Ringtone Wrapped: Our Favorite Releases of 2020

Between album releases, live sets at online shows, and sporadic singles, we've had plenty of music to tide us over through the turmoil of 2020. In honor of the new year, here are our favorite releases of 2020!

Ringtone wrapped graphic

Graphic by Zoe Axelrod

pay attention!” — underscores

underscores’ character development! EP initially flew under my radar, but it was (once I got around to it) a very satisfying, wholesome, and maybe even a healing listen. My favorite song of the three, “pay attention!,” reminds me of warm sunlight during cold winter days, of songs from Nico Nico Douga that I’d rip and play on my iPhone 4. The way underscores rapidly jumps from topic to topic with nearly nothing connecting them somehow resonates with me and my scattered thought process; it makes me happy to know that, somehow, someone has managed to distill their emotions, this sort of empty-headed, manic-depressive feeling into a song like this.

And this is all without talking about the actual song. It’s clean as hell — warm, beautiful acoustic guitars fill in most of the space while washy, VGM-esque synths seem to chime in every now and again to add flair. underscores’ voice is light and airy, yet lethargic; his harmonies add additional emotional weight to what is, to me, an already deeply affecting song.

— Canary Autumn

SugarCrash!” — ElyOtto

“SugarCrash!” is a short and sweet single by 16 year old ElyOtto. Released in late August of this year, this furious pop song perfectly encapsulates mid-pandemic angst. The song is only 1:19 but packs an unexpected amount of emotion into that runtime. It achieves this through carefully planned sound effects after raw diary-entry-like statements (i.e., “cut my fucking brain in half” followed by a slicing sound). The first verse of this song is a fast-paced list of grievances followed by ElyOtto stating plainly yet relatably, “Nothing that I write can make me feel good.” A song that consists mainly of complaints can easily be unlistenable, but “SugarCrash!” manages to defy that expectation. It is an upbeat, danceable track that just happens to be about being “just a bit tired of this fucking shit,” which is exactly what we needed in 2020.

— Grace Wahlen

Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2 — Tkay Maidza

While not explicitly hyperpop regarding the usual suspects of this nebulous genre, Australian artist Tkay Maidza brought to the table a ripper of an EP unlike any other seen this year. With how feature complete and oozing of memorable melodies Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2 is, it’s a wonder how Maidza hasn’t broken into the scene quite yet, but I’m not just gonna leave you guessing: she will. Charli XCX has performed with Tkay Maidza on the Australian leg of past tours, leading many of us to believe a collab will come sometime down the line on whatever XCX Project hits our laps next. Please, please let it be the elusive XCX World.

LYWWV2 is, first and foremost, a hip-hop album with R&B and rap vocal chops exhibiting the highest caliber of flow atop at times contrastingly grimey and bubbly instrumentals, depending on the track.

“PB Jam” is my personal favorite, with a glossy, almost honey-soaked tune laying the foundation for Maidza to unveil seamless rap verses intercut between a heavenly chorus that daydreams of what it truly means to be free, all while wading through glops of a sticky situation and forever catching back up to oneself. It’s a perfect ballad for this year, if you ask me.

JPEGMAFIA features on the serendipitously dark “Awake,” whereas the similarly cackling track “Grasshopper” hosts a grimecore edge to it. How Maidza’s vocals still squirm their way through the gloop of it all amazes me upon every listen. Thick, heavy, syrup-slathered ear candy is all this EP is. Your ears should get to chewing.

— Dylan Robinson

None — Gupi

Growing up, I often found myself soundtracking Minecraft sessions with Skrillex and a barrage of other electronic artists that carried the 2010s. It was one of the best feelings ever, and, up until 2020, I felt that there wasn’t any other music that could rival the energy that Skrillex carried in the iconic “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites.” When Gupi released None, however, all of that changed. None feels like a better version of the music I listened to back then — it carries everything from the 2010s over and modernizes it. The frantic feeling of “Paradise,” the abrasiveness of “Regression,” and the anxiety of “False Awakening” all serve to create the chaotic soundscapes that I’ve been craving for years. And, of course, it would be unfair to mention this album without crediting the genius of Fraxiom’s reference-filled rapping in “Thos Moser,” the album’s centerpiece and just a great reminder that music can be fun as hell.

