Top 10 Albums of 2020

Top+10+Albums+of+2020

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Hunter Horan, Writer

With society as a whole changing due to the pandemic, so did the music industry with how the way it markets and creates music changed.

Preface (As of December 9th)

The music scene in general has shifted from focusing on hyping up albums and then performing on tours, to then releasing content online to keep people entertained during quarantine. Even with 2020 being as infamous as it is, artists across genres still released quality albums, some of which even reflected on the turmoil that society has gone through in 2020. The list here includes these quality albums that showed how art can persevere regardless. The criteria for this list includes: performances, production, lyrics, and the commentary on the album.

Honorable Mentions

After Hours (The Weeknd) [RNB/Pop]

Shore (Fleet Foxes) [Folk]

From a King to a God (Conway the Machine) [Rap]

Burden of Proof (Benny the Butcher) [Rap]

King’s Disease (Nas) [Rap]

The Mystic Familiar (Dan Deacon) [Psychedelic Pop]

SAWAYAMA (Rina Sawayama) [Pop]

Miles (Blu/Exile) [Rap]

 

10. Starting Over (Chris Stapleton) [Country]

Chris Stapleton delivers the best country album in quite some time with Starting Over. While this is a pretty big release in the genre, it still comes off as being raw and personal. The vocal performance on this album is great, with it having none of the manipulation found on other albums that makes the artist’s voice seem artificial. The production is consistently lush and gives the sense that the guitars are really being performed.

Best Tracks: Starting Over, Devil Always Made Me Think Twice, Cold, Arkansas, Joy Of My Life, Hillbilly Blood, Maggie’s Song, Whiskey Sunrise, Old Friends, Nashville, TN

 

9. Song Machine Season 1: Strange Timez (Gorillaz) [Synth Pop,Punk Rock,Rap]

Referring this album to just one genre label is impossible with it being a blend of really everything. While it isn’t consistent stylistically, it is consistent with the quality of the set of tracks here. There are rap bangers featuring SchoolboyQ and Jpegmafia as well as catchy synth pop songs. Gorillaz are able to bring together combinations that seem strange in concept but somehow end up working brilliantly with a prime example being 6lack and Elton John of all people on “The Pink Phantom.” No matter what genres you prefer, there is something here for everyone.

Best Tracks: Strange Timez, The Valley of The Pagans, The Lost Cord, Pac-Man, Chalk Tablet Towers, The Pink Phantom, Aries, Friday 13th, Désolé, Momentary Bliss, MLS, How Far?

 

8.Ultra Mono (Idles) [Punk Rock]

Idles deliver one of the hardest hitting albums of the year with a socially critiquing edge with Ultra Mono. While there is a sentiment that genres like punk rock promote messages and themes that are “dangerous for the kids,” this album critiques such ideas and encourages listeners to be better and to strive for justice. On the song “Kill Them With Kindness,” Idles encourage listeners to “keep their teeth clean” and to act civilly in order to ensure change. The production is absolutely hard hitting and the vocal performances are wild, making the album’s energy incredibly infectious.

Best Tracks: War, Grounds, Mr.Motivator, Kill Them With Kindness, Reigns

 

7 how i’m feeling now (Charli XCX) [Pop]

Charli gives the world its first pandemic album with how i’m feeling now. Charli describes people being in quarantine wanting to go out and be with people as being a “tiger in a cage.” This is a very diverse album with everything from glitchy industrial pop songs and ones that are more blissful and trippy. The diversity of this album makes it a consistently engaging listening experience and proves that pop can be forward thinking.

Best Tracks: pink diamonds, claws, anthems, i finally understand, enemy

 

6 What’s Your Pleasure? (Jessie Ware) [Disco]

On What’s Your Pleasure?, Jessie Ware proves that disco is not a dead genre yet and has a few tricks up its sleeve. While this album is undeniably disco to the core, it still has some newer elements making the album both a great callback and something all its own. There are nice ballads on here as well as glitchy bops such as “Soul Control.” There’s not much else to say about it besides how catchy and fun it is.

Best Tracks: Spotlight, What’s Your Pleasure?, Ooh La La, Soul Control, In Your Eyes, Step Into My Life, Read My Lips, Mirage (Don’t Stop)

 

5 Circles (Mac Miller) [Neo-Soul]

With Mac Miller’s sudden passing, people were uncertain about the state of the album he was making just before the time of his death. While something like this could understandably come off unfinished, this album ends up being Mac Miller’s best project ever. He started out the early 2010s being a rapper straight out of high school, but now has gone in a more soulful and emotional direction. While Miller is known to be a rapper, I don’t think there’s anyway anyone could call Circles a rap album at all. Even with this sudden directional shift, this album comes off as Mac Miller being confident and capable of pulling off these emotionally potent songs. This album says a lot about his struggles with drug addiction and mental health, sending him around in “Circles” as the title of the album clearly states. The emotions on this album come of genuine and deep, avoiding the melodrama often found in contemporary music today. As a final album, I don’t think there could be a better send off for such a versatile artist.

