We’ve made a list. We’ve glanced over it at least once, honest. Here’s 40 of our favourite albums of the year.
At the end of 2019, we had a lot to look forward to in the year ahead. There were festivals, new albums from big-time favourites sure to land, and debut releases from Hype List alumni that we were all giddy about. Nothing could stop that right?! Erm. Yeah.
Look. We all know what happened next – and whilst 2020 can well and truly get in the bin for a whole range of reasons, we like to celebrate the high points no matter what. And let us tell you, Dear Readers, there were enough of them to go round.
Our Albums Of The Year are precisely that. They are albums that – in their own individual way – came to capture the year that was 2020. Granted, that may be the time we sat in the shower on staring at the plughole, or the time we spent ridiculous amounts of money on bundles that now adorn every single surface of our bedroom. We all know who we’re talking about.
It’s a gathering of some of our favourite records that made us laugh, smile or weep. Albums that reminded us that whilst things may have seemed pretty dark, there was always a bright light on the horizon waiting to arrive. Or something. You’re crying. Shut up.
Right – ahem – less of that. Have a look through our Top 40 selections, as well as our thoughts on why each of the Top 10 records is so special. We’ll set up the Zoom link for New Years now.
40. Boniface – Boniface
39. The Magic Gang – Death Of The Party
38. Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
37. Aluna – Renaissance
36. Yungblud – weird!
35. Creeper – Sex, Death and the Infinite Void
34. Dream Wife – So When You Gonna…
33. BENEE – hey u x
32. PVRIS – Use Me
31. Dominic Fike – What Could Possibly Go Wrong
30. IDLES – Ultra Mono
29. Sea Girls – Open Up Your Head
28. Lady Gaga – Chromatica
27. Pillow Queens – In Waiting
26. iDKHOW – Razzmatazz
25. Porridge Radio – Every Bad
24. Glass Animals – Dreamland
23. Soccer Mommy – Color Theory
22. Working Men’s Club – Working Men’s Club
21. Mura Masa – R.Y.C.
20. Another Sky – I Slept On The Floor
19. Bombay Bicycle Club – Everything Else Has Gone Wrong
18. Conan Gray – Kid Krow
17. Blossoms – Foolish Loving Spaces
16. Moses Sumney – Grae
15. Sorry – 925
14 Hayley Williams – Petal For Amor
13. Beabadoobee – Fake It Flowers
12. The Big Moon – Walking Like We Do
11. Haim – Women In Music Pt. III
10. The 1975 – Notes On A Conditional Form
Has it died down yet?
The ‘discourse’ around the release of the 1975’s fourth full-length was certainly polarised. Either a confused, chaotic mess or a work of panoramic genius, it’s safe to say that Dork’s Official Opinion sits towards the latter end of the spectrum.
While it may lack the laser-focused aesthetic brilliance of ‘I like it when you sleep…’, or the agenda baiting transcendence of ‘A Brief Inquiry…’, ‘Notes…’ remains an album that pushes against expectations. Recorded in gaps between promoting their previous full-length, it was supposed to be with us in a quick-sharp 6 or 7 months. In reality, it took more like 18.
Crafted as a developing chain of creative expression and inspiration; its twenty-odd tracks can more or less entirely assigned to one of two distinct vibes. One is a sometimes lo-fi, sometimes loud, often brilliant alt-rock record: the other a nighttime pursuit, all hotboxes and bright strobing streetlights. Dovetailed together in chunks rather than split into their more coherent parts, the result is a sometimes dizzying epic that exists in sections. While the explosive ‘People’ may grab the attention, and the poptastic ‘If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)’ will keep the purists content, it’s the run of three tracks that sit at the centre of ‘Notes…’ that show the 1975 at their imperious best. From ‘I Think There’s Something You Should Know’ through to ‘Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)’, they’re nothing short of remarkable. The only confusion is that some still struggle to see the bigger picture. (Stephen Ackroyd)
9. Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now
Undisputed life of the party Charli XCX found herself going without in 2020. Obviously that’s not the full picture, but it does set the scene for ‘how i’m feeling now’, an album that lets us into the brain of a work-hard play-hard popstar who’s stuck in the house unable to do either.
Announcing plans to create an album in five weeks at the start of lockdown, ‘how, i’m feeling now’ has managed to become one of Charli’s most personal, experimental, and ultimately critically lauded records. From recruiting her favourite producers (including AG Cook, Dylan Brady of 100 gecs and BJ Burton) to work from their homes around the globe, to an army of angels helping write lyrics via Zoom, right down to fans choosing the single cover art on Instagram and cherry picking artists to remix the images too; the project stands a true collaborative effort and proof that, for Charli, there’s never too many cooks in the kitchen.
Completely in control and full of the freedom to do exactly what she wants, ‘how i’m feeling now’ is Charli unfiltered (save for the signature autotune); cutting deeper than 2019’s self-titled album and opening up like never before. ‘forever’, ‘7 years’ and ‘party 4 u’ give an intimate look at her own relationships, while ‘detonate’ and ‘enemy’ discuss Charli’s battle with her own brain. Of course she’s missing the party though, with ‘c2.0’ and ‘anthems’ seeing her pining for her pals and the dancefloor.
