The Best of 2020: The Year in Music – Top 30 Albums of 2020
Written By – C. A. Ponch
Music in 2020 was a deep reflection of the type of lives we led last year. There was a lot of songs about politics and protest like “Rockstar” by DaBaby and “Gaslighter” by The Chicks, and artists more than ever wanted not just to be heard, but actually listened to. The music was intimate as most people listened to their song choices, alone in the comfort of their own homes. Without any festivals, concerts or DJs to listen to at parties; music fans found other ways to discover music on social media. However, people didn’t stop dancing especially to the K-Pop invasion with songs like “Dynamite” by BTS and “Ice Cream” by Blackpink. Short chunks of songs were ingested in massive amounts very quickly on TikTok and YouTube or through playlists on Spotify, Apple and Amazon music. 2020 brought us Hip-Hop, Folk, Rock and R&B songs about sadness and hope like “People I’ve Been Sad” by Christine and the Queens and “Holy” by Justin Bieber.
“Rockstar” by DaBaby
“Gaslighter” by The Chicks
“Dynamite” by BTS
“Ice Cream” by Blackpink
“People I’ve Been Sad” by Christine and the Queens
“Holy” by Justin Bieber
The Year gave us some great love songs and breakup songs like “Hard to Forget” by Sam Hunt, but mostly the year brought us a ton of Pop songs about sex. This seemed like the horniest year of music ever with songs in all genre’s talking about getting down, whether it was slick dance grooves or dirty jams. Songs like “WAP” by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, “Savage Love (Remix)” by Jawsh 685 and Jason Derulo, “Safaera” by Bad Bunny, and “Savage(remix)” by Megan Thee Stallion and Beyonce told us all about how these artists spent their time in lock down, with some songs inspiring us to get in the “Mood” (24kGoldn and Iann Dior) ourselves. Some people really didn’t like the explicitness of it all, but that was 2020, there was a lot of things people were exposed to they didn’t like. A lot of these song’s artist’s full albums just missed the cut. I personally didn’t like their albums nearly as much as the hits that defined them, but this year was a stronger year than expected in music, and these are the top 30 albums of last year that deserve a listen.
“Hard to Forget” by Sam Hunt
“WAP” by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion
“Savage Love (Remix)” by Jawsh 685 and Jason Derulo
“Safaera” by Bad Bunny
“Savage(remix)” by Megan Thee Stallion and Beyonce
“Mood” by 24kGoldn and Iann Dior
30. Future: High Off Life – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 3.5/5.0 – Pitchfork: 7.1/10 – Metacritic: 70%
Singles: 1. “100 Shooters: 2. “Last Name” 3. “Life is Good” 4. “Tycoon” 5. “Trillionaire”
Hip-Hop was deemed the most popular genre in 2020, yet it seems destined to be a genre meant for Tik Tok and singles. I just could not find many Hip-Hop albums I actually enjoyed the whole way through besides “High Off Life” and “RTJ4” in 2020. This just edged Lil Uzi Vert’s “Eternal Atake”, Megan Thee Stallion’s “Good News”, Lil Baby’s “My Turn”, among others, but it’s Future’s consistency that makes me think he will live up to his namesake and I will listen to this down the road, unlike some of his rap peers. There is an emotional tug of war between positivity and devastation in his music, and “High off Life” is no exception. It has the bangers, and the songs for you to just sit back and think, and any time someone brings in Drake to help, it always raises the quality of album.
29. Chloe X Halle: Ungodly Hour – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 3.5/5.0 – Pitchfork: 7.7/10 – Metacritic: 81%
Singles: 1. “Catch Up” 2. “Do It” 3. “Forgive Me” 4. “Ungodly Hour”
Can’t wait for the next Beyoncé album to drop and need something to listen too? How about two little Beyoncé’s produced by the “Queen B” herself! Twin sisters Chloe and Halle Bailey fill that void nicely, giving us very smooth vocal harmonies on the “Ungodly Hour”. Their voices melt together with a maturity other R&B groups their age can’t duplicate due to their familial relationship. “Do it” among other tracks slap with the same ferocity as their mentor.
