The Best Albums of 2020 (So Far)

Best of 2020 (So Far)

I know that it’s 2020 and time has lost all meaning, but we’re actually halfway through the year already. I know, right? The contributors have once again put together a comprehensive list of their favorite albums of the year (so far). It’s full of incredible albums that are definitely worth your time. Less chit-chat, more ranking!

The Top Albums of 2020 (So Far)

1. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

It’s hard to believe Phoebe Bridgers has only been a part of most of our lives for the last half decade. Hell, even in the last three years alone, she’s arguably had a more diverse and fruitful run than many musicians do in their full career. But with Bridgers, it’s about more than just flooding our collective attention with the allure of new music. An artist that has made a habit of lending universal language to her most introspective moments, her presence often commands the intimacy typically only earned by a lifelong friend or loved one. Sure, we haven’t experienced the literal moments she puts pen to paper about, but the raw emotion she pulls from them are so intrinsically human that it’s hard to not see bits of ourselves in them anyway.

Punisher continues this trend, as Bridgers offers a variety of scenes from her life to accompany her most ambitious musicianship and songwriting to date. In “Garden Song”, she pens line like ”The doctor put her hands over my liver / she told me my resentment’s getting smaller”, which hold less significance in the oddity of the specific memory than they do in the color they add to the overarching theme of manifestation and frame of mind. Elsewhere on “Graceland, Too”, she recounts a trip to Memphis, and sings of a reflective evening where ”We spent what was left of our serotonin / to chew on our cheeks and stare at the moon”. Another beautifully vivid memory at face value, but also one that speaks to the theme of adoration and the way in which we show up for the people we love.

Bridgers will be the first to tell you that the recurring conclusion surrounding the themes explored on Punisher is, well, just that — that they conclude. That despite living lives inherently full of endings, we’re still so obsessed with the unknown path that follows the door in front of us. But rather than being afraid of endings, she chooses to embrace them for all of the invigorating moments that led her there. Perhaps that’s why she didn’t find herself crushed with anxiety over following up her critically acclaimed debut album, or why she’s widely known for her delightfully informal demeanor. Perhaps it’s what fuels her gift for transforming little moments of her life into statements of greater importance, when others may have seen them as nothing more than trivial in their own. But regardless of whether or not you remain fully on board with her mindset after the album’s explosive closer draws its final curtains, the certainty here lies in the 40 minutes that she’ll undoubtedly make you feel less alone. – Trevor Graham

2. Hayley Williams – Petals For Armor

It’s no secret that the last two Paramore albums have (despite being extremely successful) coincided with some of the worst years of Hayley Williams’ life – tension and legal battles with former members, a disintegrating marriage, and just a general unhappiness. So she decided to take back her life. What began organically with intense therapy focused on introspection and little by little began to manifest itself into a collection of extremely personal tracks and thus a record that was never meant to exist became a reality.

Musically, it’s the most innovative and poignant work she’s ever been a part of, as Petals for Armor leaves no style untouched. There’s ethereal introspection (“Simmer”, “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris”) inspired by Radiohead and Warpaint, quiet devastation (“Leave It Alone”), embracing her femininity (“Cinnamon”) and finding redemption and forgiveness (“Over Yet”, “Watch Me While I Bloom”). Williams also finds room for huge pop anthems (“Pure Love”), funk (“Dead Horse”, “Sugar On The Rim), and Solange-smooth R&B (“Why We Ever”,”Taken”). Carefully released over 3 extended plays as Williams faced her demons, fears, and desires – confronting her past and preparing for the unknowns of what’s next while finding joy in the little things. So as the seasons changed from winter to spring, Petals For Armor blossomed into a thrilling fifteen-song journey beginning with a quiet rage and ending with a fearless embrace of the future.

And that sometimes it’s okay to stop and smell the flowers. – Drew Beringer

3. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

Just after we went into quarantine, Dua Lipa released a monster of a pop album. An album filled with more hooks than an I Know What You Did Last Summer cosplay convention. In an era of bloated albums built for streaming, Future Nostalgia is a compact, perfectly constructed, perfectly sequenced pop-album meant to do one thing and one thing only: get you on the god damn dance floor. Given the current climate, the dance floor may just need to be your bedroom, or the kitchen, or any surface with enough room for you to jump and slide in your work-from-home sweatpants and absolutely ridiculous disaster of a haircut. Look, there are no rules anymore, but great pop music demands and pulls from within us absurd movement. The best of us get to call this “dancing,” but in my case, it’s more “is he going to hurt himself?” and “why does he just keep jumping up and down?” and “seriously, you weird dude with the shoulder shake, this is why you’re no longer allowed outside, please stop, if anyone sees you you’re going to become a TikTok meme.”

