A great album is like a little world.
Some worlds are more fun to live in than others, and these albums were worlds we all wanted to move to forever in 2020. It was the year of the quarantine album—but what that album looked like varied from artist to artist. From maximalist relics of 2019 to housebound 2020 offerings, here, in no particular order, are our top 14 albums of 2020.
Lil Uzi Vert — Eternal Atake
The anticipation behind Eternal Atake was so epic that the project's mysticism became almost a product of hip-hop folklore. But Lil Uzi Vert confirmed in 2020 that the project was of this mortal realm, and announced its imminent arrival in the form of an intergalactic mini-movie. Vert seemed playfully aware that this project would be legacy-defining, and while the hype was almost insurmountable, Eternal Atake's cosmic abundance was spectacular to behold and anything but tawdry.
Bloated with drill-infused raps, melodic yearning, and cosmic beats stretched to unexpected realms thanks to the work of the groundbreaking collective Working on Dying, the album's hour-long epic is a transporting experience that couldn't have been made by anyone else.—Mackenzie Cummings-Grazy
Freddie Gibbs — Alfredo
While the tough Indiana rapper has been known for his harrowing drug dealing caveats, many of Freddie Gibbs verses from Alfredo's "Scottie Beam" were so potent that they appeared scribed in black sharpie across cardboard signs during this summer's BLM protests. These moments, which were recognized by Gibbs himself on social media, branded him as a smooth-tongued preacher of civil liberties. He was now far more than a street kid armed with street tales.
Armed with an uncanny amount of self-awareness, his seductive and malleable flow pulled it all together. From the project's overlying mafioso esthetic to Gibbs's endlessly quotable rhymes, all connected by Alchemist's mastery of granular grooves, Alfredo is nothing short of vintage splendor.—Mackenzie Cummings-Grady
Dominic Fike — What Could Possibly Go Wrong
Dominic Fike's debut album came with high anticipation following the success of his EP and collaborations with BROCKHAMPTON and Omar Apollo. "What Could Possibly Go Wrong" doesn't waste a second. It's songs are short but effective, eschewing classic song structure for dynamic melodies and guitar solos, blending rapping and singing in a way reminiscent of Frank Ocean. The album is a gritty, baby Blonde which proves that every Gen Z artist is inspired by Frank, but Dominic Fike might be on his way to being as influential in his own right.—Langa
RMR — DRUG DEALING IS A LOST ART
Many people did not know what to think when the video for RMR's "Rascal" -a trap rendition of Rascal Flatts "Bless The Broken Road" -went viral back in February. He was wearing a ski mask while holding an assault rifle and singing about selling drugs but sounded beautiful doing it. What started as a joke became the introduction to music's newest talented enigma.
RMR released his debut EP DRUG DEALING IS A LOST ART in June. His eclectic mix of Hip-Hop, Alternative, and Country music made it one of 2020's surprising yet overlooked projects. Fortunately, RMR's career is just getting started. He has plenty of time to show the industry there's more to the man behind the mask.—Deascent
Fiona Apple — Fetch the Bolt Cutters
Fiona Apple's first studio album in eight years was full of barking dogs, breaking glass, and mostly the sound of Apple's voice, shaky but strong. Deemed an instant classic by critics, Fetch the Bolt Cutters embraces desperate love for another and personal liberation at the same time. In that, it feels doubly freeing. While songs like "I Want You to Love Me" are gut-punching, when you hear songs like "Cosmonauts," you can't help but feel like you're floating too.—Eden Arielle Gordon
Taylor Swift — folklore
In the midst of a hellish year, Taylor Swift dropped the most soothing, comforting album of her career. Folklore is gloomy, meditative, and beautiful to listen to. Collaborations with Bon Iver and The National's Matt Berninger made this into an album as epic in sonic beauty as it is in lyrical creativity. It found Swift fully embracing lockdown aesthetics, leaning into cottagecore and hinting at the occult. It also found her writing fictional stories—a revelation for someone whose career was built on personal confession. It's the sonic equivalent of those nap dresses fashion bloggers were obsessing about for a few months in the summer, soft and dreamlike, not actually able to heal anything but strangely and tangibly placating nonetheless.—Eden Arielle Gordon
