2020 may have been one of the most daft years in recent history, but gods damn did we get a lot of great music. Music coming both in spite of all 2020 threw at us, and inspired by the trials and tribulations we all collectively went through. These are the albums that really moved me this year.
Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters
It was a year where several artists I grew up with, who were part of my formative music discovering years, my MTV watching years, dropped new albums. Pearl Jam, Public Enemy, Smashing Pumpkins, Alanis Morissette, Brandy, Mandy Moore, Flaming Lips. 2020 was a good year for 90s kids. Fiona Apple, surprisingly or not, had the best album of the year. She’s more than proved that she puts out phenomenal works of art, that’s not what’s surprising here. But in a damn strong year for music, who would have guessed, could have guessed, Fiona Apple would have such a resoundingly great album? It’s such a poignant album that is a culmination of the work she’s put forth in her four previous albums. The wild, reckless abandon of her music are both at odds and in tandem with her focused, targeted lyrics. And as a fan of The Fall, I do love that title.
Best of the Rest – Best Album
- Taylor Swift – folklore /evermore (pairing it together as a sort of double album)
- Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
- Cornershop – England is a Garden
- Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Reunion
- Soccer Mommy – Color Theory
The Weeknd – After Hours
The Weeknd has been on my radar since his 2013 debut, Kiss Land, and I’ve always enjoyed his work. But I don’t know why it took me this long to really sit down and appreciate his artistry. He pulls in so many wild wonderful influences for this album, from 80s new wave to dream pop to techno to psychedelia to R&B and he just makes everything move and work so well together. There’s a warm familiarity to the mesmerizing newness.
Best of the Rest – Pop
- Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
- Charlie XCX – How I’m Feeling Now
- Halsey – Manic
- Ariana Grande – Positions
- Miley Cyrus – Plastic Hearts
Jaime Wyatt – Neon Cross
Produced by the great Shooter Jennings, Jaime Wyatt’s sophomore album Neon Cross is a soul laid bare, exemplifying the best country should be offering. Country had a great year with Margo Price, Jason Isbell… just scroll down to the “Best of the Rest” section. Neon Cross, I felt, just had all the pieces fall the right way to fill the room and command your attention the way any of the slickly over-produced mainstream artists you’ll hear on the radio sound, but still function as an intensely personal and intimate work of art. Jaime strikes that balance, and really taps into the true spirit of the genre, both the poetry and the showmanship.
Best of the Rest – Country
- Charley Crockett – Welcome to the Hard Times
- Margo Price – That’s How Rumours Get Started
- Courtney Marie Anderson – Old Flowers
- Waylon Payne – Blue Eyes, The Harlot, the Queer, The Pusher & Me
- Chris Stapleton – Starting Over
Haim – Women in Music Pt. III
It’s hard to pin-down where this one should go. Indie rock? Dream pop? They’re a strong band who plays their own instruments and writes their own songs, big check in the Rock category. But the album’s title tells you exactly what the sisters Haim are doing with their third album. They are women in music. Just existing in all that music has to offer, seeing where the beat takes them, unencumbered by strictly being a rock act or a pop act or an indie folk punk band. They are here to make music, and we get this fun, experimental, and thoroughly experiential album.
Best of the Rest – Rock
- Drive-By Truckers – The Unraveling & The New OK
- Creeper – Sex, Death & the Infinite Void
- Pearl Jam – Gigaton
- Flaming Lips – American Head
- Delta Spirit – What is There
Best Hip Hop
Run the Jewels – RTJ4
Released a week after George Floyd was murdered on video by a brute squad of police officers, Killer Mike and El-P inadvertently released the soundtrack of summer 2020, with their rhymes echoing the frustration and anger felt by the summer’s protestors against police brutality. Those rhymes, laid down months, even years, before the protests, carried the sentiments and spoke to the souls of those who marched in the streets.
Best of the Rest – Hip-Hop
- Childish Gambino – 3.15.20
- Megan Thee Stallion – Good News
- Burna Boy – Twice as Tall
- Public Enemy – What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?
- Black Thought – Streams of Thought Vol. 3: Cane & Able
Beabadeebo – Fake it Flowers
Best of the Rest – Debut
- Megan Thee Stallion – Good News
- Sports Team – Deep Down Happy
- Rina Sawayama – Sawayama
- Ava Max – Heaven & Hell
Gorillaz – Song Machine, Season One
This category exists for me to recognize artists I’m a big fan of already, but without them dominating my listening habits and Best Of lists. I strive to listen to a diverse array of talents, spanning genres and eras. This category was set aside so I didn’t just only listen to artists I already know and love. It pushes me to listen to more, rather than stick to the comfortably familiar.