“Microphones in 2020” is one forty-five minute song from this resurrected alias of Phil Elverum, which delves deeply into his past, examining the process of making his art along with his often heartbreaking existence and many transformations.
Key track Microphones In 2020
49. THUNDERCAT- IT IS WHAT IT IS
Loose, fast-moving and freewheeling album from standout L.A. bassist, with its heart rooted in deep funk and jazz.
Key Tracks I Love Louis Cole; Dragonball Durag
48. CHICANO BATMAN- INVISIBLE PEOPLE
Hooky, upbeat album from Latino, SoCal, psychedelic funk band. They celebrate diversity and know that love conquers all.
Key Tracks Invisible People; Color My Life
47. LUCINDA WILLIAMS- GOOD SOULS BETTER ANGELS
Angriest and most hard rocking album of Williams storied career. “Good Souls” takes Trump and company directly as she takes her musical cues from punk and heavy blues.
Key Tracks Down Past The Bottom; Wakin Up
46. BLACK THOUGHT- STREAMS OF THOUGHT VOL. 3: CANE & ABLE EP
Third volume in solo series from the frontman of Philly’s legendary The Roots. Though the EP is often hit or miss, the highlights are worth the trouble as Thought collaborates with indie-pop group Portugal. The Man and The Artful Dodger.
Key Tracks Good Morning; Fuel
45. RICO NASTY- NIGHTMARE VACATION
After a slew of EP’s and mixtapes, “Nightmare Vacation” is the official debut album from Baltimore rapper/singer Rico Nasty. Employing 16 different producers over 16 tracks, Nasty runs the gamut of her different sounds, including aggressive rap, pop and Rihanna-influenced R&B.
Key Tracks Smack A Bitch (Remix); iPhone
44. MEDHANE- COLD WATER
Gritty debut from Brooklyn independent rapper with beats rooted in soul & jazz. Quiet but serious and deadly focused.
Key Tracks I’m Deadass; TRS
43. BOB MOULD- BLUE HEARTS
Long time indie hero continues his winning streak with hard hitting, straight ahead indie-punk, angrily focused on the sad and sorry state of America.
Key Tracks Siberian Butterfly; Everything To You
42. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & THE E STREET BAND- LETTER TO YOU
Springsteen’s 20th studio album is his best and most upbeat in years, recorded live in the studio with the E street band.
Key Tracks Janey Needs A Shooter; Ghosts
41. HAYLEY WILLIAMS- PETALS FOR ARMOR
Lead singer of emo-punk band Paramore releases her solo debut of experimental pop with danceable undertones.
Overly long, electro album with select moments of brilliance which plays as a musical if not spiritual sequel to 2010’s “Age Of Adz”. The beginning and end of the album contain some of Sufjan’s best songs but the middle drags.
Key Tracks The Ascension; Video Game
39. JAY ELECTRONICA- A WRITTEN TESTIMONY
Long-awaited debut album from already legendary rapper lives up to the hype. Electronica, notably an Islamic five-percenter, collaborates throughout with Jay-Z and addresses spirtuality and societal ills thoughtfully and directly.
Key Tracks Shiny Suit Theory; Ghost Of Soulja Slim
38. DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS- THE NEW OK
Second full-length of 2020. “The New OK” is the DBT’s quarantine album, taking on Trump, BLM protests and everything this crazy year has brought us from the unique perspective of a blue collar, liberal, deep southerner. The 30 minute album ends with an on the nose cover of Ramones “The KKK Took My Baby Away”.
Key Tracks The Perilous Night; The New OK
37. THE CHICKS- GASLIGHTER
Dropping ‘Dixie’ from their name in the wake of BLM, the Chicks also capture the zeitgeist by naming their first album in 14 years after one of the most relevant, if overused, phrases today. Though some of the album is a bit paint by numbers, the best half of its tracks contain the typical Chicks glorious harmonies, upbeat punch and skillful instrumentation to make “Gaslighter” a very worthy additional to their canon.
Key Tracks Gaslighter; Texas Man
36. JASON ISBELL & THE 500 UNIT- REUNIONS
Low key album which continues this former Drive-By Trucker’s winning streak. Isbell is slowly becoming an alt country star, whose deep, insightful and often autobiographical lyrics make him one of the best writing musicians today; both within and outside his own scene.
