Features Year End Lists

The 50 Best Albums of 2020

2020 has been a wild ride…to say the least. Hundreds of thousands of artists (does that sound like the right estimated number?) had to put scheduled touring plans on hold and brainstorm new, innovative ways to make money and had to sit back and hope for the best. On the bright(er) side of things, an incredible amount of quality music has been released! The team at Chicago Haze spent weeks on this post and we’re super excited to share our top 50 albums of 2020. We hope you find something new you love from the list below!

50. Tourist Season, Miel (July 22, 1810304 Records DK2)
Punch Up the Jam podcast host and ex-Vine star Miel Bredouw enters the music world with her debut album—7 slim but shining tracks, ideal for cruising around on a warm night with your arm out the window in the breeze. “I’ll Be Holding” and title track “Tourist Season” are absolute bops. The song “Shrine” meanders along as a quiet piano track until halfway through (spoiler alert), it opens up into astounding, shimmering synths, like an understated instrumental cousin to Perfume Genius’ “Otherside.” Miel describes each track on the album as “a different emotion or perspective on the failure of a relationship,” and this short album preserves that tension, presenting those waves of emotion packaged in synths. – Brittany

Standout tracks: Tourist Season, I’ll Be Holding, Must Be Fine

49. American Head, The Flaming Lips (September 11, Bella Union)
A full-bodied meditation on age, love, mortality, and of course, drugs, American Head is both radical and digestible. Vocal appearances by Kacey Musgraves give the classically constructed record a contemporary edge, and impactful melodies keep the music from feeling too unhinged. On American Head, The Flaming Lips do the impossible and manage to make a trip feel grounded. They’re a band that has gotten lost in the shuffle over the past several years, but American Head is a smartly current re-entry into the fold and an essential listen for anyone looking for a cohesive rock album to dive into headfirst.  – Emma

Standout tracks: Flowers of Neptune 6, Mother Please Don’t Be Sad, Will You Return/When You Come Down

48. I’m Your Empress Of – Empress Of (April 3, Terrible)
Lorely Rodriguez is back and better than ever. On an album that’s almost entirely produced on her own, the 30-year-old synth-pop singer, songwriter, and producer shines brightly on the 12-song, 33-minute album that’s full of Robyn-esque dance tracks that pack a punch from start to finish. The intricate production choices, incredibly personal lyricism, and overall storytelling feel of the album is strong enough to keep me returning to it for repeated listening sessions from its release date to today. Artists like Dua Lipa and Lady Gaga may have made big statements this year with dance-oriented albums, but my recommendation is to not let this one slip through the cracks. – Kristin

Standout tracks: Love Is A Drug, Gimme Another Chance, U Give It Up

47. Cannot Be, Whatsoever, Novo Amor (November 6, All Points)  Ali Lacey’s vocoder-laden falsetto will sound eerily familiar to any Bon Iver fan. Once you get past Novo Amor’s similarities to Justin Vernon’s musical style and band name, Cannot Be, Whatsoever is an easily enjoyable indie album. Though most of the album’s lyrics are intentionally a little vague, snippets of them are quite inspiring: “Now I feel like I’m finally me” (“Opaline”), “I feel better / Most of the time,” (“I Feel Better”), and one of the most unintentionally 2020 lyrics, “Yeah! I’m staying home,” (from the appropriately titled “No Plans”). Standout tracks include “I Feel Better” (that Bruce Hornsby-esque piano riff will stick in your head), “Halloween” (about Lacey hitting his head on a sink one Halloween while going through a rough patch), and “Decimal” (easily the most catchy song on the record. – Brittany

Standout tracks: I Feel Better, No Plans, Halloween

46. Everything Else Has Gone Wrong, Bombay Bicycle Club (January 17, Mmm Records)
The first couple of notes from “Get Up” has this Toy Story feel to it that I simply cannot explain. It’s a wonderfully airy entry point for Everything Else Has Gone Wrong. Bass guitar and soft drums eventually enter the fold, overshadowing the fantastical feel, and the album goes to work. Which, oddly enough, doubles as a metaphor for how this year has unfolded. This album etched itself into my heart in a special way. Having released in the third week of this year — fondly defined as “The Pre-Pandemic Part of 2020” — this album takes me back to simpler times. Instead of endlessly searching for my mask and keys, I was only focused on finding my keys. Truly the sign of simpler times, no? I’m not saying Bombay Bicycle Club predicted the future or anything. I’m just saying I really enjoyed these tracks before everything else went wrong. – Sean

Standout tracks: I Can Hardly Speak, I Worry Bout You, Get Up

45. Alfredo, Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist (May 29, ESGN Records)
Quite simply a winning combination, rapper-producer duo Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist team up once again on Alfredo. The Alchemist’s soulful production pairs perfectly with the grit off Gibbs’ lyrics and his sharp biting tone. The album’s features are top notch, with Rick Ross, Tyler, The Creator, and Benny The Butcher lending complementary verses without stealing Gibbs’ spotlight. A satisfying listen from beginning to end, Alfredo is a reminder that you don’t always need flashy beats or chart-topping bangers in 2020 – sometimes, you just want straight up rap. – Mitch

Standout tracks: 1985, Scottie Beam, Something to Rap About

44. Shape And Destroy, Ruston Kelly (August 28, Rounder Records)
Ruston Kelly’s sophomore album is a pristinely written Americana record that unpacks sobriety and self-sabotage on top of charismatic melodies and rustic production. It’s a steady mission statement of an album, melancholy but not heavy, self-assured but tortured. Written in the home of Johnny and June Carter Cash, this album draws from the greatest of Americana traditions while remaining anchored to the memorable narrative voice that Kelly honed in his first album. Shape and Destroy captures the complexity of human resilience, the universality of invisible battles, and the inevitability of a hopeful tomorrow. – Emma

