Although the music industry was upended in 2020 with tours on pause and the normal album release schedule disrupted, artists came up with creative avenues to share their music via livestreams to perform from their homes, do live fan Q&A and went ahead with releasing new music. While most of the albums that were released have been in the works prior to the pandemic, some were inspired by and reflected the events of the year. This produced some interesting albums that ranged from observations of the serious social climate messages of hope to music that provided a moment of escapism. Serving as our soundtrack for the revolutionary year that was 2020, these are our top albums of the year!
20. Declan McKenna ‘Zeros’
The sophomore album from Declan McKenna, titled ‘Zeros’ was released in August to much anticipation and has since garnered much critical acclaim. The English singer/songwriter wrote all the music for the album by himself in Nashville, coming up with the themes of anxiety and disconnection felt by an entire generation inheriting a tumultuous society consumed by multiple realities and ultimately on a path of destroying the world. With standout tracks like “The Key To Life on Earth”, “Daniel, You’re Still a Child” and “Rapture”, ‘Zeros’ deftly shows McKenna’s growth as an artist.
19. Beabadoobee ‘Fake It Flowers’
Fake It Flowers is the debut album of emerging artist Beabadoobee whose artistry initially caught the attention of Matty Healy of The 1975, Clairo and others.
Fake It Flowers conjures a 90s shoegaze/grunge vibe expertly with standouts including “Care,” “Worth It,” and “Charlie Brown.” The album was produced by The Vaccines drummer Pete Robertson, but the now 20 year-old Beabadoobee (born Beatrice Laus) wrote all the songs and describes the material as “pretty much my whole life in one album”.
18. Halsey ‘Manic’
Halsey catapulted to mainstream success with her first two studio albums Badlands and Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, and on her latest album Manic , she really experimented with different genres from her original alt hip-hop to country, K-pop, and rock. There are notable guest appearances on the album for various interludes that include Alanis Morrissette, Dominic Fike and Suga of BTS, which enhance the experience to stitch the overarching autobiographical theme of the album. Describing the material as songs written not as Halsey, but as “New Jersey’s Ashley Frangipane”, the songs bring the listener in with the themes of her experiences with love, hope and the pain she went through at different stages of her life, thus far. “Still Learning,” “Without Me,” “3am,” and “Graveyard” are emotional and when listened to in the context of an album, Halsey is quite the storyteller.
17. Disclosure ‘Energy’
Electronic duo Disclosure brought energetic vibes on their third studio album ‘Energy’ and stayed with their signature sound house R&B. Consisting of brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence, the duo stick with their world-influenced sounds, collaborating with artists such as Common and Kelis as well as Kehlani, slowthai and Aminé. “My High” features the latter two and the fast-paced, dirty, pulsing beat is Disclosure at their best. Guest vocalist Channel Tres adds a smooth vibe to “Lavender,” a track that embodies the glitzy disco vibes of peak midnight club hours. Energy is very majestic, seductive, and soothing to listen. Tracks to play: “My High”, “Birthday”, and “Lavender”.
16. Glass Animals ‘Dreamland’
British band Glass Animals has a unique blend of styles which cross many genres including trip-hop, psychedelic pop, and sonic rock. Their third studio album has a very chill and up-tempo groove with 90s/2000s nostalgia. If you are looking for a good relaxing album that’s still stimulating ‘Dreamland’ is just for you! Top tracks to jam: “Your Love”, “Heat Waves” and “Tokyo Drifting”.
15. Jessie Ware ‘What’s Your Pleasure’
It took two years for Jessie Ware to complete her fourth album What’s Your Pleasure and it’s her finest work yet. The album is pure escapism and groove with house, disco, soul, and folk in the forefront. Ware almost quit music and we’re blessed that she stayed on route with her career. Tracks to listen: “Adore You”, “Save A Kiss”, and “Mirage”.
