We don’t need another person online talking about how difficult 2020 has been. We all know it has been a rough few months. What I will say is that if there are any silver linings it would be I have had much more time to myself which means I have been listening to way more music than usual. Not just discovering new stuff but taking more time to enjoy what I already like.
With that being said there have been some truly incredible albums this year and since it seems like we are going to be stuck inside for a little bit longer I figured now would be as good a time as any to recommend and highlight some of this year’s best.
Below are 25 of the best albums to come out in 2020, a list that included some difficult cuts but also a few pleasant surprises. I am also not at all ready to start ranking these so just know these are going to be in alphabetical order.
Algiers – There Is No Year
Algiers’ blend of punk and gospel has always fascinated me and led to some of the most compelling political songs of the last few years. While There Is No Year does not reach the same heights as their previous two albums, it still showcases Franklin James Fisher’s powerful vocals and instrumentation that expands Algiers’ already diverse sound.
Backxwash – God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out of It
It seems scary how easy it be for me to miss an album as great as this one. I had heard nothing from Backxwash before listening to this and was blown away by her intense vocal delivery and flows over some truly chaotic and menacing production. This is the kind of dark underground hip-hop that will be turning some heads and I am hoping it only gets more recognition throughout the year.
Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways
When you are 39 albums into your career you would think that the need the push yourself would pretty much go away. Luckily, the greatest American songwriter is not done yet and has put out a beautiful late-career album. The songs here are expertly crafted, often lasting over six minutes but keeping you gripped nonetheless. This easily has some of Dylan’s brightest moments in decades and will be cherished by any serious Dylan fan.
Caitlyn Smith – Supernova
I would like to remind fans of country music that there are a huge number of female artists who are literally just waiting for their breakout. One of the best examples of this is Caitlyn Smith who continues to show her talent for writing emotional ballads that sound immense. Don’t miss the chance to hear some of the most infectious country music that will be released all year.
Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Now
I definitely was not expecting a new Charli XCX album so soon after last year’s wonderful Charli but quarantine certainly inspired her to get back to work and continue to push her style of experimental pop music. She goes further into the odd production of her last record but pairs it nicely with genuinely heartfelt lyrics about her current relationship that makes How I’m Feeling Now a uniquely personal listening experience.
Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats – Unlocked
In just 18 minutes Denzel Curry was able to comfortably solidify a spot on this list. Both he and producer Kenny Beats are some of the most exciting voices in hip-hop now and neither of them disappoint here. The eight tracks on this record fly by and are some of the most entertaining songs in either’s discography.
Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
While I thought Dua Lipa’s debut was a fun way to jump onto the scene, Future Nostalgia is the sound of her reaching for her full potential. Each song on this album is light, bouncy and full of energy while Dua’s delivery is reminiscent of pop music of the 80s and 90s that clearly influenced this album. It might not be the deepest record you’ll listen to all year but it will undoubtedly be one of the most entertaining.
Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
Putting my thoughts on this album in just a few sentences is near impossible, just know that there is a reason this is destined to top almost every year-end list in a few months. Not only is Apple’s comeback strong but I would argue it is easily her best record to date, tackling topical issues like the Me Too movement and oppression with an intense amount of honesty and emotion. This album has stayed on rotation all quarantine and it will undoubtedly continue playing well after.
Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist – Alfredo
At this point it seems like Freddie Gibbs is on a mission to prove he can excel as a rapper on every big producer’s beats. While I thought his last project with The Alchemist, Fetti, was fun, Alfredo really shows both artists at the top of their game. Gibbs has more than proven himself to be a versatile emcee but it’s The Alchemist who especially shines with lush, colorful production that breathes life into this packed project.
Grimes – Miss Anthropocene
Regardless of all the wild stuff going on with Grimes’ public life in 2020, she is continuing to put out truly fascinating music. After 2015’s Art Angels took a hard turn towards pop, Miss Anthropocene pivots back to the more experimental sounds that put Grimes on the map but comes with much more expansive production that really captivates. For an artist with more eyes on her than ever before, I am glad Grimes hasn’t lost her edge.
Halsey – Manic
I was not prepared to be so won over by this record. I have been pretty mixed on Halsey up until this point but something about this project really clicked with me. For one, Halsey sounds like she’s striking the balance between pop and alternative which is where she has always struggled. The writing on this is also so cathartic it is hard not to at least emphasize with several of the songs here. Not only is this Halsey’s greatest achievement but a very promising sign of things to come.
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Reunions
The last three albums by Jason Isbell have been some of my favorite country albums of the last decade and Reunions joins that list comfortably as well. Isbell’s backing band sounds bigger than ever, giving this album a rock aesthetic without losing Isbell’s personal and moving lyrics. Also, I really wish tours were not being delayed because these are songs I cannot wait to finally hear live.
