If there was any good thing to come out of the year 2020, it would be the surplus of great albums that were released in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. In fact, some of these albums were conceptualized, recorded, and produced entirely during the lockdown period–as it brought about a spur of creative juices and inspiration to these artists.
Overall, we're more than glad to present to you guys our top picks for the best albums of 2020, alongside the honorable mentions which almost made the cut!
#10: Women in Music Pt. III by HAIM
An evolution from the safe spaces of their first two albums, rock sister group HAIM has finally found their sound with their latest output, Women in Music Pt. III. The highly anticipated release shows the Haim sisters at full form, comfortably toying around with a variety of music styles, yet also showing evident signs of growth as women in music. The collaboration of Danielle Haim with ex-Vampire Weekend member, Rostam Batmanji, for the production of the record is one that added more layers that results in an eclectic mix of tracks that span over multiple genres.
Women in Music Pt. III is what served as the perfect breezy, fun, and summery pop-rock record that's upbeat nature was more than enough to get us through a lot of the tough times that 2020 put the world in. The Haim sisters have never sounded better, which is why it's a fantastic listen worth multiple spins over & over.
Favorite Tracks: Gasoline, 3am, The Steps, Don't Wanna
#9: Wachito Rico by Boy Pablo
Boy Pablo's debut album, Wachito Rico, is an escapist retreat from what's happening in the world–––taking all of us back to the joyous days of teenage angst & longing. Like the work on his earlier EPs, majority of Wachito Rico can act as the catchy, upbeat, and fun soundtrack to our youth. Yet the aspect that we loved most about it was Boy Pablo's ability to add more range and depth with the content of his songs as exemplified with the half-point mark of the album.
In addition to crafting a catchy set of songs for the record, the music videos Pablo & his team have crafted for each of the singles work as great short-films that give listeners the perfect visualization of the narrative of these tracks. Our favorites include that of "hey girl!" and "leave me alone". Check them out here.
Favorite Tracks: leave me alone!, wachito rico, rest up, te vas/don't go
#8: After Hours by The Weeknd
After Hours is another smash hit in the discography of The Weeknd. Although "Blinding Lights" may be the most popular song, the entirety of After Hours is one cohesive and cinematic journey worth immersing one's self to. Inspired by the film of the same name directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese and The Safdie Brothers' Uncut Gems, Abel Tesfaye's self-reflective exploration into the darker themes of addiction, loneliness, heartbreak and psychosis is a significant show in maturity from his prior work which was critically acclaimed upon it's release.
Aside from it's double platinum certification by the RIAA, the album stayed at the top of the Billboard charts for four consecutive weeks, demonstrating the power of how Tesfaye's relevance & impact on the music industry as a whole. It may have been unfortunately snubbed by the Recording Academy in it's year of eligibility, but After Hours still lives on & strong in the hearts of his fans as his best work to date.
Favorite Tracks: Blinding Lights, After Hours, Save Your Tears, Nothing Compares
#7: RTJ4 by Run The Jewels
RTJ4 is probably the most relevant release to come out of 2020, especially as a fine example of protest music that perfectly reflects & resonates with the Black Lives Matter movement that's happening all around the world. Both Killer Mike and El-P may have very well created their best work with RTJ4, thanks to the hard-hitting lyrics which are vocal and well written all throughout.
Instead of being preachy or morally ambiguous, the entirety of the record stands it's ground going against racist cops, systemic poverty, corporate media, and other eternal enemies of the system through the use of no-nonsense revolution anthems. The music is still as catchy as ever, bouncing off with an elastic flow and catchy beats that are intertwined deep history and societal relevance. Definitely one of the must-listens of 2020 for sure!Favorite Tracks: JU$T, ooh la la, out of sight, yankee and the brave
#6: How I'm Feeling Now by Charli XCX
Charli XCX's Mercury Prize nominated, How I'm Feeling Now, was the first album to be entirely recorded & released amidst the worldwide lockdown, yet the effort put into the album seems like it's been worked on for a much longer time. XCX's signature style of bold futura-pop is much more grounded here, showing more glimpses of an honest and more intimate look at the singer and her craft.
From start to finish, it's indisputably cohesive and honest in its exploration of emotional extremes––while still keeping to the more experimental sound of her prior work for this collection. It's amazing how despite the crunch time, How I'm Feeling Now stands out from XCX's discography as a more tender and vulnerable effort from her discography––which also makes it one of the best stuff she's done so far.
