2020… What a year. Well, we can hang our hats on at least one thing; the music! Yes, 2020 somehow brought us an abundance of exceptional music that will be long remembered beyond when the clock strikes midnight on December 31st. What’s been truly valuable about 2020 is that it’s afforded us all a little more free time to engage with our own thoughts and interests. It’s a year where, musically, maybe we were able to discover some hidden gems beyond our usual tastes as we had the time to explore new releases each and every Friday.
As you’ll soon see, our “albums of the year” list is certainly reflective of this fact. Below, you’ll find some drastically different releases from some drastically different artists from nearly all major genres. From rock to heavy metal, to hip-hop and electronic, to singer-songwriter and jazz, it’s all represented. If you appreciate music as much as we do, then you’ll find many gems on our list. (Hopefully, you even discover something that you would never have expected to enjoy.) So, without further adieu, please enjoy our list of 40 of the best albums of 2020.
Annie O’Malley – Golden (April 29, Independent)
2020 has been a horrifying freak show — the perfect time for a “pop saviour” to arrive on the scene with a record that splashes “golden rays” across the ever-darkening music landscape. Annie O’Malley IS that saviour. And Golden, IS that record. O’Malley doesn’t have a pierced septum or even a jacked-up looking green coif.
But what the 20-year-old Chicago native does have is incredible confidence and amazing songs. Produced by John Karkazis, aka Johnny K (3 Doors Down, Finger Eleven, Plain White T’s), O’Malley’s just-released seven-song debut delivers in spades from start to finish. However, it’s the “Styles”-sized video single, “Planet Golden” that tries the hardest to bring home the record’s coveted MVP award. (Christopher Long)
Go check out: “Planet Golden”
BDRMM – Bedroom (July 3, Sonic Cathedral)
With comparisons to bands like DIIV, Beach Fossils, Deerhunter, The Cure, Radiohead, and Ride, I think the best descriptor for the band could be something like: “BDRMM: Recommended if you like good music.” In all seriousness, though, BDRMM frontman Ryan Smith started writing his early material solo in his bedroom. Smith then added his brother Jordan on bass, Joe Vickers on guitar, Danny Hull on synths, and Luke Irvin on drums. This current five-piece British band with an ear for atmospheric dream-pop is one of THE bands to watch in 2020.
All BDRMM physical product has been selling out online as quickly as it can be produced. To my ear, the ten tracks on Bedroom draw inspiration from all the best elements of the shoegazer bands dominating the UK alternative scene from 1990-1993. Anyone into shoegazer will love this record a minute into “Momo,” the first track on the album. Crank it up and let that hair fall forward over your eyes!! The best way to support the band is right here. (Mike Bax)
Go check out: “A Reason To Celebrate”
Bonnie Whitmore – Last Will & Testament (September 1, Aviatrix Records)
In the last 30 years, I’ve never responded to any publicist’s music review submission with such zeal – especially not after sampling only one song from said album. However, in the case of Last Will & Testament, that’s exactly what happened.
With the release of Bonnie Whitmore’s latest record, the celebrated Texas-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist borrows just enough stylistic “ingredients” from just enough musical “neighbours,” she succeeds in baking one of the tastiest confections of 2020 — a soaring seduction that owns roadhouse authenticity and drips cathouse allure. Among the record’s many highlights, “Time to Shoot” shines brightly. (Christopher Long)
Go check out: “Time to Shoot”
Bury Tomorrow – Cannibal (July 3, Music For Nations)
Bury Tomorrow has been flying the flag for making metalcore great again for quite some time now, and, with Cannibal (you can also read our full review here), their formula reaches its zenith and makes for one of the best albums the genre has seen in about a decade.
Standing ably shoulder-to-shoulder with the genre’s legendary releases such as The End of Heartache (Killswitch Engage), the recording has the quality to serve as a gateway release to get new fans into the metal genre as a whole, while also bringing even the most jaded fan back to metalcore. That said, music of this quality knows very few bounds. (Chris Andrews)
Go check out: “Better Below”
Calligram – The Eye is the First Circle (April 10, Prosthetic Records)
The amalgamation of dark, visceral hardcore punk and black metal is one that never fails to turn my head. Londoners Calligram have outdone themselves this year with The Eye is the First Circle – their debut full-length and a release that showcases the quintet’s creative ambition and oppressive vision via their new home on Prosthetic Records.
