After the chaos this year has been, a lot of us have found comfort in music, while artists have found comfort in making it. Because of this, 2020 has brought us some brilliant albums, some capturing the moment, some moving past it, and even though the lack of gigs and festivals has left a large hole in our hearts and a large hole in the wallet of the music industry, this year’s albums have got us through it. Here are our top albums of the year.
10. Lil Uzi Vert – Eternal Atake / LUV vs. the World 2
Lil Uzi Vert’s third album was long-awaited, and when it was released in March of this year, it did not disappoint. With a cosmic focus, psychedelic synths and some of Uzi’s best lyrics, Eternal Atake is some of the artist’s best work, but to make it even better, a new version was released a week later with a whole other CD of 14 songs, these ones less of a solo effort, featuring collabs with Chief Keef, 21 Savage and Young Thug to name a few. The deluxe album is even more charismatic and extraterrestrial, giving his fans enough content to make up for the 3 years without.
9. Beabadoobee – Fake It Flowers
Beabadoobee turns a corner with her album Fake It Flowers, coming into her own as the reincarnation of 90s alternative. Bea has only released EPs up until this point, so for a debut album it certainly shows her talent as a songwriter – heart wrenchers like ‘How Was Your Day’ and ‘Emo Song’ are balanced by anthems such as ‘Care’ and ‘Dye It Red’. Each song is personal yet relatable, often depicting a change in personality and newfound confidence, conveying Bea’s new directions in music, appearance and identity. It’s definitely an album that articulates something a lot of teenagers can relate to in 2020, as once suppressed expression of style and character can flourish in an isolated environment. The album is the final step in her transition from soft spoken, bedroom-pop teen to angsty, Pavement-esque grunge star.
8. Taylor Swift – Folklore
Taylor Swift’s first of two 2020 albums was a pretty significant change from her work in recent years – an organic, melancholy, more minimalist sound, seemingly untethered from Swift’s manufactured, bubblegum pop image, proven by the almost unannounced release. Recorded during lockdown, the album was created with the help of Bon Iver and Aaron Dressner (The National) and certainly sounds like it. As some of Swift’s best writing, the songs diverge from Swift’s regular subjects of personal experience, to those of fiction and storytelling. Folklore seems to sit between Swift’s country origins and the height of her pop glory – it feels grown up, matured.
7. The Weeknd – After Hours
The Weeknd is one of a few artists that found their refined style in a throwback of synth and dream pop this year, and out of the few, After Hours does it the best. The singer seems to have progressed into a more cinematic soundscape of 80s feel and electronica that fits his voice well and compliments the high drama that The Weeknd’s been trying to portray since the start. The stylised sound has been appreciated well, as the track ‘Blinding Lights’ was named the most streamed song of 2020 with nearly 1.6 billion streams on Spotify.
6. Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now
For this album, made during lockdown, Charli XCX found inspiration in the exact opposite of her usual stimulants: mundane home life. The album takes a more reflective turn from the electropop party girl’s usual creations and it definitely captures how most of this year has felt for a lot of us – the penultimate track ‘anthems’ yells the lines “I’m so bored, woo / Wake up late and eat some cereal”. Charli made the album on a series of zoom calls with fans, finding feedback (and something to do) while isolating away from recording studios. Despite it’s home set-up and topic of distraction and boredom, the album maintains Charli’s sugar-coated, synthesized sound.
5. Grimes – Miss Anthropocene
Earlier this year, Grimes made a statement about the state of our planet in the way she does best: A dystopian concept album. In one of her most powerful albums yet, the art-pop musician creates an anthropomorphic villainess out of the climate crisis, declaring the downfall of humanity at the hands of climate change and AI. Amongst the mentions of annihilation and destruction, the album gives us some face-value hits like ‘4ÆM’ and ‘Delete Forever’ that embody the ethereal artist’s classic tropes. The album is a darker effort to solidify her place as the queen of sci-fi pop, while also being a little bit auto-biographical as this year has seen her launched into the spotlight as the mother to Elon Musk’s baby, an event and a relationship that’s certainly changed her persona and intentions.
4. Sault – Untitled (Black Is)
Following the power and pain of 2020’s BLM protests, the mysterious British collective Sault returned with another beautiful album in support of the movement. With roots in almost every classic Black musical style, the group create powerful tracks all with similar messages of Black beauty, excellence and pain, put together with techniques old and new to make something that worships all aspects of Black culture. Even with their purposeful anonymity, this year’s Mercury Music Prize winner, Michael Kiwanuka, is among the minimal vocal credits giving the already clear impression of this group’s talent and individual praise. This album is confirmation that while the identities of this group remain unknown, their intentions do not.
3. Haim – Women In Music Pt. III
Haim’s third, and greatest, album was released in June of this year, giving us all plenty of time to enjoy it’s warm splendour in the summer. After a two year break following the second album, the sisters seemed to return with their best stuff, refined by loss and pain, the album discusses grief, anger and the sisters’ personal struggles. Most of all, the album portrays resilience and fearlessness – the upbeat and feel-good melodies really make an impression of strength and positivity, despite the issues discussed. Channelling Alanis Morisette and Sheryl Crow, WIMPIII defines Haim’s vital place in female-fronted rock.
2. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
Phoebe Bridgers returned with another portfolio of her ingenious songwriting capabilities this year with her sophomore album Punisher. Each and every track on the album feels sincere, somehow relatable and utterly heartbreaking in the blur of folk and rock that Bridgers knows and plays within so well. Brought to us at a time we were so susceptible to existentialism and unaccountable misery, Bridgers was the blanket of quips and devastating lines set to beautiful arrangements that we could cling to. Like her influences before her (Elliott Smith, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen), Phoebe Bridgers takes your heart and crushes it, this time with queer undertone and a skeleton suit.
1. Mac Miller – Circles
Posthumous albums don’t always do well, but Mac Miller’s latest album is a reputable addition to his best work. For his fans, Circles certainly gives some completion to the success of Swimming, cementing the self-discovery experienced when creating that album, so soon before his tragic death. And unlike a lot of Posthumous projects, Circles feels complete – a full, polished piece of work. This is owed to producer Jon Brion, who worked with Miller on the album and who worked on the album when the family asked him to put it together for release.Whether there are more Mac Miller projects to come, Circles is the closure devastated fans needed, and is a great album in itself.
Words by Daisy Grace Greetham, Graphics by Millie Pollok