Favorite Tracks: anthems, 7 years, forever, party 4 u, claws
#5: Live Vol. I by Parcels
When first listening to Parcels' Live Vol. I, we immediately saw this album in the lines of the masterpiece which is Daft Punk's Random Access Memories. This live album from the Australian electro-pop group is an immaculate piece of work that captures the raw, talented energy of the group captured in an almost seamless live performance that has become one for the ages. It's an absolutely fantastic set that can work as a great introduction for the group to the world, while simultaneously being the perfect way to honor Parcels' already strong discography with such renditions.
With some saying it's the world’s first social-distanced live album, the factor that it was recorded at Hansa Studios in Germany marks a huge step forward for the group––especially with the legendary status of the studio. Even if it's the closing of a chapter for the Aussie five-piece, getting to experience Live Vol. I never fails to give us a calming yet impactful listening experience.
Favorite Tracks: Lightenup, withorwithout, iknowhowifeel, redline, bemyself
#4: The New Abnormal by The Strokes
Perhaps the most cohesive album of The Strokes to date, The New Abnormal is a welcome return to form for the group after a hiatus of 7 years in the music industry. Both sincere and self-reflective, the album highlights the very best aspects of the group when performing as a unit, along with an evident maturity in the lyricism of their songs.
The production coming from the legendary Rick Rubin may have helped in adding the shine & luster for the record, but it is the effort of the band that demonstrates that the old magic is still present in their work. The New Abnormal is full of passion, commitment, and creativity all throughout it's entirety, even drawing comparisons as the second masterpiece following their debut Is This It. With all the critical acclaim the album was showered with (even in the following years), it shows why the album is deserving of the Grammy win for Best Rock Album.
Favorite Tracks: Ode To The Mets, Selfless, Why Are Sundays So Depressing, The Adults Are Talking, At The Door
#3: What's Your Pleasure by Jessie Ware
Jessie Ware's What's Your Pleasure is an underrated gem that deserves all the acclaim. Sleek, sexy, and polished from the first track to the last, the album is the perfect homage to the disco-pop genre of the 1980's and a quality listen to anyone who's an avid fan of divas like Donna Summer or Diana Ross.
With critics praising it as "an intoxicating cocktail of seductive beats, exhilarating choruses and sleek production", the bold nature of the album is rooted on well-structured and beautifully arranged compositions with lyrics so powerful, sensual and cohesive that they inspire a lustful behavior towards the album's listeners. From the strong and ear-catching opening of Spotlight to the stirring finale of Remember Where You Are, the entirety of What's Your Pleasure is a delightful journey that will keep you wanting more from Ware and her vocals.
Favorite Tracks: Save A Kiss, Remember Where You Are, Spotlight, Mirage (Don't Stop), What's Your Pleasure
#2: Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers
Phoebe Bridgers' second studio album is a marvelous and intimate effort that introduces the world to the magic of her craft. In some ways, listening to the heartfelt nature of Punisher is like having a sleepover with your closest of friends, sharing stories with one another at 2 AM in the morning. Bridgers self-aware, multi-dimensional nature adds a sense of sincerity to every lyric that makes her voice almost eerily comforting to listen to despite the subject matter of her songs being heavier than what she makes it out to be.
With Punisher, Bridgers' draws her listeners in to share her candid and innermost thoughts, feelings, and secrets to her audiences via the style of open lyricism. It's one of the albums from 2020 that we continue to spin as often as we could, and one which we're sure to consider as a classic in the future. An absolute masterpiece and gem,
Favorite Tracks: Savior Complex, Kyoto, Moon Song, Chinese Satellite, I Know The End
The Ascension by Sufjan Stevens
Set Your Heart on Fire Immediately by Perfume Genius
#1: Sawayama by Rina Sawayama
Without a doubt, Sawayama is our personal pick for Album of the Year. Rina Sawayama's incorporation of early 2000's pop and nu-metal is catchy, brazen, and above all––brilliant. Within the 13 tracks of the record, it shows an artist at full control of her art, and a willingness to experiment her music into new realms. Rina Sawayama's powerful and emotional vocals weave seamlessly with a variety of styles that take motifs from so much different genres––all while incorporating more than enough social and emotional relevance into her lyrics.
From themes of capitalism, politics, and LGTBTQ+ issues, listeners will find that there is so much to unpack and take a deep dive with the content of this record. Every track of Sawayama is an absolute bop that hits hard in both it's messages and danceability as a collection of club anthems. It's such a strong debut that really made a splash on the music scene, which is definitely why it'll be looked up to as a cult classic in the years to come.
Favorite Tracks: Tokyo Love Hotel, Dynasty, Akasaka Sad, Paradisin', XS