A year has never gone by quicker than 2020, but simultaneously it’s been one of the longest, worst years ever.
However, it has been a year of bountiful music releases, a year for innovation in the industry and one to be remembered – and to be experienced later, when we finally see tours of 2020 albums in action.
The below are 20 of my favourite releases this year, 20 albums that really stood out to me this year, with a little bit of objectivity, and a hell of a lot of subjectivity.
Without further adieu, in no particular order: 2020’s Top 20 albums
SAWAYAMA – Rina Sawayama
An album that deserves to be on all end of year lists, Rina Sawayama’s SAWAYAMA has to be one of the best debut albums we’ve seen in a very, very long time. Combining 00’s pop, rock and a dash of Final Fantasy, SAWAYAMA takes you through her experience as a queer, Japanese woman living in the UK. ‘XS’ feels like an instant pop classic – and her Jimmy Fallon performance proves that she’s a pop/rock force to be reckoned with when she wants to be.
Hopefully, this incredible debut marks the true beginning of a long, successful career for Sawayama.
Standout track: ‘Who’s Gonna Save U Now?’
Morning Kiss at the Acropolis – Halloweens
The Vaccines’ spinoff duo, Halloweens, came onto the scene with a bashful album drenched in breezy 70’s beats and whimsical lyrics that capture you in seconds.
From musings on hitting an all-time low combined with an almost childlike playfulness in ‘Rock Bottom Rock’ to the ethereal love track closer ‘Corridors of Love’, Morning Kiss at the Acropolis is an 11 track dive into lyrical genius Justin Young’s mind, with a load of dreamy twists and turns along the way.
Halloweens’ infectious brand of shimmering pop and indie make Morning Kiss at the Acropolis one of the strongest debuts of the year.
Standout track: ‘My Baby Looks Good With Another’
Punisher – Phoebe Bridgers
If you’re into being sad, which you probably are in 2020, then Punisher is for you. In a wonderful record by Bridgers, you can find yourself lost and embrace her world view whilst questioning your own. Slow and melodic, Punisher is quite simply, pleasant, and provides an opportunity to feel some catharsis in this hot mess of a year.
Phoebe Bridgers’ knack for sombre indie pop and captivating lyrics feel like an exercise in personal growth, in coming to terms with your sadness, and becoming equipped to tackle it head-on.
Standout track: ‘Kyoto’
What’s Your Pleasure? – Jessie Ware
Jessie Ware’s fourth LP is as intoxicating as it is impressive. Ware’s no stranger to love songs and she’s created an incredibly fresh and cohesive record that makes every listener feel like they’re the sexiest person on the planet.
What’s Your Pleasure? combines 70s disco with modern R&B and massive pop sentiments making it a defining album of the year. Maybe Jessie Ware is the only one who can make us feel like sensual beings when we haven’t left joggers in a couple of months.
Standout track: ‘Soul Control’
Dreamland – Glass Animals
Dreamland is a euphoric and colourful journey through the mind of frontman Dave Bayley, dotting on some key issues and giving us all an insight into a youth spent in Texas not conforming to the traditional Texas male stereotype. A simpler way to describe it is if Lo-fi hip hop beats to chill/study to met Spongebob’s music in its early 2000s peak. Or, for the Futurama fans, it sounds like if Bayley could play the, famously difficult to master, Holophonor.
However, Dreamland is much more than it’s vaporwave, video game, 80’s inspired sound. It’s a truly introspective look into the Glass Animals creative process and mind. Continuing to touch on subjects of youth, masculinity, sexuality and heartbreak, Dreamland is a relatable masterpiece that somehow stays relatable, even with song titles like ‘Space Ghost Coast to Coast’.
If, gun to my head, I have to choose a favourite album of 2020, it’s this.
