Here’s a list of our favorite albums – in no particular order – from this crazy year. We’re thankful to all the great artists that shared their music with us. 🍑
Terrace Martin, 9th Wonder, Robert Glasper, and Kamasi Washington came together to form a new supergroup this year. In collective form, the group is pure soul: an elite roster made up of musicians who continue to thrive at the creative forefronts of their respective genres. Check out our full article that introduces the individual members of the group that’s concocting a brand new blend of neo-soul and hip hop.
Alfredo – Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist
After two incredible joint albums with Madlib, Freddie Gibbs teams up with the Alchemist to continue his hit streak. After the album’s success and the obvious chemistry (pun intended) between the two artists, it would come as no surprise if the duo followed up Alfredo with a sequel. The mic in Freddie Gibbs’ hand has never been hotter; he’s making the best rap music ears can listen to right now.
A Written Testimony – Jay Electronica
Jay Electronica’s A Written Testimony is a performance of hip hop royalty through authoritative rapping over rich aristocratic production. The debut album should really be branded as a collaboration between Jay Electronica and Jay Z, given his features on 8 out of 10 songs. After an 11-year hiatus, it’s surprising how little Jay Electronica rap we actually get on the 10 song album: but we’ll always choose quality over quantity.
Man Alive! – King Krule
King Krule is well known for his psychedelic rock / alternative music. On his latest album, he elevates his work to the next level, going beyond genre and releasing one of the best albums of the year. The album is a wondrous display of his many talents, and is an emotion-inducing trip down memory lane.
On Bob Dylan’s first album of original songs since 2012 (and 39th album overall), his mystique endures. In a raspy yet defiant voice, Dylan weaves together the biblical, cultural, and personal with a God-like authority. His music inherently evokes a sense of nostalgia; to long-time fans it feels like Dylan’s music corresponds with the beginning of music. In an interview with the New York Times, which was the only press he did for the album, he admits he doesn’t feel like the lead single Murder Most Foul is nostalgic at all. He goes on to say: “I don’t think of it as a glorification of the past or some kind of send-off to a lost age. It speaks to me in the moment. It always did, especially when I was writing the lyrics out.” Maybe that’s the key to his longevity: his ability to appreciate the historical, without ever losing site of the present.
Fiona Apple’s new album Fetch the Bolt Cutters cements her legacy as a musical genius, granting her entry to a rarefied group reserved for a few artists each generation whose visions are well ahead of their time and their impact on music is unrivaled. Similar to her past music, the songs on the new album are carried by Apple’s piano-playing, but the addition of homemade percussion sounds coming from things like banging on pots and pans and the bones from her dead dog make this album entirely unique. The album’s opening song I Want You To Love Me was ranked our 3rd best of the year.
Westside Gunn and the Griselda crew from Buffalo are one of the most consistent hip hop collectives of the past decade. With Pray For Paris, Westside Gunn marries his hard-hitting raps with the most lavish production he’s had in his career. Combined with amazing features from the likes of Tyler, The Creator, Freddie Gibbs and more, Pray For Paris paints a vivid image of the rapper’s movie-like lifestyle.
Made in Lagos reaps the benefits of WizKid’s adaptability; it pulls in new influences from Afrobeats music to evolve its sound well beyond the artist’s dancehall pop roots. The album’s overall soundscape gives a subtle nod to fellow Nigerian artist Burna Boy, whose blend of Afrobeats, R&B, rap, and dancehall has powered back-to-back hugely successful, internationally-appealing albums. Check out the full album review here.
Thundercat is on a mission to take neo-soul music to funky new heights. On his new album, It Is What It Is, the talented bassist whips up another blend of avante garde jazz with funky bass lines and dopey humor. Thundercat throws the weirdness of an Adult Swim segment into the webs of contemporary jazz compositions to tell goofy love stories that bring his musical comics to life. Check out our full write-up for It Is What It Is here.
As we reflected on Mac Miller’s life and music after his passing back in September 2018, one thing stood out above all the rest: he improved and innovated on each subsequent album he made. It’s hard to think of many other artists who you can confidently say that about. Tons of artists innovate and experiment with their sound after reaching success in their lane – sometimes these endeavors are successful and (often) they’re not. Mac Miller never went on cruise control. Nothing exemplifies this, and his impressive growth as a songwriter better than his posthumous album Circles.
