THE TOP ALBUMS OF 2020





THE ESSENTIALS


Bring me the Horizon - Post Human: SURVIVAL HORROR


The Sheffield genre-bending rock act returns, after shifting their heavier style away to varying forms of alternative rock, this shorter release sees them get a bit more aggressive again. Here the selection of nine songs offer catchy and witty lyrics from frontman Oli Sykes that feel very appropriate for the year 2020, from the on the nose Parasite Eve which positions itself as a rock anthem for the pandemic era, to Linkin Park esque bangers like Teardrops and 1x1 (Sykes endearingly screams “everything is so fucked” on the chorus of Teardrops, which feels apt for this year).



Though the album’s most electric moment comes from an unexpected collaboration with Japanese idol-metal icons, BABYMETAL. Starting with an electronic interlude which steadily hypes up the next track with rallies of “I wanna be a kingslayer!”, before beginning the aptly named track Kingslayer which features some of the most relentless vocals from Oli Sykes we’ve heard for years gleefully paired with a bubblegum chorus from the girls of BABYMETAL. It’s a showstopper song that sounds incredibly fresh and exciting - combining metal, electronic and j-pop in a way that you’d never expect to work as well as it does here.


HIGHLIGHTS: Dear Diary, Teardrops, Kingslayer


brakence - punk2

Released when he was just 18 years old, brakence proves himself an extremely promising young talent with his debut album punk2, which features some of the most forward-thinking production of the year. With heartfelt lyrics mainly focusing on lovesick melancholy and coming of age, brakence matches exciting production with a powerful singing voice. A song like dropout feels unlike anything else, sounding like a folk song and a trap beat blended & distorted, then overlaid with heartfelt lyrics grappling with growing up.


By picking and choosing lots of contemporary influences this ends up a very fresh sounding release. Songs like fwb have an entrancing beat of distorted synths overtop of a guitar loop with a catchy chorus and an ending which suddenly tosses a pop-punk sound on top to finish things up cleanly. Often brakence’s vocals are clearly bursting with emotion on songs like prozac and rozier/punk2. This album definitely sounds like it’s the jumping off point for brakence to go on to do huge things.


HIGHLIGHTS: dropout, fwb, prozac


Playboi Carti - Whole Lotta Red


Most artists don’t have fans who are as constantly hungry for new music as Playboi Carti does. His last album came out only two and a half years prior, but constant teasing and leaked songs meant fans were clamouring for more from the forward-thinking trap artist. Dropping on Christmas Day seemingly offhandedly, people weren’t quite prepared for the stylistic switch-up that Carti takes. While ostensibly this is another eccentric trap album, the cloudy feel of his self-titled debut is mostly gone and the bouncy, guest-packed party feel of Die Lit is toned down.


Whole Lotta Red instead starts off with insane, aggressive energy and a dark, distorted atmosphere which sounds unlike anything else in rap right now. Featuring some of Carti’s most out there vocal performances yet as well makes this sound like an album on the verge of imploding with a lack of a structure and different songs which are differing levels of being fleshed out. It makes for an unpredictable energy that’s hard not to get sucked into. At 24 tracks it is surprisingly consistent in quality, even if there are no doubt a few misses in amongst the legion of hits. While Carti could’ve played it safe after the immense cult popularity gained off of his sophomore effort, this third album goes weird with great results.


HIGHLIGHTS: Stop Breathing, New Tank, ILoveUIHateU


Bladee - EXETER

Bladee had a prolific year, releasing three projects across 2020. Most exciting of which was the short, ethereal and uncharacteristically minimalist project titled EXETER. With uniform production from producer Gud, this has a fantastic dreamy mood. Bladee has always been a divisive figure due to his reliance on autotune and forward-thinking production to carry his singing, and by that metric you’d never expect something as stripped back as this to work out so well. Compared to the harder beats Bladee usually inhabits, these are spaced out and hypnotic - especially a track like Every Moment Special which has direct lyrics and an entrancing dream-like atmosphere. Bladee’s lyrics were often abstract or bordering on nonsensical earlier in his career, so it's a great progression to be hearing more direct and simple lyrics that feel more like additions to the instrumentals than an anchor point for the entire song.


