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”

Jess Cornelius Reconciles the Life She’d Planned with a New Reality on Distance

Photo Credit: Rachael Pony Cassells

When Jess Cornelius upended her former musical project Teeth & Tongue and moved from Melbourne to Los Angeles, she had decided her life was going to be a certain way – but, as it so often does, life had other plans. Though Teeth & Tongue began as a solo project, it had expanded to include other members in a way that complicated not only touring outside of Australia, but the songwriting process as well. So Cornelius started writing stripped down acoustic songs, releasing a succinct, pretty EP in 2017 called Nothing is Lost that allowed her to tour the States in support of Australian folk singer Paul Kelly (and helped hasten the process of getting an artist visa). “I moved to the states when I was like 36, and was like, I’m clearly not gonna be settling down anytime soon,” she says. “I wanted to be touring a lot so I made these decisions, but there was definitely a lot of questioning, like, [knowing] I probably wouldn’t end up having a family because of the decisions that I’ve made, and I was happy with that.”

In LA, Cornelius haunted clubs like Zebulon and The Bootleg, connecting with other musicians easily but continuing to write songs rooted in a feeling of disconnect and indifference – from recounting a one night stand to calling an old flame long distance, songs that measured her California dreamin’ against the reality of her day to day. Then, her lovelife took a turn when she became pregnant three months into a new relationship, rearranged her entire life to accommodate the baby, and suffered a miscarriage, writing the lyrics “My body has a memory and it won’t forget/But I was my own woman once/And I was sure I was enough,” in the aftermath. “The song ‘Body Memory’  – I say it’s about a miscarriage but it’s not really about that so much as what happened afterwards and how my attitude toward everything changed, and myself and my relationship and what I wanted for the future,” she says. “I came here to do all this touring and to be a musician, not to be a mother and a housewife. In my fears, I was not gonna be able to have this creative life. I think a huge part of it was this idea that I would be so dependent on a man, like alright, this is a really vulnerable place to be, just by the nature of having a kid with someone. But we’d decided to have it and it was very exciting but also very scary, and then ten weeks in, it was all over.”

In the months that followed, Cornelius put the pieces together of what would become her first full-length LP under her own name. Distance, released at the end of July, brilliantly collects the experiences Cornelius had as she moved halfway around the world, searched for both romantic and creative fulfillment in the City of Angels, pondered getting older and mused on her ability to let it all go, and the dramatic shift in her perspective as she reconsidered motherhood. The album also collects a brilliant array of Los Angeles talent that Cornelius assembled both organically and via her label Loantaka Records, including Mary Lattimore, who plays harp on “Born Again,” drummers Stella Mozgawa (of Warpaint), Mary Lattimore, Jesse Quebbeman-Turley (of Hand Habits), and Robbie Sinclair, guest bassists Emily Elhaj and Stephanie Drootin (who have played with Angel Olsen and Bright Eyes respectively), an array of back up vocalists Cornelius calls friends, and even a whistler (Molly Lewis).

“It took such a long time for me when I moved to Melbourne [from New Zealand] to find my people and [other] musicians and bands and venues… what I realized was that with music, community is everything, and I took that lesson to LA,” Cornelius explains. “I really had such great luck here – I went to a lot of shows and put together a live band very quickly. I found the opposite of what I guess people expect – people were really open to meeting up, to collaborating, to helping with whatever, and it was just really incredible how nice it all kind of came together and the friendships that I made, and the musical relationships that I made, and making the record was part of that.”

Recorded and co-produced with Tony Buchen, Distance revisits a few of the tracks from Nothing is Lost – “Love And Low Self Esteem” and “Banging My Head” (which was included on the vinyl version of the EP). The difference is night and day – Cornelius seems vulnerable singing “It’s when I’m feeling tiny as an eyelash/That’s when I want to be all you need” over sparse instrumentation, but a wash of Mozgawa’s drums and girl-group doo-wops build “Love and Low Self Esteem” out enough that she can snarl that line instead, just a little bit. “It was interesting revisiting that level of angst – they’re both really angsty songs! I think that the other songs on Distance don’t really have that kind of emotion in them, so it did feel like I had kind of moved on a little bit from that. I still could identify with those feelings though,” Cornelius says. “I was really curious to play them with a band because on the EP there was really no other instrumentation apart from guitar, and that whole EP really just got a very soft release, so I just felt like it kind of needed to have a second go in a slightly different format.”

Cornelius became pregnant again while putting the finishing touches on Distance and her baby bump is visibly showing in videos put out ahead of the album’s release. That’s somewhat jarring in “Kitchen Floor,” given the singer’s nonchalant lyrics about leaving a lover behind after a one night stand as easily as she makes tea and toast. But there’s a whole other level of dissonance as Cornelius, clad in a bright blue sweatsuit, choreographs dance moves in the desert while candidly revisiting her experience with miscarriage in “Body Memory.” And yet, these videos, along with “No Difference,” feel refreshing, liberated even, just by the simple fact of Cornelius daring to perform while pregnant. There hasn’t been much of that since M.I.A.’s show-stopping 2009 Grammy performance.

“I definitely didn’t think I’ve be making videos where I’m pregnant in a whole bunch of them. Making the videos was a great process in itself, because it was a new thing for me to do and my partner filmed them and he hadn’t done anything like that either,” Cornelius admits. “I did feel really good about the fact that I was pregnant. There was some trepidation every time that I put out one of those videos – I was just like, is this a terrible idea? But mostly I felt fine about it. Pregnancy made me less precious about how I looked. I’m thinking back to when I was in my early twenties and how neurotic and insecure I was about not wanting to look a certain way on camera, and the videos that I made and trying to control my image in that way and being really worried about how I looked and what people thought. And then in all these videos where I’m like, super pregnant, I could see myself having changed in that way and that was really nice.”

Cornelius gave birth to her daughter in the midst of a global pandemic, shortly before Distance came out; though she’d planned to tour with the baby in tow when she was three or four months old – and had researched it extensively, talking to other women who had done it – COVID changed her plans once again. “I was really set on making that happen. But now of course everything’s different, which is in a way a relief – it’s gonna be nice to focus on her a little bit more. And then eventually I’ll start writing again, hopefully sooner than later, and then eventually they’ll be another record,” she says, adding that she and her partner are even toying with the idea of creating a psychedelic children’s show. “I think having a kid will open up my creative pathways in a way because you’re rediscovering the world, and you get to play a lot more. So we’re really looking forward to that aspect of it. Every single album pretty much, I’m like I’m not gonna do another record, it’s all too much. And then you realize you’ve written another record.”

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