The NBHD — Chip Chrome and the Monotones
The Neighbourhood are constantly reinventing themselves — so much so that their last album was a combination of EPs whose titles combined to say "Hard To Believe The Neighbourhood is Ever Changing." Their new album blends their signature alternative atmospheric sound with acoustic guitar melodies and 80s dance pop influences — most notably Bowie, both in sound and aesthetic as Jesse Rutherford introduces himself as a painted silver character, Chip Chrome, the modern day answer to Ziggy Stardust.—Langa
Sufjan Stevens — The Ascension
In the midst of the nightmarish 2020 presidential election cycle, Sufjan Stevens dropped The Ascension. The patron saint of Christmas carols and sad queer love songs had suddenly turned political, and though The Ascension could be read as an addition to the canon of "white liberal becomes woke because of Trump" art, it also is so lyrically and musically ambitious and confusing, it almost approximates the actual feeling of being alive during the heady months of the Biden-Trump campaign dumpster fire.—Eden Arielle Gordon
Phoebe Bridgers — Punisher
Phoebe Bridgers has had a huge year. From starting her own record label to collaborating with Paul Mescal and Phoebe Waller-Bridge to getting name-dropped on President Obama's best of 2020 list, she's really made a splash. Her album Punisher was a crown jewel of 2020, filled with the mysterious, sad, and funny songs she's become known for. From the mysterious "Garden Song," with its Nazi-killing undertones wrapped in plant-girl aesthetics, to the exuberantly burnt-out "Kyoto," it's full of understated and textured classics that reveal just why Bridgers has seen so much acclaim this year.—Eden Arielle Gordon
Lianne La Havas — Lianne La Havas
Lianne La Havas is a virtuoistic singer and guitar player who has probably never sung nor played a wrong note. Her self-titled LP is a showcase of her abilities; here, her soft vocals and richly textured playing create an understated, elegant, and sultry masterpiece. Her cover Radiohead's "Weird Fishes" is a highlight, seeming to emanate an almost bioluminescent glow long after the track is over.—Eden Arielle Gordon
The Strokes — The New Abnormal
The Strokes' The New Abnormal couldn't have described 2020 more aptly. The band went from playing Bernie Sanders rallies and dropping an incredible album to lockdown and a Joe Biden presidency. The album is ambitious in scale and overtly political. From "The Adults Are Talking," an anthem for an era in which adults are ever-more clearly incompetent, to the devastating "At the Door," it's classic Strokes at a time when we really needed our favorite prep school boys from the Lower East Side.—Eden Arielle Gordon
Dua Lipa — Future Nostalgia
After she was crowned Best New Artist at the 2019 Grammys, all eyes were on Dua Lipa. How could she follow up her self-titled debut, brimming with sleeper hits? Somehow, she blew it out of the water: Future Nostalgia arrived just as everyone was wondering how on earth they would fill their free time stuck at home. Anything but a sophomore slump, Lipa's second full-length perfectly blends elements of '70s disco and 2000s bloghouse, all wrapped up with a contemporary pop sheen. With glossy production and a intoxicating dose of attitude, Future Nostalgia is one to be remembered.—Abby Jones
Charli XCX — how i'm feeling now
Self-proclaimed workaholic Charli XCX dealt with mandatory quarantine the best way she knew how: By making an album. But the sweaty clubs and late nights in the studio had been taken away, leaving Charli with nothing but the resources she already had in her own Los Angeles home. The result, how i'm feeling now, is a surprisingly cohesive mix of her typical glitchy, metallic beats and sincere proclamations of loneliness and love. A testament to both her work ethic and genuine talent, how i'm feeling now is the next-best thing to a party you'll forget the following morning.—Abby Jones
Sawayama — Rina Sawayama
Maximalist and exuberant, Rina Sawayama's self-titled album was a smash-hit that launched her to the stratosphere. Mixing metal and pop punk influences with bubblegum pop, the album reminds us of everything yet sounds like nothing we've ever heard before.—Eden Arielle Gordon