the best 8 albums of 2020

What am absolute dumpster fire year, but what a golden year for music. Whether it is because the year’s releases were fantastic and/or some of us have more time to dedicate listening to albums due to excess time COVID has blessed us with, there is a popularly held sentiment that this year was a great year for music. My passion for music has led me through the worst of times inside and outside of my head, and this year it couldn’t have been more true. Here is my list of 8 my top albums that came out in 2020. I credit these albums with getting me through this year, and like I’ve previously discussed, the albums made by women carried me through.

PERFUME GENIUS / Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
Making music under the name Perfume Genius, Mike Hadreas proves on this album he has a voice that can tie together and orchestrate a pop song, no matter how many parts. Hadreas’ falsetto and low vocal range dance back and forth over harps, bells, and single electric guitar strums, producing a complex record where a new sound could be heard in every listen. This album is anatomical and vulnerable in both lyrical content and sound and gives us more reflection into the vessels we inhabit. As evidenced from this recorded show  in Philadelphia from 2017, Hadreas’ own body can command a stage.

HAIM / Women in Music Pt. III
One of the greatest modern rock albums was not only released this year but was also made by women. The trio of sisters deliver lyrics of health struggles, sexism, the importance of sisterhood through influences of Lou Reed and Joni Mitchell. From the guitar to descriptions of depression, there is nothing vague about this album. “’Cause now I’m in it / But I’ve been trying to find my way back for a minute,” is from “Now I’m In It”, a track HAIM has expressed in interviews about navigating depressive thoughts versus the heart’s pull of wanting out.

JOJI / Nectar
The neo-soul/pop era has birthed this freaky album that leaves you losing yourself in each track. It runs from start to end breezily, but not without breaking your heart as Joji sings about not facing his own heartbreak as done in “Run” (“Guess I’m not enough / Like you used to think / So I’ll just run”). “Tick Tock” sounds like an evil remix of an Usher song.

SEAHAVEN / Halo of Hurt
It had been a silent six years since this California band with a cult following made a full length record. If you’ve been in my orbit, you know I drank the Kool-Aid long ago. I was anxious when I learned that Seahaven would be releasing new music this year, wondering how the band could still evolve while keeping their particular sound that’s both heavy and ethereal. But to my delight, Halo of Hurt is still a uniquely Seahaven record with an upgrade in precision. This album is too meticulous in its lyrics and speeding and slowing down to be deemed pop punk and too dreamy to be identified as emo, which proves that the range Seahaven shows us yet again on this record is why it makes my list.

WAXAHATCHEE / Saint Cloud
An album about transformation in terms of coming back to yourself, Saint Cloud is a twangy, indie record that processes the newfound sobriety of Katie Crutchfield, who goes by Waxahatchee. Crutchfield sings a lot about wanting on this record that comes through less like begging and more like she is reclaiming what she wants because she knows what she deserves – self-acceptance and self-love. But the reach doesn’t come without a struggle; Crutchfield sings in “War,” “I’m in a war with myself / It’s got nothing to do with you.” Sobriety, self-love, noticing the stories we tell ourselves, and fighting for whatever we value in this life takes, like Crutchfield messages in “Lilacs”, constant watering and attending to.

TAYLOR SWIFT / Folklore and Evermore
I knew the absurdity that is 2020 could never have been projected accurately because if one would have predicted that I would have been afraid to go to the grocery store AND be converted into a Swifty I wouldn’t believe it. Yet, here I am getting my produce delivered and have been non stop listening to the cabin-indie sister albums Folklore and Evermore. Swift proves that she is a fantastic story-teller and that her vocals can work – and transcend, even – outside of anthem pop. Producers Jack Antonoff (Bleachers, Fun) and Aaron Dessner (The National) add so much magic to these albums, and Antonoff’s stream of consciousness writing and cadence can be heard explicitly on “tolerate it” (“While you were out building other worlds, where was I? / Where’s that man who’d throw blankets over my barbed wire?”)  Both albums were made in quarantine with Swift fully knowing she wouldn’t be performing these tracks live in arenas anytime soon, which begs the question what do we create and who are we when we aren’t expected to perform?

FIONA APPLE / Fetch the Bolt Cutters
Loud, not refined yet intentional, and asking for escape: this album is a redefining of womanhood and a mirroring of our collective feelings about living through a pandemic. With the amalgamation of lyrical content and themes (“Fetch the bolt cutters / I’ve been in here too long”) and listening to this album when I run, this album has made me feel more free and seen – pandemic aside. Ever have the craving to salute and communicate with the new woman of an ex? Fiona soothes in “Ladies”, “There’s a dress in the closet, don’t get rid of it, you’d look good in it / I didn’t fit in it, it was never mine / It belonged to the ex wife of another ex of mine.” Respinning and repeating this album since its April release reinvigorates every collective frustration about the pandemic and incessantly reminds me of Apple’s chaotic genius that produce my album of the year.

Honorable mentions:
DOMINIC FIKE / What Could Possibly Go Wrong
FUTURE ISLANDS / As Long As You Are
CHLOE X HALLE / Ungodly Hour
DUA LIPA  / Future Nostalgia

I’d love to know what albums kept you mentally healthy. Drop a comment below.

In addition to containing tracks from these albums above, this week’s playlist includes my favorite tracks from 2020.  It can be found here.

Thank you for all you read and supported the only sound in 2020. I’ll see you in 2021.

shealyn.

2 thoughts on “the best 8 albums of 2020”

  1. Excited to check some of these out. I love the HAIM album and have also found comfort in (and a new love for) Taylor Swift from the last two albums. Thank you for posting!

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  2. I love this. Ungodly Hour definitely deserves an honorable mention! I am enjoying watching ChloexHalle find their musical and personal voices as they get older. At the height of quarantine, I found myself reaching back instead of forward, listening to songs that brought back memories of a vastly different time. Oftentimes nostalgia can bring sadness, but for me it brought hope for better days and a return to normal.

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