Top 20 Albums of 2020
Graphic: Karee Bless
‘Best of 2020’ sounds a little bit like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? In a year that caused so many people to ask themselves so many painful questions about themselves and the world around them what does ‘best of’ even mean anymore? Do the things that you consider the best help you escape from the world around you, or do they wrap you around closer than you’d like to be to tough subjects? 2020 was a year where many maybe felt cooped up, like they couldn’t do anything. For me, 2020 was absolutely a tough year, but what got me through it, like any year, was listening to so many different voices all telling stories that they wanted to share with the world. In many ways the year felt the same as any year, because I had something to ground me, something to keep me sane, per say. I decided with my down time to create a blog where I talked about music, because I felt as if I hadn’t been doing much with my time, and just wanted something to do. We all picked new things up, and maybe gravitated towards old things we once did as well. 2020 was a character shaping year for a lot of us, and these albums helped me in their own unique ways, and I am so excited to share this list with you, so sit back, relax and disagree (or agree) with me!
20. Kevin & the Bikes- Ironic Songs
In 2019, Kevin & the Bikes released a record entitled Dorkcore 101, a four hour record about a secondary character from the 2000’s cartoon, Ed, Edd n Eddy. In 2020, Kevin & the Bikes departed from their comedy rock upbringings and traded them for a more serious record, and it pays off. This is some of the best lo-fi rock that came out in 2020, and has a certain charm about it that cannot be matched when comparing this record to others like it that came out in the year. Kevin & the Bikes deliver some great lo-fi slacker rock sounds on this 28 minute record that is concise and to the point. Even though they departed to more ‘serious’ territory on Ironic Songs, the band is still not afraid to get a little more goofy and experimental with their sound throughout the album, creating a great middle ground for newcomers to the band to fall in love with their quirky songwriting skills.
Favorite tracks: Salamia, Intellectual Bean- Spill, One Night to Make You Wish it Was Forever
19. Jeff Rosenstock- No Dream
No Dream is a record that describes the correlations between personal anxiety and the anxiety the outside world creates for us in such a colorful and needed way. Jeff Rosenstock keeps his streak alive of giving his audience an exciting brand of Punk music gift wrapped in Power- Pop undertones. It’s the type of energetic record that I come to expect from someone who has hit home run after home run on his previous records. This album feels like it came out at the right time, with lyrics that really stuck with me this year, like on ‘Scram!’ where Jeff states: ‘I've been told for most my life "Try to see the other side"// By people who have never tried to see the other side’. The songs have this coating of anxieties that we have come to expect from Jeff, but in an entirely new, almost more poignant way, making this album one of the must- listen to records of 2020.
Favorite songs: Scram!, ***BNB, Ohio Tpke
18. Wendy Eisenberg- Auto
Using their various backgrounds in a myriad of different genres, Wendy Eisenberg showcases their talent in a rather stripped back, yet disjointed way on Auto, an experimental singer-songwriter record. Wendy’s previous experiences range from studies in guitar experimentation, being a guitarist in a noise-punk band, and playing free jazz. All of these past experiences come together throughout the entirety of Auto, and as much of a hodgepodge of sounds it looks like on paper, I can guarantee all of these experiences blend in the best of ways and adds so much to what could have been just an average singer-songwriter record. The overall lyricism shouldn’t be ignored while talking about this record either, as Wendy sings about personal experiences that trek into some dark corners, like childhood wounds at times. Auto is what happens when a person acknowledges all of their previous obsessions, drops them on a table and asks themselves ‘how could this all come together’? The result pays off in this and many instances when someone stays true to themselves.
Favorite songs: Futures, The Moon, Centreville
17. Pottery- Welcome to Bobby’s Motel
A record that borrows from a lot of its predecessors, Welcome to Bobby’s Motel is a culmination of what happens when you mix New Wave ethos, modern art punk aesthetics, and hand-dip that into a heavy coating of counter culture. This record seriously sounds like the most bizarre carnival anyone has ever been to, in the best of ways possible. Many critics cite the influences of the Talking Heads and Parquet Courts on this band, and while it’s very much there, it paves its own lane while borrowing from so many things. This record had me dancing like a mad man upon first listen and still continues to make me tap my foot to this day. It’s both bizarre and funky at the same time, and you can tell the band had a fantastic time recording the songs that lay throughout Welcome to Bobby’s Motel.
