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.
100 best synthpop songs of 2020: 100 to 76
75 Vandal Moon – “Hurt”
“Hurt” is a sexy thumper and the standout track from Vandal Moon’s excellent 2020 album, Black Kiss. During the chorus, vocalist Blake Voss drops his voice into a lower registry when he sings the final line: “I am bloody baby I am real.” It gives the song an extra darkwave oomph.
74 The Mobile Homes – “Mirror”
“Mirror” is from Sweden’s stalwart synthpop act The Mobile Homes. It starts with playful electronic keys and then just piles on. Stuttering electronics. A sublime New Order-esque synthline. Gorgeous vocals with just a hint of Neil Tennant influence. It’s a perfect synthpop song.
73 Technophobia – “Rattle in Your Chest”
My partner had to correct me about Technophobia’s “Rattle in Your Chest.” I thought it was a lovesong… he loves her so much his chest rattles, dahhhh. But he quickly pointed out the lines about counting scars and tossing dirt on his grave. There are elements of empowerment and revenge that make this song feel really mysterious. We could just ask Technophobia what they intended (they live in our neighborhood), but the poetic license is part of what makes this song so special.
72 Elezoria – “Temporary”
Elezoria is gloomy, ice-cold darkwave from Russia that has drawn comparisons to Diary of Dreams. Those deep vocals are delivered straight from hell. “Temporary” is a beautiful beat-and-organ track that covers the fragility of life.
71 Beyond Obsession – “Speaking of a Devil”
Germany’s Beyond Obsession delivers gorgeous harmonies and catchy lyrics on this electropop classic. “Speaking of a Devil” is the second single and standout track from their great 2020 album Revolution From Below.
70 ACTORS – “Love U More”
In 2018, ACTORS released both my favorite album, It Will Come to You, and song (“We Don’t Have to Dance”), so I’ve been patiently waiting for the follow-up. “Love U More” adds more female vocals and amps up the synths, giving their brand of polished post-punk a strong synthpop sheen. It’s a great first taste of the new album to come in 2021.
69 Talk to Her – “Ibisco”
If you like it when the rock band Editors cranks up the synths (like on their big hit “Papillon”), then you’re going to love Talk to Her. “Ibisco,” from the Italian post-punk act’s debut album, is a frenzied blast of electro-rock that demands to know where the hell have you been while I’m over here falling apart.
68 Trevor Something – “You Are My Obsession”
Trevor Something is the darling of the synthwave scene, but I think he overcomes the genre’s neon grid trappings with strong vocals and verse-chorus-verse pop song structure. The vocals on “You Are My Obsession” practically ooze out of him, which gives the song a dark, chilling vibe. I don’t really care what genre it is, it’s fantastic.
67 Uncreated (feat. Robert Enforsen & Elegant Machinery) – “Leaving Now”
On “Leaving Now,” Uncreated’s Patrik Hansson overcomes an observation I noted last year that he sounds a lot like Mark Hockings from Mesh. He still sounds fantastic, and he continues to deliver some of the best choruses in modern synthpop.
66 Octolab – “Aim for His Head”
It’s hard for me to divorce the “Aim for His Head” video from the song because it’s such a kick-ass video, one of my top 10 favorite music videos of the year. Octolab’s lyrics paint a detailed portrait of the storyline, but that thrilling beat makes the song capable of standing on its own.
65 MORE – “Constant Loop”
The electrified buh-bopbop synth motif that runs throughout MORE’s “Constant Loop” is the heart of the song and its killer feature, but it also has an incredible melody and an extremely catchy chorus. Their full-length debut album is out this Friday.
64 IAMTHESHADOW – “Lifeless”
IAMTHESHADOW is a darkwave project from Portugal who released their fourth album this year. On their single “Lifeless,” electronic sounds warp across a thumping beat, which creates a bleak, riveting atmosphere.
63 Lebanon Hanover – “The Last Thing”
I must admit I’m a latecomer to Lebanon Hanover. Their brand of bass guitar-driven post-punk just hasn’t penetrated my sphere of musical influence. But the doom-sounding beat of “The Last Thing” sure caught my attention. Guitars are still present, but they blend superbly with William Maybelline’s glowing synths. And Larissa Iceglass’s final haunting line could be the question of 2020: “Did we connect deep enough?”