Moving between breakneck, blastbeat-drenched fury and the doleful soundscapes of atmospheric sludge, Calligram embraces the darkest corners of their world and pours everything into this 35-minute barrage of bleakness. The two story-linked videos that encompass the songs “Anedonia” and “Vivido Perire” are essential, if not easy, watching, marking two highlights on an astounding debut album that deserves its place on many a year-end list. (Jams Parry-Smith)
Go check out: “Anedonia”
Common – A Beautiful Revolution (Pt. 1) (October 30, Loma Vista Recordings)
Who can succinctly articulate the essence of his latest studio recording better than Common himself? According to the renowned rapper, actor, artist, activist, New York Times best-selling author, the album is music to “uplift, heal, and inspire listeners dealing with racial injustices as well as other social injustices.” He continues: “A Beautiful Revolution Pt 1. is affirmation. It’s recognition. It’s elevation. It’s music to go with a movement. Because the truth is, there is still so much work to do . . . The intention of the music is to channel all of our pain and outrage into something productive, inspirational, and good. It’s to help lead a movement into our next phase of the work to be done.”
Articulate and powerful words indeed. Yet, ABRP1 is also so much more. It is, as with Common’s other work, a continued lesson in history, pride, and self-empowerment. Honestly, this is educational artwork. Or artistic education. Either way, it begs to be heard. Throw on some quality headphones and just zone out to the delicious mixture of silky jazz, soothing soul, relaxing R&B, funky bass lines, and elegant rap, or simply tune out the music altogether (yep, it.s near-impossible), and just listen (read: pay attention to) to the lyrics. Sure, the topics can be perceived as heavy in contrast to the vibrant music, but it’s in the heaviness that we find truth. This is music by which to be enlightened. (Christopher Gonda)
Go check out: “Say Peace feat. Black Thought”
CONVULSIF – Extinct (October 23, Hummus Records)
With a lineup employing violin, bass clarinet, and electronics alongside blower bass and pounding drums and a sound that harkens back to late, great and sorely underrated and missed projects like GOD, Painkiller and Naked City, Convulsif has ushered in a new era of noise that proudly hoists the baton of forward-thinking musical art that challenges staid notions of “extreme” and “heavy.”
Extinct has been described as the Venn Diagram center point between the balancing of abrasive noise, futuristic grind, free-form jazz, pulsating industrial and disconcerting ambiance and even if it’s not a better album than Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism, it comes pretty damn close. Plus, the video for “Torn From the Stone” is awesome and I can’t get enough of it. (Kevin Stewart-Panko)
Go check out: “Torn From the Stone”
Corey Taylor – CMFT (October 2, Roadrunner Records)
Breaking away from all ties linking him to Slipknot, Corey Taylor delivered a record that allowed him to truly experiment with his music. Although Stone Sour differed from Slipknot, Taylor was still working with various Slipknot members, so there was still an element of residing in their shadow.
I have always believed Taylor to be a talented artist, but until CMFT (you can read our full review here) I didn’t realize the extent of his abilities. He has taken elements of popular, but past styles, and added in a modern twist. By doing this he has paid homage to past acts but also refused to be confined by the expected style. I think I am confessing that CMFT is the most joyous record received by my ears in 2020. (And the Deftones also released an album this year!) (Damian FitzGerald)
Go check out: “Black Eyes Blue”
Countless Skies – Glow (November 6, Willowtip Records)
With only their second full-length, UK progressive melodeath act Countless Skies have managed to thrust themselves into the conversation as one of the notable bands on the scene. Glow (read our review here) brings influences from melodic death metal such as Insomnium and marries this with soaring, powerful clean vocals and progressive elements that wouldn’t be out of place in calmer Dream Theater passages, to craft both a collection of great tracks and a coherent album from start to finish. All-in-all, Glow is a masterfully crafted release and a standout for the metal genre as a whole – it has really lit up the year. (Chris Andrews)
Go check out: “Tempest”
Death By Stereo – We’re All Dying Just In Time (August 7, Indecision Records/Concrete Jungle Records)
Loaded with ten new tracks, Death By Stereo dropped their seventh studio slab, We’re All Dying Just In Time, back in August and quickly started to sell out of merch as rabid fans had been eagerly awaiting a new full-length for about eight years. As lead singer Efrem Schulz shared in an interview with No Echo, the music is “…an all-out attack on this system we are all currently living in. I think it’s got the best elements of everything we’ve done in the past but still moves forward. It’s most definitely really fucking pissed off.”
