Top of 2020* ~ Top Albums & Songs

*every swear word in every language.

Apple Music Playlists:

Top of 2020 – Top Songs

Top of 2020 – Albums

Impeachment. Pandemic. Isolation. Death. Here’s my list of the top albums of the year 2020.

15 Haim

15. Haim – Women in Music Pt. III

I don’t wanna give, I don’t wanna give too much
I don’t wanna feel, I don’t wanna feel at all

P.T. Anderson directs their music videos. A wide-ranging and deeply-considered album from a trio of very talented musicians. Blessedly, they’re self-assured enough to follow their own arc.

14 Kelly Lee Owens

14. Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song

The rain, the rain, the rain
Thank God, the rain

Brain music, Thoughtful and introspective electronic compositions that unfold with unhurried deliberation. John Cale makes a guest appearance!

13 SALEM

13. SALEM – Fires in Heaven

I would never claim no prophesy
‘Cause I know man too small for it
These vultures circle round the dead
And want a crown for it

It’s been 10 years since King Night, SALEM’s one and only LP was released. Since that time, the band that has been widely considered to be be the pioneers of the musical subgenre, “Witch House” have released one EP (I’m Still in the Night) a few mixtapes, and lost vocalist Heather Marlatt. Also during this time, a resilient online fan community has traded “rare” mp3s along with rumors of a return to the studio. In lat 2020, those expectations were brought to fruition with the announcement and release of Fires in Heaven, a leaner, somehow sadder, but also weirdly hopeful, collection of songs. Marlatt’s absense is a disappointment, nevertheless, Jack Donoghue and John Holland manage to conjure up a palette of sounds that is at-once recognizable as pure-SALEM, while also taking some confident steps in a new direction.

12 Jon McKiel

12. Jon McKiel – Bobby Joe Hope

In tempered glass is a sleight of hand and a look of the eye
How in spoken light I believe in a colour of another kind
I can see a deeper shade, I know there’s a deeper shade in you

Allegedly, Jon bought an old Teac A-2340 reel-to-reel tape recorder online from a seller he never actually met a few years ago, and the sale included several tapes. The first time he tested out the machine at home he discovered that one of the tapes already contained samples from an unknown source. He nicknamed it the Royal Sampler. He decided he would jam with the tape and thus was born the seeds of Bobby Joe Hope. A charming, meandering album of lo-fi found objects, it was one of my happier discoveries in a generally stupid and rotten year. 

11 Kevin Morby

11. Kevin Morby – Sundowner

God bless and pray for American daughters and sons
Try as they might to take flight with clipped wings but some won’t
Do what they want and say what they will
Nothing will cover the faith that’s been spilled
God bless and pray our American waters and suns

Kevin Morby’s latest album is essentially a treatise on his hometown of Kansas City. He paints a vision of the country that is at times intimate and also sweeping. 

10 Oneohtrix Point Never

10. Oneohtrix Point Never – Magic Oneohtrix Point Never

Doesn’t the sky look like maps to our house?
Doesn’t the sea look so empty?
Even my dreams kissed in digital gloss
It’s my reality

Daniel Lopatin has maintained a healthy pace producing new material. I was surprised and delighted to find out that he had another entire full length release in store for us in 2020. Magic Oneohtrix Point Never is a play on the station call sign for one of his childhood radio stations. Designed to mimic a single day in programming schedule for a radio station, the album has a novel structure that is held together by a number of interstitial elements derived from a trove of sampled material.  

09 Sufjan Stevens

9. Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension

And now it frightens me, the thought against my chest
To think I was asking for a reason
Explaining why everything’s a total mess
And now it frightens me, the dreams that I possess
To think I was acting like a believer
When I was just angry and depressed
And to everything there is no meaning
A season of pain and hopelessness
I shouldn’t have looked for revelation
I should have resigned myself to this
 
I thought I could change the world around me
I thought I could change the world for best
I thought I was called in convocation
I thought I was sanctified and blessed
 
But now it strengthens me to know the truth at last
That everything comes from consummation
And everything comes with consequence
And I did it all with exultation
While you did it all with hopelessness
Yes, I did it all with adoration
While you killed it off with all of your holy mess

Sufjan Stevens’  1 hour and 21 minute LP The Ascension is not a frequently upbeat record. If anything, it’s something of a punishing ordeal to attempt to listen through the entirety without taking a break. Even while distracting oneself with other activities. The record projects an air of despondency, as though a master builder just put the finishing touches on a cathedral he’d been supervising construction of for generations, only to walk inside and find out that God doesn’t live there. There is a very, book-of-Ecclesiastes vibe going on, here. Sufjan’s despair is palpable, and his scorn, while spare and withering, is tempered by his gentle spirit breaking apart like a dandelion in the wind.