28. Soccer Mommy: Color Theory – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4/5.0 – Pitchfork: 7.8/10 – Metacritic: 81%
Singles: 1. “Circle The Drain” 2. “Yellow Is The Color of Her Eyes”
I swear Sophie Allison aka Soccer Mommy’s album is better than the stage name she gave herself. “Color Theory” sounds like it was ripped from the 90’s with a distorted Pop-Rock sound similar to Liz Phair, Tori Amos and Rilo Kiley. With soft but deep angsty lyrics behind throwback Rock riffs, you would think this album came out two decades too late, if it didn’t sound so fresh compared to her contemporaries.
27. Black Pumas: Black Pumas- Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 3.5/5.0 – Pitchfork: 7.0/10 – Metacritic: 77%
Singles: 1. “Black Moon Rising” 2. “Fire” 3. “Colors”
The “Black Pumas” is an album you feel like you have heard before. All ten tracks have a very distinct retro-soul sound with a modern message. At times you do feel like you are hearing a cover rather a new creative work, and although that imitation is heavy without much innovation; it’s that familiar sound of love making soul that just hooks you for the whole duration of the album. Listening to the Deluxe version with some classic covers, and you come to realize that lead singer Eric Burton’s soulful voice just makes everything sound great. All those songs without distinction, could turn the Black Pumas into the repetitive “Mumford and Son’s” of soul or listeners could just enjoy “Black Pumas” for what it is: sweet psychedelic R&B.
26. Perfume Genius: Set My Heart on Fire Immediately – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4/5.0 – Pitchfork: 9/10 – Metacritic: 91%
Singles: 1. “Describe” 2. “On The Floor”
Every song on Perfume Genuis’ “Set My Heart on Fire” is like an emotional mood swing. I’m impressed the man has this much emotion to pour out of himself and glad that he is willing to share all that intimacy with us, the listeners. This is a very polished alternative Indie-Rock sound, bordering on Pop-Rock with a few catchy tunes for everyone. I love the Indie creativeness and distinction of each song as Perfume Genuis pushes for a larger more mainstream audience.
25. Gabby Barrett: Goldmine – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 3.5/5.0 – Pitchfork: N/A/10 – Metacritic: N/A%
Singles: 1. “I Hope” 2. “The Good Ones” 3. “Hall of Fame”
I stopped watching “American Idol” years ago, so I had no idea Gabby Barrett was a contestant on the show until recently. Upon hearing “Goldmine”, you can’t help but make the immediate comparison to the most successful idol of all time, Carrie Underwood. This is modern glossy female Country-Pop music, that some would consider over produced, but when the artist is this talented of a creator, the music can expand far beyond the artist’s core audience. Country-Pop fans will adore this album as the smash hit “I Hope” is probably playing on their FM or Sirius XM dial right now. I am not sure Barrett will ever be the next Taylor Swift, but with “Goldmine” she is already on her way to being the next Underwood.
24. The New Abnormal: The Strokes – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 3.5/5.0 – Pitchfork: 5.7/10 – Metacritic: 75%
Singles: 1. “At The Door” 2. “Bad Decisions” 3. “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus” 4. “The Adults Are Talking”
With “The New Abnormal” the Strokes reminded us that Rock isn’t so much dead, but it just comes in different forms these days. “The New Abnormal is hard to define with every song taking different forms from Indie, Alt-Rock, to some Glam-Rock and even Disco with groovy synths and catchy baselines. This is the best Strokes album in over a decade and every song from beginning to end is stylish and shiny. Gone are the days of the distorted Strokes, you can hear the slick production value in “The New Abnormal” added by their new producer, “Slick” Rick Ruben. Every song is a little different, but all are undoubtedly The Strokes. Just a flashier and more fun Strokes, who seem like they were having a good time making this album, and those happy vibes transfer over to the enjoyment of their old and new listeners.
