Top 20 Albums of 2020 (10-01)

10. Fontaines D.C.: A Hero’s Death

After the critical acclaim garnered for their well-regarded, award-winning debut full-length, Dogrel, in 2019, anticipation was high for the Dublin post-punk quintet Fontaines D.C.’s follow-up, A Hero’s Death. Fortunately, the band’s sophomore LP doesn’t disappoint. Singer Grian Chatten’s stark baritone is the perfect vehicle for his often-cryptic, poetic lyrics that cast a frequently suspicious eye on society. “A smiler slithered to my corner, on a face so true, my word is always in the ready, and I’ll attribute that to you,” Chatten sings on “I Don’t Belong”. The group’s musicianship is appropriate, ranging everywhere from brisk, hypnotic refrains touched with an occasional doomy guitar solo, to reverb-soaked ballads imbued with pleasant, natural elements that contrast with an often-cynical point of view. In every situation, the mood of the instrumentation manages to accentuate Chatten’s words and vocals to create emotive moments that pull the listener into Fontaine D.C.’s gloomy-yet-alluring world. – Andy Mascola

09. Yelle: L’Ère du Verseau

French duo, Yelle‘s first album in six years, L’Ère du Verseau was completed just before lockdown hit their native France. The album seems prescient with it’s more melancholic tone but like us in the pandemic, it does have its joyful moments. “J’veux un chien” gives Julie Budet the opportunity to let loose the saddest croon while “Karaté” is a bit more of a traditional Yelle bop. It is the emotionally weighty performances like “Je t’aime encore” that really make the record shine and show Yelle is more than a one trick electro-pop pony. – Adam Tercyak-Morgan

08. Damaged Bug: Bug On Yonkers

07. Bill Callahan: Gold Record

In 2019, after an eight-year absence, Bill Callahan (formerly Smog) returned with his fifth solo album, Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest. While not perfect, and comparatively lengthy (perhaps his longest?) at just over an hour, the return was a welcome one and a reminder of the void he’d left in the milieu of drily humorous, literary indie folk. This year saw the release of Callahan’s waggishly titled, Gold Record. The album is trimmed significantly compared with its predecessor, featuring half as many songs and makes for a much more concise and enjoyable listen. “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” Callahan says matter-of-factly before he begins singing the record’s first track, “Pigeons”, a song in which he plays a limo driver giving advice to newlyweds as he brings them to a “fancy dancy boutique hotel.” Callahan’s roleplaying continues in “Protest Song” wherein he plays a blue collar-type suffering a youngster playing a protest song on late night TV. For all of Callahan’s characters, there are just as many songs sung from a persona seemingly close to his own. On “Breakfast”, Callahan explores a relationship by way of singing from the perspective of a man listening to his partner cook for him. Additionally, he reprises his decade-old Smog track “Let’s Move to the Country”, adding the lines, “Let’s start a family, let’s have a baby,” two things Callahan did while away from the world of making albums. All told, Gold Record is a charmingly thoughtful, optimistic affair filled with moments that offer generous amounts of deadpan humor and sweet sentimentality. – Andy Mascola

06. Destroyer: Have We Met

Destroyer’s thirteenth studio album, Have We Met, features ten songs that fall largely in the vein of the sophisti-pop style frontman Dan Bejar explored on Destroyer’s excellent 2011 full-length record, Kaputt. The tracks on Have We Met vary in tempo, traveling hauntingly between moody ballads that pair the Canadian singer-songwriter’s trademark stream of consciousness lyrics with, at times, percussion-free, ambient sound beds, all the way through to sexy, dark disco that wouldn’t sound out of place in a jazz bar. Throughout Have We Met, Bejar’s lyrics find him ruminating on the inevitable, namely death. “And when they come to bag us up, to make the world invisible, oh man, it really is, pretty as a picture,” he sings on the echoey, futuristic, electro-minimalist waltz “University Hill”. Although the lyrics maintain a somewhat downcast vibe throughout, the very end of the album does offer some light. During “Foolsong”, the record’s closer, Bejar repeats in a comparatively jaunty, sing-songy tone the lines, “It ain’t easy being a baby like you, it ain’t easy being a baby like me,” perhaps reminding us that although life is temporary, and often unpleasant, it’s important to be gentle with ourselves and each other. – Andy Mascola