Standout tracks: Mid-Morning Lament, Radio Cloud, Jubilee

43. LIVE DRUGS, The War On Drugs (November 20, Super High Quality)
Okay, I’ll admit that this isn’t really a new album, but a compilation of live songs from The War on Drugs. BUT, that doesn’t mean it can’t make this year’s list! Pulling a slew of tracks from Drugs’ previous two albums A Deeper Understanding and Lost in the Dream, LIVE DRUGS showcases how incredible these songs sound outside of the studio setting. In many cases, these songs almost sound better live – like the guitar solo from “Pain,” which I’ve been listening to at LEAST once a day. Since we weren’t able to go to concerts this year (a fact that gives me much grief), LIVE DRUGS reminds me just how much we have to look forward to when we’re finally able to visit venues again. – Mitch

Standout tracks: Pain (Live), An Ocean In Between The Waves (live), Under The Pressure (live)

42. EPHEMERA, Jim E-Stack (October 30, AWAL) 
EPHEMERA secures itself as my third and final electronic album of the year. As a recent release, I haven’t had much time to analyze the lyrics to these tracks, but the beats and synths were enough for me to latch on to this 21 minute collection of Jim-E Stack’s recent singles. Acting as a combination between my descriptions Troye’s In A Dream and Whethan’s Fantasy, this short culmination embodies easy listening and involuntary head swings. I usually pop this album on during my ride home from work and manage to finish most of the album every time. Jim’s style has evolved past his club-level BPM tracks from 2016 and prior, demonstrating his maturity as an artist. I am excited to follow Jim’s future endeavors. – Sean

Standout tracks: Note To Self, Jeanie, Lost Man

41. Moral Panic, Nothing But Thieves (October 23, Sony Music)
Moral Panic, another recent find, blends everything I love about heavy electric guitar, synthetic keystrokes, and explosive bass. As a fan of dystopian literature, I was hooked after nearly a minute into the project as Conor Mason references how we are, “getting sick of your doublethink.” George Orwell references in music? Say less. You need to let Moral Panic do its thing; listen to the entire album front and back, then do it again. And again. You’ll start with two favorite songs, then three, four. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself singing along (or humming along, in my case) to the entire album. If I may interject my professional bias, the first four tracks will hook you in no time. – Sean

Standout tracks: Unperson, Moral Panic, Can You Afford to Be An Individual?

40. Restoration, Lecrae (August 21, Reach Records)
Lecrae’s faith stands at the forefront of this ninth studio album. In an Instagram post from August, Lecrae encourages Restoration to, “meet you [the fans] where you are, inspire you and restore you.” This album landed at the perfect time, as the world had struggled with combatting the coronavirus for approximately eight months by this point. And, you know, everything else that happened in 2020, too. Sunday Morning’s chorus reminds us that the mere chance to wake up gives us the opportunity to make the most of each day. This message has personally helped me accept the current situation of the world and to remain positive during these challenging times. I have Lecrae to thank for that. – Sean

39. In A Dream, Troye Sivan (August 21, Universal Music Australia)
With a short playback time of just over 22 minutes, Troye Sivan’s In A Dream leaves me at a crossroad. While I enjoy the evident experimentation on each of the seven tracks, I am left wanting more. No, not more from the tracks themselves — just more tracks. A good problem to have. This does bring up an interesting point: I wonder if Troye carefully selected these seven tracks to ensure they were heard in their entirety. I do often find myself starting an album, say, on the way to work, and only making it through the first three or four tracks. This album eliminates that issue, as I usually complete the entire thing in one go. I am hopeful that Troye continues this experimentation on future releases. – Sean

Standout tracks: Take Yourself Home, Easy, IN A DREAM

38. Local Honey, Brian Fallon (March 27, Lesser Known Records) 
Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon’s third solo LP is gentle and cozy, showing Fallon comfortably mellowing into fatherhood and middle age. Opener “When You’re Ready” seems like perhaps-a-breakup-song with lines like, “I can’t tell you who to love / I don’t know who that might be” and “When you’re ready to choose someone / Make sure they love you half as much as me” until Fallon conjures up an image of his small daughter with the lines, “Yeah, I’m watching you just color / With your brand new pajamas on.” Fallon does it again with “21 Days,” a breakup song that’s also about quitting smoking. Fallon weaves Americana fairy tales in breathtaking “Horses” and “You Have Stolen My Heart,” with every song in between holding burdens in balance with the blossoms it takes to make Local Honey. – Brittany

Standout tracks: When You’re Ready, Horses, You Have Stolen My Heart

37. What’s Your Pleasure, Jessie Ware (June 26, Virgin EMI Records)
It feels like literal years since anyone (at least in the US) has had an opportunity to get out and dance in a sweaty, overcrowded club, but boy do I miss it. Jessie Ware’s fourth studio album dropped right in the heat of the summer, an album stocked from top to bottom with disco-infused bangers, reminiscent of the best of the ‘70s. An album that would make Donna Summer jealous, What’s Your Pleasure is the true dance album of 2020, competing with women like Dua Lipa, Lady Gaga and Kylie Minogue (who dropped an album that was entirely disappointing just a few weeks ago). What’s Your Pleasure is an album that I continue to revisit and find new things to be excited and intrigued about: and I will be crossing my fingers that we get to hear it play out live in 2021. – Kristin

Standout tracks: Save A Kiss, What’s Your Pleasure, Adore You

36. Plastic Hearts, Miley Cyrus (November 30, RCA Records)
To borrow a term from Emma’s album review, Miley is no stranger to “genre-bending.” Plastic Hearts is her rockstar debut, and I’m here for it. Here’s the story: I woke up on November 27, listened to the album, and immediately made the connection to Miley’s feature in the Black Mirror series titled, “Jack, Rachel, and Ashley Too.” In an effort to avoid spoiling the episode, Miley — aka “Ashley O” — is a glossy pop star that secretly longs to immerse herself in the grungy world of rock and roll. Sound familiar? Simply put, this episode allowed Plastic Hearts to resonate on many levels. Instead of belaboring my point, I invite you to listen, watch, and listen again. – Sean

