Like many organizations, we like to poll our team for some of the highlights of the year. It may seem counter intuitive to think that this year might even have highlights to think upon. But, creativity and music never stops, and as a collective of music lovers, we are excited to provide a list of some of the ‘bests’ of 2020.

Many of the KZUM programmers are still compiling lists, and we will be updating this page as those programmers submit their entries. CHECK BACK OFTEN to see if your favorite show or radio host has submitted a list.


with Aaron Vlasnik

10 Favorite Albums of 2020:

1. RTJ4 – Run The Jewels
2. The Slow Rush – Tame Impala
3. Wherever I Go, I Want To Leave – Love Fame Tragedy
4. A Celebration of Endings – Biffy Clyro
6. Half Drunk Under A Full Moon – The Fratellis
7. Petals for Armor – Hayley Williams
8. Sad Happy – Circa Waves
9. Notes on a Conditional Form – The 1975
10. New Medicine – Mondo Cozmo

Best (only) Concerts of 2020:

1. Fitz and The Tantrums – Bourbon Theatre – March 6th
2. Blue Man Group – Lied Center – January 30th
3. Korn and Breaking Benjamin – Pinnacle Bank Arena – February 18th

Most Disappointing Concerts Missed (that I knew about prior to March):

1. 311 & Incubus – Kansas City, KS 
2. Rage Against The Machine & Run The Jewels – Sioux Falls, SD
3. The 1975 & Phoebe Bridgers – Omaha, NE
4. Dropkick Murphy’s & Rancid – Council Bluffs, IA
5. Mac Lethal – Lincoln, NE


with Renae


with Vic Valverde

This year of 2020 despite being a difficult year for being able to see musical acts and many artists struggled trying to stay connected to their followers, within the quarantine lock-down aesthetics some interesting and fascinating music resulted. Admittedly a lot of my picks happened to have been completed just before it all came crashing down, nevertheless, here is a list I found that peeked my interests this year of 2020.

TOP 10 SONGS OF 2020

10. Capital Crimes – Andrew Bird
9. The Last Exit – Still Corners
8. Wake Up – Hazel English
7. Quarantine Blues – Mike Zito
6. 25 Trips – Sierra Hull
5. Lighter Fluid – Les Deuxluxes
4. I Can’t Breathe – h.e.r.
3. Yellow is the Color of her Eyes – Soccer Mommy
2. Level of Concern – Twenty One Pilots
1. I Know the End – Phoebe Bridgers


with Tom Ineck

As elsewhere, the live music scene in Lincoln, Omaha and beyond vanished as the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the globe, abruptly ending here in mid-March. The Zoo Bar closed and the Jazz in June series was streamed live. Sadly, some venues never reopened, including Chez SoDo in downtown Lincoln, which hosted live jazz on Mondays and other styles of music on weekends. The Nebraska Jazz Orchestra cancelled the remaining concerts of its season, including an April 28 performance at the Lied Center with special guest Dave Stryker on guitar. A personal disappointment was the cancellation of a July 19 Stir Cove double bill with the Steve Miller Band and Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives.

What follows is a list of concerts I attended before the doors closed and the stages went silent.

Top Live Music Performances of 2020

McGovern Stringband, Chez SoDo, Lincoln, Jan. 16

Bill Wimmer Band, Chez SoDo, Lincoln, Jan. 20

Aaron Stroessner Quartet, Zoo Bar, Lincoln, Jan. 24

Brian Baggett Trio, Green Lady Lounge, Kansas City, Mo., Jan. 27

Big Daddy Caleb & the Chargers, Chez SoDo, Lincoln, Jan. 31

The Wondermonds, Zoo Bar, Lincoln, Feb. 6

“An American in Paris,” Lied Center, Lincoln, Feb. 8

Eddie Palmieri, Holland Center, Omaha, Feb. 11

Aaron Stroessner Trio, Chez SoDo, Lincoln, Feb. 17

The String Demons, Chez SoDo, Feb. 20

A few live concerts were held either outdoors or in venues that allowed for social distancing and limited seating. Here are two that I attended:

