Sure, there was much competition for the worst news of the month, but there was also much competition for its best songs. Sufjan Stevens and Angel Olsen announced splashy new albums, plus we received compelling records from Taylor Swift, Haux, Illuminati Hotties and more. Picking our favorite songs of the month proved to be more difficult this past July, given just how much incredible music we fell in love with. Though there were plenty more songs we enjoyed this month, we felt especially enamored with these 15 tunes.
Listen to our Best Songs of July 2020 playlist on Spotify right here.
Experimental folk singer/songwriter Alexia Avina has announced the details of her new album Unearth, out on Oct. 9 via Lost Map and Topshelf Records. Unearth is described as a breakup album of sorts, and “Fit Into” explores one way relationships can break down: changing who you are to satisfy your partner. Avina uses just three simple, short phrases—all three words apiece—to illustrate such a complex concept: “Fit into him / I wanna try / I wanna try / I wanna glow.” Avina’s gentle yet captivating melodies accentuate the heartbreaking nature of such a predicament. Her characteristically transcendent voice elevates this song into something majestic. —Lizzie Manno
Veteran singer/songwriter Angel Olsen had an impeccable 2019. Her LP, All Mirrors, was met with immediate acclaim and appreciation for its intense introspection and artistic experimentation. Recently, she announced a solo companion album to last year’s All Mirrors titled Whole New Mess, out Aug. 28 via Jagjaguwar, and its lead single is out now. The new title track is beautiful and vulnerable, and Olsen’s earnest vocals are at the forefront. —Danielle Chelosky
Indie singer/songwriter Anjimile has announced his debut album Giver Taker, out on Sept. 18 via Father/Daughter Records. The quiet, sprawling lead single “Maker” is now. Self-discovery shines through on this soft, acoustic ballad—laden with exceptional harmonies and synths. —Danielle Chelosky
The Avett Brothers recently announced that the third album in their Gleam series is on its way. The Third Gleam is out Aug. 28, and the band shared the first single, titled “Victory,” and an accompanying video. Scott and Seth join forces for this stripped-down folk song, whose harmonies and gentle guitar certainly harken back to The Avett Brothers’ early material, which includes The Gleam and The Second Gleam. If “Victory” is any indication of what’s to come, The Third Gleam could be some of their best work in years. —Ellen Johnson
D.C. up-and-coming indie rocker Bartees Strange released a new single, “Mustang,” from his forthcoming debut album. “Mustang” is full of diverse elements. It’s something of an indie rock anthem wrapped up in mesmerizing synths, catchy riffs and bombastic vocals. It’s a bold introduction from an exciting up-and-comer. —Danielle Chelosky
It should come as no surprise that The Chicks are consistently resilient on their relentless fifth LP Gaslighter. The same Natalie, Martie and Emily who threatened their best friend’s cheating husband on “Goodbye Earl” are fired up on every Gaslighter song, particularly “Sleep At Night,” where Maines asks, “My husband’s girlfriends’ husband just called me / And how messed up is that? / It’s so insane that I have to laugh,” before adding, “But then I think about our two boys trying to become men / there’s nothing funny about that” and recounting the instance where her husband brought the aforementioned side piece to a Chicks show. How does he sleep at night, indeed. —Ellen Johnson
Massachusetts-based singer/songwriter Woodson Black, who records as Haux, released his debut LP Violence in a Quiet Mind earlier this year. The album is a vocally-driven project, combining the timbres of Jeff Buckley, Angelo De Augustine and Perfume Genius, with Haux’s plush blend of soul and folk carrying an immense emotional weight. “Salt” is its most touching piece, as Haux leaves a generous amount of space for his tender vocal flutters. —Lizzie Manno
Sarah Tudzin’s new mixtape Free I.H. was just released after it was teased on socials weeks before as a new record from a mystery band called Occult Classic. The record briefly debuted on SoundCloud before it was taken down the morning after, and it was pretty clear that not only was Tudzin behind the project, but it was her best material yet—feisty, super-charged and full of hooks to die for. Lead single “will i get cancelled if i write a song called, ‘if you were a man you’d be so cancelled’” (the title was originally a text message from Tudzin to Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis) is just over a minute-long, but it packs more fury and zeitgeisty one-liners than most tunes. “Let’s smash to a podcast” is easily the most absurd yet iconic opening line of the year, and the juxtaposition of sassy power pop vocals with harsh punk grumbles is such a perfect metaphor for the anger and hysterical comedy of 2020. —Lizzie Manno
