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Best albums of 2020 – a selection of the best, best album lists 2020

Best albums of 2020 – a selection of the best, best album lists 2020
Album reviews

The current music scene is thankfully diverse. Individual music fan will have different albums that they enjoyed listening to that often bear no relation to the end of year lists produced by the magazines, music review websites and bloggers.

What these lists do is give us a reminder of artists and albums we might have missed or celebrate the recognition of an act particularly deserving more attention.

Here are some of the top picks:

NME albums of the year 2020

10. J Hus, ‘Big Conspiracy’

In a nutshell: The most summer vibes album to ever be released in January

Key track: ‘No Denying’

NME said: “Hus rarely puts a foot out of place over 13 tracks… The growth and progression here is stunning.”

9. Beabadoobee, ‘Fake It Flowers’

In a nutshell: Modern-day grunge hero dances through the whirlwind of adolescence

Key track: ‘Worth It’

NME said: “A thrilling debut from Gen-Z’s newest guitar hero.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Haim, ‘Women in Music Pt III’

8. Haim, ‘Women in Music Pt III’

In a nutshell: The LA group gets personal on their melancholy third album

Key track: ‘Man From The Magazine’

NME said: “[Haim] have produced a record that’s experimental, soothing and vulnerable; it’s a thing of great beauty.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Rina Sawayama – ‘SAWAYAMA’

7. Rina Sawayama, ‘SAWAYAMA’

In a nutshell: Alt-pop don makes nu-metal cool again

Sawayama rode brash nu-metal to rail against racist micro-aggressions. The singular ‘SAWAYAMA’ was a musical gut-punch. HM

Key track: ‘STFU!’

NME said: “Drawing on every aspect of her identity, Sawayama creates an expansive musical account of her personal history, all bolstered by her impressive experimental song-writing techniques.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Kelly Lee Owens, ‘Inner Song’

6. Kelly Lee Owens, ‘Inner Song’

In a nutshell: Welsh musician masters emotive techno-pop on meditative second album

Key track: ‘Corner In My Sky’

NME said: “‘Inner Song’ is a perfectly-arranged album where each track has a part to play… Kelly Lee Owens has made one of the most beautiful records of the year.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Phoebe Bridgers, ‘Punisher’

5. Phoebe Bridgers, ‘Punisher’

In a nutshell: The multidimensional LA songwriter cements her place as a cult indie icon

Key track: ‘I Know The End’

NME said: “Bridgers captures the everyday figments of life with a bleak smirk.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 The Strokes, ‘The New Abnormal’

4. The Strokes, ‘The New Abnormal’

In a nutshell: The indie OGs save the day with their aptly titled comeback

Key track: ‘Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus’

NME said: “Like its cover, the Jean-Michel Basquiat artwork ‘Bird On Money’, it’s spiky but quite stunning.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Dua Lipa, ‘Future Nostalgia’

3. Dua Lipa, ‘Future Nostalgia’

In a nutshell: Strap on your roller boots – the disco revival is in full swing

Key track: ‘Levitating’

NME said: “‘Future Nostalgia’ is a bright, bold collection of pop majesty to dance away your anxieties to.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Taylor Swift – ‘folklore’

2. Taylor Swift – ‘folklore’

In a nutshell: Taylor takes a trip to her cabin in the woods for the ultimate lockdown album

Key track: ‘The Last Great American Dynasty’

Taylor Swift Eva Rinaldi, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Eva Rinaldi, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

NME said: “’Folklore’ feels fresh, forward-thinking and, most of all, honest.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Run the Jewels, ‘RTJ4’

1. Run the Jewels, ‘RTJ4’

In a nutshell: You can describe 2020 in a number of ways, but the most appropriate word for the last 12 months is perhaps “memorable”.  In a year where most of our social interactions happened through a screen, RTJ4 felt like a wake-up punch to the face and a shot of tequila from your reckless best friend.

NME best albums of the year 2020

The Guardian – The best albums of 2020

This list is drawn from votes by Guardian music critics – each critic votes for their top 20 albums, with points allocated for each placing, and those points tallied to create this order.

20. Grimes – Miss Anthropocene

Claire Boucher – AKA Grimes – intended Miss Anthropocene as a concept album about a personified, demonic climate crisis. LS Read the full review.

19. Lady Gaga – Chromatica

If there were ever a year for Gaga to get back to basics, this was it. The concept of Chromatica was unusually light for her: a planet of kindness punks? Sure! LS Read the full review.

18. Run the Jewels – RTJ4

Marching through tracks with a “mind on a mission on the road to perdition”, the rap duo leave a wake of flame streaked across each one. BBT Read the full review.