23. Bruce Springsteen: Letter to You – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4/5.0 – Pitchfork: 7.4/10 – Metacritic: 88%
Singles: 1. “Letter to You” 2. “Ghosts” 3. “I’ll See You in My Dreams”
“The Boss” is back! This is old Bruce and one of the best albums of his career. I was shocked at the energy of the album, until I learned the whole album was recorded live with the E Street Band. You can feel the raw power of Springsteen’s live shows in this album that his past modern albums didn’t have. The songs sound like classics that you have heard before, or lost B-sides off of “Born to Run”. “Letter to You” sounds like nostalgia and that’s a good thing in this case. Most times retreads don’t work for me, but the E Street Band proves they aren’t done yet and you can still make great Rock music in your 70’s. These tracks are deeply reflective, life story Rock anthems that only Bruce could produce.
22. Ashley McBryde: Never Will – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4/5.0 – Pitchfork: N/A/10 – Metacritic: 83%
Singles: 1. “One Night Standards” 2. “Martha Divine”
2020 brought us some great female Alt-Country albums, with all of them gravitating towards their own unique corner of the Alt-Country world. With “Never Will”, Ashley McBryde lets us know exactly who she is: An Alt-Rock/Country bluesy badass, who is tougher and more introspective than most of her male cotemporaries and all of her female ones. She makes most Modern Country sound soft. This is a very humanistic album that pulls you in and tells you stories of old southern towns with dirt roads, roadhouse bars and sleazy hotels. “Never Will” is a Southern roots record mixing aspects of Pop, Country and Alt- Rock and McBryde would fit right in with “The Highwaymen” as the new female version of a mix between Cash and Kristofferson.
21. Jason Isbell and the 400 Units: Reunions – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 3.5/5.0 – Pitchfork: 7.8/10 – Metacritic: 82%
Singles: 1. “Be Afraid” 2. “What’ve I Done to Help” 3. “Only Children” 4. “Letting You Go”
Jason Isbell never makes a bad album. Like all of Jason Isbell’s solo efforts, “Reunions” just doesn’t have any weaknesses. It is one of the better produced albums of his career. “Reunions” isn’t as rough on your emotions as some of his past albums, allowing the deepness of the lyrics to not feel weighed down in gloom. These are Country-Rock songs about a man and the struggles of balancing everyday life, troubles with addiction both past and present, and the love of family. With the themes in “Reunions” being so introspective and personal you would think that he would falter by getting a little too clichéd, but there is a sincerity to his music that never strays from the center of those very relatable themes.
20. Miley Cyrus: Plastic Hearts – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4/5.0 – Pitchfork: 6.4/10 – Metacritic: 75%
Singles: 1. “Midnight Sky” 2. “Prisoner” 3. “Angles Like You” 4. “Edge of Midnight (Midnight Sky Remix)”
The minute I heard “Midnight Sky” I immediately thought it sounded like Stevie Nick’s and the mashup remix with Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” blew me away, as my favorite remix of the year. Then it hit me, Miley Cyrus is a throwback 70’s Pop-Rock star. She is so popular, dynamic and extremely talented that she could single-handedly save the Pop-Rock genre that defined the 70’s and 80’s. I love the style of “Plastic Hearts” because it reminds me of the music I grew up with, essentially music for everyone young and old. Most modern Pop music isn’t going to appeal to both my father, sister and nieces but I could totally see all of them liking “Plastic Hearts” equally. It’s obvious, Miley wanted a more mature and relatable sound that I think will define her for years to come. The album is a little bit of a rollercoaster with extreme highs and some dud lows but you will keep playing those highs over and over, add in a few great covers at the end of the album and this is one of the most listenable albums of the year.
19. Fleet Foxes: Shore – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4/5.0 – Pitchfork: 8.3/10 – Metacritic: 87%
Singles: 1. “Can I Believe You” 2. “Sunblind”
There wasn’t a more aptly named album than “Shore” in 2020. Fleet Foxes new album immediately takes you to a place of positive relaxation, sitting in a beach chair with a drink in your hand thinking about how great it is to be alive after a tough year. The Indie-Rock melodic hooks of “Shore” fit as well with a Yacht-Rock crowd as they would with a group of Brooklyn hipsters. This is a stunningly beautiful album that sounds almost freeing, touching on topics of loss and growing old. The mellow harmonies will be pleasing to any listener, make sure you add “Shore” to your long weekend trip playlist.