Well, with that said, it can be argued that this release is the single best and most cohesive of the band’s career to-date. Is it political? Check; just peep the tracklisting. Is it angry? Check; Efrem sounds like a man possessed, hell-bent on yelling his logical socio-political arguments right into listeners’ brains. Does it pay homage to all previous DBS work while also moving forward? HELL YES! I mean, just listen to track four, “Mass Self Destruct,” the Decepticon-like sample included, and it’s near-impossible to counter the statement.
The bottom line is that We’re All Dying Just In Time is the single best (and most important) hardcore punk album of the year. And if you disagree, there’s simply no denying that, at least lyrically, it is so painfully politically poignant that avoidance is not an option. (Christopher Gonda)
Go check out: “Free Gun With Purchase”
Deftones – Ohms (September 25, Warner Records)
An argument can be made that Ohms (should you like, our full review can be found here) is the best collection of songs the Deftones have released to date as it takes all the best elements from their back catalogue and merges it into one sublime package. From the brutality of their debut release, Adrenaline, and its triumphant follow-up, Around the Far, to the more chilled-out sections of White Pony, Chino Moreno and crew have created an actual masterpiece that would make the late Chi Cheng proud. (Damian FitzGerald)
Go check out: “Ohms”
En Minor – When the Cold Truth Has Worn Its Miserable Welcome Out (September 5, Housecore Records)
Ditching his more vitriolic temperament, which I always felt relied a bit too much on tough-guy theatrics, En Minor finds Phil Anselmo at his brooding, introspective best. For many, his Pantera, Superjoint, and Down work is the stuff of legend, but in this terrifically macabre effort, Anselmo leans away from the heaviness and way, way into New Orleans, gothic-folk poetics. Tom Waits is the easiest parallel for En Minor’s dark, folksy vibes, but even that analogy undercuts just how impressive a change of pace this is for Anselmo.
Tom Waits has always done Tom Waits, but this is scream-your-cords-to-shreds and overdose-and-die-for-four-minutes Phil Anselmo. That makes When the Cold Truth Has Worn Its Miserable Welcome Out even more poignant. (Read our full album review here.) It’s still dark as fuck, but, stripped of its acerbic musicality, Anselmo’s message seems to come through stronger than ever. It also feels like the perfect fit for this mangled, depressing year. As the band aptly notes, “this is not ‘party’ music. This is ‘kill the party’ music.”
Go check out: “Mausoleums”
Envy – The Fallen Crimson (February 7, Temporary Residence Limited/Pelagic Records)
Having long ago swapped their hardcore roots for the dense wash of emotive, post-everything sound that has since become very much their own (not to mention practically inventing the blackgaze subgenre), Tokyo sextet Envy has returned triumphantly after a five-year gap, including original vocalist Tetsuya Fukagawa, to release an album that sits comfortably near the apex of their discography. (Read our recent interview with guitarist Nobukata Kawai here.)
The Fallen Crimson feels like the band’s most focused album in a long time, perhaps ever, both in terms of capturing emotion within the melody and knowing when to hold back or erupt in a flurry of angular post-hardcore riffs and jagged time signatures. Fukagawa moves between spoken word introspection, emotive singing and his trademark screamo hollering on an album that feels both punishing and utterly heart-warming. (James Parry-Smith)
Go check out: “Rhythm”
Eric Steckel – Grandview Drive (May 1, E. Steckel Music)
Even as a ten-year-old kid with Star Wars toys and an electric guitar, I was able to recognize a great guitar player when I heard one. Before Randy Rhoads died and his prowess hit all the guitar magazines I thought, “I must really suck. This guy is amazing and nobody is talking about him.” Eric Steckel is another one of the diamonds that are just beginning to shine. I’ve read things like, “where have I been, this guy is amazing,” or “have I been living under a rock?”
Steckel rips and tears like many of the other great guitar players with nods to the greats such as Pat Travers, Stevie Ray Vaughn, or Steve Lukather. This child prodigy has a vast past with his first album released when he was only eleven years old. The guy quickly traded in his Chuck Taylors for a shining pair of Lucchese’s. To get your feet wet I highly suggest Steckel’s tidal wave “Take My Love To Town” off his latest release Grandview Drive. (Read our full album review here.) (Micha Kite)
Go check out: “Take My Love To Town”
grandson – Death of an Optimist (December 4, Fueled by Ramen)
Death of an Optimist may be grandson’s formal debut full-length record, but there’s arguably been no artist more productive than this young Canadian-American product over the last two years. (Read our interview from 2019.) Picking up where he left off with his A Modern Tragedy EP series, the alternative rock, hip-hop, trap, EDM (and practically any other genre you can think of) artist, shines through the record’s twelve, compact tracks that dare to venture into musical territories other artists wouldn’t think to travel.