08 Soccer Mommy

8. Soccer Mommy – color theory

I can’t help this feeling
That irks me, that I’m falling down
From Heaven through the Earth
To Hellfire, to wear his crown

Sophie Allison’s 2018 album Clean was No. 3 on my year-end best-of albums list the same year. Her follow-up, 2020’s color theory, finds her taking a decidedly darker path. Having “arrived” as it were, at success in the music industry, she unleashed a record brimming  with cold-eyed clarity about the world, oddly well-timed to coincide with the pandemic that descended and promptly caused the cancellation of all of her tour dates.

07 Moses Sumney

7. Moses Sumney – græ

Are you dancin’ with me?
Or just merely dancin’?
Polly Polly Polly

Moses Sumney released græ in the very beginning of 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic swept the land. Coming in behind Dylan’s Rough and Rowdy Ways, and Sufjan’s The Ascension, this double-LP clocks in at 58 minutes. Sumney’s unadorned voice is really the star of this record. Haunting. 

06 The Mountain Goats

6. The Mountain Goats – Getting Into Knives

Light up the sky like a comet
Make yourself want to vomit
Shine like a cursed star
Show everybody exactly who you are

I had failed to take note of The Mountain Goats’ proper 2020 release, after their Bandcamp drop of Songs for Pierre Chuvin (also excellent, and only missing from this top list because of my general apathy about putting it together). Getting Into Knives is another terrific album from the Goats. John Darnielle’s inimitable singsong style of vocals and his literary writing style continue to offer up that rare alchemy of catchy melodies and deep, spiritual musings.

5. Adrianne Lenker – songs / instrumentals

weren’t we the stars in heaven
weren’t we the salt in the sea
dragon in the new warm mountain
didn’t you believe in me?
You held me the whole way through
but I couldn’t see the words like you

Adrianne Lenker is the lead vocalist for Big Thief, a band that released two albums in 2019 that both wound up on my year-end best-of list. A prolific songwriter, she released songs and instrumentals as a double-album on 4AD in 2020. One is an album of songs (of course) and the other is a pair of lengthy guitar improvisations. A spare and elegiac album with a sense of immediacy.

04 Ben Seretan

4. Ben Seretan – Youth Pastoral

Everything’s gonna be all right
you shine a little light for me
Shine a light.
They’re holding up the sun.

An artist I had never listened to, prior to the dumpster fire that of 2020, that is. Ben Seretan’s lilting voice and avant-garde folk sensibilities conjure sun-soaked country vistas, outdoor wedding vibes, and millennial lumberjack camps. His effortless vacillation between crooning on a hilltop and filling an arena with anthemic aplomb. An artist I’ll be following with great interest from hereon out.

03 Bob Dylan

3. Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways

Well, I’m the enemy of treason
An enemy of strife
I’m the enemy of the unlived meaningless life
I ain’t no false prophet
I just know what I know
I go where only the lonely can go

A new Bob Dylan album is always cause for celebration. Ever since 2006’s excellent Modern Times, I have paid extra special attention to to the prodigious output of one, Robert Allen Zimmerman. On Rough and Rowdy Ways, the 79-year-old singer-songwriter’s talents are on full display in a laconic and effortless fashion. Clocking in at 1 hour, 11 minutes in length, it truly is an LP.

02 Charli XCX

2. Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now

All I’m thinkin’, all I know is
That I hope you knock on my door
Nervous energy, my heart rate rises higher, higher up
I wish you’d get here, kiss my face
Instead, you’re somewhere far away
My nervous energy will stay
I hope you realize one day
Come to my party
Come to my party

I’ve been listening to Charlotte Emma Aitchison (Charli XCX) off and on for a decade, now. She has a superb knack for crafting agile ear-worms, repeatedly bottling lighting in the form of energetic, streetwise, electronic pop. Recorded during a pandemic, this album showcases a raw talent and production prowess that she’s been honing for years.  Wall to wall jams. All bangers.

