The 40 Best New Bands Of 2020

The 40 Best New Bands Of 2020

In a year when it’s largely been impossible to see live music, a major source of discovering new artists has been eliminated. But music finds a way and plenty of acts have emerged over the last 12 months. Every autumn here at Stereogum, we look at the artists that make us most excited about the future of music and organize them into our annual Best New Bands list, in order to celebrate what they’ve already accomplished and highlight them as someone to keep an eye on moving forward.

There are, as always, some caveats: “New” is a subjective term. Some of these artists have been around for a while; others only have a handful of songs to their name. But all of them are doing something worth hearing right now. We also stubbornly continue to call this the Best New Bands list, even though there are many not-bands on the list. Deal with it!

We purposefully run this list removed from year-end list season to give these up-and-comers the spotlight they deserve. And we also keep in mind that an artist’s trajectory can’t be tied to a single year the way an album release date can. Many of these names will be familiar to regular Stereogum readers who keep up with our daily new music posts and Band To Watch column. If you revisit our lists from years past, you’ll see that we have a good track record with this stuff. So get familiar with Stereogum’s 40 Best New Bands Of 2020, presented below in alphabetical order. You can also listen to a playlist of our picks on Spotify. Enjoy! –James Rettig

2nd Grade

CREDIT: Julia Leiby

LOCATION: Philadelphia, PA
Peter Gill may be to earnest East Coast indie-pop what Robert Pollard is to art-damaged Midwest barroom rock. On their album Hit To Hit — a facetious title, but a spiritually correct one — Gill’s band 2nd Grade cycle through styles and fidelities with a casual command of them all. Over 24 short, sweet tracks, he tackles quotidian concerns like tax forms and small pleasures like riding a bike, ending up with a charming patchwork vision of poppy underground rock. Whether he can keep up with Guided By Voices’ insane pace remains to be seen, but he’s off to a good start. –Chris DeVille
 

 

42 Dugg

CREDIT: 42 Dugg

LOCATION: Detroit, MI
This summer, 42 Dugg had a top-10 single while on the run from the law. The situation wasn’t that serious; Dugg eventually turned himself in after speeding away from a traffic stop. But it says something about the speed and immediacy of the man’s rise. 42 Dugg raps in a throaty crackle, combining the raw adrenaline of the Detroit underground with the melodic drift of his friend and collaborator Lil Baby. “We Paid,” 42 Dugg and Lil Baby’s big summer hit, is also one of 2020’s most hypnotic anthems. –Tom Breihan
 

 

645AR

CREDIT: Cam Kirk

LOCATION: The Bronx, NY
645AR’s helium mumble is a gimmick, but it’s a gimmick that might have legs. If Future and Young Thug’s distinctively digital voices can become chart staples, it’s possible with just the right collaboration that 645AR could find himself there as well. On his own, he’s plenty compelling, his Adult Swim-adjacent cartoonish vape haze giving way to an odd vulnerability that transcends language. His team-up with FKA Twigs is the best example so far of his potential as a foil to a more traditional pop star. –James
 

 

Anjimile

CREDIT: Kannetha Brown

LOCATION: Boston, MA
Anjimile Chithambo often writes with a hushed reverence, like Tracy Chapman attempting Sufjan Stevens songs and ending up with something startlingly unique. But the singer-songwriter’s debut album Giver Taker is a brighter, busier collection than that comparison initially suggests. Anjimile just as often conjures skewed indie-pop visionaries like Islands’ Nick Thorburn or Glass Beach’s J. McClendon. “Have you ever seen anything quite like this?” he asks on “Maker.” “Have you ever known anything quite like this?” Blessedly, we have now. –Chris


 

Armani Caesar

LOCATION: Buffalo, NY
The Griselda Records knucklehead squadron has carved out a place on the rap landscape by keeping things as grimy and ugly as possible. But though she shares a hometown with her new Griselda labelmates, Armani Caesar doesn’t really have the same sensibility. She’s as tough as any of them, but she’s icy and imperious and glamorous, too. She’s also got the skills and personality to cut right through a neck-snapping DJ Premier beat like it was nothing. –Tom