The most noteworthy aspect about grandson, and this record, in particular, is that anything goes when it comes to working within his creative space. Death of an Optimist goes to great lengths to show that grandson will not allow himself to be backed into any musical corner. This anything-goes approach worked wonders through each of A Modern Tragedy’s three volumes, so why stop now? (Aaron Willschick)
Go check out: “We Did It!!!”
Hayley Williams – Petals For Armor (May 8, Atlantic Records)
The debut solo album for Paramore’s Hayley Williams continues the art-pop sound we saw in the more recent work from her band. The record’s lead single “Simmer,” demonstrates the alt-synth style that we can expect on the rest of Petals for Armor. It’s full of erratic rhythms that open the space for Williams’ experimental vocals to create unlikely hooks. Far from a standard indie-pop record, it is weird and dark, yet still manages to worm its way into your head for days after listening.
Whether you are a newcomer or a longtime Paramore fan, you will agree this is one of the best and most interesting music to come out of 2020. (Josh White)
Go check out: “Simmer”
Killer Be Killed – Reluctant Hero (November 20, Nuclear Blast Records)
Most folks considered this a once-off exciting project as the members, Max Cavalera, Troy Sanders, Greg Puciato, and David Elitch, went their own way thereafter, so imagine the shock and positive reaction when Nuclear Blast announced a new Killer Be Killed album to be released in 2020. Elitch had prior engagements, but his replacement is the infinitely talented Ben Koller (Converge, Mutoid Man, All Pigs Must Die), a percussionist worth his salt in all departments, and he feels like the true final piece of the puzzle here on the new album, Reluctant Hero. (Read our full album review here.)
2020 has thrown some amazing music at us and compiling one’s top albums of the year is a mammoth task considering the nominees. Should Reluctant Hero not make the majority of these lists (and I mean way, way near the top), then there is no justice in the world. This is modern metal without the genre trappings or flash, aggressive music for the thinking man that is an obvious labour of love for the four people involved, and it shows in every second of the emotional barrage of sound.
If Reluctant Hero is the last we hear of Killer Be Killed, it would be very sad but still an incredible high point to attain, but I have a sneaky feeling that the band love playing together too much to let the project fade away, and I, for one, cannot wait to see where they head next. This is essential, important listening that will totally and utterly mess you up in all the right ways. (John Philip James Morrow)
Go check out: “Dream Gone Bad”
King Dude – Full Virgo Moon (March 13, Van Records)
One of 2020’s big winners has to be King Dude and his album, Full Virgo Moon. (Read our full album review here.) If Tom Waits and David Bowie had a Satan-worshipping hybrid baby, his name would be King Dude. Minimalist acoustic instrumentation, gravelly vocals and mournful theming make this record the perfect pairing for the year that has passed. Take, for example, the country dirge “Forty Fives Say Six Six Six” and its infectious, rolling groove, which exceeds mere Album of the Year to become my Song of the Year. (Dayv Oblyvyon)
Go check out: “Forty Fives Say Six Six Six”
Kvelertak – Splid (February 14, Rise Records)
Norway’s most unique export, the sorely underrated Kvelertak, returns triumphantly with their fourth and most diverse release, Splid. With a new singer and drummer in place, there was uncertainty from their rabid fanbase, but Ivar Nikolaisen is a perfect fit in the vocal department and Håvard Takle Ohr adds a looser, elastic dimension on the skins. Their tasty mash-up of punky rock n’ roll and black metal has never sounded fresher or more urgent, with smatterings of clean vocals (in English, which is also an unexpected wow), dramatic histrionics from the three guitars, a stoner rock atmosphere, and that trademark Kvelertak songwriting that is second to none.
With a guest vocal from Troy Sanders on “Crack Of Doom” and another sweet production deal from Converge’s Kurt Ballou, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a catchier, more infectious release than Splid in 2020. (John Philip James Morrow)
Go check out: “Crack Of Doom”
Logic – No Pressure (July 24, Def Jam Recordings)
For starters, No Pressure is Logic’s retirement album. The one he is sending us off into the sunset with. It’s mellow enough to play in the background while you’re working but still enough energetic beats that it makes you want to get up and dance. Highlights for me are “Celebration,” “man i is,” and “Perfect.” Sampling “Tarika Blue by Dreamland and referencing Cowboy Bebop in “man i is” is what really seals the deal for me.