McGovern Stringband, Artisan Mark Coffee (outdoors), Crete, Sept. 25

UNL Faculty Jazz Ensemble, Lied Center, Oct. 30


with Twyla Twang

1. “Keep ‘Em on They Toes” – Brett Cobb
2. “Black Cats and Crows” – Ward Davis
3. “Shallow Graves” – India Ramey
4.” Prairie Love Letter” – Brennen Leigh
5. “The Country” – Tennessee Jet
6. “Neon Cross” – Jaime Wyatt
7. “Glad You Made It” – Joshua Ray Walker
8. “Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me” – Waylon Payne
9. “Aftermath” – Elizabeth Cook
10. “Welcome to Hard Times” – Charley Crocket

1. “No Time For a Broken Heart” – Justin Wells
2. “Southeast Texas Trinity River Bottom Blues” – Zach Aaron
3. “Get To Work Whiskey” – Ward Davis
4. “Keep ‘Em on They Toes” – Brett Cobb
5. “Come On Shorty” – White Buffalo
6. “Poet’s Prayer” – Sunny Sweeney
7. “Sins of the Father” – Waylon Payne
8. ”You’re Not in the Picture Anymore” – Craig Gerdes
9. “For The Matter” – Dan O’Rourke
10. “Billy and Beau” – Brennan Leigh


with Scott Scholz

Some of my favorite creative music of 2020

In a year that tested our abilities to be flexible and adaptive for the sake of survival, I found that creative music kept me inspired and moving forward. Here are 10 of my favorite new albums from 2020 along those lines, along with 5 favorite reissues of important creative records from the past:

Bec Plexus – Sticklip (New Amsterdam Records)

The debut solo album by Amsterdam’s Bec Plexus, “Sticklip” is a wildly imaginative romp through experimental pop sounds, heavily manipulated by electronics but with a substantial grounding in contemporary classical approaches. Most songs are based in voice and synthesizer structures, often supplemented with “real” drums and percussion. These tunes often get dense, complex with layers of information and shifting textures, but somehow they’re very catchy and compelling, too.

Horse Lords – The Common Task (Northern Spy Records)

This is the fourth official album from Horse Lords (they also have four “mixtapes” full of developmental works-in-progress), and “The Common Task” finds them continuing to refine their unique approach to music. The band works with microtonal stringed instruments, tuned to a Pythagorean temperament, and they build ecstatic structures out of minimalist-influenced repetitive patterns. What starts from minimal means often becomes quite maximal in effect, with complex interlocking polyrhythms and melodies redolent of Saharan Tuareg rock music.

Schnellertollermeier – 5 (Cuneiform Records)

This trio started out as more of a prog-influenced power trio, but with each passing album their music becomes more disciplined and more austere. “5” is a carefully composed and precisely performed album, heavy on the use of space, silence, and guitar harmonics that frequently has more in common with modern classical composition than the prog-rock one might expect to be played with guitar, bass, and drum kit. This features some of the most intricate rhythmic playing you’re likely to hear from any kind of ensemble.

Jobs – Endless Birthdays (Ramp Local)

Like Schnellertollermeier, Jobs is a band that started out making very different sounds than they are today. “Endless Birthdays” is another record made of intricate compositions, many of which carry a certain sense of asceticism: the arrangements are often lush, but there’s a kind of inward focus hanging over the record. Of particular note on this record is the percussion work of Max Jaffe, which is performed using a Sensory Percussion setup that allows for a sophisticated set of samples to be triggered by drumming. You’ll hear lots of rhythms here, but they aren’t associated with the usual sounds of a drum kit.

Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion (Metal Blade Records)

French composer Gautier Serre has been producing unusual records under the Igorrr moniker for almost 15 years. Initially, his work was a playful juxtaposition of classical and baroque musical textures with the percussion assault of high-velocity IDM and breakcore music, which he wistfully referred to as “baroquecore.” Over time, he’s developed a larger audience for Igorrr, and the project has absorbed even more musical styles, including lots of metal music and Balkan and Roma influences. His latest album is the most ambitious Igorrr LP yet, a masterpiece of studio recording that features lots of guest performers from metal, classical, and progressive rock backgrounds, and songs that constantly surprise, delight, and frighten.

