The 10 Best Albums of 2020

The 10 Best Albums of 2020

Pitchfork

2020 has been a rough year in basically every conceivable way and the music industry has been no exception to this. Quarantines worldwide have kept musicians from being able to perform, causing many indie artists without large record deals to support them without a clear source of income. This has caused many artists to delay the releases of their albums to next year in hopes of being able to hopefully do tours in 2021. While the situation isn’t great, it doesn’t mean that no good music was released this year at all, in fact while 2020 wasn’t uniquely amazing for music many really great albums were still released this year including some albums made during quarantine such as Taylor Swift’s folklore and evermore. This list is a collection of some of those great releases and I hope at the bare minimum that this list can provide you with some interesting listens to distract you from the world falling apart around us. (If you wish to listen to some of the songs from this album with spending hours listening to all of them I also made a playlist with the highlights from each album.

10. Honeymoon – Beach Bunny

It is no secret the influence TikTok has had on this year’s charts. Songs like “death bed” by powfu and “Dancy Monkey” by Tones and I have gotten on the charts largely because of TikTok and artists that blew up due to Tik Tok are now becoming stables in the modern music industry like Doja Cat and Lil Nas X. One of TikTok’s earliest success stories was the band Beach Bunny with their song “Prom Queen”, a song about feeling unable to live up to unrealistic beauty standards. I did not expect to love Honeymoon when I first listened to it but the sincere and relatable lyrics of Lili Trifillo along with the strong indie rock structure of the songs makes it hard not to like Honeymoon. Songs like “Promises” and the more melancholy “Rearview” are songs that I have sung until my throat hurts more times than I can count. This album makes me very excited for the future of this band.

9. Brave Faces Everyone – Spanish Love Songs

As the name suggests Brave Faces Everyone isn’t a happy album in any way. Similar to releases by other contemporary pop punk artists like Jeff Rosenstock, Brave Faces Everyone is an album about anger about the world around us. Anger about midwestern hometowns, about the slowly collapsing economy, about depression, about climate change, and much more. In many ways this album feels as if it was made for 2020; its abrasive anger towards the world around us is a feeling I imagine many of are currently having. Brave Faces Everyone is Emo made for people entering the job and housing market after the 2008 recession, and as sad and aggravating it can get listening to this album, it also feels nice knowing that you aren’t the only one going through the stress that is naturally created from entering that world.

8. Purple Moonlight Pages – R.A.P. Ferreira

R.A.P. Ferreira is the newest alias for the rapper Milo, a slightly underground but critically acclaimed rapper now for his heavy imagery focused and often surreal lyricism. This album and new alias serves a new maturation for Milo which is shown best by the beats within this project which incorporate a unique jazz rap addition to the skillful lyricism and rapping of Ferreira. Purple Moonlight Pages is one of those albums that after you finish listening to you immediately feel the need to listen to it again to gain a deeper understanding of it and I feel like I might have to listen to it at least 100 times to even begin understanding it so I’m glad it is such an enjoyable album to listen to.

7. How I’m Feeling Now – Charli XCX

I remember early in quarantine Charli XCX posting on her Instagram that she planned to make an entire album in basically a month during quarantine and my immediate reaction was cautious excitement. As much as I love Charli XCX I doubted the ability of any artist to make a halfway decent album in just a month while in quarantine physically separated from their producers and team but when “Forever,” the first single for the album, was released with a very cute video I knew immediately that this album was going to be on my end of the year list. Compared to her self-titled album from last year, How I’m Feeling Now is aggressively unpolished but in the best ways. With producers like Dylan Brady, the 2nd half of 100 Gecs, and AG Cook, the founder of the label PC Music who has produced for Charli since her mixtape Number 1 Angel in 2017, who excel in making unpolished music that works really well, Charli sounds as good as ever. This album’s lack of features allows the music to focus mainly on Charli herself, allowing her to focus on the effects the pandemic has had on her and her relationship with her boyfriend. While it may not be the best album of the year critically, I think How I’m Feeling Now represents 2020 better than any other album I’ve heard this year.

6. After Hours – The Weeknd

The Weeknd’s After Hours is a fantastic concept album that follows the life of a man living in Las Vegas whose only goal in life seems to be to follow whichever particular vice he desires at that moment and ends with him dying. Despite the darker themes of this album The Weeknd’s amazingly high falsetto and the incredible Synth-pop production of this album makes a pretty fun listen. With a great selection of songs from the drum and bass “Hardest to Love” to the synth-heavier more dance-pop like “In Your Eyes” the Weeknd’s 4th album shows that he is committed to still being one of the most influential artists of the 21st century.