HIGHLIGHTS: EVERY MOMENT SPECIAL, MERRY-GO-ROUND, DNA RAIN


Grimes - Miss Anthropocene

While indie-pop icon Grimes is starting to become more known for her headline grabbing antics and relationship with unavoidable tech billionaire Elon Musk, it would be a lie to say her music wasn’t still extremely exciting. An album loosely based around the titular character, who is a villainous goddess of climate change.


This is Grimes’ most mainstream leaning project yet, though it still leaves room for fun surprises, like the bouncy track Darkseid which is built primarily around an appearance from Mandarin rapper 潘Pan. The track list tries a variety of styles, from the ethereal art-pop opener, to the trance inspired Violence to even including nu-metal elements on the anthemic My Name is Dark. It sounds like Grimes is still distinctly in her own world, despite other artists having five years to catch up to her given the five years since the release of her previous record.


HIGHLIGHTS: Violence, My Name is Dark, You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone


The Weeknd - After Hours

Looking back, The Weeknd’s ascent to being the world’s top popstar is one that isn’t exactly predictable. Going from dark, hazy, drugged up R&B to the gleaming Max Martin produced pop that is After Hours’ biggest hit single Blinding Lights, doesn’t seem like the sonic evolution that you’d ever expect. But The Weeknd makes it work, though he’s had time to practice given this is his third attempt at an outright pop album. While his previous efforts both had big hits and were generally good albums, After Hours is the one that really feels like The Weeknd coming into his own as a popstar. Less all over the place, providing a more consistent and comfortable release. While most mainstream pop records falter as a full package due to mostly being a grab-bag of potential hits or topical collaborations, After Hours feels distinct and exciting to listen to front to back.


HIGHLIGHTS: Too Late, Blinding Lights, Hardest to Love


Charli XCX - How I’m Feeling Now

Just eight months after her long-gestating blockbuster third album comes a more modest album conceived and created during COVID-19 lockdown from Charli XCX. Again featuring some of the more exciting production for a pop singer to go over, opening with the aggressive pink diamond which expresses a longing for a night out partying. This lacks the packed guestlist of her previous album, providing more inward looking song writing while still going over some bombastic production choices that cement Charli XCX as one of the most exciting pop artists working today. While positioned as an ‘album of the moment’, that moment being the early stages of lockdown, the themes of love, loneliness and a repressed appetite for excitement are ones that can exist outside of that moment and make sure the album won’t get left behind as a relic of the year. This is a hyperactive and sugar sweet album that continues Charli’s winning streak since she began experimenting with less traditional pop song structures and styles.


HIGHLIGHTS: claws, 7 years, anthems


Jean Dawson - Pixel Bath

Jean Dawson’s music doesn’t really fit in any one genre comfortably and it’s all the more exciting for it. Mixing indie pop, rock and hip-hop Pixel Bath feels like one of the creative highlights of 2020. Dawson’s avenues of experimentation are all convincing and show him as an intensely talented singer-songwriter. While song to song the mix of genres shift about, there’s a consistent breezy atmosphere and charismatic vocal performance from Dawson. There’s a lot going on on this album and just when you think it’s out of tricks it’ll switch things up, like the chopped and screwed outro of Pegasus or the bouncy electronic beat of 06 Burst. Ending with a melancholy observation on apocalyptic destruction, this album is one hell of a ride and one that balances genre experimentation with genuinely catchy song writing.


HIGHLIGHTS: Triple Double, 06 Burst, Clear Bones


Yung Lean - Starz

Yung Lean’s evolution from a 16 year old kid in Sweden rapping loosely over cloud-rap instrumentals to a cult hip-hop icon has been a bit tumultuous, with a lot of people writing him off due to his initial jokey image and style of rapping that is definitely not adjusted to mainstream tastes. Seven years later and now on his fifth full-length project, Yung Lean has comfortably matured into making his most consistent release yet. Starz features refinements of his cloud rap style and the more aggressive bangers seen on his drugged out release Warlord. Songs like Violence and Pikachu show Lean doing some of his best rapping, making some of his most accessible music yet, but still exciting and impeccably produced. There's also new experimentations like the shoegaze adjacent Boylife in EU and the distorted beat on Butterfly Paralyzed which contrasts with Lean’s vulnerable lyrics. While Starz may not convert many new people to Yung Lean’s fanbase, it certainly will excite fans and maintain Lean as a underground hip-hop icon who still hasn’t appeared to hit his peak yet.