Best Tracks: Circles, Blue World, Good News, I Can See, Everybody, Hand Me Downs, That’s On Me, Hands, Surf, Once A Day

 

4 Punisher (Phoebe Bridgers) [Folk/Pop]

Phoebe Bridgers exploded onto the music scene this year with her gorgeous folk and pop album: Punisher. Just like Circles, this album comes off as being extremely emotional and intimate. While the listeners do not know Pheobe personally, this album still is a elaborate character portrait of her. The production here is beautiful and spacey giving off a pretty serene vibe at times. This album is pretty diverse too with Kyoto being a dance rock throwback while Chinese Satellite and Moon Song are very lowkey and calm, but still beautiful. Very few debuts for artist have been this good in this modern age of music.

Best Tracks: Garden Song, Kyoto, Punisher, Halloween, Chinese Satellite, Moon Song, Savior Complex, ICU, Graceland Too, I Know The End

 

3 Alfredo (Freddie Gibbs/The Alchemist) [Rap]

Rapper extraordinaire Freddie Gibbs and legendary producer The Alchemist have come through with 10 underground bangers with amazing production from front to back. Freddie Gibbs shows excellent lyricism and flow throughout the entire project, with some verses being so elaborate, but still so fast paced that it can be mind blowing. The production here showcases some of the best uses of soul and vintage samples, giving this album a bunch of personality to it. The features here are also great, not coming off as being ploys to gain a bunch of streams, but artistic and collaborative decisions that add so much to these tracks. Just like the album’s title and cover, this project comes off as being refined and elegant in its craft.

Best Tracks: 1985, God is Perfect, Scottie Beam, Look At Me, Frank Lucas, Something to Rap About, Babies and Fools, Baby, Skinny Suge

 

2 Visions of Bodies Being Burned (clipping.) [Experimental Rap]

“Terrifying” and “Tense” are descriptions not often associated with rap albums, but this album embodies these more than any album this year. Visions of Bodies Being Burned is a sequel to clipping.’s horrorcore rap album that came out last year, and somehow improves upon what was already so great. This is probably the most challenging listen on this list, with the production here being the most forward thinking and experimental of pretty much everything that came out this year. You may recognize the rapper here being Daveed Diggs, who notably appeared in the play sensation: Hamilton. Daveed still maintains his charisma and excellent lyrical abilities here, with it having the insane speed of someone like Eminem while having excellent storytelling capabilities like a Kendrick Lamar. The beats on here would be insanely hard to rap over for any artist, with Make Them Dead being just distorted noise and Eaten Alive being a bunch of clanging instruments in the background. However, Daveed still manages to make these songs enjoyable while showcasing his incredible storytelling skill. This album is very much like the horror movies it references, is a quite tense and challenging experience, but one that fans cannot get enough of.

Best Tracks: Intro, Say the Name, ’96 Neve Campbell, Something Underneath, Make Them Dead, She Bad, Pain Everyday, Check the Lock, Looking Like Meat, Eaten Alive, Enlacing

 

1 Run the Jewels 4 (Run the Jewels) [Rap]

Run the Jewels 4 is by far the timeliest album released this year. It was being made over a series of years and ended up coming out amidst the protests over the summer. The material on this thing felt as if it had been made just the week it came out because of just how much the topics on here applied to the time, but this album shows how the problems our country faced have been prevalent for decades. This album is political, but it is not overly preachy and doesn’t come off as trying to be overly “woke.” Rather than saying “we live in a society,” Killer Mike and El-P connect these societal problems to the negative aspects of human nature and uses intelligent comparisons to point out various inequalities seen today. The duo criticize disingenuous companies, monopolies, people who profit off economic disparity, politicians in general, and the media while remaining incredibly smart throughout. On the performance and production side of things, Run the Jewels have improved upon themselves yet again with their best and to-the-point record to date. There is absolutely no filler on here and Killer Mike and El-P are high energy and focused on the entire thing. This is their best produced album to date, with it not sacrificing being pristine for being so hard-hitting on just about every track here. Killer Mike and El-P are as confrontational and charismatic on Run the Jewels 4, with them having among the greatest chemistry of any duo in music today. Killer Mike’s verse on “walking in the snow” might take the cake for being the best rap verse of the year with how harrowing the subject matter is and his insane flows and delivery being a sound to behold. This is by far the most important album that came out this year. While other politically charged albums have messages of hope in the future, this album has more of a sentiment of fear of what’s possibly coming down the line. The duo knows that it is impossible for just the two of them to make a change, but that it comes down to the listener as well as everyone as a whole to end these cycles of disparity and hate.

Best Tracks: yankee and the brave, ooh la la, out of sight, goonies vs E.T., walking in the snow, JU$T, never look back, the ground below, pulling the pin, a few words for the firing squad (radiation)

(if you have your own top 10 be sure to leave it below)