14. DMA’s ‘The Glow’
The third studio album ‘Glow’ from Australian trio DMA’S is indie rock bliss. Guitarist Johnny Took stated, “It’s about how people are always looking for something better. It’s got that universal sense that anyone can relate to, that exhaustion you sometimes feel trying to achieve more or be something more.” The band’s sound continues to mature and their songwriting is sharp, as standouts include the title track, “Never Before” and “Round & Around.” Shimmering guitars, combined with interesting electronic sounds and sequence beats– there’s no way to pass on this album.
13. Charli XCX ‘How I’m Feeling Now’
Taylor Swift isn’t the only one who stayed busy writing and recording a new album in 2020. It was only last year that Charli XCX dropped her third studio album ‘Charli’ but when the lockdowns and quarantine hit– it really impacted, affected, and motivated Charli XCX to release a new album and shared on social media that she would do so in six weeks. ‘How I’m Feeling Now’ resulted from the collaborative process with her fans and captures the raw emotions that many were going through during the early days of the pandemic. Without distractions and commitments to fulfill, Charli XCX created an album full of bangers from the futuristic opener “pink diamond,” “claws,” and our favorite track, “forever.”
12. Dua Lipa ‘Future Nostalgia’
Grammy winner Dua Lipa is nominated for numerous Grammys that include Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Pop Solo Performance, and Best Pop Vocal Album for her sophomore album Future Nostalgia. Similar to how The Weeknd revisited 80s synth-wave for his new album, Dua Lipa went retro and nostalgic with disco. It’s an album designed to dance in the club and perhaps resonates even more since none of us can go to one right now, yet she reinvented “Disco F**ks” with her latest album. Top tracks: “Break My Heart”, “Levitating”, “Good in Bed”, and “Boys Will Be Boys”
11. The Strokes ‘The New Abnormal’
To much anticipation, The Strokes dropped their sixth studio album The New Abnormal (RCA Records), which is their first new album in seven years. The nine-track record really draws post-80s British new wave, which makes it a fun and dance-able album. Overall, The New Abnormal is a fresh, mature and catchy, while getting nostalgic at times that anyone can connect with upon reflecting on their life. Must listen tracks: “Bad Decisions” and “Selfless”.
10. Soccer Mommy ‘Color Theory’
Soccer Mommy, aka Sophie Allison has been a driving force in the indie world and even more since her sophomore album ‘Color Theory’ dropped. The album is filled with dreamy, jangle pop, rock tracks, highlighted by “Circle the Drain” and “Yellow Is the Color of Her Eyes,” the latter a seven minute ode to Allison’s mother, who’s been battling cancer, wrapped in a sonic soundscape evoking college indie rock of the early-mid 90s. ‘Color Theory’ is an album that really showcases Allison’s talents as a songwriting accopanied by some great production.
9. HAIM ‘Women in Music Part III’
At first listen, it was evident that ‘Women in Music, Pt. 3′ by Haim felt like an instant classic filled with timeless songs filled with fresh but familiar sounds. The sisters, Alana, Este and Danielle had all gone through some traumatic experiences prior to creating the material that ranged from depression, the death of loved one and Este’s dealings with diabetes. What resulted was an album filled with the 90s sonics that Haim is known for married with honest and raw lyrics tackling their individual experiences as well as the misogny/sexism they’ve encountered in the industry. There are many standouts on the album but favorites include: “I Know Alone”, “Summer Girl” and “Now I’m In It”
8. The Weeknd ‘After Hours’
The social media world was in shock when The Weeknd wasn’t nominated for a Grammy for his masterpiece of a fourth studio album ‘After Hours’. His hit single “Blinding Lights” was monumental to 2020 and gave us an uplifted spirit in these dark unprecedented times. ‘After Hours’ is an album filled with escapism with leanings to some 80s-inspired sonics along with a nod to the U.K. electronica scene of the 90s with “Hardest to Love,” that could easily fit in with the best in drum’n’bass. Outstanding tracks: “After Hours”, “Heartless”, “Save Your Tears” and “Nothing Compares”
7. Taylor Swift ‘Folklore’
Taylor Swift released two studio albums this year with ‘folklore’ and ‘evermore’ and they truly provided an escapism that many needed during a year filled with isolation and self-change. ‘folklore’ came out at exactly the right moment in time where the entire world was reassessing how it operates from the standard 9-5 office work to the serious calls for social justice. Swift is an amazing storyteller and the character-based songs on ‘folklore’ really take the listener through a journey in each of its songs from “the last great american dynasty” to “betty,” where it’s predominantly just Swift and her guitar, moments where her talents shine like no other. Stand out tracks: “cardigan” and “mirrorball”.
