GigList's Top 20 Albums Of 2020
The use of 'annus horribilis' has never been more appropriate having endured the past nine months. But with the shit-storm of Covid-19 dominating our lives, and live music left to waste, 2020 has still brought us some incredible records.
Not that we don't say the same every year, but particularly throughout this unique period of history, new music was our lifeblood in the absence of live experiences, reinforcing our bonds with music and how we rely on it throughout times of both difficulty and celebration.
In all their glorious iterations, here's our best 20 albums of 2020:
20. Perfume Genius - Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
The purest expression of art-pop in 2020, Mike Hadreas’ latest album barrels through a dozen styles with dancelike dexterity. Fixated as always with the body - a nod to his ongoing battle with Crohn’s disease - he feels equally liberated and constrained by human biology. The clumsy come-on that is ‘Jason’ nestles beautifully aside the devastating plea of ‘Leave.’ Each self-contained story blooms into a stunning tapestry of life, love, sex and death. In the year of a dance-pop resurgence, Perfume Genius takes the time for more meditative, plaintive pop.
- Isaac Bartels
19. Kelly Lee Owens - Inner Song
An especially significant album for those among us desperately craving the musty euphoria of our forgotten nightlife: channelling personal heartbreak and loss in her contemplative, techno pop triumph, Kelly Lee Owens’ sophomore effort Inner Song acted foremost as therapy for herself, but residually for anyone who consumed it. One of the more notable releases to be delayed whilst the pandemic tightened its grip, the former NHS nurse-turned-electronic music cover star set the tone for 2020's emotional upheaval, both in eulogising the past and embracing considerable change.
- Tom Curtis-Horsfall
18. Buscabulla - Regressa
As far as 2020 album debuts go, it’d be hard to knock Puerto Rican duo Buscabulla off the podium. Perhaps bolstered by a feature on FIFA’ 20 with album opener ‘Vámono’, Regressa introduced Buscabulla (Puerto Rican slang for ‘troublemaker’) as masters of stirring rhythms and misty, modern textures, making it a perfect accompaniment to the sweltering, early summer evenings we were gifted this year.
- John Bell
17. Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs - Viscerals
Wearing the influence of Black Sabbath, Motorhead et al. firmly on their sleeve, the latest record from the Geordie boys Pigs x7 saw them blister their way through monolithic riffs and growling vocals – with a collection of more distinct and succinct tracks than on meandering previous efforts – all the while retaining a characteristic sense of playfulness that saves them from descending into bombastic excess. While they don’t scrimp on the more abrasive, abstract and animalistic elements of heavy metal, the broader crossover appeal of the record, and the band as a whole, is testament to their adeptness in navigating through the perceived impenetrability of the genre, thanks in no small part to their obvious refusal to take themselves too seriously.
- James Kilpin
16. Thundercat - It Is What It Is
A musical melding of Stephen Bruner’s trademark goofiness and virtuosic bass-playing ability, It Is What It Is rolled off the success of Thundercat’s 2017 album, Drunk, a tough act to follow. The long-awaited LP picked up a Grammy nomination and the carousel of imported talent (Pedro Martins, Childish Gambino, Louis Cole), the bass flair, and Thundercat’s purring vocal cadence all help shape the LP into a cohesive and engaging body of work. Bonner has played with a dizzying array of genius musical personas from Kendrick Lamar to Suicidal Tendencies, acting as a kind of sponge: absorbing the influence for a constantly changing, unswervingly original sound.
- Miles Ellingham
15. Tame Impala - The Slow Rush
After a five-year album hiatus, Tame Impala returned with the aptly named, The Slow Rush, a saving grace amidst a wretched year. Kevin Parker manufactures a more updated take of the groovy, synth-psychedelic themes of previous work, incorporating more disco and funk creating a prodigious yet ethereal sound. Depicting personal issues associated with the mindfulness and anxiety of passing time, striking with the immobility but optimism of 2020, The Slow Rush manifests Parker’s musical evolutions resulting in engaging tracks fused with relatable lyrical introspectiveness.
