Top 50 Albums of 2020

Describing 2020 is going to be difficult. There were countless events that altered our lives, ways of thinking and mental stability. Whether it be COVID-19, the continued fight for racial quality, a Presidential election, just to name a few. There was plenty of pain to go around and unfortunately that pain is going to continue into 2021 for many of us. That does not mean there were no silver linings to speak of. For one, 2020 was the greatest year for music since 2016, which was already one of my favorite years for releases ever. I also got to work from home for the last nine months so I had time to listen to well over 100 releases from this year alone, making this my favorite Top 50 lists since I started in 2016. There were roughly 15 albums that I would have thought were going to be here but were sadly pushed off to make room for all the excellent material we got. So, not to waste any more time, here are the records that defined my, and likely many other’s, 2020.

50) Gorillaz – Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez

This was the inevitable direction for Gorillaz after Humanz. It has become clear that Damon Albarn wants to use the project as a vehicle for collaborations and that is exactly what happened here and it worked better than it had any right to. Taken as a collection of singles that mix and match artists from various genres and time periods, this is a blast and rarely is bogged down with the clunkiness of Humanz. I am officially sold on this Song Machine series and excited to see who else Albarn can get together for his next installment.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. The Pink Phantom (feat. Elton John & 6LACK)
  2. Pac-Man (feat. ScHoolboy Q)
  3. Momentary Bliss (feat. Slowthai & Slaves)
  4. Désolé (feat. Fatoumata Diawara)
  5. The Valley of the Pagans (feat. Beck)

49) Algiers – There Is No Year

After two of the most powerful records of the 2010s, Algiers had a lot to live up to. While There Is No Year does not live up to the expectations of those albums, their sound is still just as strong. Franklin James Fisher’s vocals are as visceral as ever, really bellowing with passion throughout this project and when the songs on here hit, they hit hard. Algiers remains one of the most dynamic bands of any genre out there and it was nice to hear them explore new sounds and ideas.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Dispossession
  2. Chaka
  3. We Can’t Be Found
  4. Unoccupied
  5. Hour of Furnaces

48) Joji – Nectar

There is a lot to admire about George Miller’s journey from Filthy Frank/Pink Guy to respected R&B singer Joji. While there have certainly been glimmers of greatness along that journey, this is easily the best Miller has sounded throughout an entire project.  While eclectic, the production on Nectar is pristine, giving Miller a chance to show off a little versatility along with his usual somber songwriting. There are more than a few glimmers of true greatness here, proving a truly phenomenal album is in Joji’s future.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Run
  2. Like You Do
  3. MODUS
  4. Afterthought (feat. Benee)
  5. Sanctuary

47) Bring Me the Horizon – Post Human: Survival Horror

As a casual fan of Bring Me the Horizon I don’t know how controversial this is to say but this might be the band’s best work to date. Short and simple, this project is just 9 tracks of hard-hitting metal that taps into the fears and anxieties of this pandemic without being obnoxiously on the nose. Right from the opening track this record goes quickly from themes of boredom, anxiety and anger at the corrupting ruling class. It’s tough to walk a line between topical and fun nowadays but fortunately Bring Me to the Horizon do it with ease.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Parasite Eve
  2. Obey (feat. Yungblud)
  3. One Day the Only Butterflies Left Will Be In Your Chest As You March Towards Your Death (feat. Amy Lee)
  4. 1×1 (feat. Nova Twins)
  5. Teardrops

46) Aminé Limbo

It has been refreshing to see how much Aminé has grown as an artist since “Caroline” blew up a few years ago. Not that Aminé was ever making bad music, he has always known how to make fun songs, but Limbo is a more introspective listen with some colorful production and a few excellent features. Few artists are growing into their voice as fast as Aminé and if this is any sign of where he is going, we are going to be hearing more greatness from him in the near future.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Pressure in My Palms (feat. Slowthai & Vince Staples)
  2. Becky
  3. Roots (feat. JID & Charlie Wilson)
  4. Fetus (feat. Injury Reserve)
  5. Woodlawn

45) Quelle Chris & Chris Keys – Innocent Country 2

I am consistently surprised every year when Quelle Chris is able to come through with yet another album that finds a way to hit me in a new way. This time, Chris teams up with producer Chris Keys to create a sound that that is distinct from his previous works. There is more textured instrumentation, blending in elements of jazz that sounds gorgeous alongside Chris’ monotone delivery. This is a vast improvement on the first Innocent Country project and furthers Quelle Chris’ impressive winning streak.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Mirage (feat. Earl Sweatshirt, Denmark Vessey, Merrill Garbus & Big Sen)
  2. Living Happy (feat. Joseph Chilliams & Cavalier)
  3. Sacred Safe (feat. Merrill Garbus, Cavalier & Homeboy Sandman)
  4. Bottle Black Power Buy the Business
  5. Black Twitter (feat. Mosel & Nelson Bandela)