HIGHLIGHTS: Boylife in EU, Violence, Pikachu


The Avalanches - We Will Always Love You

After being an indie music folklore for many years off of one fantastic album released in 2000, The Avalanches’ long-gestating sophomore album was released in 2016 and to the delight of fans it was pretty good! Now just four years later the duo are back with another album, which shifts gears further away from the sample-heavy music of their debut to guest filled indie-pop. As with all of their work this is a very exciting journey, often feeling like one big song despite the revolving door of guests. There’s a melancholy theme of life after death running throughout the record that gives it a distinct feeling compared to their previous work, though retaining the seamlessness, danceability and overall charm. There’s a whole lot going on here, making a full listen at 72 minutes thoroughly engaging. It shows a pivot in style for The Avalanches won’t put a dent in their legacy.


HIGHLIGHTS: Music Makes Me High, We Go On, Take Care in Your Dreaming


Deftones - Ohms

Deftones remain one of the most interesting metal bands working today with their ninth record. After 2015’s Gore was divisive even amongst band members, with guitarist Stephen Carpenter disagreeing with what resulted in their spaciest and least harsh record. Ohms brings back more of a balance, maybe their most convincing mix of intense metal with frontman Chino Moreno’s dreamy, often romantically focused vocals. This leads to a set of metal tracks that rock hard, but retain an atmospheric, dreamy edge. It’s hard not to be impressed that Deftones are still sounding so confident and fresh so many years after they burst onto the scene. Subtly they have set themselves up to become one of the best modern metal or rock acts, with such consistent releases especially starting with 2010’s Diamond Eyes. 10 years after that record we’re still at a fantastic, consistent level of quality.


HIGHLIGHTS: Ceremony, Error, This Link is Dead


Dogleg - Melee

A bombastic debut record for the emo-punk band that sets them up to be one of the best on the scene right now. A loud, anthemic set of songs that doesn’t really let up for its runtime. Delivering big hooks and a constant exciting sense of energy, there’s not much to lament over with this record. Elevating the typical midwestern emo with memorable lyrics, a great vocal performance and brilliant self-produced aggressive instrumentation. If you want rock music that rocks, this album will no doubt do it for you.


HIGHLIGHTS: Kawasaki Backflip, Bueno, Fox


Run the Jewels - RTJ4

The rap duo deliver what is arguably their best effort yet, mixing the braggadocious elements of hip-hop with the socially conscious. Member El-P offers some of his most inventive production yet as well as some of his sharpest raps, while Killer Mike continues to nail verse after verse like usual. Often this sounds like it’s on a whole other level compared to more mainstream focused rap, there’s not much else that matches the effort put into both the production and rapping on this. Also coupling in some powerful rapping from Killer Mike on songs like walking in the snow, which offered an unfortunately ever-timely verse tackling police brutality. Guest appearances from Pharrel, Zack de la Rocha, Josh Homme and 2 Chainz are welcome and the album builds to a fantastic finale with a few words for the firing squad (radiation) which sees excellent verses from both members and an amazing cinematic feeling beat underneath. This album, if it was not already clear, cements Run the Jewels as one of the very best hip-hop duos working today and El-P as one of the very best current hip-hop producers.


HIGHLIGHTS: out of sight, JU$T, a few words for the firing squad (radiation)


Loathe - I Let it in and It Took Everything

This Liverpool metalcore act is no doubt one of the most exciting bands to have burst into the scene with a brilliant sophomore album. In a genre where often bands start sounding samey or resorting to well worn clichés, Loathe have a legion of tricks up their sleeve to make sure they stand apart from the crowd. Mixing satisfying screams and chugging guitars with astute ambient interludes and dreamy choruses. The band draws comparison to Deftones, especially in their transitional period of the early 2000’s where they pushed out of the genre boundaries to become a truly great metal act. However Loathe currently go harder than most Deftones songs (especially of recent years) still being primarily a metalcore band. Though the balance of aggressiveness with some of the more restrained instrumentals and pensive singing makes this a truly standout release and probably one of the best metalcore releases in years.


