Year-end lists: Slamming the door on 2020 with the HI-35 and the year’s 20 best local tracks


The way 2020 unfolded, it seemed to offer a musical choice akin to “fight or flight”: Either you 1) embraced pandemic-inspired music and/or music reflecting the turbulent social upheaval all around us; or, 2) you embraced escapist sounds that had nothing to do with the news, the virus, the streets, and America’s rhetorical blood feud. In Path 2, you choose an outlet away from it all.

Or, you took in a mixture of the two.

As you’ll see below, I wanted it all: The fun and the musical thinkpieces (which, when done well like many of the songs on these lists, best most actual thinkpieces and often even lap them).

While most of us have moved on to 2021 and some unique, uh, challenges it’s already presented so far, I haven’t done so yet as far as this cyberhood goes. So, as I navigate the winter disaster of 2021 with much of the rest of Austin, and hope power doesn’t shut off again (I went two-and-a-half days without it), it’s time for me to finally slam the door on one of the most wretched years in modern history and deliver my year-end lists. And I want to do so expediently.

So without further comment, I’ll just say that in 2020, I’m glad we had the music.

Here are my top 20 tracks by Austin artists for 2020, followed by the grandparent of them all, the HI-35: Ear Traffic ATX’s 35 favorite tracks of the year. Songs released at the verrry end of the Year We’d All Like to Forget (say, after Dec. 15 or so), will be considered 2021 candidates.

To listen to all the songs on both lists, check out the embedded Spotify playlists below each.

(Top photo of Erika Wennerstrom, of Heartless Bastards, by Nicole Berlin Photography)

Ear Traffic’s top local tracks of 2020
1. Heartless Bastards, “Revolution
2. Blackillac, “Black on Black”
3. Abhi the Nomad, “Risky Business”
4. Sweet Spirit, “Fingerprints”
5. Jackie Venson, “Vintage Machine”
6. Ringo Deathstarr, “Cotton Candy Clouds”
7. Caroline Rose, “Do You Think We’ll Last Forever?”
8. Kydd Jones, “Goblin”
9. Sweet Spirit, “Fear is a Lie”
10. Bill Callahan, “Pigeons”
11. Pure X, “Middle America”
12. Van Mary, “Hug”
13. Hovvdy, “Runner”
14. Sir Woman, “Bitch”
15. Caroline Rose, “Feel the Way I Want”
16. Whitney Rose, “We Still Go to Rodeos”
17. Tomar and the FCs, “Rise Above”
18. Charley Crockett, “Don’t Cry”
19. Black Pistol Fire, “Hope in Hell”
20. Alesia Lani, “IDFWU”


The HI-35: Ear Traffic’s Top Tracks of 2020
1. Waxahatchee, “Can’t Do Much”
2. Bully, “Where to Start”
3. Sweeping Promises, “Hunger for a Way Out”
4. Run the Jewels, “walking in the snow”
5. Waxahatchee, “Lilacs”
6. Chicano Batman, “Invisible People”
7. Adrianne Lenker, “anything”
8. Drive-By Truckers, “Thoughts and Prayers”
9. Megan Thee Stallion, “Sugar Baby”
10. Soccer Mommy, “circle the drain”
11. Phoebe Bridgers, “Kyoto”
12. John Moreland, “A Thought is Just a Passing Train”
13. Heartless Bastards, “Revolution”
14. Matt Berninger, “One More Second”
15. HAIM, “The Steps”
16. Blackillac, “Black on Black”
17. Beths, “Dying to Believe”
18. Destroyer, “It Just Doesn’t Happen”
19. Sweeping Promises, “Upright”
20. Zsela, “Earlier Days”
21. Abhi the Nomad, “Risky Business”
22. Steady Holiday, “Tangerine”
23. Taylor Swift feat. Bon Iver, “exile”
24. Sault, “Free”
25. Real Estate feat. Sylvan Esso, “Paper Cup”
26. girl in red, “rue”
27. Holly Humberstone, “Overkill”
28. Megan The Stallion, “Girls in the Hood”
29. HAIM, “Gasoline”
30. Dogleg, “Kawasaki Backflip”
31. Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion, “WAP”
32. Waxahatchee, “Fire”
33. Mosses, “Time in Yer Mind”
34. Hinds, “Come Back and Love Me”
35. Beach Bunny, “Good Girls (Don’t Get Used)”

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