Creeper – Sex, Death & The Infinite Void

Few bands wear their influences on their sleeves quite like Creeper, who are making some of the most entertaining glam rock and pop punk right now. With a title like Sex, Death & the Infinite Void you can guess the kind of angst and melodrama that will show up here, but it is all handled so well and the line between campy fun and genuine quality is walked excellently. Powerful vocals, robust production, this is an album that is looking back an old era of rock while still working for modern audiences.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Paradise
  2. Poisoned Heart
  3. Be My End
  4. Black Moon
  5. Cyanide

43) Deftones – Ohms

While 2020 didn’t produce as many amazing metal as previous years, Deftones certainly left a strong impact on me. Much like many bands who have fallen off a bit for me in recent years, keep reading and you’ll see a few, Deftones came back with a sound that was not only refined but refreshing. The band’s sound here is powerful, hitting a lot of darker notes while still coming through the enough energy to keep this engaging. Easily some of the best work from the band in at least a decade and some of the best metal of the year.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. This Link Is Dead
  2. The Spell of Mathematics
  3. Ohms
  4. Ceremony
  5. Pompeji

42) The Mountain Goats – Songs for Pierre Chuvin

If there were ever an artist equipped to make music alone at home during a lockdown, it would be John Darnielle. Recorded on a boombox with minimal instrumentation, Songs for Pierre Chuvin is not just a nice piece of fan service for those who love early Mountain Goats, but is full of sweet, melodic songs that show how Darnielle has grown as a writer over the decades. This is definitely one for fans and would end up making a great appetizer for what was the come later in the year.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Until Olympius Returns
  2. Going to Lebanon 2
  3. Exegetic Chains
  4. January 31, 438
  5. The Wooded Hills Along the Black Sea

41) Kid Cudi – Man on the Moon III: The Chosen

I have only had about a week with this album but it is safe to say this is the best thing Kid Cudi has done as a solo artist in years. There is plenty on here we have seen from Cudi before, especially in the lyrics and themes, but the production throughout here is much more in touch with the modern psychedelic hip hop sound he helped pioneer. While it will take more time to see how this ranks in his overall discography, it is safe to say this is a very welcome addition to the Man on the Moon series and lives up to the years of hype.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. The Void
  2. Lovin’ Me (feat. Phoebe Bridgers)
  3. She Knows This
  4. Sept. 16
  5. Lord I Know

40) The Killers – Imploding the Mirage

As much as I love The Killers, it has been nearly a decade since I thoroughly enjoyed a full album by them. That was until Imploding the Mirage came seemingly out of nowhere to be the comeback record I’ve been waiting for from them. Fully embracing the 80s heartland rock sound they had been toying with, this album is full of arena-ready rock songs that we rarely get at this quality. The second half of this album especially is full of some incredible deep cuts that I am sure will be fan favorites when performed live one day. If this is the direction this band is going now, I am more than happy to join for the ride.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. My God (feat. Weyes Blood)
  2. My Own Soul’s Warning
  3. Imploding the Mirage
  4. Running Towards a Place
  5. Caution

39) Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Right Now

Nobody, including Charli XCX, expected a follow-up to Charli so soon but a pandemic will change an artist’s priorities. Despite being made over just a few weeks in quarantine, How I’m Feeling Now still feels like a fully realized project, mixing A.G. Cook’s strange, glitchy production with genuinely heartfelt lyrics about Charli’s seven year relationship with her partner. The combination creates an oddly emotional experience that you do not always get from similar hyperpop artists.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. 7 Years
  2. Anthems
  3. Claws
  4. Visions
  5. Detonate

38) Idles – Ultra Mono

Following up my favorite album of 2018 was always going to be an uphill battle for Idles, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I had a lot of fun with this record. Ultra Mono is loaded with the seemingly meat-headed punk music that Idles have become famous for, while still very much sticking up a middle finger to toxic ideologies. Even if lyrically this album does not hit as hard as their last, the production and grooves on here are enough to keep me hooked. Easily the most fun the band has had on a project and a refreshing change of pace for a great band.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Mr. Motivator
  2. War
  3. Mode Village
  4. A Hymn
  5. Kill Them With Kindness

37) Logic – No Pressure

The last person I expected to amaze me in 2020 was Logic. While his technical skills have always been solid, there is no doubt that he has quickly gone from being up-and-coming to the butt of a joke. Now, on his supposed final album, Logic goes out shining with what might be his best album to date. No I.D.’s production works as great as ever while Logic delivers heartfelt bars about his new life as a father and reflecting on his life up until now. It is easily Logic at his smartest and most self-aware, showing years of maturity compared to what he had been making. It might’ve taken awhile but it was great to have Logic back this year.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Heard Em Say
  2. Soul Food II
  3. Celebration
  4. Open Mic\\Aquarius III
  5. DadBod

36) Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?