In a year already marred by so much garbage, this album makes me happy. It’s a 37-minute escape from reality that clicks into all of the pleasure points in my pop-dependent brain. Many things have gone wrong in 2020, but everything Dua Lipa did on Future Nostalgia went very, very right. – Jason Tate

4. Soccer Mommy – Color Theory

Fans of Soccer Mommy have had the distinct pleasure of watching Sophie Allison’s music evolve in a very short period of time.  It’s been a little over two years since the release of 2018’s intensely personal debut Clean, and only three years since the initial release of Collection, a compilation of bedroom pop demos, but Allison and company sound more ambitious than ever on Color Theory, an album that exudes experimental shades and vivid hues.

Like Clean’s best moments, most of these songs take full advantage of her band, incorporating a variety of string instruments and dreamlike keyboard tones. One of the most interesting things about color theory is knowing where its heart lies; the album was largely inspired by the radio singles Allison grew up with – songs like “Torn,” “If It Makes You Happy,” or essentially any song you’re likely to hear at least twice in a night of karaoke.  And album singles “Circle the Drain” and “Lucy” play like updated versions of these tunes, as if instantly memorable melodies are coded in their DNA.

The broadest appeal of Color Theory is that it’s a collection of songs that could easily soundtrack the closing credits of any late ’90s/early ’00s teen dramady. “I am fake it ’til you make it in a can,” Allison claims on “Royal Screw Up,” but by the unforgettable intricacies found throughout her stunning sophomore album, we’re fairly confident she’s not faking anything. – Aaron Mook

5. Spanish Love Songs – Brave Faces Everyone

When we look back on 2020 years from now, Brave Faces Everyone could be the album that best sums up how horrible this year was. Between lead singer Dylan Slocum’s lyrics and the overall dreary mood of the album, nothing has quite struck the chord for how these past six months have been like this record does. Ironically, Spanish Love Songs’ third full length was released on Feb. 7, just before the coronavirus outbreak and racial justice movement.

Brave Faces Everyone tackles income inequality, climate change, depression, anxiety, death, heartbreak, drug abuse and simply just what a mess the world is. As you work your way through the album, you could pick out any track and it’ll hit on an issue that’s devastating the world right now. Policing problems are addressed on “Losers Pt. 2” with the lines “Gotta find a place of my own/ Where the f***ups aren’t cops / Patrolling neighborhoods they’re afraid of.” With millions out of work across the country right now, several of the lyrics about missed bank payments and not being able to eat off of a low paycheck on “Self-Destruction (As a Sensible Career Choice),” encapsulates the struggle many are going through right now. Songs like these and “Kick,” “Routine Pain,” and “Beach Front Property” dig their claws into your brain for both what they’re trying to say and how incredibly catchy the music is at the same time.

Fans of the band knew Spanish Love Songs had a tall task ahead of them with following up 2018’s Schmaltz. This one feels more important with each month that passes. Brave Faces Everyone will serve as a thesis of the year, but will also be remembered by many as a record that helped many get through the days. The band highlighted that it’s ok to not be ok and that life’s going to kick you. All we can do is put on a brave face and hope it won’t be this bleak forever. – Brett Bodner

6. Brian Fallon – Local Honey

”In this life there will be trouble, but you shall overcome,” sings Brian Fallon on the beautifully composed opener, “When You’re Ready” on his third solo record from one of the more consistently great songwriters of our generation. Local Honey is a testament to the longevity of Fallon and how he never ceases to amaze us with his storytelling found in his songs. As bummed as I was when The Gaslight Anthem went on hiatus, Fallon’s solo work is equally as empowering in different ways. He is able to convey a wide range of emotions in his solo albums from the pain of heartbreak, to the cathartic feelings of love and belonging in this world.

Brian Fallon is quickly becoming this scene’s Bruce Springsteen, which is a comparison that I don’t come to lightly. The “working man” approach to his songwriting, to the similarities found in their vocal deliveries, Fallon and Springsteen seem to be tied in the stars of musical history. The intricate details like the crisp production elements on “21 Days” that perfectly complement Fallon’s voice, to the acoustic guitar-backed arrangement, everything clicks right into place on this record that feels as warm and tender as any of his previous works of art. The rich contrast of sounds on album closer “You Have Stolen My Heart” hits the soul in all the right ways, and perfectly wraps up the latest chapter in Fallon’s career trajectory. While not as upbeat as the Sleepwalkers record, Local Honey is arguably more cohesive and lyrically complex as Fallon weaves a tangled web of musical prowess all over his latest album. – Adam Grundy

7. All Time Low – Wake Up Sunshine

Oh, these beautiful babies are all grows up.

