It’s undoubtedly been a tough year felt globally in 2020 but the one constant, the one thing that may have got us through, is the unmatched greatness of sounds and reverberations that come together to make music. Here’s our summation of album faves this year.
Tame Impala, The Slow Rush
A brilliant body of work. Kevin Parker really produced this from partly what remained after the Australian bushfires where his home studio is. From beginning to end, each track is made up of a stellar instrumental and tells a story that also fits the rollercoaster of 2020 but then brings back an element of hope in the close, moving from the opening track One More Year to the understated One More Hour. At both number one for my top songs (Breathe Deeper and Borderline) and my artist of the year, 2020 Spotify Wrapped doesn’t lie. See my brief review/album release hype on our IG here. JL
Particularly love this description on his Spotify:
“The Slow Rush is Parker’s deep dive into the oceans of time, conjuring the feeling of a lifetime in a lightning bolt, of major milestones whizzing by while you’re looking at your phone, it’s a paean to creation and destruction and the unending cycle of life.”
Kali Uchis, Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios)
It was between this and her summer EP, TO FEEL ALIVE. But I had to give credit where it’s due and her Latin album deserved more flowers than it got. Uchis found her rawest voice yet on the first Spanish-language album of her career; she wields divine femininity to create a moody cross-over between soul, R&B and new age reggaetón. She’s coming into her own in a way which has received some criticism from clueless fans who will lose out if they don’t try listening to this fabulous artwork. It’s crafted with culture, delicate vocals and celestial synths while also maintaining allusions to her signature ‘jukebox sound’ which hearkens back to Isolation. She also serves 90s glam worthy of a Bond film — set in the heavens. This Kali era is as dreamy as always, but also her spiciest yet. MK
Lianne La Havas, Lianne La Havas
Melodic, well thought-out, acoustic heaven; Lianne La Havas brings back the beauty of jazz blues with her alternative folk/soul in her third LP. See my album review here. JL
Megan thee Stallion, Good News
Hot Girl Meg’s lyricism and dance talent has already induced two viral trends in the short span of 2020; everyone and their mother’s plastic surgeon has probably created a TikTok to the sounds of ‘bodyodyodyody’ and ‘sassy boujee ratchet’ by now.
Megan’s second album of 2020 once more defended her title as incoming Duchess of Rap. This collection of tracks were made for the streets (embodied by Meg in Outside, lest you forget) or to blast in between sets at the squat rack (see Work That). She smoothly interweaves more decidedly pop-py sounds to a number of musical hip-hop references, playing on the gangsta rap of Eazy-E’s Boyz-n-the-Hood in her own version, Girls in the Hood, and paying ode to early 90s G-funk in Freaky Girls. She frequently makes sure to lick the stamp of every other verse with her signature tongue out ‘ahhh’ and chef’s kiss, also throwing in some sexual moans for good measure at the beginning of Body.
Always the embodiment of female empowerment, she doesn’t shy away from telling her potential partners exactly how she wants to be pleased: “Eat my coochie, let’s make a movie”. Ever on brand, she doesn’t fail to remind us of her boss status — “I could buy the same thing my man bought (ah)”. Following the massive success of WAP, that shouldn’t be too difficult.
