The forests of woodvale. The Las Vegas strip. Mars. Florida. The bedroom. The sounds and stories to come from this oppressive year have been some of the most imaginative and forward thinking. In a physically stifled year, creativity and imagination ran rampant. Below is a list of just a few of the countless gems to come from the music of this year.
A Ranking of the Best Albums of 2020.
20. THE ALBUM – BLACKPINK
At a mere 8 songs, BLACKPINK’s on the nose titled THE ALBUM definitely leaves listeners wanting more. It’s a focused collection that could’ve benefited from a few more tunes and more risk taking, but what the women are able to present with this record is still no small feat. Like almost all contemporary pop albums before it, THE ALBUM is BLACKPINK’s arrival, with much more to come.
Best Track(s): “Pretty Savage,” “Love to Hate Me”
19. Future Nostalgia – Dua Lipa
Though it doesn’t give listeners much more insight into who Dua Lipa is as an artist, the smash pop record Future Nostalgia has surefire bangers from start to finish. From the laid back groove of “Pretty Please” to the bouncy modern sound of “Good In Bed,” Lipa’s sophomore record is an undeniable good time and provided a needed break from the news cycle this year.
Best Track(s): “Don’t Start Now,” “Pretty Please’
18. What Kinda Music – Tom Misch
Darker and more experimental than its predecessor, Tom Misch’s What Kinda Music is an extremely interesting listen front to back. Collaborating with drummer Yussef Dayes, the obviously percussive nature of the album is features staccatos of the introspection listeners have come to know of Misch’s music. Not as commercially viable as Geography, What Kinda Music is instead a mark of an artist willing to evolve and work with sounds that interest him regardless of audience.
Best Track(s): “Nightrider,” “What Kinda Music”
17. Colores – J Balvin
A concept album as fluid as the colors in the rainbow, J Balvin’s Reggaeton-influenced record Colores is a non stop rollercoaster of thrills from start to finish. Exemplifying the titular colors in each song both in lyricism and sonics, the album offers longtime fans more of the singer’s proven talents and expands the artist’s already humungous reach with undeniable earworms.
Best Track(s): “Amarillo,” “Azul,” “Negro”
16. Dreamland – Glass Animals
Dreamland is another incredible concept album to come from the introspective heavy 2020. Glass Animals front man Dave Bayley paints the story of his life through the album’s tracklist, offering insights into his upbringing and home life in Texas. A mosaic of sounds and stories, Dreamland is an adventurous journey tackling identity through cloudy synths.
Best Track(s): “Heat Waves,” “Tokyo Drifting”
15. how i’m feeling now – Charli XCX
One of the first overtly quarantine-themed albums, Charli XCX’s concise how i’m feeling now is an ode to rave culture as its abruptly put on pause because of the global pandemic. It reveals an antsy Charli XCX as she longs for night life and strobe lights and the energy she feels from her groups of friends. Simultaneously, it reveals her gratitude and revelatory appreciation for the love she has in the current moment.
Best Track(s): “claws,” “anthems,” “c2.0”
14. Fetch the Bolt Cutters – Fiona Apple
Shameika was on to something. Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Pitchfork’s first perfect 10 rated album since Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and the singer’s first project in 7 years, is wholly singular composition. Apple uses some of the most surprising, emotive, and utterly unnerving sounds and vocal flairs across the album’s 13 tracks.
Best Track(s): “Fetch the Bolt Cutters, “Shameika”
13. A Written Testimony – Jay Electronica
At long last, rapper/producer Jay Electronica released his debut album. Coming after a 13 year gap from his last mixtape, the rhymer enlisted the talents of some of the biggest names in hip home from Jay-Z and The-Dream to Travis Scott. Thematically navigating ideas like religion, systemic oppression, politics, and mental health, A Written Testimony is a sharp collection of tracks that dive deeply into what defined this year.
Best Track(s): “The Blinding (feat. Travis Scott),” “Fruits Of The Spirit”
12. Black Habits – D Smoke
The first winner of Netflix’s Hustle+Flow hip hop competition series, D Smoke quickly shed the skin of his game series beginnings in a heavily detailed origin story in the form of his debut album. Back Habits welcomes back the very much missed subgenre of reality rap, with D Smoke taking inspiration from Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, and the men of N.W.A. who’ve made Southern California such an iconic house of hip hop in culture today.
Best Track(s): “Bullies,” “Gaspar Yanga (feat. Snoop Dogg)”
11. YHLQMDLG – Bad Bunny
YHLQMDLG (I Do Whatever I Want) is Bad Bunny doing exactly that. A more personal Future Nostalgia of sorts, the album shows Bad Bunny bringing together old and new elements that have permeated through recent Latin music, assembling trap and Reggaeton for a sweeping party album that is as fun as it is unique.