Standout track: ‘Space Ghost Coast to Coast’
Women in Music Pt. III – Haim
Taking a turn from their tried and tested indie-pop tracks, Haim get experimental on the multidimensional and almost eclectic Women in Music Pt.III. The record exudes vulnerability and with it, power, embracing the past, facing the now and laying all bare for us in this Grammy-nominated triumph.
Some tracks feel like the Haim we know and love (‘Don’t Wanna’ and ‘I’ve Been Down), others feel like a completely new band (‘Leaning on You’ and ‘3am’) but overall it shows the sisters at their best and as the music powerhouses they’ve become. Limitless, Women in Music Pt. III is a defining record for Haim.
Standout track: ‘I Know Alone’
Sad Happy – Circa Waves
Hometown heroes to me, Circa Waves kicked off 2020 releasing an album comprised of both Sad and Happy EPs. Yet another successful record, Sad Happy captures the absolute contradictory nature of being human, questioning our feelings and feeling conflicted at every step. Little did they know it would be a bit prophetic for the whole year, eh?
Sad Happy is an absolute corker of an album no matter what emotions you’re feeling at the time, but it’s gonna make you sad, happy, or a little bit of both.
Standout track: ‘Be Your Drug’
Róisín Machine – Róisín Murphy
In an album that deserves to be played in clubs across the world, Róisín Murphy gave us massive hits full of desire that would be at home at a 90s techno night and on a go-to gay bar playlist.
Kicking off with her announcing her story is still untold, and that she’s going to make her own happy ending, Róisín Machine feels like an empowered journey through all eras of dance in an absolutely sensation 8-minute opening track. And from there it’s only upwards into this fresh and innovative record.
Standout track: ‘Shellfish Mademoiselle’
Future Nostalgia – Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa flipped the difficult second album narrative on it’s head by releasing one of the most critically acclaimed pop comebacks of the year. A disco-inspired, 80’s/20’s pop fusion record with absolutely 0 skips, Future Nostalgia really set the bar for what to expect in pop in 2020.
Despite the album leaking, a frantic rush for an early release, and having to postpone her headline tour twice, Lipa ended up having an absolutely massive 2020 with one of the albums of the year, a huge virtual performance (Club 2054), earning 6 Grammy nominations and becoming a playable character in FIFA. Go ‘ed Dua.
Standout track: ‘Physical’
The Hollow of Humdrum – Red Rum Club
Yet another band of my hometown, Red Rum Club’s second album is a massively modern indie rock revelation. The Hollow of Humdrum provides a safe escape from this year in a collection of upbeat indie rock tracks that are as loud as they are catchy.
On a completely upwards trajectory, Red Rum Club are showing no sign of stopping, and if this album is anything to go off of, we’re gonna be seeing them around for a very long time.
Standout track: ‘The Elevation’
The Album – BLACKPINK
Long awaited, The Album is an infinitely replayable debut album from BLACKPINK, combining Western and Eastern pop sensibilities in a 24 minute compact package. The fearless blending of genres is what makes The Album so special. In an incohesive journey taking us through attitude led hits (‘How U Like That’), bubble-gum pop collabs (‘Ice Cream’) and a bizarrely safe for work Cardi B feature (Bet You Wanna’), The Album is a massively enjoyable record.
Sure, it’s short, but if your biggest complaint about an album is that there isn’t enough of it – it’s a good one.
Standout track: ‘Lovesick Girls’
Chromatica – Lady Gaga
An album built for the dancefloor in a time where they’re illegal, Chromatica captures you in it’s multicolour maximalist world. A complete gear change from Joanne, Gaga is unabashedly loud, raw and ready to release heavy banger after heavy banger.
Vulnerability isn’t something that dance music exudes, but Gaga is willing to bare all on her most personal record, and share with us the healing power of dance and music.
Proving she can do just about everything, Chromatica is a massive credit to Lady Gaga’s creativity and talent as an artist.