JPEGMAFIA has kept us fed during quarantine. The Baltimore-based rapper has been releasing a steady stream of singles over the course of the year, starting with “BALD” back in February. This month, JPEGMAFIA released the most recent of his quarantine projects, “living single.” The track, an odd yet delightful mixture of bubblegum pop and Peggy’s trademark noise-rap, interpolates Mariah Carey’s 1995 hit “Always Be My Baby,” with Peggy softly singing the hook. Accompanied by electronic noises and a sparkling beat, the 100 gecs-esque track may be one of Peggy’s most pop-influenced releases to date. —Lia Pikus
British soul singer/songwriter and guitarist Lianne La Havas has shared her self-titled new album, which includes an impeccable cover of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes.” Recorded during a live session at 123 in Peckham just a few weeks ago, the video for the cover features La Havas on guitar and vocals, accompanied by her live band. The cozy setting and relaxed atmosphere make for an intimate experience, and La Havas’s unique musicality and vocal mastery put a fresh spin on the 2007 single. —Lia Pikus
Canadian punk outfit METZ announced a new album Atlas Vending. Set for release on Oct. 9 via Sub Pop, the new album follows last year’s Automat. METZ shared a new single to accompany the announcement, “A Boat to Drown In.” It’s a characteristically bleak, seven-and-a-half minute boil of Alex Edkins’ snarling delivery playing against a heavy backdrop of guitars and drums—eventually dropping into churning instrumental tension for the second half of the song. —Jack Meyer
Singer/songwriter Samia shared a pair of singles from her forthcoming debut album The Baby, out on Aug. 28 via Grand Jury Music. On “Big Wheel,” Samia uses her tender vocal powerhouse to conjure deep feelings of regret, empathy and self-reflection. Against spacey synths and noodling guitars, Samia’s atmospheric vocalizations soar, while the verses and chorus find her in her element: utilizing both softness and might to bring about a strong sense of emotional intimacy. —Lizzie Manno
Irish poet Sinead O’Brien announced her Dan Carey-produced (Speedy Wunderground) debut EP Drowning in Blessings, out on Sept. 16. O’Brien has released a number of stark, razor-sharp tunes over the years, but “Strangers in Danger” may be her best work yet. “I am not worried or certain / Because this is not my life / This is just the dust before the fall and the rise,” she sings with an assured, almost all-knowing aura. It’s a dark, tension-packed tune about cycles of time, history and philosophy, but more so our everyday relationship to those ideas which underlie even the most mundane interactions. O’Brien makes one question not just what things are meaningful and what aren’t, but what is “worth” itself. —Lizzie Manno
Singer/songwriter and composer Sufjan Stevens announced the details of his eighth solo album The Ascension, due out on Sept. 25 via Asthmatic Kitty Records. Stevens premiered its lead single “America,” a 12-minute electro-pop epic, which he describes as “a protest song against the sickness of American culture in particular.” —Lizzie Manno
It’s been quite a while since Taylor Swift could reasonably appear on a list about “Americana” music or any roots-based songs. But on her surprise-released wonder album folklore, she sinks comfortably back into acoustic music like falling into bed after a long, hard day (while still cranking out beautiful pop songs, too). “invisible string” is the pluckiest of them all, though, as Swift creates a lush landscape with Iron & Wine-esque acoustic guitar while Aaron Dessner offers bustling instrumentation underneath. Thematically, “invisible string” is about two people’s parallel timelines weaving in and out of each other. But it also finds Swift in a satisfied state, making peace with past relationships: “Cold was the steel of my axe to grind / For the boys who broke my heart,” she sings. “Now I send their babies presents.” Maybe time really does heal all wounds. —Ellen Johnson
Listen to our Best Songs of July 2020 playlist on Spotify right here.