AF 2020 IN REVIEW: Our Favorite Albums & Singles of The Year

In a year that’s been like no other for the music industry, it feels a bit weird to make a best of 2020 list – there have been no tours, venues and clubs across the globe are in danger of closing their doors for good, release schedules were shuffled beyond recognition, and musicians have had to find other ways to make ends meet while those in the U.S. await the next round of paltry stimulus checks. With a situation so dire, the metrics have changed – should we ascribe arbitrary value to the skill of producers, songwriters, performers, and the execution of their finished projects, or simply celebrate records that made us feel like the whole world wasn’t crumbling?

Definitively ranking releases has never been the Audiofemme model for looking back on the year in music. Instead, our writers each share a short list of what moved them most, in the hopes that our readers will find something that moves them, too. Whether you spent the lockdown voraciously listening to more new music this year than ever before, or fell back on comforting favorites, or didn’t have the headspace to absorb the wealth of music inspired by the pandemic, the variety here emphasizes how truly essential music can be to our well-being. If you’re in the position to do so, support your favorite artists and venues by buying merch, and check out the National Independent Venue Association to stay updated on what’s happening with the Save Our Stages act. Here’s to a brighter 2021.


  • Marianne White (Executive Director)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Mary Lattimore – Silver Ladders
      2) the Microphones – Microphones in 2020
      3) Soccer Mommy – Color Theory
      4) Megan Thee Stallion – Good News
      5) Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
      6) Amaarae – The Angel You Don’t Know
      7) Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
      8) Adrianne Lenker – songs/instrumentals
      9) Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
      10) Lomelda – Hannah
    • Top 5 Singles:
      1) Kinlaw – “Permissions”
      2) Billie Eilish – “Therefore I Am”
      3) Little Dragon & Moses Sumney – “The Other Lover”
      4) Yves Tumor – “Kerosene!”
      5) Megan Thee Stallion – “Shots Fired”

  • Lindsey Rhoades (Editor-in-Chief)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Land of Talk – Indistinct Conversations
      2) Dehd – Flower of Devotion
      3) SAULT – Untitled (Black Is)/Untitled (Rise)
      4) Public Practice – Gentle Grip
      5) Cindy Lee – What’s Tonight to Eternity
      6) Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
      7) Benny Yurco – You Are My Dreams
      8) Eve Owen – Don’t Let the Ink Dry
      9) Porridge Radio – Every Bad
      10) Jess Cornelius – Distance
    • Top 10 Singles:
      1) Little Hag – “Tetris”
      2) Elizabeth Moen – “Creature of Habit”
      3) Yo La Tengo – “Bleeding”
      4) Caribou – “Home”
      5) Jess Williamson – “Pictures of Flowers”
      6) Adrianne Lenker – “anything”
      7) Nicolás Jaar – “Mud”
      8) Soccer Mommy – “Circle the Drain”
      9) New Fries – “Ploce”
      10) El Perro Del Mar – “The Bells”


  • Alexa Peters (Playing Seattle)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Deep Sea Diver – Impossible Weight
      2) Blimes and Gab – Talk About It
      3) Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
      4) Tomo Nakayama – Melonday
      5) Matt Gold – Imagined Sky
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Stevie Wonder – “Can’t Put it in the Hands of Fate”
      2) Tomo Nakayama – “Get To Know You”
      3) Ariana Grande – “Positions”

  • Amanda Silberling (Playing Philly)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Frances Quinlan – Likewise
      2) Bartees Strange – Live Forever
      3) Told Slant – Point the Flashlight and Walk
      4) Diet Cig – Do You Wonder About Me?
      5) Shamir – Shamir
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Kississippi – “Around Your Room”
      2) Sad13 – “Hysterical”
      3) The Garages – “Mike Townsend (Is a Disappointment)”

  • Ashley Prillaman (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
      2) Lasse Passage – Sunwards
      3) Megan Thee Stallion – Good News
      4) Grimes – Miss Anthropocene
      5) Yves Tumor – Heaven To A Tortured Mind
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Megan Thee Stallion – “B.I.T.C.H.”
      2) Perfume Genius – “On the Floor”
      3) SG Lewis & Robyn – “Impact” (feat. Robyn & Channel Tres)