HIGHLIGHTS: New Faces in the Dark, Two-Way Mirror, Aggressive Evolution


Machine Girl - U-Void Synthesizer

Machine Girl stays providing addictive and aggressive mixes of underground electronic, punk, industrial and whatever other genres this occupies. Never really settling down over its runtime with maximalist production and shouted vocals. The duo’s music has comfortably evolved from earlier electronic experiments into the rage filled, internet era punk music we can find here. Some of the material offered sounds like music out of a dystopian cyberpunk future club, as danceable as it is ready for a mosh-pit. It feels like a distillation of everything the band has tried so far into one compact project that is very consistent and very exciting. It’s an overwhelming album for sure, but one that’s able to be endlessly revisited because of the dense production and keen sense of melody at its core.


HIGHLIGHTS: Blood Magic, Scroll of Sorrow, Suck Shit


 

MORE GREAT PICKS!


Denzel Curry - Unlocked

This EP was a spontaneous collaboration with Kenny Beats after Denzel appeared on the producer’s YouTube show ‘The Cave’. Continuing to work with the chemistry established in that episode with a set of 8 songs that really play to Curry’s strengths. Despite being admirably conceptual, Denzel Curry’s big breakthrough project TA13OO sometimes felt a bit too big for its boots, with Denzel’s more laidback follow-up ZUU taking itself less seriously and being all the better for it. Unlocked continues this trajectory, Denzel is rapping his ass off over a set of great beats and it’s a joy. Curry still sounds like he’s having a blast recording these tracks and even tries out some different flows which can hopefully point towards his next full-length project being another career highlight.


HIGHLIGHTS: Take_it_Back_v2, ꞌCosmicꞌ.m4a, DIET_


Ericdoa - COA

The burgeoning genre of ‘hyperpop’ is set to have massive crossover appeal, and acts like Ericdoa are at the forefront ready to move the wild take on contemporary pop music to the mainstream. Mainly exploring teenage angst, COA has a short runtime but a lot of bark to back itself out. Its production is blown out and impactful, Ericdoa’s vocal performances are full of convincing angst and best of all it’s very catchy and melodically focused. While it’s melodramatic at times, the big production makes a case for this brand of in your face break-up music. It’s easy to get swept up in the energy of the record and Ericdoa works well with the producers to make a set of sugar sweet, replayable tracks.


HIGHLIGHTS: likewise, ivy, self sabotage



Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist - Alfredo

Rapper Freddie Gibbs continues to prove he’s one of the best in the game right now with his collaborative project with much praised beatmaker, The Alchemist. Following his second joint project with producer Madlib in 2019, Alfredo is a bit more compact and smooth. Gibbs’ rapping is still top-tier and Alchemist’s beats are wonderful. Songs like Something to Rap About sound so effortless from a rapping and beat-making perspective. That particular song sounds smooth as butter and features a great appearance from Tyler, the Creator. In general this album is a breeze to listen to, proving Gibbs’ best work may still be yet to come.


HIGHLIGHTS: Scottie Beam, Something to Rap About, God is Perfect


Gorillaz - Song Machine, Season 1: Strange Timez

Gorillaz were the kings of the 2000’s and they weren’t even a real band! After 2010’s excellent Plastic Beach though, the cartoon group suffered from a disappointing comeback in the form of the overstuffed 2016 release Humanz and a forgettable follow-up to that with The Now Now. However this collection of collaborative singles is undoubtedly their best work since 2010. This has a crazy list of features starting with The Cure’s Robert Smith and also featuring Beck, ScHoolboy Q, St. Vincent, Elton John, Peter Hook of New Order and many others. Every song on here is a collaboration and there’s no running theme for the album, but the result of this selection of music is one of the most fun and vibrant albums of the year. Bouncing from song to song there’s boundless creativity and Damon Albarn’s style works well in the context of who he’s collaborating with. It will be interesting to see if this idea is taken further, but regardless this is a really good album - especially if you include the deluxe edition’s extra six tracks which add even more worthwhile tracks.