This is probably the best disco album of the year and the only place I heard it outside of my own headphones was an Old Navy. Just to put in perspective how 2020 has been. Seriously, I was not familiar with Ware’s work before this record but this won me over in a big way. For a dance album, What’s Your Pleasure? is surprisingly minimal, focusing on groove rather than big production which helps emphasize Ware’s catchy choruses. This is a genre I am not overly familiar with but I can definitely say that what Ware is doing here is impressive and worth a listen.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. What’s Your Pleasure?
  2. Mirage (Don’t Stop)
  3. Spotlight
  4. Soul Control
  5. Step Into My Life

35) Blu & Exile – Miles

During a time when overlong hip hop projects come out so frequently, it is incredible when a release justifies its length. Despite being 95 minutes, Miles utilizes every moment to hit listeners with focused, personal lyrics from Blu and grandiose production courtesy of Exile. This is an album that feels so important to these two, reflecting on African history, the music industry and our contemporary world. It is the kind of challenging release that demands repeat listens but those who commit to this will absolutely adore it.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Roots of Blue (feat. Jacinto Rhines)
  2. African Dream (feat. Gappy Ranks & Aloe Blacc)
  3. The Feeling (feat. Jacinto Rhines)
  4. The American Dream (feat. Miguel & The Last Artful, Dodgr)
  5. The End (feat. Dag Savage, Cashus King & ADAD)

34) Tame Impala – The Slow Rush

There is obviously no disputing Kevin Parker’s skills at doing just about everything. The question with The Slow Rush was how he would mix it up compared to his last three albums. To me, this is a nice mixture of what made his first three records work so well. The expansive songs of Innerspeaker, the atmosphere of Lonerism, and the sharper melodies of Currents. While not always hitting the same peaks as those albums, this record is still undoubtedly Tame Impala in pure form, making the same chill “vibe” music that only Parker can.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Lost in Yesterday
  2. It Might Be Time
  3. Breathe Deeper
  4. On Track
  5. Borderline

33) Backxwash – God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It

Something significant about 2020 for me was the discovery of Bandcamp, a site I have still only scratched the service of. I got to discover a decent amount of experimental work there but none of it hit me as hard as this album from Backxwash. In just 22 minutes, the 10 tracks on here are packed with menacing, abrasive production complimented so well by Backxwash’s aggressive vocal presence. It is the kind of dark hip hop that not only peaks your curiosity but leaves you wanting more. Backxwash is certainly a dynamic artist to be keeping an eye on and I am more than ready for whatever she has planned next.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Black Magic (feat. Ada Rook)
  2. Redemption
  3. Into the Void (feat. Malldate)
  4. God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It
  5. Spells (feat. Devi McCallion)

32) The Strokes – The New Abnormal

I am still shocked that I am enjoying this album as much as I am. This is not perfect, but it is a welcome return of a band that should not have been gone for so long. The New Abnormal sees a band, whose members have been experimenting plenty on their own, coming together to create songs that push the group’s sound in some pretty interesting new directions. Longer songs with cohesive production, thanks to Rick Rubin, the band has not sounded this in sync in at least 15 years. I don’t know what it took for The Strokes to decide they wanted to make music together again but thankfully they did.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. The Adults Are Talking
  2. At the Door
  3. Ode to the Mets
  4. Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus
  5. Selfless

31) The Microphones – Microphones in 2020

Listeners of the last two Mount Eerie albums know that Phil Elverum is able to open up about his life in brutal and raw ways. On his first Microphones album in 17 years, Elverum does just this, reflecting on his past and events leading to the album across a single 44-minute song. This plays out less like a gimmick but a natural way of presenting his stream-of-consciousness style of writing. This album requires some patience but for fans who go along for the ride, this will certainly be rewarding.