  • Cat Woods (Playing Melbourne)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Jarvis Cocker – Beyond the Pale
      2) Róisín Murphy – Róisín Machine
      3) Run the Jewels – RTJ4
      4) Emma Donovan & The Putbacks – Crossover
      5) Various Artists – Deadly Hearts: Walking Together
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Emma Donovan & The Putbacks – “Mob March”
      2) Laura Veirs – “Freedom Feeling”
      3) Miley Cyrus – “Never Be Me”

  • Chaka V. Grier (Playing Toronto)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas
      2) Joya Mooi – Blossom Carefully
      3) Lady Gaga – Chromatica
      4) Witch Prophet – DNA Activation
      5) Tremendum – Winter
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Lianne La Havas – “Green Papaya”
      2) Lady Gaga – “Free Woman”
      3) Allie X – “Susie Save Your Love”

  • Cillea Houghton (Playing Nashville)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Chris Stapleton  – Starting Over
      2) Brett Eldredge – Sunday Drive
      3) Little Big Town – Nightfall
      4) Ingrid Andress – Lady Like
      5) Ruston Kelly – Shape & Destroy
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) The Weeknd – “Blinding Lights”
      2) Billie Eilish – “Therefore I Am”
      3) Remi Wolf  – “Hello Hello Hello”

  • Eleanor Forrest (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Grimes – Miss Anthropocene
      2) Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA
      3) Allie X – Cape Cod
      4) LEXXE – Meet Me in the Shadows
      5) Gustavo Santaolalla, Mac Quayle – The Last of Us Part II (Original Soundtrack)
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) CL – “+5 STAR+”
      2) Yves Tumor & Kelsey Lu – “let all the poisons that lurk in the mud seep out”
      3)  Stephan Moccio – “Freddie’s Theme”

  • Gillian G. Gaar (Musique Boutique)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Dust Bowl Faeries – Plague Garden
      2) Ganser – Just Look At That Sky
      3) Oceanator – Things I Never Said
      4) Loma – Don’t Shy Away
      5) Maggie Herron – Your Refrain
      6) Pretenders – Hate for Sale
      7) The Bird and the Bee – Put up the Lights
      8) Partner – Never Give Up
      9) Bully – Sugaregg
      10) Olivia Awbrey – Dishonorable Harvest

  • Jason Scott (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Mickey Guyton – Bridges EP
      2) Katie Pruitt – Expectations
      3) Mandy Moore – Silver Landings
      4) Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
      5) Cf Watkins – Babygirl
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Mickey Guyton – “Black Like Me”
      2) Ashley McBryde – “Stone”
      3) Lori McKenna feat. Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose – “When You’re My Age”

  • Jamila Aboushaca (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
      2) Khruangbin – Mordechai
      3) Kid Cudi – Man on the Moon III: The Chosen
      4) Tycho – Simulcast
      5) Run the Jewels – RTJ4
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Tame Impala – “Lost In Yesterday”
      2) Phoebe Bridgers – “Kyoto”
      3) Halsey – “You should be sad”

  • Liz Ohanesian (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Róisín Murphy – Róisín Machine
      2) Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?
      3) Phenomenal Handclap Band – PHB
      4) Khruangbin – Mordechai
      5) TootArd – Migrant Birds
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Anoraak – “Gang” 
      2) Kylie Minogue – “Magic”
      3) Horsemeat Disco feat. Phenomenal Handclap Band – “Sanctuary”  

  • Michelle Rose (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
      2) Taylor Swift – folklore
      3) Shamir – Shamir
      4) Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?
      5) HAIM – Women in Music Pt. III
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Porches – “I Miss That” 
      2) Annabel Jones – “Spiritual Violence”
      3) Wolf – “High Waist Jeans”  

  • Sara Barron (Playing Detroit)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Summer Walker – Over It
      2) Yaeji – WHAT WE DREW
      3) Liv.e – Couldn’t Wait to Tell You
      4) Ojerime – B4 I Breakdown
      5) KeiyaA – Forever, Ya Girl
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Yves Tumor – “Kerosene!”
      2) Kali Uchis, Jhay Cortez – “la luz (fin)”
      3) fleet.dreams – “Selph Love”

