Like so much of 2020, music this year was filled with heartache and loss. Some of our most beloved venues shuttered or are in danger of closing, musicians lost out on the touring and recording revenue that’s central to their livelihoods, and as fans, we lost out on making meaningful connectionsboth with one another and ourselvesthat can only be achieved through gathering at a live show. After a year like this one, it felt right to talk about the singles, remixes, and albums by Texans that helped us make sense of things, as well as carve out moments of respite and reflection. Here are a few sounds that moved us.

Welcome to Hard Times, Charley Crockett

Is any album title more perfect for 2020 than Welcome to Hard Times? The San Benito–born musician wrote these eerily prescient songs in 2019, shortly after undergoing two major heart surgeries. “I got through that, and then it was really difficult, just the mental recovery,” he told Texas Monthly in July. Despite being so timely, Crockett’s music can also feel as though it’s transported from another era; when I first heard his old-timey voice on the radio, I assumed I was listening to a country musician from the fifties. The album’s catchy title track has gotten the most airplay, but my favorite song is “The Poplar Tree,” a lament about injustice and loss. —Rose Cahalan, associate digital editor

Just Like Moby Dick, Terry Allen

Released in January, Terry Allen’s Just Like Moby Dick was one of the year’s few albums that spanned both the pandemic and the Before Times for me. The pirates, bad kissers, and vampires stalking these songs proved exactly the right amount of weird for this year. If I were trying to describe the record to a Terry Allen newbie, I’d say think of Tom Waits, if he came of age eating C.B. Stubblefield’s barbecue in Lubbock and was backed by the Poguesand then if you swapped that Irish bravado for Panhandle swagger. But for those of us who already worship at the altar of Allen, this album was a bright vessel on the high, gloomy seas of 2020. As Allen sings on “Sailin’ on Through,” “There’s storms in the Gulf, fires on the plains / Half the world is screwed, the other half’s insane / So better break out the bottle, bring on the glass / Fill it up with the good stuff, ’cause everything must pass.” I’ll drink to that. —Christian Wallace, associate editor

“WAP,” Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion

The night of August 6, I sat glued to my laptop anxiously waiting for Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B to bless my screen with their highly anticipated collab, “WAP.” Months into the pandemic, the two had managed to stir up excitement with a countdown for their music video—a funhouse-style visual feast with surprise appearances from Normani, Rosalía, Sukihana, Mulatto, Rubi Rose, and Kylie Jenner—and I couldn’t look away. The song and video dominated social media, easily making “WAP” the anthem of the summer. On each of their verses, Meg and Cardi speak to female empowerment, flipping the script on the male-dominated rap genre and taking the reins by owning their sexual prowess. With clubs closed, concerts postponed, and practically everyone stuck at home, Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B breathed life into the doldrums of lockdown, inspiring a TikTok dance challenge and sparking controversy when some took offense to the song’s hypersexual lyrics. Months later, I still can’t get it out of my head. —Cat Cardenas, associate editor

Atonement, Exhalants

Shortly before the lockdown, I packed into a car and drove with several friends up to a stranger’s nondescript house in North Austin. When we walked in, a dense crowd clutching Coors Banquet tallboys huddled around Exhalants, a local trio of talented noise rock musicians, who’d laid their gear on the living room floor before the audience’s feet. Flanked by couches and a felt tapestry depicting the Last Supper, the three picked up their instruments and ripped through roughly 25 minutes of propulsive and unrelenting punk rock; the set grabbed hold of me so hard that I barely registered that a partygoer had attempted to bake, and then subsequently burn, a personal pizza in the kitchen’s oven. Had I known this would be the last house show I’d be able to go in a year-plus, I would have headbanged a little harder and wouldn’t have waited for the mosh pit as an excuse to smile at a then-crush. But the band, a fixture within Austin’s punk and noise rock circles, released a searing album, Atonement, back in September that’s become a salve in this year without live music. These heavy songs are sustaining me until we can convene safely once again in strangers’ living rooms, our shoes sticking to the floor from errant beer spills, the only obligation at hand being where we might continue the party once the show winds down. —Paula Mejía, senior editor

