When the year began (in the beforetime, in the long long ago) I started off with three music goals. Firstly, the goal I didn’t manage to complete, was to finish off the Top 250 Acclaimed Music list. The other two were to listen to 100 new albums in 2020, 50 of which were released that year.
I ended up smashing both targets, with me listening to over 70 albums this year and having to set up an actual shortlist so I could properly make my top 20 of the year. This breaks my own personal record for the most albums that I have listened to within their year of release.
A side effect of this being that some albums, that might have easily made the Top 20 in previous years, have been beaten out by new discoveries. There are also some where they probably got drowned out by others I discovered in the same week where, last year, they may have had more of my attention for longer.
Still though, here I am moaning a bit about listening to too much good music. Considering the trash fire of a year, that isn’t too bad.
I have to say that this is the hardest ranking that I’ve done ever since starting on this end of year lark back in 2015. So many albums with great songs not making it, but that’s just where the quality fell – and so the first on my countdown is a lovely piece of country pop by someone I had never heard of until I saw a random Twitter recommendation. ‘Redwood Tree’ may be one of the strongest opening tracks of any album this year, the rest of the album not being quite as swooping but still pretty great.
Top Tracks: Redwood Tree, The Otherside, Like A Movie
I originally picked this album up because of the album art. It’s one of those gambits that has paid off plenty of times in the past and it worked once again with Kinjitou. Every now and then I try and delve pack into the world of J-Pop, really hoping to find a new artist to fall for – especially with Namie Amuro retiring and Ayumi Hamasaki not making a new album for 4 years. I am not sure yet whether I am going to follow Reol with the same joy as my original foray into J-Pop, but I am 16 years older now so will just enjoy the high energy where I find it.
Top Tracks: GRIMOIRE, ゆーれいずみー, HYPE MODE
The first time I heard ‘Feel It’ was back in January when offices were still open – the pre-chorus and chorus leaving me a mess of goosebumps and ASMR shivers whilst surrounded by my now-distant co-workers. The rest of Seeking Thrills has the air of a collection of works rather than a cohesive album, which lets it down slightly and does distract from some of the dizzying highs that make me think of Tegan & Sara at their best. Still, it’s hard to argue with any album that features an utter smash like ‘Feel It’ and doesn’t fall apart in its wake.
Top Tracks: Feel It, About Work The Dancefloor, Never Let You Go
I am not sure an album has made feel older than color theory has. I know there are songs I now listen to who are remarkably younger than me (looking at you Billie Eilish), but weirdly it was this album that forced me to accept that I am no longer part of that generation. This album is a stunning piece of dream pop whose centre is a devastatingly beautiful song about her mother whose eyes were yellow with a terminal illness. It’s gorgeous when you don’t know the background, with the background… it’s one of the songs of the year.
Top Tracks: yellow is the color of her eyes, circle the drain, night swimming
When I waxed lyrical about Am I A Girl? I knew that Poppy had metal leanings, but had no idea that this would be the direction. Then ‘Voicemail’ came out the following year, which pretty much showed this is where we were headed – and I loved it. There are still the elements of the sugary Poppy of old, but this album also acts as her emancipation from that previous image and shows that she is a woman of multitudes that is still finding their voice. I said two years ago that I would be keeping my eye on her – well it isn’t moving.
Top Tracks: Anything Like Me, Fill The Crown, I Disagree
We are now entering the territory of albums that, in most other years, would have been top 10 contenders – it’s just that good a year. With Women in Music Pt. III, I was finally back on board the HAIM hype train – even if it was a last minute listening resurgence in November that finally got me back on board.
I think that, when I first heard Women in Music Pt. III in the summer, I was not in the market for their particular brand of sunny California indie pop. Now I’m in a better headspace, this is exactly the sort of music I like – so guess I’ll end up having a proper voyage of discovery in the coming months.
Top Tracks: The Steps, Up From A Dream, Don’t Wanna
Many albums end up having a place, for some kind of peace that place is as the ambient backing music to a distance learning course about psychometrics that I did in the last few months of 2020. I needed calming music with an ambient and classical bent – which this album delivered in spades. Before this, I had dug up Digital Rain which had the side effect of me needing the bathroom. Instead, this album found ways to soothe and engage me in a course that regularly left me scratching my head and feeling stupid. Honestly, without this man from Iceland, I probably would have ended up panicking and failing.
Top Tracks: Loom, Spiral, The Bottom Line
Just when I count her out, Taylor Swift pulls me back in. I loved 1989 and then all her music since then turned me off completely – even cameos from some of my favourite Drag Race girls weren’t enough to entice me. All she had to do was drop a surprise hour long folk album which pretty much captured the zeitgeist of what it meant to be in lockdown. No gimmicks, just showing how great a lyricist and storyteller she is – especially on ‘the last great american dynasty’ which lead me down such a Wikipedia hole it isn’t even funny.
Top Tracks: the last great american dynasty, cardigan, seven
Having not listened to neither Bruce Springsteen’s nor Bob Dylan’s highly acclaimed albums this year, I know that may have missed out on some of the best male-led music this year. Still though, Jeff Rosenstock and Ólafur Arnalds are the only all-male albums to end up on my end of year list.
I know I am pretty female-orientated at the best of times, but 2020 is the first time no albums in my Top 20 were 100% male. And this is year where I have listened to both Sufjan Stevens albums – who is one of my favourite musicians of all time.
Good thing Jeff Rosenstock is here to keep the faith alive with this thrashing politically conscious power pop album.
Top Tracks: f a m e, Nikes (alt), N O D R E A M
Despite the disco-influence and the track that makes a not unwelcome sidebar into ‘MacArthur Park’, Heavy Light is very much the quieter and more contemplative cousin to U.S. Girls previous album In A Poem Unlimited. Some of the anger is still there, but there is also thoughts around the trauma many of us collect as we grow up and the trauma our own species inflicts on the planet around us. It’s brilliant experimental pop that I cannot believe didn’t crack my Top 10 in the end – because this really on a heavy rotation in spring.
Top Tracks: Overtime, Denise, Don’t Wait, And Yet It Moves / Ye Se Mueve