Standout tracks: High, Night Crawling, Gimme What I Want

35. The Dream, Hailey Whitters (February 28, Pigasus Records) Though Hailey Whitters’ songs “Janice at the Hotel Bar” or “The Days” seem like they’re from an early Kacey Musgraves or Maren Morris record, Whitters has a little rebellious, outsider flavor that makes her music hit a little closer to home. “The Dream,” as Whitters describes it, “is a one-bedroom walk-up apartment / Cheap Christmas lights out on the fire escape,” a vision different than fame or money or a happily-ever-after. In “Red Wine and Blue” (a slogan absolutely destined for patriotic tank tops), Whitters outlines the extremely relatable feeling of drinking wine in your bathtub or on your porch, waiting for someone you know will never call. In the record’s first song, Whitters sings, “This next song could turn it all around / I’m twelve years into a ten-year town.” After standouts like “Dream, Girl,” and “Heartland,” I think Hailey Whitters is here to stay. – Brittany

Standout tracks: Dream, Girl, The Days, Heartland

34. Old Flowers, Courtney Marie Andrews (July 24, Fat Possum)
Andrews wrote Old Flowers in the aftermath of a nine-year relationship ending, which colors the entire album. The opening line of the album sets a very wistful, This Is Us-style scene: “In a small West Coast town / There’s a family and a house / Where the memories of us belong.” The album shows Andrews processing the relationship and learning how to live without her partner by the last track “Ships in the Night.” The centerpiece of the album is the title track, which delivers a devastating summary of the peace Andrews has wrought: “You can’t water old flowers / Old flowers.” Recorded with only two other musicians (James Krivchenia from Big Thief and songwriter Matthew Davidson), the quiet folk on Old Flowers is intimate, beautiful, and sad, framing Andrews’ voice perfectly. Hanif Abdurraquib can attest: Old Flowers is perfect for falling down someone else’s deeply melancholy spiral on a gray day. – Brittany

Standout tracks: Old Flowers, It Must Be Someone Else’s Fault, How You Get Hurt

33. Here For Now, Louis The Child (June 26, Interscope)
“Here and now, I’ma say it real loud / It’s a new day, ‘notha spin gon’ round / look around, we alive right now / stackin’ up big love ‘til it’s over.” Right off the bat, MNDR reminds us exactly where we are right now, shouting out to anyone that’s listening. Although times are entirely chaotic no matter where you look, the world is still revolving. We have the ability to enjoy each day that is presented to us; we are the guardians of our lives, so we might as well have fun while we’re here. And now, we can do just that by blasting Here For Now from our car stereos and bluetooth speakers. – Sean

Standout tracks: Big Love, Every Color, Free

32. Beginners, Christian Lee Hutson (May 29, ANTI-) 
Beginners is a collection of the catchiest finger-picked folk songs you’ll ever hear. Lines like, “Your word was a wave then / Endlessly breaking” or “We were so pretentious then / Didn’t trust the government / Said that we were communists” highlight Hutson’s ability to write a piercing line. In “Keep You Down,” he makes an emotional abuser’s reasoning compelling; in “Get The Old Band Back Together” he paints a hilarious picture of an adult man leading a rallying cry for his garage-band buddies. With a big outro featuring a shooting star sound effect, a choir, and big string swell, album-closer “Single for the Summer” brings out Hutson’s similarities to Illinois-era Sufjan Stevens. Hutson’s live show is absolutely captivating—he doles out deadpan banter and stories equally as well as he does virtuosic guitar, and I’m thrilled he now has a studio album to capture that magic for new listeners. – Brittany

Standout tracks: Northsiders, Get The Old Band Back Together, Unforgivable

31. Fantasy, Whethan (October 16, Atlantic Records, Big Beat Records)
As one of my few BPM selections for this list, Fantasy’s bombastic supporting cast coasts right along with the explosive bass instrumentals. Although these tracks don’t hold deep lyricism, I can reassure you that I have fallen into a state of consistent and involuntary head bobs. Sometimes you need to turn off the old think machine and feel those beats ebb and flow through you. Wheathan knocks this album out of the park and I bet you will hear some of these tracks on the radio, if you haven’t already. Personal favorites include “Freefall” with Oliver Tree, “Sunshine” with the Knocks and “Clouds” with the Wombats. – Sean

Standout tracks: Freefall, So Good, Clouds

30. Honeymoon, Beach Bunny (February 14, Mom + Pop Music)
What’s more Chicago than a song inspired by the way the Windy City feels when summer reveals itself after six months of winter? Honeymoon is filled with one solid, fast-paced indie-pop-punk anthem after another, a step up from frontwoman Lili Trifilio’s original bedroom-pop releases. When Chicago band Beach Bunny released Honeymoon in February, Rolling Stone described them as ”poised to become one of the year’s biggest indie breakthroughs,” and it’s hard not to feel like their projected rise was cut short by the pandemic. With lyrics like “I’m not overthinking / But I think about you a lot / And maybe I am just an afterthought” (“April”) or “I love your voice but hate the way / You talk of her consistently / But every time you say her name / It honestly kills me” (“Ms. California”), Beach Bunny fills that Carly Rae Jepsen-shaped pit of unrequited longing, but with a homegrown, underground pop aesthetic. – Brittany