Top Track:

  1. Microphones in 2020

30) Code Orange – Underneath

Sometimes you need an album to hit you like a splash of cold water and Underneath does just that. This album is menacing, and at points horrifying, with relentless energy that does not quit across these 14 tracks. And for a metalcore album, I found there to be a surprising amount of catchy moments on here. Whether it be unique instrumentation or particularly powerful vocal delivery, many of these songs have stuck with me through a good part of the year. This album is a hell of a ride and my favorite metal release of 2020.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Sulfer Surrounding
  2. Underneath
  3. The Easy Way
  4. A Sliver
  5. In Fear

29) Open Mike Eagle – Anime, Trauma and Divorce

The title of this one says it all. Written in the immediate aftermath of his divorce, Open Mike Eagle explores his grief and ways of coping with loss in an equally honest and entertaining way. Eagle has always succeeded in building empathy with the stories he tells and this skill is all the more useful on a project like this. It’s the kind of slice of life music that we rarely get at this level in hip hop and I appreciate Open Mike Eagle for continuing to open up in his music like this.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Death Parade
  2. Asa’s Bop (feat. Little A$e)
  3. Everything Ends Last Year
  4. Sweatpants Spiderman
  5. The Black Mirror Episode

28) Caitlyn Smith – Supernova

At this point I don’t know what it will take for Caitlyn Smith to crossover to more mainstream success. Following the criminally underrated Starfire, Smith continues to prove her strengths as both a singer and songwriter. Her vocals soar over rich production, hitting you with song after song of emotionally impactful lyrics and sticky hooks. While this might not hit the highs of her debut, it certainly shows that it was not a fluke and Smith will continue to make thoughtful, dynamic country music for years to come.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Supernova
  2. Damn You For Breaking My Heart
  3. All Over Again
  4. I Don’t Want to Love You Anymore
  5. Midnight in New York City

27) Moses Sumney – Græ

The production on this album alone is enough to put it on this list. Across the 20 tracks of this double album, the lush instrumentation sounds so natural against Sumney’s distinct style of singing. It all comes together to create one of the prettiest sounding albums of the year. This is before you even dive into Sumney’s lyricism which adds so much weight to this project. It all comes together as the big and bold follow-up to an acclaimed debut that Sumney completely nails.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Me in 20 Years
  2. Virile
  3. Cut Me
  4. Two Dogs
  5. Colouour

26) HAIM – Women in Music Pt. III

It is always refreshing to hear popular artists take risks and it is incredible when those risks pay off this well. This album moves away from more traditional pop and embraces a more eclectic indie sound that really sticks with you throughout the album. Not only do the Haim sister’s experiment with their production but they do it without sacrificing the catchy hooks and emotionally engaging lyrics that made them so successful in the first place. This is easily the greatest project this group has ever put out and an exciting step for their careers.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. The Steps
  2. Up From A Dream
  3. All That Ever Mattered
  4. Don’t Wanna
  5. Gasoline

25) Laura Marling – Song For Our Daughter

Aesthetically this is one of the breeziest releases of 2020. The production is stripped back and feels very relaxed, which works wonders against Marling’s beautiful vocals. It also gives the lyrics room to breathe, really allowing their emotional weight to hit you across these 10 songs. Even as someone who was late to get into Marling’s music, this felt like a comfortable entry point. It’s a quick, intimate listen that will have you coming back consistently once you hear it.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Held Down
  2. Fortune
  3. Strange Girl
  4. The End of the Affair
  5. Alexandra

24) Clipping. – Visions of Bodies Being Burned

Last year’s There Existed An Addiction to Blood was an entertainingly dark turn for Clipping but it is this follow-up project that I think finally makes everything click. All the usual elements of a great Clipping album are here. William Huston and Jonathan Snipes deliver dynamic horror-inspired production and Daveed Diggs continues to prove he is one of the most talented and charismatic rappers out there. These elements combined with some focused writing that plays off horror tropes in inventive ways made this one of the highlights of my October. Even two months after Halloween this album hits just as strong as ever, giving this the legs to become the group’s best work to date.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Pain Everyday (with Michael Esposito)
  2. Say the Name
  3. Enlacing
  4. ’96 Neve Campbell (feat. Cam & China)
  5. She Bad

23) Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension

I think at this point we should expect nothing from Sufjan Stevens. With each album he changes things up, now going back into the electronic sound of 2010’s underrated The Age of Adz. Stevens’ songwriting is as expected, keeping us emotionally engaged while also distant from his own personal experiences. But the contrast between the colder production and warm vocal delivery gives this album a sense of darkness that has been memorable for me. As much as I loved a lot of the more traditional indie music Stevens had been putting out, this change of pace shows him to be an an exciting artist who is not afraid to expand his musical palette.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. The Ascension
  2. Video Game
  3. Tell Me You Love Me
  4. Sugar
  5. America

