Wednesday 16 December 2020

The Top 50 Albums of 2020

The Top 50 Albums of 2020
What a stroke of divine coincidence when I released my first Top 50 Albums list in 2010. Purely accidental, you must understand, but it did slip me into an advantageous position where the decade stretched before me and became mine all mine. Off I went, year after year, listening to hundreds of records then compiling lists of my favourite 50 so that people might be impressed with ol' Jared from the block. Ten years past a little too quickly and I looked down at my hands, realising that I'd stuffed my ears with well over 4,000 albums during that period. I knew everything yet remembered nothing.

In 2019, I considered my mission to be complete. I wrote a book which is available for you to read for free (although donations are desperately accepted). And that was it! The self-imposed shackles of musical superiority had fallen away, and I was free to delegate my energy down other avenues. Because, spoiler alert, those countless months spent writing yearly articles weren't exactly worth their weight in hits.

Annoyingly, old habits die hard. 2020 started with glee until I found myself treating music the same as it ever was. I was taking notes. I was rating releases out of 10. I was keeping them safe in a spreadsheet. But why?? And as the year went on, specific albums gurgled louder than others, and I mused to myself, "Well, that would be in the top 10, wouldn't it?".

December rolled through the door, and I'd listened to just over 400 records. 404 to be exact which is a funny number cos it means that the page was not found lol. Regardless, I knew 2020 music quite well, and that presented me with two clear options. I could selfishly keep this information to myself, which was the original plan. Or I could put it out there to my billions of appreciative fans. You know what happened next.

Please note, however, that there is a significant difference this round. I cared less. I did not spend an hour per each release, poetically ordering adjectives and comparing them to abstract concepts. Instead, the reviews below are my genuine feelings on the albums without overthinking anything whatsoever. I spat out several descriptive sentences in tune with my instincts then let them dry in place. Annoyingly, many of them turned out better for it. They're a faster read anyway.

I will say this though: despite everything else, 2020 was an excellent year for music. Tons of decent stuff, yummy yummy tasty goodness. Some of the records I left out agonise my jawline to cracking point, but again, this isn't about them or you or even me. This article is about what felt right. So I'm sorry if your favourite record didn't make the cut, but it's just music so fucking get over it.

Here are my top 50 albums of 2020.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 50. Andy Shauf - The Neon Skyline

50. Andy Shauf - The Neon Skyline

Indie Chamber Pop
24 January

Telling the tale of a group of friends with a complicated history yet very little drama between them, we listen as they experience an average night out. Such a subtle storyline makes one feel as if they are spying on stranger's lives, getting to know them personally, then feeling that pang of sadness when interactions remind you of your own miserable life. Nothing special happens, and it's not musically extraordinary either, but as a narrative, its a rare prize in our unnecessarily extravagant world of music.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 49. Neil Cicierega - Mouth Dreams

49. Neil Cicierega - Mouth Dreams

Musical Comedy Pop Mashup
30 September

Neil Cicierega is many things, and the best mashup artist on the planet is one of them. His trick is to exclusively use recognisable songs mixed in a humorous manner which may hit funniest on first listen, true, but is always a fantastic party playlist to delight your guests with. It may not be entirely on par with his previous Mouth Moods, but it’s close!

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 48. Oklou - Galore

48. Oklou - Galore

Alternative Ambient R&B Art Pop
24 September

Within seconds this rich production daintily tip-toes into my brain and sets up a tent. And I’m like what but it’s too charming to evict, so it’s still there now. I realise this review doesn't describe anything whatsoever so just come inside and check it out for yourself.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 47. Lido Pimienta - Miss Colombia

47. Lido Pimienta - Miss Colombia

Latin Electronic Art Pop
17 April

Taking a traditional dish and generously spicing it with contemporary flavours, there's a lot on this plate especially when Lido stands on top of it, squashing the meal beneath her feet, singing her voice upward until the roof blows off.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 46. Katie Dey - Mydata

46. Katie Dey - Mydata

Indietronica Chamber Art Pop
24 July

With a light aura that trails long after the album closes, there’s faint magic to this poppy effort that leaves nothing but a positive memory floating beneath your bed.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 45. Imperial Triumphant - Alphaville

45. Imperial Triumphant - Alphaville

Technical Avant-Garde Black Death Metal
31 July

Imperial Triumphant are lunatics. Their psychotic horn section alone is fucking terrifying. Check google images for some small idea of what you’re dealing with.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 44. Jay Electronica - A Written Testimony

44. Jay Electronica - A Written Testimony

Conscious Abstract Hip Hop
13 March

Thirteen years in the making and you basically have a new Jay-Z album here. Take that as you will, but the old school beats hold together a spiritual faith with a celebration of blackness. The tracklist may be top-heavy, but it’s fucking top-HEAVY, you know what I mean?

