To say that the year of our lord 2020 has been a roller coaster is a dramatic understatement. We struggled with a pandemic, a wild election season, and more, but amid the chaos, one thing always shined through: Music.
2020 is rich with incredible music, as quarantine has both innovated artistry and the way music is created away from the studios. I’ve been keeping an ongoing list of sixteen of the best albums to grace the world this year. Believe me when I say, these albums are top-tier, so you can imagine how difficult it was to pick just ten.
Instead of ranking them prematurely — because there are still several albums in the wings, waiting to be released — here are ten outstanding albums from this year.
“Punisher” by Phoebe Bridgers
On my initial listen, I cried until I was dehydrated. Punisher is a special album. It feels like a diary, as Bridgers chronicles feelings of isolation, faithlessness and even acceptance of the apocalypse. Highlighted by her soft yet raw vocals and a varied sound, this project is perfectly moving. Also, you know an album is a masterpiece when its closing track is called, “I Know The End.” — a song which happens to be the greatest album closer in the history of music (Sorry Purple Rain, it’s true). Listen top-down, no shuffle, and you’ll know what I mean.
“folklore” by Taylor Swift
We can all collectively agree that nobody expected Taylor Swift to drop another album this year, considering her last project debuted not last year. In the isolation of quarantine, Ms. Swift took pen to paper and crafted a complex record, rich with her best lyrics and sound — trading in big-pop for soft, thoughtful indie. Deep as a chasm, this record shines through as the pinnacle of how isolation breathes life to creativity.
“SAWAYAMA” by Rina Sawayama
When you hear the organs in the first moments of the opening track, you know you’re in for a treat. Rina Sawayama has to be my favorite new artist from this year. Not only is she insanely talented (watch her performance of “XS” on Jimmy Fallon), but her debut album is among the best of the best. From hard rock to synth pop to metal, this genre-defying album has a song for everyone. The lyrics on this project are also incredibly refreshing, as they offer a testimony of her life as a Japanese-British immigrant.
“Burden of Proof” by Benny The Butcher
Among the modern trap, hip-hop deluge, Benny The Butcher is a diamond in the rough. We don’t really hear this kind of old sound anymore, where soaring strings and organic drums accompany an immaculate flow. I’ve already said my peace about this album during my review of it earlier this semester, but know that it is a great introduction into the genre if you don’t frequent rap.
“SUPERBLOOM” by MisterWives.
There is no band that can intermingle banger pop-rock with big brass quite like MisterWives. Despite the size of this massive record (19 songs!!!), it consistently serves the entire way through. Detailing lead singer Mandy Lee’s journey following her divorce, the album takes listeners on a ride from the end to rock bottom all the way up to brand new love. The project culminates in the title track, an ode to resilience that is as infectious as it is empowering. If you have not listened to a MisterWives song, please do yourself a favor and bless thine ears.
“Gaslighter” by The Chicks (formerly The Dixie Chicks)
Maybe you’re in need of a breakup record, but pop rock isn’t your vibe. Well, how about country? Nearly fourteen years after their last project, The Chicks returned to the airwaves this year with a masterpiece. Collaborating with producer legend Jack Antonoff, The Chicks chronicle the fallout of an infidelity. However, unlike SUPERBLOOM, Gaslighter doesn’t end happily, but rather tired and melancholic. Somehow, that makes it all the more enjoyable.
“Shore” by Fleet Foxes
In need of a vibey, beachy album while you’re on a long drive? Look no further than Shore. The sound is contained enough to be chill, but fun enough that you can bop easily if that is what you prefer. I love this record for it’s consistent thematics of oceans and coming of age. A summer favorite for sure.
“Future Nostalgia” by Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa single handedly revived disco this year. The lead single “Don’t Start Now” introduced us to the era of glitter and neon, as Dua delivered her magnum opus earlier this year. What makes this project so spectacular is that it manages to revive old sounds without sounding outdated. Furthermore, each track is a banger worthy of being put on repeat for days on end. Equipped with an expensive sound, Future Nostalgia is not one to be slept on. Pure pop perfection.
“My Agenda” by Dorian Electra
This has to be the strangest album of the year, hands down...and that is exactly what makes it so good. Rising star and genderfluid icon Dorian Electra leans hard into the queerness on this project, using their lyrics to tell a satirical story of an incel (involuntary celebate) whilst commenting on the nature of toxic masculinity and homosexuality in society. It’s an acquired taste, but one worth acquiring. Never has brain rot been more artistic than on this album.
“After Hours” by The Weeknd
A conversation about the best albums of 2020 is not complete without discussing The Weeknd’s titan of an album, After Hours. Abel turns in the more harsh synths of his last project for an 80s techno-hop vibe throughout the project. Accompanied by some of the most beautiful vocals he’s ever produced, this album has to be his most thematically and sonically cohesive to date.
It’s worth mentioning — as a footnote — that these are my opinions, and I highly recommend readers take the time out of their days to listen to these projects.
I also want to mention that there are several outstanding projects I left out only for the sake of brevity. Projects like “Chromatica” by Lady Gaga, “Nectar” by Joji and many more are just as outstanding, and all deserve an article of their own.