I seem to have lost the ability to write a introductory paragraph. 2020 can do that to ya. I don’t really want to think back on the year, other than talk about things that helped me escape temporarily, and music was definitely the biggest form of media I sought escape in.
And thanks to our wonderful artists, there were great music to make the year slightly more tolerable. I already shared my top 10 EPs of the year. So after dozens of rearrangements, here are my top 40 albums of 2020.
40. Sunny Day Service – Iine!
A wonderful spring time album that came out in March. Listening to it around that time made the initial bout of quarantining a bit more bearable. There is nothing groundbreaking about the pristine instrumentation, the breezy guitar riffs, and the summery vocals – some of them sound like CM songs – but it’s all so nicely packaged into a short sweet 35-minute that I can’t help but go “iine~”.
39. Moses Sumney – Græ
The enigma of grae is irresistible and it certainly caught me off guard. The sound play and production are colorful and entrancing, Sumney’s vocals sound uninspired in a few tracks but his songwriting still stood out to me the more I listened to this album. I think, with the album trimmed, I would’ve placed this higher on my list.
38. Dope Body – Home Body
I find the mixtape-like flow of the album really fun, it accentuates the volatile vibe of the band’s mutated and noisy instrumentation. Even though the mixing kind of falls flat in a few places, especially with the vocals – the kooky lo-fi aesthetic in the songs here kept me coming back to this record.
37. Gezan – KLUE
When I first heard the album, the vocals really put me off but on further listens my opinion on them did a complete 180 – they are the biggest appeal of the album for me now. The song structures and instrumental motifs are compelling but they get recycled quite a bit and I wish they went a bit further and made each song stand out on their own. Still, as an album listening experience, it’s pretty unique and I hope Gezan evolves their sound even more in the future.
36. ZOMBIE-CHANG – Take Me Away From Tokyo
I was always kind of skeptical of Meirin attributing the anti-EDM genre tag to her music.. until this – this certainly embodies anti-EDM. Zombie-Chang is yet to bore me, and it‘s not surprising given how readily she adapts new sonic ground in every new release. The pacing of the record is a bit off but there are still fun bangers backed by creative production on here.
35. Deerhoof – Future Teenage Cave Artists
Future Teenage Cave Artists is filled to the brim with fun guitar effects and riffs, and they rarely got overbearing for me the more listen-throughs I gave the album. The LP displays a great balance of melody and noise, and the odd hooks in quite a handful of songs are super sticky.
34. Dorian Electra – My Agenda
While not as thematically cohesive as their previous album, I still love how Dorian keeps expanding their stylistic range with each project and most of their experiments pans out to produce one banger after another. The features on this album are great, the tracklist is an eclectic mix of genres, production is on fleek as always – Dorian is yet to disappoint.
33. Fleet Foxes – Shore
With more shimmery instrumentation and the warm beach-side aesthetic of its production, Shore is one hell of a cleansing album. The first six tracks of the album are some of my favorite and anxiety-relieving musical experiences in 2020. While the magic doesn’t stay afloat throughout the entire album because the instrumentation kind of rethreads its own steps, I still think this is the most immediately catchy Fleet Foxes has ever sounded.
32. Horse Lords – The Common Task
Whatever the band brings to the table on this album is achieved through anything but a common task – there’s some kind of wizardry in how they transform these off-tempo mechanical-sounding mutant rhythms to make a catchy, dynamic piece. The length of the album could’ve been trimmed in some places and the transitions between signs were a bit rough. But overall, it’s definitely one of the more creative rock albums of 2020 for me.
31. clipping – Visions of Bodies Being Burned
I found this album to be a lot more tighter in terms of pacing than their last horrorcore album in 2019. I love how noise is mixed in the tracks here – it’s like abrasive ear candy – especially in Make Them Dead. There’s more stylistic ground covered here compared to their last album. I think this is the first clipping LP that I enjoyed listening to as an entire project.
30. Kamisama Club – Jura
Jura is like a compilation of the band’s previous releases over a couple or more years. In this album, the duo brings refreshing takes on synth pop through some wonky, playful production, with Haru’s kiddish and playful vocals producing a fun dynamic with it. I love how boundaryless their stylistic palette is in this album… I mean, there’s even a smooth sax solo closing the album.
