Top 50 Best Albums of 2020

What will you remember the most about 2020? Better question: Do you want to remember 2020? We can’t blame you if you don’t. It’s been a very bad year for many reasons. In the world of music, this year saw the widespread cancelation of concerts due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the deaths of many beloved musicians (including but not limited to Neil Peart, Andy Gill, Pop Smoke, Kenny Rogers, Joe Diffie, Bill Withers, Adam Schlesinger, John Prine, Florian Schneider, Tony Allen, Little Richard, Betty Wright, Vera Lynn, Ennio Morricone, Peter Green, Johnny Nash, Eddie Van Halen, Spencer Davis, K.T. Oslin, and Tony Rice.)

One of the few joys of this year was that new music continued to be released. There was a bunch of great music in 2020 and this list counts down the TYF music section’s 50 favorites. Each music writer was asked to supply a list of their 25 favorite albums, which were then compiled and tabulated to create this cumulative list.

50. Anjimile – Giver Taker

Singer-songwriter, Anjimile, breathes new life in the American folk genre with their debut studio album, Giver Taker. A beautifully contemplative piece of work, the album at first seems to adhere to the Sufjan Stevens songbook guide with its ghostly vocals and soul baring lyrics. However, it soon moves forth from such easy comparisons with work that is complex and layered, with lyrics that unveil dealings with sobriety and coming to terms with their identity as being a non-binary transperson. With mixtures of traditional beats, standard alternative rock and spirituality that courses through the album, Giver Taker arrives confidently, fully formed, and promising of further greatness down the line. The joy lies within the sorrow of the music, creating something wholly healing. – Allyson Johnson

49. Róisín Murphy – Róisín Machine

While there were a plentiful number of disco homages this year, no one was able to fully explore the full array of emotions during a night on the dancefloor like Róisín Murphy. Throughout Róisín Machine, the enigmatic singer-songwriter invites us into her world full of passion, hedonism, and heartbreak over a set of life-affirming, floor-filling disco songs. Many of the best dance music fluctuates between freedom and regret. The way that Murphy perfectly fuses house with disco is nothing short of masterful. “Murphy’s Law” highlights one of the album’s most  impactful moments. The track, a clever play on the law that “anything that can go wrong will go wrong”, sees Murphy lamenting her own lack self-control and desire to burst out of normalcy.  Even as the topics get increasingly darker, Murphy amps up the hedonistic behavior. When the album reaches its peak at “Something More”, Murphy is already experiencing the realization of her behavior. She sings, almost equivocally, “Maybe this could be the last time I feel the sting/It’s what it is to want everyone and everything/Life just keeps me wanting.” It’s one of many moments on Róisín Machine that is fueled by a need to break out of formula and seek out one’s self.  – Mark Wesley

48. The Avalanches – We Will Always Love You

The first two Avalanches records are arguably the most incredible sampling feats of all time, but even with a production switch-up and new featured artists, they didn’t skip a beat. We Will Always Love You takes a step away from plunderphonic perfection, and towards spacey, glittering electronics. With help from artists like MGMT, Denzel Curry, and Jamie xx, each lengthy track is full of soul, often analyzing humanity, or how we view the people of the past. But just like anything else by the group, it flows flawlessly through its lengthy tracklist, and forces the audience to reflect on exactly who they are. – Hunter Church

47. Thundercat – It Is What It Is

On the bouncy “Black Qualls,” singer/bassist Thundercat manages to move on up in the world with a new house and car, yet he can’t help but ask, “Is it just me or am I paranoid?” Can a black man truly enjoy any modicum of success without being seen as someone to leech off of by his peers or asked if he’s “keeping it real?” These are just some of the stresses within the music of Thundercat’s fourth studio album: a quicker and more sonically-consistent effort than his 2017 epic Drunk. Thundercat remains a master of mixing spacey synthesizers with his iconic deep bass to create otherworldly jazz-funk (“Interstellar Love,” “I Love Louis Cole,” “Unrequited Love”). He’s also a very funny lyricist, with the likes of “Dragonball Durag” and “Funny Thing” using his wild style choices and grubby appearance (“I may be covered in cat hair/But I still smell good”) as the ultimate come-on. But Thundercat also looks back on what he’s lost (the Mac Miller tribute “Fair Chance”), showing he struggled to get through life as hard as any of his listeners. – Jon Winkler

46. Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated Side B

For the second time, Carly Rae Jepsen has issued an album of outtakes that are just as good as the songs that made her actual album. Dedicated Side B cycles through a variety of moods of styles, from the indie synthpop of “Summer Love” to the more relaxed, nearly vaporwave “Now I Don’t Hate California After All.” On “Felt This Way” and “Stay Away”, Jepsen presents two very different songs with the same chorus and hook, and both variations are effective pop that show off her versatility as a songwriter. It’s easy to compared Dedicated Side B with Emotion Side B (and perhaps, to make the run-times equal, all the songs from the deluxe editions of Emotion), but both are at the same level of artistic quality and prove that Jepsen is one of the most underrated and consistent singer-songwriters in pop. Dedicated Side B is a worthy sequel to its parent album and a burst of escapist optimism in a year that desperately needed one. – Ryan Gibbs