17. Fontaines DC – A Hero’s Death

The Dublin band’s second album is so evocative, and produced in such a way you can feel the echo and space in a room, that it conjures a sense-memory of what gigs were once like: the jostling that glee turns into slam-dancing, the “mm” of agreement when a ballad ends. BBT Read the full review.

16. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

Phoebe Bridgers’ trademark skeleton outfit underscores the Halloweeny feeling of her music. The suburban iconography in her songs takes on a supernatural aura – going to the store “for nothing” while high on speed; being wasted on someone’s front lawn – and her keen sense of irony is undercut by the yearning to believe in something. LS Read the full review.

15. Jay Electronica – A Written Testimony

The rapper released this debut album 13 years after his first mixtape – it had to be very good to warrant the wait, and it was even better. BBT

14. Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?

Ware’s fourth album was highly flammable. Its plush disco setting evoked the era’s velvet, feathers and static-crackled polyester – cinders at the drop of a lit Vogue. LS Read the full review.

13. Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways

For his return to original songwriting after eight years away, Dylan was showing his age in the best way possible: these songs are reflective, wise and slow. BBT Read the full review.

12. Chloe x Halle – Ungodly Hour

Shedding the careful precocity of their debut, the Bailey sisters’ second album skipped the traditionally salacious we’re-grown-now stage of pop evolution to paint in complex emotional shades.LS Read the full review.

11. Róisín Murphy – Róisín Machine

A voracious hunger seethes through Murphy’s most club-facing record. She yearns for something more, feels frustrated by a lover who’d rather microdose than indulge – plus she knows that even desire fulfilled simply seeds more desire: “There’s nothing left for us to gain,” she cries against the chill wind of Kingdom of Ends, the nihilistic second track. LS Read the full review.

10. Moses Sumney – Græ

Where Moses Sumney’s debut, Aromanticism, was a forlorn testimony to vulnerability, Græ brings in the whole mess of living itself: from the playful oppositions of its track titles – Jill/Jack, Neither/Nor – to Sumney’s genre-splicing between R&B, folk, jazz and ambient electronics, Græ inhabits his swaying moods and transmutes his wranglings with identity into music without losing its sense of precarity. Ammar Kalia Read more.

9. Taylor Swift – Folklore

A year of cancelled tour dates allowed Swift to make an album without having to consider the nosebleed seats. The result is wistful, romantic and adorned with entrancing melodies. Kathryn Bromwich Read more.

8. J Hus – Big Conspiracy

Pushing into new introspective territory, J Hus’s second album would become oddly fitting for a year where carnival was swapped for dancing alone. Tara Joshi Read more.

7. Haim – Women in Music Pt III

On their third album and first masterpiece, Haim sound like a band who took their eyes off the prize and found it at their feet. BBT Read more.

6. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud

Katie Crutchfield cited alt-country pioneer Lucinda Williams as a crucial influence on Saint Cloud, but the spectre of a more conventional giant is equally hard to ignore. Rachel Aroesti Read more.

5. Sault – Untitled (Black Is)

Sault’s new album is weapons-grade R&B: rugged, soulful and unapologetically Black. The group’s music oscillates to all corners of Black culture’s past: from defiant breakbeats and spoken word to high-life guitar lines and mutated gospel. Lanre Bakare Read more.

4. Perfume Genius – Set My Heart on Fire Immediately

Mike Hadreas’s work has always dealt with heavy themes including abuse and bullying, but with the opener of his new album, he asks to be relinquished of his trauma. Alim Kheraj Read more.

3. Rina Sawayama – Sawayama

If you were forced to describe Rina Sawayama’s debut as succinctly as possible, you’d probably opt for a pop/R&B/nu-metal hybrid with a dose of stadium-rock bombast, which sounds like the most appalling generic fusion in musical history.  Alexis Petridis Read more.

2. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

Alem6667, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Alem6667, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The track that gives the album its name contains the brassy line: “You want what now looks like, let me give you a taste.” It’s true, but it’s also not – Future Nostalgia owes a great debt to the musical past, nostalgic itself for the costume jewelled glitz of disco and the Day-Glo of 80s powerpop and those who have gone before. Kate Solomon Read more.

1. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Recorded over a five-year spell in her California home, Fetch the Bolt Cutters encompasses every euphoric rush and hopeless roar as Fiona Apple telescopes between historic incidents that once diminished her to find their common thread. Read more.