- Charlie Bristow
14. Destroyer - Have We Met
Given the infamous taste for apocalyptic visions in his songwriting over the past decade and a half, it’s likely that many a music journalist had wished Dan Bejar might have waited just a month or two longer before releasing a new Destroyer album back in January. Think of the field day they’d have honing in on lyrics such as “Just look at the world around you / Actually no, don’t look'' on reverby ‘The Raven’, or, “I walked into the room and was made sick by the room” on closer ‘foolssong’. But no, Have We Met was born in simpler times, another piece of Bejar’s nihilistic puzzle when isolation was an artistic standpoint, not an enforced necessity.
- John Bell
13. Run The Jewels - RTJ4
Prolific rap duo Killer Mike and El-P returned with the fourth instalment of their Run The Jewels collaboration, and it might be their most definitive work yet. Poignant topics of social injustice and economic inequalities are condensed into 40 minutes of impactful bangers. El-P’s production is typically forward-thinking, Mike’s lyricism is as cutting as ever. Mix it together, and you’ve got yourself one of the best rap albums in recent memory.
- Ellis Karran
12. Fiona Apple - Fetch The Bolt Cutters
From the undisputed Queen of self-isolation came an album that exemplified and amplified the virtues of aloneness. As the title suggests, this is a defiant excavation of oneself, from the chains of toxic-masculinity, of abuse in its many forms, and a reckoning with desire. Her house is the instrument filled with wild stomping, clattering and dog barks abounding. Her approach may not yield prolifically, but when a Fiona Apple album lands, it hits with a devastation and clarity unlike anyone else. This is the magnum opus of a modern great.
- Anthony Harbin
11. Fontaines DC - A Hero’s Death
A Hero’s Death is such a good album that it almost makes you forget how tired you are of whichever iteration of the post-punk rebirth we’re currently living through. The album is masterfully turned out, sharpened on the grindstone of Dan Carey’s Speedy Wundergound and formed of eleven impassive poems from Fontaines D.C.'s charismatic lead-singer Grian Chatten. The songs drift dreamily from joy to despair and back again, sometimes A Hero’s Death comes as a new-model folkloric ballad, sometimes as industrial punk, sometimes hand in hand with the ghosts of Ian Curtis and Patrick Kavanagh.
- Miles Ellingham
10. Mac Miller - Circles
Like a final gift from beyond the grave, Circles was intended as a counterpart to 2018’s Swimming, and was what occupied the final months of the charismatic rapper’s life. Though admittedly lacking some of the funk and zhoosh of its first part, the record is by no means a depressing experience, and even on its most downbeat moments – 'Once A Day', for example, or the opening title track – there’s still a sense of comfort, like forcing a wry smile out of a friend who’s had a bad day. Still, every moment of delight, and there are many, will always be tied to a reminder of all the promise Mac Miller had left to fulfil.
- John Bell
9. Roisin Murphy - Roisin Machine
Undoubtedly her opus as a solo artist, Roisin Murphy lamented her inability to connect romantically on the sprawling, disco-laden Roisin Machine, given her inextricable relationship with performance, her artistry, and the dancefloor that proves a constant barrier: “I’ve never had a broken heart, am I incapable of love?” she audibly doubted on ‘Incapable’. In a year where the live music and club scenes all-but vanquished, left in the doldrums by governments across the globe, she may have a broken heart after all. Kind of ironic, but thankfully we got an ode to dancing and elation it brings, and will bring in the near future.
- Tom Curtis- Horsfall
8. Laura Marling - Song For Our Daughter
The year in music could not be summarised or celebrated without mentioning Laura Marling’s seventh album, Song For Our Daughter. Aptly released in Spring, Laura’s songwriting blossomed as scents of the greats wafted through - Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan have all been name-checked in comparisons and this album really is a masterpiece of maturity. Not only has it gifted us some of her best songs, but lyrically it journeys through relevant societal conversations surrounding womanhood, motherhood, and love. Marling’s announcement statement of the album couldn’t have been more accurate; “I saw no reason to to hold back on something that, at the very least, might entertain, and at its best, provide some sense of union”.