This year was a challenging one for Meg, who was recently in recovery after being shot in the foot by rapper Tory Lanez. While her career continued to blossom, she was gaslit by misogynists on social media; one user in particular and the perpetrator of the shooting, Lanez, is indirectly addressed in Shots Fired: “Should’ve let them lock your ass up”, she reminds him how she kept silent for him only to be repaid with his lies. Maintaining a delicate balance of confidence and vulnerability, perhaps Good News shows audiences that Megan will continue to embrace both her strength and her sexuality. MK
The masters of funk and the bass, in my mind at least. The summer release of this was perfect timing with singles Time (You and I), So We Won’t Forget and Pelota with equally infectious instrumentals. After having those tracks on repeat for most of the year, I grew a soft spot for the beautiful bass lines in First Class and Connaissais de Face, the latter track which gives a Brigitte Bardot Bonnie & Clyde feel in the back and forth, intimate discourse between man and woman in the song. “I would love to waste nine lives” the woman says; “so, are you a cat?” the man retorts; “a tiger is a kind of cat” she replies; “have you earned your stripes?” he returns and they seductively go on as the bass line closes. JL
The Weeknd, After Hours
Abel Tesfaye continues the immaculately crafted aesthetic of angels, demons, sex, drugs and sadness which he stumbled onto the scene with in House of Balloons. After Hours attempts to tell a slightly reformulated story as each track carries on the narrative of the last, both lyrically and sonically; sometimes showing remorse and others even mockery but all the time speaking to the lover he tortures, taunts and begs. The Weeknd offers more self-reflection than in earlier records: “I’m fighting for my soul, Constantine/And it’s slowly burning, it was never cheap”. Even if some of his new tracks don’t hit as hard as they used to (ahem, Trilogy), Escape from LA, Snowchild and the title track After Hours return us to the lo-fi R&B balladry that this troubled persona thrives in. MK
Hayley Williams, Petals for Armor
Beloved lead singer of Paramore, Hayley Williams, released a superb solo album this year marking her project debut. In three parts, the LP begins with the Simmer single which has familiar tones with ‘Decode’ – the Twilight song recorded by her rock band. In Dead Horse, Williams talks about being the other woman then having the same thing happen to her reportedly with ex-spouse Chad Gilbert of New Found Glory (especially adore the Glass Animals remix version), then the chilling Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris and emotional bop Why We Ever are other favourites along with the second part of the album. The continuation of Williams’ infamous smooth vocal transitions from controlled highs to whispered lows and back are well-executed across this experimental, therapeutic record. JL
J Hus, Big Conspiracy
J Hus’ long awaited return following the success of Common Sense was met with applause. He delivers the buoyant Afrobeats, reggae and hip-hop sounds made for whining on the dance-floor (alas, only at the start of 2020) in Cucumber, Play Play, Fortune Teller and Repeat with the help of Koffee and Burna Boy. Early on, this celebratory feel boils into ‘Triumph‘ against “the fakest”. In other tracks, he addresses heavier topics, from colonialism to his own incarceration. Piano keys lead us out of his captivating second album on Deeper than Rap as he ends on a reference to his African roots: “I had to play dumb just to blend in/Then go to Africa for spiritual cleansing.” Once again, J Hus proves just how much talent the UK Rap scene has to offer. MK
Lady Gaga, Chromatica
It would be amis to not include Gaga’s latest album on this list. I feel like we would have been hearing the tracks on here in clubs everywhere had they been open, from Stupid Love, Enigma, Babylon and the BLACKPINK feature – Lady Gaga really brought it on this album, still making strong club hits amidst all the chaos and pouring her personal battles into it (see: 911 and Rain on Me) at the same time. JL
Kid Cudi, Man on the Moon III: The Chosen
This last minute album of 2020 parted the waves of our list. Show Out, featuring Skepta and Pop Smoke, was an instant hit emerging from the beat of contemporary drill after an eleven year wait. But the rest of the record sounds quite different. My personal favourite, Mr Solo Dolo III, has a cosmic melody which elevates the album, making you want to surrender to the gentle sway of this sequel to 2010’s Man on the Moon II. He lives up to his ’emo rapper’ persona, although sometimes quite banally, and continues to open up about mental health and addiction — “Say ‘I’m waitin’ to die, I cry/ Many nights I spent gettin’ fucked up, livin’ a lie”. MK