 

Bacchae

CREDIT: Kara Donnelly

LOCATION: Washington, DC
You could argue that Washington, DC has the most historically significant punk rock scene in the world, and Bacchae have plenty of links to that lineage. (Jawbox’s J. Robbins, for instance, produced the band’s debut album Pleasure Vision.) Bacchae have all the fury and toughness and determination of their forebears. But Bacchae also have whizzing new-wave synths and sticky hooks and warm, empathetic melodic sweetness working for them. They’re a whole new chapter in a great book. –Tom


 

Backxwash

CREDIT: Mechant Vaporwave

LOCATION: Montreal, Québec
Backxwash’s music is paranoid, skittish, and all-consuming. Her now Polaris Prize-winning album God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It is an immense accomplishment — her liberal use of metal samples and general kvlt attitude are a refreshingly new texture in the rap landscape. One only has to listen to her lock into a beat on something like “Spells” to hear how assured Backxwash already sounds and how far she can go from here. –James


 

Barely Civil

CREDIT: Rachel Malvich

LOCATION: Milwaukee, WI
Their new album is called I’ll Figure This Out, and honestly it sounds like Barely Civil already have. The Wisconsin band leveled up impressively on their second LP, which plows into the darkly anthemic airspace between emo revival titans like Foxing and You Blew It! and the downcast indie grandeur of Frightened Rabbit and Death Cab For Cutie. The resulting guitar bombast sounds like a bleak Upper Midwest winter at its most cinematic. –Chris


 

Bartees Strange

CREDIT: Bao Ngo

LOCATION: Washington, DC
Bartees Strange takes clear inspiration from indie rock majesty — covering the National, quoting the Antlers — but he approaches it from a whole different angle, delivering it from a perspective of Black desperation and catharsis. Strange’s music is a dizzy blur of genres, punk and rap and folk and emo, and his voice is a fervent, charged bleat. Up until recently, Strange worked as an environmental lobbyist in DC, and he sings like someone who knows the world is ending. Nobody sounds like him, and nobody could. –Tom


 

beabadoobee

CREDIT: Callum Harrison

LOCATION: London, UK 
beabadoobee is the latest Gen Z success story forged in the viral flames of TikTok. But her sound is decidedly more retro than that hyper-contemporary origin story might suggest, Trojan-horsing gleaming modern pop hooks into the thrifted flannel of ’90s indie and alt-rock. On her last EP, she memorably wished that she was Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus. On her new debut album Fake It Flowers, she’s already turned that secondhand aesthetic into a distinct identity all her own. –Peter Helman


 

Bfb Da Packman

LOCATION: Houston, TX 
Houston-based Bfb Da Packman hails from Flint, not far from Detroit’s flourishing scene. He raps with a chaotic energy comparable to his “Free Joe Exotic” collaborator Sada Baby, spraying outrageous punchlines with a gleeful, cartoonish snarl over beats so hard and trashy. But when not complaining about coronavirus messing up the drug trade or clowning himself for premature ejaculation, Bfb sometimes gets serious too: “My daddy mad I said he smoke crack in one of my songs/ Man I don’t give a fuck, you let another n*gga raise your son.” –Chris


 

Big Cheese

CREDIT: Andrey Rodionov

LOCATION: Leeds, UK
This band just rips. Hardcore bruisers Big Cheese are firmly entrenched in the resurgent UK hardcore scene, and some of the members in the band also play in up-and-coming melodic stompers Higher Power. But Big Cheese don’t sound like part of any present-day movement. Instead, they sound like circa-1986 New York pit bullies. Big Cheese’s unrelenting 19-minute debut album Punishment Park has all the face-mash bounce of prime Cro-Mags, and frontman Razor Hardwick sounds exactly the way you’d hope a guy named Razor Hardwick would sound. –Tom


 