29. Rina Sawayama – Sawayama
The marriage between 00’s pop glam and nu-metal is super cohesive on Sawayama, Clarence Clarity’s production is as compelling as ever and Rina’s vocal performances sound even more dynamic. I could say that the pop diva aesthetic feels derivative but that wouldn’t be entirely true since she really makes it her own. Even so, there were still tracks that I never found myself coming back to, so I’m not ranking this higher.
28. Lovely Summer Chan – The Third Summer of Love
For a 1-hour album of seemingly unconnected tracks this is paced surprisingly well. The production is punchy and the guitar tones are colorful. I love how the instrumental psychedelic textures in a few tracks are joyously bright without being too overbearing. Aika’s saccharine vocals carry over to the instrumentation smoothly for most of the record but sometimes they lose presence in the mix. Still, it’s a really enjoyable rock album.
27. Goto Mariko acoustic violence POP – POP
Following up from her DJ510Mariko moniker, Mariko Goto subverted my expectations this December by putting out a set of some of the sweetest acoustic pop I’ve heard all year. I mean.. the name and the cover tell you otherwise. The recording and production reach a springtime-level of fresh and Mariko’s vocals remain playful and a joy to listen to no matter what genre she sings on.
26. Ichiko Aoba – Windswept Adan
Although I prefer her more acoustic albums a bit more, I still dig the change up in sound Ichiko made with this album. The serene, oceanic atmosphere is impossible to not love – the production is gorgeous and compelling. I expected a bit more versatility in the instrumentation, since I went into this album knowing there would be a sonic change-up. I still love the song structures and the flow of the record – it feels a lot shorter than 50 minutes.
25. Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas
The album’s got one of the most stunningly gorgeous and powerful vocals I’ve heard all year – it is nearly overwhelming. Although the instrumentation in some songs leave me wanting more, the Lianne’s songwriting is emotionally potent and the recording of the tracks have a warm, in-the-moment atmosphere around them. And that Weird Fishes cover… Lianne made that song her own, in my honest opinion.
24. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
The core appeal of the album for me is how confrontational, vivid and gut-ripping Fiona’s lyrics are here and how her vocals sound volatile yet powerful. I love the dog bark samples scattered throughout the record and the percussion choices create a likeable DIY-aesthetic. My biggest issue with the album is that quite a few tracks close out a bit sluggishly. Despite the very raw nature of the lyrics, there are a handful of catchy hooks in the songs.
23. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – K.G.
It’s not a popular opinion but I enjoy K.G. more than the albums they put out last year. Although the band isn’t covering new ground, the tracklist is filled with a larger variety of ideas and they are packaged well in 41 minutes. The song transitions are smooth, but that’s nothing new for King Gizz, it’s just more impressive given the amount of jumping they do between styles in the album.
22. Seiko Oomori – Kintsugi
Even with no track dropping under 4 minutes, Seiko makes one of the more engaging J-pop albums of 2020. The song structures and the instrumental pacing in almost every song is measured. Seiko’s vocal style has become more mature but her signature kawaii-grit is still somehow there. Although I wish there was more back-and-forth between the singer-songwriter and erratic experimental elements, this is still a solid showing from one of my favorite artists in Japan.
21. Clown Core – Van
Van is just 17 minutes long, I would consider it as an EP if it weren’t for the number of tracks, but it’s undeniable how replayable the songs are on this thing. I would be lying if the music videos didn’t increase my appreciation of what the duo is going for. The flow of the tracks is tight and even though there isn’t a lot of variety in the recording instruments, the tones explored in the record are varied and the overall instrumentation itself is catchy as hell – the sax solos never miss. Even the slower, smooth jazzy ones are wonderful.
20. Twice – Eyes Wide Open
This is the best release from the group so far, it’s consistently catchy – I love how mature their sound has gotten, their vocal arrangements are catchier than ever, even the rap portions are decent. The production is polished but not to the point where it sounds too pristine and sterile. I have noticed Twice’s previous mini-albums experimenting with different genres but this is the one where almost everything pans out smoothly.
19. Against All Logic – 2017- 2019
I ended up liking this a bit more than the previous AAL album, I love the industrial elements incorporated while keeping the house groove intact – it’s almost like controlled chaos, with the risks that Jaar seemed to take on the production largely paying off. The flow of the record isn’t the smoothest and some of the tracks grew off me over the months, but the highs on this album are soaring highs. This is definitely one of the more exciting electronic albums that came out early in the year.
