This was the type of year that underscores so clearly why we need music.
It helps us cope with the times, as it soothes and settles our hearts and minds. It distracts us from the day, when needed, but can also intensely focus our thoughts on current issues.
It can make us feel like we’re connected to something bigger, even in a year when millions of people were feeling isolated and alone. It’s like a good friend, in a time when we couldn’t always be with our friends.
And music was there for us when we needed it most, as tons of good albums were released this year. Here are our picks for the top 10 albums of 2020:
1, “The Goat,” Polo G
You’d better be ready to deliver when you chose an album title like “The Goat,” knowing that most people will translate that as a self proclamation for being “the greatest of all time.” Yet, deliver is exactly what Polo G does on his stunning sophomore effort, which showcases all the reasons why this 21-year-old Chicago rapper should be a real contender for years to come.
The album is full of grit and glory, with the star of the show delivering one memorable line after another as he paints uncompromising portraits of his young life in his native Chicago. The production is relatively straightforward and low-key — rarely ever crowded — further spotlighting the stark rhymes.
Polo G probably doesn’t actually think he’s “the greatest of all time” — at least not yet, anyway. He’s downplayed the seemingly pretentious title during interviews, saying that it was intended as a reference to his Capricorn zodiac sign. (Yeah … we’re not buying that explanation either.)
Yet, we don’t need to downplay anything here and can proudly proclaim that “The Goat” is indeed the greatest album of 2020.
2, “Folklore,” Taylor Swift
The biggest pop star on the planet takes another unexpected left turn, leaving the pumped-up world of top 40 dance hits behind in favor of introspective, intimate singer-songwriter/indie-folk-pop material. The result is a arguably Swift’s most enchanting album to date, filled with at least a half dozen immediate stand-outs — the best of which being the achingly sad love song “The 1” — and another 10 or so that will likely grow on you with each listen.
“Folklore” stands as further proof that Swift is in the process of crafting one of the most artistically satisfying careers of all time, approaching the same level as the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Prince, David Bowie and Madonna. It should also be noted that, as a way to feature more voices in our annual top 10 list, we made the decision to only include one offering per artist. If that weren’t the case, Swift’s “Evermore” — released less than five months after “Folklore” — would easily have made the cut as well.
3, “The Universal Want,” Doves
It always felt like this brainy British alt-rock outfit left the party too soon, having delivered four splendid albums — the best of which being 2002’s mind-blowing “The Last Broadcast” — in just 10 years time before calling it quits in 2010.
Well, it turns out that feeling was correct. The Doves did have plenty more to offer, as the trio proved beyond a shadow of a doubt when it finally released its fifth full-length in September.
“The Universal Want” is a gorgeous monument to musical excess, rooted in the place where prog-meets-alt-rock and full of plenty of shimmering, yet muscular guitar leads as well as numerous reasons why the Doves should’ve been embraced on a worldwide basis like Radiohead.
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4, “Citizen of Heaven,” Tauren Wells
The rising R&B-pop star convincingly builds upon the success of his head-turner of a debut, 2017’s “Hills and Valleys,” with an even more impressive sophomore outing that should help secure his place in the industry for years to come.
Wells is on top of his game throughout the album’s 13 tracks, which wonderfully balance high-gloss pop production with positive vibes and the star’s warmly emotive and inviting vocals. Highlights include the uplifting anthem “Famous For (I Believe)” and “Millionaire (Good Like That),” the collaboration with gospel music icon Kirk Franklin that might just be the feel-good jam of the year.
5, “Alphabetland,” X
The legendary SoCal punk band, which should really be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by this point, returned in April with its first album since 1993’s “Hey Zeus!” Even more significant, it was the first to feature the band’s original lineup since “Ain’t Love Grand” in 1985.
And it was absolutely worth the 35-year wait to hear Exene Cervenka, John Doe, Billy Zoom and DJ Bonebrake back together and rambling through these 11 strong, concise cuts, of which 10 clock in well under the three minute mark. The album is rough around the edges, in all the ways you’d want, but bristling with powerful reminders that this is indeed the same crew that gave the world the legendary punk album “Los Angeles” 40 years earlier.
6, “Sawayama,” Rina Sawayama
The Japanese-born, London-raised singer-songwriter delivers nothing short of a Clarion call, announcing her arrival as one of pop-music’s true rising stars with the release of the most confident and convincing full-length debut of 2020.
Yet, the “pop” label may be too limiting for Sawayama, who takes on a wide variety of musical styles – from EDM and R&B to metal and R&B — on this always-vibrant collection of tunes. No matter the genre, however, the grooves remain undeniable — as does Sawayama’s talent.
7, “Restoration,” Lecrae
Having parted ways with Columbia Records earlier this year, the Houston hip-hop hero sounds absolutely rejuvenated as he marks his return to the indie-label world with this stellar 14-track collection.
Lecrae brings a sense of urgency to every line — but never more so than on the chilling John Legend collaboration “Drown.” The album is equal parts passion and perseverance, as the star rhymes his way through struggles and triumphs, darkness and light, on his way to healing and, ultimately, “Restoration.”
8, “Color Theory,” Soccer Mommy
Much is made of the ‘90s musical influence on Sophia Allison — aka, Soccer Mommy — who was born in 1997 and thus only 2-years old when the decade came to a close. But while there’s little doubt that Allison’s second full-length should appeal to those of us who spent a good portion of the ‘90s listening to Liz Phair, Sheryl Crow, Belly and Veruca Salt, “Color Theory” also somehow manages to sound like one of the freshest indie-rock records to come around in years.
9, “Good to Me,” Rhett Walker
The former leader the Rhett Walker Band, the Nashville-based roots-rock outfit arguably best known for the 2012 hit “When Mercy Found Me,” shines oh-so-brightly on his own with the release of his solo debut album.
It’s clear from the moment you drop the needle that you’re in for something good, as the album firmly grabs and holds your attention with the joyous opener “Believer.” From there, this Southern son of a preacher man just keeps rolling out solid songs that should appeal to fans of such country champs as Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw as well as first-tier classic rockers like Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen.
10, “Lianne La Havas,” Lianne La Havas
The British singer-songwriter’s self-titled third album is a neo-soul triumph, wonderfully showcasing her warmly captivating vocal work over the course of a dozen solid tracks that traverse the ups and downs of relationships.
The songs come across as both timely and timeless, as great ones often do, as the singer seems to draw inspiration from everyone from Joni Mitchell to Lauryn Hill to Milton Nascimento. You’ll even find some Radiohead, as La Havas includes a cool cover of the band’s “Weird Fishes” on the album.
“Awake In the Brain Chamber,” Secret Machines
“Graves Into Gardens,” Elevation Worship
“Rough and Rowdy Ways,” Bob Dylan
“Top,” YoungBoy Never Broke Again
“Power Up,” AC/DC
“Forever, Ya Girl,” KeiyaA
“Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” Fiona Apple
“RTJ4,” Run the Jewels
“My Turn,” Lil Baby
“The Slow Rush,” Tame Impala
“Reunions,” Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
“Women In Music Pt. III,” Haim
“Future Nostalgia,” Dua Lipa
“The New Abnormal,” the Strokes
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