Black Country, New Road

LOCATION: London, UK 
Black Country, New Road come from the same Speedy Wunderground scene that gave rise to other young British bands like Black Midi and Squid, mercurial artists bending the confines of post-punk into strange and exciting new shapes. They still only have a few songs to their name, but like Black Midi, their chaotic live shows have become their calling card. With a seven-piece lineup that boasts a saxophonist and a violinist, their discursively free-wheeling compositions usher post-rock, noise-rock, and free-jazz down a road well worth traveling. –Peter


 

Cartalk

CREDIT: Kristy Benjamin

LOCATION: Los Angeles, CA
It’s rare that a debut album comes along that’s as confident as Pass Like Pollen, but singer-songwriter Chuck Moore is fully-formed on their first outing. Helped out by friend Sarah Tudzin of Illuminati Hotties on the production side, Cartalk shares that project’s dramatic shifts in mood — from towering to quivering and back again. It’s an immaculately crafted album of searing folk songs that have hooks for days and it bodes well for the future that Moore can already do so much so well. –James


 

Chubby And The Gang

CREDIT: Ellie Chaplin

LOCATION: London, UK
The opening track says it all: “Chubby And The Gang Rule OK?” On their recent Speed Kills, these rowdy London punks barrel through 13 hardcore anthems in 28 minutes with the bluesy directness of early rock ‘n’ roll and the boozy joie de vivre of soccer hooligans pregaming at the pub. It’s fast and loud and fun, but before the party clears out the band makes room for serious fare like the protest song “Grenfell Forever” too. –Chris


 

Disheveled Cuss

LOCATION: Los Angeles, CA 
Disheveled Cuss sounds like the name of a grimy hardcore band screaming at you from some sweaty basement. Disheveled Cuss are not that band. Their grungy heaviness is always tempered by a power-pop sweetness, making a delicious meal of Nick Reinhart’s impeccably crafted melodies. With his Sacramento math-rock band Tera Melos, Reinhart already proved that he knows his way around the kitchen. And with Disheveled Cuss, he shows that sometimes, guitar-rock comfort food can taste just as good. –Peter


 

Dogleg

CREDIT: Kris Hermann

LOCATION: Detroit, MI
Dogleg named their album Melee after the video game Super Smash Bros. Melee, and they’ve promised free band merch to anyone who can beat bassist Chase Macinski in a match. Their music is basically the sonic equivalent of a beat-em-up fighting game, cathartic high-octane emo-punk that starts at 11 and only ratchets up the intensity from there. It’s the kind of non-stop adrenaline rush that seems like it can’t possibly be sustained — which is exactly why it’s so thrilling to hear them continually refuse to let up. –Peter


 

Ela Minus

CREDIT: Teddy Fitzhugh

LOCATION: Brooklyn, NY  
Ela Minus was made for these times. Her debut Acts Of Rebellion, born from DIY punk ethos but executed with immersive synths, captures the experience of a person moving out of youth during a great, tumultuous stretch of history, riddled with anxiety and frustration but looking for the hope we can cultivate in our everyday lives even when everything around us seems bleak. Before a burbling wave of synths enters, Acts Of Rebellion opens with a sharp inhale and healing exhale: A centering, a mission statement, a choice for resolve and resistance no matter what. –Ryan


 

Flo Milli

CREDIT: Shamaal Bloodman

LOCATION: Mobile, AL
Flo Milli shit. It’s telling that the young rapper’s tag is short and sweet, much like the songs that make up her debut mixtape Ho, why is you here?. She’s fearsome but bubbly, delivering her razor-sharp bars with a slick smile that’s absolutely infectious. Her flow is dexterous and her rubber-band beats make one feel like the baddest bitch in the room, even though you’ll never be as cool as Flo Milli. –James


 

Frail Body

LOCATION: Rockford, IL
It’s confusing that there’s one screamo-revival band called Frail Body and another called Frail Hands, and it’s even more confusing that they’re both really good. The frantic, intense trio Frail Body are the newer of the two, and their debut album A Brief Memoriam combines tingly post-rock beauty with guts-ripped-open deep-feelings freakouts. Frail Body’s music is all about anguish and mourning, and they’ve found a way to make those things visceral and immediate and ultimately cleansing. –Tom