Standout tracks: April, Ms. California, Colorblind

29. Notes On A Conditional Form, The 1975 (May 22, Dirty Hit Records)
As I wrote earlier this year, Notes is a welcome continuation of The 1975’s signature sound, and an album that manages to capture the defining ideas, mood, and convictions of today’s younger generations. Some songs off Notes miss the mark, and it’s generally weighed down with unnecessary filler, but the album overall is blissfully catchy, with instant classics like “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” that beg you to sing along. – Mitch

Standout tracks: Tonight (I Wish i was your boy), Jesus Christ 2005 GBA, Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied

28. The Baby, Samia (August 28, Grand Jury)
There’s something indescribable about listening to an album that you’re looking forward to first time and having it exceed all of your wildest expectations. For me, I listened to Samia’s excellent debut The Baby on walk during a hot summer evening in Chicago, looking up at the cotton candy sky and doing that lame thing we all do about pretending we’re in a movie while listening to music. The Baby is enveloped in storytelling and sounds reminiscent of artists like Maggie Rogers and Lucy Dacus, but her vocals are as unique as they come. The Baby, released at the end of August, dives deep into the complex relationships between ourselves and the world. It struggles with the ideas of being alone and accepting reliance on others. Pretty on brand for 2020, right? – Kristin

Standout tracks: Big Wheel, Fit N Full, Is There Something In The Movies?

27. Circles, Mac Miller (January 17, Warner)
Mac Miller’s final project before his tragic passing only further shows how much untapped talent he had as an artist. Mac Miller seemed to redefine himself with every release: Macadelic, The Divine Feminine, and Swimming each sound completely different, attributed to the fact that Miller continuously grew and refined himself with every coming year. Circles, a companion to 2018’s Swimming, is a sobering, at times difficult listening experience, yet is nonetheless one of the year’s best. “Until the day we have to meet again.” – Mitch

Standout tracks: Woods, Hand Me Downs, Circles

26. I’ll Figure This Out, Barely Civil (September 4, Take This To Heart)
Barely Civil’s sophomore album, I’ll Figure This Out, punches up the Milwaukee, Wisconsin band’s emo sound from the slightly more mellow stylings on their 2018 debut We Can Live Here Forever and brings out a sound similar to bands like Foxing and The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die (TWIABP’s Chris Teti produced the album). The first few songs on I’ll Figure This Out bleed into each other, the energy ebbing and flowing cohesively and occasionally spilling out in mighty riffs in songs like “Hollow Structures” and “Box for My Organs.” I look forward to raging out all of my 2020 angst at a Barely Civil live show like their recently released
Audiotree Live session. – Brittany

Standout tracks: North Newhall, Hollow Structures, Box For My Organs

25. No Pressure, Logic (July 24, Def Jam, Visionary Music Group)
The mere mention of No Pressure is bittersweet since this album acts as Logic’s exit ticket from the rap game. This decision stems from his desire to become the best father possible for his newborn son, “Lil Bobby.” Logic pours his soul into this final studio album. He leaves no stone unturned as he solos 13 of the album’s 15 tracks. Incorporating callbacks to several fan favorites, including “Growing Pains” and “Soul Food,” Logic skillfully combines his revamped sound while reminiscing about his glory days. His unmatched flow seamlessly intertwines with star-studded lyricism on this final look into Bobby Hall’s dangerous mind. – Sean

Standout tracks: Hit My Line, Open Mic // Aquarius III, man i is

24. Color Theory, Soccer Mommy (February 28, Loma Vista)
Though Color Theory is more heavily produced than Soccer Mommy’s sharp-edged debut, it’s just as confident. Taking cues from 90s songstresses like Sheryl Crow and Alanis Morrisette, Sophie Allison muses on solitude, depression, and self-sabotage on a concept album divided into blue, gray, and yellow sections. Though she labels herself “fake it till I make it in a can,” Allison couldn’t sound more at peace with her inner turmoil. Color Theory was an early favorite of mine that I felt myself addicted to rediscovering throughout the year; the dense songwriting makes this relatively brief album feel sturdy. – Emma

Standout tracks: circle the drain, bloodstream, yellow is the color of her eyes

23. Truth or Consequences, Yumi Zouma (March 13, Polyvinyl Record Co.)
Full of top-down, wind-in-your-hair, racing-into-the-sunset vibes, Truth or Consequences got a lot of play during my summer drives. All of the tracks are worthy of your consideration, but “Lonely After” and “Cool For A Second” are definitely highlights. Truth or Consequences was unfortunately released on March 13, the day after the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, causing Yumi Zouma to cancel their sold-out headlining tour after playing a single album release show. Instead of playing their album live, once they were back at home in New Zealand, they deconstructed their entire album and reimagined each track. Yumi Zouma released Truth or Consequences – Alternate Versions in October. Enjoy both versions of this breezy, danceable synth-pop record that will be a carefree summer staple for years to come. – Brittany

Standout tracks:

22. Detroit 2, Big Sean (September 4, GOOD Music & Def Jam)
If I can be 100% honest, I never deliberately sat down to listen to Big Sean before the release of Detroit 2. What a mistake that was. Saying Big Sean crushed it is probably the biggest understatement of the year (although with the way 2020 has gone, who knows how accurate that is). Pairing up with popular artists, such as Post Malone on “Wolves” and Travis Scott on “Lithuania”, Big Sean brings the heat on every track in this album. There are no skips on Detroit 2. Although my knowledge of Big Sean is limited by this single album, I am more than inclined to check out his discography after repeatedly jamming out to this recent release. – Sean

Standout tracks: Lithuania, Lucky Me, Harder than my Demons

21. Use Me, PVRIS (August 28, Warner Records) 
Just give me a minute, give me a minute. I need to think of a way to summarize how monumental PVRIS’ third studio album Use Me is… Acting as another gateway album, Use Me invited me into the world of PVRIS. I routinely find myself humming the beats of “Dead Weight” and “Stay Gold” since both of these tracks are nothing short of infectious. (Fun fact: the phenomenon of songs getting stuck in your head is known as “earworms.”) I pop this album on during my commute to work, on my way to a run, down the street to pick up some milk. Anytime, anywhere — PVRIS is the vibe. – Sean