Favorite Tracks: Texas Drums Pt 1&2, Hot Heater, Bobby’s Forecast
16. Błoto- Erozje
I don’t know all that much about the Jazz scene anywhere, much less Poland, but Błoto delivered their first of two records in the year 2020, Erozje. On Erozje, the group improvise and are heavily inspired by hip hop break beats throughout this record. Each track on this record feels like part of a bigger project here, as seemingly everyone is inspired by the same thing. I don’t listen to enough jazz, but I do know as a fan of music, what I hear throughout this record is 43 special, spiritual and uplifting minutes of jazz improvisation and I am a huge fan of what Błoto does on this project. They meet the listener where they are at and immediately hook you from the first second you turn this record on. Not many modern jazz players that I have found convey the same emotion as this group does, and I really appreciate that about Błoto. I hope to hear more from them very soon, because they have made a fan out of me, a guy who rarely gives jazz the time of day.
Favorite Tracks: Czarne zieme, Mady, Glina
15. Phoebe Bridgers- Punisher
Standing as one of the most anticipated albums of the year, Phoebe Bridgers provided us with one of the most beautifully bone chilling and transcending experiences of the year. Punisher proves to us that Phoebe Bridgers is one of the most exciting songwriters out right now and can captivate so many people with her storytelling. There are so many flawless moments of the intimate songwriting Phoebe has become well known for. Phoebe just knocks it out of the park on this record, and I’m not terribly surprised, being a fan of her previous work, I had very high hopes that Bridgers would capitalize off of these expectations, and I can say she absolutely obliterated what I thought she was capable of. Punisher is one of the most no brainer picks on the list, and if you call yourself a fan of music and haven’t heard this one yet, quite you’re living under one of the saddest rocks in existence right now.
Favorite tracks: Garden Song, Halloween, Kyoto
14. R.A.P. Ferreira- Purple Moonlight Pages
On Purple Moonlight Pages, R.A.P. Ferreria gifts us some of the most poetic lyricism on any record to be found in the year 2020. Add that with the genius jazz rap instrumentation, and you have a deadly combination that deserves all of the applause that it is getting. Purple Moonlight Pages transports us into a smoke filled dingy club that only select locals know about and takes us on a very captivating listen as R.A.P. Ferreira teeters along playfulness and philosophical thought, creating a great balance between experimentation with his own sound and really unpacking his own thoughts on mundane life in an approachable and thought provoking way. This is one of the chillest rap records of the year and a complete joy to listen and relax to.
Favorite tracks: LEAVING HELL, NONCIPHER, LAUNDRY
13. Natalia Lafourcade- Un Canto Por México, Vol. 1
Natalia Lafourcade pays homage to the various regional musical styles Mexico has to offer on this incredibly beautiful record. Listening to this record, you can tell that Natalia has so much respect for the traditions and sounds that so many people before her have created, the result is an incredible love letter to the traditions that have been passed down. It is an incredible sounding record that really takes a lot of talent to create. Natalia’s voice is incredibly rich and lends itself to so many different styles of music, and this feat is an incredible achievement in and of itself. Natalia acts as a caretaker of different styles of music that I am not educated in and gives us an approachable crash course in how amazing one's own culture can truly be.
Favorite tracks: Ya No Vivo Por Vivir, Mexicana Hermosa, Un Derecho de Nacimiento
12. Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist- Alfredo
There is a certain level of quality I have come to expect from Freddie Gibbs and whoever he ends up teaming up with on a record, and this was no different. Freddie Gibbs continues to be one of the most exciting rappers lyrically, and when you add his self aware and poignant lyricism to the smooth beats that The Alchemist provides, you get an unmatched combination. We could talk about the context and time this record came out within the state of our country, in the height of racial injustice and how the lines throughout this album are very much pointed towards that, but this record really stands alone even without this context, because it truly is a breathtaking lineup of tracks. Alfredo is up there with Freddie Gibbs’ best, and when you’re talking about someone with the same genius as Freddie Gibbs, this is quite the achievement.
