Despite 2020 being a year of absolute unpredictability, music has been, well… really good. Great actually. Many artists and bands have seen tour and release timelines pushed back in order to coincide with hopeful touring schedules next year, but a few artists came through for the people and actually released work in 2020… and boy, did we need it.
I’ve sifted through some of my favorite albums of the year to make December and holiday shopping a little bit more enjoyable for you! This year we saw GREAT pop music, brand new collaborations, massive debuts, and old friends releasing incredible projects.
Without further ado, the Top 20 Albums of 2020. Let’s get into it…
Top 20 Albums of 2020
20. Zeros – Declan McKenna
One of the most exciting indie/rock artists out of the UK right now, Declan McKenna has tapped into The Key To Life On Earth in his sophomore studio album. The young 21-year-old has a mature sense of lyricism, performance and it truly feels like he’s been designing song structures and stacking vocals for a much longer time than his young age gives him credit for.
19. Brightest Blue – Ellie Goulding
Favorite Tracks: Worry About Me, Tides, Close To Me
Ellie Goulding’s fourth studio album is a two parter. The first consists of solo tracks, many ballads, then things pick up in part two with features from blackbear, lauv, the late Juice WRLD and more.
Holding one of the first paid concert livestreams back in August, I was really blown away by hearing this album ‘live’ and the massive production Ellie and her team had put together to bring Brightest Blue to life and to fan’s living rooms.
18. Free Love – Sylvan Esso
Sylvan Esso brings me back to college riding around west Texas in my yellow beetle. The futuristic energy and unique vocal stylings of singer Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn scream youthfulness. Their latest album Free Love is no different.
More slower tempos on this album than their previous work, the North Carolina duo leaves room for fun dance numbers like Ferris Wheel. Honestly just want to have an outdoor dinner party and dance to this album with my friends in the garden.
17. Shore – Fleet Foxes
Favorite Tracks: Can I Believe You, Featherweight, Quiet Air / Gioia
It’s the echoey vocals, perfect harmonies, and soft guitars that make this one of my favorite rainy day records, though the record itself is quite a rainbow. This album announcement came the day before the release which left many fans excited, just in time for the autumnal equinox on September 22nd. Shore is a bit more upbeat and warmer than Fleet Foxes’ previous work, bringing a bit of sunshine in a dark year.
16. Tickets To My Downfall – Machine Gun Kelly
Machine Gun Kelly (aka Colson Baker) leaves his rap sound behind and fully embraces punk on his fifth studio album. There’s no doubt kids that grew up listening to the chaos of Blink-182 & Green Day are feeling major nostalgia with this album.
The Travis Barker (Blink-182 drummer) collaboration on this album as drummer and producer was definitely the right move to helping MGK move into this new sound. I can’t get enough.
15. Positions – Ariana Grande
Ariana Grande has been producing hits at turbo speed the last few years and that includes her sixth studio album, Positions. Her flirty lyrics, confident music videos, and undeniable star power has launched Grande into one of the world’s biggest pop stars.
It feels like Ariana has turned a new page in this album, more songs about love, fun features with doja cat, The Weeknd, and Ty Dolla $ign, and all around happier vibes than her last project which focused heavily around the ending of her last relationship. She’s a chameleon and can bend any genre over her high ponytail. Make sure you’re buckled in for the falsetto in the ending of the eighth track my hair.
14. Imploding The Mirage – The Killers
After a heavy touring schedule from 2017 – 2019, it was a surprise The Killers had new music, yet alone a full album to release in 2020. I adore this band, so liking new music is easy but I really fell in love with some of the tracks when I heard the band play them ‘live’ for a Pandora live stream concert over the summer. It really made me excited to get back in an arena and hear Brandon Flowers belt these anthems to my city.
It’s a perfect, sunny day, driving type of album. The Killers loaded this record with big belters and major dance vibes, like tracks Caution and My Own Soul’s Warning. Really can’t wait to dance to this one under confetti canons.
13. Brightest Lights – Lane 8
Favorite Tracks: Road ft. Arctic Lake, Just, Don’t Let Me Go
Lane 8 is one of few artist I lucked out in seeing live at the top of this year in Austin and I couldn’t recommend his live shows more. Security asks for no phone usage which is refreshing in a social media obsessed world. Grab a drink at the bar, head to the dance floor, and let all inhibitions go! We had so much fun dancing the night away with the sold out crowd which seems like a foreign concept in December 2020. Take me back!