Key Tracks It Gets Easier; Dreamsicle
35. PORRIDGE RADIO- EVERY BAD
Second album by Brighton, UK, female led four-piece band. “Every Bad” is one of the better rock bands of the year. Porridge Radio was completely off my radar prior to 2020.
Key Tracks Sweet; Don’t Ask Me Twice
34. CHARLI XCX- HOW I’M FEELING NOW
Album made entirely during quarantine by one of the leading lights of forward thinking, futuristic electro pop. Her beats are of the moment and hard hitting as usual, while she songs of love and loneliness while we’re stuck in this moment that we can’t get out of.
Key Tracks Anthems; Enemy
33. MEGAN THEE STALLION- GOOD NEWS
2020 was truly this Texas rapper’s breakout year. Megan is now emphatically one of rap’s biggest stars, if not in pop music in general. “Good News”, arriving very late in 2020 is her official album debut, though she released the excellent EP “Suga” in the spring as well as some of the year’s best and biggest songs like “Savage” and “Wap”.
Key Tracks Savage (Remix); Girls In The Hood
32. MOSES SUMNEY- GRAE
20 song, double album, which initially arrived digitally in two parts. “Grae” is a soulful, gender fluid examination of both the masculine and feminine aspects of Sumney. After a very promising debut, his second album delivers a bigger and deeper version from this leading light of indie-soul.
Key Tracks Polly; Neither/Nor
31. SOCCER MOMMY- COLOR THEORY
Second album by early 20-something singer songwriter who once again delivers one of the year’s best songs in “Circle The Drain”. “Color Theory” is a sadder record than her debut with three colors representing depression (blue), illness (yellow) and death (gray). She (real name Sophie Allison) seems just on the verge of delivering a full-blown classic album.
Long running project of producer Dan Snaith, “Suddenly” boils electronic music down into two to three minute slices mirroring perfect pop.
Key Tracks Home; Never Come Back
29. FONTAINES D.C.- A HERO’S DEATH
Second album by one of punk’s leading lights, Dublin’s Fontaines U.K. a grimmer and more downbeat offering for this terrible year of 2020; showing the band more musically varied than previously thought.
Key Tracks A Hero’s Death; I Was Not Born
28. BOB DYLAN- ROUGH AND ROWDY WAYS
Just shy of 80 years old, Dylan is one of music’s truest legends and you can never count him out. “Rough and Rowdy Ways” is her best album since at least 2006’s “Modern Times”. “Murder Most Foul” is a hybrid of folk & blues and contains Dylan’s longest studio track ever, the meditative but mind-blowing “Murder Most Foul”.
Key Tracks Murder Most Foul; False Prophet
27. LIL UZI VERT- ETERNAL ATAKE
Arguably 2020’s first rap event album, Philly rapper delivers a plethora of tasty tracks at a frenetic pace. The results are so consistent that it’s hard to pick out the highlights.
Key Tracks POP; Celebrity Station
26. GRIMES- MISS ANTHROPOCENE
First full-length release by former indie-pop star, who is now a full-fledged pop star and married to Elon Musk. “Miss Anthropocene” is experimental as ever though certainly more top heavy and a bit less consistent than 2015’s neo-classic “Art Angels”.
Key Tracks 4AEM; Delete Forever
25. NINA SAWAYAMA- SAWAYAMA
Japanese-British singer’s promising debut embraces a huge tent for pop music drawing on turn of the millennium styles as wide ranging as Britney/Christina teeny popper pop to nu-metal, updating these sounds for modern ears.
Key Tracks Who’s Gonna Save us Now?; XS
24. CHARLEY CROCKETT- WELCOME TO HARD TIMES
Country blues traditionalist who just came on my radar this year. Though Crockett’s music sounds like it came straight out of the late fifties or early sixties, he doesn’t sound directly influenced by any single artist and his distinctive baritone and witty storytelling make him a vital part of an emerging country back to basics movement.
Key Tracks Run Horse Run; Fool Somebody Else
23. KVELERTAK- SPLID
Fourth album by Norwegian metallers, who make party music to the sounds of NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) & Black Metal. “Splid” is the group’s first offering with new vocalist Ivar Nikolaisen and also their first with some songs in English- most notably “Crack Of Doom”.