Sault, Untitled (Black is)
Anonymous British rhythm and blues collective, SAULT, released two albums this year: Untitled (Black is) and Untitled (Rise). Both LPs, dropped June and September, focus on Black-centric issues and the movement that cemented the middle of 2020. Most prominently, the collective moves across blues, funk, disco and soul, taking on musicians Michael Kiwanuka in Bow and Cleo Sol in a majority of tracks for Black is. Filled with rhythmic basslines, notable tracks are Wildfires, Don’t Shoot Guns Down, Why We Cry Why We Die, Monsters and the slowed down Hold Me. JL
Chloe x Halle, Ungodly Hour
Chloe and Halle Bailey must be what pixies sound like on Midsummer’s Eve. Some have gone so far as to call Ungodly Hour the album of the decade already. While I’m not quite sure about that, it’s up there for album of the year. Their angelic harmonies are the opposite of ‘Ungodly’; they weren’t meant to be heard by us mere mortals. Queen Bey’s influence (as mentor and producer) shines through in their synchronised vocals and they followed further in her footsteps during summer by managing to deliver iconic pop performances even under quarantine. The fact that they wrote Tipsy all by themselves demonstrates their growth as musicians and the aesthetics of the album alone exceed all expectations. The talent is overwhelming. They deserve to sweep award shows in the same way that Billie Eilish did last year. MK
Bombay Bicycle Club, Everything Else Has Gone Wrong
I had this on repeat when it first came out at the start of the year. This is Bombay’s comeback album after a few years of hiatus from the music scene as a band and it stayed true to their soft indie sound of six years ago. The album title and track list couldn’t be more oddly fitting for 2020, almost like they foresaw it. See my review of their January live gig here. JL
Flo Milli, Ho, why is you here?
Flo Milli supremacy, please. This Alabama rapper’s flow, bubblegum trap beats and confidence deserve more acclaim! If you listen to these playful boasts and don’t expect people to part ways for you, then you’ve been listening wrong. Go take a filtered selfie and try again. In the Party opens up with the most perfect line of all time, enough to rival Mariah or Madonna: “Dicks up when I step in the party.” She never fails to come for the self-esteem of those who’ve wronged her (man, woman or child): “I do what I please and you do what I ask (haha)/ He love my confidence and that’s what you lack.” It’s these tongue-in-cheek punchlines, snappy beats and bratty remarks which solidify her as ‘one to watch’ in 2021. MK
HAIM, Women In Music Pt. III
Following their sweep of 2020 Grammy nominations in the rock category and up for album of the year, HAIM’s LP is worth mentioning simply for tracks Summer Girl, Don’t Wanna and Now I’m In It. Danielle’s vocals glide across the album with addictive guitar riffs (Up From A Dream, The Steps, Gasoline, I’ve Been Down – a favourite from beginning to end, Leaning On You) and breezy soundtracks to summer, touching all genres from country rock, synth pop and 90s R&B (3am) to reggae in the wonderful Another Try. JL
Jean Deaux, Watch This!
Jean Deaux’s new mixtape demonstrates her versatility and excellent replay-value as she cohesively manoeuvres her way between neo-soul, hip-hop and R&B. Showcasing both her rapping and singing, this Chicago-based talent positions herself with the rank of Saba and Mick-Jenkins. MK
Buddy & Kent Jamz, Janktape Vol. 1
The two artists complement each other sonically and lyrically in their joint mixtape, which features solo tracks from both Buddy and Kent. It’s quite a light-hearted listen, speaking of relationships and their personal lives. A lot of it was kind of forgettable but it belongs on this list because of rhythmic bangers like Burberry Party and She Think as well as that iconic Beavis and Butthead album cover. MK
Melanie Martinez, After School
Honorary mention. This alternative pop artist and The Voice alumn teeters out of her Cry Baby persona to deliver a pastel-sweet EP which signals her “growth in life”. She transports fans to the magical, sugarplum world of her lilting voice and interesting imagery, while also providing some very unique melodies in Numbers. She also surprisingly samples JLO’s If You Had My Love in Brain & Heart. In Test Me, Martinez pours her heart out to the sacred and holy: “So I’d rather be tested by goddesses/ Resting their head upon pillows/ Of all they have learned”, yearningly telling us “I’m mortal/ Defected by this form” in her hook. It’s a beautiful little distraction from the mundane day-to-day of lockdown. MK