You’ve already seen our 2020 year-end song list (and hopefully subscribed to one of our playlists). This week, we’re outlining our list of the best albums from the past year.
Keeping in line with our normal criteria, we’re basing our list off of works eligible to be nominated for the 2021 Grammys (with no repeats from our previous list).
Note: We compiled this list before the 63rd Grammy nominations were announced, so there is no real reflection of that impacting this list. Several of the nominees may, however, be found here.
Circles—Mac Miller (January 17, 2020)
Brandon—When I think of the late Mac Miller, I think of a troubled, yet talented, soul. His musical evolution is almost as breathtaking as his untimely death due to addiction. Tracks like “Blue World” and “Hands” showcase the Pittsburgh native’s acumen for melody and cadence. “Complicated,” “Good News,” and “Hand Me Downs” are emotionally resonant. I’m not sure how much posthumous content will be released from his catalog, but RIP, Mac. Gone too soon.
Miss Anthropocene—Grimes (February 21, 2020)
Austin—I think it’s fair to say this is going to be the only thing I’ll ever listen to from Grimes, but that doesn’t take anything away from an album that has a little bit of everything. From a musicality perspective, the atmospheric, almost surreal sound effects that touch this album drew me in. It has this ethereal whisper of a song in “Violence”, a hard-rock ballad in “We Appreciate Power (feat. HANA)”, and EDM-esque tracks like “4ÆM”, that make it an album unlike any other. No stone is left unturned in this LP, and that’s what makes it stand out.
YHLQMDLG—Bad Bunny (February 29, 2020)
Jose—Bad Bunny continued to ride his hot streak of hit after hit of reggaeton and Latin trap music with his latest album, Yo Hago Lo Que Me Dé La Gana (Spanish for “I Do Whatever I Want”). Coming hot off his collab album with J Balvin, Oasis, and duets with notable artists such as Drake and Becky G, Bad Bunny continues to be the new Latin trap king. Hit tracks such as “Yo Perreo Sola” (which roughly translates to “I Dance Alone”) trended in the Billboard charts for several weeks. While Daddy Yankee might be the Godfather of Reggaeton, Bad Bunny ushers us into a new era of Latin music, while still respecting the reggaeton classics of the early 2000s.
Chilombo—Jhené Aiko (March 6, 2020)
Brandon—Jhené Aiko has been one of my favorite singers ever since I heard Sailing Soul(s). Her voice and atmospheric beat selection make her a sonic powerhouse in contemporary R&B. The “quiet storm”-influenced Chilombo seems to find Aiko singing and producing with maximum comfort, fully establishing her sound. “10k Hours” and “None Of Your Concern” are two halves of the same coin. The latter features her former beau Big Sean as they spar over failed relationships. The former features Nas, as he and Aiko are nostalgic for the good parts of said failed relationships. “P*$$y Fairy (OTW)” and “Happiness Over Everything (H.O.E.)” find Aiko in her trap bag, and “Magic Hour” is a solid “late-night” track. This is a good listen through and through.
Colores—J. Balvin (March 19, 2020)
Jose—J Balvin’s fourth solo album might just be his best, winning Best Urban Album in the 2020 Latin Grammys earlier this year. The album, titled Colores (Spanish for Colors in case that wasn’t obvious), has each song named after a different color and boy do they each have their own flavor to them. “Morado” and “Rojo” (Purple and Red) are my personal favorite tracks, the former just being a bop you can absolutely jam to and the latter being a more personal note from the artist on heartbreak and loss.
After Hours—The Weeknd (March 20, 2020)
Jose—Abel Tesfaye aka The Weeknd’s latest album was a throwback to a love of Michael Jackson with a modern pop twist. It’s a mesh of that classic ‘80s retro sound with the kind of upbeat pop of today that makes this his best album yet. Comparing it to his 2016 hit album Starboy, you can instantly hear the differences and the similarities all at once in all the right ways–it’s less electronic/futuristic and more retro. It’s as if he was prepping for his magnum opus, which culminated in bringing his love of music from his childhood to modern audiences. His tracks “Heartless”, “Blinding Lights”, “In Your Eyes” and “Save Your Tears” topped the Billboard charts and earned him a platinum certification.
Brandon—The Weeknd has always done a phenomenal job of blending the classic with the contemporary. He’s also had hints of ‘80s Michael Jackson, like his cover of “Dirty Diana,” titled “D.D.,” from his 2011 mixtape Echoes of Silence. The Toronto native has taken that vibe and turned it into quite possibly his best LP. Beauty Behind The Madness was very contemporary pop. Starboy was more electronic and saw collaborations with Daft Punk. After Hours hits the sweet spot he has seemingly been aiming for and tracks like “Blinding Lights” and “Heartless” showcase that. I don’t know where his career takes him from here, but I’m very excited to see him perform at Super Bowl LV.
3.15.20—Childish Gambino (March 22, 2020)
Austin—This album hits a somber tone for me, since Donald Glover, who got his stage name from a Wu-Tang Clan names generator, is retiring from music. It’s a damn shame, because he can sing as well as he can rap, and mostly does the latter here. “42.26”, aka “Feels Like Summer”, has always felt like an end-of-summer song to me, since I first heard it on Labor Day weekend back in 2018. It’s only appropriate that it would end up here.