  • Sophia Vaccaro (Playing the Bay)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now
      2) The Front Bottoms – In Sickness & In Flames
      3) Zheani – Zheani Sparkes EP
      4) Various Artists – Save Stereogum: A ’00s Covers Comp
      5) Halsey – Manic
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Charli XCX – “forever”
      2) Doja Cat – “Boss Bitch”
      3) Wolf – “Hoops”

  • Suzannah Weiss (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Galantis – Church
      2) Best Coast – Always Tomorrow
      3) Overcoats – The Fight
      4) Holy Motors – Horse
      5) Suzanne Vallie – Love Lives Where Rules Die
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) CAMÍNA – “Cinnamon”
      2) Naïka – “African Sun”
      3) Edoheart – “Original Sufferhead”

  • Tarra Thiessen (RSVP Here, Check the Spreadsheet)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Brigid Dawson & The Mothers Network – Ballet of Apes
      2) Ganser – Just Look At That Sky
      3) Death Valley Girls – Under The Spell of Joy
      4) The Koreatown Oddity – Little Dominiques Nosebleed
      5) Ghost Funk Orchestra – An Ode To Escapism
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Miss Eaves – “Belly Bounce”
      2) Purple Witch of Culver – “Trig”
      3) Shilpa Ray – “Heteronormative Horseshit Blues”

  • Victoria Moorwood (Playing Cincy)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Lil Baby – My Turn
      2) A$AP Ferg – Floor Seats II
      3) Polo G – The Goat
      4) The Weeknd – After Hours
      5) Teyana Taylor – The Album
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion – “WAP”
      2) Roddy Ricch  – “The Box”
      3) Big Sean & Nipsey Hussle – “Deep Reverence”

CF Watkins Finds Beauty in Longing with “Come Around” Video Premiere

Photo Credit: Griffin Hart Davis

For pop-Americana singer-songwriter Cf Watkins, 2020 has been a catalyst for big changes. She left New York, where she’d lived for nine years, to ride out the pandemic in her North Carolina hometown with her parents. Six months into the ordeal, her relationship began to unravel – but Watkins quickly met someone else: her dog, Clara. “The day after he left North Carolina, Clara just kind of showed up,” she says with a smile. “I was sitting on the porch, you know, post-breakup crying. [My parents] live in the middle of nowhere and she just appeared out of the woods and sat next to me and, long story short, never left.” Clara was the perfect sign – it was time to move forward. She headed to Nashville, where she’s currently holed up with her pup and a guitar, contemplating her next moves.

In the midst of it all, Cf Watkins released her latest album, Babygirl, in October. She worked with producer and multi-instrumentalist Max Hart (The War On Drugs, Katy Perry, Melissa Etheridge) on the record for three years, over many trips back and forth from New York to LA, where Hart lives. They met through friends in Brooklyn; Max wanted to record some country covers and was looking for a singer. Watkins jokes that she wasn’t the brash, brassy Southern voice he’d originally envisioned, but during recording, her more subtle approach grew on him.

“That kind of connection with someone, it is almost as mystical as a romantic connection,” she says. “It’s just as rare to have a creative partnership where it just feels like you get each other. You get how to challenge each other and you get how to bring out the best in each other. We are so different in the way we think and create but it just works.”

Babygirl is all about personal connections, particularly those outside of romantic relationships, which are rarely examined in song. But there’s one outlier – “Come Around.” The song digs into feelings of inadequacy, something Watkins hesitated to bring to this album. “I felt really conflicted about putting it on the record, only because it didn’t feel like it fit with my vision for what I wanted the record to be; which was empowered,” she confesses. “That song was coming from not feeling in my power.”

The video, shot in a warehouse in North Carolina, echoes the sentiment of powerlessness. Watkins drops, seemingly from a dark sky, into nothingness. She roams quietly through empty white voids, which echo her words back at her. Griffin Hart Davis produced the music video, pulling Watkins into his world of ethereal spaces, where lighting grabs focus, allowing the audience to meditate almost solely on the focal point: Watkins herself.