This album has been the soundtrack to my many long walks around the neighborhood during quarantine. There’s something ethereal about this record so it’s a great one to escape every day stressors to if you need to remove yourself from your mind for a bit. Also, if you haven’t seen the livestream Lane 8 hosted back in September on a boat in a Colorado lake, check that out here! A must see set!
12. Ungodly Hour – Chloe & Halle
Sisters Chloe & Halle stole the award for ‘fierceness’ in 2020, hands down. This album slaps. Their beautiful R&B/pop harmonies remind me of some of the Destiny’s Child albums I grew up listening to but with a new age sound.
COVID hasn’t held these women up either. The promo for this album has been insane, performance after performance on livestreams, award shows, late night tv appearances, all with different sets, choreography, costumes, etc. This hard working duo is a force and I couldn’t be more in love with this album. A graduation from their first album The Kids Are Alright (2018), the sisters tackle relationships, sisterhood and more on this 13 track masterpiece.
11. BRONSON – BRONSON
This year we met BRONSON, a brand new collaboration from Seattle’s ODESZA and Australia’s Golden Features. The electronic music masters joined forces to create the project’s debut album and it does not disappoint.
A great high-energy album, great for getting pumped during work outs or mindlessly dancing around the house. When live music eventually returns, I can’t wait to see if ODESZA brings this record into their already amazing live performances.
10. Desire – Bob Moses
A quick 8 track album from Bob Moses was a great way to end the summer with each track blending into the next like a perfect live set. I had the pleasure of seeing these guys live in 2019 and have been hooked ever since.
If I was cast in a movie and there was a scene of me dancing in a club, this better be the album the DJ is spinning.
9. Punisher – Phoebe Bridgers
I’m late to the Phoebe Bridgers brigade but got more interested when I thought I’d be seeing her open for The 1975 this May. I quickly fell in love with her soft vocals, extremely witty songwriting, awkward charm and skeleton onesies during her ‘live’ performances on her album promo tour.
I Know The End is one my favorite songs this year. It meshes perfectly with the feeling of 2020 and the world’s angst as the song builds so steadily and insanely. I recommend grabbing a pillow for the scream at the end, it’s quite therapeutic.
8. Moral Panic – Nothing But Thieves
You can hear more emotion in one note of Conor Mason’s voice than you can in some band’s entire albums.
Nothing But Thieves just keeps getting better and better and the band’s third studio album is nothing short of greatness. A challenge in itself to go against their second release, Broken Machine, Moral Panic achieves high remarks and continuous progress in this young band’s journey in the rock world.
Heavy drums and electric guitars contrast the immaculate vocals of Conor Mason and his falsetto goes untouched. Nothing But Thieves timely, emotional and politically charged lyrics help paint the picture of all the Moral Panic existing worldwide in 2020.
7. Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas
I’m pretty sure I told everyone I know about this album this summer. Major swoon for Lianne and her self-titled third studio album. Her melting voice oozes emotions and it’s hard to not get tied up in her beautiful storytelling. I scored this release on a teal vinyl pressing this summer which really was the cherry on top of this delectable release.
6. Fake It Flowers – beabadoobee
If you grew up listening to 90s female powerhouses like Alanis Morissette, Natalie Imbruglia, and k.d. lang, buckle up for a trip to nostalgia town. beabadoobee, aka Beatrice Laus, is my 90s girl icon for 2020, even though she was born in the year 2020… ‘isn’t it ironic‘.
Her debut album Fake It Flowers has been in the works for the last few years via Dirty Hit record label (The 1975, Wolf Alice, Pale Waves). She’s seen the success from her 4 EP projects and has exploded in noterietay over the last 2 years, receiving recognition from BBC, NME, the UK Music Video Awards, and the Brit Awards.
I cannot wait to watch this young 20-year-old, Filipino-born British singer-songwriter bloom in her career in the years to come. Fake It Flowers is the perfect debut.
5. Future Nostalgia – Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa is my 2020 disco queen. The New Rules hitmaker brought 80’s disco, funk, and dance floor bops to the forefront of the summer. Many of nights were spent dancing in the living room to this album, and many of her hits were the inspiration for the Nocturnal Pop playlist I curated recently.
The orchestral intro and outro in Love Again is a beautiful moment on an album full of dance hits and Boys Will Be Boys paints a timely picture of feminism in the current age. Dua really can do it all. The live version of Don’t Stop Now was one of the greatest pop contributions of the year. You can’t NOT smile and bust a move while watching it.