Brandon—Donald Glover’s movement toward EGOT status is going to be something to behold. Aside from Atlanta, his music as Childish Gambino has been his most interesting work. He has continually improved his sound from Camp through “Awaken, My Love!”, blurring the lines between multiple genres along the way. Reminiscent of Frank Ocean’s Endless, 3.15.20 combines elements of Glover’s previous work, blending funk (“47.48“), electro-rap (“Algorhythm,” “12.38“), and dream/synth-pop (“39.28,” “42.26“) into a classic as he exits the music scene. Definitely check this out.
Ghosts V: Together & Ghosts VI: Locusts—Nine Inch Nails (March 27, 2020)
Austin—Leave it to NIN to drop two albums of instrumental tracks as spooky and haunting as their first Ghosts album (Ghosts I-IV); in the middle of a pandemic, no less. Their message on their website announcing the sequels to Ghost I-IV spoke to the surreal moment we were in at the time. Freshly quarantined, the message, in all caps, explains “Ghosts V: Together Is For When Things Seem Like It Might All Be Okay, And Ghosts VI: Locusts… Well, You’ll Figure It Out.” Haunting piano, an eerie repetition of ghostly voices—it was made for October, and made reading Jezebel’s scariest stories of the year that much better. For some, Halloween never ends, and these LPs are the perfect soundtrack to that vibe.
Future Nostalgia—Dua Lipa (March 27, 2020)
Jose—Much like The Weeknd, Dua Lipa sought out to bring a classic ‘80s throwback with her latest album. She infuses music from her childhood that her parents loved to listen to but with a futuristic spin to them. The tracks “Don’t Start Now”, “Physical”, “Break My Heart” and “Levitating” all topped the Billboard charts. My personal favorite track however is the collaboration with French singer Angele for the song “Fever”, where the beat slowly builds up as the song mixes with Dua’s incredible vocals and Angele’s beautiful French lyrics. Coming hot off her Best New Artist Grammy win from last year, Dua is a fierce competitor in the pop category to well established names like Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande this year, and is quickly becoming the pop queen of 2020.
Notes on a Conditional Form—The 1975 (May 22, 2020)
Austin—The 1975 are probably the zeitgeist band—whatever the moment is, they tend to find out how to encapsulate it. Their opening song has a Greta Thunberg speech on climate change and leads into a song called “People”, which is as chaotic as the year was. Every album released this year had an added weight to it due to everything that was 2020, and this band rose to the challenge of including their two cents
RTJ4—Run The Jewels (June 3, 2020)
Austin—Even in a sparse year of music, this would have been one of my top five favorite albums, so it becomes number one by default. While their first three albums have a number of great songs, this one needs a full track-to-track listen to get the whole vibe. It’s RTJ at their best—raucous, braggadocious, self-righteous and slick—and the ending of the album alone is poignant enough to define a year we’ll never forget.
Brandon—I’ve admittedly been a bigger fan of RTJ songs than their albums. True to form, RTJ4 has a lot of great beats, bars, and bops. It’s politically charged enough for the time it came out as Killer Mike and El-P trade metaphors over extremely chaotic production (and I mean that as a compliment). “Ooh La La” and “Just” hit different as soon as I heard them, and nothing’s been the same since. Give it a listen during your workouts!
Bigger Love—John Legend (June 19, 2020)
Brandon—”Actions speak louder than…love songs.” Ain’t that the truth, John? This is one of the best John Legend albums I’ve ever heard. He seemed to take André 3000’s advice to “step from behind that piano” and switch up the production. It sounds very 2005, yet very 2020. “Actions,” “Bigger Love,” and “Remember Us” are all certified bops—something I haven’t associated with Legend since Get Lifted and “Green Light.” “U Move, I Move” and “Slow Cooker” are great slow jams. Highly recommended.
Translation—Black Eyed Peas (June 19, 2020)
Jose—The Black Eyed Peas are back, bringing their best album since The E.N.D! BEPs added newcomer J. Rey Soul stepped into Fergie’s shoes, giving the group that female vocalist lead that they have sorely been missing since Fergie went solo. What makes this album so special is probably the fusion of the Black Eyed Peas classic pop/rap aesthetic with today’s Latin pop and reggaeton. This album features tracks with notable Latin pop/rap artists including J Balvin, Ozuna, Maluma, Nicky Jam, Becky G, French Montana and Shakira to great effect. As expected, this album does not only come with sick beats, but with powerful messages reflecting the events of the world today encompassed in the track “News Today”.
Brandon—I did not think I’d ever care about a Black Eyed Peas album ever again. I’ve long since felt that will.i.am was done making music that I cared about. Then Translation happened, and it easily became their best album since I was in high school. Where Elephunk was more Roots-inspired and The E.N.D. was very heavy EDM-rap, Translation saw the Peas go the reggaeton remix route and it honestly just works. If you need a Zoom dance party, or even a post-COVID one, this should be your soundtrack.
King’s Disease—Nas (August 21, 2020)
Brandon—As previously discussed, I wasn’t a huge fan of Nas’ Kanye-produced effort NASIR. Notwithstanding, Nas and Hit-Boy are a match made in heaven. King’s Disease is quite possibly the best beat selection the Queensbridge MC has ever had, and he comes through with the bars to match. “Ultra Black” and “All Bad” are both fantastic. “Full Circle” is the posse cut we needed in 2020. “The Cure” is a late-album gem. Nas seems to have fully stepped into the role of old head, but he doesn’t sound preachy or out of touch doing it.