22) Conway the Machine – From King to a God

It was only a matter of time until Griselda made it onto my radar. Despite technically being his debut, Conway goes into From King To a GOD with so much experience, both in life and with his music, that this sounds more like another classic in an older artist’s discography. This album has production from legendary producers and features from established artists yet Conway remains the star on every one of these tracks. His flows are controlled as he raps on the darker parts of his past and our current world. For a studio debut, this is as strong a sign as it gets that Conway is going to be making great records for years to come.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Front Lines
  2. Forever Dropping Tears (feat. El Camino)
  3. Spurs 3 (feat. Benny the Butcher & Westside Gunn)
  4. Dough & Damani
  5. Anza (feat. Armani Caesar)

21) Taylor Swift – Evermore

Without spoiling any thoughts on the album that preceded this, Evermore is one of Taylor Swift’s best projects to date. The National’s Aaron Dessner continues to build off of Swift and Jack Antonoff’s sound in such a nuanced way, making the indie folk sound here feel genuine. There is also no denying the masterful songwriter that Swift as grown to become. The songs on here are mature, full of heart and occasionally truly compelling. It is unfair to compare this to what came before but it is fair to say this was confirmation that this current era of Swift’s career was more than just a fluke and a real sign of a continually evolving and exciting artist.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Coney island (feat. The National)
  2. Marjorie
  3. Champagne Problems
  4. Evermore (feat. Bon Iver)
  5. Closure

20) Chris Stapleton – Starting Over

A new Chris Stapleton record was just about as good of an end to 2020 as we could get. As much as I enjoyed his From A Room records, this is the rightful follow-up to Traveller I have been waiting for and it might just be a step up from that record. Stapleton’s writing is incredible as always, and you can never go wrong with Dave Cobb’s production, but there is a level of intensity and grit on many of these songs that really make Starting Over memorable. The ballads are also heartfelt, particularly the tearjerker “Maggie’s Song,” really rounding this album out excellently.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Cold
  2. Nashville, TN
  3. Maggie’s Song
  4. Watch You Burn
  5. Arkansas

19) The Flaming Lips – American Head

It seems that you never know when the Flaming Lips are going to strike gold again but in 2020 they did just that. American Head is yet another psychedelic concept album from the group, telling a story that reflects on life, death, and the American dream all against the trippy production we have come to expect from the Flaming Lips at their best. This is the kind of album that is equally surreal and human and easily one of the biggest surprises to come out of 2020. Whether the Flaming Lips are fully back or this is an odd one-off, I am happy they were able to put together something like this.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Mother Please Don’t Be Sad
  2. Brother Eye
  3. Mother I’ve Taken LSD
  4. Assassins of Youth
  5. Will You Return / When You Come Down

18) The Avalanches – We Will Always Love You

This album is a lot to take in and I only had about a week to take it in for this list. In that short amount of time I was able to unpack that this is an incredibly special album from this group. As much as their previous two albums have resonated with me, neither are as sonically consistent as this or as emotionally resonating. Mixing together hundreds of samples to create a sound as uniform as this is an impossible task but the Avalanches pulled it off. This album feels like a journey and while the eclectic list of features all work in unique ways, it’s the Avalanches who deserve all the credit for making this work so well.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Interstellar Love (feat. Leon Bridges)
  2. Take Care in Your Dreaming (feat. Denzel Curry, Tricky & Sampa the Great)
  3. The Divine Chord (feat. MGMT & Johnny Marr)
  4. Running Red Lights (feat. Rivers Cuomo & Pink Siifu)
  5. We Go On (feat. Cola Boyy & Mick Jones)

17) Perfume Genius – Set My Heart on Fire Immediately

At this point, Perfume Genius is just making albums like this look effortless. 2017’s No Shape was already an impressive milestone for Mike Hadreas and Set My Heart on Fire Immediately builds on that success. Producer Blake Mills creates an atmosphere around these tracks that is powerful, textured, and memorable. Whether it is on a slower ballad like “Describe” or the infection “On the Floor,” Hadreas and Mills leave their distinct mark. Beautifully crafted albums like these come only once in a while and deserve all the recognition they get.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. On The Floor
  2. Describe
  3. Jason
  4. Some Dream
  5. Nothing At All

16) Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

It was actually a crime we never got to hear these songs in a club this year. In a year where every pop star in the world seemingly had something to drop, few dropped music that was as catchy as the songs here. Right from the start Dua Lipa captures you with the title track and does not stop hitting you with one great pop track after another. The fact I know people who have pointed to six or seven of these tracks as a favorite tells you all you need to know about the quality of this project. It is the kind of big, fun pop statement that we unfortunately do not see at this level in the mainstream and Dua Lipa’s confident delivery proves she will be a star for years to come.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Physical
  2. Love Again
  3. Hallucinate
  4. Cool
  5. Don’t Start Now