18. Jessie Ware: What’s Your Pleasure? – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4.5/5.0 – Pitchfork: 8.3/10 – Metacritic: 84%
Singles: 1. “Adore You” 2. “Mirage (Don’t Stop” 3. “Spotlight” 4. “ Ohh La La” 5. “Save A Kiss” 6. “What’s Your Pleasure?” 7. “Remember Where You”
I wasn’t that familiar with Jessie Ware’s music before I heard “What’s Your Pleasure?”, and after listening to it multiple times on rotation I feel intimately familiar with Jessie and her desires. This is a sleek and sultry synth disco album similar to “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer with a pinch of sharp modern production. Every song sounds like it was ripped out of a movie scene where someone was making love or doing drugs or dancing, or somehow all three at the same time. “What’s Your Pleasure?” is mature but not X-rated. Ware’s music is the adult in a room filled with horny inexperienced teenagers. Instead of sounding dirty like most Dance-Pop in 2020, it sounds sensual and confident. Ware knows exactly what she is doing, and you will applaud the 36-year-old for having the confidence to make a personal album and not one that sounds commercial.
17. Ariana Grande: Positions – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 3.5/5.0 – Pitchfork: 7.4/10 – Metacritic: 72%
Singles: 1. “Positions” 2. “34 + 35” 3. “POV”
As a father of a young daughter, I often wonder if this generation’s teenage girls are growing up too fast and how I will react to her choices once she is a teenager. Then I will listen to something like Ariana Grande’s new album “Positions”, and realize it’s already too late, this is the sex-crazed world we live and I can only hope she makes the right decisions. But you can flip that thinking around and hope that once she is in her twenties, that my daughter will be in complete control of her actions and future as well as Grande is on “Positions”. This album isn’t subtle, it’s an R&B album about sex from one of the biggest Pop stars on the planet, but it’s a little more than that. There is nuance regarding changes in one’s life and adapting quickly. Grande’s voice on the record is as gorgeous as she is and “Positions is a great mix of slick Pop and classic sensual R&B with song hooks that stick in your head all day. Ariana Grande is the new Christina Aguilera, with the comparison going much farther than just the rangy voice. Much like Aguilera’s “Stripped”, with “Positions”, Ariana wants to tell everyone she is all grown up now, stripping away any remnants of what was left of her Disney persona, giving us a young adult Pop record. The difference is, Aguilera came off as Pop star who wanted to be a sexy Rock star or Hip-Hop queen who groupies wanted to emulate, and Grande is a reflection of the 2020 modern twenty-something-year-old woman. Her fans are much closer in character, and her popularity is only going to grow with each album as they grow older with her.
16. Brett Eldredge: Sunday Drive – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4/5.0 – Pitchfork: N/A/10 – Metacritic: N/A%
Singles: 1. “Sunday Drive” 2. “Gabrielle” 3. “Good Day”
I didn’t think Brett Eldredge had this album in him. “Sunday Drive” is the best modern country album of the year, if you want to call it that. Most modern Country-Pop is shallow and not really of my liking, but Eldredge, whose singles I have always really enjoyed because of his melodic baritone voice, really grows as an artist on “Sunday Drive”. It’s by far his best album to date and it’s not just the more mature lyrics, the whole sound of the album is far closer to an older Classic Country sound like Chris Stapleton than it is to Luke Bryant. Eldredge really cared about this album, you can feel the heart and soul he put in to it. He doesn’t want to be the next Keith Urban or Kenny Chesney, he wants to be the next Willie Nelson, or Johnny Cash with a better voice. Although, he may never reach the popularity of those artist the great mix of Modern and Classic Country is so refreshing for the casual Modern Country listener.