62 Solar Fake – “This Pretty Life”
“This Pretty Life” is the first single from Solar Fake’s forthcoming album, Enjoy Dystopia. It all seems like a fairly standard dark synth song until the chorus blasts off with twirling stabs of electronic noise and Sven Friedrich’s amped up vocals about not fitting in.
61 Clan of Xymox – “All I Ever Know”
With 17 albums under their grommet-laced belt, Clan of Xymox might just be the longest-running band in darkwave. “All I Ever Know” is one of several singles they released from this year’s Spider on the Wall album, but it’s my favorite for the playful energy that the synthesizers bring.
60 My Love Kills – “Silent Scream”
My Love Kills, an electronic duo comprised of V.V. Arkames from Ad Inferna and Fredrik Sigeback from Erotic Elk, creates a hybrid of music that falls somewhere between Skinny Puppy-style aggressive electro and present-day futurepop. You can hear it play out on “Silent Scream,” my favorite track from their double album Imitatio Dei.
59 Priest – “I Believe in You”
“I Believe in You” has a filthy, knob-twisting bassline that differentiates it from everything else on Cyberhead, Priest’s second album and the first since original singer Tom Åsberg (AKA Ginger Khan) left the band to pursue other projects. Priest puppetmaster Linton Rubino has taken over vocals, and on this track he’s got the confidence and swagger that made their first album a dark, deviant underground hit.
58 Linea Aspera – “Solar Flare”
It’s impossible for me not to love “Solar Flare,” the first track off Linea Aspera’s much-heralded return from hiatus. The spirited arpeggios owe a tremendous debt to The Knife’s “Silent Shout” (a song I worship), and Alison Lewis’s languid and oft-imitated vocals touch on a favorite topic of mine, Homer’s mythology (“I saw it on the shores of Ithaca,” she sings).
57 The Birthday Massacre – “The Last Goodbye”
Whenever The Birthday Massacre announces new music, I never know if we’re going to get guitar-oriented deathrock or synth-driven jams. “The Last Goodbye” is a little bit of both, though the synths take lead on this catchy, energetic track from their latest album, Diamonds. There are lovely vocals, even lovelier tempo changes, and a big guitar solo that crashes the finale.
56 MATTE BLVCK – “Pure”
MATTE BLVCK is a new band from San Diego that absolutely kills it on their debut single, a propulsive song called “Pure” that contains strong, introspective vocals. There’s a soothing yet frenetic dichotomy to this track that I really enjoy. Their full-length debut album just dropped a few weeks ago.
55 Panic Priest – “Nighthunter”
Panic Priest’s “Lonely City” made my list of the 10 best videos of the year for capturing our year of isolation, but I actually like “Nighthunter” more. It’s a quivering, seductive darkwave track with clever interplay between guitar and synths. Plus, it’s about hooking up in the wee hours of the night, which makes it feel kinda naughty.
54 Apoptygma Berzerk – “Soma Coma”
Apoptygma Berzerk doesn’t like to settle into one style of electro for too long. “Soma Coma,” a very catchy track from their Nein Danke! EP, is yet another evolution of their sound, but it goes retro. The track features an analog-driven beat and old-school synthpop melodies. That opening is pure 242.
53 Ulver – “Machine Guns and Peacock Feathers”
Ulver namechecks the original Blade Runner novel about halfway through “Machine Guns & Peacock Feathers,” but that’s not even the weirdest thing about it. The lyrics list a bunch of seemingly random things: computers, dragons, democracy, Icarus. I’m not really sure what to make of this proggy synthpop jam, but I’m completely mesmerized every time I play it.
52 Agency-V – “Never Meant to Be”
Agency-V formed in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic and quickly released a four-song EP that includes this gem, “Never Meant to Be.” It’s an electronic rock powerhouse that features fantastic female vocals and a driving, energetic sound.
51 Blutengel & Massive Ego – “Nothing But a Void”
What an incredible combination of artists. I might be overthinking it (I do that!), but there’s something I find really special about Blutengel’s Chris Pohl, who counts many women admirers among his fanbase, and Massive Ego’s Marc Massive, who is a powerful gay voice on the scene, delivering the same lovelorn message: Without you, I’m nothing but a void. It feels representative of all relationships, queer or otherwise. Plus, it’s just a killer song.