2020 :: TOP ALBUMS – 30 THROUGH 02

2020

What can be said of 2020 that hasn’t already? What a shitshow of a year in SO many ways. It’s no surprise that ennui, dread, and (dare I say) hope seemed to be reflected in the exploratory brilliance that made it into our headphones this year. With live music basically cancelled in toto, 2020 was all about how these albums reached us in our day-to-day existence and brought us through… And that made them all the more special. Since we’ve all been doing plenty of reading this year, I’ve stuck to the Twitter 280 format for these reviews.

30

Dominic Fike

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG

34 short minutes, studded with tight pop gemstones. Fike’s lyric from “Double Negative” perhaps best tallys the release, “Changin’ right in front of me… Going through phases right in front of my face.” That sums up the protean nature and wild potential of this young artist.

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29

Fleet Foxes

SHORE

A breezy and sun-dappled return to the classic soaring Fleet Foxes sound. This is the warm grandeur that the broken world of 2020 needs.

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28

Nduduzo Makhathini

MODES OF COMMUNICATION: LETTERS FROM THE UNDERWORLDS

The term “spiritual Jazz” is thrown around an awful lot, but few albums more aptly deserve the moniker than this Blue Note debut. Born of jazz, gospel, and African roots, these are 11 songs of rich depth and healing touch.

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27

Amaarae

THE ANGEL YOU DON’T KNOW

Pure afropop liberation. This is a freewheeling, effortless unity of everything from American RnB to Nigerian alté to soulful Southern top 40. It makes for a heady cocktail that would make Janet Jackson at her best jealous.

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26

Yves Tumor

HEAVEN TO A TORTURED MIND

Like a love child of Prince and TV On The Radio, Yves Tumor struts through 12 majestic art-rock burners that trade experimentation for cocksure swagger. It’s a move he proves totally ready for on “Heaven.”

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25

Burna Boy

TWICE AS TALL

Towering-but-intimately-reflexive compositions that swing through afrobeat, dancehall, EDM, rap, and reggaeton with equal aplomb. Burna Boy unites it all under a waving flag of traditional rhythms and established melodies. A rich narrative of Black identity.

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24

JYOTI

MAMA, YOU CAN BET!

Georgia Anne Muldrow, recording under a nickname bestowed upon her by the amazing Alice Coltraine, gives us a jazzy, funky, spacey, rhythmic revelation of a record. Both experimental soundscape and spiritual historical trip, this is the confident work of a master in the making.

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23

Spilliage Village

SPILLIGION

Atlanta-based rap supergroup Spillage Village gives us a new expansive and rootsy gospel for the end times we’re living through on “Spilligion.” Progressive, buoyant, and soulful.

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22

BAD BUNNY

YHLQMDLG

The title says it all — YHLOMDLG or “Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana” means “I do whatever I want” and that’s exactly where Ocasio is as an artist here. Is there anything that he isn’t redefining right now?

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21

My Dying Bride

THE GHOST OF ORION

Epic, magisterial, poignant, doleful, emotional, hard. This is how doom should sound. And with good reason… Vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe’s young daughter has just beaten cancer and members have left the band of late. Adversity, it seems, has brought a steely beauty to this record.

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20

Jessie Ware

WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE

Spinning like a dervish, awash in the speckled light of a glittering disco ball, Jessie Ware explores classic dance in this sumptuously sleek release. Arguably the most listenable album of the year. Definitely the most fun.

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19

Thundercat

IT IS WHAT IT IS

Accomplished. Virtuosic. Polished. Quirky AF. Stephen Bruner gives us another idiosyncratic trip to a makeout session in the orchestra pit by way of Mars. In a decidedly weird year, what better soundtrack?

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18

The 1975

NOTES ON A CONDITIONAL FORM

Sheer pop-rock conceptual bliss. A grand experiment you can actually dance to. Broad horizon-scanning sweeps. Intimate stolen kisses. “Notes” is all of these things.

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17

The Cribs

NIGHT NETWORK

A perfect slice of indie rock throwback charm. From the opener “Goodbye,” wet with “Pet Sounds” styling to the strutting rock and roll kicks of the album’s closer “In The Neon Night,” this is a brilliant document of a band in full-throated swing.

