The 10 best indie and alternative lyrics of the year, featuring IDLES, Declan McKenna, The 1975 and more.
The time has come to look back at some of the best lyrics of 2020 from the alternative/indie scene. Lyrics that stand out and linger in my head are usually ones that are unflinchingly honest, poetic or even funny.
With that in mind, here goes. In no particular order…
IDLES – ‘Model Village’
"‘Hardest man in the world’ in the village
He says he's got with every girl in the village"
Yep. Great start, I know. Ultra Mono, the very accomplished third album by the Bristolian punk band, had a few potential entries onto this list – not just on the record but this track alone. A song which appears to bemoan everything the band hates or disagrees with in the village they grew up in, this lyric stood out for me in particular. It’s poking fun at the fact that every town seems to have a select one or two infamous men who are either feared and/or boast about their sexual exploits. Cutting.
Declan McKenna – ‘You Better Believe!!!’
"'I’m off out to buy a bag of Quavers
And Nike Trainers
Comfort you can feel"
As previously mentioned in my review of McKenna’s album Zeros, I’m a fan. And this is the final verse of the opening song where he drops down into a crooning muse after a heavier chorus. It’s a striking part of the song as he is talking about popping to the shop feeling like a normal guy despite also being this pedestaled popstar. A clever, conversational lyric that comes out of nowhere on first listen. Sorry to spoil that surprise for you if you hadn’t yet heard it. Maturing.
The 1975 – ‘Playing On My Mind’
“I won’t get clothes online
‘Cause I get worried about the fit
But that rule don’t apply concerning my relationships
See, I keep getting this stuff wrong
Take me out, put me on”
I think this is genius. A social comment juxtaposing how we all tend to be starting and mediating our relationships online, both romantic and platonic, whilst yet continuing to buy most of our clothes in retail stores as it’s the best way to make sure that we are choosing the right ones.
It’s succinctly acknowledging the engrained, addictive use of online dating sites but hinting that buying into someone’s self-created profile on the internet might not necessarily be the best way to meet the perfect partner. ‘Playing On My Mind’ is one of the low-key backend numbers on Notes On A Conditional Form, their brilliant - albeit - lengthy fourth album. Hard-hitting.
HAIM – ‘The Steps’
“If I go right
And you go left
Hey, I know we'll meet up again
And if you go left
And I go right
Hey, maybe that's just life sometimes”
This is one of my favourite bridges of the year. It’s one where we hear Danielle Haim be philosophical about her romantic future. She lays out the two contrasting eventualities of either finding this person again in the right situation or their paths not crossing again. She concludes this line of thought with an acceptance that maybe it just won’t work out. The chorus is a cracker too, so it really is a great number from the American band’s third album Women in Music Pt. III, the American band’s third album. Composed.
The Magic Gang – ‘Make A Sound’
“Over the music I hear something
Sounds like it could be two people arguing
And I hope it’s not my friends
‘Cause that would f*** up a good night”
We’ve all been there. Enjoying an evening on the dance floor until a few people you know get into an argument, whether it’s a couple you’re out with or two mates having a nothing exchange fuelled by drunk angst. Following the above first line, there is a momentary stop in the music as though to replicate the singer listening out for what the sound could be before the music kicks back in with his conclusion. The second half of this perfectly encapsulates that selfish fear you have that this situation could jeopardise *your* night. The song transports you into the scene of a night out but from an observational perspective. It belongs perfectly as track three of the indie band’s accomplished album Death of the Party.
In truth, I was going to nominate lines from the first verse of this song but realised I was mishearing it after searching the official lyrics. I was singing along thinking the correct line “Nights like these tend to tick away so fast” was actually “Nights like these lead to takeaways so fast”. But in fairness I think my version’s more relatable… Still, it’s a good song. Youthful.
Fontaines D.C. – ‘A Hero’s Death’
“Sink as far down as you can be pulled up
Happiness really ain't all about luck
Let your demeanour be your deep-down self
And don't sacrifice your life for your health
When you speak, speak sincere
And believe me friend, everyone will hear”
The Irish band received their first Grammy nomination for their second album A Hero’s Death and it was the title track that set the tone of quality when it was released as the first lead single. The vocals are delivered almost like a speech, but with a self-assured confidence and wisdom that commands the listener to pay attention.
The selected lyrics above are from the second verse but in truth all verses made a case to be put in. This one is my personal favourite. By addressing the audience as a “friend” after reeling off these truisms and commands, lead singer Grian Chatten is hinting that he’s only saying these things as we need to hear them – it’s tough love, really. Earnest.
Dream Wife – ‘Validation’
“Validation, why does that mean so much to me?
Validation, why does that mean so much to me?
Validation, it is a human tragedy
We go to art openings
We fit in, ‘cause nobody fits in”
The first paragraph is the chorus & hones in succinctly on the natural desire to be accepted by people for who you really are. Lead singer Rakel Mjöll is asking why she struggles to feel validated before concluding that it’s a negative & she shouldn’t place so much importance on it.
The second part is the following verse & seemingly explains that going to art social events makes her feel less self-conscious as there is an inherent freedom creatively and individually in that setting. She is perhaps hinting that everyone could find a place or hobby where they feel a similar way. Gratifying.
Tame Impala - 'Lost in Yesterday'
"Eventually terrible memories turn into great ones
So if they call you, embrace them
If they hold you, erase them
Cause it might have been something used to say
Does it help to get lost in yesterday?"
I really got on board with Tame Impala's fourth album The Slow Rush earlier this year and the whole concept of time running throughout (I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a sucker for a concept album...). The Spring lockdown brought upon a fresh bout of self-reflection for many people and, what felt like endless hours stuck indoors, it might've been easy to overthink past mistakes and look back with regret. Through 'Lost in Yesterday' Kevin Parker questions what good is done by feeling crippled by bad memories. Instead you should embrace these experiences, they form who you are and help you grow ("eventually terrible memories turn into great ones"). I absolutely love that. The fact that it's a funky wee number with a killer bassline definitely helped push it into being one my most played songs of the year! Inspiring.
Words by Matthew McLister
YUNGBLUD – ‘weird!’
“Come hold my hand
Hold it tight
We’re in a weird time of life
Don’t wreck your brain, it’ll be alright
We’re in a weird time of life.”
This chorus belongs on any playlist that sums up the rollercoaster that 2020 has been. It is the title track of YUNGBLUD’s second album, which we reviewed only a couple of weeks ago. The words speak for themselves here so I won’t ramble on, but it’s one of the most therapeutic songs to sing along to when trying to channel the array of emotions we’ve all felt this calendar year. Comforting.
Cornershop – ‘Morning Ben’
The final one had to be a bit cheeky. This is by all accounts a silly 18-second interlude where the band can be heard “checking in” to the studio. All that can be really heard is sound checking a few piano notes, some whistling and this early verbal greeting exchanged by two of the members.
It’s the ninth track on their album England is a Garden. It’s daft, funny and the above lyrics are literally the only words in this transitional song. Audacious.
If this lyrical reflection has given you the taste for more content, why not check out our official Best of Albums 2020 list.