6. Run The Jewels ‘RTJ4’
Run The Jewels dropped their fourth studio album RTJ4 over the summer and it was during a time where the global conversation of dealing with racism and police bruatlity were at the forefront. At the time, the duo stated, “The world is infested with bullshit so here’s something raw to listen to while you deal with it all. We hope it brings you some joy. ” RTJ4 tackles these serious topics that have plagued society for years with clever lyricism, solid production and feature collabs from 2 Chainz, Pharrell Williams, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine. Outstanding tracks include: “Goonies vs E.T.”, “Pulling the Pin” and “JU$T.”
5. Sports Team ‘Deep Down Happy’
UK six-piece Sports Team released their debut album ‘Deep Down Happy’ to much critical acclaim that even nabbed them a nomination for the prestigious Mercury Prize for Album of the Year. Written and recorded prior to the pandemic, Sports Team provided a much needed go-to album to escape the ups-and-downs of 2020 with carefree, danceable sing-alongs including “Here It Comes Again,” “Here’s the Thing,” and “Feels Like Fun.” Although they initially have garnered a reputation as a strong live band, Sports Team was able to capture that same fun vibe in ‘Deep Down Happy’.
4. Miiesha ‘Nyaaringu’
Miiesha released her debut album this year, titled Nyaaringu, that’s lyrically powerful and features a variety of sounds ranging from gospel, soul, spoken poetry and R&B. The songs on the album are inspiring while showcasing Miiesha’s gifted voice that tells the story of the community she grew up in, the Aboriginal community of Woorabinda. The album explores the themes of family, race, and cultural identity and captures a first-hand perspective on race in Australia. Fav tracks: “Twisting Words”, “Blood Cells”, and “Black Privilege”.
3. Fiona Apple ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutter’
Singer Fiona Apple made a triumphant return in 2020 with her fifth studio album ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’. In true Fiona Apple fashion, the songs on the album are all unique and as unpredictable as one would expect, ranging from the vocal stylings to the subject matter of the songs. While “Shameika” was the first single promoted and showed Apple at her finest with strong vocals and shines for its simplicity. Her experimentation with sound structures create an album filled with songs that are unique from one another. Favorites include: “Shameika,” “Under the Table,” “I Want You To Love Me.”
2. Phoebe Bridgers ‘Punisher’
Phoebe Bridgers’ sophomore album ‘Punisher’ is indie emo-folk bliss, filled with love songs, breakups, and dissociation. Bridgers has a way with dark lyrics that are at times witty yet ironic and pulls in the listener accompanied by unintrusive melodies. Painting pictures with words, Bridgers shines with tracks like “Garden Song,” “Graceland Too,” and our fav track, “Kyoto”
1. Tame Impala ‘The Slow Rush’
Tame Impala’s fourth studio album ‘The Slow Rush’ really had to top their previous record Currents and Kevin Parker delivered successfully after five years in development. The Slow Rush stays true to Tame Impala roots, accompanied by the throwback psychedelic disco vibes to take the listener away to another dimension. This album more than any other Tame Impala record is the most personal for Parker as it tackles themes of the death of his father, heartbreak and self-evaluation. Nearly ten years since the band burst into the music scene, Tame Impala continues to evolve into sounds that are fresh while staying true to the inspirations that led Parker down the path towards creating music. This is evident in ‘The Slow Rush’ where there are so many standouts that include “Breathe Deeper,” “Borderline” and “Is It True”.