The best albums of the year, all reviewed in six words
In a crap year with some great music, albums of 2020 existed in a weird bubble. Especially with political albums, everything felt a bit out of sync and it highlighted how long the process of writing, recording and releasing an album can be. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing though, and every Friday and its batch of new releases brought a welcome sense of normality and routine to a troubling time. At least it did for me.
Perhaps the next 12 months will be when we start to hear the peculiar paranoia of COVID and lockdown find its way into music. I’m guessing plenty of songwriting happened in 2020, even if the logistics of performing and recording were more difficult. There may well be a distinctive “sound” of 2021, but 2020 was a bit of everything, from old bands returning to form, to new ones creating a storm. Here’s my list of the best, including a six-word review of each (and yes, a hyphenated word is only one word!), and a link to a longer one. Some might sound like they should be higher upon reading the review, while other might seem surprisingly high for an underwhelming review. I considered listening to them all again before finalising the list but then I realised it would probably be mid-April before I’d managed that, so instead I’ve just put them in some kind of order and not thought too hard about it.
Why 107? Well, I tried to settle on 100, but realised there were seven others I didn’t want to leave out. Basically, these are all the albums that made an impression on me in 2020, and there happen to be 107 of them. What’s so great about round numbers anyway?
107. Napalm Death – Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism: Had no idea I liked these!
106. No Age – Goons Be Gone – Acerbic yet simple on fifth album
105. Oranssi Pazazu – Mestarin Kynsi: Surprisingly successful assault on the senses
104. Slow Pulp – Moveys: Comforting summertime gloom to a T
103. J. Zunz – Hibiscus: One of 2020’s most intense albums
102. Slift – Ummon: An epic that sustained my attention
101. Moaning – Uneasy Laughter: The pleasantly poppier end of post-punk
100. Jim Bob – Pop Up Jim Bob: Carter USM frontman witty as ever
99. Widowspeak – Plum: This album haunted me for days!
98. Pia Fraus – Empty Parks: Possibly my favourite Estonian shoegaze act
97. Badly Drawn Boy – Banana Skin Shoes: Likeable Lancastrian serves up jazzy offering
96. Drab City – Good Songs For Bad People: Ghostly and dark Massive Attack vibe
95. FACS – Void Moments: Hypnotic. One to zone out to
94. Calexico – Seasonal Shift: Heartfelt and shamelessly unpretentious Christmas album
93. Doves – The Universal Want: On form in their long-awaiteomeback
92. King Krule – Man Alive!: Great first half secures its spot
91. The Orielles – Disco Volador: It’s just too cool for me
90. Boris & Merzbow – 2R0I2P0: Music vs. noise. Debatable which wins
89. Adulkt Life – Book of Curses: Solid post-punk with no weak track
88. Ganser – Just Look at that Sky: As above. Can’t separate these two
87. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – K.G.: Prolific Aussies go folky and hypnotic