Standout tracks: Gimme a Minute, Stay Gold, Use Me

20. After Hours, The Weeknd (March 20, Republic)
Undoubtedly one of the most successful pop campaigns of the year, After Hours added a bloodstained melancholy to the 80s revival trend. After spending the better part of a decade as one of R&B’s most intriguing figures, The Weeknd proved himself capable of theatrical pop mystique in 2020. After Hours is arguably a career-best for the Weeknd as he explores self-hatred, indulgence and redemption over some of the strongest melodies in his catalogue and well-placed synths. Its shutout from the Grammy nominations, especially considering “Blinding Lights” was the most ubiquitous single of the year, is inexcusable. – Emma

Standout tracks: In Your Eyes, Snowchild, After Hours

19. Lament, Touché Amoré (October 9, Epitaph Records) 
I thought that Touché Amoré only hooked me with the heartbreak of the “screamo, but sad” of 2016’s Stage Four, but I also fell in love with their newest output, Lament. “Limelight” not only takes full advantage of a feature from Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull but also begins to prove my hypothesis that adding pedal steel can improve any genre. Record-closer “A Forecast” might edge out Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher album-closer for the “Best Mid-Song Ballad-To-Screamo Transition” title. It starts with Jeremy Bolm at a piano in what sounds like a phone demo. “I’ve lost more family members / Not to cancer but the GOP / What’s the difference I’m not for certain / They all end up dead to me,” he sings, before the song transitions to one of the record’s best riffs, accompanied by Bolm’s cathartic, repetitive screams. For others who don’t like hardcore but wish they did, I heartily recommend Touché. – Brittany

Standout tracks: Limelight, Reminders, A Forecast

18. Miss Anthropocene, Grimes (February 21, 4AD)
From my previous write-up on Miss Anthropocene earlier this year: Miss Anthropocene is the result of an artistically liberated Grimes who is making the music she wants to make, the way she wants to make it. Still wonderfully weird, Grimes isn’t making eccentric songs for eccentricity’s sake anymore, and Miss Anthropocene sounds smoother overall. “Violence” and “My Name is Dark” are phenomenal songs, and “Delete Forever” is an entirely new terrain to Grimes. Worthy of your time, and one of the year’s best albums. – Mitch

Standout tracks: Violence, Before the fever, Delete Forever

17. Welcome to Conceptual Beach, Young Jesus (August 14, Saddle Creek)
I understand why people love Fetch the Bolt Cutters but never felt love for the album burn deep within me. That said, I suspect Welcome to Conceptual Beach is my Fiona Apple. Both albums are a little weird but utterly compelling; both are pieces of art meant to be consumed as a whole. Though most of Beach’s songs have completely different musical stylings, they fit together flawlessly. “Pattern Doubt” has a sax solo I could live in forever; “Meditations” indeed has a mantra that John Rossiter repeats at varying levels of frenzy (“I wanna be around and live it”); “Root & Crown” blesses our ears with The-Brook-and-the-Bluff-style harmonies. Standout “Lark,” sprawling over almost 12 minutes, weaves its infectious hook with almost-scriptural proverbs through a fadeout, resurging with a jam infused with even more itchy energy than the first half. I don’t know why I love it but I absolutely do. – Brittany

Standout tracks: Lark, Pattern Doubt, Faith

16. Gaslighter, The Chicks (July 17, Columbia)
Everything was working against The Chicks having a successful comeback after a break from releasing music for a whopping fourteen years. After they were essentially blacklisted from the country music scene for their (not so) controversial opinions on American politics, it was anyone’s guess what would come next from the group. After a long hiatus, The Chicks (sans Dixie) dropped Gaslighter in July, with heavy production from heavy hitter Jack Antonoff. The album garnered mix reviews, but I didn’t feel like my list would be complete without it in the mix. Gaslighter is breakup album in its truest form, with songs like “Sleep At Night” and “Tights On My Boat” featuring incredibly autobiographical lyrics about lead singer Natalie Maines’ divorce to her ex-husband Adrian Pasdar, who supposedly cheated on Maines.  – Kristin

Standout tracks: Sleep At Night, My Best Friend’s Weddings, Tights On My Boat

15. How I’m Feeling Now, Charli XCX (May 15, Atlantic Records UK)
As someone who has felt more comfortable being a fan of Charli XCX from afar, I was pleasantly surprised by this album. how i’m feeling now was made entirely in quarantine in just six weeks and represented how Charli was feeling in the moment (hence the title). Though there are excerpts throughout the album that are a bit too, well, robotic for my general taste, the overall vibe of this album is futuristic, genre-bending, and overall just really fun. As Emma wrote in Chicago Haze’s piece “Charli XCX: Pop Music in the Age of Quarantine,”  “How I’m Feeling Now has no guiding narrative but the present moment and is more interested in being an evangelist for the possibilities of distanced collaboration than parading Charli’s own aesthetics or talent.” – Kristin

Standout tracks: claws, forever, 7 years

14. The Slow Rush, Tame Impala (February 14, Universal Music Australia)
Tame Impala’s latest album had high expectations leading up to its release, with fans inevitably (and a little unreasonably) comparing it to Kevin Parker’s Currents from 2015. While many could successfully argue that The Slow Rush is underwhelming, it’s evident that this is a solid, cohesive output from Kevin Parker upon deeper listening. The instrumentation, particularly the drums, are stronger on this album. We’ve also never really heard a song like “On Track” from Parker before, one that’s more introspective and emotional, and other songs like “Lost In Yesterday” and “Borderline” are exceptionally well-crafted. Overall, The Slow Rush represents Parker sacrificing a bit of fanfare for a more personal, deliberate project that only gets better with every listen. – Mitch