45. Halsey – Manic

Part of Halsey’s charm as an artist is a constant thread of reinvention in her work, discontent to idly sit within the confines others have drawn for her. Instead, her music is constantly changing, something that’s demonstrated within her latest album Manic. Deeply personal, the album shows the singer bouncing from made-for-radio-play bops such as “Graveyard” and “3 am,” to pop-rock songs with edges like the album opener “Ashley,” or even the interludes with BTS member Suga. There’s an intoxicating business to the album which could easily deter listeners, but for those looking to get a better look at where the artist’s head is at and, even more exciting, where her taste in music is growing towards, then Manic—which dabbles in everything from hip-hop to K-Pop to threads of country—then Manic was made for you. Showcasing more raw vocals and vulnerability than we’ve seen in the past from the singer, the album is a success because it’s Halsey showing off just what kind of artist she can be.  – Allyson Johnson


44. Paysage D’hiver – Im Wald

Swiss musician Wintherr is an overlooked presence in extreme metal, yet he continues to push the limits of the genre with his projects. The dark ambient-inflected Darkspace was celebrated earlier in the decade, but it is his coldest, lo-fi, experimental, Paysage d’Hiver, where he writes his most expansive, spellbinding work. After more than 20 years of demos and splits, Paysage d’Hiver finally launched Im Wald, the darkest two hours of music in the last few years; encompassing field recordings, classic atmospheric black metal and freezing forest ambient, the record reflected the turmoil and misery of such an awful year like no other record—in any style—could. – Lionel Manzanares de la Rosa

43. India Jordan – For You

India Jordan’s For You is one those essential dance records that finds euphoria in self-discovery. Throughout the project’s 31 minutes, Jordan aims to recapture the experience that was integral to their formative years growing up in North East London. For You, in a year where clubs were closed, brings a slew of delightful, yet melancholy house and garage tunes that feel perfect for at-home raves and private reflection away from everyone else. In any other year, “I’m Waiting (Just 4 U)” and the self-titled track would dominate the festival circuit. And yet, despite the circumstances, For You still feels like an accomplishment. The manner that India Jordan flows between joyful self-exploration and quiet introspection is worth experiencing in any setting. – Mark Wesley

42. The Garden – Kiss My Super Bowl Ring

Ask Wyatt and Fletcher Shears what genre they play, and the California-based twins will tell you to classify it as “vada vada”—per their website, ”a term that represents total freedom of expression without boundaries or guidelines of any sort.” They fully deserve the distinction—at varying points on Kiss My Super Bowl Ring, they sound like The Beastie Boys rapping over Frogger boss music (“Sneaky Devil”), Nirvana if Kurt Cobain had a fondness for mollusks (“Lowrider Slug”), and MGMT if they punctured their psychedelic soundscapes with screams (“A Struggle”). The Shears brothers (who sometimes dress like jesters, by the way) are not only Pagliaccis, but performance artists and poets—amidst their piercing shouts and sinister spoken word, you’ll hear some of the most earnest expressions of angst that 2020 has to offer. Boys, consider your Super Bowl ring kissed. – Brittany Menjivar

41. Lil Uzi Vert –  Eternal Atake

While Travis Scott was stargazing on a roller coaster through Astroworld, Lil Uzi Vert was hopscotching planets and screaming “Balenci, Balenci, Balenci,” at the galaxy. Eternal Atake is by far Uzi’s most impressive project to date: a supernatural excursion that only works because the main operator doesn’t settle for anything less than cinematic. Throughout the hour-plus runtime, the Philly rapper utilizes every absurd trick in the book—from the fantastic Backstreet Boys interpolation on “That Way,” to the classic pinball sample on “You Better Move,” to the spiritual grandeur of “Chrome Heart Tags.” Eternal Atake was the final party before the world shut down.  – Ryan Feyre


40. Lori McKenna – The Balladeer

A country mama who does indeed focus on ballads, but writes and plays with such astute observational powers that you won’t mind. Wherever she goes, she takes you along uncomplainingly: back to high school and growing up with sister Marie, for instance. Or picking apart her present life as a touring musician. Or peering into an imagined future for her five children. Whilst most people tend to prefer songs centering around outlandish personalities and wild lifestyles, Lori McKenna sings about everyday acts of motherhood and watching her children grow up, and manages to imbue them with the same level of interest. Accompanied by dramatic swells of piano and cello, as she is on the two best songs here—“When You’re My Age” and “Till You’re Grown”—she makes domesticity sound like the greatest adventure of them all. – Oliver Hollander

39. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Sideways to New Italy

On their second album, Australia’s Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever make a jangle pop album that recalls the classics of the genre (particularly their fellow Aussies The Go-Betweens) while putting their own spin on the style. The band’s three lead guitarist-songwriters fill each song with interlocking parts, many of which are carried by three distinct guitar lines as best showcased on the catchy “Cars in Space”. The songs are masterfully constructed nuggets of power pop lyricism that often mix heart-on-their-sleeve romanticism with wry observation. The choruses for most songs pop out of the verses in interesting ways and progression, and most of them aren’t even structured around the title of the song. Sideways to New Italy catches RBCF at a moment where their jangly sound always lifts off like a rocket on every song, and their unconventional hooks will make for great singalongs once concerts come back. – Ryan Gibbs