- Verity Vincent
7. SAULT - Untitled (Rise)
Despite the shroud of mystique that still envelops SAULT, the prolific collective wore its identity boldly on their fourth album in only two years. The richness of black culture and community bind Untitled (Rise), and beams from its every pore, as jazz, soul, hip-hop, and R&B textures are blended effortlessly and intentionally. In a year where the ripples of racial injustice were felt worldwide and the Black Lives Matter movement was embraced beyond left-leaning circles, considering the collective all-but shun media attention SAULT’s powerful message and unity with the aforementioned was potently clear.
- Tom Curtis-Horsfall
6. Waxahatchee - Saint Cloud
It’s twinkling folk, it’s cadenced indie rock, it’s haunting country and it’s soulful Americana. It’s also Waxahatchee’s best album; a swirling whirlpool deepened with every wrinkle of human emotion, beliefs that pulled Katie Crutchfield towards recovery, feelings of regret, love, and solemn but sunny reflection. On Saint Cloud, Waxahatchee’s poetic tales and twanging Southern rhythms represent an artist willing to ponder her dark and cynical past, so as to brush it off and seek a brighter, more optimistic future. At the end of tumultuous and turbulent 2020, shouldn’t we all attempt to do the same?
- Charlie Kitcat
5. Yves Tumor - Heaven To A Tortured Mind
Yves Tumor and their music have only continued to expand and mutate, from the experimental noise of Serpent Music into this latest carnal mass of genre-defying rock starstuff. This is a visceral and decadent ride through the psyche of one of the most exciting artists of our time. Louche, prowling and extravagant, they have a gift for transmogrifying twisted and frightening texture into something beautiful. For anyone craving the sheer transcendent alien otherness of Bowie or Prince, then look no further.
- Anthony Harbin
4. Caribou - Suddenly
Suddenly is a beautifully ornate stained glass window into Dan Snaith’s personal life. Not dissimilar to 2020, the album swings from left to right at a moment’s notice. It chops and changes between soothing melodies, profound vocals and uplifting house beats, but never sounds chaotic. More like calculated and considered from minute one, as if Snaith’s long electro-pop experimentation had been leading up to this album, Suddenly expertly defines Caribou’s unique subgenre and is his finest work to date.
- Tom Cramp
3. Lianne La Havas - Lianne La Havas
For Lianne La Havas, an eagerly anticipated return after five years away didn’t bring with it a radical new sound or artistic direction, but rather a deeply personal and utterly captivating exploration of the experiences that had defined the last few years of her life.
Charting the story of a relationship through luscious early beginnings, difficulties maintaining connection, bittersweet endings, and optimistic rebirth, the album’s journey reminded us not just of Lianne La Havas’ huge talents as a singer and performer, but her adeptness in inviting us all, as listeners, into the stories she tells and the world that she creates.
- James Kilpin
2. Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher
Given its reception back in June and its place atop almost all of the end-of-year-lists, it’s obvious that Phoebe Bridgers’ much anticipated second full-length had something for everyone. Finessing the crossover between the current Americana-dominated indie sphere and a touch of the more esoteric emo genre that she’d begun with her debut Stranger in the Alps, the relatively concise Punisher swooped the exact kind of cold, mystic atmosphere in that everyone hoped for, bottled up in the likes of ‘Halloween’ and let spilled in the chaotic closing moments of ‘I Know The End’.
- John Bell
1. Fleet Foxes - Shore
Shore, in all its choral majesty, offered sanctuary from this all-encompassing shit-show of a year when Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold revealed the full album virtually unannounced on the autumnal equinox. Just when the second wave reared its ugly head and the collective state of mind was as frail as ever, up pops Pecknold with the most universal, resplendent album of his career. Less esoteric than 2017’s superb renaissance Crack Up, the mosaic of his philosophies and fragilities is remarkably prescient given Shore was recorded over a two-year period. Yet, the optimism it embodied was sorely needed.
Coincidence that Trump got ousted after the album dropped? That a vaccine, billed as our saviour from the pandemic came about soon after? Absolutely. But Shore, radiant in positive energy, reframing sadness into commemoration and celebration, still marked the beginning of the end of this awful era. An era that can't end soon enough.
- Tom Curtis-Horsfall