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 43. Protomartyr - Ultimate Success Today

43. Protomartyr - Ultimate Success Today

Post Art Punk
17 July

Post punk's domination may be waning, but some centrepieces protect the fort with Protomartyr as perhaps the most remarkably unsung band on the planet. Their sound is so potent that they've never written a bad song, handing out the same consistency from the very beginning until right here right now.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 42. Sprain - As Lost Through Collision

42. Sprain - As Lost Through Collision

4 September

The gravitational pull of effortless monotony has grown more appealing in my old age. Drag that shit as far apart as it can go. But what's this? Post-slowcore? So it's hardcore? But slow? What, like a weird Slint? Or a perpetual humming noise? Whatever, I like it.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 41. Amaarae - THE ANGEL YOU DON’T KNOW


Alternative Afrobeats R&B
12 November

Picking a tired genre then squeezing an adorable juice from it, The Angel You Don’t Know is uplifting without stupidity and commercial without being cheap. It sounds like it was written for her friends. I want to be her friend.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 40. Hum - Inlet

40. Hum - Inlet

Alternative Shoegaze Metal
23 June

How long does it take to release a record that drowns you in fuzz, sinking you so far down into stoner tones that you are only introduced to the vocals right at the back? 22 years.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 39. Mamaleek - Come & See

39. Mamaleek - Come & See

Experimental Avant-Garde Metal Noise Rock
26 March

This stuff is immediately fucked but calculated in its fuckedness. It destroys everything in just the right way by never sacrificing talent. If it offers you a box full of noise while stirring a jazz tangle in the middle, be very careful.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 38. Code Orange - Underneath

38. Code Orange - Underneath

Alternative Industrial Metal
13 March

Hooky metal that's serious about being aggressive can come across disingenuine, but Code Orange escape the phoniness with horroresque elements to darken the atmosphere while glitchy tricks keep the listener guessing. They improve per record too so it could be an exciting decade for these dudes.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 37. Carly Rae Jepsen - Dedicated Side B

37. Carly Rae Jepsen - Dedicated Side B

21 May

It's sickening that Carly's b-sides are superior to most pop artist's lead singles. She's found her delicious groove and clings to it, flooding the world with hooks of joy that instantly stick on first listen then sink deeper with each preceding spin. She's pop royalty, and any opposing arguments are wrong.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 36. Baauer - Planet's Mad

36. Baauer - Planet's Mad

EDM Jungle Terror Trap
19 June

Shove your working day with the eclectic electricity of jungle bangers sprinkled with African spices, your right-hand typing double as fast while your left-hand fist pumps at the air. I've had a lot of fun with this record, all alone.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 35. The Microphones - Microphones in 2020

35. The Microphones - Microphones in 2020

Indie Avant-Folk
7 August

Imagine an album. And it's one song. And it's 44 minutes and 44 seconds long. And it only features two chords repeated forever. And the lyrics are all about making the record itself. If what you're imagining is a slog of monotony, you wouldn't be wrong, but even on paper, you've surely never heard of a project as ballsy as this. I'm just pleased that Phil Elverum sounds far more mended since the most recent Mount Eerie songs.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 34. Kylie - Disco

34. Kylie - Disco

Dance-Pop Disco
6 November

A cemented legend crawls from her career slump wearing disco heels, spinning out one of her best albums from a 30-year career. Damnit, Kylie, how you do dat?