15. Lady Gaga: Chromatica – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4/5.0 – Pitchfork: 7.3/10 – Metacritic: 79% –
Singles: 1. “Stupid Love” 2. “Rain on Me” 3. “911”
Lady Gaga is an iconic legend. She is the modern Madonna. If you search Google for “female icons” her name always comes up in the search with only a hand full of other musical artists. So with “Chromatica”, I was glad that she got back to the Pop synth dance style that gave her that iconic status. It’s not that I thought “Cheek to Cheek”, “Joanne” or “A Star is Born” were bad. Gaga is one of the most talented people on the planet. She brings it with every project whether it’s acting, dancing or singing, but “Chromatica” was a welcome return to what we all love about Gaga; it was pure Dance-Pop fun! She still has the pipes for Pop-House music, and when the whole world needed a shot in the arm, Gaga delivered her best album in a decade. Without clubs or concerts to go to, people everywhere created their own makeshift dance floors at home and thanked the iconic platinum Pop goddess for the deeply personal yet electric grooves.
14. Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4/5.0 – Pitchfork: 8.7/10 – Metacritic: 88%
Singles: 1. “Fire” 2. “Lilacs”
Describing Katie Crutchfield’s music style and influences on “Saint Cloud” is as difficult as trying to pronounce her band name Waxahatchee for Alexa to play it for you. Waxahatchee’s sound grows far more complex on this album blending Alt-Rock, Indie-Rock, Pop and Folk giving us a record of great accomplishment. The arrangements and lyrics are carefree and warm with a touch of heartache, but never true sadness. The mixing of moods she portrays on the album is almost as impressive as her mixing of styles, making the album sound like it was perfect for someone who lives on an old dirt road in the country or someone who lives in a posh apartment in New York City relating to either person equally. Waxahatchee isn’t quite Dylan or Mitchell, yet but the fact that I am struggling to compare “Saint Cloud” to anyone else, tells you how good the album is. For lovers of Ani DiFranco, you should listen to this immediately.
13. Elizabeth Cook: Aftermath – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4/5.0 – Pitchfork: N/A/10 – Metacritic: 84%
Singles: 1. “Bones” 2. “Perfect Girls of Pop” 3. “Bad Decisions” 4. “Thick Georgia Woman” 5. “These Days”
The best way to describe Elizabeth Cook’s new album “Aftermath” is exactly how everyone wants to be described: confident, undefinable, and badass! I was unfamiliar with Cook’s music before this album but it would be best described as Americana or Country. With “Aftermath”, Cook evolves into much more with shades of Classic Rock, Blues and Folk. This is an album full of life and realism, about strong women and the pain they go through to get what they want and deserve. Although there have been some tough women before her, with her husky voice, swagger, and “Aftermath”s undefinable freshness, Cook feels like the first lady outlaw on record.
12. Haim: Women In Music III – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4/5.0 – Pitchfork: 8.6/10 – Metacritic: 89%
Singles: 1. “Summer Girl” 2. “Now I’m in It” 3. “Hallelujah” 4. “The Steps” 5. “I Know Alone” 6. “Don’t Wanna”
When I heard Haim’s amazing third album, “Women In Music III”, I had to check whether I asked Alexa for the album or whether I accidently asked for Haim’s top songs. Every song I heard was so instantly likable and sounded so familiar, it was as if I heard it before. The Haim sisters once again produced a wonderful Soft-Rock album with cool R&B harmonies and Pop-Folk melodies. The Los Angeles trio even reached deep into their city’s rich music history and added some G-funk inspired tunes to the album. This is fun upbeat Indie-Rock that is great from the beginning to the end of the album that is somehow both casual and intimate at times depending on the track. It seems everything the sisters have done before kept building their sound up stronger, finally accumulating into the best work of their career.
11. The Weeknd: After Hours – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 3.5/5.0 – Pitchfork: 7.9/10 – Metacritic: 80%
Singles: 1. “Heartless” 2. “Blinding Lights” 3. “In Your Eyes” 4. “Save Your Tears”
Do you love 80’s Synth-Pop and yearn for the days of youthful innocence? Do you ever wish that you could enjoy listening to a Michael Jackson album without the guilt of knowing you’re supporting a weird pedophile? Well, boy do I have the album for you! Whether it’s an homage or more of a reimagining with modern flair, Abel Makkonen Tesfaye aka The Weeknd makes a sparkling 80’s R&B album that is dark yet inviting. There are times he sounds so much like Jackson, that I wonder if somehow MJ had enough money to place his brain and vocal cords into someone else’s body. This album once again reminds us how talented The Weeknd is and how smooth his voice can be. The production on “After Hours” is near perfect and the cold bleakness of some of his past albums gives way to a warmer more fun sound. The synths lighten the lyrics about sex and drugs making it sound far more youthful and romantic. This is the album all of the old head MJ and 80’s fans have been waiting for. I just hope they know that they are going to have to share it with all the young TikTokers, who love it just as much as they do.