As I’ve been embarking on my weekly nostalgia trip into the past, it’s given me a unique perspective from which to view the bands that still have thriving careers from the mid-2000’s scene. If you would have told me back then that All Time Low would not only be one of the bands that made it out and have had a remarkable career but also that they had just released arguably their best album yet, in 2020, I don’t think I would have believed you. And yet, here we are. Wake Up, Sunshine is a modern jewel of pop-rock sparkle that showcases the band at their songwriting best. An album that takes the band further from mimicking their early influencers to one that should be actively influencing the next generation of bands forming in garages across the country.

Wake Up, Sunshine is an album for summer parties, packed car late night drives with the windows down and the music loud, and all the things that 2020 has taken away from us. But the music shines brightly, just the same. Maybe we can’t be in a venue filled to capacity screaming these songs along with the band, but hitting play brings the energy to us at the push of a button. Life is weird right now, and we don’t have the answers to when, or if ever, it’ll feel normal again. But something is comforting to the constant of a catchy song with a perfect chorus, and All Time Low have delivered. – Jason Tate

8. Run the Jewels – RTJ4

Run The Jewels are like a fine wine that only gets better with age. The rap supergroup, made up of El-P and Killer Mike, don’t know how to make a bad album. Coming off of three excellent full lengths, Run the Jewels released their highly anticipated RTJ4 on June 3. RTJ4 dropped two days earlier than its scheduled release date and right in the middle of protests against police brutality. The album not only serves as the perfect soundtrack for this moment in America, but it also finds the two rappers at their best. El-P and Killer Mike continue to go together like spaghetti and meatballs, each one complimenting the other and making for an excellent dish of music.

The two show off what a dynamic duo they are right from the opening track “Yankee and the Brave (ep.4),” with Killer Mike setting the tone for the record with his signature flow, before El-P jumps onto the track, showing the world Run the Jewels haven’t skipped a beat since Run the Jewels 3 came out in 2016. RTJ4 is filled with lyrics touching on systemic issues like poverty, police brutality and racism. “walking in the snow” is the best example of this message, with Killer Mike rapping about people who look like him being choked out by cops and how people respond to incidents like this with a Twitter post instead of actually joining the fight for change. The rappers further drive home this point on “JU$T” with the help of Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha by discussing how slavery was abolished, yet we still have slave owners posing on our currency. In addition to these tracks, there are still songs you can check out from and just let yourself get lost in the beats, especially “ooh la la,” “Out of Sight” and “The Ground Below.”

There’s a purpose behind each track, making this a complete album from the first song to the last. It clocks in at just 38:57, but you never fail to get their message. The duo leaves us with a reminder that now is the time for all of us to come together and stand up against institutionalized racism. You blend this idea with one of the best rap groups around and you easily have one of the best albums of the year so far with RTJ4. – Brett Bodner

9. Katie Pruitt – Expectations

I’m of the mind that the bravest and most interesting thing you can do in a song is tell the truth. On her debut album Expectations, Nashville singer/songwriter Katie Pruitt strings together 10 of the most honest songs that I have ever heard. The album loosely tells the story of Pruitt’s coming-of-age: growing up in a conservative household, attending a conservative catholic school, struggling with her sexuality, and ultimately, coming out as gay. It’s an emotional tour-de-force from first note to last, with songs that explore everything from trying to be something that you’re not (“Normal,” a heartbreaking and vivid portrait of closeted youth), to getting stuck inside of a toxic relationship (the devastating “Grace Has a Gun,” which Pruitt has said is “about loving someone who doesn’t love themself”). Not all the songs are sad: “Georgia” crackles with tension as Pruitt describes the fears she felt when coming out to her parents, but ends with a hint at the acceptance she found in her family’s arms after a time. The final two tracks, meanwhile, are brave and bold love songs—one defiant and proclamatory (“Loving Her”), the other understated and intimate (“It’s Always Been You”). Pruitt has gone on record to say that she speaks openly and candidly about her experiences because she wants kids growing up in the LGBTQ+ community—particularly those in the rural south—to know they aren’t alone. On Expectations, she sings her truth loudly and without reservation. It’s a rousing, eye-opening, heart-wrenching, and ultimately life-affirming reminder that being true to yourself is always worth the risk. – Craig Manning

10. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

What can I say about Fetch the Bolt Cutters that hasn’t been said already? It’s a masterpiece. An instant classic. There’s no music like it. It’s true: Fiona Apple’s fifth album is all of those things and more. 

