2020 was an unusual year for album releases. While some musicians chose to hold back releases due to the pandemic (e.g. Kanye & Adele), others took the chance to write and release multiple records (e.g. Taylor Swift – but don’t expect her in this list). I was personally astounded by some of the albums released this year. In fact, the quality was much higher than in 2019 or even 2018. Below are just some of my favourite albums from the year.
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20. Spirituality & Distortion – Igorrr
French experimental artist Igorrr melds black metal, death metal, baroque and breakcore into an exciting sonic mixture. Not one for the masses, but a roller-coaster for those that love extreme music.
Favourite tracks: ‘Very Noise’, ‘Parpaing’
19. Future Nostalgia – Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa’s selection of disco-flavoured pop bops left me pleasantly surprised. I had previously dismissed her as just another Rihanna clone, but these songs are seriously infectious.
Favourite tracks: ‘Levitating’, ‘Hallucinate’
18. A Hero’s Death – Fontaines D.C.
Dublin post-punk band Fontaines D.C. combine hypnotically murky guitars and cryptic lyrics on their gloomy sophomore album. It’s a bleak but ultimately optimistic record fitting of the times.
Favourite tracks: ‘I Don’t Belong’, ‘A Hero’s Death’
17. Kiss My Superbowl Ring – The Garden
Once you get past the very very very lo-fi production, The Garden’s unique blend of grunge/grindcore/jungle/trap/funk is an absolute thrill-ride.
Favourite tracks: ‘A Struggle’, ‘Lurkin’
16. Energy – Disclosure
Energy lives up to its name – the EDM duo have never sounded this lively. It features a vibrant array of cosmopolitan guest vocalists from Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara to Chicago rapper Common.
Favourite tracks: ‘My High’, ‘Douha (Mali Mali)’
15. I’m Your Empress Of – Empress Of
The American alt-r&b artist’s new heartbreak-themed dance pop album is both lyrically intimate and sonically vibrant. It’s a return to the quirky and personal sound that dominated her debut album Me.
Favourite tracks: ‘Give Me Another Chance’, ‘Awful’
14. You Said It – KOYO
UK rock band KOYO rein in their proggier side for a more anthemic guitar sound made up of killer riffs and soaring vocals. It’s a hybrid of Foo Fighters, QOTSA, Radiohead and Deftones.
Favourite tracks: ‘You Said It’, ‘Out of Control’
13. The Slow Rush – Tame Impala
Tame Impala continue to move away from their psych rock roots in exchange for an ABBA-flavoured disco record. Kevin Parkers’ lyrics about the passing of time are some of his most moving yet.
Favourite tracks: ‘Posthumous Forgiveness’, ‘It Might Be Time’
12. I Disagree – Poppy
Sugary pop hooks and brutal metal riffs collide on this new album from eccentric YouTuber and experimental pop singer Poppy. It’s Taylor Swift meets Slipknot. Think Babymetal, but more refined.
Favourite tracks: ‘I Disagree’, ‘Anything Like Me’
11. It Is What It Is – Thundercat
Singer-bassist Thundercat continues to serve up his quirky and energetic brand of jazz-funk. While there are still some light-hearted moments, many of the tracks explore darker themes. The record is dedicated to friend and late rapper Mac Miller.
Favourite tracks: ‘Innerstellar Love’, ‘Dragonball Durag’
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10. RTJ4 – Run the Jewels
Hip hop duo Run the Jewels show no signs of slacking on their fourth album. It features some of El-P’s most energetic production and some of Killer Mike’s most passionate rapping to date.
Favourite tracks: ‘yankee and the brave (ep. 4)’, ‘JU$T’, ‘never look back’
9. Appalling Human – Wesley Gonzalez
Perhaps the most underrated album from my list – Wesley Gonzalez’s Appalling Human contrasts self-deprecating lyrics with upbeat synthpop production. You won’t know whether to dance or cry.
Favourite tracks: ‘Tried To Tell Me Something’, ‘Change’, ‘Did You Get What You Paid For?’
8. UNLOCKED – Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats
Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats team up for an exciting record that features some of the rapper’s most animated bars and some of the producer’s most eccentric beats. My biggest complaint is that it’s so criminally short.
Favourite tracks: ‘Take_it_Back_v2’, ‘Pyro (leak 2019)’, ‘DIET_’
7. PLANET’S MAD – Baauer
The Dutch producer’s latest album contains some of the filthiest EDM bangers I’ve ever heard. The bass hits like a truck. I also love the wacky CGI video that accompanies the album.
Favourite tracks: ‘PLANET’S MAD’, ‘MAGIC’, ‘REACHUPDONTSTOP’
6. Ohms – Deftones
Alt metal veterans Deftones return with their most fun album in years sporting 9-string guitars, seagull sound effects and tight songwriting.
Favourite tracks: ‘Urantia’, ‘Pompeji’, ‘Radiant City’
5. Visions of Bodies Being Burned – Clipping.
Experimental hip hop group Clipping follow up their 2019 horrorcore LP There Existed An Addiction To Blood with a sequel that is both creepier and catchier than its predecessor. Daveed Digg’s agile rapping continues to be as mind-blowing.
Favourite tracks: ‘Say the Name’, ’96 Neve Campbell’, ‘Looking Like Meat’
4. 3.15.20 - Childish Gambino
Featuring a blank cover and time stamps for tracks, 3.15.20 deliberately offers no hints of its contents and succeeds at surprisingly the listener at every turn. Its selection of forward-thinking r&b and hip hop numbers never quite go where you expect them to go.
Favourite tracks: ‘Time’, ’12.38’, ’39.28’
3. Circles – Mac Miller
Circles is undoubtedly the most moving posthumous album I’ve ever heard. Recorded shortly before the rapper’s death, the album sees him laying bare his emotions, choosing to sing rather than rap for the majority of the record. It’s an outpouring of tiredness and frustration – sometimes feeling like a tragic cry for help. Even more tragic are the moments of optimism peppered throughout that suggest Mac wasn’t quite ready to leave us. The fact that the songwriting and production is so impressive makes the album all the more noteworthy.
Favourite tracks: ‘Blue World’, ‘Good News’, ‘I Can See’
2. Fetch the Bolt Cutters - Fiona Apple
Fiona Apple has always been an impressive singer-songwriter and she continues to impress on this album with her ‘pissed off, funny and warm’ lyricism. The album is about personal growth and the continued struggles of women around the world – alternating from fun and cheeky on tracks like ‘Under the Table’ to incredibly dark on tracks like ‘For Her’. The instrumentation is also some of Fiona’s most creative to date, made up of frantic pianos, jazzy upright bass and wild percussion.
Favourite tracks: ‘Shameika’, ‘Relay’, ‘For Her’
1. The Ascension – Sufjan Stevens
The Ascension is a fantastic encapsulation of the frustration many of us were feeling throughout 2020, while also being a personal exploration of faith and hope. It’s a collection of slow-building epics made up of repetitive refrains and layered production, each track getting more extravagant and desperate in tone as it progresses. It combines the best elements of Sufjan’s last three albums: the wild electronica of The Age of Adz, the lyrical intimacy of Carrie and Lowell and the grandiose songwriting of Planetarium. It’s such a well-crafted album and its release in 2020 feels perfectly timed.
Favourite tracks: ‘Die Happy’, ‘Ativan’, ‘America’