If I could award three first place finishers on my list, No Pressure and Detroit 2 would land right beside Tame Impala’s fourth studio album, The Slow Rush. However, for the sake of determining a winner, I had to select the album I have played the most, and The Slow Rush secures that honor with well over 90 listens. Yes, 90 times (thanks last.fm). I remember the first time one of my college roommate’s played Tame Impala on his record player. It took awhile for me to warm up to their style, but eventually, I was hooked. The Slow Rush shatters that “barrier to entry” by focusing on upbeat instrumentals and catchy lyrics. Their evolution from niche records to radio hits is readily apparent, as was the goal of Kevin Parker. Each listen is better than the last, encouraging audiences to experience that slow rush. – Sean

Standout tracks: Breathe Deeper, Lost In Yesterday, One More Year

13. The New Abnormal, The Strokes (April 10, RCA Records)
As I wrote in our round-up of albums from earlier this year, The New Abnormal is just fun to listen to. The Strokes’ first album in over seven years is seemingly nothing exceptional, yet it still manages to sound completely fresh and original. None of the nine songs are skip-worthy, and when it finishes, it leaves you wanting just a little more. The whole album is dotted with wonderful melodies, hooks, and chord progressions, and it sounds like how The Strokes should sound in 2020. – Mitch

After seven years without a full-length album, The Strokes had every right to storm back into the scene with a self-indulgent return- but that wouldn’t have been as good of an album as The New Abnormal. I listened to this record expecting to move on in a few weeks, but The New Abnormal is contagious for even casual fans. It’s the sound of a band reinvigorated with the raw energy that catalyzed their music in the first place but settled into a confident rhythm that only time can bring. Taking cues from some of rock’s current titans (like Tame Impala on “Eternal Summer”), The Strokes proved both their adaptability and timelessness with this release.  – Emma

Standout tracks: Eternal Summer, Selfless, Why Are Sundays So Depressing

12. Sawayama – Rina Sawayama (April 17, Dirty Hit)
2020 was an incredible year for music, particularly for artists releasing their debut albums. It’s nothing sort of special when an artist drops a critically acclaimed body of work at their first go of it, and 30-year-old Sawayama released quite the debut back in April. My first listen ended up in confusion, wondering what I actually just listened to. Sawayama is jam-packed with every genre under the sun, and is just as much KORN as it is Carly Rae Jepsen. If you choose to listen to this album, I simply ask two things of you. 1) Listen with an open mind, and 2) Give it at least three listens before you form an opinion. – Kristin

Standout tracks: Bad Friend, STFU, XS

11. Saint Cloud, Waxahatchee (March 27, Merge Records) 
I listened to this album as I drove to the top of Pike’s Peak by myself in a rental car this summer, and realized that this album blends the human soul with the exteriority of nature more effortlessly than I’d ever heard before. Waxahatchee drenches every contour of the natural world with human meaning in a set of eleven airtight Americana-inspired tracks. Saint Cloud was a comfort album for me this year. Sonically, it’s soothing and familiar, and lyrically, it unlocks emotional reactions in me that feel reassuring, as if the depth of meaning Waxahatchee access in this album exists inside me as well. – Emma

Standout tracks: Arkadelphia, Fire, Lilacs

10. Set My Heart on Fire Immediately – Perfume Genius (May 15, Matador)
Mike Hadreas has been stubbornly transcendent since he began releasing music as Perfume Genius, and Set My Heart on Fire Immediately is no different. His usual air of lonely sensuality felt particularly well-suited for this year, and the songs on this record are all rich with some of his best lyrical material to date. Unabashedly strange, it’s a record that feels rooted in a different era, or perhaps another universe entirely. Hadreas utilizes everything from psychedelic guitars to baroque strings in his arrangements, like a haunted anachronistic symphony playing in perfect time. Radiant and full of momentum, Set My Heart on Fire Immediately is destined to be a quiet classic. – Emma

Standout tracks: On The Floor, Jason, Describe

9. Live Forever, Bartees Strange (October 2, Memory Music) 
Following up the buzz he built with his Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy EP of National covers from earlier this year, Washington, D.C.-based musician Bartees Strange delivers one of the best albums of Fall 2020 with his debut Live Forever. This record mixes genres, from the soaring indie rock of “Mustang” to the rap-tinged “Boomer” to the electronic stylings of “Flagey God” to the spoken word of “Mossblerd” to the acoustic singer-songwriter guitar on “Fallen For You” and “Far.” Strange (born Bartees Cox, Jr.) says that he wanted to show that the songs “all make sense because they came out of me. They’re my experiences and the things that I like.” The record does indeed feel cohesive, asking listeners of one genre to understand other distantly connected genres, much like the way we ask others to embrace the complexities in ourselves. – Brittany

Standout tracks: Mustang, Boomer, Stone Meadows

8. Pixel Bath, Jean Dawson (October 23, Universal Music Australia)
Someone coming onto the scene completely (or seemingly) out of nowhere and releases an album that lands on my favorites of the year is a rarity for me, and that’s exactly what happened when I listened to 25-year-old Jean Dawson’s second album Pixel Bath. The album is full of a sound that you simply can’t describe: indie, pop-punk, and a bit of hip-hop. I also find it important to note that Jean Dawson is the only male artist that made it into my top albums of the year. – Kristin

To be honest, it took me a few listens to fully appreciate Jean Dawson’s second album Pixel Bath. It initially sounded so alien that I had to dig in a few more times to come around to it. Pixel Bath is ambitious, beautiful at times, and very much an in-your-face album. Listening to it sort of feels like you’ve had a little too much caffeine, with your attention slipping away only to be snapped back into place by someone shouting into your ear. If you’re somehow looking for an album that combines pop-punk, garage rock, and fast-paced industrial EDM, Pixel Bath is for you. It’s not an album I expected to love, but that’s exactly what happened. – Mitch