Neptunian Maximalism – Eons (I, Voidhanger Records)

The other records I’ve mentioned so far mostly trade in sophisticated composition. This one is almost the polar opposite of that: a nearly 3-hour mostly improvised set of music exploring the common ground between free jazz, psychedelic improvisation, drone, doom metal, and repetitious tribal percussion. “Eons” is a primal yet unpredictable romp in three movements dedicated to the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun,” and despite the extremes found in its influences, it’s a strangely compelling work that can sustain my full attention despite its sheer length.

Wendy Eisenberg – Auto (Ba Da Bing Records)

Eisenberg is well-known for creative guitar work, and for the dizzying intensity of their previous band, Birthing Hips. “Auto” draws upon Eisenberg’s phenomenal guitar playing, ranging from jazz to no-wave brutalism, and harnesses some of the rapid tempo and meter shifts in their earlier work, toward a more intimate, vulnerable set of songs. At its core, this is an album of great songwriting with poignant lyrics, but the creative arrangements take it to a whole other level of awesome.

Fire-Toolz – Rainbow Bridge (Hausu Mountain Records)

Angel Marcloid keeps making stunning albums under the Fire-Toolz moniker, and “Rainbow Bridge” somehow improves on the already amazing “Field Whispers (Into the Crystal Palace)” from the year before. This music shouldn’t work on the surface: combining cheesy 80s jazz fusion textures and black metal with moments of post-vaporwave and electroacoustic introspection sounds like a mess waiting to be cleaned up from the description, but by golly it works. In fact the more Weather Channel-sounding moments (and I mean to reference both the band and the actual channel) seem to tap into a kind of collective melancholy. You might think this music would work in an ironic way, but in fact it transcends irony altogether and becomes something new.

Brandon Seabrook Trio – Exultations (Astral Spirits Records)

Seabrook’s take on jazz often includes the most frantic, high-speed guitar playing you’re ever likely to hear (and sometimes similar flights of fancy on the banjo). In this trio setting with Gerald Cleaver on drums and Cooper-Moore on the Diddley Bow, a kind of 1-string bass instrument, he’s afforded a lot of room to work, and he uses it to great effect. There are certainly moments of bees-in-the-brain flurries, but the trio also knows how to play with space–what essentially serves as the title track, “Essential Exultations, sits at the middle of the album is is an almost ambient piece. And they can get downright funky in an Ornette free-funk kind of way, too. With some clear roots in the history of free jazz, this is fire music for modern fires.

More Eaze – Mari (Orange Milk Records)

Mari Maurice’s incredibly prolific More Eaze project continues to surprise, after somewhere around 20 albums in only five years. One can expect anything from modern classical to acoustic pop and many avant-garde electronic spaces in between on a More Eaze record, and this time around, Mari leans into very futuristic pop approaches, with percussion and synthesizer treatments that transport the music into a kind of unique, timeless space. Very dry, in-your-face production makes for an intimate experience, so even as you’re hearing the future unfold, it’s right there at arm’s reach.


Sun Ra – Egypt ‘71 (Strut)

This was initially a 5-LP box set released as part of Record Store Day, but subsequently much of its contents have been released in single-LP editions and a 4-CD box set. Sun Ra’s trip to Egypt in 1971 found his band at the height of their powers, channeling all kinds of unique electronic sounds as well as moments of more traditional big band arrangements. The main three LPs that were reissued in this set have been out of print for decades and were prohibitively expensive collectibles. “Egypt ‘71” puts some of the band’s best work back into print, along with 2 LPs of previously unreleased takes. The most essential of essentials for Sun Ra fans.