 

Gum Country

LOCATION: Los Angeles, CA 
Gum Country are great — and no, it’s not just because they have “gum” in their name. The duo of Connor Mayer and Courtney Garvin, who also plays guitar in the Vancouver fuzz-rock band the Courtneys, describes their music as “harsh twee,” an off-kilter garage-psych twist on the dreamy, droney indie-pop of classic acts like Yo La Tengo and Stereolab. When they’ve got “gum” in the name and a tasty guitar tone like this, well, you know they’re going on the list. –Peter


 

Hannah’s Little Sister

CREDIT: Beebo Boobin

LOCATION: Liverpool, UK
Hannah’s Little Sister really go for it. Their bright, technicolor jams are always threatening to go off the rails — but, thanks to the band’s commitment to the bit, they never do. As the band tackles consumerism and capitalism in their lyrics, they’re jumping around like they’re having the most fun in a room that’s burning down around them. Their debut EP, charmingly titled EP.mp3, is a showcase for all the different directions this group can go in and, judging by what we know them already, they’ll go in all those directions at once. –James


 

Jordana

CREDIT: Mel Mercer

LOCATION: Wichita, KS 
The young prodigy Jordana Nye made waves online last year with her debut album Classical Notions Of Happiness. Partnering with producer MELVV throughout 2020, Jordana’s followed it up with dual EPs collected into a sophomore LP, her sound moving beyond its bedroom pop origins to incorporate dreamier melodies, bigger beats, and the occasional bit of ‘90s alt-rock crunch. The themes and music echo each other: That dual EP album, Something To Say To You, is the sound of a young person figuring life out, at the same time they’re discovering who they are as an artist. –Ryan


 

Militarie Gun

LOCATION: Los Angeles, CA
Ian Shelton, leader of the explosive power-violence marauders Regional Justice Center, launched Militarie Gun as a way to explore more melodic, accessible post-hardcore sounds. Initially a solo project, Militarie Gun has expanded to a full band, and their debut EP My Life Is Over fuses the bouncing stomp of prime hardcore with the caustic riffage of ‘90s noise-rock. Their songs have hooks and swagger and intensity, and they’re going to sound amazing in a crowded and sweaty room someday. –Tom


 

Molly Parden

CREDIT: Jacqueline Justice

LOCATION: Nashville, TN
Just when you thought you didn’t need another pensive singer-songwriter, here comes Molly Parden to gently devastate you. Parden’s Rosemary EP positions her amongst a constellation of young Southern balladeers like Natalie Prass, Julien Baker, and Faye Webster. Her gorgeous arrangements have a dreamy quality, but the scenes of emotional breakdown on “Kitchen Table” are real and raw: “I had never collapsed on the bathroom floor/ I put away my old toothbrush and glanced up at the mirror, but today I couldn’t take it anymore/ I can’t say what I even felt/ I hardly recognize myself without you.” –Chris


 

Oceanator

LOCATION: New York, NY
“Who knows if we’ll be here tomorrow/ But everything, everything, everything still matters, you know,” Elise Okusami sings on “A Crack In The World,” a highlight from her debut album Things I Never Said, on which she often sings of the apocalypse in a similarly even-keeled manner. Her songs shift like tectonic plates, heaving and heavy and focused on the larger structural changes we can make even when it seems impossible. Okusami meets this challenge with music that takes a big-picture view of struggle and sound like hoping against hope that there will indeed be a tomorrow. –James


 

박혜진 Park Hye Jin

CREDIT: The1Point8

LOCATION: Los Angeles, CA
박혜진 Park Hye Jin’s music feeds on repetition. Like her K-house compatriots Yaeji and Peggy Gou, she sings and raps in both Korean and English, hypnotically flat mantras flitting through her subtle electronic soundscapes. Since cutting her teeth in Seoul’s underground club scene, Park has lived and DJed in London, Melbourne, and LA, and she filters all of those experiences into a dreamy, cosmopolitan style that touches on house, techno, and footwork without ever settling down. –Peter


 