38. Kenshi Yonezu – Stray Sheep

Japanese pop music is incredibly diverse, genre-bending, and intriguing,  and it was by-far the scene that released the most consistent chart music in 2020. However, it was multi-faceted Kenshi Yonezu that connected with me the most; his album Stray Sheep managed to marry the chaotic ecosystem of the several directions in idol pop with a plethora of production eccentricities, in a way that somehow spoke to all kinds of public in his country. It’s the perfect soundtrack for the immersion of millions into the digital monster during 0a year where no one could get out. – Leonel Manzanares de la Rosa

37. Glass Animals – Dreamland

It may be inappropriate to describe an album by its own title, but Dreamland is positively dreamy. Glass Animals is an English psychedelic pop band, often spiraling in and out of their fresh beats to hone an entirely original sound. Glass Animals weaves eighties’ nostalgia and modern-day electronica along with R&B and hip-hop. Above all, Dreamland is a blast to listen to. It is both sentimental and packs a punch. Each song is apt for a digital remix, but as is, Dreamland stands alone and pulls the listener into Glass Animals’ unique groove. – Max Russell


37. Black Dresses – Peaceful as Hell

Through combining the newly-expanding hyper pop with noise rock elements and a heap of frustration, Black Dresses were able to create one of the most sonically-unique projects of the year. Glitching, filtered screams maneuver through each track, but don’t mask the emotion behind them at all. Tracks like “CREEP U” expand on sad themes of alienation, while others like “PLEASE BE NICE” simply ask for your respect—all with mind-expanding sound design behind them. The breakdown on “CREEP U” alone should be enough reason to give it a listen. The only tragedy here is their breakup soon after its release. – Hunter Church

35. Fontaines DC – A Hero’s Death

We needed Dublin rebels Fontaines DC last year, when they made their debut with Dogrel. We really needed them this year—and they came through with A Hero’s Death. Never mind the fact that it’s only their second album, produced in a matter of months—it could easily pass as long-term labor of love by a band that’s been around the block. On Dogrel, the guys gave us their existential musings and political reckonings in a post-punk package. This time around, they experiment with a variety of traditions, playing with Beach Boys-style harmonies and classic rock rhythms as well as Gang of Four-esque basslines and dark, reverb-y guitar parts. While every song is quotable, the title track stands out. “Life ain’t always empty,” lead vocalist Grian Chatten repeats with the urgency of someone saying “mayday” over a walkie-talkie. He goes on to recite a series of aphorisms: “Tell your mother that you love her/And go out of your way for others”; “Let your demeanor be your deep down self/And don’t sacrifice your life for your health.” They sound so sincere you might take them as sarcastic—but they’re not, and that’s what makes the moment so memorable. – Brittany Menjivar

34. The Strokes – The New Abnormal

The Strokes are known for their casual, rebellious outlook, belting frustrations from personal life with an echo of political protest in the background. There is a little bit of synth in their latest album, but mostly The New Abnormal harks back to the nostalgic beats their fans know them for, ones that intertwine their influences from the British punk of the ’80s and the American grunge of the ’90s. They arrived after bands like Green Day paved the way for garage rock to enter the mainstream, and caught their appeal as a laid-back alternative to the full-tilt style of bands like Sum 41. While nearly two decades older than when they first came together, their slacker-rock cadence retains its gusto on their 2020 album. – Max Russell

33. Grimes – Miss Anthropocene

For her first release in four years, the ever-evolving Grimes crafted her own beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy. Miss Anthropocene is a vibe-heavy album with intensely layered production throughout. The loose concept of the record is the mentality of a goddess of climate change. This concept helps Grimes bounce between atmospheric art-pop to industrial rock and everywhere in-between. An acoustic ballad, “Delete Forever,” addresses the opioid epidemic and its young victims and is a spot of unaffected vulnerability. At the same time, “You’ll miss me when I’m not around” is an instantly hooky song filled with bitter suicidal thoughts. Miss Anthropocene is unpredictable and dark but compelling every step of the way. – Beth Winchester

32. Tame Impala – The Slow Rush

Through all of its meticulous calculation, The Slow Rush taught all of us to be patient. Patient for not only greatness, but also for our favorite artists to let their feelings fully develop before putting pen to paper. Kevin Parker’s new album came five years after Currents, which was a psychedelic breakup record that felt more cathartic than depressing. The Slow Rush meanwhile finds Parker fully immersed in his newly-minted marriage, vividly capturing the special moment when he and his wife first met, and how their relationship allowed Parker’s concept of love to evolve over time. “Posthumous Forgiveness,” meanwhile, chronicles past adversity with his father with a hint of clemency. It only confirms one of the album’s broader narratives: time heals all.  – Ryan Feyre

31. Disclosure – Energy

On Energy, the UK electronic duo Disclosure continue to refine their signature blend of garage, house, and hip-house into songs that are perfect for the club, dancefloor, and the intimate spaces in between. Much of what makes Energy thrive is the natural synergy that comes between Disclosure and the features they utilize. Each of the songs sound as if they were tailor-made for that artist. R&B icon Kelis glides over the opening track “Watch Your Step”, a song that morphs from a head-nodding breakbeat to an infectious house rhythm. Fatoumata Diawara’s feature on “Douha (Mali Mali)” is one of many immediate highlights and exists within the upper tier of Disclosure’s best music. Much like its title suggests, Energy boasts an impressive lineup of collaborators that bring their A-game to Disclosure’s festival-ready house music. – Mark Wesley

30. Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist – Alfredo

Stories of success in music are usually told in threes. Freddie Gibbs caught major praise and attention on 2014’s Pinata and then made good on that with last year’s Bandana—both albums with producer Madlib. Less than a year after making good on the promises of his discography on Bandana, the Indiana rapper proves himself to be a made man in hip-hop by collaborating with producer The Alchemist on Alfredo. As the title suggests, the rapper and producer mix incredibly well on this smooth 35-minute record, with Alchemist’s faded electronics and crisp backing guitars set Gibbs up to effortlessly flow on “1985,” “Baby $Hit” and “Skinny Suge.” The duo also leave room for some stellar features from Rick Ross (“Scottie Beam”) and, of all people, Tyler, the Creator (“Something to Rap About”). If anything, Alfredo proves that Gibbs cold and grizzled style can mix well with others like the warmest pasta topping. – Jon Winkler

29. Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways

It’s no small miracle in this lockdown year that Dylan finally emerged from the lockdown of his own mind with Rough and Rowdy Ways, following the misbegotten trilogy of “Sinatra” albums. “Murder Most Foul” may be his second-best epic after “Desolation Row”, its gentle washes of violin and piano representing yet another musical reinvention 60 years into his career, its lyrics ambitiously filtering large swathes of 20th and 21st century culture through the dying mind of JFK. It’s a major accomplishment; elsewhere Dylan mythologizes himself in “I Contain Multitudes”, de-mythologizes himself in “False Prophet”, and finally de-mythologizes the songwriting process (depicted as a form of musical grave robbery) in “My Own Version of You”. And that’s just the first three songs. The quality dips somewhat thereafter, but picks up again at the end with the moving, absolutely gorgeous “Key West”. – Oliver Hollander

28. Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor

Throwing off the punk aesthetic of her band Paramore gives Hayley Williams the opportunity to show off her impressive vocal range on her solo debut. The album is broken up into three EPs of varying genres. Part one is mainly pop and rock, part two is mostly somber and sentimental ballads, and part three contains her more jazzy and experimental songs. The album goes for a stripped-down feel to showcase her singer-songwriter talents; however, the effect is muted and could have used a bit more gusto to carry her powerhouse vocals. – Max Russell

27. Gorillaz –  Song Machine, Season 1: Strange Timez

Damon Albarn described Gorillaz’ 2016 album Humanz as a “party for the end of the world.” The same descriptor could be applied to Song Machine: Strange Timez. The project began as a series of stand-alone singles released in episodic YouTube shorts; eventually, the band decided to spin the initiative into a curated body of work. The result is an hourlong celebration of fellowship and unity amidst the dumpster fire that was 2020. As per Gorillaz’ style, there’s an impressive guest list: previous Albarn collaborators Tony Allen and Kano return triumphantly; rock icons like Elton John, Robert Smith, and Peter Hook lend their legendary vocals; and newer artists like ScHoolboy Q, St. Vincent, and Octavian confidently carve out niches for themselves. Albarn also keeps up the ol’ band tradition of genre-hopping. Just take a look at “Momentary Bliss”: the song features both rapper Slowthai and punk duo Slaves, incorporates an interpolation the Beatles’ “Lovely Rita,” and has been called everything from “ska” to “Britpop” to “hip-hop” by critics. – Brittany Menjivar

26. Poppy – I Disagree

After an extended period of hinting at it, I Disagree finalized Poppy’s shift from traditional synth-pop, to her new pop-metal fusion—and it didn’t disappoint. The record finally explores Poppy as both a character and person, discussing conflicting thoughts about identity, authority, and reality. The back-and-forth movement between silky smooth pop and nu metal are mirrored in the thematic shifts between accepting positivity and aggressive frustration, but through crafty production and songwriting, the dichotomy doesn’t falter at all. And the execution of the brand new genre is only rivaled by their skilled contemporary: Rina Sawayama. – Hunter Church

25. Laura Marling – Song for Our Daughter

Inspired by Maya Angelou’s “A Letter to My Daughter,” British singer-songwriter Laura Marling wrote an entire album of songs addressed to her fictional daughter. The album is pared back to spare arrangements which bring Marling’s lyrics, turns of phrase and guitar playing to the forefront on strong compositions like “Only the Strong”. “Held Down,” the album’s single, is brought to life with beautiful vocal harmony overdubs that gives the song an intricate feel despite its minimal arrangement. Marling has been one of folk’s most consistent album acts since her debut in 2008, and Song for Our Daughter is another terrific entry into her fascinating discography. – Ryan Gibbs

24. Deftones – Ohms

For all the headaches and douchebaggery that nu metal brought onto the world in the late 90s, there was some legitimate musicianship and creativity to be found in a few of those bands. The best case for this has been and still is Deftones, a band that found a way to ram pummeling riffs, screeching vocals and lush atmosphere into each other to create something as beautiful as it is aggressive. Their latest example of that pitch-black cocktail is Ohms, their ninth album and one of the band’s best blends. Right from the revolving doom of album opener “Genesis,” to the towering wall of sound on the album-closing title track, Deftones bring a steady supply of well-layered backbeats and headbanging riffs. The album also shows off how their heavy sound can be varied, going from the creeping dread of “The Spell of Mathematics” to the mosh-worthy guitar effects on “This Link Is Dead.” The rotting cherry on top is singer Chino Moreno who, even when his vocals have the occasional distortion effects, pierces through his band’s brute force with his own aching metal wail. – Jon Winkler