Philip Glass reissue series (Music On Vinyl)

Starting in mid-2020 and continuing into this year, Philip Glass has teamed up with Netherlands label Music On Vinyl to begin reissuing a selection of his most significant works throughout his long career. In 2020, we saw the reissue of his opera trilogy in great-sounding deluxe packages, and pieces like “Einstein on the Beach” have never sounded better. His soundtracks for the “Qatsi” trilogy of films were also reissued, which included the first appearance of the “Naqoyqatsi” soundtrack on vinyl. If you’ve never gotten into Philip Glass, or if you have and your copies are getting worn out, this is a great time to dig into these lavishly-produced reissues.

Snakefinger – Who Do You Love? (B-Sides and Rarities) (Secret Records)

Long-time guitarist of choice for the mysterious band The Residents, and a funky player with a number of excellent solo albums of his own, Snakefinger’s legacy is enriched by this excellent new record. A batch of unreleased Snakefinger tracks were discovered among the Residents materials, and here they are combined with stellar B-side tracks from Snakefinger’s singles in the 1980s to make an essential addition to his all-too-short discography.

PJ Harvey reissue series (Island Records)

In mid-2020, Island began a reissue campaign that will eventually reissue all of the PJ Harvey catalog on vinyl and CD. What’s especially exciting about this is that many of the albums are also being released in “demo” versions, featuring PJ’s own home versions of these songs. Her arranging and home performances prove to be visionary–the demos for the “To Bring You My Love” album, for example, find the songs in nearly perfected form before she ever entered a studio. I recall people giving a lot of credit to her producers over the years for the sound and vibe of her records, and while she indeed worked with great producers, these reissues prove that she’s been very much in control of her sound and its evolution from the beginning.

Kraftwerk reissue series (Parlophone)

In October 2020, Parlophone reissued the Kraftwerk catalog in semi-deluxe editions. While they’re not gatefold LPs, they included large booklets with each title, and they went with appropriately-colored vinyl for each album. While many of these records are already well-regarded as classics, I think this reissue series will bring more attention to some of their later work that wasn’t as critically or commercially successful. In hindsight, it’s easy to hear that later records like “Techno Pop,” “The Mix,” and “Tour De France” continued to be ahead of their time–we just needed a little more time to figure it all out.


with Beau Poehlman and Steffan Decker


01. “Saint Cloud” by Waxahatchee
02. “Shore” by Fleet Foxes
03. “Brain Candy” by Hockey Dad
04. “Hannah” by Lomelda
05. “Women In Music Pt. III” by HAIM
06. “The World At Night” by Walter Martin
07. “We Will Always Love You” by The Avalanches
08. “Punisher” by Phoebe Bridgers
09. “Deep Down Happy” by Sports Team
10. “Afternoon Stanley” by Stanley
11. “April/月音” by Emmy The Great
12. “Color Theory by Soccer Mommy
13. “The Slow Rush” by Tame Impala
14. “songs” by AdriAnne Lenker
15. “Human Beauty” by The Birthday Letters
16. “Years” by Criteria
17. “Sundowner” by Kevin Morby
18. “South Somewhere Else” by Nana Grizol
19. “The New Abnormal” by The Strokes
20. “Light Exchanges” by Sister Species


01. “The Universal Want” by Doves
02. “Hannah” by Lomelda
03. “OMAGAH!” by Guster and Omaha Symphony Orchestra
04. “Wake UP!” by Hazel English
05. “The Cormorant I & II” by San Fermin
06. “Healer” by Grouplove
07. “Black Ryno” by Danny Black
08. “Bad Vacation” by Liza Anne
09. “Kairos” by Faded Paper Figures
10. “The Third Gleam” by The Avett Brothers
11. “Pray For It” by July Talk
12. “Ceremony” by Phantogram
13. “Through A Dark Wood” by Sea Wolf
14. “Are We There Yet?” by Big Little Lions
15. “Swimmer” by Tennis
16. “Leave What’s Lost Behind” by Colony House
17. “Color Theory” by Soccer Mommy
18. “Righteous Punk” by Roseburg
19. “Rolodex” by French Cassettes
20. “St. Helens” by The Tourist Company