2020 In Review: Day 5 – Rock and Alternative

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2020 In Review

1. Introduction + Best Album Art
2. Song of the Year
3. Album of the Year
4. R&B and Soul
5. Rock and Alternative
6. Rap and Hip-hop
7. Dance and Electronic
8. Pop and Ballad
9. Folk and Country
10. Jazz and Blues
11. Crossover and World
12. Best Collaborative Work
13. Rookie Artist of the Year
14. Artist of the Year
15. Other Recognition
16. Concluding Remarks

Though we got a fair share of comebacks from established names in 2020, the year in rock sort of felt like a free-for-all of new faces and unexpected heavy-hitters. Reflecting that, a majority of artists and bands included for this year’s top twelve albums and songs (and even among the honorable mentions) have not been named to those categories before.

The “next-best ten” and honorable mention lists are sorted by artist name.

The 2020 Rock and Alternative Spotify playlist is here and also embedded below:


Best Rock and Alternative Album 2020

Remnants of the Fallen – All the Wounded and Broken

There have been countless metal albums to adorn these virtual pages over the 10-year history of our series, but surprisingly, this is the only the second year where one leads the pack of all rock albums. Much like the last album to do that – Vassline’s Black Silence in 2013All the Wounded and Broken was a furious and despairing album, and its soundscape was arguably even bleaker. Oppressive chords and Lee Jong-yeon’s stifling drum work exerted immense pressure, and the instrumental speed and precision on display produced stunning moments in every track.

But beyond the technical dazzle, what made the album truly special is how surprisingly emotional it managed to be. From the heavy and mourning elegy in the interlude of “Hel” to the the dizzying off-balance of “Deathlike Silence”‘s midsection to the sorrowful keyboard and guitar that close out “Writer Unknown”, Remnants of the Fallen found creative ways to make these tracks more than the mere sum of their (great) technical parts. An inspired sophomore effort.

The Runner-up

Dabda – But, All the Shining Things Are

Dabda’s long-awaited first full-length album But, All the Shining Things Are provided us with perhaps 2020’s strongest collection of satisfying riffs and fills and interludes, each track packed with sparkling beauty in finely chopped and layered notes. The wordless (well, backmasked) yet heart-swelling escalation of “Light Comes Back” was an accurate preview in that regard, readily matched by the rousing journeys of “Piercing the Black Night” and “Polydream”. Even when the album laid down the ambitious sounds and went for something a bit more straightforward (“Summer Game”, “Journey”), the earnest busyness of the instrumentation gave it a unique, reassuring character. All this meshed with the album’s celebration of youth playing out over an endless summer and timeless beach, in a breathless run-on style that somehow straddled a line between the surreal and the relatable.

The First Ten Out

ABTB – Daydream

Badlamb – Frightful Waves

Band 88 – Riff-Raff

Band Nah – 잔치 (Zanchi)

Cogason – 모든 소설 (Every Novel)

Combative Post – Whiteout

DTSQ – Moon Juice and Space Biscuits

Gong Joong Geu Neul – 연가 (Love Song)

Shin Hae-gyeong – 속꿈, 속꿈 (In Dreams, In Dreams)

Shirts Boy Frank – Lame


Best Rock and Alternative Song 2020

Silica Gel – Kyo181
Written/composed/arranged by Kim Han-ju

Following a two-plus-year break for the members’ military service, “Kyo181” was in some ways characteristically Silica Gel: the expansive and psychedelic sound stage, echoing vocals, unbridled energy. But it was also more subdued, and it was a masterstroke. The track was unabashedly simple, built around one devilishly addictive melody powering everything from verse to chorus and distinguished only by the intensity of instrumentation. As the questions posed by the lyrics – strictly six-syllable interrogatives for the titular “Kyo” – grew increasingly personal and sensual, the song seemed to close in on the listener; a breath held for the unsaid answers, then came the explosion at 2:45, the sparkling cymbals and electric outro taking us home. Nothing else was quite this pure, this absorbing, this sexy.

The Runner-up

Coremagazine – Tracy
Written by Ryu Jeong-heon
Composed by Kang Min-gyu, Ryu Jeong-heon
Arranged by Kang Min-gyu, Ryu Jeong-heon, Son Won-seok, Seen

The new wave revival hit seemingly every corner of music in 2020, including this one. Coremagazine’s troika of bold, rippling synths, thumping snare, and echoing guitars wasted no time in charging up the atmosphere, and the steadily pulsing bass properly put the retro into “Tracy”. The Titbit EP saw the band joined by vocalist Seen, the Stereotype frontwoman who previously went by Keemyoung, and her unmistakable husky tone (with some inspired mixing) enveloped the track with an inimitable and decadent aura. With heady groove and delicate confidence, “Tracy” declared herself the “queen of the crazy tonight”, and I’ve no desire to argue.