86. Rum Lad – Vandalism: A big brilliantly British “fuck off”
85. Deep Sea Diver – Impossible Weight: Soulful effort, a last minute inclusion
84. Pillow Queens – In Waiting: One of many great Irish entries
83. Cold Beat – Mother: Post-punk? Shoegaze? Best of both worlds
82. Sneaks – Happy Birthday: Biting mix of punk and hip-hop
81. Public Practice – Gentle Grip: Shows post-punk can be danced to
80. AUA – I Don’t Want It Darker: Weirdly gripping. Fabulous last two tracks
79. Eels – Earth to Dora: Perfect time for their soothing eerieness
78. Working Men’s Club – Working Men’s Club: Danceable yet gritty Factory Records sound
77. Lonker See – Hamzer: Polish band with apocalyptic fourth album
76. Songhoy Blues – Optimisme: A positive 2020 album? It worked!
75. The Wants – Container: Great debut from half of Bodega
74. Neil Young – Homegrown: Recorded in 1974, timely in 2020
73. Clown Core – Van: Weirdest album of a weird year
72. Andy Bell – The View From Halfway Down: At his best when going solo
71. Spectres – It’s Never Going to Happen and This is Why: Deviously bookish and experimental Bristol sound
70. Nadine Shah – Kitchen Sink: Punk expression with Middle Eastern influence
69. Beach Bunny – Honeymoon: Can’t help but love its catchiness
68. Osees – Protean Threat: Did three 2020 albums. Start here!
67. Crack Cloud – Pain Olympics: Pushing the boundaries on their debut
66. Joe & The Shitboys – The Reson for Hardcore Vibes: Ten minutes of furious Faroese fun
65. Bombay Bicycle Club – Everything Else Has Gone Wrong: Enchanting (and prophetically titled) January release
64. Zoon – Bleached Waves: One to simply float away with
63. Smashing Pumpkins – CYR: Bloated, but Corgan’s songwriting remains unparalleled
62. Throwing Muses – Sun Racket: Alt-rock legends still on top form
61. Run The Jewels – RTJ4: Not my thing, yet massively rewarding
60. The Futurebirds – Teamwork: Made me realise I like country!
59. Bambara – Stray: Echo-drenched storytelling of Bad Seeds ilk
58. USA Nails – Character Stop: Dissonant and frenetic, musically and lyrically
57. Dehd – Flower of Devotion: Impossible to categorise, just enjoy it!
56. Porridge Radio – Every Bad: I should really like this more
55. Jeff Rosenstock – NO DREAM: Cherished pop-punker does the business again
54. beabadoobee – Fake It Flowers: Almost overlooked due to chart success!
53. Muzz – Muzz: Something different from Paul Banks-fronted supergroup
52. Coriky – Coriky: Ian MacKaye never lets us down
51. Hinds – The Prettiest Curse: None the worse for going pop
50. Bully – SUGAREGG: Downbeat blend of pop-punk and grunge
49. Shopping – All or Nothing: Effortlessly catchy as always from these
48. Bob Mould – Blue Hearts: I like his solo work best
47. Silverbacks – Fad: Arty and complex debut worth hearing
46. The Psychedelic Furs – Made of Rain: Welcome return of Butler’s iconic voice
45. Chemtrails – The Peculiar Smell of the Inevitable: Offbeat and cartoony. Nothing like it
44. Wasted Shirt – Fungus II: Less a collaboration than a competition
43. Sparta – Trust the Rainbow: Best I’ve ever heard from them
42. The Beths – Jump Rope Gazers: meflective but just as much fun
41. Lawn – Johnny: Tided over Parquet Courts’ blank year
40. The Chats – High Risk Behaviour: Belligerent young brats hit the spot
39. Future Islands – As Long As You Are: More of the same’s just fine
38. Junk Drawer – Ready for the House: Often bizarre, sometimes amusing, always exciting
37. Soft Kill – Dead Kids R.I.P City: Best I’ve heard from overlooked band
36. Sault – Untitled (Black Is): Mysteriously pertinent. Can’t leave it off.
35. Pottery – Welcome to Bobby’s Motel: Almost Dadaist in its feelgood playfulness
34. Moor Jewelry – True Opera: Half poetry, half post-hardcore. Terrific project
33. Stuck – Change is Bad: A criminally overlooked post-punk album
32. Flat Worms – Antarctica: Like the Fall? Listen to this!
31. Tunng – Tunng Presents…Dead Club: An exploration of death. Very 2020!
30. Deserta – Black Aura My Sun: Layered but not afraid of melody
29. Sløtface – Sorry For the Late Reply: Grown-up second album from the Norwegians
28. X – Alphabetland: Their comeback was 2020’s nicest surprise
27. Bitch Falcon – Staring at Clocks
26. I Break Horses – Warnings
25. Wire – Mind Hive: Sinister as ever on 16th album
24. Indian Queens – God is a Woman: Came from nowhere. 2020’s biggest grower?
23. bdrmm – Bedroom: Best shoegaze album of the year
22. Cable Ties – Far Enough: At one point my number one
21. Nova Twins – Who Are the Girls?: Rambunctious stuff! Shook up the year
20. Protomartyr – Ultimate Success Today: They continue to evolve and surprise
19. The Homesick – The Big Exercise: Fittingly named, will leave you exhausted
18. Molchat Doma – Monument: The sound of ’80 Soviet Russia!
17. Billy Nomates – Billy Nomotes: Great voice, stunning lyrics. Brilliant newcomer
16. Idles – Ultra Mono – Their weakest album. Still excellent though
15. Soccer Mommy – Color Theory: Honest and painfully sad
14. Sons of Southern Ulster – Sinners and Lost Souls: Sheer poetry from the Emerald Isle
13. Perfume Genius – Set My Heart on Fire Immediately:
12. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher:
11. Haim – Women in Music, Pt. III: I nearly didn’t listen to this!
10. Metz – Atlas Vending: More ambitious, still a right din!
9. Deftones – Ohms: Best album they’ve done in yonks
8. Mush – 3D Routine: Triumphant debut in year of tragedy
7. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters: Many critics’ favourites, not quite mine
6. Lithics – Tower of Age: A marvellously messy bunch of oddments
5. Girls in Synthesis – Now Here’s an Echo from Your Future: Razor raw guitars, razor sharp lyrics
4. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Sideways to New Italy: Amazing for its opening track alone
3. Sweeping Promises – Hunger For a Way Out: No album captured 2020 isolation better
2. Sorry – 925: Quirky, sleazy, catchy – a perfect debut
1. Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death: Second successive ‘Album of the Year’