We’ll meet you there next year Chazza. (Abigail Firth)
8. Taylor Swift – folklore
Some albums can only truly come from a certain moment. On paper, you’d say that ‘folklore’ is the perfect example of that. Created in a time of worldwide isolation, only really possible thanks to the effect of Taylor Swift having to cancel her huge run of outdoor summer shows and finding time inside without an outlet – what ‘folklore’ does more than any other lockdown album is avoid becoming a prisoner of that time. Especially when you follow that up with another album within five months.
Its delicate ebbs and flows may seem like a drastic departure from the technicolour pop that has come to define the past decade of her reign – but look closer and you come to realise that the warmth of ‘folklore’ comes from Taylor Swift spotlighting what many have known all along. That her standing as one of the best songwriters of the modern age simply can’t be disputed, pouring into song fictional tales that are built upon love, loss, heartbreak, fear and hope. In a period where many took time to reflect and face uncomfortable realities, ‘folklore’ was the soundtrack – melding collaborations old and new with Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff and Bon Iver for a raw dose of modern life on pause.
‘folklore’ presented a new chapter for Taylor Swift, in a year that she could easily have found herself lost in. The surprise release of ‘evermore’, a sister record born out of the same energy and world of ‘folklore’, indicates what a golden moment she now finds herself in. Wrapping these earnest tracks in indie coatings with effortless ease – it’d be easy to have a last-second rethink and point to the shiny new toy – but the initial rush is everything. ‘folklore’ took the jump, and the result makes it stand amongst the defining records of 2020.
Rather than a toast to the darkness, ‘folklore’ was the comforting hand to guide everyone through it. In turn, it’s sure to stand as a modern classic that we never saw coming. (Jamie Muir)
7. Georgia – Seeking Thrills
Georgia’s ‘Seeking Thrills’ is an odyssey of dancefloor exploration in a year in where none of us have been able to feel the thrill of a throbbing (ooo-err – Ed), pulsing (ahem – Ed) dancefloor. It’s that tantalising glimpse of what we had and what we yearn to feel again; the transcendent nature of electronic pop that gives her outstanding second album added resonance.
‘Seeking Thrills’ is bold, bright and pitches stone-cold turbo dance bangers like ‘About Work The Dancefloor’ and ‘Starting Out’ against the more melancholic imagery of Georgia’s lyrics. Recognising in a way like no other that the dancefloor can be a lonely place, with heartbreak never far away.
In many ways, ‘Seeking Thrills’ can be summed up in the feeling of yearning. It’s something that only grew for us all as we craved that fleeting moment of ecstasy we once knew, an irony that also grew as isolation and trepidation kicked in throughout 2020. Saying that,’ Seeking Thrills’ also reflects 2020 in a different way. It highlights the importance of communities. People coming together to take part in a shared experience. Experiences that echo raves of days gone by and bright hopes for the future. The thrills we look to experience once again. Those days will come back soon enough and in records like ‘Seeking Thrills’, we’ll already have the soundtrack. (Martyn Young)
6. Run The Jewels – RTJ4
Aside from the small matter of a global pandemic changing all of our lives drastically for the entire year, one of 2020’s biggest news stories was the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent (and still very much ongoing) Black Lives Matter protests. Socially conscious hip-hop duo Run The Jewels pulled their album forward and dropped it right into the middle of the maelstrom, with ‘RTJ4’ becoming a lightning rod for the pain and anger felt in the US and beyond.
But although prescience and timing helped contribute to ‘RTJ4’s success, the album is also the duo’s most focussed, most catchy and most intense project yet. Memorable instrumentals, punchy flows and a cherry-picked feature list all combine to create a well-oiled machine which showcases everything Killer Mike and El-P do best.
‘RTJ4’ would have been a contender for end of year lists whenever it was released, so to see it drop into an atmosphere which proves every point the album makes, only heightens what’s already there. It’s Run The Jewels, but better than you’ve ever heard them before. (Jake Hawkes)
5. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
Arguably, one of the most talked-about albums of the year, Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia at the time of writing is still a mainstay in ‘the charts’ nearly a year after it’s release. To say it’s a position that’s not well deserved is, quite frankly, pop blasphemy.
The superstar’s second full-length was heralded for its moreish blend of nostalgic 80s synth-pop and futuristic production hits, providing much-needed escapism as the world was experiencing a pretty tough time of it, if we do say so ourselves. Steeped in soul, sass and sex in a galaxy far far away, ‘Future Nostalgia’ is sonically diverse yet inexplicably consistent. Fruitful with outrageous bangers throughout and even spawning a mixtape version with A-List collabs and disco remixes, ‘Future Nostalgia’ couldn’t have arrived at a better time. And who doesn’t love an album that inadvertently samples INXS? (Jasleen Dhindsa)
4. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
Phoebe Bridgers knows how you feel. Really, she does. If you were going through it and Phoebe Bridgers said ‘I get that’, you would believe her. Phoebe Bridgers has seen and felt some stuff, and most of it’s on ‘Punisher’.