Standout track: ‘Babylon’
Fetch The Bolt Cutters – Fiona Apple
In what became the highest rated of all time, Fiona Apple uses a dead dog’s bones for percussion. A daring record that shatters the very idea of what an album needs to be, Fetch The Bolt Cutters is an explosion of emotion, noise and liberation. Finding heartbreak, laughter and drama in smooth vocals nestled within layer upon later of piano and guitar, this album is an unpredictable eruption of unexpected enjoyment.
Standout track: ‘Shameika’
Manic – Halsey
Laying it all out there in an impressive stream of consciousness album, Manic feels more like a diary entry of Ashley Frangipane than the Halsey record you’d have expected.
Manic is absolutely full of painful truths, intimate tidbits and enough angst for us all to share, making it a record to find solace in during these completely batshit times.
Halsey shines as much in the stripped back ‘929’ as she does in the loud, Avril Lavigne-esque ‘3am’ and her toned down collaborative interludes.
Standout track: ‘3am’
Petals For Armor – Hayley Williams
No one knew quite what to expect from Paramore’s heart and soul in her first solo record and Williams brought us a collection of tracks that keeps you on edge whilst you simultaneously dance and cry in the moonlight.
Arguably the biggest name in the 00s/10s pop-rock scene, Hayley Williams builds upon her already impressive legacy in an album consisting of three five-track records, all-embracing femininity and self-exploration. Diverting from Paramore’s sound, Hayley Williams shows her versatility both as vocalist and lyricist.
Standout track: ‘Dead Horse’
Plastic Hearts – Miley Cyrus
A huge rock album may not have been the most expected move from the ever-evolving Hannah Montana alum, but Cyrus proves she’s absolutely built to be one of the greats.
Unafraid to reference, sample and collaboration, Plastic Hearts is a modern-day classic rock album with hit after hit. The only person that could bring Dua Lipa, Joan Jett, Billy Idol AND Stevie Nicks together on one record is Miley Cyrus. To top these collaborations off with some of her own introspective tracks, and have Plastic Hearts come together as cohesively as it does is a huge achievement.
Standout track: ‘Edge of Midnight (Midnight Sky Remix) Ft. Stevie Nicks
Who Are The Girls? – Nova Twins
Named for a question they’ve heard too many times as women of colour in the rock world, Nova Twins debut album captures their ridiculously huge and addictive sound.
Tackling every status quo set in the rock world, Who Are The Girls? is a supercharged guitar album with furious bass and anger at the state of society. Who are the girls? You definitely know now.
Standout track: ‘Bullet’
Kiss from the darkness – SCANDAL
Kiss from the darkness feels like a return to SCANDAL’s unique mastery of unapologetic rock tracks interspersed with similarly satisfying mellow pop ballads. It’s not hard to see why the J-rock stars have stuck around this long, with catchy choruses, big riffs and their masterful ability to collaborative write, produce and create such enjoyable tracks.
Standout track: ‘A.M.D.K.J.’
Folklore – Taylor Swift
A lot was unexpected this year, including the sudden release of Swift’s eighth studio album Folklore. Stripping it all back, Folklore is an introspective exploration of subverting expectations in the correct way – not the Game of Thrones way.
Questioning what a popstar has to be, Swift takes a massive turn in direction into one of the most polished and highly produced records of the year that is the musical embodiment of a fire burning in a log cabin nestled in the trees. A personal record that will last forever, Folklore is a triumph in reincarnation for artists.
Standout track: ‘exile’ (feat. Bon Iver)
No One Else Can Wear Your Crown – Oh Wonder
On their third album, the electropop duo embraces their love for each other publicly, building a record full of emotional recollections of the good and bad times. No One Else Can Wear Your Crown bursts with personal satisfaction (‘Happy’), complete love (‘In and Out of Love’) and regret (‘I Wish I Never Met You’).
West and Vander Gucht provide an on-brand record, toned down from their second LP and with a completely refined sound encompassing the human experience.
Standout track: ‘Drunk on You’
What are your albums of the year? Tweet me @daveygranger