1. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
This was my most exciting first listen of the year by far. I waited up until it was released at midnight on April 17th (my birthday!) and then listened to it several times in a row. It was worth the 8 year wait. So many quotable lyrics like “Shameika said I had potential” or “I would beg to disagree but begging disagrees with me” or “Evil is a relay sport when the one who’s burned turns to pass the torch”. Mark my words, 10-20 years from now, this album will be regarded as one of the greatest of all time.
Favorite Tracks: “Shameika” & “Heavy Balloon”
2. Taylor Swift – folklore
This is the album I listened to the most in 2020 because it has been a perfect fit for my mood. I’ve played it constantly since it was released in July. The quarantine has been surprisingly great for Taylor’s creative process. I love that she has moved away from autobiographical songwriting and opened up a whole new world of stories and characters. I notice something new just about every time I listen to it.
Favorite Tracks: “the last great american dynasty” & “exile (feat. Bon Iver)”
3. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
In a year of so many great dance music albums, my favorite is Future Nostalgia. I love how it blends the sounds of Disco and 80s music. These songs would be perfect for a huge arena tour with over-the-top production and dancers…and lots of confetti!
Favorite Tracks: “Levitating” & “Break My Heart”
4. Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure
She set out to make a sexy soulful disco album that would get people dancing and it really worked. This is the sexiest album of the year. It makes me want to go roller skating and get lost in the reflection of the disco ball.
Favorite Tracks: “Adore You” & “What’s Your Pleasure”
5. Taylor Swift – evermore
I’m still trying to process the fact that Taylor Swift wrote, recorded and released two of my favorite albums of the year while we were all in quarantine. Evermore has only been out for a month and is already one of my most played albums of the year. It really feels like a sister album to ‘folklore’ with just a bit more of a Country feel. It gets better and better the more you listen. It feels weird to say this about an artist so young, but 2020 is the year that Taylor Swift became a LEGEND.
Favorite Tracks: “willow” & “dorothea”
6. Sault- Untitled (Rise) & Untitled (Black Is)
My friend Doug recommended Sault to me in January of this year and I’m so glad he did. They are a mysteriously anonymous band/collective that released FOUR albums in the last two years. All of their albums are excellent. I’m lumping their two 2020 releases together because I seem to listen to them together like a double album. Sault feels like a band from decades ago that you might stumble upon searching in the Soul/R&B bins of a record store. These albums reflect the energy and passion of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Favorite Tracks: “Free” & “Wildfires”
7. HAIM – Women In Music Pt. III
This is HAIM’s best album. It is great from beginning to end. It feels like it could be a companion to the Vampire Weekend album ‘Father of the Bride’ which was my favorite album of 2019.
Favorite Tracks: “I Know Alone” & “Leaning On You”
8. Allie X – Cape God
This sounds as if St. Vincent and Carly Rae Jepsen collaborated on an album together. Two of my favorite artists (Troye Sivan & Mitski) are guests on this album. Also, “Super Duper Party People” is the silly song you need right now to bring joy and dancing to your quarantine.
Favorite Tracks: “Super Duper Party People” & “Sarah Come Home”
9. Róisín Murphy – Róisín Machine
I’ve always liked Róisín Murphy (pronounced Ro-Sheen) since the 90s when she was in Moloko. She has such a memorable soulful voice. This album makes me excited for dance clubs like Berlin to reopen. This is her best album to date.
Favorite Tracks: “Incapable” & “Murphy’s Law”
10. Georgia – Seeking Thrills
If you love Robyn or CHVRCHES, I guarantee you will like Georgia.
Favorite Tracks: “Never Let You Go” & “24 Hours”
11. Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
No surprise that Perfume Genius is on my list. An achingly beautiful and lush collection of songs.
Favorite Tracks: “Without You” & “On the Floor”
12. Kylie Minogue – Disco
This album lives up to its title. Kylie really did her part to lift our spirits this year.
Favorite Tracks: “Say Something” & “Fine Wine”
13. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Reunions
I love Jason Isbell’s blend of Country/Rock/Americana. I have found this album to be very comforting this year. I think because it makes me reflect on growing up and being around friends and family.