Several notable samples were utilized in this album along with Thalia (his robot computer female voice). Then he tops it all off with a beautiful sample of Orson Wells speech, “To Be Born Free,” and it’s honestly, the track we all need to listen to this year. (Heather Krut)
Go check out: “man i is”
Marcus King – El Dorado (January 17, Fantasy Records)
Spending the better part of 2020 in-car, cruising every nook and cranny of this dusty desert dominion DoorDash deliverin’, Marcus King’s latest, El Dorado (yep, you can read our album review here), got a spin almost daily. It got overplayed to the point I can hum every song and whistle every lead break. But, like every great release such as AC/DC’s Back In Black or Bob Seger’s Against The Wind, El Dorado had to take a back seat for a minute… until now.
I double-dog dare ya to go through your Facebook posts from the start of this year until now and find what you see. El Dorado is like a much-needed vacation at the end of a dreary year and we should all dedicate “One Day She’s Here” to 2020 as the omnipotent cataclysm to the birth of a new year. “She disappears just like the dawn. One day she’s here, the next she’s gone.” (Read our interview with Mr. King here.)
Go check out: “The Well”
Melody Gardot – Sunset in The Blue (October 23, Decca)
On her fifth album, Sunset in the Blue, American jazz singer Melody Gardot returns to the kind of form she demonstrated on My One And Only Thrill. What she has delivered is a wonderful record from a master of her craft. The music drifts over the listener like the warm embrace of a summer’s evening on the French Riviera. Her voice drips with honey, tinged with just a hint of heartache, and it’s all underpinned by the unique brand of lush symphonic jazz that only Gardot can conjure.
In a year that’s been a barrage of bad news from every conceivable angle, take a break from it all and unwind with Gardot’s rich soundscapes. From the opening notes of “If You Love Me,” Sunset in the Blue is an album that wraps the listener in easy harmonies, relaxed melodies, and a gentle mood of symphonic jazz. The perfect counterpoint to 2020’s hellish screams, in other words. Most notable are the opening track, “Um Beijo,” the title track, and the most beautiful cover of “Moon River” you’ve ever heard. If you don’t believe me, run yourself a warm bubble bath, or get into a hot tub, pour yourself a glass of champagne, and give Sunset in the Blue a spin, and then another, and another. (Nick Dunn)
Go check out: “Sunset in the Blue”
Mr. Bungle – The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny (October 30, Ipecac)
Of all the unexpected occurrences of 2020, the idea of Mr. Bungle releasing their first album in two decades that happens to be a re-recording of their 1986 demo was one of the most surprising and pleasing. Not only is it the return of one of the most unique avant-garde metal bands of all time, but they also recruited Scott Ian on trademark crunchy rhythm guitar and Dave Lombardo on apocalyptic drums, resulting in what can only be considered the finest thrash metal record of the year.
All the requisite quirkiness is firmly in place, but huge songs like “Raping Your Mind” and the Faith No More-esque “Eracist” are vibrant and walk the fine line between classic metal and outright chaos. Of all the albums released in 2020, The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny has had the most spins in my ears, and I can’t see that changing for a very, very long time. A bona fide modern classic in every sense of the word. (John Philip James Morrow)
Go check out: “Sudden Death”
Napalm Death – Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism (September 18, Napalm Records)
The cold, hard fact of the matter is that the best album of the year is Napalm Death’s Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism (Read our full album review here.) Full stop. No arguments. Anyone who tries to tell you different is wrong, and that includes every single one of my colleagues here at V13.net.
People can try and get all Republican Party about it with pointless legal maneuvering, protests or driving around in F-150 “Trump Lickers” blasting something other than Napalm Death, but it doesn’t change the fact that Napalm Death (and Joe Biden) won. (Kevin Stewart-Panko)
Go check out: “Amoral”
Narrow Head – 12th House Rock (August 28, Run For Cover Records)
Announcing their signing to Run For Cover Records earlier this year, Narrow Head lived up to the excitement surrounding their latest effort and then some. Coming four years after their 2016 debut, 12th House Rock is the perfect blend of various forms of rock, with softer moments such as “Stuttering Stanley,” the aggression found in “Hard To Shallow,” and the eerie “Delano Door.” The group took what the ‘90s greats did with alternative, shoegaze, etc. and moulded their own modern-day masterpiece. Narrow Head is not a band to be slept on and this is the record that will open your eyes if it hasn’t already. (Matthew Burditt)
Go check out: “Stuttering Stanley”
Nasty – Menace (September 25, Century Media Records)
You can’t beat a bit of Belgian beatdown hardcore and there are no better exponents of the genre than Nasty. Their new album, Menace, is a thuggish brawler of an album. (Read our review here.) Packed full of mosh, each song will have you heading into the pit arms swinging. Not the most complex album musically but the thick-as-tar riffs and Matthi’s venom-laced vocals make Menace an absolute joy to listen to. As they said, “Four dudes doing fucked up music for a fucked up world…” What could be a better soundtrack for 2020 than that? (Graham Finney)
Go check out: “666AM”
Nicolas McCoppin – Loverboy (September 25, Loverboy Records)
Loverboy is the perfect, lighthearted, flirty album we needed in 2020 to bring light and happiness into the world. For lack of better terms, every single is a bop, grabbing listeners with catchy melodies and rhythms. McCoppin’s dance-pop soundscape shines through as the backdrop to relatable lyrics about falling love for the first time. It’s a love note to both his significant other and the true love of his life, New York City. This album tells a story and is insanely catchy with every beat of every song. It just makes you feel good.
