Top 10 Albums of 2020
2020 was, most certainly, a year. Tons happened, all while, simultaneously, absolutely nothing happened at all for lots of us. It was something that we all experienced differently and uniquely, but we experienced it almost universally, and that doesn’t happen often. Global catastrophe aside, plenty of fantastic music was put into the world and I’m here to talk a bit about some of my favourites. These blogs are usually quite verbose so I’m going to try and limit my word count on this one. And it’s worth stating, this is all totally unranked apart from album of the year.
That said, let’s talk about some great music.
10. Allie X – Cape God
Favourite songs – Rings A Bell, Susie Save Your Love
My first introduction to Allie X was seeing her live in late 2019, and it actually served as a great taster for what the album would later become. Cape God is full of slick, heartfelt vocal performances and just some genuinely refreshing songwriting. I'd be really keen to see her again now I know more of her work properly.
9. Blake Mills – Mutable Set
Favourite songs – May Later, Never Forever
This album serves as the best calling card for Blake Mills’ production style to date. He has an excellent way of leaving just the right amount of space in the music, while also adding ornaments and details that still provide a rich listening experience.
8. Tigran Hamasyan – The Call Within
Favourite songs – Our Film, The Dream Voyager
What I love about this album is that it’s such a testament to the fact that art is as individual as the artist themselves. What I mean by that is that only Tigran could have made this album. It’s the perfect culmination of not only his heritage but also his experiences with his new collaborators that he’s picked up along the way in his career. For years now, Tigran has been etching his place out in the musical landscape, and this album feels like a statement of that place really being found.
7. Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
Favourite songs – Lost in Yesterday, Breathe Deeper
This album has a strong sense of maturity from Kevin. While he refuses to settle as a producer or a writer, the subject matter of the lyrics often turns inwards, a lot of this album serving as a musically rich meditation on what it’s like to start growing older. The production is as slick, engaging and well-presented as ever, but it’s this extra layer of narrative depth that gives this album the replay value it has.
6. Lianne La Havas – Self Titled
Favourite songs – Weird Fishes, Sour Flower
Much like Tigran and Kevin, this whole album feels like a strong declaration of identity, even down to the name of the album. It sounds like the kind of music that a group of friends were involved in making, with organic and live timbre soaking the entire record. It feels like it’s been made by a bunch of people who really care about each-other made in a studio together in one long session, and you love to see it.
5. Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA
Favourite songs – Bad Friend, XS
Like Allie X, my introduction was seeing her live, but it wasn’t until I was this album came out that the scope of her abilities really hit home. Everything about this album is unique, it’s polished and it’s intelligent. A lot of the track list feels like it has the potential to be hugely elevated in a well-produced live performance, and it really is too bad Rina hasn’t been able to do it justice yet. Between this and Chewing Cotton Wool by The Japanese House, I think Dirty Hit have had a really good year.
4. Jon Gomm – The Faintest Idea
Favourite songs – Deep Sea Fishes, Cocoon
There’s an amazing piano piece by Debussy called La Cathedrale Engloutie, which translates to “the sunken cathedral”. In this, Debussy emulates a church that has been on the seabed for hundreds of years, but the bells still ring out underwater. As a self-professed thalassophobe, I find this imagery absolutely horrific, but the piece does an extraordinary job of placing you at the gates of this sunken cathedral. Why do I bring all this up? Because I think this is some of the best instrumental world-building since the aforementioned piece. The combination of big drop-tuned guitars and the introduction of some perfectly placed electronic embellishments do such an amazing job of captivating the listener and really placing them in the music. The songwriting is witty and sharp, the Vangelis-esque synth accompaniments are added sparingly enough to really have impact when they get introduced. To top it all off, the whole album is accompanied by a collection of artwork that solidifies his visual aesthetic, deepening the sense of his music having its’ own universe.
3. Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats – Unlocked
Favourite songs – DIET_, Take_it_Back_v2
This whole project is just CLEVER, man. The whole thing is well written, well produced, and the presentation of the whole project is what made it stick around for me. It’s visually branded as if the whole thing got leaked on the internet, a charade that both artists kept up for a while before releasing a short film that played into that concept. The film itself takes an “exquisite corpse” kind of approach, with different artists and animators taking the lead on each song, really giving this whole project a feel of collaborative spark and energy that is really refreshing and enjoyable. Denzel’s delivery and lyricism is as sharp as ever, and Kenny’s production gives him endless places to shine and excel. This is a fantastic pairing and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
2. clipping. – Visions of Bodies Being Burned
Favourite songs – Check the Lock, ’96 Neve Campbell
In recent years it feels like hip hop is taking the reins as some of the best narrative storytelling you can find in music, and this album for me is a perfect encapsulation of that. The whole album is just steeped in eerie horror aesthetic, but never compromises on also being full of great tunes. Having watched numerous interviews with the trio since the album came out, it’s wild how deep into the process they get when working on things like sound design. Everything is placed intentionally, and because of the process of making sounds for the records, it all sounds utterly unique. All of the lyricism helps give context and atmosphere as well, with perturbing and often gruesome depictions based on classic horror films and tropes. Despite it potentially being an acquired taste, I find it hugely rewarding and endlessly replayable.
Album of the year: Ryan Beatty – Dreaming of David
Favourite songs – In The End, Flowers At The Door
By far and away album of the year, and it wasn’t even close. I’ve said this before in my last one of these but you know that an album is your AOTY when you’re comparing everything else against it. This album is absolutely spectacular and I implore you to listen to it. The songwriting and lyricism is engaging and impactful, the production is the perfect balance of intricate and understated, but what really puts this record head and shoulders above everything else is the vocal performances. Not only is Ryan a world-class vocalist, but the lengths to which he’s taken experimenting with vocal production is insane. Every song takes a different approach to modulating and editing the lead and backing vocals to give everything an extra layer of musical and narrative depth. It means that the unprocessed, unfiltered moments like Backseat and Casino have an air of sincerity and intimacy, whereas tracks like Flowers At The Door and Dreaming of David have a sense of the surreal and abstract, but never fail to deliver the message Ryan’s trying to send at any point. The whole thing is quietly genius and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have been repeatedly throughout this year.
Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
Miley Cyrus – Plastic Hearts
Pat Metheny – From This Place
Moses Sumney – Græ
Gorillaz – Song Machine Season 1
City Girl – Siren of the Formless/Godess of the Hollow
Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension
Haken – Virus
Aminé – Limbo
Jacob Collier – Djesse Vol. III
Novo Amor – Cannot Be, Whatsoever
Kehlani – It Was Good Until It Wasn’t
Goat Rodeo – Not Our First Goat Rodeo
Bob Reynolds – Runway
Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters
Novena – Eleventh Hour
Eric Johnson – EJ Vol II
Bill Laurance Trio – Live at Ronnie Scott’s
Chloe X Halle – Ungodly Hour
Pierre Bensusan – Azwan
Thundercat – It Is What It Is
Spector – Extended Play
King Krule – Man Alive!
The 1975 – Notes On A Conditional Form
Plini – Impulse Voices
Joji – Nectar
Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Now
The Aces – Under My Influence
Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
Bombay Bicycle Club – Everything Else Has Gone Wrong
Evan Marien X Dana Hawkins – Parallels
I’m sure I missed plenty, but there’s been some great music this year.