Pitchfork – The Best Albums of 2020

12. Lil Uzi Vert: Eternal Atake

On Eternal Atake, Lil Uzi Vert employs an extraterrestrial concept that should be kitschy—in the album’s trailer, he’s jetted into the cosmos in a saucer the size of a city block by a humanoid cult—but instead lends the LP an intergalactic sheen. –Mankaprr Conteh

Further Reading: The Long, Bumpy Road to Lil Uzi Vert’s Eternal Atake

11. Adrianne Lenker: songs / instrumentals

When Big Thief scrapped their international tour this year, Adrianne Lenker found a world of her own in a cabin near the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. A pair of albums that work as a brilliant whole, songs and instrumentals capture the ambiance of the woods, the anguish of a breakup, and an autumn’s harvest of keen-eyed musings, at once lofty and visceral. She wants to hear a lover blinking; she sees a horse’s eyes rotting. “Oh, emptiness/Tell me about your nature,” she sings on “zombie girl.” –Marc Hogan

Further Listening: Adrianne Lenker Digs Deep

10. Bad Bunny: YHLQMDLG

On YHLQMDLG, aka Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana or I Do Whatever I Want, Puerto Rican superstar Bad Bunny honors his home island’s past of sweaty marquesina throwdowns with a score of perreo bangers for the new age.–Jenzia Burgos

Further Reading: A Day in the Life of Bad Bunny, Introverted Superstar

9. Jessie Ware: What’s Your Pleasure?

On her fourth studio album, UK singer-songwriter Jessie Ware conjures the erotic frisson of the cruisy dancefloors we aren’t permitted to congregrate on while the global pandemic rages on.–Jason King

Further Reading: Jessie Ware Explains Why This Smoldering Alicia Keys Ballad Is Her Personal Anthem

8. Haim: Women in Music Pt. III

Three songs into Haim’s sharpest album yet, Danielle is behind the wheel in her beloved Los Angeles with a Joni Mitchell classic on the stereo, “screaming every word to ‘Both Sides Now.’” –Jenn Pelly

Further Listening: RIYL: Haim’s Women in Music Pt. III

7. Yves Tumor: Heaven to a Tortured Mind

If 2018’s soul-affirming Safe in the Hands of Love established Yves Tumor as a preeminent experimentalist, then the pleasure-seeking and approachable Heaven to a Tortured Mind is the sound of them strutting into the role of a rock god.–Eric Torres

6. Bob Dylan: Rough and Rowdy Ways

If nothing else, Bob Dylan’s 39th studio album should forever put to rest the idea that the storied songwriter is losing his voice. On his first collection of original material in eight years, he sounds unusually attuned to the suggestive power of his craggy instrument, using small changes of inflection to convey wry self-mockery, roaring prowess, and a certain uneasy nostalgia. –Andy Cush

Further Reading: The Endurance of Bob Dylan’s Rough and Rowdy Ways

5. Perfume Genius: Set My Heart on Fire Immediately

In a year of isolation and unattainable intimacies, Perfume Genius’ Mike Hadreas is our poet laureate of constant longing. Set My Heart on Fire Immediately, his fifth album, celebrates the endless possibility and vulnerability of the body without losing sight of the fundamental absurdity of the human ordeal.–Anna Gaca

Further Reading: Perfume Genius Breaks Down Every Song on Set My Heart on Fire Immediately

4. Phoebe Bridgers: Punisher

Phoebe Bridgers will tweet about eating ass with one hand and crush your heart with the other. The droll, phantom-like singer writes music for faithless burnouts who still want to believe: lost souls clinging to astrology and fucked-up intimacy, striving to get by in a brutal universe with no pre-ordained meaning. Death and apocalypse lurk in every corner of Punisher—lightning flashes, sirens wail, a Giants fan gets killed at Dodger Stadium—and Bridgers shuffles through this ominous fog, still alive, still growing taller –Cat Zhang

Further Reading: Phoebe Bridgers on the 10 Things That Influenced Punisher

3. Moses Sumney: græ

The first half of græ, Moses Sumney’s tour de force sophomore album, came out just before lockdown; the second was released a few months later, after its audience had been humbled by the soft brutality of isolation, the brutal clarity of wandering our own inner landscapes day after day–Jia Tolentino

Further Reading: Moses Sumney Is Ready to Claim His Spotlight

2.      Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud

From her early punk recordings alongside sister Allison to her quietly devastating solo albums, Katie Crutchfield is always steadfast in her truth. With Saint Cloud, Crutchfield’s fifth album as Waxahatchee, she climbs to solid ground, emerging from the storm self-assured.–Quinn Moreland

Further Reading: Waxahatchee Breaks Down Every Song on Saint Cloud

1.      Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Fifteen years ago, on the title track to Extraordinary Machine, Fiona Apple declared, “I still only travel by foot, and by foot, it’s a slow climb.” She worked her way up to the clear heights of Fetch the Bolt Cutters over the course of the last half-decade or so, largely at her L.A. home alongside trusted bandmates and friends and a small shelter’s worth of barking dogs. –Jillian Mapes

Further Reading: Fiona Apple on How She Broke Free and Made the Album of the Year

We’ll be doing summaries of the best albums from specific genres over the next couple of weeks.

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