Favorite tracks: Scottie Beam, Babies & Fools, Something to Rap About
11. Fever Queen- The World of Fever Queen
The World of Fever Queen acts as an open journey into the journal of Chicago based artist, Elenor Rose Lee. On this record, we get songs that feel like they are continuations of the same thought, winding into many different possibilities and outcomes. The result is one of the most ambitious and intriguing releases from an artist who truly deserves so much more recognition for what she does. Fever Queen is able to somehow deliver insanely catchy songs that still mean something. She has an uncanny ability of being able to connect these very personal experiences to what her audience may be going through as well. The influences on this record vary from 60’s pop, surf rock, and modern indie rock. All of these influences come together to create an excellent indie pop experience that is both imaginative and inviting. It is a very charming experience and I am so glad that Elenor ended up sharing this great piece of art to the world, and I am equally glad that I was able to stumble upon this record. I feel this strange connection to this music and the thoughts that lay upon it, and I don’t think it’s an accident that I was lucky enough to listen to this project.
Favorite tracks: Night Vision, Good Mistake, Steam
10. Rina Sawayama- SAWAYAMA
This record sounds like a lot of things that are typically looked down on as tropes in the world of music, and more specifically, dance music, and somehow is able to create something inventive and incredibly fun out of these elements some people may avoid. Rina Sawayama molds these characteristics that I would typically avoid and shapes them into something that is inventive and insanely catchy in the process. There is so much for a variety of music fans on this record, and you don’t have to be pretentious to enjoy this record. Rina Sawayama takes influences from early 2000’s Pop music, chiptune, and even Alternative Metal on this record, just to name a few of the many influences that touch this record. These are things, again, that a normal person would not attempt to mix together, but we get it on this record, and the result is crafted so well, making for one of the most exciting releases of the year.
Favorite tracks: XS, Tokyo Love Hotel, Comme Des Garcons (Like the Boys)
9. Pons- Intellect
Vermont Noise Punk group, Pons have released one of the most chaotic albums of the year in Intellect. I am not lying when I say some of the most fun I have had listening to music in 2020 is thanks to this crew, and it saddens me to think that so many people haven’t yet stumbled upon the brilliance that is this record. Distorted and grimey throughout its 44 minute runtime, Pons creates music that grows on people like some undiscovered bacteria once they realize fully what they are listening to. This band takes my brain and plays with it like a 5 year old does play doh every time I turn this record on, and I can't help but dance uncontrollably to this insane record.
Favorite tracks: NO Squid, Timmy Two Time, Subliminal Messages
8. clipping.- Visions of Bodies Being Burned
An intense and terrifying experience, clipping. capitalize off of their recent foray into the genre of Horror Rap. 2019 saw the group release There Existed an Addiction to Blood, a record that was inspired by 70’s and 80’s horror tropes. On Visions of Bodies Being Burned, the group still leans into tropes of the horror genre, but it is more rooted in 80’s and 90’s horror. Clipping. create this eerie ambiance, thanks to the fact that they have always came up with some very super complicated and industrial beats, lending their music so well to the genre of horror. Every track has me on the edge of my seat, I do not recommend listening to this album walking on the street at night, because I tried that once, and I ended up sprinting back home because I was so terrified. Visions of Bodies Being Burned is a true example of a group moving a genre and music as a whole forward into a completely new, relatively unexplored area.
Favorite Tracks: Say The Name, Pain Everyday, Something Underneath
7. Fiona Apple- Fetch the Bolt Cutters
What do you say about this album that hasn’t been said before? Years from now, this is going to be THE album from 2020 and it already is. This is the most exciting singer-songwriter album in forever, with its own unapologetic sense of existing, this is Fiona Apple being herself, creating music for herself, and it pays off. Fiona has a way of making creative, yet almost simplistic songs throughout Fetch the Bolt Cutters, and of course I love all of the random noises she chooses to incorporate throughout this incredible album. Fiona creates an intimate setting through the uncommon noises she chooses to use throughout, as dogs bark, and pots clang, creating the feeling that Fiona is right here in the very space you are experiencing this record. It’s absolute brilliance, and you cannot convince me otherwise.
Favorite tracks: Shameika, Under the Table, Relay
6. Charli XCX- How I’m Feeling Now
Created during quarantine, Charli XCX’s How I’m Feeling Now is an honest look into the progression of an individual’s emotions during… well, the pandemic, and seemingly having to create almost a new lifestyle and cope with things in a different way than what we may be used to. Released in mid May and recorded in just about a month, How I’m Feeling Now is a unique artifact that only 2020 could truly honestly produce, and the result truly helped many get through their experiences in lockdown. Charli continues to give us these very impressive and inventive futuristic pop songs that make you feel a little bit less alone. This album isn’t just a gimmick though, and I think pandemic or not, there are so many things that people will be able to relate to and get behind on this record as it feels lonely, and almost like a plea for help at times, but at the same time full of determination and confidence.