Standout tracks: Bruiseboy, 06 Burst, Triple Double

7. Græ, Moses Sumney (May 15, Jagjaguwar)
Listening to græ isn’t exactly a pleasant experience, but rather a profoundly intricate one. Lyrically, the album is super dense, and sonically it gets a little messy. It’s not an album for the faint of heart. But listening to græ is like watching Moses Sumney bloom before our very eyes, coming to terms with a full, naked range of emotions and irreconcilable human contradictions. This is a twisting, emotional album, with a vast array of multitudes – undoubtedly one of the year’s best. Months later, I still find myself reflecting on some of Sumney’s lyrics, like this one: “I insist upon my right to be multiple; even more so, I insist upon the recognition of my multiplicity.” – Mitch

Standout tracks: Virile, Polly, Bless Me

6. Modus Vivendi, 070 Shake (January 17, G.O.O.D. Music / Def Jam)
I’m convinced that Modus Vivendi will be one of the most overlooked albums of 2020. A brilliant psychedelic debut from 070 Shake, Modus combines raw, glittery hip-hop with experimental instrumentation while exploring a variety of personal themes. The whole album is a trip, and truly beautiful moments are tucked away in nearly every song. I remember listening to “Morrow” for the first time and reflecting on Shake’s unique, if not bizarre, choice of words: “You’re gonna know cuz it’s destined, you feel it in your intestine.” Songs like “Guilty Conscience” and “Under The Moon,” are clear fan favorites, but almost every other song has something interesting to contribute, like the guitar outro on “Divorce” or the space-synth verses on “Terminal B.” If you haven’t listened to Modus Vivendi yet, today is the day. – Mitch

070 Shake’s full-length debut is enveloping, dark, and oozing with charisma. Weaving the best of hip-hop rhythms, psychedelic synths and pop melodies into one record, Modus Vivendi was my first favorite album of the year and never retreated from my list. 070 Shake has a sense of futurism about her, and Modus Vivendi functions as a sort of prophecy that she will evolve to be a leading voice in hip hop, especially as a young, queer woman.  – Emma

Standout tracks: Guilty Conscience, Morrow, Divorce

5. folklore, Taylor Swift (July 24, Republic Records)
Taylor Swift did the unthinkable this year, which means she dropped an album with less than 24 hours notice and had next to zero promotion leading up to it. In hindsight, it’s crazy to know that fans were not expecting it, considering that if anyone can create one of their best albums in just a few months’ time over zoom calls with collaborators spread out across the country, it’d be her. folklore features stories told from multiple points of view: ideas that seem to be fictional but never fully stray away from Swift’s incredibly personal, yet universal storytelling abilities. While there are certainly songs that could have been scrapped from the final project, it’s arguably her most cohesive and innovative projects to date. – Kristin

Unquestionably Taylor Swift’s best lyrical work to date, folklore is an exercise in imagination that feels (almost) divorced from the writer’s own celebrity. While folklore might seem like a return to form, it’s more a radical leap in musical maturity. With production work from pop staple Jack Antonoff and The National’s Aaron Dessner, folklore felt like the next step many Swift fans were begging her to take. – Emma

Standout tracks: Mirrorball, August, Betty

4. Women In Music Pt. III, HAIM (June 26, Columbia Records)
I’ll be the first to admit that I had never really listened to HAIM prior to hearing “Now I’m In it” in 2019. Women in Music Pt. III is an honest, grassroots, satisfyingly classic album that feels like a wonderful breath of fresh air in an age where so much music is created using some type of computer software. The simple yet skillful instrumentation throughout feels good for the soul, whether it’s the drums on opener “Los Angeles” or the funky guitar on “Don’t Wanna.” WIMP3 somehow manages to feel soothing, empowering, and electrifying all at once, and certain songs will live in my playlists years after its release. – Mitch

HAIM’s musical chemistry has always been electric, but Women in Music Part III feels effortless. As I wrote in my review, “there’s not an inkling of pandering, a whisper of ill-advised experimentation, or a hint of internal dissent.” Women in Music Part III is as cool as any staple 70s rock record with an extra bit of charm. It’s as if the Haim sisters extracted their musical DNA and laid it out in fifty-one minutes; it’s an album that dissects the curse of uncertainty while sounding wholly assertive. I’m confident this album will evolve to be a classic; it sounds like one already. – Emma

There’s something about the HAIM sisters’ ability to make music that sounds contemporary yet unique while simultaneously pulling inspiration from artists like Joni Mitchell and Andre 3000. Recognition for Women in Music Pt. III wouldn’t be complete without giving a nod to Rostam’s production work, who also collaborated with HAIM on their 2017 release, Something To Tell You. The music that HAIM has released in the past has always been steeped in universal truths, but in this album specifically, they really draw you in with personal anecdotes of individual struggles that still feel relatable in the broad sense. No wonder they’re BFFS with Taylor Swift. – Kristin

Standout tracks: Now I’m In It, Up From A Dream, Gasoline

3. Future Nostalgia, Dua Lipa (March 27, Warner)
Though Dua’s debut was stacked with pop bangers like “New Rules” and “IDGAF,” but a handful of tracks felt like a misfire. After the first few singles were released for Future Nostalgia, I had high hopes that it would deliver more of a cohesive sound, which ended up happening. While I’m pretty upset to know that we missed out on a TON of live performances this year, it may hurt me the most that we didn’t get to have the sweaty dance-floor experience of hearing FN in concert, OR in an overcrowded bar. Is it possible in 2021? Certainly, but it won’t hit quite the same as it would have in normal circumstances. Dua’s team is pushing this album’s lifespan further with tons of promo, including a livestream event (Titled Studio 2054, I paid $18.50 to watch) as it’s been nominated for 6 Grammys, including Album of The Year. – Kristin

