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”

Jessica Dobson of Deep Sea Diver Discusses Resplendent New LP Impossible Weight

Jessica Dobson is a quiet giant of contemporary indie music. Along with performing her own material in Deep Sea Diver, Dobson has worked with indie music darlings like Beck, Conor Oberst, Spoon, and The Shins. And yet, if you said her name to the person next to you, they likely wouldn’t know who exactly she is.

This needs to change, and with the October 16th release of Deep Sea Diver’s newest album Impossible Weight via High Beam/ATO, it likely will. Deep Sea Diver’s third album is emotionally ferocious and tender at the same time, capturing Dobson’s uncanny ability to create transcendent and distinct worlds with a well-honed ear for production, much of which she co-produced. Lyrically, Impossible Weight is spun from a complex time for Dobson, as she considered heightened anxiety issues, the death of a dear friend and collaborator, and long-standing questions about her identity.

AF: I know you were born in LA. When did you move to Seattle? 

JD: I moved to Seattle in the very beginning of 2011. Before that I was living in Long Beach, California and I grew up in Orange County, then finally migrated up here. Peter Mansen, who’s my partner—we’re married and he’s also our drummer in the band—he’s from here. So, he was like, ‘Want a fresh start in Seattle?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, that sounds awesome.’ 

AF: You were signed by Atlantic at 19 years-old; was music, specifically rock guitar music made my women, in your life at a young age? How did you know this was a career that was possible for you?

JD: I did have examples. But I think at a young age it didn’t register with me to do it because I had gendered role models. I just saw an instrument and I was like yep, this is what I’m doing. It was more like following instinct at that point versus looking at something so I could have permission to do it.

AF: I love that you weren’t seeking permission. But, have you had any significant challenges in your music career because of your gender?

JD: I think that very often growing up there are definitely certain boxes that people tend to push you in and I was kind of set at an early age to not be put in those boxes. So, at the time there was a lot of like, acoustic female singer songwriting music out there—like in elementary school there was Jewel, and [others]—and I totally respect them but that wasn’t necessarily for me. I think I have always had an independent spirit when it comes to sound engineering and production, things that are kind of scary worlds sometimes for females because they’re worlds that are male-dominated. I was trying to peer behind the curtain from a young age and educate myself and other females who wanted to do the same thing. Not so I could be like “let me show you” but I think now I’m very passionate about demystifying a lot of those realms for female identifying people. 

AF: I re-read a 2016 piece from The Stranger about your second release and the author called your time with Atlantic “ill-fated.” I’m wondering, was it really “ill-fated” or did it teach you something that you’re bringing forward with you?

JD: Signing that Atlantic record deal—it was ill-fated but also beautiful because part of [me] wants to learn and forge [my] way forward— I’m grateful that it happened then, not now. And so I think…the best thing about that time that was “ill-fated” was the rejection that I felt, the understanding of what was going on in my body—I was experiencing anxiety but I didn’t understand what that was at that time and now I have better language for that and better tools to deal with it. [There were feelings of] rejection and sadness and I didn’t know what I was doing, and I made this thing but it never came out. Maybe that’s a good thing and I was able to use some of that music to move forward and start Deep Sea Diver.

Now, even on a song like “Impossible Weight,” I think for a long time I was like, ‘That is so in the past and I don’t really care about it anymore [or want] to talk about it.” Even at some points, to be honest, I was just irritated, like why is it always being brought up in interviews? But it’s a good question, you know… Those moments in life, they do brand you in a certain way, and you can choose what you want to do with the pain and the hardships. For me, “Impossible Weight” was a song where I finally—it’s not all about Atlantic—but it is kind of like speaking to the gatekeepers and speaking to my younger self. You can’t please everybody, you can’t carry that weight. So now I feel more confident in who I am, what I want to do and where I’m going and where this band is going. And it feels really beautiful. 

AF: I love the song, “Eyes are Red, Don’t Be Afraid.” I know that song is partly inspired by the Brett Kavanaugh trial; could tell me a little of your experience of watching that trial and how it informed the song? 

JD: That song was written in the midst of a lot of things. So, it wasn’t directly inspired by the trial but I was definitely able to finish my thoughts and lyrics and intentions while that was happening.

That song was the first song I wrote after I attempted to record album number three twice. I was kind of flailing around creatively, emotionally, really trying to find my footing. I had quit smoking and Peter had as well, so when you and your partner have both quit and that’s something you’ve used as a crutch for a long time, you know, it’s like “OK, this is where I’m at, and it’s going to be a little dark for a while but I’m going to push forward.” That was the first song I wrote as I was in the middle of quitting, and I had these mantras I would say to myself, these very simplistic lines, like, “don’t be afraid, don’t be ashamed.” And when I would start to write, I just had to say those things because I wasn’t feeling them and I wasn’t feeling any color in the world.

And so, most of that song is very intimate and very personal to me and what I was going through, but then it became part of a broader narrative. This is in like the thick of the Me Too movement, Harvey Weinstein, Trump. We thought we had progressed but these are still the issues at hand, like are you kidding me? We still have to convince people to listen to you if you’ve been abused? It’s just wild and so unfair. As a woman I felt the weight of that. The collective weight.

Then, there was an article, I think it was in the New Yorker, a journalist mentioned how many bodies have to be thrown onto the tracks to build up to stop this train? It will take more sacrifice unfortunately to get anything to change. That finished my song for me.

AF: Does music help you do that, help you understand your emotions? 