05. Run the Jewels: RTJ4

‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ would be the phrase best used to define the success El-P and Killer Mike have enjoyed since the supergroup’s groundbreaking 2003 debut. RTJ4, the pair’s latest album, finds the duo addressing relevant sociopolitical issues during a year that found the streets of their home country flooded with appropriate anger with regard to systemic racism, police brutality, and social inequality. That’s not to say RTJ didn’t save room for their unique brand of energetic hip hop bravado, utilizing veteran tag-team rhyming skills, old school scratching and samples, and the impressive inclusion of many notable guests, including Zack de la Rocha, Pharrell Williams, and Mavis Staples, among others. It’s safe to say Killer Mike and El-P have the market cornered when it comes to pairing often fun but always thoughtful consciousness rap with hard-hitting, hook-filled production. – Andy Mascola

04. The Strokes: The New Abnormal

It’s not common for a rock band to put out a fresh-sounding, timely album ten years into their career let alone twenty. After two decades, most rock bands have either changed lineups several times, reinvented their sound to fit the preferences of a younger generation, or thrown in the towel. Somehow, The Strokes have managed to avoid all the aforementioned stumbling blocks of time while maintaining a consistent level of relevance and success at home and abroad. Faced with a musical landscape that has completely changed since they released their stunning debut, Is This It, in September of 2001, the five original Strokes, with the help of legendary producer Rick Rubin, have once again rose to the occasion with their presciently titled sixth full-length album, The New Abnormal. Featuring nine songs that range from squeaky clean, nearly robotic, instrumental precision (“The Adults Are Talking”, “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus”), to familiar-sounding singles reminiscent of their earlier work (“Bad Decisions”, “At the Door”), to the back-to-back, loose ballads that close the record (“Not the Same Anymore”, “Ode to the Mets”), The Strokes hit it out of the park with a concise collection that has the band sounding rejuvenated and passionate without having sacrificed their identity. – Andy Mascola

03. Selena Gomez: Rare

Selena Gomez had already shown the propensity to write incredible pop songs but Rare seemed to take it to a new level. While a message of self-love binds the album together, Gomez manages to never make it seem one note. From the sassy Top 100 hit “Look at Her Now” to the incredibly vulnerable #1 hit “Lose You to Love Me,” Rare manages to show you thirteen different looks at the same sentiment and make it fun, a feat that is…don’t make me say it. – Adam Tercyak-Morgan

02. Phoebe Bridgers: Punisher

The emotional potency of Pheobe Bridgers’ second studio album was nearly unmatched this year. Phoebe’s lyrics are downtrodden and poetically arranged among breathtakingly understated production. Her stories are honest, capturing the multi-dimensional feelings of both the momentous and the intimate–often blending the two to express the gravity of experiences no matter how small. But Phoebe’s masterful songs aren’t all sad. The singer isn’t afraid to peacefully coexist with the apocalypse on “I Know The End,” and she’s quick to contrast her more depressive lines with delicately colorful guitar and production. As a whole, Punisher is an album content to explore its own landscape while sharing Pheobe’s remarkable writing. It’s a beautiful and haunting thing. – Hunter Waswick

01. Taylor Swift: Folklore

Taylor Swift surprised the world when she dropped her stunning album Folklore this summer. With sixteen beautiful songs–each showcasing the best work Taylor has put out in years–Folklore is a masterwork of emotionally mature songwriting and storytelling. Throughout the project, the singer enjoys her new brand of indie-folk strumming and creative songwriting with graceful success. Spanning a wide array of concepts, the singer’s lyrics stand out as deeply personal and honest even when they form fictional tales. The songs are intimate, the performances are entrancing, and Taylor has rarely been better. – Hunter Waswick