The album is highly experimental, its percussive elements coming from anything Apple could find in her house to bang on the floorboards. Made between 2015 and 2020, the album was mostly recorded in her Venice Beach home using GarageBand. While Fetch the Bolt Cutters is untamed, unpredictable and even out of this world, Apple finds a way to transform her songs into magnificent accessible beasts. “Cosmonauts,” as well as “Heavy Balloon,” are the most reminiscent of her past work. However, the latter features my favourite moment on the record: where Apple uses her voice like the instrument that it is; where she yelps and barks and doesn’t have a care in the world if she sounds ugly. Outlining the safe space of depression, the bottom; her husky barks come from a children’s gardening book: “I spread like strawberries / I climb like peas and beans,” as she attempts to lift herself out of her rut. No song about depression has ever felt more true. 

“For Her” is catharsis. Containing stories that are not hers, as well as her own, “For Her” closes with a multi-tracked symphony subsequent to three seperate movements. She hits like a ton of bricks. “Shameika,” “Newspaper” and “Ladies” track Apple’s lifelong complex emotions with women. She begins with “Shameika,” a girl from high school who witnessed her potential; “Newspaper” finds Apple protective of women in orbit of her ex partners; while “Ladies” ends the toxicity of pitting women against one another (particularly when men are controlling our stories). If you’re still listening, empower yourself and “Fetch the fucking bolt cutters and get yourself out of the situation you’re in”. 

The rumours are true: Fiona Apple returned when we needed her the most. Her first album in eight years is devastating, jaw-dropping, sometimes funny and utterly timeless. – Mary Varvaris

11. Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA

When a number of my peers began hyping up Rina Sawayama’s debut full-length as an album featuring throwbacks to 2000’s pop music (“Bad Friend”), a legitimately great nu-metal number (“STFU!”), a house-infused track (“Comme Des Garçons (Like the Boys)”), stunning ballads and epic calls-to-arms (“Who’s Gonna Save U Now?”), I couldn’t believe it. I figured, surely; someone out there was taking the mickey. They weren’t. 

No matter what style of music Sawayama tackles, her voice rings out as effortlessly cool – in vocals and as a songwriter. “XS” pays homage to icons Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, with its immediately striking melodies and powerful vocals mocking capitalism. The song is wild – a metal guitar riff here, an R&B beat there – “XS” holds us all accountable for our “sad for Australian bushfire victims” posts while we turn a blind eye to the climate crisis or rising fascist states. 

Sawayama has a focus on family and identity. For Rina, a Japanese-British woman, a sense of belonging was often impossible to find. On “Dynasty,” Sawayama introduces family legacy and everything that comes with it: inter generational trauma, inherited pain (“the pain in my vein is hereditary”), and the drawbacks of financial inheritance (“won’t you break the chain with me?”). On the other hand, the anthemic “Chosen Family” explores exactly that. “The concept of a chosen family is, to me, a queer one,” she explained, as the song is a tribute to her queer community, who inspire her to stay alive. In 2020, we need any family we can find to get through this hellish year. – Mary Varvaris

12. Dogleg – Melee

It takes less than twenty seconds to recognize that Dogleg has something special with their debut album Melee. “Kawasaki Backflip” has already cemented itself as one of emo’s greatest opening salvos of all time and already an Emo Night staple (at least virtually in 2020). It only gets louder and brasher from there. Dogleg’s mix of aggression and melody recall indie stalwarts like Cloud Nothings and Japandroids while existing within the same vulnerabilities that made emo legends The Get Up Kids and Modern Baseball so beloved. Yet Melee is so uniquely abrasive and personal that it transcends genre lines – blurring them with each Alex Stoitsiadis’ throat-shredding screams and rarely hitting the pause button thanks to the frenetic rhythms composed by Chase Macinski and Jacob Hanlon. Stoitsiadis relives his emotional trauma behind the wall of sound he and Parker Grissom create (“Prom Hell” and “Hotlines”) – there is no quiet, no calm throughout the record’s ten tracks. So buckle up motherfucker, the brake lines were cut long ago cuz any moment now we will disintegrate. – Drew Beringer