15) Jeff Rosenstock – No Dream

What would 2020 have been without a Jeff Rosenstock album? And like all his previous albums, this one feels like it captured lightning in a bottle and was released at just the right moment. Yes, this album contains all the current anxieties and commentaries about our current society that his previous releases had, but Rosenstock’s delivery across these tracks is more fun. The production is loud and proudly catchy, making this one of my most played records of the summer. No moment of No Dream is without infectious energy and charm, making this a comfortable addition to Rosenstock’s already phenomenal discography.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Ohio Tpke
  2. N O  D R E A M
  3. ***BNB
  4. Scram!
  5. Old Crap

14) Benny the Butcher – Burden of Proof

This is the kind of artist that people who are about to be stars make. Benny the Butcher might have the label of an underground rapper but Burden of Proof shows his potential to be one of the strongest voices in hip hop. Not only does he, with the help of producer Hit-Boy, change lanes drastically from his last album, but does so with the assured confidence that comes with the strongest emcees. The beats on here are grand and snappy, making this an easy listen that works well against Benny’s bravado. Breakthrough moments like these do not come often and the more ears this gets to, the bigger I am sure Benny will become over the coming years.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. War Paint (feat. Westside Gunn & Conway the Machine)
  2. One Way Flight (feat. Freddie Gibbs)
  3. Timeless (feat. Lil Wayne & Big Sean)
  4. Burden of Proof
  5. Sly Green

13) Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist – Alfredo

At this point in his career, Freddie Gibbs is making music that sounds effortless. No matter who the producer is, he is able to hop on a beat and deliver a memorable performance. The Alchemist definitely put him to the test with a varied selection of beats that range from intensely tight to smooth and soulful and Gibbs doesn’t waste a second on them. Over the course of 35 minutes, Gibbs is able to deliver more memorable content than most rappers would give on an album twice as long. This record is only further proof of Gibbs’ talent as an emcee and his ability to work with any producer out there.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Frank Lucas (feat. Benny the Butcher)
  2. Something to Rap About (feat. Tyler, the Creator)
  3. God Is Perfect
  4. All Glass
  5. Scottie Beam (feat. Rick Ross)

12) Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways

After releasing dozens of albums and winning a Nobel Prize you would think Bob Dylan no longer has anything left to prove. But at the age of 79, Dylan decided to release what might be his best project in decades. Across 10 songs, Dylan produces slow, patient ballads that are each rewarding in their own ways. Even his signature raspy voice is refined at this point in his career, complementing the instrumentation that has been laid out for him. Fans of Dylan, especially his later work, will adore this release as yet another classic in a discography with too many to count.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Key West (Philosopher Pirate)
  2. False Prophet
  3. Murder Most Foul
  4. Goodbye Jimmy Reed
  5. Crossing the Rubicon

11) The Mountain Goats – Getting Into Knives

On their 19th album, the Mountain Goats are still finding ways to surprise and impress their fans. While John Darnielle’s writing remains as smart and emotionally dense as ever, the production on this record is what really makes it stand out. Recorded over just six days in Memphis, Getting Into Knives features crisp, organic production that makes this distinct in the group’s vast discography. Their traditional indie folk sound now has hints of classic rock and country in it which complement Darnielle’s voice so well you’re surprised this album didn’t come a decade earlier. Despite their age, the Mountain Goats are still making some of the greatest songs of their careers and they have just reached another milestone in their beyond impressive careers.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. The Last Place I Saw You Alive
  2. Getting Into Knives
  3. As Many Candles As Possible
  4. Get Famous
  5. Harbor Me

10) Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Reunions

There are few artists who hit a deeper emotional connection with me than Jason Isbell. His writing is a matured blend of introspection and wisdom, making his albums feel like great life lessons on top of great music. Reunions is absolutely no exception, seeing Isbell and the 400 Unit explore some of the reflective themes of The Nashville Sound and expanding on them in beautiful ways. On top of this heart, this album also knows how to let go, showing off some genuinely fun bursts of country rock. It is the kind of music you want to hear live but love listening to at home all the same. This was one of my most anticipated releases in all of 2020 and while it took a little longer to grow on me, I can now say this is among Isbell’s greatest work to date and a must listen for anyone remotely into country.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Dreamsicle
  2. Only Children
  3. Be Afraid
  4. Overseas
  5. It Gets Easier

