The 100 Best Albums of 2020

2020 has been one hell of a year. This statement is true in many ways, but one of the only possible senses in which it is a positive is when it comes to describing the music of this surreal time, which has been sublime. A decade-long process of liberation and cross-pollination means we begin this new decade in a culture where the most commercial of releases, with millions in their budgets, sit right alongside the most niche underground debuts. They’re all right there for the taking taking: on Apple Music, on Spotify, on YouTube, on BandCamp. These services cue up a Tkay Maidza song right after an Ariana Grande smash; one is worth millions, one doesn’t even have a label, but it doesn’t matter.

The biggest popstars on the planet are also increasingly influenced by the innovations of the digital underground, and often boast fascinating collaborations. The Weeknd’s new album features IDM darling and vaporwave pioneer Oneohtrix Point Never, and then Abel features on his! The Weeknd, on a Oneohtrix Point Never album. This year is strange indeed.

This melding of the underground and the mainstream has meant that the watermark keeps rising higher and higher, with alternative music continuing to innovate at the fringes, while pop stars no longer feel confined to one set rulebook to obtain their necessary chart success. As a result, there has been an unprecedented amount of fantastic music this year, just when we needed it the most. The ranked below is arbitrary, there has been enough great music that even the alums on the back-end of this list are thoroughly worth you time. In the 50th slot is harpist Mary Lattimore’s latest album, which is a fantastic record. Hell, just below these words at 100. is the Meridian Brothers’ Cumbia Siglo XXI, and that album slaps.

In the pandemic age, the liberating effect of the internet has brought us albums which wouldn’t have existed without it. Charli XCX made an entire record in lockdown, and the Gorillaz endlessly entertaining Song Machine kept on cranking new tunes made via Zoom. Even more traditional, statelier LPs were altered by the pandemic: Robin Pecknold began 2020 with the Fleet Foxes’ 4th album stuck in arrested development, but a suddenly-empty summer meant that we were able to hear Shore on the Autumn equinox this year. Ambient and instrumental jazz albums have been a calming ointment throughout, while world-weary records like Childish Gambino’s 4th album were suddenly made to appear outrageously prophetic. Online live-shows like Nick Cave’s Alexandra Place performance – sat alone in the emptied chamber at a grand piano – showed not only the resilience of music in these unprecedented times (TM) but also their ability to connect emotionally in spit of the digital realm.

Little of this translates to wealth however. With the live shows which keep the music industry alive justifiably halted, small venues fear closure and musicians from Kanye West to Taylor Swift have openly begun to tear at the structures of power which mean only some of their money is made from the actual music they make. With utilitarian arguments abound, and conservative governments in power internationally, we have seen the UK government openly question the value of artists at all, suggesting that in these dire economic times they may simply have to quit and retrain. The 100 albums which follow, from this year alone, tell a different story. By being one of the years’ sole sources of joy and inspiration, they show that music is thoroughly, and irrefutably, invaluable.

This list was compiled by music fans based only the albums they heard this year. It is instead based solely on the music which impacted us, and which we enjoyed and listened to the most. From top to bottom, we consider all of these albums to be produced by incredibly talented individuals whose music will provide pleasure and inspiration for many more years to come.

100. Cumbia Siglo XXI – Meridian Brothers

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99. Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon – Pop Smoke

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98. West of Eden – HMLTD

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97. The Mother Stone – Caleb Landry Jones

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Album Review: Childish Gambino – 3.15.2020

On his FX show Atlanta, Donald Glover and company have mastered the art of wrapping the political in a veil of surreal comedy and a distinct lack of concern. It’s a show where little happens, and yet says more about race and class in America than a whole month of The Daily Show. Take the skit about a black teenager who wants to transition into “a 35 year old white man” or the quite horrific season two scene where a frat boy tries to impress rapper Paperboi by eulogising Pimp C as “one of the last true prophets” while smoking a joint in front of a confederate flag.

When asked about white people watching the show Glover said to The New Yorker that “I want them to really experience racism, to really feel what it’s like to be black in America… the characters aren’t smoking weed all the time because it’s cool but because they have P.T.S.D.—every black person does. It’s scary to be at the bottom, yelling up out of the hole, and all they shout down is ‘Keep digging! We’ll reach God soon!”.

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I mention all of this before even arriving at Glover’s new album as Childish Gambino because this is the new mould of his music too. Just like there is no scene in Atlanta where Earn turns to the camera to eulogise about race in America, there are no protest songs on 3.15.2020, and nor do I think he wanted these songs to be more than jams if the listener didn’t want them to be – but this music is also very much a product of the world as it stands in 2020. Continue reading “Album Review: Childish Gambino – 3.15.2020”

Our 100 Favourite Albums of 2016

2016 was quite special for music. Perhaps the greatest year to be a fan of the medium so far this century, the quality has been such that it’ll take well into 2017 to fully appreciate the nuances of every great album released since January, where records which may have topped lists in years gone by barely make it into the top half of this one. Some years are defined by the names we now considered greats, some by fresh voices… This year had both, happening all at once.

It was a year where we bade farewell to Prince, David Bowie, Phife Dawg, George Michael and Leonard Cohen, several of whom released some of their best work in their final months… The myth that an artist peaks at middle age is no more. In a year of political turmoil dissident voices in music haven’t been as strong or as impassioned since the counterculture movement of the 1960’s and early 70’s, while pop culture’s biggest names in Drake, Frank Ocean and Kanye West undertook  some of the most hype-building, and frustrating, release cycles yet.

This list was compiled by three music fans based only the albums they heard this year, featuring bias and ignorance of critical consensus. It is instead based solely on the music which impacted us, and which we enjoyed and listened to the most. From top to bottom, we consider all of these albums to be produced by incredibly talented individuals whose music this year will provide pleasure and inspiration for many more to come.

100. The Madness Of Many – Animals As Leaders

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99. Weezer (The White Album) – Weezer

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98. Baauer – Aa

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97. Shirley Collins – Lodestar

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