Exclaim!'s 50 Best Albums of 2020
Published Dec 02, 2020This was a year of solitude and introspection, whether we wanted it or not. It was a year that forced everyone to confront their deepest, darkest feelings and push forward despite a categorical lack of support and diminishing capacities to cope. This year's best albums — most of which were well on their way to release before the lockdowns began — speak to the ever-increasingly desperate need for change. Whether dismantling the boundaries of hip-hop, drawing on influences from across the globe or rewriting the rules of popular music, 2020's best albums carried the weight of the world on their backs and took as many steps forward as they possibly could.
50. Illuminati Hotties
Free IH: This Is Not the One You've Been Waiting For
Artists have churned out plenty of dodgy releases in the name of fulfilling a contract. Yet, even in extracting herself from a bad deal (royalties go to former label Tiny Engines) Sarah Tudzin delivers a winner. Framed as a mixtape, the songs on Free IH are both musically diverse and playful, showcasing Tudzin's production chops and personality while pushing her self-proclaimed "tender-punk" sound to new heights.
49. Fleet Foxes
After two albums of cerebral compositions and minor-key ruminations, Robin Pecknold has returned to his roots, delivering an album that is as jubilant, accessible, and awe-inspiring as Fleet Foxes' debut was over a decade ago. These days, it's hard to feel grateful. But Shore — with its climactic choruses, effervescent eulogies to those lost and times before us, and buoyancy throughout — makes it easier to cope with the churn, even as the waters crest around us.
48. Kathleen Edwards
Kathleen Edwards took eight years between albums and went on a near-complete hiatus from music. By the sound of Total Freedom, she spent that time reflecting and looking inwards. Whether reassessing a past relationship with gratitude ("Glenfern"), rekindling a childhood friendship ("Simple Math") or paying tribute to a late dog ("Who Rescued Who"), these 10 elegant folk rock songs are a tender celebration of life's little pleasures. She sounds practically weightless when she sings, "I got birds on the feeder / I got dogs and they're sleeping / I got total freedom."
Visions of Bodies Being Burned
The seventh release from rap trio clipping. is a haunted house of terrifying nightmares you actually want to explore. Visions of Bodies Being Burned is dark and psychologically twisted, an album that makes you jump, twitch and grin devilishly. Witches cackle, chainsaws roar and teens whisper over Ouija boards until the project ends on "Secret Place," where you hack through the forest and discover a highway, rejoining civilization — you've survived, for now.
Sarah Jessica Rintjema
46. Dua Lipa
Future Nostalgia is one of those rare pop albums that feels current yet timeless. The record is a history lesson on pop music, distilling decades of pop music and the catalogues of seminal pop artists into its own unique, club-ready statement. For Dua Lipa, it's a brilliantly confident statement. She sounds right at home creating exuberant pop, perfectly optimized to deliver true dancefloor catharsis.
45. Adrianne Lenker
Adrianne Lenker invites you into her one-room cabin in the woods with songs. Accompanied by nothing but her guitar, the creeks in the floorboard and the faint sounds of nature, the Big Thief singer digs deep into life's souvenirs and sorrows in solitude. It is a profoundly intentional yet simple record that displays Lenker's sincere talent in all its glory, proving her to be one of the best folk songwriters right now.
44. Code Orange
Code Orange's follow-up to Forever came with high anticipation. The former Code Orange Kids are children no longer on this cutting-edge piece of industrial hardcore. Their everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach led to feverish overtones and terrifying electronic attacks on the songs "In Fear," "Last Ones Left" and "Swallowing the Rabbit Whole." Like someone crumpling up Trent Reznor's best work and copy-pasting it to Converge's Jane Doe, Code Orange have dragged heavy music into the new age.
Finds You Well
It's not often a record comes along that not only soothes the soul but blows your mind too. Khotin might be the only producer to have mastered the ambient hook — this album is oddly catchy. Something about Finds You Well repeatedly beckons you to lay down in its toasty cocoon. Once inside, Khotin's softly-nudging electronic explorations will coax you on a wistful journey through a simpler time. Come, climb inside.
42. Yves Jarvis
Sundry Rock Song Stock
Pervasive throughout Sundry Rock Song Stock is a feeling of growth. Yves Jarvis once again utilizes colour theory, this time tapping into the emotions and mood that arise around the colour green. Jarvis pitches the listener into a pseudo-psychedelic journey of overdubbed guitars, lush synths and experimental indulgences, all while barely singing above a whisper. Don't be mistaken by the trippy instrumentals or impressionistic lyrics — the album is richly accessible with catchy hooks and melodies.
41. Soccer Mommy
Soccer Mommy, a.k.a. Sophie Allison, lyrically explores depression, illness and loss in her colour-coded sophomore album. The tracklist moves through blue, yellow, and grey, detailing mental health struggles and coping with her mother's cancer among other grim yet relatable topics. As if its alt-rock palette wasn't enough, color theory evokes '90s nostalgia with its video game-like album artwork, the production of "Circle the Drain," and Allison's signature pigtails.
Karen K. Tran