Favorite Tracks: “Only Children” & “River”
14. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
I love the tone of Phoebe’s voice. This album is perfect to have on while relaxing in your house doing a jigsaw puzzle which is pretty much what I’ve been doing all this year.
Favorite Tracks: “ICU” & “Garden Song”
15. Pokey LaFarge – Rock Bottom Rhapsody
This is the album I didn’t know I needed until I listened to it. I decided to look up what you would call Pokey LaFarge’s genre of music and Wikipedia describes it as “…a mix of Americana, early jazz, ragtime for string instruments, country blues, Western swing, Vaudeville, and Appalachian folk.” Don’t let that scare you away, just give it a listen.
Favorite Tracks: “End of My Rope” & “Bluebird”
16. The Strokes – The New Abnormal
This is the best album they have released since their debut album “Is This It”. This one has a little more of an 80s New Wave vibe.
Favorite Tracks: “The Adults Are Talking” & “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus”
17. Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated Side B
Hard to believe this is an album of B Sides. This is as good if not better than Dedicated.
Favorite Tracks: “Now I Don’t Hate California After All” & “Comeback (feat. Bleachers)”
18. Bruce Springsteen – Letter To You
This is a powerful album about coming to terms with aging and mortality. Sadly, this is a topic most of us have been confronted with every day during the pandemic. But instead of this album just being sad, it helps us to process these realities and focus on the beauty of life and the comfort of memories.
Favorite Tracks: “One Minute You’re Here” & “House Of A Thousand Guitars”
19. Gorillaz – Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez
Such an impressive list of guests and combinations of sounds. I tend to listen to the first half a lot more than the second half but I still love it as a whole.
Favorite Tracks: “Song Machine: Strange Timez (feat. Robert Smith)” & “Aries (feat. Peter Hook & Georgia)”
20. The Chicks – Gaslighter
After 14 years, they returned with a new album and a new name. The Chicks updated their sound for 2020 but not in an embarrassing way. I really hope they tour again someday. Their quarantine performances on various shows have made me really want to see them again soon.
Favorite Tracks: “Julianna Calm Down” & “Texas Man”
21. Paul McCartney – McCartney III
This is the newest album to make my list. It has only been out for two weeks but I already love it. Paul wrote all the songs, sung all the vocals, played all the instruments and did this all while in quarantine. Such a fun listen!
Favorite Tracks: “Long Tailed Winter Bird” & “Deep Deep Feeling”
22. Soccer Mommy – color theory
This reminds of Juliana Hatfield’s albums from the 90s.
Favorite Tracks: “circle the drain” & “night swimming”
23. Bright Light Bright Light – Fun City
This feels like a celebration of gay life. A fun exterior with some sadness underneath.
Favorite Tracks: “Good at Goodbyes (feat. Andy Bell)” & “This Was My House (feat. Niki Haris, Donna De Lory & Initial Talk”
24. Margo Price – That’s How Rumors Get Started
Margo Price is carrying on the Country music style of Loretta Lynn & Dolly Parton. I never feel like she is pandering to sell more albums. She’s using her songwriting talents to tell authentic stories. The background vocals on this album are amazing. I love it when you can hear Mavis Staples singing so clearly in the background of “Prisoner of the Highway”.
Favorite Tracks: “That’s How Rumors Get Started” & “Prisoner of the Highway”
25. The 1975 – Notes on a Conditional Form
This album is epic. I love going on this 1 hour and 21 minute journey and I never get bored. My only complaint is the track listing order. I would recommend starting with the third track and putting the first two tracks at the very end of the album.
Favorite Tracks: “Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)” & “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America (feat. Phoebe Bridgers)”
26. Lady Gaga – Chromatica
This is a return to the futuristic pop sound of her first few records. Nothing groundbreaking but still really fun. It is almost impossible not to dance during “Replay” when the song builds to the chorus.
Favorite Tracks: “Replay” & “911”
27. Ásgeir – Bury the Moon
Ásgeir is a sexy Icelandic folk singer. He always puts me in a trance. He released this album in two versions, one in Icelandic and one in English. It is fun to listen to them both.
Favorite Tracks: “Until Daybreak” & “Eventide”
28. Laura Marling – Song For Our Daughter
Laura Marling’s voice is so soothing. Perfect for lazy mornings or leisurely walks.