Previously one of indie rock’s best kept secrets, misfit Phoebe Bridgers’ new album Punisher rides the budding wave of musical melancholy with elegant grace. Her songwriting throughout Punisher is beautifully transparent and defiantly unfiltered. The winner of the best handle on IG contest (_fake_nudes_) had a breakout 2020, and the wonderful Kyoto reached #2 on our best songs of 2020 list.
On The Weeknd’s incredible After Hours, a tragedy, he masterfully showcases the cyclical nature of addiction to the fast life’s triumvirate (sex, love, drugs), through ecstatic highs and dangerous lows. The repertoire stays the same, but the balance between nocturnal vice and dance floor pop has never felt so fluid. The title track was ranked 4th on our list of best songs of 2020.
Moses Sumney makes progressive R&B music that is soft and delicate sounding, while bearing menacingly bold artistic statements. Songs like Virile, Polly, and Cut Me display the restrained intensity behind Sumney’s intoxicating double album græ. Cut Me was our 8th best song of 2020.
New York rapper Caleb Giles is all about personal growth on Meditations, as the title suggests. The album is a short but concise collection of Caleb’s personal reflections and their results. It is a wonderful and massively underrated hip-hop album from an exciting up-and-coming Bronx-based artist. Check out the full album review here.
Open Mike Eagle has a small but loyal fan base in underground hip hop. His music has always been thought-provoking and unique, and Anime, Trauma and Divorce is no different. The album brings three defining aspects of his life together – anime references, trauma, and a rough divorce after fourteen years of marriage – to create an album that comically represents the current year.
Kacy Hill’s rise as an artist came mainly from signing with Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music Label and her phenomenal vocals on Travis Scott’s 90210. However, only when she went her own way was she able to create her groundbreaking sophomore album Is It Selfish If We Talk About Me Again. The album is full of infectious pop songs and Kacy’s soothing voice is angelic to the core, making it a wonderful listen.
Kentucky alt-rocker Sturgill Simpson isn’t one for making the same kind of album twice. So it comes as no surprise his new album, or ‘mixtape’ as he calls it, Cuttin’ Grass is something entirely different. Cuttin’ Grass Vol. 1: The Butcher Shoppe Sessions is a collection of 20 songs from his country rock catalog that have been remade as bluegrass tunes… and they’re refreshing as hell. Check out our article on our favorite bluegrass albums of 2020 here.
After releasing two stellar albums in 2019 with her band Big Thief, Adrianne Lenker strips down her sound for her acoustic double album songs / instrumentals. Beautiful, tender, and wholesome, Lenker’s songs were just right for the isolated headphone listening that was far more common than ever in the year of hunkering down. We ranked her song anything as number 10 of 2020.
2020 was the year Taylor Swift reinvented her sound. She left behind the upbeat pop anthems and replaced them with quiet, sober, and superstitious reflections on her relationships. That sort of transition will happen when you work closely with the National’s Aaron Dessner and collaborate with Bon Iver. As a whole, the songwriting on Folklore and evermore is Swift’s best yet, leaving us excited to see what her maturing voice will sound like next.
The most renowned popular hip hop of the last decade has been lauded for its experimental, genre-bending creativity. As part its natural musical evolution, it has moved farther away from the boom bap sample-based lyric-driven identity of the 90’s. It’s with this backdrop that Jay Jordan goes back to the basics, crafting nostalgia-infused beats that remind us of some of our favorite throwback production. With a sound he describes as ‘lo-fi,’ the young producer is resuscitating – not recycling – the best elements of hip hop’s golden age. Check him out on all platforms.
Charli XCX has been making pop music for a while now, but her biggest successes have come in the past two years with not one, but two critically acclaimed projects. how i’m feeling now is a perfect representation of Charli’s – and basically everyone’s – quarantine moods. The production is mostly loud and vibrant and yet the album finds a way to grant you comfort throughout the 11 songs. It is a wonderful album that will be looked at from a nostalgic point of view in years to come.
The challenges and limitations of 2020 have caused many of our worlds to temporarily shrink. Most of us have looked for various new ways to escape the new normal in our COVID-affected worlds. For JoeJas, one of his escapes has been Four Wing Island – his imaginary utopia inspired from his time eating fried chicken at Chester’s during college. Indirectly, it serves as a powerful example of what the last 6 months has made very clear: many of our most precious memories come from the everyday, unspectacular pleasures of life. Check out the album, and our full album review & interview here.
Our other favorites:
Top 100 songs of 2020 playlist