Ok, so my favorite albums of 2020. Look, there are three ways I could open this list. First, I could do the super hack, super tedious “ugh 2020, what an unprecedented year.” The second is to type some long screed and pretend everything’s hunky-dory. But I’m going with the third option: let’s say fuck it and get straight to the honorable mentions…
Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):
ACxDC – Satan Is King
Beggar – Compelled to Repeat
Boris – NO
Creeper – Sex, Death & The Infinite Void
Cryptic Shift – Visitations from Enceladus
Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
Huntsmen – Mandala of Fear
Imperial Triumphant – Alphaville
Necrot – Mortal
No Joy – Motherhood
20) Troll Teeth – Goes Nowhere, Does Nothing
I think the band is being a little harsh on themselves with that album title. Sure, on the surface they seem like a standard stoner/psych rock band, but the songs venture so much further beyond that. Also easily the best lead guitar work I’ve heard all year. Every damn solo on this thing – madone!
19) Unverkalt – L’Origine du Monde
I’m always happy to be able to throw great debut albums on these lists, and here’s just that! This was one of my most recent reviews, so I’ll be brief here and let you check it out at the link below. This album came out near the end of the year, so definitely check it out if it flew under your radar!
18) Anna von Hausswolff – All Thoughts Fly
I didn’t think an instrumental organ album could click with me so hard, but hey, here we are! Mesmerizing, tragic, and beautiful, this album evokes a ton with just one instrument.
17) Kvelertak – Splid
This is the most fun I’ve ever had with a Kvelertak album. Call me a poser or a normie or whatever, but this album rocks, plain and simple.
16) Bitch Falcon – Staring At Clocks
Another debut album landing on the list! This Irish trio puts a spin on grunge that avoids the common pitfalls of cringe and unoriginality that trip up other grunge-tinged acts. Staring at Clocks is proof that you can be both nostalgic and forward-thinking.
15) Nothing – The Great Dismal
A really strong return for one of the best bands in the modern wave of shoegaze. Similar to their 2016 album Tired of Tomorrow, I have a tough time picking my favorite track because the band put so much into each song. Tired of Tomorrow is my favorite Nothing album, but given a little more time, I wouldn’t be surprised if The Great Dismal tops that for me.
14) Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA
The Grammys and the Mercury Prize may have snubbed her, but this list didn’t! SAWAYAMA is an eclectic debut album that’s impossible to get out of your head.
13) Hymn – Breach Us
Menacing doom/sludge. No better way to put it. I mean, technically I did write a whole review on it, but that summation could’ve worked just as well. This duo sounds so much larger than just two people.
12) Unleash the Archers – Abyss
I don’t like power metal at all, so maybe I’m out of my element here. But fuck it, this album is too good! Brittney Slayes is a top contender for metal vocalist of the year (has anyone made the “Brittney Slayes slays” joke yet???).
11) Backxwash – God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It
2020 was a breakout year for Backxwash, releasing both an excellent album and EP this year. She shows no signs of slowing down either, having laid out all the projects she has in the works for next year, including a grindcore album (also, Backxwash is easily the best account on “Music Twitter”, if you aren’t already following). I really love the haunting and deeply personal themes of this album, looking forward to all that Backxwash has in the pipeline!
10) Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
Out of all the “newer” artists on this list, Phoebe Bridgers had the best year in terms of trajectory. And with an album like Punisher, it’s not hard to see why. Her off-the-cuff style lyricism is wonderful, I love that these songs are both intimate and super catchy.
9) Mountaineer – Bloodletting
“THE WEEEEEEDS I HAVE TEND-ED!” This album hit me so hard on first listen, and still tugs at the heartstrings now after the 100th listen. Mountaineer are really pushing the emotional boundaries of what doomgaze can convey, and goddamnit I am here for it!
8) Countless Skies – Glow
Melodeath with a more-than-slight hint of Devin Townsend? Yes, count me in! This album is incredibly joyous, glorious, and triumphant. Even during the toughest of times, I find it hard not to get a big dumb grin when I put this album on.
7) Serpent Column – Kathodos
Putting out high quality gems Kathodos and Endless Detainment in the same year – who does that??? Serpent Column does of course! The album and EP are both incredible works of art, deserving of their separate releases, and deserving your full attention if you are at all into extreme music.
6) Hum – Inlet
I was a bit late to the Hum party, but still arrived before the year ended. This album plays so perfectly into my proclivities for both shoegaze and sludge. This space rock album sounds truly, well, outer spacey – I wish all space rock could nail that vibe as well as Hum did here!
5) Hyborian – Volume II
I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong – I underrated this album when I initially reviewed it. Sure, the album mostly lives in one prog-sludge space, but it’s the best damn prog-sludge house on the block. I feel like my top 5 always has at least one straight up riff-fest, and on that front, Hyborian destroyed the competition.
4) Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin kynsi
Oh yeah, here we go with the pure evil vibes. The chaos in the villain’s lair shit. Succumbing to a sinister bout in the secret lab. But my dumb ramblings aside, this album is centered around themes of dystopia and paranoia, and Oranssi Pazuzu really plays those up nicely. The band once again pulls off an incredible feat, marrying two polar opposite subgenres (psychedelic rock and black metal) to create something truly unique.
3) Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud
This is my alt/indie/what-have-you pick of the year. I can’t say I’m an expert on alt-country, but good songs are good songs. Nearly every song on the album could’ve been a single. I see this album as three parts – the catchy yet fiery start, the road trip-ready middle, and the heartbreaking trio of songs to close things out.
2) Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou – May Our Chambers Be Full
Metal collaborations, when done right, blow me away. Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas with Mariner, Oranssi Pazuzu and Dark Buddha Rising with Waste of Space Orchestra, and now this absolute gem. It’s a beautifully devastating album – or no, is it a devastatingly beautiful album?
1) Lesser Glow – Nullity
I mean… I’ve been saying this was my AOTY ever since I reviewed it. There’s been a ton of great new music this year, but nothing wound up dethroning Nullity for me. Read me gushing about this album at the link below, I don’t think I can do it justice here in this brief blurb.