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 33. Natalia Lafourcade - Un canto por México Vol. 1

33. Natalia Lafourcade - Un canto por México Vol. 1

Ranchera Mexican Folk Music
8 May

My adoration for Natalia exploded then died with her 2015 project Hasta la raíz. That record smashed high on my charts, but it seemed our star was not satisfied and spent the next half-decade exploring traditional sounds from her Mexican heritage which didn’t stick to me in the same way. Understandably, my hopes for Un canto por México Vol. 1 were lowered, which stretched an opening for this record to dive directly inside. According to my ears, she’s finally found the midpoint between what she’s good at, what people want, and what she wants to do, taking a whimsical step outside of what you’d usually find in popular music and reigniting my love once more.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 32. Sault - Untitled (Black Is)

32. Sault - Untitled (Black Is)

19 June

When Sault released two albums mere months apart, the debate over which reigned superior was turbulent and unresolved. Many preferred the more celebratory Untitled (Rise), but for me, it’s the black power protest atmosphere of Untitled (Black Is) that edges slightly higher. In the end, however, these two records are a singular piece, driving their messages with one-liners and a sharp focus on instrumentation, no dips in quality, a feat even the greatest could not achieve.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 31. Aesop Rock - Spirit World Field Guide

31. Aesop Rock - Spirit World Field Guide

Abstract East Coast Hip Hop
13 November

Listen to this album as many times as you want, you’ll never grasp every word of Aesop’s vibrantly colourful deliveries that zip by with so many quick witticisms that only he truly gets the jokes. Plus the man produces the beats too! Ten points to an album that sits in his top three out of nine.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 30. Crack Cloud - Pain Olympics

30. Crack Cloud - Pain Olympics

Art Post-Punk
17 July

Crack Cloud wrote this album for me. Crank that quirky knob and reverberate the subtle madness into every corner of the room. Half an hour later, gone, thank you, come again. Don’t mind if I do!

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 29. Wake - Devouring Ruin

29. Wake - Devouring Ruin

Black Metal
27 March

Take the black metal blueprint then tick each box so furiously that you tear through the page. Now eat the paper. When we listen to black metal, we want black metal, and that's what Wake gives you. It's not trying to be smart; it's merely a relentless attack of darkness, which unlike most of its contemporaries, doesn't overstay its welcome.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 28. Sorry - 925

28. Sorry - 925

Indie Post-Punk Rock
27 March

The coolest kids never even register how cool they are, smoothly evading missteps as if they didn't even see them. Shamefully, my obsession with this band led me to stalk singer Asha Lorenz on Facebook and request her friendship. She is yet to accept.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 27. Sa-Roc - The Sharecropper's Daughter

27. Sa-Roc - The Sharecropper's Daughter

Conscious East Coast Hip Hop
2 October

Comparisons are lazy, but when you hear whispers of "the female Kendrick Lamar", you've gotta follow that scent. How delightful that it delivers, a bulletproof flow over straight-up old-fashioned beats, no cringy stabs at modernised commercial radio shit, just a verbal assault stacking up a high hip hop player in a year that's desperate for them.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 26. Ichiko Aoba - Windswept Adan

26. Ichiko Aoba - Windswept Adan

Chamber Folk
2 December

The artwork tells you everything you need to know. This album is made of water. Weightless, naked, peaceful, soft, I stopped breathing. Her voice is above water, though. Like, way above.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 25. Eartheater - Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin

25. Eartheater - Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin

Experimental Avant Chamber-Folk
2 October

Never in history has there existed a more misleading artwork. No, this record is not some smutty clickbait trap rap trap nor is it a glam rock enticement of sexism. Instead, here is a unique chamber-folk voice backed by little jittery effects and occasional moments of anxiety-inducing drumming, placed in leagues you've never heard before. Except maybe Björk? Yeah, Björk would make an album like this. And, honestly, can you offer a more generous compliment?

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 24. Phoxjaw - Royal Swan

24. Phoxjaw - Royal Swan

Post-Hardcore Alternative Rock
3 July

Bursting through the starting line with enthusiasm then only escalating until the closer, this coarse beast charges without frills except for a smear of humour glinting from their horns before they impale you, dead. Do not be a fool and overlook this 2020 post-hardcore park ride of swagger.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 23. Perfume Genius - Set My Heart on Fire Immediately

23. Perfume Genius - Set My Heart on Fire Immediately

Ambient Art Pop
15 May

Each Perfume Genius album expands on the impressiveness of the one that came before. And while Set My Heart on Fire Immediately is less stylistically coherent than his backlog contributions, this peculiarity somehow works in its favour. Every song boasts an individual appeal, delivered intricately without blocking your easy access to tumble right inside, trapped. Perfume? Sure, whatever. But genius? One of the best we got.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 22. Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia

22. Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia

Dance-Pop Nu-Disco
27 March

One sample-heavy hook to the face knocked me twirling backwards into the disco, and everyone thought I was dancing. When considering the globe was fearfully shivering round about this date, we can all be thankful for Dua's toffee centre of relief.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 21. Wailin Storms - Rattle