Favorite tracks: pink diamond, claws, anthems
5. Ember Knight- CHERYL
CHERYL is a very engaging concept album about a young girl, named Cheryl, being admitted into an insane asylum because she does not remember her favorite color. It truly is a very bizarre concept for a record, almost feeling like it was dreamt up by David Lynch or something, and that is exactly how it plays, and I am so here for it. Ember Knight creates a very exciting character through Cheryl as they showcase their unique approach to crafting an album. This essentially sounds like a fever dream musical, part Broadway, part Power Pop, and a whole bunch of Indie sensibility has been added into the mix throughout CHERYL. Sounding so cinematic, I was so excited when I found out that this was indeed a part of a bigger project, as Ember Knight is planning to make a film following the character of Cheryl. If this does happen, I need to know when tickets to the premiere are available, because I do not want to miss seeing something as genius as this come to life.
Favorite Tracks: Mvt. VII Home, Mvt. I Morning Lasagna, Mvt. VI Help! Help!
4. 下山 (Gezan)- 狂 (Klue)
This is a very strange Noise Rock record that sank deep into my heart late into the year. Japanese band, Gezan creates music that borders so many genres on this record, and never really fully touches any one of them, keeping their listeners on their toes, not knowing what to expect. I love the weird layered growls on tracks like ‘EXTACY’, and super strange duck quacking type noises on ‘AGEHA’, and there are so many just super odd choices like this throughout the record. It is one of the most charming, playful, yet angry and noisy records of 2020. Certainly not for everyone, this oddball release by the Japanese Noise Rock outlet is sure to leave you scratching your head, contemplating what you heard, and having to listen to it again and again because you are so perplexed.
Favorite Tracks: TOKYO, EXTACY, Soul Material
3. Run the Jewels- RTJ 4
Killer Mike and El-P continue their run of fantastic records together as Run the Jewels, probably the most exciting collaborators in rap currently. Killer Mike and El-P continue to have this certain understanding of where one another are coming from and they create something that feels so timely and obviously political throughout this record. Even though there is a lot of seriousness throughout RTJ4 we still see Killer Mike and El-P banter with one another and compliment each other brilliantly throughout this record. It's a record that only Run the Jewels could create, and it almost feels like the record people needed to hear when it came out and will continue to be required listening for years to come.
Favorite tracks: JU$T, walking in the snow, the ground below
2. Yves Tumor- Heaven to a Tortured Mind
Yves Tumor blew me away with 2018’s Safe in the Hands of Love, and this year, Yves strikes again with some of the most exciting R&B tinged Art Rock you’ll hear this year, and any year for that matter. The tracks on this album are all super sensual and chaotic at the same time. Yves Tumor knows how to push the boundaries of modern music and Heaven to a Tortured Mind showcases this throughout its 35 minute run time, doing as much as it can with the space it is given and making you feel like you are in a sweaty, claustrophobic room as colors play on the wall all at the same time. It’s eclectic music that feels almost like a new updated version of glam rock with a soulful touch to give it the extra push it needs towards greatness.
Favorite tracks: Gospel For a New Century, Kerosene!, Medicine Burn
1. Ka- Descendants of Cain
If you are familiar with Ka, then you are familiar with the fact that his albums typically follow a certain theme throughout. On Descendants of Cain, this is no different as Ka parallels his life on the streets of Brooklyn to the Old Testament stories of the descendents of Cain. The result is this really interesting listening experience proving that even though our lives are not completely similar to the ones we read about in the Old Testament of the Bible, our lives also aren’t dissimilar. As Ka speaks about his own life, we realize that we aren’t exactly that far away from the things and problems experienced throughout what we read about in scripture as greed is still apparent, we still murder without reason, and betray our fellow man. It’s a very dense record that you may not get much out of upon first listen, but it is certainly worth your time and a great example of thought provoking storytelling.
Favorite tracks: My Brother’s Keeper, Sins of the Father, The Eye of the Needle