01 Fleet Foxes

1. Fleet Foxes – Shore

And with love and hate in the balance
One last way past the malice
One warm day is all I really need

Fleet Foxes are impossible to dismiss, they’ve been on my Top Album lists back in 2017 and 2011. This is the very first time they’ve taken my number 1 spot. Shore released rather late in the year in 2020, and initially, I kind of ignored it. But man, it’s such a grower, as I should have expected. Not a particularly happy album. Not a particularly sad one, either. Road trip music for a year without travel.

0-HR Karl Blau

Bonus: Karl Blau – Children of All Ages

Doorways come in all shapes and size
As they greet you with their delight
Some that swing, some that sigh, some doors are locked up tight
Some doors you would never think would open…

You won’t find this album on Apple Music, sadly. But you can get it on Bandcamp! Just click on the name of the album, above. A lighthearted, joyous album of “children’s music” that falls much more squarely in the camp of Squiggleman than it does TMBG or Donovan, Karl’s gentle vocal delivery and novel lyrics reward many repeat listens. A sleepy-time album, if you fancy that.

0. Jeffrey Lewis – 2019 Tapes (Cowardly & Brave & Stupid & Smart & Happy-Ever-After & Doomed) & 2020 Tapes (Shelter-at-Homerecordings & Pandemos)

And now here we stand and who could have guessed?
We ran out of chances and we failed our own test
Cuz all illusions have to end, let’s laugh and wake up and admit we failed to break up

Jeffrey Lewis & The Voltage made my favorite album of 2019. No one does existential dread and philosophical introspection like Jeffrey does. In both of these collections, he assembles a kind of scrapbook of a psychological road trip through 2019 and into 2020, comprised of songs that touch on everything from confusion about sexual identity, to an obsession with washing one’s hands, to a plea for world peace on the heels of a worldwide pandemic. Lewis’ songwriting is all at once sardonic, incisive, filled with wit, soul, catharsis and wry social commentary without ever once sounding confident. It’s his incredibly insecure pathos that gets me every time.

Well, I screamed my way through one more dead-end day
In the tortures of the starving arts
I trashed the fifteenth song

I bashed away too long into the dustbin of discarded starts
And my programmer friend invites me out again
But I got nothing all month to be proud of
He said, ‘My friend it seems art is a sweat shop of dreams,
‘cuz art’s an office that you can’t clock out of.’
‘But that’s nice work, if you can get it.
That’s a noble
occupation.
It’s a career I would have led if the main office hadn’t lost my application.’

Honorable Mentions: 

Tame Impala, Yves Tumor, Bessie Jones, Blake Mills, Damien Jurado, Grimes, Waxahatchee, Spirit Fest, The Killers, 박혜진 Park Hye Jin, Dirty Projectors, Woods, Jessie Ware, Run the Jewels, 100 gecs, Destroyer, Matt Berninger, Jess Williamson, Cut Copy, The War on Drugs, Purity Ring & Nada Surf. 

Full list of 2020 albums (yes, I listened to *all* of these – it still is a worldwide pandemic, and also it was a leap year) :