In any year, ‘Punisher’ would be seen as a truly great album, but in 2020 it’s near perfection. It became the ideal soundtrack for lying on your bed and staring at the ceiling, or for sitting on your couch and staring at the wall, or for going back to bed to stare at the ceiling some more. It’s a depression album in a depression year (crucially, not a depressing album – more on which later). Phoebe’s driving out to the Goodwill to gaze up at chemtrails. She’s going outside to look for the tractor beam that will take her home. In fact, so much of ‘Punisher’ is about wanting to be somewhere else – we hear it in ‘Kyoto’, in ‘Chinese Satellite’, in ‘I Know The End’ – that it becomes a pretty easy record to relate to during a time when we’re all essentially trapped.
Importantly though, ‘Punisher’ also absolutely bangs. It’s more cathartic than melancholy whilst loaded up with humour, melody and unmistakable soaring vocals. Did we say ‘near’ perfect? (Liam Konemann)
3. Sports Team – Deep Down Happy
Sports Team’s debut album is everything we wanted from indie’s loud-mouthed court jesters – twelve tracks of pure excitement which refuses to take itself seriously even for an instant. Old favourites like ‘Camel Crew’ and ‘Kutcher’ rub shoulders with the misty-eyed ‘Long Hot Summer’ and the frankly ludicrous ‘Here’s the Thing’, which has been lodged in the collective brain of Dork HQ since we first heard it all those months ago. We know too well that this lot have always divided opinion, but here was an album that even the harshest detractors had to admit was pretty bloody good.
So a 5-star rating in the bag, what was next to rile up the self-serious critics? How about a Mercury Prize nomination and a chart battle which saw them almost pip Gaga to the post? Yeah, that’d probably do it.
All nonsense aside, ‘Deep Down Happy’ proves that beyond the memes and the posturing, Sports Team are a very, very good band. A surprising range of wit and emotion shine across an album which is catchy, enjoyable and above all: fun. With singer Alex Rice already saying that album two will be “pure stadium rock”, expect even more bombast to come. See you at their Brixton show? (Jake Hawkes)
2. Declan McKenna – Zeros
One of the themes on Declan McKenna’s ‘Zeros’ is space. It’s fair to say with that in mind, that the one small step that may have been this second album is indeed one giant leap for Dec-kind.
‘Zeros’ is an record dealing in big themes and big challenges, which Dec imbues with his trademark relentless exuberant spirit to produce his boldest, brightest and most ambitious tracks to date. His storytelling capabilities have been a key part of his rise. This time, he amplifies the strong social consciousness at the heart of his work as he explores climate change and humanity’s changing nature in a mixed-up world with the sort of fantastical idiosyncrasies that make him such a compelling and essential writer of our time.
Playful, witty and, at times, tenderly heartbreaking, every face of Declan as an artist is on show. Whilst touching on exploration, discovery and seeking out exhilarating new possibilities – it’s the arrival of a bonafide star. To cut a long story short, ‘Zeroes’ marks the coronation of a glammy, flamboyant, clever and beautiful new pop icon (Martyn Young)
1. Rina Sawayma – SAWAYAMA
Where do we start? When ‘STFU’ crash-landed into the end of 2019 and kicked off the era of ‘SAWAYAMA’, Rina proved without a shadow of a doubt that her place as one of the most innovative and unpredictable pop stars on the planet. But if the rest of ‘SAWAYAMA’ is anything to go by, it may not have been something she had always believed. It’s that vulnerability which takes things to the very top.
‘SAWAYAMA’ is a record unafraid of unpacking lifelong traumas. Of discovering oneself in real-time, as Rina explores her own identity, her parents’ divorce, queerness, capitalism, sexism, global warming and her ideas and experiences around belonging as a Japanese-born, British-raised woman.
Between the tremendous theatrical opener ‘Dynasty’, the zig-zagging Nintendo bop ‘Paradisin”, crooning bestie breakup ballad ‘Bad Friend’ and the nu-metal-meets-bubblegum-pop of ‘XS’; it’s impossible to pinpoint Rina’s sound. It’s that key ingredient which makes ‘SAWAYAMA’ shine brighter than the rest.
Whilst outdated industry execs and norms found Rina apparently ineligible for awards and nominations (what on earth is going on there guys?), ‘SAWAYAMA’ has become an indisputable peoples’ champion of 2021. A win full of adoration and support that hasn’t slowed as the months have ticked by.
If it wasn’t obvious from her early EPs, it’s clear now. Rina Sawayama’s otherworldly vision is entirely her own. She’s an artist who’s pulled herself out of the darkest places to create inimitable pop, and with ‘SAWAYAMA’ it’s easy to forget that this is only album number one. Pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a pop star in 2020, you can guarantee that this is only the beginning for an artist set to surprise for many years to come.
As Rina once said herself, we can’t wait for the time she gives us just a little bit more. (Abigail Firth)