9) Rina Sawayama – Sawayama

In a year where seemingly every pop star was releasing music, nobody could’ve guessed that Rina Sawayama would be the one releasing the best pop album of the year. This album is explosive, right from the opener “Dynasty” which kicks things off with a blend of throwback pop and nu-metal, one of the many examples of genre blending on this record. Producer Clarence Clarity helps take all these genre influences and put them together in a way that feels natural and original. And this is all before we even mention Sawayama herself who is has the confidence and vocal presence of the best pop stars out there. She sells each and every moment on this record flawlessly, making this album fun without ever feeling a joke. When it comes to best debut albums of 2020, there was no competition. Rina Sawayama is making pop music for both the past and future.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. XS
  2. Who’s Gonna Save U Now?
  3. Chosen Family
  4. Paradisin’
  5. Comme Des Garçons (Like the Boys)

8) The Weeknd – After Hours

Few artists defined 2020 like the Weeknd did with After Hours. Not only did the Weeknd do this without compromising his sound, he did it by leaning into and building upon his love of 80s R&B, taking the sound to new heights. He mixes experimental moments with pure pop hits in a way that always feels true to who the Weeknd is as an artist. Of course tracks like “Blinding Lights” and “Heartless” are going to be on playlists for years, but its moments like the title track or “Faith” that let you know just how much Tesfaye has grown his sound over the last decade. The addition of producers like Oneohtrix Point Never and Kevin Parker also show just how forward thinking the Weeknd is becoming and if this is any indication of where he is taking his career, he will remain a solidified superstar.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Blinding Lights
  2. In Your Eyes
  3. After Hours
  4. Faith
  5. Repeat After Me (Interlude)

7) Ruston Kelly – Shape & Destroy

Unfortunately I missed Ruston Kelly’s incredible debut Dying Star in 2018 but I can safely say now I will not be missing an album from him ever again. I was not just surprised by Shape & Destroy but completely floored by it. Kelly wrote this album while starting his recovery from alcoholism and the level of personal touch given to these songs makes you feel his pain and eventual catharsis as he fights his demons. Despite the heavy themes, the instrumentation is inviting and the hooks are undeniably strong, inviting you along for the journey. These are the kinds of albums that make me love country music and get to the heart of what can make the genre so special to so many people. I will admit that this album has been a wonderful aid for me during the rougher months of 2020 and my hope is it can reach the people who need to hear it most and help them just as much.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Under the Sun
  2. Jubilee
  3. Brave
  4. Alive
  5. Radio Cloud

6) Taylor Swift – Folklore

This is the album I have been waiting for from Taylor Swift. All the criticisms that are normally thrown at her are absent here. Nothing about this feels cold or calculated but instead like a natural collection of stories that Swift wanted to get out into the world. The addition of The National’s Aaron Dessner helps add indie folk credibility of these songs, creating some of Swifts best sounding tracks to date. But it is Swift who is the ultimate star of this album. She has consistently shown increasing maturity as a songwriter but never has she sounded wiser than here. Framing these songs as fictionalized stories allows Swift to flex her creative muscles, creating captivating moments that subtly relate back to her own personal experiences. This is the kind of dramatic artistic turn that few artists are able to execute so naturally and the fact Swift was able to do it this well proves that she is a one-of-a-kind talent that we are lucky to have in pop culture.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Exile (feat. Bon Iver)
  2. Betty
  3. The Last Great American Dynasty
  4. This Is Me Trying
  5. Peace

5) Mac Miller – Circles

There is no easy way to write about a project like this. Even after two years, Mac Miller’s death lingers over the music community and seemingly out of nowhere a final album he was well into at the time of his death is released. Up until this point I have enjoyed much of what Miller had to offer whether he was directly making hip hop or experimenting with softer singer-songwriter sounds. Circles takes these experiments and sees them fully realized, creating the beautifully crafted, genre-bending songwriter project that Miller had spent years trying to make. The perfection only makes the surrounding circumstances more tragic but even removed from his death this album is special. Miller hits some of his deepest levels of introspection as he thinks about his life, his relationships, his struggles with mental health, and it all comes together in such a beautiful way, only further enhanced by Jon Brion’s masterful production. This is the perfect farewell to Mac Miller as an artist and a rewarding, yet difficult, listen.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Good News
  2. Circles
  3. Blue World
  4. Woods
  5. Hand Me Downs

4) Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

There are often indie artists who come around and pick up a small, passionate fan base as they consistently release pleasant music that stays in their comfort zone. Phoebe Bridgers has officially smashed out of that mold on just her second album. There are great moments on her debut, Stranger in the Alps, but Punisher takes everything that made that album special and turns it up to 11. Just to start, the production on here has improved drastically, adding some orchestral swell to these songs, pushing all the emotion out of the words Bridgers sings. And if it wasn’t clear before, Bridgers is one of the greatest indie songwriters we have right now. The layers of emotional nuance on these songs is immense, truly capturing the feelings of sadness and dread these songs convey. Even with a soft vocal presence, Bridgers finds a way to stand above all other elements of these songs and hold your attention for 40 incredible minutes. It is also worth noting that the closer “I Know the End” is not only Bridgers’ greatest track but one of the greatest songs to come out in all of 2020. This entire record is so damn powerful and has grown on me more than any other album this year.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. I Know the End
  2. Chinese Satellite
  3. Savior Complex
  4. Graceland Too
  5. Moon Song

3) Run the Jewels – RTJ4

Everyone reading this remembers how this summer started. Racial inequality was always obvious but the reality of it captured the nation in a way it should have from the beginning following the death of George Floyd. This is all to say RTJ4 could not have come at a better time to speak truth to the moment. El-P and Killer Mike have never been afraid to speak on politics, Killer Mike alone has become one of the strongest voices on the progressive left. On RTJ4, these two do not mince words, they are pissed, they are politically woke, and they are ready to blow up the system they inhabit. As great as these two have been across their last three albums, their working relationship has never been stronger. El-P’s production is wild as both rappers are more focused and concise than ever, staying focused on the topics at hand and speaking truth at every turn. There are moments on here that you will be rewinding to hear again, just to relisten to a bar that might’ve flown by you. And there is no way not to discuss Killer Mike’s verse on “Walking in the Snow” which might just be some of the strongest writing of his career. These kind of albums hit hard when they come out, and continue to hit hard for years to come. In my eyes, this album is essential to 2020 and sadly will be relevant for years to come.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Walking in the Snow
  2. JU$T (feat. Pharrell Williams & Zach de la Rocha)
  3. Pulling the Pin (feat. Joshua Homme & Mavis Staples)
  4. Out of Sight (feat. 2 Chainz)
  5. Holy Calamafuck

2) Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Few artists want to make each of their albums as monumental as Fiona Apple. Each of her releases feels as essential as the last and now she has released her best work to date. Everything about Fetch the Bolt Cutters is dynamic, from the sound to the writing, Apple treats each track like a canvas to do something new with. She writes about the pains of everyday life whether it be relationships, mental health or sexism, all with intimate lived-in experiences. These songs are all driven by eclectic production, ranging from heavy percussion to dog’s barking, giving this album a unique DIY sound without seeming slapped together. All these pieces come together to create a listening experience unlike that of any other album on this list. There are moments that tear into your heart or make you angry but they are matched with moments that make you feel comforted and amazed at what you are hearing. It is strange album, one that let many critics flex some creative writing degrees, which is exactly how you should feel after hearing an album like this. This is one of the most personally touching and inspired releases of the year and likely to be seen as a classic record from this decade.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Newspaper
  2. Heavy Balloon
  3. I Want You To Love Me
  4. Relay
  5. Fetch the Bolt Cutters

1) Spanish Love Songs – Brave Faces Everyone

When 2020 began, I had never heard of punk band Spanish Love Songs. This band did not fly onto my radar until this album had been out for a couple of weeks and I started seeing stellar reviews coming out for it. I decided to give it a listen out of curiosity and you can probably assume what happened. Back in early March, this felt like an album that spoke to my generation better than any other album had in years and now I feel that even stronger. Brave Faces Everyone is an insanely bleak album, looking candidly at financial instability, suicide, drug abuse, and other issues that are sadly impacting people all across this country. It doesn’t try to look at these issues from a broader systemic view, instead focusing in on the very real pain and anxiety many of us carry just getting by each day. It might not reinvent the wheel in its sound, or even in its writing, but the emotion that can be heard on these songs is scarily authentic. This might just be a situation of an album hitting me in a very personal way at the right moment, but this really feels like an album of the moment and unfortunately something people in my generation will be relating to for years to come. That all being said, this band was my greatest discovery of the year and I can only hope this helps introduce this album to more people who would benefit from hearing something like this. Despite all the career-defining records to come out from massive artists this year, this band will always be the one that made the album that spoke to my 2020.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Optimism (As a Radical Life Choice)
  2. Losers
  3. Routine Pain
  4. Beach Front Property
  5. Brave Faces, Everyone

Past Year End Lists:

2010s

2019

2018

2017

2016

One thought on “Top 50 Albums of 2020

Add yours

  1. This is a lot to take in for just one post. It looks like we engaged in a lot of the same music as one another this year. There are a number of albums that were under consideration for my own list that didn’t quite make the cut for me (I only include 25 though). There are several shared favorites as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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