The Top 11 Albums of 2020

Without my hourlong commute to work and no concerts to prep for or follow up on, 2020 was a relatively unmusical year for me. I didn’t discover any new bands or see a show that made me change the way I feel about a band. That said, there were 11 albums that I really loved this year…

11. The Polyphonic Spree – We Hope It Finds You Well (Covers EP)

In a normal year, a cover EP doesn’t qualify for my list but in a year where everyone needs a little joy, a list that doesn’t include The Polyphonic Spree is just lacking something. Their cover of Spirit of the Radio is especially smile-inducing!

10. Corey Taylor – CMFT

Slipknot’s Corey Taylor recorded one of the dumbest, funnest albums of the year which means it’s basically a perfect rock’s’ roll record. CMFT is insanely catchy and littered with all the guitar solos and sunset strip punk sneer you can handle. It bears repeating, do not go into this looking to exercise your brain cells…this album was made for sweaty mosh pits, spilled beer, and tattooed ladies in tight pants.

9. Ozzy Osbourne – Ordinary Man

Ozzy Osbourne is like The Who and Neil Young and Pearl Jam, he doesn’t have to put out new music to get people to buy concert tickets but he does it anyway. Ozzy hasn’t had a must-listen-to single since he and Lemmy penned Mama I’m Coming Home and See You On The Other Side but on Ordinary Man, Ozzy sounds surprisingly fresh and makes you think that maybe at 72 he’s still got a few tricks up his sleeve. All My Life is easily my favourite Ozzy song in a long, long time.

8. The 1975 – Notes On A Conditional Form

Every album by The 1975 could be described similarly – long, eclectic, and entirely pleasing listening experiences. Notes On A Conditional Form ranges from spoken word to punk to film score to stutter-pop over just the first four songs. They capture an eagerness that hasn’t been felt since their first EP. If you have an 80 minute drive ahead of you, I can’t imagine a better soundtrack.

7. Power Trip – Live In Seattle: 05.28.2018

A second “In a normal year,” entry. In a normal year I wouldn’t include a live album in my list but it wasn’t a normal year. Power Trip was the last band that I saw before lockdowns started. I was excited that shortly after that show they announced they would be part of the opening lineup at Dallas’ new music venue The HiFi. Then Riley Gale was no longer with us. It’s tragic. While we won’t get another Power Trip show, at least we have this incredible live album. This is a slow jam!

6. Jonsi – Shiver

Jonsi has an otherworldly voice. His work with Sigur Ros was always perfect but the band had a fairly defined palette to work with. Jonsi’s solo work lets him work much more freely, experiment, and even sneak some English into the album. Shiver finds a perfect balance between meditative and exuberant.

5. Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension

The Ascension is a gorgeous album and should be held in the same regard Sufjan’s best known works, Illinois and Carrie & Lowell. Opening track, Make Me An Offer I Cannot Refuse gives a refreshing new version of Stevens with him abandoning his normal singing voice and finding a desperate yelp. The entire album feels like the plea of a guilty man who isn’t sure if he deserves to be guilty at all. The Ascension is a wonderfully dense album that gets more rewarding with additional listens.

4. Jade Hairpins – Harmony Avenue

Canadian punk band, Fucked Up, has an embarrassment of talent in its band lineup. Their members have made a vast number side-project albums and Jade Hairpins is the new project from FU players Jonah Falco and Mike Haliechuk. It’s impossible to accurately describe but Harmony Avenue sounds like a summer day mixed with The Beatles and 80’s dance music. There is no way to listen to this album and not find yourself smiling the whole time.

3. Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters

Fiona Apple is a national treasure. She is completely raw and unhinged. There is nobody working today that can do what she does. Fetch The Bolt Cutters is strange and fiercely compelling. It is impossible to listen to this album in the background – Fiona Apple demands your attention.

2. Lydia Loveless – Daughter

Daughter is a masterclass in songwriting. Every note is soaked in earnest honesty. I don’t know where Lydia Loveless fits in today’s musical landscape. She isn’t country enough for the Nashville machine but she’s too country to be played beside today’s interchangeable pop star. Maybe that’s part of why this album feels so special though…it drifts beyond genre and time. Timeless tunes sung by an incredibly strong voice.

1. The Flaming Lips – American Head

American Head just might be the best album The Flaming Lips have ever made. It leaves most of the Lips’ quirk and gimmick behind and is instead steeped in nostalgia and self-reflection. They don’t sound like a space band anymore, in the best possible way they sound like a group of men from Oklahoma. That said, when I listen to American Head, the whole experience and trip, feels so much like the first time I listened to Dark Side Of The Moon. The album must be listened to in one sitting and preferable a few times in a row.

If you don’t feel like listening to each of the albums in their entirety, here is a 2020 playlist with some songs I hope you’ll like.