5. What’s Your Pleasure? – Jessie Ware

2020 has been a great year for Dance-Pop and Disco with releases like Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, Kylie Minogue’s DISCO, and Carly Rae Jepsen’s Dedicated Side B, but the best of all of these releases by far is What’s Your Pleasure? by Jessie Ware. By incorporating elements from moody 70s disco and synth heavy 80s club disco, What’s Your Pleasure? is able to create a unique listen that feels inventive and original despite wearing its influences very clearly on its sleeves . While the major theme of this album, love, is not unique for a disco album, Jessie Ware’s talent as a singer-songwriter excels on this album and creates a greater 2-for-1 experience where not only are all the songs on this album fun to dance to but they also have a great layer of emotional depth. If any album makes me miss being able to go to live performances this one is it, but in the moment I am fine dancing to it alone in my room.

4. Punisher – Phoebe Bridgers

After listening to some Phoebe Bridgers songs in the car with my dad he was quick to inform me that he didn’t want to listen to any more because of how sad they are. Phoebe Bridgers has made her short yet successful career off of being *the* sad indie queen. Her first album Strangers in the Alps reflects this perfectly, being often a hard-to-listen-to collection of depressing songs and in many ways Punisher, her sophomore album, is similar to that. But the general theme of Punisher seems less to be specifically around just being sad but rather longing with slight moments of hope. Songs like “Halloween”, “Garden Song”, and “Graceland Too” express Phoebe’s passionate want for various things to happen in her life whether it be for her partners to act better or for a friend she loves to stay safe. Sonically this album has a greater variety of sound compared to her previous album, incorporating many elements from genres like rock in songs like “I Know The End.” These elements never take away from the most important part of this album which is her simple yet expressive lyricism. Longing is the most major emotion I have experienced during this pandemic and no album has expressed this emotion better in my opinion than Punisher.

Pitchfork

3. Fetch the Bolt Cutters – Fiona Apple

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Fiona Apple shamed the Grammys for nominating “Say So” by Doja Cat for Record of the Year, a song produced by the alleged abuser of Kesha, Dr. Luke. In this interview Apple says “I keep going back to them putting Kesha on stage like, ‘We believe you’—and I believe her—then two years later, fucking Tyson Trax [Dr. Luke’s pseudonym he used when producing ‘Say So’]”. This willingness to call out hypocrisy and harmful actions by awards shows like the Grammys to individual people is a major theme within Apple’s 5th studio album released 8 years after her last album The Idler Wheel… in 2012. Fetch the Bolt Cutters deviates greatly from a lot of Apple’s previous projects. Her songwriting is as sharp as ever and much of the album consists of songs calling out the toxic way many wealthy men treat their partners and other women in their lives such as “Ladies” and “For Her”. Apple isn’t scared to share her experiences with sexism and abuse which makes the album sometimes a hard but powerful listen. This album also relies less heavily on Apple’s skillful piano playing but rather incorporates percussion and other more diverse instrumentation providing an interesting addition to her discography. This album isn’t for everyone, especially with its difficult subject matter, but if you give it a chance it will likely become one of your favorites.

Kelly Lee Owens via Bandcamp

2. Inner Songs – Kelly Lee Owens

2020 has been an incredibly stressful year for most and music has been a great vehicle for alleviating some of that stress. Some people prefer to get their stress out by listening to rage filled music like punk or metal and others, like me, prefer to listen to more therapeutic calming music when they are stressed. If you lean towards the latter Kelly Lee Owens sophomore album Inner Songs is a must listen. Owens is a house artist from Wales whose music leans much towards the ambient pop side of house music rather than dance music the genre is more typically known for. While some of the songs on this album can get really weird, especially the song “Corner of the Sky ” featuring John Cale a founding member of The Velvet Underground, the listening experience for this album is insanely relaxing. Owens’s minimalist beats have a way of luring you into a trance which you are only put into deeper by her beautiful voice which she uses in songs like “L.I.N.E” and “On”. Since this album was released I have used this album as a form of stress relief which is something we all need during a time like this.

1. Free I.H: This is Not the One You’ve Been Waiting For – Illuminati Hotties

So to get it out of the way, Free I.H. is technically not an album but rather a mixtape released between the band’s debut album Kiss Yr Frenemies and their upcoming sophomore album. Despite technically not being an album this project is so good that I had to put it on the list. The band’s ability to shift so easily between different styles of music, whether it be smug pop punk songs like “will I get cancelled if i write a song called ‘if you were a man you’d be so cancelled,’” or abrasive experimental punk songs like “Content/Bedtime.” Sarah Tudzin, the frontwoman of the band, songwriting is largely what takes this mixtape from just being good to great. Her lyricism is able to adapt to all the different music styles this album has and is able to provide a sense of consistency that allows this mixtape to go from not just being a show of impressive musical talent but also sincere emotion. Songs like “Reasons 2 Live” and “Free Dumb” are the most obvious examples of this both being more moody singer-songwriter type stuff but songs like “Free Ppls” which seems to be about the American sense of exceptionality show the more subtle songwriting approach Tudzin takes throughout much of this project. Despite not technically being an album Free I.H. is a great piece of experimentation and artistry and for that I think it more than deserves to be considered the best album of the year.