“How do you feel about trampolines?” Griffin asked her before the shoot; the video was planned as a production “extra,” created in between snapping Babygirl press photos. Watkins says the challenge was to “make something beautiful with a short amount of time and a short amount of funds,” and they didn’t waste time on set. “Come Around” reveals a feeling of tenderness, a soreness to the touch; the delicate, complicated nature that anchors Cf Watkins’ music.

“I write songs when I am longing for something, for better or for worse,” she says of her work. While those themes remain pretty subtle on Babygirl, “Come Around” is more overt in its examination of love gone awry. “Come around, come around/I been to all my friends and I think things could be different if you come around, come around,” Watkins croons. “Tell me baby, what can I do?”

Her music is seemingly autobiographical, but she doesn’t agree with the label. “What is autobiographical?” Watkins muses. “It is coming through me, it’s my perspective of it. It is how it made me feel. When are you playing a character and when are you not playing a character? Sometimes I feel like in my day-to-day life I’m playing more of a character than when I’m performing. I definitely play certain roles in my friend group, at my day job. It’s almost harder to divorce yourself from the characters we play in our daily life so that you can actually be more honest in the music.”

Watkins grew up running around back woods in North Carolina, humming music to herself as she whizzed past pine trees. The landscape, wild and rural, shaped her personality, and allowed her to explore identities beyond any one defined character. “A name is given to you and you put on your personality. You create a personality throughout your life to find your place in the world and in a conversation and in a friend group and in school. I’ve never really loved my name: Caitlin. I’ve never fully connected with it. I don’t feel like it reflects how I feel about myself,” Watkins says candidly. “I think, for me, Cf Watkins got be who I am when I’m, as cheesy as it sounds, my more pure self, who I am when I’m alone.”

Watkins says there’s a hidden benefit to using her initials, too. “I did appreciate the androgyny of it. I appreciated that if someone heard, ‘Have you listened to Cf Watkins?’ they wouldn’t immediately know what my gender was,” she explains. “[It] takes away that unconscious bias – which may be a reflection of my own insecurities – but I think it was also helpful to separate who I am in my day-to-day life from who I am as an artist and as a performer. It does allow me to let go of some of my insecurities and to think of it as who I am to be, rather than just who I am every day. I don’t know why names make a difference, but it does feel different.”

Watkins has been performing since her mid-teens, finally releasing her debut album, I Am New, in 2016. Though New York’s city streets inspired her, she was surprised at how much her writing bent back toward home, particularly songs on Babygirl like “Changeable,” “Dogwood,” and “Westville.” “A lot of the album came from a place of homesickness,” Watkins said. “I love New York so much – I’m so grateful for it, and it’s magical – but I do feel like a visitor in it in a lot of ways. And I think that is what makes it so beautiful. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been there – it doesn’t belong to you. It’s something that’s constantly changing and there is a comfort in that as well, but I think that moving to New York made me feel more connected to North Carolina in a way. You don’t realize that connection stays with you.”

Watkins’ songs almost never start with words. “It’s too cerebral for me then – I get too in my head and it becomes a puzzle,” she says. “Most of my songs start with a feeling.” She plays guitar until she finds something that naturally matches that feeling; she hums, recording variations of sound on the voice memos app on her phone. “Come Around” is the oldest song on the record, something Watkins feels is a reminder of progress. “It is this piece of my past. Maybe it’s helpful to see the growth – going from a person who wrote ‘Come Around’ to writing ‘Baby Girl’, the last song on the record,” she says.

She and Hart are already discussing a new record, but it’s hard to pinpoint when they’ll be able to get to work on one. For now, Watkins is trying to write without an end goal in mind; she’s returned to writing for herself, like she did when she was a young girl humming to herself in the backwoods of Carolina. Back then, the songs were just a part of intuitive therapy, a way of working through emotions. They didn’t have a finish line. She feels much the same about her current home, set in a strange city where she knows no one.

“I am here because everything else sort of just fell apart and [Nashville] is where I landed,” Watkins says. “I don’t know how long I’ll be here. I think the beautiful thing about the pandemic is, you have to be in the present moment. I feel a little anxious that [I’m] completely unable to plan for my future or to know what I want… if I want to live in Nashville or if I want to go back to New York or if I want to go to LA… I don’t know. But for now I feel grateful to have a backyard.”

Follow Cf Watkins on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.