If one project wasn’t enough, Dua also dropped an entire album of remixes called Club Future Nostalgia (DJ Mix) featuring an impressive catalogue of collaborators including Madonna, Missy Elliott, Gwen Stefani & more. Future Nostalgia solidified Dua Lipa’s climb to become one of the biggest pop stars in the world.
4. Notes On A Conditional Form – The 1975
Forgoing their typical The 1975 album intro, environmental activist, Greta Thunberg starts the album off with a cry for help. I thought this was an incredible opportunity The 1975 used to carry such a huge and important message to the masses, including their young and politically active fan base. It’s amazing to see such a worldly band understanding their influence in society and using those powers for good. Nothing but love for these guys.
“It is time for civil disobedience. It is time to rebel.”~ Greta Thunberg
I feel like this album has been in my life for forever and was rather surprised when I realized it actually was released this year. Matty, George, Adam, and Ross were gearing up for a huge summer tour in 2020 including a date at Red Rocks in Colorado I was planning on attending. The optimism and sadness this album holds was kinda the perfect ‘lock-down’ album mimicking emotions of many people across the globe.
Rather than simply placing song after song on an album, The 1975 crafts beautiful releases with instrumental connectors throughout the album journey taking you from one genre to the next. Bending genres from punk in People, pop hues in Frail State Of Mind, acoustic tones in Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America, country twang in Roadkill, 90’s nostalgia in Me & You Together Song, and the list goes on… The album finishes with Guys which is a mushy love song from lead singer Matty Healy to the band. Such a sweet music video too that houses footage from the bands inception to now.
3. A Beginner’s Guide To Bravery – David Keenan
David Keenan was a wonderful artist discovery in 2020. This magnificent Irish singer/songwriter immediately captured my attention with his gut wrenching poetry, storytelling, and pure Irish’ness’. This album is the perfect debut and brings all the beauty of traditional Irish music to the masses.
You can find this record spinning at my house on most weekends but I’d love to hear this one live bundled up with close friends over a beer in pub in Ireland. The stories are intimate but the production is grandioso. Adding David to my list of one of those artists you have to see live in their hometown.
2. Dreamland – Glass Animals
Glass Animals round three had some of the best album promo I’ve seen and really cool creative thinking on making music videos during lockdown like the Dreamland video below. The 90s computer themed promo and merch is such a fun throwback for those of us around during that time of the internet. Extra bonus, if you buy merch on their website, 10% of net proceeds are donated to NAACP. Love to see it.
Glass Animals have such a playful sound and this Oxford-based band brought so much fun and psychedelic pop to 2020 with their third studio album. The band took a 2-year hiatus after their drummer, Joe Seaward was hit by lorry when riding his bike in July 2018. After a fractured skull and broken leg, he has thankfully made a full recovery and is back making music again.
Fans got a fun taste of the album in 2019 with the first single Tokyo Drifting featuring Denzel Curry. The guys fully delivered on this album and it’s such a great celebration of the band. The dramatic build in It’s All So Incredibly Loud is hands down my favorite bit of the record.
1. The Slow Rush – Tame Impala
Favorite Tracks: Breathe Deeper, Lost In Yesterday, Borderline
I think a lot of Tame Impala fans were nervous about this release. It would be hard to top the 2015 release Currents, but man oh man, did Kevin Parker deliver. Maybe it was the plot twist of 2020 but the perfect groove of this album puts me in a better mood every time I listen to it. Psychedelic rock/pop or however you’d like to classify the marvel that is Tame Impala has really paved the way for upcoming indie artists and home-made studios.
The Slow Rush has been my driving soundtrack for the year. Windows down, cool breeze, this record is such a groove.
I caught Tame Impala on the festival circuit a few times in 2019 and remember hearing some of the first singles off this record live. It’s the perfect outdoor festival dance vibe. I’m just going to keep saying ‘vibes’ because that’s exactly what this album is. I had a hard time listing my three favorites songs above, but just know, this entire album is a jam.
If you’re not familiar with Australian multi-instrumentalist, Kevin Parker, he is a jack of all trades. When creating each project, he writes, records, performs, and produces all of the music. He tours with a live band but when you sit back and listen to this album as a one-man project, it’s truly incredible.
Did your favorites make the list this year? Listen to all albums consecutively on the Top 20 Albums of 2020 playlist below and let me know who made your 2020 best album’ list this year!