It is apparent that everyone on the team agrees that this album effortlessly blends the sounds of yesteryear with ravaging modern synths. I fell in love with Dua Lipa’s style after listening to “Be the One” with one of my friends back at school. Her voice lofts over bass-heavy beats, creating an interesting and unique sound. Future Nostalgia continues to seamlessly glance at the past while encouraging audiences to dance toward a brighter future. It was reported that Future Nostalgia- B Sides will release at some point in 2021 — something to look forward to!
– Sean

Plenty of pop records have had the opportunity to dethrone Future Nostalgia as the best of the year, and all of them failed. Bolstered with bonuses like Club Future Nostalgia, dozens of creative live performances, and several single rollout campaigns, Dua’s sophomore album produced as rich and rewarding of a pop era as any- and she did it in a world on lockdown. Ambitious, cohesive, and retro-inspired, Future Nostalgia cemented Dua Lipa as one of the most creative pop artists in the game. It’s the first album I’ll queue up when I have the aux at a party again, and the fact that that day will come over a year after Future Nostalgia’s release should speak for itself.  – Emma

Standout tracks: Cool, Levitating, Physical

2. Fetch The Bolt Cutters, Fiona Apple (April 17, Clean Slate)
When we look back at 2020, we’ll remember the soundtrack to one of the most chaotic years of our lives. For me, it was Fetch The Bolt Cutters, just about a month into quarantine, trying to adjust to a new normal. I was living in the basement of my parents’ house, working through my first month of unemployment, struggling to find a new routine and meaning in my day to day life. This album was anything BUT normal, and its chaotic energy felt entirely too poignant to the times not to include. I’ll be the first to admit that I was not familiar with Fiona’s catalog, but knew that this album was going to be a big moment, and it definitely delivered. – Kristin

Fetch the Bolt Cutters is the sound of an artist radically in touch with her own unadulterated self; it’s imperfection at its most artful. Released in mid-April, the height of pandemic panic, its frenzied percussion and electric imagery injected life into listeners struggling to find meaning in a new normal. Lyrically, tracks like “Newspaper,” “Ladies,” and “Shameika” saw Apple rewriting the manual for how women can write about other women. In an interview with Pitchfork, Fiona said: “In every other area of life, I have trouble with decisions and trouble with how I feel. But with music, I feel like I always know my path. As long as it feels like me, I’m good. I think I have pretty fucking good intuition.” Bolt Cutters is proof of that, a reminder to listeners that such a pure connection between inner and outer self is possible even in the most chaotic times. – Emma

Standout tracks: Newspaper, Relay, Rack of His

1. Punisher, Phoebe Bridgers (June 18, Dead Oceans)
The unexpected voice of jaded millennials everywhere, Phoebe Bridgers somehow illuminated 2020 with one of the year’s darkest albums. As I wrote in my review, “in an age clogged with existential despair, her music is a distillery for the most unwieldy of emotions and experiences.” Punisher makes the end of the world seem beguiling and inner demons seem like old friends. Albums steeped in stream-of-consciousness lyrics tend to wither away upon a few listens, but Punisher has quietly morphed over the past few months into a centerpiece of an absurd year. – Emma

Punisher is beautifully crafted from top to bottom. Bridgers’ writing is exquisite, from merging the religious concept “we are not of this world” with the X-Files’ “I want to believe” in an alien metaphor that expresses how much she wishes she could believe in God (“Chinese Satellite”) to pinpointing the dumbfounding distraction of being in love with the lines, “Now I am dreaming and you’re singing at my birthday / And I’ve never seen you smiling so big / It’s nautical themed and there’s something I’m supposed to say / But can’t for the life of me remember what it is” in dreamy “Moon Song.” The record is full of gimmicks that actually work, from the haunting instrumental overture “DVD Menu” to the buildup of screams on “I Know the End.” Creativity, haunting melodies, and incisive songwriting makes Punisher an album we’ll remember long after 2020 is over. – Brittany

It’s hard to put into words a way that an album makes you feel when a feeling you’ve never felt before. Though Phoebe’s music has certainly gotten me in my feels in the past, Punisher has taken those emotions to a whole new level. It’s been said a million times: Bridgers has a way of describing the most mundane details like they are life-changing moments. Finding beauty in sadness is a trope that’s been overdone since the dawn of time, but something about this album has revived the concept in an unprecedented way. Though I went back and forth for a while deciding which album I preferred between Punisher and Stranger In The Alps, it’s easy to see now. Phoebe’s skills as a musician have come into focus on this LP: and I would assume others think so, considering she’s up for four Grammys this year. – Kristin

Punisher is immensely satisfying for several different reasons. For one, Phoebe Bridgers’ dark folk sound could not be better suited for a year like this one. Punisher’s poignant, mournful tone was the soundtrack we all needed as millions of us grappled with a lack of meaningful connection in a year ravaged by COVID-19 and divisive politics. Punisher tugs at your heartstrings from beginning to end, and serves as a vessel for our more vulnerable, isolated human tendencies. Secondly, Punisher firmly cemented Bridgers’ standing as a prodigious lyricist and potent storyteller. At times, her lyrics are laid so plainly out before us that we truly feel what Bridgers wants to convey, and at other times, the lyrics are so dense that they require deeper introspection and analysis. Time will tell, but I believe that Punisher will go down in history as a masterpiece. – Mitch

Standout tracks: Punisher, I Know The End, ICU

Check out our corresponding playlist below:

9 comments on “The 50 Best Albums of 2020

  1. So many of these were my faves too! Cant wait to listen to some I skipped over!

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