13. Jason Isbell – Reunions

On 2013’s Southeastern, Jason Isbell was still an underdog—an up-and-comer with lots to prove. Now, he’s a veteran, generally thought of as one of the most dependable songwriters in the industry. It’s not a bad position for any artist to occupy, but it also turns out that when you make three great records in a row, a lot of people start taking you for granted. Fittingly, Isbell responds by making his best album in seven years: a layered set of songs that dig into the past with a profound willingness to share even the uglier corners of the frame. If you’ve ever flipped through an old yearbook or photo album and found yourself grappling with things you thought you’d gotten over, then this album will resonate with you. Parents, old friends, former selves, distant lovers, future versions of your children: these are just a few of the characters that flit across the stage at some point during Reunions and its 42-minute runtime. Isbell’s reunion is with his own past, but the special thing about the album is how it forces you to convene with yours, and with all those little nagging memories that you’ve kept sequestered in the attic of your mind. Letting them loose to have their way with you is frightening and bewildering, but it’s also just about the greatest therapy session you can give yourself. Listening to Reunions is similarly therapeutic—a worthy achievement for a songwriter whose greatest talent has always been his ability to capture details that feel like they came from your own private life. – Craig Manning

14. Tame Impala – The Slow Rush

The fourth studio album from Tame Impala, the stage name of musical genius Kevin Parker, is aptly titled The Slow Rushsince it takes over your headspace in the most methodical of ways. It starts with some slow burners of tracks such as “One More Year” and gradually begins to unfold into different and unique realms with the expansive “Instant Destiny.” While the album didn’t garner as much universal praise as their classic third record, Currents, there is still plenty of ear candy to enjoy on this LP. From the single selections of “Borderline,” “Posthumous Forgiveness,” and “Breathe Deeper,” there really wasn’t a wrong path for their label to turn to in the promotion cycle of the record.

It’s a good thing that this record came out in 2020, as it gave me plenty of needed distraction from all of the mess going on in the world. The way that Parker is able to convey a wide menu of emotions through the use of various musical instruments, tones, and vocal effects is nothing short of remarkable. Parker even confessed in mid-2019 that, “Part of the thing about me starting an album is that I have to feel kind of worthless again to want to make music.” Tame Impala has plenty to offer the world with the gift of their music, and The Slow Rush continues down this path of worthiness with a swagger not usually found from an Indie Rock band. – Adam Grundy

15. The 1975 – Notes on a Conditional Form

What happens when a band as talented as The 1975 makes a slight misstep on their journey to rock and roll stardom? In the long run, it will likely just be a small blemish in the grand scheme of their full artistic statement, whenever they decide to hang up their guitars for the last time. With songs such as the 80’s synth pop bliss of “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know),” let’s hope that retirement is way beyond the foreseeable future. Notes on a Conditional Form plays out much like its title implies; it’s a collection of “notes” that try their best to fit into the grandiose picture of an album. Where the album suffers from being considered a modern classic is its overwhelming running time of over 80 minutes sprawling over 22 songs, with far too many instrumental/brooding tracks interspersing the action. For example, after the introductory call to action, courtesy of climate change activist Greta Thunberg, the band breaks into the slab of punk rock called “People” only to lose the momentum gained from the energetic song with their first of many instrumental tracks. Their choices to fill up an already crowded album are curious at best, as it makes for a tricky start-to-finish listening experience.

From the vulnerable tracks such as “Frail State of Mind” and “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America” to the raucous guitar-pop of “Me & You Together Song,” there is certainly no shortage of emotions that they take their audience on for this record. The band breaks away from one genre of music to the next, making it nearly impossible to describe to pigeon-hole The 1975 into one category of music. There are hints of country on “Roadkill” and elements of rap and R&B on “Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied,” so it begins to be harder to make the argument of having a perfectly cohesive album. Genre-hopping aside, The 1975 are still one of the more talented bands to come out from this scene in quite some time, and their grasp on our attention to their music doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. – Adam Grundy

16. Hum – Inlet

17. LAUV – How I’m Feeling

18. Jeff Rosenstock – NO DREAM

19. NNAMDÏ – Brat

20. Caspian – On Circles

21. I’m Glad It’s You – Every Sun, Every Moon

22. Silverstein – A Beautiful Place To Drown

23. Selena Gomez – Rare

24. Lady Gaga – Chromatica

25. Trace Mountains – Lost In The Country

26. Empty Country – Empty Country

27. Anti-Flag – 20/20 Vision

28. Halsey – Manic

29. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud

30. The Used – Heartwork

The Playlist

Looking for an easy way to check out all of the albums in our top thirty? We’ve got a playlist for that. You’ll find one on Apple Music and one on Spotify with one great song from each great album.

Contributor Lists

Some contributors have shared their individual lists if you’re looking for even more music.

If you’d like to share your best of 2020 (so far) list, there’s a thread in our community, or feel free to share it in the comments.

The Nerd Stat Stuff

Our final compiled list was put together using our ranking algorithm. There were 13 contributors and 175 unique albums across all of the lists. In total, 70 albums out of the 175 were on more than one list, with the number one album appearing on 11 of the 13 lists. Turns out we like Phoebe Bridgers.

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