Key Tracks Crack Of Doom; Bratebrann
22. LAURA MARLING- SONG FOR OUR DAUGHTER
Seventh album by criminally underrated British singer-songwriter. Just past thirty, “Song For Our Daughter” explores feminism, love and sexuality and celebrates Marling’s much earned wisdom after long being perceived as precocious.
Key Tracks Held Down; Strange Girl
21. TAME IMPALA- THE SLOW RUSH
Maybe a slight step down in quality by one of the most consistently great acts recording today. Kevin Parker, leader and mastermind of the project, which started out as a psych-rock band, takes Impala even further down the synth-rock rabbit hole. Tripped out disco prog for a new decade. There is plenty to like here and it gets better with each listen.
One of Dan Bejar’s better album releases in a career filled with peaks and higher peaks of his now eleven albums. Bejar is typically aloof and detached, providing winking commentary over groovy, soft rock beats.
Key Tracks Crimson Tide; Kinda Dark
19. NO AGE- GOONS BE GONE
Fifteen years into their career, this now underrated, L.A. two-piece punk outfit is still making incredible post hardcore to a diminishing audience. “Goons Be Gone” veers between woozy, noise rock and anthemic punk for the pit.
Key Tracks War Dance; Turned To String
18. U.S. GIRLS- HEAVY LIGHT
Seventh album by mastermind Meg Remy calls out capitalism and the patriarchy with the sounds of disco and sixties girl groups. The more you listen the smarter “Heavy Light” sounds.
Key Tracks 4 American Dollars; Born To Lose
17. THE 1975- NOTES ON A CONDITIONAL FORM
Millennial Manchester quartet doubles down on their maximalist approach, filling this double album with screaming punk, perfect pop, experimental electronic and lengthy interludes; everything but the kitchen sink. While a bit inconsistent, “Notes” begins to reveal its many delights on subsequent listens.
Key Tracks Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America; Roadkill
16. LADY GAGA- CHROMATICA
One of pop music’s biggest stars returns to her dance diva roots, delivering her best album since “The Fame Monster”. Gaga’s plethora of club anthems are welcome in a year when we couldn’t even dance in public.
Key Tracks Stupid Love; Enigma
15. ROISIN MURPHY- ROISIN MACHINE
Fifth solo album by Irish outre disco queen combines twelve-inch singles from her last decade of music with a handful of new tracks. Murphy puts deep house music into a pop context.
Key Tracks Something More; Jealousy
14. BARTEES STRANGE- LIVE FOREVER
One of 2020’s top newcomers, D.C. based Strange’s promising debut album is a mish mosh of punk, folk, arena ready rock & rap, bringing to mind TV On The Radio. “Boomer” and “Mustang” are two of the best powerhouse rock tracks of the year.
Key Tracks Boomer; Mustang
13. FLEET FOXES- SHORE
Fourth solo album by Robin Pecknold’s Fleet Foxes is a folk-rock beauty, reigning in the more experimental impulses of their previous album “Crack-Up”, presenting their most straight forward album since their perfect self-titled debut.
Fourth full-length album by one of country music’s best and biggest artists. Stapleton is who he is by remaining authentically true to himself; his blend of blues, classic country, classic rock & soul is as potent as ever. “Starting Over” is his best album since “Traveller”.
Key Tracks Cold; Arkansas
11. PERFUME GENIUS- SET MY HEART ON FIRE IMMEDIATELY
Fifth album by Mike Hadreas may be his best yet. Here, Hadreas has taken a move away from the starkly personal and confrontational nature of his past work toward a look at an exploration of the human body. Though there are always at least two or three genius songs per album, the highlights on “Set My Heart On Fire Immediately” are even more abundant. Hadreas has quietly become one of the most consistently great artists in the indie world over the past decade.
RJT4 is duo Killer Mike and El-P’s best release since at least RJT2 and captures the zeitgeist perfectly in one of America’s worst years in its history- railing against the awful ruling class as well as the violent and racist police state. Starting off as a side project between two friends, Run The Jewels have become one of rap’s most indispensable groups.