Go check out: “Heaven”
Nothing – The Great Dismal (October 30, Relapse Records)
The thing I love about Nothing and their new album The Great Dismal (our full review can be read here) is you don’t know what to expect as each song takes a different twist and turn. Are they Godflesh, The Cocteau Twins, Rorschach… what the fuck is this? Every time I listen and think I have it figured out they switch moods making it a brand new record spinning in a swan dive from your mind into your soul. While I don’t advocate drugs, Nothing makes one appreciate hallucinogens while braving a new flight. The first single off the album, “Say Less,” is a great introduction to what you’re about to receive, and it’s only available on widescreen. (Micha Kite)
Go check out: “Heaven”
Oceans Of Slumber – Oceans Of Slumber (September 4, Century Media Records)
With their unique, genre-defying progressive doom, Houston’s Oceans Of Slumber fully deserve the praise that has been heaped upon their self-titled fourth album. Their fearless approach to creating sonic landscapes has resulted in a musical journey of staggering emotional power. Referencing multiple styles from death metal to black metal to pop, this album has a grandiose, cinematic scale that often veers on to unusual tangents, yet somehow still achieves cohesion and fluidity.
Cammie Gilbert’s stunning vocals continue to be the stand-out feature; her rich, poetic voice has a soulful quality that sounds as up-close and mesmerizing as a live performance. Meanwhile, Dobber Beverly’s drumming defines the progressive nature of Oceans Of Slumber, transforming songs into very different beasts than the other instrumentation might have suggested.
The overriding atmosphere is one of foreboding, and when there are moments of tenderness that rise through the darkness, they are unbearably sad and you can be left crushed by the weight of your own emotion. Which is entirely the aim. The most exciting thing about Oceans Of Slumber is that their magnum opus is probably still ahead of them, as we see with this album the blossoming of huge creative capabilities. (Catherine Fearns)
Go check out: “A Return To The Earth Below” (gorgeous doom pop that evokes a heartbreaking nostalgia)
of Montreal – UR Fun (January 17, Polyvynil Recording Co)
For their sixteenth studio album, of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes turned to his love of ‘80s new wave. Continuing his usual brand of interpersonal lyrics, UR Fun finds Barnes in a new relationship amidst all the excitement that comes along with it. Delving into clichés, examining the intricacies of modern dating, and finds new ways to have fun in this new chapter of his life. This record takes on a much simpler and single-forward approach than their previous efforts, but maintains the of Montreal spirit. It’s danceable, thoughtful, and one of the most fun albums of 2020. (Josh White)
Go check out: “Polyaneurism”
Pozzi – Tyrant (August 21, Self-Released)
Tyrant (find our album review at this location) is a timely album, working through many of the psychological, emotional, and social issues that have been experienced in 2020. Drawing comparison to the likes of Wilco and Jeff Buckley, heard in a similar rise and fall of emotive power, Pozzi’s lyrics shine through a socially-charged theme and carries political commentary through an intimate acoustic folk soundscape. His words are bold and very obviously come from a place of deep introspection, causing the listener to dive into oneself further as well. (Dawn Jones)
Go check out: “From The Ashes”
Run The Jewels – RTJ4 (June 3, BMG Rights Management)
The year of our (absentee) lord, 2020. We all know what happened. We couldn’t not with the incessance of (mis)information routinely blasted at our faces like a siren’s shriek. But thank the rap deities and steeze titans for making sure our aflame hearts and bursting brains are locked and loaded with Run The Jewel’s RTJ4. (Read our full album review here.) Killer Mike and El-P summoned RTJ4 (early, for the zeitgeist’s relief) like a shackle-unlocking spell. It was punchy, pristine and so fucking prescient. There are feel-good bop fests (“ooh la la”), excruciating eulogies (“walking in the snow”), revolutionary hymns (“JU$T”) and yet more motley music from two ambassadors of violent expression, vocal vigilantism and music. Real, righteous music. And that’s not even talking about the extra singles they’ve released since the summer album, collaborations with Cyberpunk 2077 and Royal Blood! Mike’s verbose activism for the Black Lives Matter movement. The RTJ branded bud aptly named ooh la la. Their breathing of life into the modern music video.
