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  • Writer's pictureEdward Pomykaj

The Best Albums of 2020

Updated: Oct 5, 2021

In 2020, I started training for a half-marathon. I never ran the half-marathon. Then, instead, I started sitting inside all day and reading. But then I stopped doing that too. Then, I started meditating, daily. Eventually, however, instead of making me feel calm and quiet, meditating started to hurt. I would sit, close my eyes, and then immediately panic because I was doing nothing. When I stopped meditating, the panic attacks found a different point of entry: any unoccupied moment. Between meetings, between chores, between plans with friends, if I had free time, I panicked. I was lonely, and couldn't stand the idea of being alone. And my body couldn't either, and I would shake uncontrollably, and then find myself in front of the toilet, unable to puke, though feeling like I might at any moment. It was a pandemic. It was so much more. Myself, and almost everyone I know, has undergone a major transition this year, and I'm not just talking about adjusting to life under what we're all calling the "new normal." I'm talking identity crises, relationship problems, job changes and career pivots, etc. etc.. Things are rough.


I remember, towards the beginning of the pandemic, the whole world felt to me to be a great big shadow, of only the darkest of blacks, and what might be called grey was simply all that was left of the light in the world, and what would soon - and very soon, trust me - fade too, into nothing, and nothing, and then nothing. But then there was this moment - it's a little embarrassing - when Dirty Projectors came out with an EP ("Windows Open") on March 27th. Suddenly, there was some orange again; and blues, but nice blues, like of the ocean, or some Grecian stone island-home. The EP had a tone of worry, certainly (just look at the song titles: "Overlord," "Guarding the Baby" ...), but it hadn't entirely lost some sense of wonder - the world was still pretty. I remember being so inspired, that the very next day I released a song of my own that I had been holding onto and hiding for nearly four years. Eventually, Dirty Projectors released 5EPs, which doesn't make this list, but is worth a listen.


Ultimately, music in 2020 felt like flowers popping out of the darkness - symbols of beauty easily lost in the paralyzing loneliness of the year. And some of what came out in 2020 was truly incredible. Here are my top ten albums of 2020.

Flowers Near Fort Greene Park, Photo by Me.
 

10. Spiritual Vegas

PAINT


Allah Las' Pedrum Siadatian came out with his debut solo album under the name PAINT in 2018, and it was good. "Silver Streaks" in particular struck me as being an incredible love song, one in which the narrator looks at his partner's dyed hair and finds it an apt metaphor for their maturing love. But then, in 2020, Siadatian decided to release a song sung entirely in Farsi, and a music video to match the melodramatic Iranian film he had grown up admiring. What we end up with is a wildly unique take on psych-rock, in which hints and nods towards an Iranian music become an exciting new avenue for a rather played-out genre to go down. Allah Las and PAINT somehow - seemingly without explanation - manage to keep an entire genre afloat by playing in the margins of psych, this time, inflecting the genre not only with unexpected border transgressions, but also impressive guitar licks and funny production quirks.


Get the album here.


9. Savage Mode II

21 Savage & Metro Boomin


The return of Savage Mode, this time with Morgan Freeman apparently. Savage Mode II is perhaps the cutest album of the year, its thesis being that no two individuals are greater collaborators than 21 Savage and Metro Boomin'. And maybe they're right; 21 finds himself so perfectly in the pocket on Metro's beats, it's hard to imagine either of them working on a project with any other artist. And for two of Southern Trap's most essential figures, the album is sonically diverse, leaving the classic hi-hat patterns of the genre alone at moments in preference for a more classic sound like on "Steppin' on N..." or even playing with string arrangements on "Rich N... Shit." And 21's bars on this album make him debatably one of the funniest rappers in the game, an impressive feat, no doubt.


Get the album here.


8. Cuttin' Grass Vol. 1

Sturgill Simpson


With Cuttin' Grass, Sturgill gives his songs the treatment they have always deserved. It's not that the older versions are bad, please; they are anything but that. But here, we get them as they truly are - meticulously crafted and perfectly sentimental odes to the beauty of life, as stripped down as they are built up. To be frank, they sound perfect. The background harmonies on "Breakers Roar," for example, are only as angelic as they should be so as to let just the slightest southern grit through. They remind me of a Roy Orbison track, or a Ricky Nelson song, but with the lyric complexity and honesty that only Sturgill Simpson can accomplish. And I'm happy with that.


Get the album here.


