Best Albums of 2020

Like so many other people this year, I have no energy to write an essay attempting to grapple with what 2020 meant, either at a personal or cultural level. In lieu of a cohesive piece, here are a few thoughts about what I heard (or did not hear) in this year's listening.

  • I'm a little tired of seeing my top two at the top of so many lists but they're also the records I spent the most time with this year, so it would feel disingenuous to put any other records above them.

  • My listening behavior changed dramatically this year, which forced me to concentrate on albums where I had assignments. I certainly managed to hear records that weren't work-related, but I may not have spent as much time with them as I might've liked. If I had, maybe they'd rank higher on the list.

  • This list is arranged in order of preference but the intensity of the preference lightens around 40 or so. Give me another week or month and the placements would certainly change. (Lists are a snapshot of the time of their creation, after all)

  • If an album isn't listed here, it could mean that I forgot it or I didn't hear it or I didn't like it. I will follow up with a list of albums I outright disliked, it'll arrive next week with any luck. 

  • If an artist released two albums this year I liked, I decided to put them on the same entry instead of separating them. Sometimes, the distinction isn't cost-effective (Sturgill Simpson), sometimes I'm still sorting out a preference (Taylor Swift).

  • Judged just on the albums alone, 2020 was a pretty good year! A lot of strong records, a couple of seeming masterpieces, and a bunch of surprises. 

  • A reissue list is set for later this week.

  1. Fiona Apple—Fetch The Bolt Cutters

  2. Bob Dylan—Rough And Rowdy Ways

  3. Stephen Malkmus—Traditional Techniques

  4. Soccer Mommy—Color Theory

  5. Low Cut Connie—Private Lives

  6. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit—Reunions

  7. The Strokes—The New Abnormal

  8. Brandy Clark—Your Life Is A Record

  9. Zephaniah Ohora—Listening to the Music

  10. Taylor Swift—Folklore/Evermore

  11. Lilly Hiatt—Walking Proof

  12. HAIM—Women In Music, Pt. III

  13. H.C. McEntire—Eno Axis

  14. AC/DC—Power Up

  15. Waylon Payne—Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me

  16. Sam Morrow—Gettin’ By On Gettin’ Down

  17. Bruce Springsteen—Letter To You

  18. Waxahatchee—Saint Cloud

  19. Rina Sawayama—Sawayama

  20. JARV IS…—Beyond the Pale

  21. Charley Crockett—Welcome to Hard Times

  22. Public Enemy—What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?

  23. Paul McCartney—McCartney III

  24. Dua Lipa—Future Nostalgia

  25. Charli XCX—How I’m Feeling Now

  26. Bob Mould—Blue Hearts

  27. Aoife Nessa Frances—Land of No Junction

  28. Mike & The Moonpies—Touch of You: The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart

  29. X—Alphabetland

  30. Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers—Hold My Beer, Part 2

  31. Margo Price—That’s How Rumors Get Started

  32. Sturgill Simpson—Cuttin’ Grass, Vol. 1/Cuttin' Grass, Vol. 2

  33. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead—X: The Godless Void And Other Stories

  34. Hot Country Knights—The “K” Is Silent

  35. Brothers Osborne—Skeletons

  36. Cornershop—England is a Garden

  37. Jessie Ware—What’s Your Pleasure?

  38. John Anderson—Years

  39. Torres—Silver Tongue

  40. Pearl Jam—Gigaton

  41. Mandy Moore—Silver Landings

  42. Kip Moore—Wild World

  43. Luke Haines & Peter Buck—Beat Poetry for Survivalists

  44. Rufus Wainwright—Unfollow the Rules

  45. Whitney Rose—We Still Go To Rodeos

  46. Bobby Rush—Rawer Than Raw

  47. Miley Cyrus—Plastic Hearts

  48. Beabadoobee—Fake It Flowers

  49. The Mountain Goats--Getting Into Knives

  50. Ashley McBryde—Never Will

  51. Bill Callahan—Gold Record

  52. Elvis Costello—Hey Clockface

  53. Brent Cobb—Keep Em on They Toes

  54. Elvin Bishop & Charlie Musselwhite—100 Years of Blues

  55. Johnny Iguana’s Chicago Spectacular

  56. Sam Hunt—Southside

  57. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever—Sideways To New Italy