The First Ten Out

Ahn Da-young – 책임이 없는 사랑의 뒤엔 (Folktale)

Andn – 샬롯 (Charlotte) (Feat. Lee Seol-ah)

Badlamb – 겁 (Frightful Waves)

Cha Seung-woo – 오늘 (Today)

End These Days – Dead End

Lowdown 30 – 반나절이지나도 (Bannajeol Blues) (Feat. Lionclad)

Remnants of the Fallen – Hate and Carrion

SellinSellySelline – 백야행 (Into the White Night)

Shirts Boy Frank – 중층해양성 (Mesopelagic)

Surl – 침묵 (Silence)

Honorable Mentions


Band Nah – 1½
Billy Carter – Don’t Push Me
Bulgogidisco – Bulgog!d!isco
Coremagazine – Titbit
Crystal Tea – 핑크 무비 (Pink Movie)
Day6 – The Book of Us: The Demon
Deadbuttons – 1
Duoxini – Sins of Society
H a lot – We Are
Han Dae-su – 하늘 위로 구름 따라 (To the Sky Following the Clouds)
Hwanho – 야가 (夜歌) (Night)
Hyukoh – 사랑으로 (Through Love)
Jooboring – 탈출기 (The Escape)
Julia Dream – 생과 사 (Life and Death)
Loss of Infection – Dark Dimension
Messgram – Cheers for the Failures
Monotheism – Reveal
Monsters Dive – Dive or Die
Off.E – 3/4
Se So Neon – 비적응 (Nonadaptation)
Soumbalgwang – 도화선 (Fuze)
Squash Vines – 신세계 (New World)
Telefly – “그랬고, 그렇게 언제나” (A Good Old Fashioned) [read our review]
The Abrupt Departure – 잠 (Restless Sleep)
The Poles – We Get, the Same
Tilde – Tilde
Trinity Force – Initials
Voyeur – Footage Arcade
Wave to Earth – Wave 0.01
Wedance – Dance Pop


ABTB – Daydream (Feat. Shin Yoon-chul)
Adios Audio – Dissolve
Ahn Da-young – 지문 (Fingerprint)
Airy – 신세계 (New Universe)
Baada – Hemisphere
Band 88 – 리프라프 (Riff-Raff)
Band Nah – 생 (Life)
BJ Yoon Evil Force – 거리 (Street) (Feat. Lee Jeong-seon)
Bosudongcooler – We Live in the Jurassic Park
Bulgogidisco – 잊은줄 알았는데 (Thought Forgot)
Bulgogidisco – 장마 (Monsoon)
Cheon Miji – Everyone So Loves Me!
Chiyoonhae – 외로운 사람 (Lonely Person)
Choi Sun-bae & Ha Heon-jin Band – 어두운 골목길 (Dark Alleyway)
Cogason – 달콤한 것 (Sweet Things)
Cogason – 설명서 (Manual)
Combative Post – Poser (Feat. Hee of Turn for Our)
Coremagazine – 힘 (Hymn)
Crystal Tea – 그곳에 닿아줘 (There There)
Dabda – Polydream
Dabda – 검은밤을 가르던 (Piercing the Black Night)
Dareharu – 염라 (Karma)
Day6 – Love Me or Leave Me
Deadbuttons – 빙의 (Bing-ee)
Desert Flower – The Universe Part II (Unsaid)
Diving Flow – Just Like a Lion
DTSQ – Fame
Duoxini – Sin of Society
End These Days – Vein (Feat. Yang Jin-hyeon)
Gong Joong Geu Neul – 계절 (Season)
Gong Joong Geu Neul – 그사이 (Meanwhile)
H a lot – The Night
H a lot – We Are
H a lot – 휘파람 (Whistle)
HarryBigButton – Dirty Harry
Herd – Sailor
Hipe – 쾅 (Birth)
Holocity – The Days
Huckleberry Finn – Sunlight
Hwanho – 도깨비 (Dokkaebi)
Hyukoh – Hey Sun
Jooboring – 환자였던 사람 (Prodigal Son)
Julia Dream – El Nuevo Mundo
Kim Na-eun – 사람 (People)
Land of Peace – Underground
Loss of Infection – Black Earth
Loss of Infection – Fury as Savage
Loss of Infection – The Haunted
Low Hanging Fruits – 우린 그저 빛을 따라 (We Just Chase the Light)
Low High Low – 도시 (City) (Feat. Yea Song)
Lucy – Flare
Lucy – 선잠 (Snooze)
Luli Lee – 순간 속에서 (Into This Moment) [read our interview on this song]
Messgram – Rockstars
Monsters Dive – Hell Is Other People (Feat. Hunger Noma)
Off.E – Baseball
Off.E – The Day from the Mirror
Purple Whale – 날개 (The Wings)
Ravie Nuage – 바다 (The Sea)
Remnants of the Fallen – Earth Eaters
Remnants of the Fallen – Hel (Feat. Kyuho Espirit of Madmans Espirit)
Richiman Trio – 리치맨블루스 (Richiman Blues)
Se So Neon – 이방인 (Stranger)
Shin Hae-gyeong – 그 후 (And Then)
Soggim – 새벽춤 (Dawn Dance)
Soumbalgwang – 도화 (Fire)
Squash Vines – 신세계 (New World)
Sundayrest – Joyenjoy
Tae:a – Find Myself
Telefly – 워크맨 (The Walkman)
The Midnight Romance – 해줄래 (IMYT)
The Poles – Dream
The Poles – 어느샌가 우리는 매일을 살아왔네 (Day)
The Yangbans – 태평천하 (Peace at Last)
Tilde – 시린밤에 촛불처럼 (Like a Candle on a Cold Night)
Trinity Force – 후! (Ho!)
Truth Teller – What Can I Say (Feat. Hyun Suk Kim)
Wave to Earth – Gold
Wave to Earth – Ride
Younha – 26
Younha – 먹구름 (Dark Cloud)
Zoorumpug – Convulsion

All album art from Bugs Music. Silica Gel header image from Studio FLO YouTube.

Read our past series:

2019 In Review

2018 In Review

2017 In Review

2016 In Review

2015 In Review

2014 In Review

2013 In Review

2012 In Review