Peel Dream Magazine

CREDIT: Andy Schilling

LOCATION: Brooklyn, NY  
With their sophomore album Agitprop Alterna, the Brooklyn group Peel Dream Magazine have perfected a synthesis of all kinds of psychedelic music. Strung-out Velvet Underground strains, distortion-blasted shoegaze coos, infectious Stereolab and Krautrock swirls — they can do it all. But wielding transfixing sounds is one thing; weaponizing them within bleary, infectious pop songs is another. From “Emotional Devotion Creator” to “Pill” or “Too Dumb,” Peel Dream come armed with hooks that worm their way into your mind, so that the rest of the music can blow it wide open. –Ryan


 

Pet Shimmers

CREDIT: Dominika Scheibinger

LOCATION: Bristol, UK
Pet Shimmers make extremely online music for extremely online people. But instead of plasticine hyper-pop a la PC Music or 100 gecs, their vision of the digital age is an eccentric form of warped psychedelia. It’s like they took all your favorite music subreddits and bitcrushed them together into one beautifully weird indie-rock pocket symphony. They’ve already put out two full-length albums this year, their early January debut Face Down In Meta and this fall’s Trash Earthers, and whatever trick they pull off next is sure to be just as magical. –Peter


 

Pinkshift

CREDIT: Leigh Ann Rodgers

LOCATION: Baltimore, MD
“I’m Gonna Tell My Therapist On You” is a scorched-earth beatdown that throttles between the sky-high vocals of Ashrita Kumar and a buzzsaw onslaught of guitars and furious drumming. Pinkshift combine mid-’00s emo’s operatic excess with the fervency of a militant punk band and the results are appropriately thrilling. On only a handful of singles so far, the band has mapped out an invigorating path for themselves and a sound capacious enough to take over the world. –James


 

Porridge Radio

CREDIT: El Hardwick

LOCATION: Brighton, UK
It’s always exhilarating to witness a level-up in real time. The British band Porridge Radio has been kicking around for a bit, but their cathartic, roiling fusion of indie/‘90s alt-rock/Britpop/dream-pop has never felt as refined or as gripping as it does on their sophomore album Every Bad. Throughout, Dana Margolin offers wistful melodies, raw self-reflections, and litanies with the insistence needed when you’re trying to ground (or cleanse) yourself. By the time you get to the mesmerizing, volcanic “Lilac,” it’s easy to be left stunned — and wondering what the band might be capable of after this. –Ryan


 

Record Setter

LOCATION: Denton, TX
Record Setter have been together for almost a decade, yet on the new I Owe You Nothing they sound like a brand new band. In a sense, they are. Vocalist Judy Mitchell has transitioned genders and is writing with a reckless abandon the Denton screamo band only hinted at before. The new album hits like a bomb and quickly races off into a vast post-hardcore landscape — like Touché Amoré riding the Trail Of Dead all the way to Deafheaven, or the World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die plummeting into the bowels of hell. –Chris


 

Rina Sawayama

CREDIT: Greg Lin Jiajie

LOCATION: London, UK
SAWAYAMA, the eponymous debut album from Rina Sawayama, thrives in the contradictions. “STFU!” ecstatically mashes up nu-metal with bubblegum pop; “Comme Des Garçons (Like The Boys)” sounds like an icy French pop song that’s been given a throbbing house remix. Sawayama is an exciting figure in the pop landscape, one who is comfortable with exploring the margins in between genres and manages to find magic by bringing together two divergent points. –James


 

Samia

CREDIT: Muriel Margaret

LOCATION: New York, NY
Samia Finnerty writes bright, bold, emotionally charged alt-rock songs with a confidence beyond her years. Her tracks pull off a neat trick: They scan as smooth, catchy pop music fit for radio breakthroughs and TV syncs, but their accessibility never undermines the piercing vulnerability of her lyrics, nor does it contain the power of a voice that can hover over a song with impressive melodic control and shoot off to the stratosphere without warning. Her debut The Baby is about as solid an introduction as a young artist could hope for. –Chris


 