Jay Electronica – A Written Testimony
A Written Testimony might be the first example of an album being a debut, comeback, and collaboration all in one. The hype around this album had given Jay Electronica a mythical status that was impossible to live up to but on its own I found this project to be heartfelt while coming through with some fairly dynamic production. Jay Z is also a welcomed addition to this project, picking up nicely from his introspective turn on 4:44.
Jeff Rosenstock – No Dream
It is now undeniable that Jeff Rosenstock knows how to put out a record that has it’s finger on the pulse of the present country. While it has yet to be seen if this will have the kind of remaining impact of his last few records, what I can say is for a summer punk album this is all I could ask for. The music is as colorful as the album cover would imply and Rosenstock continues to write sincere sing-along anthems for a seemingly dying nation.
Mac Miller – Circles
With this album being so close to Mac Miller’s death it was always going to feel special. What I truly could not anticipate was how this album is not only complete but Miller’s greatest record to date. The genre experimentation Miller had been testing on previous albums really comes together here, creating a smooth and cohesive listening experience that has you tearing up throughout. It was a sign that Miller was growing as an artist making this record all the more tragic.
The Mountain Goats – Songs for Pierre Chuvin
This is definitely more of a treat for devout fans of The Mountain Goats but as someone who definitely falls in that category I am extremely happy with this. Recorded solely by John Darnielle with a boombox, not only does this album feel like peak quarantine isolation but it also brings back memories of The Mountain Goats’ early lo-fi albums. I do not expect this to be much more than a fun one-off for the band but that is all I needed from Darnielle in 2020.
Perfume Genius – Set My Heart on Fire Immediately
When it comes to art pop, very few artists come close to Perfume Genius and Set My Heart on Fire Immediately only solidifies him as one of the greats. Blake Mills’ production on here is every bit as pristine as 2017’s No Shape and Mike Hadreas’ vocal delivery is every bit as dynamic, mixing soaring crescendos with quiet intimate moments that come together to make the kind of personal listening experience you only get on a Perfume Genius album.
Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
I’m a little late on getting into Phoebe Bridgers but now I am here and totally won over. While I enjoyed Stranger in the Alps a bit, Punisher surpasses it in nearly every way. Bridgers’ songwriting is just as powerful as ever but now it is accompanied by catchier melodies and more dynamic production that help draw out every bit of emotion from this project. Like any great singer-songwriter record, this will break your heart over and over as you keep playing it.
Quelle Chris & Chris Keys – Innocent Country 2
This is my third consecutive year being impressed by a Quelle Chris record and I might go as far as to say this is my favorite project from him. Producer Chris Keys gives Chris some of his most lush production to rap over, making this album a standout in his discography. Quelle Chris has always been a vibrant performer and this record proves how versatile he can be when given great production.
Rina Sawayama – Sawayama
I have not had this much fun with an album in a while. I had heard Sawayama’s name being floated around for a little bit but was completely unprepared for her debut to be this entertaining. Working with incredibly talented producer Clarence Clarity, Sawayama wears influences ranging from Britney Spears to Evanescence on her sleeve to create an album that refuses to let up for 44 straight minutes.
Run the Jewels – RTJ4
Over the last month I have not gone a day without listening to at least one song off of this project. Music has always been a way to help me channel my emotions during difficult times and if there was ever an album to capture the feeling of the current climate it would be this. Killer Mike and El-P continue to be at the top of their games as they put out the most socially conscious bangers of their careers.
Spanish Love Songs – Brave Faces Everyone
If you are remotely a fan of punk music and you are not listening to Spanish Love Songs you are making a huge mistake. This band has easily been my greatest discovery of 2020 and they could not have come at a better time. The 10 songs on this album really beat you down with the constant pessimism that millennials are feeling about their future and I would be lying if I didn’t say it was hitting really hard these last few months.
The Strokes – The New Abnormal
This was certainly an album that benefited from constant replaying. What started as light enjoyment evolved into heavy rotation and now it is easily the greatest project anyone in this band has been involved with in over a decade. The Strokes have been changing its sound up over their last couple albums but this is where I think their experimentation has paid off the most. It might be flawed but when this hits it hits really hard.
Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
It would be hard to follow up what Kevin Parker did with Lonerism and Currents but I think The Slow Rush is an admiral effort in Tame Impala’s discography. As expected with anything Parker touches, the instrumentation here is flawless in both scope and execution. Not only does each song have its own textured production but the way they all flow into each other is nearly seamless and just goes to show how stellar Parker is at this.
The Weeknd – After Hours
While The Weeknd has always been open to trying new things with his production, not since his breakout has he sounded so natural on one of his own projects. I have had a lot of fun with the last couple Weeknd albums but After Hours is the sound of an artist pushing themselves into new territory and making it sound flawless. The last half of this album especially really comes through with one of the best string of songs on any album this year. This is a serious contender for The Weeknd’s greatest album to date.