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16

Blossoms

FOOLISH LOVING SPACES

The legacy of Talking Heads casts a colorful shadow over “Foolish Loving Spaces” in the best way possible. Brilliantly produced, funky, charming and indie-but-totally-approachable, this is barefoot, dance-in-the-moonlight music.

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15

Soccer Mommy

COLOR THEORY

Sophie Allison guides us through 10 powerful and unstinting songs about her mother’s terminal illness. The lyrical content is unsettled and bracing, but the sound and performance is assured… Bigger and more confident. Beautiful.

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14

Declan McKenna

ZEROS

The ghosts of U2, Bowie, the Beatles, Franz Ferdinand and the 90s Brit Invasion float through this rock concept masterpiece. Effortless and glib, these are cocksure compositions, emblematic of an artist who has found his feet firmly under him.

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13

Deftones

OHMS

The push and pull between the velvet glove and its gentle spaciousness and the iron fist with its sawtooth sinew creates a third metalic energy on “Ohms.” Releases like this are the reason that a new generation of bands like Deafheaven wear a love for the Deftones on their sleeves.

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12

Fiona Apple

FETCH THE BOLT CUTTERS

Fiona Apple gives us her most arresting and creative work in a career built on innovative expression. This is an intimate, rhythmic, manic flourish of paint across the blank page. If waiting 8 years gives us something this amazing… Please take your time, Fiona. It’s well worth it.

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11

Adrianne Lenker

SONGS / INSTRUMENTALS

Remarkable, authentic, crafted songs of harrowing honesty and simplicity. Lenker recorded this work in a one-room cabin in the woods of Western Mass in just three weeks. We hear that incredible sense of direct acoustic immediacy. In all, a beautiful gift.

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10

Duval Timothy

HELP

“Help” walks the line of both sides of Duval’s heritage, deftly dancing between the community heart of Sierra Leone and the bass-driven thrum of contemporary Britain. In turns experimental, contemplative, complex, minimal and shot through with a meticulous, expressive beauty.

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09

Bob Dylan

ROUGH AND ROWDY WAYS

After every possible acclaim including a Nobel Prize for literature, what can… What SHOULD… Bob Dylan do? Return to the twilight landscape of his craft, of course. This gorgeous record is an achievement and reminds us how it’s done.

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08

Run The Jewels

RTJ4

When the Ken Burns of the future produces a miniseries on the societal nightmare that was 2020, “RTJ4” will be the soundtrack. From racial tension to police brutality to the existential stress we all feel, this release is a klaxon. We need this music.

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07

Phoebe Bridgers

PUNISHER

In turns anxious and wry, satirical and surreal, poetic and world-weary, “Punisher” proves Bridgers a worthy heir to artists like Joan Didion, Warren Zevon, and John Prine. This is emo-folk at its most droll and most beautiful.

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06

Bartees Strange

LIVE FOREVER

An echoing alt-howl of an album bathed in the harsh light of a single streetlight biting into the warm darkness of a Middle America night. As intimate as it is expansive, this album is a triumph of independent sound.

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05

Perfume Genius

SET MY HEART ON FIRE IMMEDIATELY

Mike Haddreas is an alchemist. Using the philosopher’s stone of his prodigious talent, he is able to grind out brilliant songs of golden longing in the fires of experience and creativity. “Set” is an open-armed embrace and I know I needed that many times in this year of uncertainty.

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04

U. S. Girls

HEAVY LIGHT

60s girl band fever dreams, Bowie’s harmonic disco melancholia, and golden age pop heartbeats set against a wall of deep personal history and clear-eyed grief… All with an eye to the future. A revelation of an album for our times.

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03

Moses Sumney

GRAE

20 songs of polyphonic catharsis. Two albums of unbridled beauty. Sumney’s otherworldly gifts give us something that is at once among the stars and deep inside the lubricious. It is in that dichotomy that Sumney finds an outsider’s freedom and we find an alien grace.

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02

Immanuel Wilkins

OMEGA

At only 22, Wilkins gives us an instant Jazz classic of emotional depth and impeccable skill. Knitting together a palpable respect for what has come before with a fresh vision for what’s next, these 10 songs offer a springboard to a hopeful future for all of us.

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