— Amelia Zollner

WOMB — Purity Ring

The feeling I got when I heard the first few singles from Purity Ring’s third album WOMB was rare, almost fleeting. I’d describe it as euphoric or ethereal; I felt this sense of calmness and comfort, which I can gladly relive every time I listen to a track from this record. I am so glad I found such a strong connection with the songs, as they were released after I had gone through a rough patch in college. A press release mentions how the album "chronicles a quest for comfort and the search for a resting place in a world where so much is beyond our control.” They candidly brought me to a safe sheltered sanctuary within my mind. I am sure many other listeners would appreciate the escapism this album can provide.

Filled with dreampop, airy vocals, and witch house synth beats, the album is a generous and genuine twist from regular pop music. In the lyrics, you follow the story of the persona through their journey of love, loss, and heartbreak. It is soft-spoken and personal, but not just due to the references to the body inside and out but through the actual aura and soul of the band’s sound. A great corporeal comeback since their last album was released five years prior.

You can hear the duo’s stunning harmonizations on “peacefall” and “pink lightning.” The song with the most powerful production has to be the intro “rubyinsides.” I have to say this has been their strongest work thus far. I believe they have truly found and embraced their sound.

— Ezra Blanchar

DLH @ Square Garden – Danny L Harle

At the beginning of Danny L Harle’s Square Garden DJ set, when you hear his baby repeating after him, trying their very hardest to say “hundred” and “gecs,” you might not know what you’re getting yourself into. Luckily, Harle lays it out for the listener pretty quickly, and within a minute and a half, you’ve been immersed into the kind of fantasy world he’s known for, complete with grinding, clashing sound effects and samples of ammunition cartridges emptying. Harle’s classic “yes milord” ad-lib appears in a chaotic whirlwind of samples and sound effects, before the set switches directions abruptly, transitioning into what became the “gec 2 Ü (Danny L Harle Harlecore remix)” and then, swiftly after, a seemingly nightcore version of Britney Spears’ heartbreaking “Everytime.” Harle’s Square Garden set excels at bringing together both classic dance hits and cult pop songs from the 2000’s — both “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” by Eiffel 65 and “Breathless” by The Corrs make an appearance. While Harle’s set felt nostalgic for an era of dance and pop music long gone, it also gave listeners a peek into what he would be releasing throughout 2020. Just this month, Caroline Polachek released her cover of “Breathless,” produced by Harle. While listeners of the set may find themselves longing for a chance to see Harle DJ in person, it bears a reminder that sets like those found at Square Garden could really never be experienced anywhere else.

— Allison Harris

food house — food house

For me, the album of the year is hyperpop dream team Gupi and Fraxiom’s debut album, food house, which has been highly anticipated since the duo first blew us away at Square Garden in April. All 11 tracks on the album feel unique and fully formed, yet the album flows incredibly well. And, at only 35 minutes long, it facilitates an easy (and necessary) one-sitting listen.

Some highlights include the first single, "ride," which displays superb lyricism ("I go to Target CVS at night/It is the only time I feel alive") and the intro to "mos thoser," a callback to food house’s (before they were food house) first hit, “Thos Moser."

Frax’s lyrics slip seamlessly in and out of sharp witticisms and absolute nonsense. There's too many quips on the album to properly honor, but it would be amiss to not mention "mos thoser's" opening lyric ("I feel like a hot pink bitch named breakfast") or an "8 now" lyric (“I used to fantasize about being or kissing Skrillex/I need to delete Twitter 'cause it gives me fucking mental illness").

Food house's stream-of-conscious lyrics, uninhibited and sometimes unhinged, put words to the absurd and self-satirizing reality we've all lived through this year. The subtly dark, surprisingly grounded "curses" manifests hostility, dissociation, and self-doubt in a way that especially spoke to me. Overall, food house is a cathartic listen — one that perfectly encapsulates the mundane strangeness of this year. Sing it with me: “I wanna shoplift shit from Walmart with you while I blow/My dab pen into your throat."

— Rebecca Lauffenburger

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