SAULT

LOCATION: UK 
In the last two years, SAULT have been on a miraculous run. All while remaining a complete mystery, the British collective has released four rapid-fire albums that just keep getting better, so far culminating in Untitled (Rise). These albums are dizzying, moving like liquid through history and genre alike. The fact that we know almost nothing about the personnel almost makes SAULT’s music feel like a DJ colliding voices across fusions of R&B, funk, dance, and Afrobeat. But in the end, what this music really becomes is a tapestry of Black art and Black experience across time and borders. –Ryan


 

Sen Morimoto

CREDIT: Sam Fuehring

LOCATION: Chicago, IL
Sen Morimoto is a voracious collaborator. Since moving from Western Massachusetts to Chicago, the Kyoto-born polymath has worked with people like Japanese electronic musician AAAMYYY, R&B singer-songwriter Kaina, indie-rockers Lala Lala and Vagabon, rappers Ric Wilson and Joseph Chilliams, and jazz ensemble Resavoir. You can hear all of that in his own music. Morimoto’s new self-titled sophomore album delights in its playfully omnivorous approach to genre, expanding outward from his jazz-rap origins to encompass an entire hip-hop/indie-pop universe unto itself. –Peter


 

Silverbacks

CREDIT: Brid O'Donovan

LOCATION: Dublin, Ireland
With their highly addicting debut album Fad and early singles, Silverbacks have proven themselves to be one of the most lovable names in this recent wave of British/Irish guitar bands. Wry lyrics — breakup battle lines drawn around a Sopranos boxset in “Sirens,” a man having a breakdown in a WWII-warzone-turned-future-resort in “Dunkirk” — flit through songs that are equally dexterous and layered, always fueled by the band’s intricate three-guitar attack. Clever and arty while never forsaking a hook, Silverbacks are the sort of the band that, whenever we’re able to see bands in small venues again, will leave you sweating and smirking in equal measure. –Ryan


 

Skullcrusher

CREDIT: Silken Weinberg & Angela Ricciardi

LOCATION: Los Angeles, CA  
You probably know the deal by now: Skullcrusher is a great big feint of a name. Whether Helen Ballentine was being tongue-in-cheek when she took on the moniker, there’s nothing metallic nor snarky about Skullcrusher’s music. Instead, it is patient, autumnal, strikingly pretty singer-songwriter fare. For the best material on her self-titled EP, Ballentine weaves her voice around gentle, subtly building instrumentals. Its closer, “Day Of Show,” is a pristine slow-burn that shows what Skullcrusher can do as she turns these meditations into something bigger: She might not leave your brains splattered on the floor, but she’ll find a way deep into your heart. –Ryan


 

Squirrel Flower

CREDIT: Ally Schmaling

LOCATION: Boston, MA 
Earlier this year, Ella O’Connor Williams released her debut album under the whimsical name Squirrel Flower. But beyond that, the music on I Was Born Swimming is rarely playful. Williams’ songs are often ragged, slow-burn reflections on her life to this point — all the way from birth up through strained college years to now. In that sense, I Was Born Swimming is an introductory work in the truest sense, an account of everything that’s made Williams who she is, told over songs that can be airy and hazy and then erupt to sudden life like a memory becoming more visceral, more tangible. –Ryan


 

Teenage Halloween

CREDIT: Sonya Alfano

LOCATION: Asbury Park, NJ
The members of Teenage Halloween are way too young to remember when hearty, hooky, empathetic punk bands like Hot Water Music and Lifetime were at their peak, and yet they still belong in that continuum, making fast and furious bleat-along anthems with the same kind of searching sweetness. Most of the members of Teenage Halloween identify as queer, and they put plenty of restless, questioning feeling into their music. The feelings and the hooks feed each other, making for a band capable of pogo-party stompers that’ll slam you right in the soul. –Tom

Stereogum’s launch week is presented with limited advertising thanks to support from POLLEN, Spotify’s genre-less playlist that aims to expose curious listeners to all types of great new music. Check out Pollen here and look for brand new playlists from Stereogum’s editorial team throughout this week here.

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