HIGHLIGHTS: Strange Timez, Aries, Momentary Bliss


Ocean Grove - Flip Phone Fantasy

This record shows us that nu-metal never died, it simply packed its bags and moved to Australia. Ocean Grove emerged as a hardcore act out of Melbourne but their latest record signals a shift into nu-metal and alternative rock and makes a compelling case for the switch-up. There’s a lot of anthemic tracks which have soaring choruses and headbanging guitars. Songs like SUPERSTAR, SUNNY and JUNKIE$ excel with melodic energy and the majority of the lyricism has its tongue lightly placed in its cheek, making the rap-rock elements come off as tasteful. You’d also never guess from their early work that Ocean Grove would pivot into making songs that take after Oasis like SHIMMER and hardly do a bad job of it. While this may often appear or sound kitschy, it’s almost always in a knowing way and one that offers a good thrill of a listen.


HIGHLIGHTS: SUNNY, THOUSAND GOLDEN PEOPLE, JUNKIE$


Poppy - I Disagree

Poppy fully leans into being an alternative metal act with I Disagree, an album which follows her career as a YouTube performance art piece, a brief stint as an alt-pop star and her split with her long-time creative partner. But this sounds like Poppy really coming into her own and it’s often a joy. You’d not expect the former popstar to be denouncing God on a song like BLOODMONEY or singing over grindcore-esque tracks. While some songs don’t quite commit to the aggressiveness that is often at show on the album, the majority of it packs a good punch while exploring a variety of alternative sounds from Nine Inch Nails style industrial metal to restrained alt-rock then back to 2000’s styled nu-metal. Mostly though, Poppy proves that by using an abundance of influences she can become a standout act in the metal world with her deceptively sugar sweet image and stylistic switch-ups.


HIGHLIGHTS: I Disagree, BLOODMONEY, Sick of the Sun


Sewerslvt - Draining Love Story

Fresh and offputtingly named electronic producer Sewerslvt started to gain recognition in certain internet circles due to some of her more provocatively named tracks making their way into the YouTube recommended algorithm, those of which were titled Pretty Cvnt and Mr. Kill Myself. These tracks presented a fresh atmospheric drum and bass sound with great uses of samples. Mr. Kill Myself ended up being a single for Sewerslvt’s breakout album which presents dense, dark electronic music that gives us the genres of drum and bass and jungle in a interesting new package. With blissful ambient interludes that lead into or play out the big moments, stitching together a very interesting dance record. One that’s more suited for headphones than a club, but it’s all the more compelling for it. While the aesthetic of the album and the sometimes intentionally provocative sampling and song names won’t be for everyone, this album proves Sewerslvt deserves to rise to the top of internet era underground electronic producers.


HIGHLIGHTS: Newlove, Lexapro Delirium, Mr. Kill Myself.


Fontaines D.C. - A Hero’s Death

This sophomore effort for the Irish post-punk band is one that goes in some directions that fans may not expect. Gaining popularity through optimistic cuts from their debut like Big and Boys in the Better Land, this doesn’t offer much in the form of anthemic sing-alongs, instead opting for morose melancholy and dark humour. In general the post-punk sound is moved away from in favour of some more traditional sounding rock songs. Though the record’s highlights come from how restrained and inward looking the song writing is. It’s definitely not the sequel you’d expect to an overly optimistic first record but by bucking the cliché we’ve got an exciting record that really paints a dark picture of what it’s like for a regular group of lads to make it big. An intimate and commendable follow-up album that cements Fontaines D.C. as one of the better young rock acts out there right now.


HIGHLIGHTS: Living in America, Televised Mind, Sunny


HMLTD - West of Eden

This London art rock band had been building up to an album for years and West of Eden is the result. It’s a fresh sounding, glam-rock influenced record that browses through a variety of styles. Opening track The West is Dead channels post-punk while elsewhere on the track list there’s ballads or pop songs. It’s got an eccentric vocal performance from frontman Henry Spychalski and songwriting that switches between tongue in cheek and endearingly sincere. Songs like Blank Slate are boundlessly optimistic, while a song like Nobody Stays in Love speaks for itself. Lots of this album sounds like goth alternative pop à la some of The Cure’s work but updated for the streaming age. It’s a lot of fun.