  58. Roisin Murphy—Roisin Machine

  59. Kelsea Ballerini—Kelsea/Ballerini

  60. Garth Brooks—Fun

  61. Lady Gaga—Chromatica

  62. The Killers—Imploding the Mirage

  63. Phoebe Bridgers—Punisher

  64. Carly Rae Jepsen—Dedicated Side B

  65. Puss N Boots—Sister

  66. Norah Jones—Pick Me Up Off The Floor

  67. Hayley Williams—Petals for Armor

  68. Brendan Benson—Dear Life

  69. Thundercat—It Is What It Is

  70. Lydia Loveless—Daughter

  71. Cam—The Otherside

  72. Caroline Rose—Superstar

  73. Paul Weller—On Sunset

  74. Pam Tillis—Looking for a Feeling

  75. Dan Penn—Living on Mercy

  76. Gum Country—Somewhere

  77. Phish—Sigma Oasis

  78. Chris Stapleton--Starting Over

  79. Aubrie Sellers—Far From Home

  80. Run the Jewels—RTJ4

  81. Lera Lynn—On My Own

  82. Drive-By Truckers—The Unraveling/The New OK

  83. Jeff Tweedy—Love Is The King

  84. The Cadillac Three—Country Fuzz

  85. Huey Lewis & The News—Weather

  86. Tyler Childers—Long Violent History

  87. Tenille Townes—The Lemonade Stand

  88. Swamp Dogg—Sorry You Couldn’t Make It

  89. Butch Walker—American Love Story

  90. Marcus King—El Dorado

  91. Courtney Marie Andrews—Old Flowers

  92. Willie Nelson—First Rose Of Spring

  93. M Ward—Migration Stories/Think of Spring

  94. Early James—Singing For My Supper

  95. Niall Horan—Heartbreak Weather

  96. Selena Gomez—Rare

  97. Kenny Chesney—Here And Now

  98. The Jayhawks—XOXO

  99. The Chicks—Gaslighter

  100. Arlo McKinley—Die Midwestern

  101. Ben Watt—Storm Damage

  102. The Claudettes—High Times in the Dark

  103. Watkins Family Hour—Brother Sister

  104. Ganser—Just Look At That Sky

  105. Lemon Twigs—Songs for the General Public

  106. Ingrid Andress—Lady Like

  107. Old 97s—Twelfth

  108. James Dean Bradfield—Even in Exile

  109. Pretenders—Hate For Sale

  110. Cordovas—Destiny Hotel

  111. Annie—Dark Hearts

  112. Jules Shear—slower

  113. Frances Quinlan—Likewise

  114. Jonny Polonsky—Power and Greed and Money and Sex and Death

  115. Psychedelic Furs—Made of Rain

  116. Joey Molland—Be True To Yourself

  117. The Texas Gentlemen—Floor It!!

  118. Oceanator—Things I Never Said

  119. Sault—Untitled (Black Is)/Untitled (Rise)

  120. RVG—Feral

  121. Stephanie Lambring—Autonomy

  122. Chris Cornell—No One Sings Like You Anymore

  123. Billie Joe Armstrong—No Fun Mondays

  124. Lou Turner—Songs for John Venn

  125. Hinds—The Prettiest Curse

  126. Shelby Lynne—Shelby Lynne

  127. Walter Martin—The World At Night

  128. Bright Eyes—Down in the Weeds, Where The World Once Was

  129. Kesha—High Road

  130. Chris Stamey & the Fellow Travelers—A Brand-New Shade of Blue

  131. Andy Shauf—The Neon Skyline

  132. Ruston Kelly—Shape & Destroy

  133. Bruce Hornsby—Non-Secure Connection

  134. Gorillaz—Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez

  135. Fantastic Negrito—Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?