  1. The 1975 – Notes on a Conditional Form
  2. Adrienne Lenker – songs / instrumentals
  3. Against All Logic – 2017-2019
  4. Aleksi Perälä – Oscillation Part 1
  5. Aleksi Perälä – Spectrum 1
  6. Aleksi Perälä – Spectrum 2
  7. Aleksi Perälä – Spectrum 3
  8. Aleksi Perälä – Spectrum 4
  9. Aleksi Perälä – Spectrum 5
  10. Aleksi Perälä – Spectrum 6
  11. Amaarae – THE ANGEL YOU DON’T KNOW
  12. Amnesia Scanner – Tearless
  13. Andre Bratten – Silvester
  14. Arca – KiCk i
  15. Autechre – PLUS
  16. Autechre – SIGN
  17. Baauer – PLANET’S MAD
  18. Bartees Strange – Live Forever
  19. Baths – Pop Music / False B-Sides (2020 Remaster)
  20. Beatrice Dillon – Workaround
  21. Becky and the Birds – Tresslig
  22. Ben Seretan – Youth Pastoral
  23. Bessie Jones – Get in Union
  24. Best Coast – Always Tomorrow
  25. Bibio – Sleep on the Wing
  26. Bill Fay – Countless Branches
  27. Bing & Ruth – Specie
  28. Blake Mills – Mutable Set
  29. Blitzen Trapper – Holy Smokes Future Jokes
  30. Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways
  31. Bob Mould – Blue Hearts
  32. “Bonnie” Prince Billy – I Made a Place
  33. Brian Eno – Brian Eno (Film Music, 1976-2020)
  34. Brian Eno & John Cale – Wrong Way Up (1990)
  35. Califone – Echo Mine
  36. Caribou – Suddenly
  37. Carlos Niño & Miguel Atwood-Ferguson – Chicago Waves
  38. Carmen Piazzini – Mozart: The Complete Piano Sonatas
  39. Charles Webster – Decision Time
  40. Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now
  41. The Chicks – Gaslighter
  42. Chip Tanaka – Domingo
  43. Christopher Tin & Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – To Shiver the Sky
  44. Chromatics – Closer to Grey (Deluxe Edition)
  45. Cold War Kids – New Age Norms 2
  46. Com Truise – In Decay, Too
  47. Courtney Marie Andrews – Old Flowers
  48. Cremation Lily – The Processes and Instrumentals of Normal People (2020 Remaster)
  49. Cucina Provera – Tyyni
  50. Cut Copy – Freeze, Melt
  51. Cut Worms – Nobody Lives Here Anymore
  52. Damien Jurado – What’s New, Tomboy?
  53. Dan Deacon – Mystic Familiar
  54. Daniel Lopatin – Uncut Gems (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (2019)
  55. Darkstar – Civic Jams
  56. Dehd – Flower of Devotion
  57. Denison Witmer – American Foursquare
  58. Destroyer – Have We Met
  59. Diplo – Diplo Presents, Thomas Wesley, Chapter One: Snake Oil
  60. Diplo – MMXX
  61. Dirty Projectors – Ring Road EP
  62. Dirty Projectors – Super João EP
  63. Dirty Projectors – Windows Open EP
  64. The Districts – You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere
  65. Dogleg – Melee
  66. Eartheater – Phoenix: Flames are Dew Upon My Skin
  67. Elrichmen – Heaven’s Mayor
  68. Ezra Feinberg – Recumbent Speech
  69. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
  70. The Flaming Lips – American Head
  71. Fleet Foxes – Shore
  72. Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death
  73. Four Tet – Sixteen Oceans
  74. Future Islands – As Long As You Are
  75. Galcher Lustwerk – Proof EP
  76. Glok – Dissident Remixed
  77. Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump… on a wooden piano
  78. Greg Dulli – Random Desire
  79. Grimes – Miss Anthropocene
  80. Guided by Voices – Surrender Your Poppy Field
  81. Hailey Whitters – The Dream
  82. HAIM – Women in Music Pt. III
  83. Hamilton Leithauser – The Loves of Your Life
  84. HEALTH – DISCO4 :: PART 1
  85. Heathered Pearls – Cast
  86. Hiroshi Yoshimura – Green (1987)
  87. Hildur Guðnadóttir – Joker (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (2019)
  88. His Name is Alive – Return to Never (Home Recordings 1979-1986), Vol. 2
  89. Ital Tek – Outland
  90. Jeffrey Lewis – 2019 Tapes (Cowardly & Brave & Stupid & Smart & Happy-Ever-After & Doomed)
  91. Jeffrey Lewis – 2020 Tapes (Shelter-at-Homerecordings & Pandemos)
  92. Jaga Jazzist – Pyramid
  93. Jeff Parker – Suite for Max Brown
  94. Jehnny Beth – TO LOVE IS TO LIVE
  95. Jess Williamson – Sorceress
  96. Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?
  97. Jim Guthrie – Below Volume II
  98. Jim Guthrie – Below Volume III
  99. Joanna Warren – Chaotic Good
  100. John Hassell – Vernal Equinox (1978)
  101. Jon McKiel – Bobby Joe Hope
  102. Jónsi – Shiver
  103. Julianna Barwick – Healing Is a Miracle
  104. Julianna Barwick – Healing is a Miracle (Extended Editions)
  105. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – The Mosaic of Transformation
  106. KALEO – Surface Sounds
  107. Karl Blau – Children of All Ages