JD: Absolutely. I think I could be better at being a prolific songwriter, like honing my discipline by writing everyday. My history has definitely been: take a step away for a month or two months, and then when I’m feeling something there’s no stopping me from writing—it comes out, and that’s how I process my emotions. “Eyes Are Red, Don’t Be Ashamed,” was one of those songs where I couldn’t stop it. I also was wanting to pull the tracks out from under misogyny, sexual predators, all these systems that are still in place that allow those issues to thrive, and for women to not be believed. 

AF: I know you’ve been volunteering at Aurora Commons, a community space for unhoused folks in the North Seattle area. How has your time there influenced your music?

JD: That came into the song “Switchblade.” And, I would say, into the more general narrative of the record, which was just like, no longer letting myself be as veiled as I think I have been in the past lyrically. Sometimes, you want to say the true thing instead of making it poetic. And, I learned that deeper vulnerability volunteering at the Commons. 

AF: Are there any instances that come up for you when you think about your time there?

JD: Just personal stories – the things these women would share with me, trauma. The one consistent thing, hands down, with so many of these women is that there’s some kind of abuse in their childhood – sexual, violence or whatever, something traumatic has happened. It’s crazy to hear that kind of brutal honesty from them, and also at the same time be hearing in real time, “Hey, these are my needs,” because there’s no room to hide them because they’re living from minute to minute on the street. That showed me, even though I don’t have the same stories as they do and what they’ve gone through is a lot darker than what I’ve gone through in my life, it’s about compassion. I don’t even have the stomach anymore for hiding behind walls, mincing my words—this is what I’m going through and this is how I want to be here for people. 

AF: That really comes across and the listener can connect to that right away. Also, I hear a sort of haunting, bittersweet element, mingling with that increased decisiveness. I read that you recently reconnected with your birth mother and I’m wondering how that altered your perspective on identity and making music? 

JD: I think everyone can relate to the feeling of wanting to know where they belong, and even when you know those things it can still be tricky to be confident in who you are. I’ve always been searching for that big question, where do I belong? Sometimes it’s a question, hearkening back to what you were saying earlier about like women in the industry, like—where do I belong in this industry? How do I find my place and keep my voice and my independence, but also connect with other artists, other women, and be part of a community, not just an island?

When I met my birth mom, it answered a lot of curiosities that I had, like where did I come from, what’s the story? What did I look like? I had never seen a baby photo. I knew I was half Mexican and that’s it. And I knew her name. And then recently I found out—I don’t know who my birth dad is—but at least through 23andMe I found out, I was like holy shit, I’m half Jewish. I found out in the Taco Bell drive through. Many things have happened in the Taco Bell drive through for me.

AF: I know you co-produced this record. What do you enjoy the most about the production process? 

JD: Oh man, everything. It really is one of those times where I shine because I don’t overthink things, I’m just able to go, go, go. Whereas, I tend to overthink in the songwriting process. Like, if it doesn’t happen quickly I might kill a song because I overthink it and don’t finish it. But when a song is done, I call it done and that’s it, and it’s time to figure out what world that song needs to live in. With production, it always excites me to ask, what world am I going to create for this song? What world am I going to create for this record? Where does this need to live? I often go to different worlds from day to day in my head, and I need to go to those places to be creative. It’s not even a choice, I just go there. So it’s amazing that you can go any which way but you have to choose something, and then point all the arrows in that direction and go for it. That’s exciting for me. 

AF: Did you teach yourself with trial and error or go to school for it? 

JD: No, it’s honestly such a sandwiching of having been in so many different studio recording situations over the years now. Learning what I like, engineering style, learning the vocabulary for things, when you hear something in your head and you don’t know how to communicate that, you have to get better at that, so that’s a skill that’s been sharpened. I am obsessed with mixing, different frequencies, all these things that are a part of my creative DNA and makeup, but those things have all been sharpened over the years as I’ve been in different situations.

AF: One of your “impossible weights,” to use your term, is that you’ve had mental health struggles and depression. What’s your perspective on mental illness and the creative process? Is it a necessary part of your art-making or do you reject that notion? 

JD: I don’t think it’s a necessary part, but it informs the process. I think you could be totally healthy with your mental state and still create beautiful art, and you can be unhealthy and still create beautiful art. There are different tools that you can use, like if you choose to lean into the unhealthy. For me, there are tools I had to gather. You can’t totally eliminate anxiety out of your life. It’d be nice, but I definitely think that some stuff fuels a fire if you allow it, at least for me.

Sometimes, we glorify [the idea that] your art is only good if you’re feeling bad and I don’t think that’s true. There is beauty that can come from the ashes and the dirt, but if you lean on it, it can be a pretty unhealthy place. There are consequences, internally and relationally. 

AF: This has been a really hard year. What do you hope this album contributes to the listener’s experience and recollection of 2020? 

JD: When I first set out to make this record was when life was colorless and I was in a bad place and it’s just like, you know what, I want this record to be resplendent. That was word that came to me – full of life, full of color. And the color of it to me is predominantly green. That to me, is an association to being alive. That’s what people need right now. Whether it’s doom scrolling or all this terrible news that is happening, we lose sight that there can be joy and hope and color—it’s getting swallowed up by the bad. It’s okay to feel life and make space for things that are life-giving, even in the midst of tumultuous times. So I hope this record can be a breath of fresh air for people, and allow them to feel what they need to feel. 

Follow Deep Sea Diver on Facebook for ongoing updates.