21. Wailin Storms - Rattle

Punk Deathrock Garage Blues
15 May

If I ever require the confidence to smash a chair over someone's head, the gritty attitude of this album would be my secret weapon. It's not even trying to be violent, which makes it all the more dangerous.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 20. Grimes - Miss Anthropocene

20. Grimes - Miss Anthropocene

Electronic Art Pop
21 February

My suggestion is to examine Grimes' last three albums as one collection, and then you'll understand she's sneakily inking herself into musical history. These consecutive releases reveal a finger pushing the digital pulse of our culture's current bloodstream, and while few will consider Miss Anthropocene as her highest quality of work, many will confess it as her most terrifying.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 19. 070 Shake - Modus Vivendi

19. 070 Shake - Modus Vivendi

Alternative R&B Pop Rap
17 January

How scarce it is when someone slaps the tired commercial scene sideways, knocking some brains into the zombified radio nonsense. Modus Vivendi's sound is so modern that it's already old but stretched like gum until it's new again. Now shove it into your mouth and fucking chew. Fresh, no?

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 18. Sewerslvt - Draining Love Story

18. Sewerslvt - Draining Love Story

Atmospheric Drum and Bass
25 January

Nothing like having a fun little dance as you try your best to ignore the darkness spreading dirt across your every move with ghastly samples that nobody invited to this party. Do not let them sink in! Focus on the bangers. Because they bang, brah!

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 17. Dreamcrusher - Panopticon!

17. Dreamcrusher - Panopticon!

Power Electronics Noise
1 May 2020

Use knitting needles to pierce your eardrums so that they flap better with the distortion. Talk about noise. This shit does some actual damage like someone learned how to turn dying into music. I’m not even sure what it is.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 16. Jessie Ware - What's Your Pleasure?

16. Jessie Ware - What's Your Pleasure?

Contemporary R&B Dance-Pop Disco House
26 June

Do you want to make a timeless record? Then go back in time! Just ask Jessie Ware who reinvented her game on her fourth album, not for the better, but for the best! None of her previous work drips with such sensationalism, and it lingers like a classic already.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 15. R.A.P. Ferreira - Purple Moonlight Pages

15. R.A.P. Ferreira - Purple Moonlight Pages

Abstract Jazz Hip Hop
2 October

Why Milo changed his name here is frustrating, but the jazzy backtrack does differentiate this work from his previous, a free-form flowy flow which flows perfectly with Milo's flowy flows like silk that turns to liquid in your hands. But all the jazz in the world can't outshine the man's articulate intelligence that rises above the hip hop game without any flexes, only half-smiles and optimistic humour. It's a catalogue highlight.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 14. Against All Logic - 2017 - 2019

14. Against All Logic - 2017 - 2019

Post-Industrial Tech House
7 February

Electronic artists are scrambling to take over the world while Jaar lives on another planet. His first AAL project covered five years of unreleased material; this follow-up covers only two. Yet, it stands as tall, casting a shadow over the scene moments before he released another two self-named records within this same year. Jaar is setting up his pieces to conquer yet another decade, but don't look, or you'll go blind.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 13. Katie Pruitt - Expectations

13. Katie Pruitt - Expectations

Contemporary Country
21 February

Growing up as a gay female in a conservative area provided just the right insides to blast a light from Katie's throat, her voice saturating the sky then diving down my throat into my insides now. It's one of the best country records I've heard and the first genuine threat to Kacey's throne since she sat on it.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 12. Yelle - L'Ère du Verseau

12. Yelle - L'Ère du Verseau

French Electro Synthpop
4 September

Nothing like a six-year wait to lose confidence in an artist only to have those fears squelched by the finest album of Yelle’s career. More mature energies in one hand and extra dark influences in the other, she leapt forward, slamming her flag into the already well-pasteurised lands of 2020 dance-pop. And her material flies high.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 11. Run the Jewels - RTJ4

11. Run the Jewels - RTJ4

Hardcore Political Conscious Hip Hop
3 June

Even when Run the Jewels pause for a summary record, they still sound like an unstoppable forward motion. Furthermore, the eerily prophetic BLM content proves they are several strides ahead of everyone, encouraging a fight all the louder. Four perfect albums in a row. Are they aiming for the record? You fucking know they are. Their solo careers are dead to me; I have zero interest in hearing them apart again.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 10. clipping. - Visions of Bodies Being Burned