This is a partnership unfettered by conformity. Caustic creativity is what Mike and Jamie pour, and our dystopic present-scape at least has a soundtrack that entices us to dance around the trashcan fires, holding hands, bopping heads, plotting how we kill our masters. It’s no wonder I’ve summoned RTJ into the hyper-hippie future of my second novel. They’re the greatest rap troupe since Wu Tang Clan. Their shadows will be decorated in the generations that rise from the war of class and blunt ash. So long as there’s poverty and perversity, the jewels will be run. RTJ4 neon-pink won’t just be a colour choice of acid-rain coat, but a seal of severity for words that shake worlds. And the crowd goes, “RTJ…RTJ…” (Aaron Farrell)
Go check out: “JU$T.” For showcasing the spectrum of talent RTJ have, from scathing lyrics to meaty hooks that you can’t not move to, as well as hosting artists as eclectic as Pharrell and Zach De La Rocha and making it an anthem for our age. The combination of bopping brutality interlaced with socio-political commentary is rare, not just in rap but in music.
The Ghost Inside – The Ghost Inside (June 5, Epitaph)
Not many people survive the kind of horrors that tore through metallic hardcore outfit The Ghost Inside. Involved in a horrifying bus crash whilst on the road doing what they love, the band not only survived but came back stronger than ever. If the sight of the group performing live again had you shedding a tear or two then the sound of Andrew Tkaczyk’s kicking their long-awaited self-titled album (our album review is here) into life would have had you in floods. An emotional, triumphant return for a band who thought they’d never perform again, this self-titled recording is the fairytale story of 2020. (Graham Finney)
Go check out: “Aftermath”
The Lees Of Memory – Moon Shot (July 3, John Davis Brand Music)
One of my favourite rock bands of all time is Tennessee’s own Superdrag, a band which undoubtedly influenced the likes of Foo Fighters, Jimmy Eat World, Brand New, My Chemical Romance and countless other groups from the punk, emo and indie-rock worlds. The Lees Of Memory was co-founded by Superdrag’s John Davis and Brandon Fisher with hard-hitting Nick Slack provided the drumming. You can expect dreamy, layered guitars and vocals, a la My Bloody Valentine, as paired with plenty of hooks on their newest offering, Moon Shot. In other words, an evolved, modern and organic version of Superdrag. (Darren Paltrowitz)
Go check out: “Crocodile Tears”
Touché Amoré – Lament (October 9, Epitaph Records)
Post-hardcore juggernauts Touché Amoré put out an incredible record this past September with Lament, their first release since 2016’s Stage Four. The album features frontman Jeremy Bolm’s signature honest and emotionally raw lyrics and vocal stylings amidst the familiar surf guitar tones and frantic drumming that fans have come to love. The record feels like the perfect companion piece to their previous effort, with elements of experimentation keeping things interesting and new-sounding, such as Nick Steinhardt’s addition of a pedal steel in songs “A Broadcast,” and “Limelight.” (Read our recent interview with Steinhardt here.)
TA’s decision to work with acclaimed producer Ross Robinson (At The Drive-In, Korn, Glassjaw) seems to have brought a whole new level of energy out of the band that comes close to capturing what a live experience with the group is like. Check out tracks, “Limelight,” “Lament,” “Reminders,” and “Savoring,” for a good sampling of the variety of dynamics and sounds on this record, you won’t regret it! (Nathan Katsiaficas)
Go check out: “Reminders”
Ulver – Flowers of Evil (August 28, House of Mythology)
2020 has been an incredibly messed up year, so it shouldn’t surprise me in the least that my top two contenders for Album of the Year are both non-metal releases, despite both stemming from rich metal heritages. One of these releases is Ulver’s Flowers of Evil (you can read our full review here): a contemporary revisioning of Baudelaire’s scathing social commentary set to an incongruous apocalyptic pop soundtrack.
