2020 in Review: The Best Albums

10. The Chicks – Gaslighter
It’s been 14 years since the band formerly known as the Dixie Chicks released an album, but they’re still filled with righteous fury. Instead of shitty presidents, their targets are abusive exes and the people who enabled them. While staying true to their country roots, this album expands their pop horizons on ballads like “Everybody Loves You” and anthems like “March March.”

9. Taylor Swift – folklore
After her impressively inauthentic documentary Miss Americana dropped in January, it seemed like we’d be getting more of the same from Taylor. But then, of course, the world changed. With a new creative push and a lot of free time (must be nice!), she recorded an entire new album in a few months with her producing partner Jack Antonoff, enlisting the poster boys (er, men) for Sad Bastard Music – Bon Iver and Aaron Dessner of the National – for an appropriately downbeat collection of songs. The result? Her best album to date.

8. HAIM – Women in Music Pt. III
If 2017’s Something to Tell You was just a tad disappointing, Women in Music Pt. III more than lives up to the hype, showing more mature songwriting and more impressive playing. The only downside is that this was the perfect summer album that came out in a year when we had to be stuck inside. At least they made the most of it by holding Zoom classes to learn the choreography for their memorable music videos.

7. Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension
After the stripped down, raw emotion of Carrie & Lowell and two collaborative albums that didn’t do anything for me, Stevens returns with an album that’s just as expressive, but goes fully into the electronic world, even further than he did on The Age of Adz.

6. Fleet Foxes – Shore
Thankfully, we only had to wait half the time in between albums as we did between Helplessness Blues and Crack-Up. Somehow it didn’t feel like a downer in such a depressing year. This was their most evocative album to date, transporting the listener to places other than their living room.

5. SAULT – Untitled (Black Is) / Untitled (Rise)
Until I saw these albums appear on multiple best of lists, I had no idea what to expect. I imagined some sort of challenging electronic music that was easier to admire than enjoy. What I got was two albums of Black excellence, effortlessly weaving through genres for songs that are challenging and uplifting.

4. Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
I was supposed to finally see Kevin Parker in concert this summer but, well, you know what happened. This stellar new album is something of a consolation. He’s so consistent and precise, there’s not a lot to say other than “It’s more of the same.” But in a year so crazy, another great album from a reliable artist was more than enough.

3. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
We all knew she was a terrific songwriter, but this album cemented her as the best of her generation. (She’s also a great Twitter follow.) But what’s so miraculous is that in a year this punishing, she somehow didn’t drag us down further.

2. Run the Jewels – RTJ4
Released right as this summer’s powder keg of protests against racial injustice exploded, no album this year felt more timely. That a song like “Walking in the Snow” so accurately captures the hellscape of the American education and penal systems in one track proves we’re fucked if things don’t change in 2021.

1. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
I will admit I had never been that big a fan of Fiona Apple. Sure, I love everything about “Criminal” (the song, the video, the VMA acceptance speech), but several pretentious album titles later, I couldn’t get into it her more adventurous music. But this album worked like gangbusters. Some years, it’s immediately obvious what the best record will be, and her exploration of isolation, depression and liberation will endure for decades.

Honorable Mentions
Against All Logic – 2017-2019
Backxwash – God Has Nothing to Do with This, Leave Him Out of It
BUMPER – pop songs 2020
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Reunions
The Killers – Imploding the Mirage
Lecrae – Restoration
Perfume Genius – Set My Heart on Fire Immediately
David Ramirez – My Love Is a Hurricane
Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA
Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?
Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud
Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind

25 More Albums I Enjoyed Listening to Quite a Bit
Beach Slang – The Deadbeat Bang of Heartbeat City
Car Seat Headrest – Making a Door Less Open
Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now
Brandy Clark – Your Life Is a Record
clipping. – Visions of Bodies Being Burned
Elvis Costello – Hey Clockface
Cut Copy – Freeze, Melt
Dirty Projectors – Five EP’s
Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
Gorillaz – Song Machine, Season One
Lady Gaga – Chromatica
Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated: Side B
Pinegrove – Marigold
Poolside – Low Season
Pretenders – Hate for Sale
Margo Price – That’s How Rumors Get Started
Jeff Rosenstock – NO DREAM
Sturgill Simpson – Cuttin’ Grass
Soccer Mommy – Color Theory
Sparks – A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip
Bruce Springsteen – Letter to You
Chris Stapleton – Starting Over
Sweeping Promises – Hunger for a Way Out
Thundercat – It Is What It Is

Special Commendation: Albums I Really Dug but Have a Conflict of Interest in Recommending (But Are on Spotify for Your Listening Pleasure)
Bear and the Beasts – The American
Brian Metolius – Puffs

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