7. Apolonio

Omar Apollo


Apollo packs so much into the 25 minutes that is Apolonio. From what might be the catchiest song of the year, "Kamikaze,"the embarrassingly candid (and thus, beautiful) "Bi Fren," to the sad and sentimental "The Two of Us," Apollo straddles thematics like no other. The album is cohesive in a way that is unsettling, especially considering the variety of influences he makes apparent on the album, either via feature or production. Whether it's an ode to melodramatic Mexican pop music, or a sexy, funk-infused slow burn, Apollo wants you to know he's amazing.


Get the album here.


6. Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Fiona Apple


I just hope that one day I can listen to this album without feeling the feelings I felt during the start of the lockdown. But maybe that's the beauty in it too, that it can so easily bring you right there, so vividly, and without remorse. This album is not a joke, though it may be funny at times. Nor is it entirely sincere; Apple is certainly playing with us here. But what the album mostly is, is frightening. And this is good. No one does frightening better than Apple, whether it be via lyrical content, or the ever-confusing ambient noise you find in the background of the track that you swear wasn't there on last listen. If you want to be angry, a little sad, but comforted in those emotions, then please, listen.


Get the album here.


5. Float Back To You

Holy Hive


I'm not sure if the best phrase is "surprisingly sexy," but I'm not sure what else would work. Folk music, generally speaking, isn't what gets me into the bedroom. But Holy Hive, apparently, disagrees with this sentiment, and would like to present to you the sexiest folk music can possibly be before ceasing to be folk music anymore. If this is some remnant of Brooklyn's "freak folk" era, Holy Hive - what some have called "soul-funk" - are doing what their predecessors could't have possibly dreamed of. Paul Springs' fragile falsetto sits perfectly over Homer Steinweiss' athletic drumming, while surprising orchestral and horn parts glitter about to complete the picture. It's a gorgeously romantic album, one that is about as complicated as something that could ever be called "easy listening" can be. This isn't an album I expected, but I'm happy to know. And it's their debut.


Get the album here.


4. Hey u x

BENEE


If you don't like BENEE, fuck off. After two incredibly catchy EPs, we have Hey u x, and it's good. In fact, it has her best song yet, and what I would argue is one of the best songs of the past ten years: "Same Effect." There is truly very little in the world more exciting to me right now than that initial beat drop for the first chorus. Just, wow. Between the emotional, Radiohead-inspired "Happen to me," the earnest folk track "C U," or the just gorgeous "If I Get to Meet You," BENEE is without a doubt one of the most exciting musicians working right now. In 2020, there's no shortage of young emerging artists - and I'm grateful for that - but as of now, BENEE has me most captivated.


Get the album here.

3. Circles (Deluxe)

Mac Miller


It is essential that you listen to the deluxe edition of this album. The idea of listening to this album without "Right" and "Floating" at the end, seems entirely blasphemous. Mac Miller's posthumous release is, unfortunately, his best, leaving us all wondering what might have come next. But this album so eerily brings us to that brink, lyrically and sonically, as the entire record sounds as if it's hovering above us, gliding airwaves shored from some distant space. The production is immaculate, and Miller's voice sounds so sombre, yet so excited, as if he loved what he was doing, but struggled to find his reasons for doing so. There is so much beauty to be found in circles, and Miller gave us another angle at which to admire them.


Get the album here.


2. Shore

Fleet Foxes


In the absolute dumpster fire of the year we all collectively refer to as "2020," there was at least one moment where the flames seemed to cool a bit and offer some respite. That moment was the release of Shore. Aligned with the autumnal equinox, Fleet Foxes showed up again just when we needed them with an uplifting but realistic album that celebrated life in an entirely new way. It is outrageously earnest and sentimental, and that's what makes it so incredible. Pecknold's voice is as clear and exciting as ever, but this time the lyrics are simpler, and he asks in the least annoying way possible, to be grateful.


Get the album here.


1. Agüita

Gabriel Garzón-Montano


There is no album quite like this one. I simply have no frame of reference. What GGM did on Agüita is truly bewildering, and in the best way possible. Every track is so different from the last, yet compliments the whole in a seemingly impossible way. Between title-track trap banger, to the soft Saudade-inspired "Bloom," GGM takes the listener on a musical road trip like no other. And if you think you can listen to "Someone" without feeling something, you're either entirely wrong, or maybe a psychopath. He said he wanted the album to sound like a mixtape, or like you accidentally put it on shuffle. And he did exactly that. It's jarring, confusing, scary, and sexy. GGM seems to have really found himself on this, making a cohesiveness out of utter dissolution, a whole out of the rupture, everything and absolutely nothing at the same time.


Get the album here.

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