While the sad tale of David Koresh, “Apocalypse 1993,” is the stand-out piece for me on the record, the first single, “Russian Doll,” is the perfect introduction to Ulver: soft Depeche Mode electro styling telling relaying a grisly narrative of child trafficking in the Soviet Union. (Dayv Oblyvyon)
Go check out: “Russian Doll”
Unleash the Archers – Abyss (August 21, Napalm Records)
With Abyss (feel free to read our full review here), Canadian power metal group Unleash the Archers have delivered triumphant power metal that not only rounds off a well-told concept, but also empowers the listener through driving riffs, powerful vocals, and a rousing atmosphere. The only disappointment? Not being able to see them play live.
Brittney Hayes’ voice is on top form across the album, bolstered by the riffs and thunderous drums of the group behind her, and the synth effects brilliantly evoke the sci-fi setting of the story. The songs have rarely left my speakers unrattled, and have lifted my spirits on more than one occasion over this dreadful year. Do yourself a favour, press play on “Legacy,” “Abyss,” or “Faster than Light,” and let Unleash the Archers get your blood pumping. You’ll feel like you can conquer the world. (Nick Dunn)
Go check out: “Legacy”
Vennart – In The Dead, Dead Wood (November 6, Independent)
Mike Vennart. He’s a self-described Manchester-based songwriter, formerly of Oceansize. Grey of hair, left of hand. Makes the circuits light up in your brains. He’s also the secret-sauce guitarist when Biffy Clyro tours. In The Dead, Dead Wood, Mike’s third solo album under the Vennart moniker was written quickly during lockdown 2020, with elements exhumed and rescued from years ago. In this wretched year of the face-mask, Mike Vennart has crafted his biggest album.
In The Dead, Dead Woods was written, guitar’d, and sung by Mike Vennart (who also played some of the bass and keyboards). Joe Lazarus did all the drums, recording them at Barnyard Studios (otherwise known as Steve Harris’ house). Ben Griffiths did bass on a bunch of the songs. Richard A Ingram (aka GAMBLER; also from Oceansize) did keyboards on many songs. Upright piano contributions performed by Charlie Barnes as well.
In The Dead, Dead Wood isn’t a recording where you pick a song that captures the album’s essence; it’s a movement of material you absorb from beginning to end. The easy sell here would be pushing listeners to “Weight In Gold” and “Mourning On The Range,” a two-punched love letter to Chris Cornell. Mike wrote some of the guitars on “Mourning On The Range” in Ohio around a festival date at Rock On The Range hours into the wake of Cornell’s death. Just knowing that makes the song hurt all the more. Mike has currently sold through three vinyl pre-ordered versions of In The Dead, Dead Wood via his Bandcamp without a label. Time will tell if he does a fourth version. (Mike Bax)
Go check out: “Super Sleuth”
Wombripper – Macabre Melodies (October 26, Independent)
These Russians (Wombripper) may be unabashed HM-2 worshippers, but the trio from Nizhny Novgorod also know a little something about shattering the walls between death metal brutality, upbeat hardcore punk and blazing balls-and-ovaries out thrash. Their second album, Macabre Melodies, rages and rollicks like a whirling dervish mosh pit located in the bowels of a Panzer Division Entombed tank as it crushes everything within sight and earshot, including those yet to admit to the reality of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism being the album of the year. (Kevin Stewart-Panko)
Go check out: “Possessed by Unknown”
Zeal & Ardor – Wake of a Nation EP (October 23, Independent)
Zeal & Ardor have been one of the most unique bands in the scene since they broke out in 2017. In response to the murder of George Floyd and police brutality, founder Manuel Gagneux began writing. Wake of a Nation is an EP written for the climate. Even with its 17-minute runtime, the layers of aggressive and soulful expression resonate. The opening track “Vigil” is a look at what victims of police violence go through as they plead for their life.
“This is actually the first song I wrote post-George Floyd, and it’s literally just about that situation and how it ate into me. I basically took all of that anger and sadness that I felt at that time and put it into words and sad melodies,” Gagneux told Apple Music.
With thunderous black metal riffs on “Tuskegee” and the mellow and abrasive mix of “At The Seams” this EP hit all of the emotions. The ensuing social unrest protests also influenced this EP in the fourth track, “I Can’t Breathe.” Even the heaviest and most simplistic song off the album is a highlight with “Trust No One.” The project gives perspective in the form of expression and is definitely a must-listen. (Brandon Turner)
Go check out: “Vigil,” “Tuskegee,” “At The Seams”