18. Zen huxtable with trial of the golden witch – return to a world of love
This is my favorite material Digi has put out in terms of their music so far. Zen’s musical talent fills in with instrumentals playing with layering and Digi’s vocal delivery is more varied. They always tried to experiment in their musical projects but I think this is the first time where each experiment has panned out this well throughout an entire album. This is some lightning in a bottle stuff.
17. Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now
I honestly loved this way more than her 2019 album – while there aren’t any gigantic multi-collaborated pop anthems on here, the tracklist is tighter and Charli’s songwriting shines through a lot more strongly. The production plays with left-field ideas as usual, and it also has a claustrophobic aesthetic to it. Even with more inward-facing songwriting, Charli’s songs are as catchy as ever.
16. Chiaki Mayumura – Nihon Genki Onna Kashu
Chiaki released two solid pop albums this year but this one won me over with a more eclectic set of tracks. It’s amazing that she still hasn’t run out of creative juice given how prolific she was this year. My only issue with the album is that her rap delivery gets uninspired at points. Still, it’s impressive how effortlessly her vocals cross genre boundaries – and with a more vivid and playful production – Chiaki remains one of the most exciting voices from Japan for me.
15. Shabaka and the Ancestors – We Are Sent Here By History
Spearheaded by Shabaka Hutchings on the tenor sax and strongly influenced by African rhythms – this jazz record’s themes expand from topics like toxic masculinity to depicting the birth of our species, and war, and the war on white supremacy. It is pretty politically charged, thanks to the passionate vocals from Mthembu. The compositions themselves are fiery and smoky in texture and meditative in pacing. While this album isn’t as explosive or psychedelic as the Comet is Coming, its dynamic spiritual effect is undeniable.
14. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
Punisher, at its best moments, is emotionally crushing… and there’s a lot of best moments here. The stripped-back, dewy, nocturnal atmosphere of the record is so rich that it’s something I can drench in for hours. Phoebe’s breathy vocals are hauntingly beautiful and her story-telling kind of songwriting is something very undeniably special. The closing track is definitely one of the best album closers of 2020.
13. The Microphones – Microphones in 2020
Phil Elvrum is a very visual songwriter and it’s no less apparent in this one-song, 44 minute record. I love how the instrumental sounds cyclic but as the album progresses it gets more dynamic with more layering – it’s entrancing. Granted, it might sound boring to people not familiar with his work since it’s a personal album. But I think that’s the charm of the record, I think almost every aspect of it stems from his earnest reflections. It’s not profound in a grand sense but beautiful things don’t have to be profound.
12. The Strokes – The New Abnormal
I didn’t expect the Strokes to be back in form in 2020. What a tightly paced, gorgeously produced batch of tracks this is. Julian’s voice doesn’t sound aged one bit, some of his best vocal performances in two decades turn up on this album. The instrumentation sounds very live in the mixes. The smooth mixing also makes for one of my relaxing (although the lyrics aren’t quite relaxing) album listening experiences all year. Also, the LP’s got one of favorite album covers of 2020, hands down.
11. Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?
Sensual disco grooves hard on this LP but Jessie Ware also brings in more textures of soul, funk, R&B, and pop and blends them into a tracklist that flows like butter on the ears – there is almost zero fatigue my ears accumulate throughout its runtime. It is kind of scary how smooth the record flows despite its length, even the couple of songs that I don’t care for often flow by before I remember to skip them. The production’s charm is irresistible.
10. AJJ – Good Luck Everybody
This record grew in relevance to me as the months rolled on in 2020, the despair felt real. It’s near prophetic. I love Sean Bonette’s songwriting and he’s still got it in this album – his lyrics remain as sticky and visual as ever. True, this is not nearly as “folk-punk” in terms of instrumentation and performances as their previous albums but I think their politically and socially charged spit and grit are still there in the lyrics.
9. Run the Jewels – RTJ4
What a timely release this was back in June. Even without the context of mass unrest and the duo’s cutting political commentary, this 39 minute album feels larger than the listener. The beats are punchy and they could easily be soundtracks in a dystopian movie – which was pretty much a reality for some people in 2020. The big name features actually elevate the sheer power of the tracks. RTJ4 is definitely one of the biggest statements in hip-hop in 2020.
8. Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind
On the outside looking in, Bowie’s transmutation of versatile dishes of genres and song structures on this album seem impossible and dizzying but the end result turned out to be way more cohesive and focused than expected. The basslines on this album are delicious and the soul bits play between sweet and sensual. There aren’t enough nice things to say about this album, I hope Yves comes out with more music with this same experimental vision in the future.
7. Natalia Lafourcade – Un canto por México vol. 1
Natalia reworks and channels some of her previous material along with some covers into a Mexican folk avenue and the end result is one of the most gorgeously recorded LPs of 2020. I can’t have enough of Natalia’s vocals and the compositions are rich – it’s like aural honey. The album feels like a celebration of traditional Mexican music and I think it transcends cultural barriers really effectively – it’s a pure joy to listen to. I can’t wait for volume two.
6. TORIENA – Pure Fire
It is. It is pure fire. This starts hard, goes hard, and keeps on going hard – the production never stops evolving through its runtime and Toriena never runs out of creative gas with the synth-play. The breaks on this are insane and as raw as the meat on the cover. Pure Fire ended my search for a better rave album for the rest of the year. The only reason I’m not ranking this higher is that the album doesn’t quite stick the landing with the ending track. But other than that, get ready to turn fun inside out with this.
5. Dan Deacon – Mystic Familiar
Never heard of Dan Deacon (the shame) before this album but boy oh boy – what a life-affirming record this is. The arrangement is gorgeous in all of the tracks, the production has an colorful, ethereal spirit to it, and Dan’s contemplative songwriting meshes in with the mystical abstract aesthetic of the album. I know I’m kind of using five-dollar words to describe the record but it really is that compelling. It feels like a journey, and it made for one of my favorite musical experiences of 2020.
4. Boris – NO
The band still has it after all these decades, they somehow revived the noisy sludge metal magic of Heavy Rocks (2002) and Pink and evolved it by amalgamating it with the contrasting atmosphere of Dear and the speed of crust punk. The transitioning between the faster and slower tracks is seamless. The pacing of the entire album is tight. This record’s got some of the strongest vocal work in years, the guitar tones are ear candy and the drums got power. I would even go as far as saying that, out of the pummeling sludge metal albums in their discography, this is second only to Heavy Rocks for me. Yeah, Boris ain’t fucking around in this one.
3. Jeff Rosenstock – NO DREAM
Over the last couple of years, Jeff has quickly become one of my most listened to singer-songwriters. I love his direct, visceral songwriting and his angst is infectious – and all of these qualities are prominent in No Dream. Even the energetic pop-punk instrumentation takes a back seat to Jeff’s electric yet melodic vocals. No Dream feels like a sequel to his 2016 album Worry – where things that weren’t going well are going worse and you JUST WANT TO SCRAM. This record has songs on it that I sang in the shower all summer this year – it’s that catchy.
2. Adrianne Lenker – songs
Gosh, what an emotionally unwinding album this is. The folk instrumental atmosphere is entrancing. I don’t know what kind of production spell Adrianne used to make acoustic guitars sound so full of life – it’s almost as if Adrianne is harnessing nature to sound through guitars and organic sounding production here. I love how her honeyed and fragile vocals pours through the notes in the songs. Her lyrics are so vivid and they cover an entire palette of emotions. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve come back to this album since I first listened to it in late October. Also, shout out to her grandmother, Diane Lee, for the gorgeous album cover.
1. Black Dresses – Peaceful as Hell
As the album name suggests, Black Dresses finds the perfect balance between raw, emotionally chaotic noise and catchy, melodic pop anthems. Even concept-wise they complement their grimey angst with feelings of wholesomeness through tasteful walls of distortion. Their songwriting is visceral and it comes from a vulnerable place that I found myself relating with heavily. There’s a lot of hooks that stuck with me for a long time this year. This record is akin to taking a trip down through the metaphorical grimey tubes of the internet and discovering and cherishing the kind, wholesomeness that some parts of the internet emanate – and that makes it all worth it. And so this album makes me hopeful, and it always will.
That’s it for my favorite albums of 2020! Happy New Year, y’all.