10. Chris Stapleton: Starting Over – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 3.5/5.0 – Pitchfork: N/A/10 – Metacritic: 81%
Singles: 1. “Starting Over”
It took almost 15 years after The Highwaymen dissolved for someone to pick up the torch of their “Outlaw Country” sound and in 2015 Chris Stapleton picked it up and ran with it with his debut album “Traveller”. No one’s Classic Country flame burns brighter than Stapleton and on “Starting Over”, the torchbearer again gives us an instant Country classic and his best album since his debut. His tender identifiable voice and incredible songwriting complement the bluesy arrangements, making the listener want to lay back and crack open a beer and bottle of Jack. Stapleton is the Country artist for people who don’t like Country and for those who love Country. He is the modern Highwayman whose music sounds like it’s from another era. Others have tried to copy this sound in the past, but most lack Stapleton’s authenticity. This album is longer than his previous albums and a little more diverse. “Starting Over” is the best Classic Country album of the year and Stapleton is the greatest Country artist of the past two decades.
9. Harry Styles: Fine Line – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4/5.0 – Pitchfork: 6.0/10 – Metacritic: 76% –
Singles: 1. “Lights Up” 2. “Adore You” 3. “Falling” 4. “Watermelon Sugar” 5. “Golden” 6. “Treat People With Kindness”
Boybands members typically flame out after a few years musically without any real substance behind their music. The New Kids on the Block, The Backstreet Boys and a slew of lesser boyband member’s solo albums didn’t have much success. Then came “Justified”, Justin Timberlake’s glorious, Timbaland and the Neptunes produced Pop masterpiece, that launched Timberlake into the stratosphere of superstardom and handed him the moniker of the “New King of Pop”. It also gave hope to all boyband members everywhere that their post-boyband work could eventually be taken seriously. Enter One Direction, a boyband that appeared to be just a younger British version of *Nysnc, who I thought could produce another Timberlake. And they did, his name is Zayn. Zayn, along with the other three members of One Direction not named Harry Styles, put out very serviceable Pop albums. What I didn’t predict was that One Direction was going to produce the next Elton John or Steve Winwood, which is exactly the type of sound Styles gives us on his debut “Harry Styles” and his brilliant follow-up “Fine Line”. “Fine Line” is timeless, with its mix of soft Classic Rock and Pop, it could have been released in any decade and been a hit. Styles has a penchant for seventies soft rockers like Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac and Van Morrison, and you can hear all of those influences on “Fine Line”. The smash single “Adore You” sounds like it was taken from Winwood’s “Back in the High Life” and is one of my favorite songs of 2020. If more boyband members keep putting out fresh and universal sounding records like this, it will change the entire way I view them. “Fine Line” is the gold standard for life after boyband stardom.
8. Phoebe Bridgers: Punisher – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4/5.0 – Pitchfork: 8.7/10 – Metacritic: 90%
Singles: 1. “Garden Song” 2. “Kyoto” 3. “ICU” 4. “I Know the End” 5. “Savior Complex”
“Punisher” is a hauntingly beautiful album that amplifies Phoebe Bridgers song writing and vocal strengths. The lyrics are superb and the area where Bridgers has made the biggest strides since her first album “Stranger in the Alps”. She gives the listener incredibly smart stories that bath in sadness. Bridgers is a true mood setting genius, playing with the listener’s emotions as easily as she strums her guitar. There is no one to really compare Bridgers too, she is incredibly unique and her sound is undefinable. I would consider it Pop-Rock with elements of folk, but the lyrics and sound are much deeper than a Pop album and the production is far too rich for a true Indie album. Bridgers flawless voice, makes every sad song seem less melancholy. It’s the perfect album for a day of reflection that any listener young or old can identify with.