10. clipping. - Visions of Bodies Being Burned

Industrial Experimental Hip Hop Horrorcore
23 October

Akin to an aggressive chess game, the speaker-shredding beats of abrasive minimalism battle the tongue-tricking rap flows of horror yet neither manages to outmanoeuvre the other, playing on different fields but the same team, seeking only to murder you. Albums like this are not easy, they demand dedicated energy, but if you survive it, something inside of you will still be dead forever.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 09. Róisín Machine - Róisín Machine

09. Róisín Murphy - Róisín Machine

2 October

Róisín's peculiar habit of tripping over the weird line finally culminated in raising the bar of her craft then drop-kicking that same bar off the planet. The superbly named Róisín Machine is a perpetual onward movement, one extravagant DJ set featuring songs that have surely been written before because each one sounds like a classic. It's some of the best disco I have ever heard.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 08. Sevdaliza - Shabrang

08. Sevdaliza - Shabrang

Art Pop
28 August

Fall to your knees, the second coming has arrived! Alanis Morissette upgraded and modernised for the new age! I'm the only one who thinks that but I worship this record anyway for doing something different without exerting any effort during the process. An album like this comes once a decade, and it's only 2020. Such a blessing.
(side note: Alanis did release a decent record this year too)

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 07. The Weeknd - After Hours

07. The Weeknd - After Hours

Alternative R&B Synthpop
20 March

After taking over the world, The Weeknd absorbed all of the dangerous electricity he could muster from immoral sex and filthy parties until his sins exploded outward and left behind (possibly) his best album yet. Did you expect this? I didn’t expect this. It’s really something.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 06. Fleet Foxes - Shore

06. Fleet Foxes - Shore

Indie Folk Chamber Pop
20 March

Indie folk has gone stale just kidding here's Fleet Foxes, dwelling in melancholic chambers but keeping the heavenly moods snug with knitted sweaters. And I can't fault a damn thing about it.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 05. Deftones - Ohms

05. Deftones - Ohms

Alternative Metal
25 September

By embracing their strengths then cranking up the guitarwork, Deftones made a Deftones record. They comfortably conjured one of their most solid albums by working within the safety of their atmospherics; a space only they have access to. So I guess Deftones did it again? How many times have we said that now?

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 04. Oranssi Pazuzu - Mestarin kynsi

04. Oranssi Pazuzu - Mestarin kynsi

Psychedelic Avant-Garde Black Rock Metal
17 April

If I’ve ever heard a better metal album than this, then Mestarin kynsi sucked the marrow from my memory, leaving me crumpled on the floor, delirious but shivering from delight. I didn’t know albums were capable of sounding this good. I'll kill myself to this record, I don't care.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 03. Charli XCX - How I'm Feeling Now

03. Charli XCX - How I'm Feeling Now

Bubblegum Electropop Bass
15 May

Note Charli as the first creative to be inspired by pandemic isolation and translate the craving of human interaction into a harsh set of bangers to help everyone else to deal. It's been less than a year since her previous record and her discography as a whole glows with consistency, but this album shatters the ceiling without leaving the house.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 02. Taylor Swift - Folklore

02. Taylor Swift - Folklore

Indie Folk Pop
24 July

Folklore dumped the rest of Swift's discography into an acid bath and dissolved them to irrelevance. Everything she made before this album is pocket change for a kid at a candy store. Look at me; I'm gutted like a fish, flapping on the floor for a very long time, except I don't mind because every song belongs here. The thought of heartbroken teenaged girls crying while listening to Taylor's old records used to amuse me. Now I have become that crying teenage girl. Yes, I have cried to this record. Frequently.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: 01. Fiona Apple - Fetch the Bolt Cutters

01. Fiona Apple - Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Progressive Art Pop
17 April

Fetch the Bolt Cutters is so raw and intimate that it shrinks me into a child, sitting on Fiona's carpet, watching her playing piano songs as I struggle to understand my feelings. Is this Fiona Apple's best album? Which album is Fiona Apple's best album? It's an impossible question which only reaffirms the perfection of an impenetrable discography stacked tall exclusively with classics. But mark my words and mark them fucking well: come 2029 as we are arguing over the highest album of the decade, the suggestion of this masterpiece will be forceful.