HIGHLIGHTS: LOADED, Nobody Stays in Love, Blank Slate


Hot Mulligan - You’ll Be Fine

Hot Mulligan’s sophomore album positions itself as pop-punk for the thinking man, though it’s often just as crass and self-knowing as the genre usually is. With lyrics tackling the navigation of your early twenties and an emo twinge to the delivery, it is a fun record that doesn’t push the envelope but delivers just over half an hour of exciting emo-tinged pop-punk. It certainly sounds a lot more distinct than a lot of modern pop-punk records and the songwriting is strong enough to match the ambition behind the mixing of genres. This shows that Hot Mulligan has potential to go further into greatness with their next release for sure.


HIGHLIGHTS: BCKYRD, *Equip Sunglasses*, OG Blue Sky


James Blake - Before

James Blake has stayed productive since the release of his most commercial and happy album Assume Form in 2019, releasing some singles and now this four track EP. Featuring some of his sunniest productions and further pushing forward romantic song-writing. Blake sounds happier than ever here and it’s hard not to be sucked into the atmosphere. While leaning further into pop structures, Blake’s production still has an eerie vibe and packs in a variety of interesting vocal effects. Though compared to his earlier, more morose work, these feel a new kind of alive, flourishing in the bright sounds presented. This short EP is four for four and seems to set-up an exciting next chapter for James Blake.


HIGHLIGHT: Do You Ever


Boris - NO

Japanese metal chameleons Boris return with their best album in many years. NO rocks really hard. It’s a relentless series of tracks which features a lot of the experiments the band has tried over the years tastefully arranged into one album. It’s noisy, yet anthemic at times with huge solos and compelling screaming and singing. For fans of the band this is an essential release and for those new to the band looking for an entry point, this is hardly a poor choice either.


HIGHLIGHTS: Fundamental Error, Anti-Gone, Loveless


Car Seat Headrest - Making a Door Less Open

Car Seat Headrest don’t really have much left to prove. Frontman Will Toledo started the band as a solo project and worked up to the incredible release Twin Fantasy which featured some song writing unlike anything else. An album so good that it was fully re-recorded to do it justice from the fuzzy bedroom recorded original. After re-shaping Car Seat Headrest into a full band and releasing another great work with Teens of Denial, the band is back with the divisive and more experimental Making a Door Less Open. While not every idea here feels like it totally works out and the track listing is strange, it offers more of what we expect from Will Toledo’s excellent song writing. Adding in synths and more diverse instrumentation adds some elements of surprise to the record. While it doesn’t reach the massive highs of the band’s previous work it’s hard to deny that a lot of this album is once again thoroughly enjoyable and tries some exciting new sounds for the band.


HIGHLIGHTS: Famous, There Must Be More Than Blood, Weightlifters


Planet 1999 - Devotion

While operating on nostalgia and Y2K aesthetics for their videos, Planet 1999’s main influences for their debut seven track EP seems to be ‘90s dream pop. This leads to a very comfy, warm feeling set of songs, mostly upbeat but with a hint of melancholy to them. The group’s hypnotic vocals lend comparison to Cocteau Twins, though are often subtly layered with processed effects. In 16 minutes the band makes a great case for themselves beyond parading nostalgia for classic dream pop acts and cover a range of moods, from the danceable Party to the hazy Night.


HIGHLIGHT: Party


clipping. - Visions of Bodies Being Burned

Experimental hip-hop group clipping. returns with a second horror themed album after 2019’s There Existed An Addiction To Blood, and surprisingly despite featuring material from the same sessions as that album, this one is arguably even stronger. With great storytelling and wordplay from rapper Daveed Diggs and inventive production from duo William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes. While the horrorcore sub-genre of rap is one that doesn’t offer many notable highlights, an album like this that revels in the horror genre and features suitable production feels particularly noteworthy. This and it’s sister album feel like really engagingly themed albums, horror is a well worn film genre but taking that genre and applying it to a musical album leads to a fun result, twice now!


HIGHLIGHTS: Say the Name, ‘96 Neve Campbell, Enlacing