23. Dan Deacon – Mystic Familiar

Mystic Familiar is the mashing of new-age electronica with the natural, life-altering experiences of psychedelics, wrapped in a relatively-accessible, pop package. Though it alters between energetic, dynamic, pop-infused electronica, and atmospheric IDM, the collective aesthetic is a gorgeous mural of life’s contents. The swirling, glittering synthetics and euphoric vocal layering border on chillwave (which Deacon seems self-aware of, titling a track “Hypnagogic”), but are much less one-dimensional than the typically-played-out genre. Instead, it takes you on an all-inclusive journey through nature, if every tree happened to be replaced with a computer. – Hunter Church

22. Tennis – Swimmer

Swimmer, the latest album from the married duo Tennis, is a light and efficient 30 minutes of typically effervescent, yet mature pop music. The gauzy vocals of singer Alaina Moore lend each of these songs a romantic air, even when she sarcastically sings statements like “I need your love like a bolt of lightning.” Those more humorous tracks pair well with considerations of near-death experiences, as in the anxious “Echoes,” and of the overwhelming experience of a lifetime commitment in “Matrimony II.” Throughout the rest of Swimmer, we can enjoy delightfully immediate and realistically romantic songs like “Runner” and “I’ll Haunt You.” The sunny pop of Tennis has never felt so refreshing and rejuvenating. – Beth Winchester

21. clipping. –  Visions of Bodies Being Burned

Visions of Bodies Being Burned is a horrorcore rap album that weaves together scary tales by Daveed Diggs and friends. Each song is its own distinct flavor of horror with a change of pace for each tale. From eighties camp slashers to the psychological thrillers of today, clipping. explores a large palette of fear. If you are looking for spooky tales in an urban setting, or if you want more of Daveed Diggs’ music in your life, then Visions of Bodies Being Burned and its predecessor, There Existed an Addiction to Blood, are for you. – Max Russell

20. Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats – Unlocked

One of the biggest benefits of the internet age of rap is that the unpredictable chaos stemming from an endless stream of content can influence artists to craft something wild and creative. Two of those artists that thrive on chaos are Florida rapper Denzel Curry and Connecticut  producer Kenny Beats, who only needed 18 minutes to showcase some of the quirkiest and hardest-hitting rap music of the year. Being hard-hitting is nothing new for Curry, a man who bites into his own bars rather than just rapping them into a mic. Unlocked is no exception, with Curry remaining both funny and threatening in the same line on the likes of “Take_it_Back_v2” (“I don’t got candy but I’ll turn your head to Gushers, sucka”) and “Pyro (leak 2019)” (“My b***h bad like battle rappers that make albums with no outcome”). It’s the chaotic production from Beats that does Curry true justice, making his songs sound as unyielding and unstable as his inflections. The vocal effects and ad-libs on “DIET_” make Curry sound like a three-headed beast, while the crisp boom-bap of “So.Incredible.pkg” lets Curry emulate the rap heroes of his past to stake his claim as an untouchable MC.  – Jon Winkler

19. Kesha – High Road

This upbeat party record is the yin to the more serious Rainbow’s yang. It contains such fun, mindless confections as the video game sampling “Birthday Suit”, the let’s-all-have-a-good-time, mind-blowing originality of “Tonight”, and the sappy but not quite OTT (in fact quite stirring) ballads “Shadow,” and “Cowboy Blues”. When she’s doing math on “Kinky” it’ll make you want to get your specs out. When she’s naming a nonsense tune “Potato Song” and chucking in a marching band just cuz she wants to, you’ll find that you want her to as well. And when she’s singing about her absent daddy who she’ll never get to dance with at her wedding, you’ll be telling everyone around that there’s something in your eye. – Beth Winchester

18. Miley Cyrus – Plastic Hearts

Plastic Hearts is a modern pop-rock album that kicks some serious ass. Just like her rockin’ persona, Miley Cyrus lays her heart bare and is unapologetic about it. While her songs revolve around romance, she is not searching for “the one”. Plastic Hearts is about finding what she wants now and following the needs of her journeying heart. Carnal pursuits of nightlife are the focus for the bulk of the album. In respect to the musical forebears who came before her, Cyrus reached out to some of rock’s greatest to collaborate, including Stevie Nicks, an idol and mentor to Miley Cyrus’ rising stardom. – Max Russell

17. Bad Bunny – YHLQMDLG

Without a doubt, Bad Bunny became the greatest performer of the new era of reggaetón. He celebrated this triumph with the release of three albums this year, but the first one, YHLQMDLG (Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana) is his undisputed magnum opus. Covering different grounds with his trademark combination of pop, trap and the dembow beat, El Conejo perfected his songwriting and even his unmistakable low-register for a set of compositions that innovated within’ latin urban pop in terms of production and structure. Too bad we didn’t get our groove on to “Safaera” in the clubs.- Leonel Manzanares de la Rosa

16. Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas

There’s a moment on Lianne La Havas’ eponymous third album that hits to the core of the album’s narrative. On “Read My Mind”, she sings about the infatuation that comes with meeting someone new. The dizzying, butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling that one gets during the early stages of a relationship. It’s a palpable feeling that can sometimes feel intoxicating at first. Her inner dialogue repeats, “What are you waiting for?” La Havas tries to explain these feelings to this person, but can’t get the words out. It gets to the point where she even asks if God can hear what she’s thinking. Moments like this are the focal point of Lianne La Havas excellent new record: the complications that come with relationships in our modern day. La Havas frames this album as one about a breakup, but to call it a mere “break-up album” would be limiting. It’s a story about insecurity, gaining confidence, and rebuilding yourself after a down period. – Mark Wesley

15. Lady Gaga – Chromatica

Lady Gaga’s Chromatica saw Gaga returning to the delightfully extravagant pop roots we first loved her for. However, with the addition of Euro-dance beats and a few choice guest stars—Ariana Grande, BLACKPINK, and Elton John—Lady Gaga manages to create an addictive album that doesn’t sacrifice any of her growth as an artist. The introspective depths of recent eras are here, but buried underneath hooks for days. This potent combination produces songs like “Rain On Me,” “Fun Tonight,” “911,” and “Replay,” which tackle issues of anxiety, depression, heartache, chronic pain, and trauma—all the while blasting you with up-tempo beats and killer choruses.  – Beth Winchester

14. Chloe x Halle – Ungodly Hour

The confidence and sophistication that Chloe x Halle’s second album, Ungodly Hour, exudes is almost unmatched this year. After their teen-friendly debut album, The Kids Are Alright, the Beyoncé proteges are now grown up and harmonizing at an entirely new level. Experimenting with their sound and production, Ungodly Hour is a mix of genres, including R&B, a bit of jazz, and techno—thanks to its intoxicating title track produced by Disclosure. Whether its singing about unsolicited pictures in “Busy Boy” or staying self-empowered and unapologetic in the album-defining “Forgive Me,” Chloe and Halle Bailey are embracing the ups and downs of their 20s. – Gabrielle Bondi

13. The 1975 – Notes on a Conditional Form

The 1975 have always been ambitious—and that’s never been more apparent than on Notes on a Conditional Form, their 22-track fourth album. While such epics are sometimes labeled “for true fans only,” this record is the band’s most diverse yet, boasting something for everyone from those who flash their 1975 lyric tattoos to those who haven’t kept up with the guys since 2013’s “Chocolate.” Punks will be punched in the face by “People,” the band’s hardest single to date (and one with the potential to turn 1975 shows into hotbeds for moshpits). Folk rock fans will fall in love with “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America,” which shows Matty Healy and Phoebe Bridgers reckoning with religion and sexuality over a guitar line that could’ve been plucked from an early Chicks song. And for devotees of the band’s signature synthy sound, there’s “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know),” which dissects a FaceTime relationship before launching into a sax solo that will give you the power to astral project. – Brittany Menjivar

12. Run the Jewels – RTJ4

Run the Jewels make great pump-up music, with a message. Their rhythm and beats are sought by advertisers and movie trailers to get viewers’ hearts pumping. While a lot of other pump-up artists showcase a bombastic attitude with little substance to back it up, Run the Jewels weave in America’s history of inequality, and a critique of the greed prominent in today’s culture. The duo knows how to party, and it is an added skillset that they can use their talents towards social good. To put their money where their mouth is, RTJ4 was released for free download on their website, while also available on the paid streaming services for the widest and most available consumption. – Max Russell

11. Mac Miller – Circles

Mac Miller’s first posthumous release pulls back the curtain, showcasing his exact state of mind before his death. The harsh realities inside his head are all told through “Good News,” “Everybody” examines the unfortunate reality that “everybody’s gonna die,” and the regretful “That’s On Me” is Miller at his most self-aware. With the inclusion of hypnotic lo-fi beats and synths, the collection of songs puts you in a trance-like state, a confused haze, which is both beautiful and saddening. It’s the perfect sonic incarnation of melancholy, and it’s hard to think of a better send-off. – Hunter Church

10. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud

The ease and power of Katie Crutchfield’s fifth album, Saint Cloud, in which she performs under the name Waxahatchee, is palpable. Rooted in its settings from St. Cloud in Florida where her father is from to a hotel in Barcelona, Crutchfield draws listeners in with storied lyrics and beguiling melodies. Its sense of place is part of what makes the album such an involving experience and one of the best of the year. Crutchfield grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and as she is quoted in Apple Music’s editors’ note, she “toed the line between having shame about the South and then also having deep love and connection to it.” Saint Cloud finds her returning to her roots with an alternative country sound, a full embrace of Americana folk, and thus, we feel it as she sings “swallow my pride, it’s mine to quell” in the track “Hell,” or how her “uneasiness materialized” in the completely relatable, “Can’t Do Much.” It is her intimate connections to the places that inspire Saint Cloud that add emotional power to her songs, and it’s a credit to Crutchfield’s talent that it never feels forced. It’s a sublime listening experience from one of music’s most talented singer-songwriters. —Gabrielle Bondi