Best Track(s): “Si Veo a Tu Mamá,” “Safaera”
10. Set My Heart On Fire Immediately – Perfume Genius
Whispered vocals and intimate themes slither through elaborate guitars and electronica on the latest album from Perfume Genius. Similar to Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters, the album comes across as visceral and jarring, introspective to the point of unsettling the listener in challenging and profound ways.
Best Track(s): “Nothing at All,” “Jason”
9. Women in Music, Pt. III – HAIM
As grand as it is intimate, HAIM’s masterpiece of a third album shows the singer’s breaking free from their slightly repetitive pop rock bangers and settling into a sweeping landscape, amalgamating sounds from Lou Reed (“Summer Girl”) to LCD Soundsystem (“I Know Alone”) and Thundercat (“3AM”). It’s an eclectic overview of the boundless talent to come from the coolest sister trio in music today.
Best Track(s): “I Know Alone,” “Los Angeles”
8. What Could Possibly Go Wrong – Dominic Fike
The amount of people that know “3 Nights” but not the artist performing it was greatly reduced when Dominic Fike dropped his debut album this year. The Kurt Cobaine of Gen Z, the rap/R&B/alternative chameleon offers a briskly paced collection of tracks that transcends the genres he’s inspired by.
Best Track(s): “Good Game,” “Chicken Tenders,” “Politics & Violence”
7. Jaguar – Victoria Monet
At long last, machine like pop songwriter Victoria Monet has her moment as a solo artist. The sultry, sensual Jaguar is an immaculate collection of the R&B pop the skilled wordsmith lent to artists like Ariana Grande in recent years. Giving insight into who she is as an artist and the styles she has founded, Jaguar stands as an impressive endeavor.
Best Track(s): “Dive,” “Experience (feat. Khalid & SG Lewis),” “Jaguar”
6. Industry Games – CHIKA
Confident, thoughtful, and profoundly self-assured, CHIKA’s debut project Industry Games proves their more than just sex and power when it comes to women in rap (though that side of the industry is welcomed as well). It will be endlessly exciting to see where CHIKA lands next.
Best Track(s): “INDUSTRY GAMES,” “SONGS ABOUT YOU”
5. It Is What It Is – Thundercat
Both contemporary and classic in style, the dazzling It Is What It Is is a jukebox of disco funk and soul from Thundercat. The songs bleed into each other, never overstaying their welcome and more than apt for the streaming era when attention spans are in increasing short supply. Groovy, thrilling and even humorous at times, It Is What It Is is an exciting listen from front to back.
Best Track(s): “Funny Thing,” “Interstellar Love,” Dragonball Durag”
4. Ungodly Hour – Chloe x Halle
Criminally underrated, fully realized, fun above all else. Ungodly Hour from sisters Chloe x Halle stands as one of the best pop albums of the last few years. Doubling down on the successes of their debut album, the duo evolve their sound to incorporate modern influences with their clear inspirations in the R&B space. They welcome listeners into their world with open arms, painting their experiences with as much vocal flair as there are punching lyrics. Ungodly Hour is a revelation.
Best Track(s): “Forgive Me,” “Don’t Make It Harder On Me,” “Baby Girl”
3. The Slow Rush – Tame Impala
An apt album for this tumultuous year, Tame Impala’s latest LP, The Slow Rush, provides another angle to look through the pandemic. Though it was created prior to COVID-19’s war on humanity, its themes and explorations were painfully relevant as individuals considered their past and how they’ve spent their time. With glimmers of hope sprinkled in the alt-electronica soundscapes, The Slow Rush is another smash from the Australian hitmaker.
Best Track(s): “It Might Be Time,” “On Track,” “Is It True”
2. After Hours – The Weeknd
To leave The Weeknd’s magnum opus off the Grammy Nomination list was more revealing than surprising. It only increases the transparency of systemic oppression black artists have seen when it comes to the awards ceremony and the encompassing industry. Where the argument can be made that The Weeknd’s music has been riddled with misogynistic attitudes, After Hours is a cinematic deconstruction of that persona. It is a nuanced concept album of The Weeknd falling from personal and professional peaks, spiraling into his old habits and searching, through vices or his own psyche, for the answers to his questions. From start to finish, After Hours is a thrilling pop album with more artistry than most.
Best Track(s): “Snowchild,” “Faith”
1. folklore + evermore – Taylor Swift
A racially charged year may leave readers skeptical of Taylor Swift’s status at the top of countless year end lists, but she’s placed here for good reason. For perhaps the first time in her career, the singer actually shed the frenzy surrounding her personal life to provide listeners with their own isolated worlds to travel through. Filled to the brim with rich, meticulously laid out stories, both albums possess a universality that listeners can relate to, bringing them a forest like path through their own imaginations. Where Swift’s previous work was seen as increasingly narcissistic, these albums are yet another evolution that listeners can engage with, independent of the starlet’s tiresome public narrative.
Best Track(s): “invisible string,” “august,” “evermore (feat. Bon Iver)”