Exotica, Fat Tony

With the world mired in pandemical stagnation, Fat Tony’s Exotica delivered a highly creative breath of fresh air when we needed it most. In nine low-fi, synthesizer-rich tracks, the Houston rapper (via Tucson for the time being) brings vivid novelistic vignettes that tell the tales of an array of everyday characters. The focus of the standout “Gambling Man,” for instance, is Johnny, an inveterate chance-taker (“Could have invested in CBD / passed on it / When it blew up, he was like ‘doggonit’”). Altogether, it’s a compelling half-hour. And then came the “Gambling Man” mariachi remix, which features lilting finger-plucked harp, guitarrón, and trumpet from Tucson’s Mariachi Luz de Luna, and is so beautiful that you’ll be momentarily carried off to a place where there is no pandemic. —David Courtney, senior editor

“Don’t Bleed, You’re in the Middle of the Forest,” Le Butcherettes

It’d be an understatement to just call 2020 a weird year. I’ve been looking for music that reflects the unreality of living through a time where being around people I care about is physically dangerous, and some of the most resonant music of 2020 for me has been a seven-song, nineteen-minute EP from erstwhile El Pasoans Le Butcherettes—in particular, its standout title track, “Don’t Bleed, You’re in the Middle of the Forest.” The song is not unlike a Grimm fairy tale, cautionary and creepy, the sort of thing you could play to let future generations know that there’s nuclear waste buried in the mountain they’re wandering around. “Don’t Bleed, You’re in the Middle of the Forest” feels reminiscent of the warnings we’ve been getting all year (“don’t breathe, you’re not wearing a mask”; “don’t go out, your family’s made of poison”), and in the moments when I’ve leaned in to the fact that life in 2020 occasionally feels haunted, Le Butcherettes have provided the soundtrack. —Dan Solomon, associate editor

Kelly Rowland’s Singles

It would be ridiculous to say that anyone in 2020 has “had a good year,” but Kelly Rowland’s three stellar new singles helped me have a better one. The bubble drums and sharp wordplay of “Coffee,” released in April, helped distract me from the early anxiety of the pandemic. This fall I was invigorated by “Crazy,” a high-energy disco trip with ample Donna Summer vibes. And I’ve been dancing to “Hitman,” a collaboration between Rowland and the National Football League, and its sped-up sample of Fela Kuti’s “Mr. Follow Follow” a lot in the past month. It’s thrilling to see Rowland thrive, and it seems like she’s been doing exactly that (as much as anyone can thrive in 2020). —Emily McCullar, associate editor

Gold Record, Bill Callahan

I camped this year more than ever before, and I can easily say Bill Callahan’s Gold Record is the perfect album for it. For one thing, his baritone talk-style singing reminds me of the crackling of a dying fire as you’re wrapped up inside your tent. The album’s lyrics share some familiar themes from his most recent albums, including domestic life (see “Breakfast”), and on this effort he gives us a new Texanized recording of his 1999 song “Let’s Move to the Country.” As an additional treat, Callahan has recently released cover collaborations with Bonnie “Prince” Billy and others, including a wonderful rendition of Jerry Jeff Walker’s “I Love You,” this year. —Aaron Chamberlain, production director

“WAP” (Bardcore Remix)

Is any novelty remix of a song good? Probably not. Would you cut off a friend who grabbed the aux cord and queued this up? Surely. But sometime this summer, when it became clear I would not be returning to venues that played good music anytime soon, I decided to spare myself the special pain of hearing a great song that would be even greater in a club and to embrace an ascetic lifestyle. Enter a slow descent into hours of medieval renditions of pop music known as “bardcore.” And while the bardcore rendition of “WAP” won’t make you want to dance, it might just give you a jolt of excitementas well as the relief that we live in a time, mercifully, when music has hi-hats. —Ben Rowen, associate editor