterious vocals command you to “FIGHT.”
36 Vaylon – “Ghost”
I absolutely adore Vaylon’s “Ghost” and not just because my dear friend Jennifer wrote the lyrics. It’s a gentle, mesmerizing tune full of haunting beauty, and Ole Jensen sings it beautifully. When the chorus builds, you can feel the song and yourself soaring.
35 Eisfabrik – “A Better Way”
Germany’s frosty futurepop kings Eisfabrik released a ton of new music in 2020, including their fifth studio album. It might be surprising that my pick from them is a deeper cut from a remix EP, but “A Better Way” takes Eisfabrik boldly forward. They forgo the snow and ice tropes they typically sing about to tackle humanity head-on with poignant lyrics about overcoming our differences. Bravo.
34 Ruined Conflict (feat. Henrik Iversen) – “The Silent Ones”
Ruined Conflict, the electronic music project fronted by Xavier Morales, was busy this year. Among the many songs and remixes he produced, “The Silent Ones” might just be my favorite things he’s ever done. The song is a call for peace, a nice sentiment given the state of the world this year, with vocals from none other than the legendary voice of NamNamBulu, Henrik Iversen.
33 We the North – “†††”
I’ve been calling this song “Crosses” because I’m not sure how to pronounce its actual title, “†††,” but it’s my favorite track I’ve ever heard from Johan Hansson’s “nordic noir” project. The music is incredibly atmospheric with dense layers of electronic sound that vibrate atop one other, and Johan’s vocals are simply gorgeous.
32 Voicecoil – “Nostalgia Trap”
COVID-19 restrictions made us incredibly nostalgic for nightlife in 2020, and no song more explicitly channeled that longing than Voicecoil’s “Nostalgia Trap.” In fact, the song’s verses reference specific club hits of yesteryear from VNV Nation (“Tell me did you carry a sword?”), Covenant (“Tell me did you make ritual noise?”), Apop (“Tell me did you wait for the signs?”), and more. This song made us all dream of better times.
31 System Syn – “Knives”
LA-based electro artist System Syn got a fresh start in 2020. He left long-time label Metropolis Records and independently released his latest album, the appropriately titled Once Upon A Second Act. He comes out swinging on “Knives,” the album’s heavy-hitting club track.
30 Seeming – “End Studies”
“End Studies” is the menacing, industrial harangue from The Birdwatcher’s Guide to Atrocity, Seeming’s of-the-moment third album. The always prescient Alex Reed delivers some of my favorite lyrics of the year: “The future will be borderless and red and queer and bold.” He is not fucking around.
29 Neuroactive – “Dances”
I have a very strong sense that “Dances” would have been the biggest club hit of the year. This dance floor banger is from Neuroactive’s Minor Side-Effects album, but the single release came with remixes from top names like Assemblage 23, Aiboforcen, Aesthetische, and more.
28 She Hates Emotions – “See the Light”
Chris Pohl, the very famous frontman of German band Blutengel, embraced vintage synthpop for his latest side-project, She Hates Emotions. “See the Light,” the project’s debut, is an incredible pastiche of gloom and ’80s minimal synths. He even sings the era’s trademark “whoa oh oh”s that call to mind Laura Branigan’s “Self Control.”
27 Blackbook – “People are Fake”
Blackbook is a mysterious new band from Switzerland (I know who they are, but I’m not saying!). Prior to this year, they released two lovely, bright tunes, but in 2020, they dropped a fucking nuclear bomb. “People Are Fake” calls everybody out (your fans, your friends, your favorite bands). It’s full of piss and vinegar, and it’s got a damn fine beat.
26 Ashbury Heights – “Spectres from the Black Moss”
Dark synthpop duo Ashbury Heights returned in 2020 with a compelling new song called “Spectres From The Black Moss” that has a slinky, sinister beat and a haunted vibe. Those lyrics are strange and compelling, but I believe it’s about struggling with mental illness—there are references to panic attacks and the prescription drug Atarax.