  108. Kate NV – Room for the Moon
  109. Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song
  110. Kevin Morby – Sundowner
  111. Khruangbin – Mordechai
  112. The Killers – Imploding the Mirage
  113. Kurt Vile – Speed, Sound, Lonely KV – EP
  114. LAKE – Roundelay
  115. Laraaji – Moon Piano
  116. Laraaji – Sun Piano
  117. Laraaji – Through Luminous Eyes
  118. Laurel Halo – Possessed
  119. Le Ren – Morning & Melancholia EP
  120. The Lemon Twigs – Songs for the General Public
  121. LF58 – Alterazione EP
  122. Lomelda – Hannah
  123. Lucretia Dalt – No Era Sólida
  124. Lucy Gooch – Rushing EP
  125. Lyra Pramuk – Fountain
  126. Machinedrum – A View of U
  127. Marc Scibilia – Versions EP
  128. Mark Langegan – Straight Songs of Sorrow
  129. Mary Lattimore – Silver Ladders
  130. Matt Berninger – Serpentine Prison
  131. Max Richter – Voices
  132. Max Richter & Lorne Balfe – Ad Astra (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (2019)
  133. MinaeMinae – Gestrüpp
  134. Mort Garson – Music from Patch Cord Productions
  135. Moses Sumney – græ
  136. The Mountain Goats – Getting Into Knives
  137. The Mountain Goats – Songs for Pierre Chuvin
  138. Nada Surf – Never Not Together
  139. Nicolas Jaar – Cenizas
  140. Nicholas Lens – L.I.T.A.N.I.E.S.
  141. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Idiot Prayer
  142. Nils Frahm – Empty
  143. Nils Frahm – Tripping with Nils Frahm
  144. Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts V: Together
  145. Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts VI: Locusts
  146. No Age – Goons Be Gone
  147. Nordvest – Grøndal
  148. Oneohtrix Point Never – Magic Oneohtrix Point Never
  149. PAINT – Spiritual Vegas
  150. Patricia – Maxyboy
  151. Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster & Panaiotis – Deep Listening (1989)
  152. Peter Bjorn and John – Endless Dream
  153. Phew – Vertical Jamming (2020)
  154. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
  155. PLONE – Puzzlewood
  156. Porridge Radio – Every Bad
  157. Portable – The Transit of Mercury
  158. Psychic Temple – Houses of the Holy
  159. Purity Ring – WOMB
  160. Real Estate – The Main Thing
  161. Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA
  162. Roger Eno & Brian Eno – Mixing Colors
  163. Roger Eno & Brian Eno – Mixing Colors (Expanded Edition)
  164. Roly Porter – Kistvaen
  165. Roy Montgomery – Scenes from the South Island (1995)
  166. RUBIO – La Pérdida EP
  167. Run the Jewels – RTJ4
  168. SALEM – Fires in Heaven
  169. Sarah Davachi – Cantus, Descant
  170. Sigur Rós, Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, Maria Huld Markan Sigfusdottir, Steindór Andersen, Schola Cantorum Choir, Arni Hardarson, Pall Gudmundsson & Conservatoire de Paris Orchestra – Odin’s Raven Magic
  171. Skullcrusher – Skullcrusher EP
  172. Slow Reels – Farewell Islands
  173. Soccer Mommy – color theory
  174. Sofia Kourtesis – Sarita Colonia EP
  175. The Soft Pink Truth – Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase?
  176. Special Interest – The Passion Of
  177. Spirit Fest – Mirage Mirage
  178. Stephen Malkmus – Traditional Techniques
  179. Sufjan Stevens – America EP
  180. Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension
  181. Sufjan Stevens & Lowell Brams – Aporia
  182. Sylvan Esso – Free Love
  183. Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
  184. Tara Clerkin Trio – Tara Clerkin Trio
  185. Taylor Swift – folklore
  186. Thundercat – It Is What It Is
  187. Tim Heidecker – Fear of Death
  188. Touché Amoré – Lament
  189. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – Mank (Original Musical Score)
  190. Trevor Powers – Capricorn
  191. Tycho – Simulcast
  192. U.S. Girls – Heavy Light
  193. Ulla – Tumbling Towards a Wall***
  194. Ultraísta – Sister
  195. Various Artists – Bill & Ted Face the Music (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  196. Various Artists – Field Works: Ultrasonic 
  197. Various Artists – Ghostly Swim 3
  198. Various Artists – Unbroken Dreams of Light
  199. The War on Drugs – LIVE DRUGS
  200. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud
  201. Whitney – Candid
  202. A Winged Victory for the Sullen – The Undivided Five (2019)
  203. Woods – Strange to Explain
  204. Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind
  205. 박혜진 Park Hye Jin – How Can I – EP
  206. 100 gecs – 1000 gecs and The Tree of Clues

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