9. Fleet Foxes – Shore

Fleet Foxes enter the decade with an album that feels like an oasis during the desert that was 2020. Foregoing the complex compositions and musical passages of 2017’s Crack-Up, Robin Pecknold returns to the sound of those early Fleet Foxes records. The bright, sun-drenched folk of their debut record is front-and-center. However, on Shore, Pecknold refines his signature sound to create lush, anthemic sounds that are no less adventurous. All of the hallmarks of a great Fleet Foxes album are here. Gorgeous reverb-laden melodies? Check. Pecknold’s soaring vocal delivery? Check. Beautiful, poetry-like lyrical content? Absolutely. The result is a jubilant and revelatory experience. There is nary a moment on Shore where a smile will be absent from your face. In a year where we lost beloved figures like Bill Withers and John Prine, “Sunblind” immortalizes these musical legends in a triumphant swan song. In one of Shore‘s best moments, he sings, “I’m looking up at you there high in my mind/Only way that I made it for a long time/But I’m loud and alive, singing you all night, night.” Pecknold’s newly-found appreciation for life comes after a career of pondering about the intricacies of death, society, and the world that envelops us all. On “Helplessness Blues”, Pecknold asked what the meaning of life was. Shore answers that question with a simple reply, “Just to live it.” – Mark Wesley

8. Haim – Women in Music Part III

The third album from HAIM sees sisters Este, Danielle, and Alana find the near-perfect blend of their first two albums. The loose rhythms and infectious enthusiasm of Days Are Gone combined with the intricacy of Something to Tell You together produce Women in Music Part III, affectionately abbreviated WIMPIII by the band. This rollicking and emotionally vulnerable album addresses various experiences from depression to booty calls, with the sisters trading vocals and instruments effortlessly. The assistance of their usual producers, Ariel Rechtshaid and Rostam Batmanglij, helps WIMPIII keep the HAIM sound consistent while experimenting with instruments and genre. That willingness to do anything gives WIMPIII a loose yet intentional power that HAIM harnesses well. The album is their longest yet but feels perfectly paced. Bouncy, saxophone-laden jams like “Los Angeles” and “Summer Girl” sit well beside the pop-perfect “The Steps” and “Don’t Wanna.” In-between are songs like “I Know Alone” and “Now I’m In It,” which detail universally relatable feelings of depression, loneliness, and anxiety without sacrificing their pop sheen. Pop hooks, genuine vulnerability, late-night lustiness, and laidback California cool combine on WIMPIII to create one of the most infinitely listenable albums of the year. – Beth Winchester

7. Taylor Swift – Folklore

The first and the best of the two albums that Taylor Swift surprise released onto the world this year, Folklore, is a showcase for Taylor Swift as a lyricist. Swift’s gift for character building shines on songs like “Cardigan”, “Betty” and “August”, three songs that tell the story of a doomed love triangle from all three perspectives. “The Last Great American Dynasty” vividly tells the life story of socialite Rebekah Harkness, who once owned Swift’s Rhode Island mansion. On other tracks, she focuses on the creation of a mood through her music: witness how the hazy “Mirrorball” hews closer to dream pop than anyone ever expected Swift to go, and how that sound so perfectly compliments her lyrics. Her collaborators Jack Antonoff and Aaran Dessner make their presence known too, through working with Swift to bring her words to life on top of their instrumentals and production. Folklore is a strong new entry into Swift’s catalog, and continues to chart her path as one of the best singer-songwriters in pop music – Ryan Gibbs

6. Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Now

Charli XCX has been constantly pushing herself and the base idea of pop music, i.e. lyrics about dancing the night away or the rush of love, into bigger and more technologic territories. Whether the subject be teenage rebellion (“Break the Rules”), glitzy arrogance (“Vroom Vroom”), rage-inducing insecurities (“Gone”), or just being horny (“Boys”), the pint-sized British singer/songwriter has been a workhorse and innovator in bringing hyperpop to the mainstream. So how do you do that when the clubs, studios and every possible form in-person contact is closed off? Made in just six weeks through home computer technology, Zoom calls allowing public input and the pressure of a self-imposed deadline, how I’m feeling now is a homemade DIY project that somehow sounds like it was made by a planet-conquering robot army. It’s both the biggest and most personal album Charli has ever made, taking her fears of being trapped with nothing but her own thoughts and blowing them up into a rave for everyone to have while they’re stuck at home. “pink diamond,” “anthems” and “visions” blow out speakers with pulsating drums and synths that reach the heavens, but it’s when that hyperpop formula is applied to Charli confronting her emotions that the album truly connects. “c2.0” is a rallying cry for all the friends missing wild nights out with each other, while “forever” and “party 4 u” are heartfelt gestures from the party girl who can’t use a DJ booth or crowded rooms to hide her feelings anymore. Pandemics be damned, nothing will stop Charli XCX from dancing her heart out in a pop song. – Jon Winkler

5. The Weeknd – After Hours

If Lil Uzi Vert’s Eternal Atake was the final celebration before quarantine, then After Hours was the solitary scripture for sleepless nights during our lockdown. Coupled with slightly perturbed imagery in music videos and album art, The Weeknd’s newest album was a world-bending adrenaline rush filled with blinding lights, broken noses, and coked-out police chases.  About a year ago, Lana Del Rey released Norman Rockwell, which was an album that embraced the complicated nature of our world by accepting its dire fate. To me, After Hours is the direct antithesis to Lana’s masterpiece. The Weeknd accepts the critical nature of his surroundings, and much like Lana, is also a complex figure in the overall narrative of the music industry. But unlike Lana, who seems to find peace in her mental freedom, Abel continues to intertwine chaos with wreckage. In his version of LA, it’s far too late to save his soul, and the only lights at the end of the tunnel are the ones that permeate Vegas nightlife. After Hours finds Abel in a never-ending loop of lonely walks on the strip, where the only remedy for this lawlessness is more brown liquor. – Ryan Feyre

4. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

2020 did us dirty in many ways. One of its various offenses was denying us the opportunity to shimmy to Future Nostalgia in the club. True to its name, Dua Lipa’s sophomore album sounds sleek enough to pump through space station speakers while staying much obliged to the greats of the 20th century. Lipa crafts a dancefloor-ready vibe by taking inspiration from the songs that made past generations move: “Don’t Start Now” and “Break Your Heart” boast the string flourishes and groovy guitars of many a disco track, “Physical” has been rightly compared to ’80s power pop anthem “Holding Out for a Hero,” and “Love Again” samples White Town’s 1997 electro-funk hit “Your Woman.” The record is made all the more uplifting by Lipa’s can’t-get-me-down delivery (You can practically hear her smiling in the middle eight of “Levitating”: “My love is like a rocket, watch it blast off/And I’m feeling so electric, dance my ass off,” she raps in her crisp British accent, radiating joy through each syllable.). Make no mistake: Dua Lipa is now one of the reigning pop queens of modern radio. – Brittany Menjivar

3. Rina Sawayama – Sawayama

Rina Sawayama paved her own path in 2020, becoming a singular force of nature in the art pop scene with a formidable presence. Her sophomore album, the electric and genre defying Sawayama, manages to bridge everything from power rock ballads to club dance pop and electrifying grooves.  “Bad Friend,” ‘Tokyo Love Hotel,” and “Dynasty” are just some of the highlights of an eclectic album that—more than most this year—suggest an anthemic quality to them that envisions a packed venue and grand stage for this towering performer to command. Hers was the Lady Gaga album we deserved this year which isn’t meant to suggest she’s interchangeable with the pop star. Drawing from similar vocal techniques, there’s a bravado to Sawayama’s delivery that displays appealing theatrics. Her album is both an amalgamation of all the iterations of a “pop-star” that have come before, while simultaneously carving out her own space. It’s post-modern dance pop, masterful in bridging as many different genres as she can in an album about self-exploration, family and thriving in your identity, all themes that, rather be undercut by the overwhelming melodies, are instead bolstered by them, becoming all the more emotional and celebratory.  – Allyson Johnson

2. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

A strange, clattering, brilliantly written modern classic that sums up the #MeToo era as well as any other work of art. The percussion and sound effects are strange and attention-catching and a bit disorientating, but totally distinctive and never too distracting. The lyrics and melodies are allowed to stand out proudly on every track. It’s impossible once you’ve heard them to forget lines like “Shameika said I had potential”, “Kick me under the table all you want, I won’t shut up”, “Evil is a relay sport”, and especially the jaw-dropping “Good morning, good morning/You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in.” Equally, it’s hard to shake musical moments that keep shining out again and again, such as the contagious (sorry, probably the wrong word for this year) bassline on “Ladies”, the piano patterns leading the way from “I Want You to Want Me” into “Shameika,” and the chorus of “Cosmonauts,” which really does sound like it’s floating off into space. There’s real excitement all the way through, a feeling that anything can happen next. And then there’s Fiona Apple’s vocals: like Sleater-Kinney, she’s perfected treading the fine line between rage and vulnerability, at times sounding desperate and pleading, at others nobly defiant. It’s an outstanding performance that gives the album an amazing depth and variety, especially when she multitracks to high heaven at the end of “For Her.” She quotes Kate Bush and truly does her hero proud. What a show!  – Oliver Hollander

1. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

For various reasons, 2020 was the year that anyone who wasn’t already on board hopped onto the Phoebe Bridgers hype train. Fortunately for us, Bridgers’ second album, Punisher, pairs wonderfully with the unavoidable melancholia of this year. Bridgers’ trademark gloom is here, but with it are a few exciting examples of her eagerness to experiment. In addition to evolving her sound in an intelligent and natural way, Punisher contains more of Bridgers’ intimate, sometimes startlingly blunt lyrics paired wonderfully with deceptively intricate and lush music. Conversationally revealing lines like “the drug stores are open all night, the only real reason I moved to the East Side” pair well with the unabashed confession that “we hate ‘Tears in Heaven,’ but it’s sad his baby died.” Bridgers’ writing on Punisher reminds us how unique her voice is, both in sound and perspective. While her vocals may sound delicate, their every calibration reveals a depth of emotion that the listener can access more of with every listen. Punisher’s naked emotion is extended to a variety of modern neuroses that toe the line of specific and universal. “Chinese Satellite” is a quietly devastating song about Bridgers’ inability to have faith in a larger force, despite realizing it would probably make life easier, while “Garden Song” has Bridgers remembering her childhood while waiting to grow up still. The knotty heart of the album is the apocalyptic “I Know the End.” In it, Bridgers eventually erupts into full-throated screaming into the void. The brilliant execution of every song on Punisher, particularly its finale, indicates an exceedingly bright future for Phoebe Bridgers and her heartbreaking music. – Beth Winchester


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