Key Tracks Walking In The Snow; Ooh La La
9. TAYLOR SWIFT- FOLKLORE
“Folklore” is Swift’s eight record, her quarantine/pandemic record and her nod to indie folk pop. Written and recorded with guitarist Aaron Dessner, and surprised released in early Fall of 2020, “Folklore” is surprisingly one of Swift’s strongest albums of her illustrious career. By creating a low stakes album of bedroom pop, Swift ironically seems poised to further expand her audience.
Key Tracks Exile; August
8. DUA LIPA- FUTURE NOSTALGIA
Second album of rising UK dancepop star, “Future Nostalgia” delivers banger after banger of club ready funkpop and modern disco. With nary a ballad and relentless energy, “Future Nostalgia” is a nonstop blast from start to finish.
Key Tracks Love Again; Break My Heart
7. YVES TUMOR- HEAVEN TO A TORTURED MIND
“Heaven To A Tortured Mind” shows experimental UK artist moving towards a more anthemic, pop sound while maintaining his stylistic blending of soul, noise-rock, krautrock and psychedelia. They are somehow able to streamline all of these disparate sounds into an accessible pop context without losing an ounce of authenticity or original vibe. Here’s hoping they become much bigger in the future as a result.
Key Tracks Gospel For A New Century; Dream Palette
6. DOGLEG- MELEE
In a time period with a diminishing rock scene and in a year with no touring, Detroit emo band Dogleg recalls bands like Japandroids and At The Drive-In with it’s awesome debut album “Melee”. While they aren’t re-inventing the wheel, “Melee” is filled with exhilarating break-neck punk and such a welcome release in a depressingly exhausting year.
Key Tracks Kawasaki Backflip; Wrist
5. PHOEBE BRIDGERS- PUNISHER
Second album by SoCal based 25 year-old singer songwriter, Phoebe Bridgers is a massive leap forward from her promising debut. Her slow burning, emotionally intense songs mirror these dark times and though the album is great throughout, tracks like “Garden Song”, “Kyoto” and closer “I Know The End” are all among the best of the year.
Key Tracks Kyoto; I Know The End
4. HAIM- WOMEN IN MUSIC PT. III
Third album by sister group, Haim, is stylistically their most diverse, and also their best album by a good bit, even eclipsing the quality of their awesome debut. The difference is rather than a handful of great songs as on their past two albums, “Women” maintains its greatness all the way through. At first, Haim’s Fleetwood Mac inspired sound and the sisters’ amazing harmonies, though undeniable, could come off as precocious and annoying. After three strong albums it is time to recognize them as one of America’s best modern bands.
Key Tracks The Steps; Summer Girl
3. JESSIE WARE- WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE?
The very best in a number of great 2020 disco albums, which includes Gaga, Dupa Lipa & Roisin Murphy, among others. The British Ware has spent the past decade as a low key, underrated singer combing dance music with blue-eyed soul singing. With “What’s Your Pleasure”, she emerges from the underground with a confident, in-your-face album which should be impossible to ignore. Her sultry singing could sound equally great on the radio or dance floor and any just music landscape should see her star rise quickly. Here’s hoping!
Key Tracks Remember Where You Are; What’s Your Pleasure?
2. WAXAHATCHEE- SAINT CLOUD
Alabama born singer-songwriter, Alison Crutchfield, has slowly become one of the best songwriters of her generation over the past decade. Her fifth album as Waxahatchee is easily her best yet and destined to become a classic. Inspired by Lucinda Williams’s “Car Wheels On A Gravel Road”, Crutchfield provides exquisite detail in her indie folk songs, indebted to southern Americana. While the album’s impact is immediate each song sinks in heavier with each listen.
Key Tracks Can’t Do Much; Lilacs
FIONA APPLE- FETCH THE BOLT CUTTERS
Only Fiona Apple’s fifth album in over almost 25 years, Apple has built a reputation as one of the most uncompromising and important artists of this millennium. “Fetch The Bolt Cutters” was surprised released shortly after 2020’s March pandemic. It alternates between fury and hilarity taking everyone to task- ex boyfriends, the patriarchy, our gatekeepers (either political or cultural) as well as herself. The groundbreaking musical production, filled with percussion and clattering piano keys, manages to be both avant-garde and catchy. Though this music is likely too weird for radio it’s the type to influence artists and bands for years to come and it’s Apple’s best album to date.