7. Halsey: Manic – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4/5.0 – Pitchfork: 6.5/10 – Metacritic: 80%
Singles: 1. “Without Me” 2. “Graveyard” 3. “You Should Be Sad”
I first heard Halsey in August of 2016 on a failed TV series called “Roadies” that only lasted one season. Although the show wasn’t great, the guest stars were usually the coolest part of the series, giving viewers a chance to hear some music from fresh new artists. During the episode, Halsey is portrayed far more like an introspective Indie singer-song writer than a Pop star. So imagine my surprise when I hear the very poppy dance song “Closer” from The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey for the first time a few days later. Who is this girl? “Manic” is as much of an eclectic enigma as Halsey herself, blending R&B, Pop-Rock, Americana, dance, all wrapped up in a singer-song writing bow. It’s almost unfair to consider “Manic” a 2020 release considering we have been listening to some of these songs like “Without Me” since the end of 2018, making “Manic” feel more like a greatest hits album. All of Halsey songs are infectious as they are ambiguous, and even though you can call this Pop, it’s far beyond that simple definition. Halsey is one of the very few Pop artists, who has future in whatever genre she chooses. She may even create a new one.
6. Bob Dylan: Rough and Rowdy Ways – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4.5/5.0 – Pitchfork: 9.0/10 – Metacritic: 95%
Singles: 1. “Murder Most Foul” 2. “I Contain Multitudes” 3. “False Prophet”
I didn’t want to listen to “Rough and Rowdy Ways”. I heard it was great but I feel artists like The Rolling Stones, Springsteen and Dylan just won’t go away and allow Rock music to evolve. I want to hear new fresh Rock from new voices, who create new sounds while honoring the past. I want to be able to relate to great lyrics and just couldn’t believe I can do that with an 80-year-old Bob Dylan. And of course I listened to the album, and of course it’s outstanding. After six decades of writing and performing music, Dylan is still a revolutionary, he is still reinventing himself, he is still fresh, and he is still the best. “Rough and Rowdy Ways” is a triumph and one of my favorite Dylan albums. It’s also the best Rock album of the year.
5. Sault: Untitled (Black Is) – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4/5.0 – Pitchfork: 8.2/10 – Metacritic: 86%
Singles: 1. “Wildfires”
Untitled (Rise) – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4/5.0 – Pitchfork: 8.0/10 – Metacritic: 93%
Singles: 1. “Free”
“Untitled (Black Is)” was released on June, 19th of 2020 and “Untitled (Rise)” was released a few months later in September. As far as I am concerned, this is just a double album, so I am treating it that way. Both albums are superb retro-soul mixed with modern R&B. These are protest songs, but aren’t heavy handed. The production allows you to hear the message without feeling like you are being preached too. Sault’s sound is so cool and compelling, like something from a soundtrack. Sault is able to delicately balance the message they want to convey, with beautiful arrangements and funky soulful beats. The R&B genre has nothing like this, it’s totally ultramodern and sounds like something the teenagers would be listening to in “Wakanda”. These were the best R&B albums of the year and it wasn’t even close. The fact they were able to make not one but two albums at this very high level is mind blowing. Sault’s music makes you take notice.
4. Run the Jewels: RTJ4 – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4/5.0 – Pitchfork: 8.3/10 – Metacritic: 89%
Singles: 1. “Yankee and the Brave (ep. 4)” 2. “Ooh La La” 3. “Just” 4. “Out of Sight”
Every generation of Hip-Hop fans have their favorite rappers. They usually think everyone who came before or after the time they were first introduced to Hip-Hop, wasn’t as good. Too me Rakim, Biggie, Jay-Z, Eminem and Naz are the best rappers of all time. Like an old man who tells you that he had to walk to school uphill in three feet of snow every day, I probably sound ancient saying that modern mumble rap is awful and the antithesis of what I love about rap as an art form and Hip-Hop as a culture. This mindset regarding modern rap, is what makes Run The Jewels all that more impressive. They prove you can be modern and still honor what has come before. They are the last great Hip-Hop group and “RTJ4” is on par with “RJT2” as one of the best rap albums of the last decade. Their flow is smooth and authentic; they are the throwback to 90’s Hip-Hop with a message. Every song sounds like a pump up or walk up song, or the song that is about to play before a fight starts in a movie. “RTJ4” is an album about revolution, unity, respect and tolerance from a mixed-race rap group, which is everything that Hip-Hop is and supposed to be.
3. Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4.5/5.0 – Pitchfork: 10/10 – Metacritic: 98%
Singles: 1. “Shameika”
One of my favorite shows of all time is the ShowTime drama “The Affair”, and every time I heard the show’s theme song “Container” starting in 2014, I got excited about the prospect of a new Fiona Apple album. Six years later and eight since her last album was released in 2012, “Fetch The Bolt Cutters” was finally here, and it was well worth the wait. This is the most original album of music in over a decade. I suppose you could call it singer/songwriter alternative Indie Pop-Rock, but that wouldn’t be giving the album enough credit for its originality. The production is perfect, the lyrics are remarkable, the instrumentals are undefinable. There is no cover band in the world that could even copy what Apple has done on this album. “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” has such a distinctive and creative sound, that someone would need to hear it for themselves to contemplate the greatness of the work. “Fetch The Bolt Cutters” will be discussed for decades, because it will never be duplicated.
2. Dua Lipa: Future Nostalgia – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4/5.0 – Pitchfork: 7.5/10 – Metacritic: 88%
Singles: 1. “Don’t Start Now” 2. “Physical” 3. “Break My Heart” 4. “Hallucinate” 5. “Levitating” 6. “Fever” 7. “Love Again”
Every year at the end of August, I drive to the Philadelphia area for an in-person Fantasy Football draft: 12 men drinking and eating like kings while BBQing and placing player’s name stickers up on a board on the back deck of one of my good friend’s home, talking about football. It is glorious. During this hetero testosterone filled day, we listen to football and other sport inspired Rock anthems and pump up jams. In 2020, there was one album that we all timidly agreed we enjoyed and wanted to hear: “Future Nostalgia”. Smack dab in the middle of Ice Cube and AC/DC was Dua Lipa, the powerful sexy British Pop singer, which tells you something about the extent of her popularity and the diversity of her audience. “Future Nostalgia” is 40 minutes of straight hits and is an instant Dance-Pop classic. It’s bold, fun and universal. There are only 11 perfect tracks on the album and seven of them were released as singles, and they are all that exceptional. Lipa doesn’t remake the wheel here, she just perfects it, stunting with shiny 28 inch rims. “Future Nostalgia” is one of the best Pop albums of all time and made everyone I know get up and dance during a year we all needed too.
1.Taylor Swift: Folklore – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4.5/5.0 – Pitchfork: 8.0/10 – Metacritic: 88% –
Singles: 1. “Cardigan” 2. “Exile” 3. “Betty” 4. “The 1”
Evermore – Ponch: 10/10 – Rolling Stone: 4.5/5.0 – Pitchfork: 7.9/10 – Metacritic: 85%
Singles: 1. “Willow” 2. “No Body, No Crime” 3. “Coney Island”
The biggest musical artist on the planet released two albums within five months of each other in 2020 and like I did with Sault, I can’t help but think of them as more of a double album that was recorded around the same time. Even if Swift would have only dropped “Folklore”, it still would have been one of the top three albums of the year. The fact she was able to produce two of the three best albums of her career in a new genre, with all the noise that surrounds her, in the same year is worthy of the number one spot and then some. These albums are Swift at her singer songwriting best. After three Hip-Hop/Pop albums and miles away from anything resembling her Country roots, I assumed Swift’s best days were behind her. This isn’t Country and this isn’t really Pop, these are two timeless Folk albums, and Swift could easily keep doing this for another 30 years as Pop styles change. Taylor is constantly under a microscope with her choices, and after several successful stadiums tours this was a shockingly bold decision to switch gears in this direction. Every song on these albums feel like they were well nurtured, there was a lot of thought and care put into these records. Madonna, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Rihanna, not even Lady Gaga could have accomplished this on Swift’s level. Some of them have tried changes this drastic and have failed. These are beautifully written and performed Folk-Pop songs and combined these albums are the best of the year and some of the best of the last 20 years.