Favorite Tracks: “For You” & “Strange Girl”
29. NNAMDÏ – BRAT
Chicago’s NNAMDÏ is a multi-instrumentalist/singer/rapper/songwriter and also happens to have an electrical engineering degree. This album defies any one genre and has a lot of twists and turns. One of the most interesting albums I heard all year.
Favorite Tracks: “Everyone I Loved” & “Salut”
30. Miley Cyrus – Plastic Hearts
Miley has such a great Rock voice. I’m glad this album took her more in that direction. Her quarantine performances have been inspiring. Especially her cover of The Cranberries’ “Zombie”. I’m happy they added some of these live performances as bonus tracks.
Favorite Tracks: “Gimme What I Want” & “Bad Karma (feat. Joan Jett)”
Other music highlights of 2020:
My Favorite EPs:
Christine and the Queens – La vita nuova
James Blake – Before
Troye Sivan – In A Dream
Bob Moses – Desire
(I really want someone to do a mashup of Bob Moses’ song “Desire” with Madonna’s song “Bedtime Stories”)
James Blake – Covers
Best Music Film:
David Byrne’s American Utopia (HBO Max)
Visually Stunning Music Film:
Beyonce’s BLACK IS KING (Disney+)
Best Live Album:
Suzanne Vega – An Evening of New York Songs
Prince – Sign O’ The Times Super Deluxe Edition
Best Music Podcasts:
Dolly Parton’s America (It came out at the end of 2019 but I listened to it in 2020)
The Story of Sign O’ The Times
Best In-Person Concert Moment of 2020 (Before Lockdown):
Watching Spencer Tweedy perform (on a bill with Dehd & Ohmme) while I was standing next to Spencer’s parents, Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco) & Sue Miller (of Lounge AX fame). They seemed so genuinely proud. It warmed my heart.
Best Remix Album:
Dua Lipa & The Blessed Madonna – Club Future Nostalgia
Best Remix Song:
Cyndi Lauper – Hope (Tracy Young Hopeful Mix)
Best Music Book:
The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey and Michaela Angela Davis (audiobook version read by Mariah)
Most Inspiring Music Book:
Resistance by Tori Amos
Hall of Shame:
Van Morrison & Eric Clapton releasing the Anti-Lockdown song “Stand and Deliver”
Kesha – High Road
This Song Will Make You Cry:
Caitlyn Smith – Supernova
I Can’t Wait to Go Back To This Place When It’s Safe:
Berlin Nightclub in Chicago
Chicago Venue With The Best Live Stream Lineup of Shows in 2020:
Music Genre I Normally Like but Did Not Enjoy In 2020:
Broadway Show Tunes
Vocal Performance That Makes Me Cringe:
Billy Ray Cyrus’ vocal on his duet with Dolly Parton on “Christmas Where We Are”
Great Album But It Sometimes Reminds Me of Evanescence (a band I despise):
Rina Sawayama – Sawayama
Media Format I’ve Grown to Love in 2020:
Memoirs on Audiobook
Media I Didn’t Have the Attention Span For in 2020:
Fiction Books or Reality TV Shows
Fictional Band I Wish Was Real:
Daisy Jones & The Six (from the novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid)
Live Stream Concert Pet Peeve:
The live chats during streaming concerts are so annoying. A fast-moving waterfall of useless nonsense and emojis.
Award-Worthy Live Stream Concerts:
Dua Lipa’s Studio 2054
Mika’s I Love Beirut
Kylie Minogue’s Infinite Disco
Róisín Murphy’s Global Live Stream Event
Gorillaz Song Machine Live
Live Stream Concerts Are Best When…
They are not actually live. It is much better for the audience when they record it live but then edit out the technical difficulties and smooth out the transitions. Especially during multi-artist/multi-location events.
When In-Person Concerts Eventually Resume I Hope That…
Ticket and concessions prices are significantly lower. Concerts have gotten ridiculously expensive in recent years. I also hope live stream concert continue for those not able to go to in-person events.
My Most Anticipated Album of 2021:
Best New Holiday Album:
The Bird and the Bee – Put Up The Lights
Favorite Concert DVD From My Collection That I Rewatched in 2020:
Live Aid (Four disc dvd set)
I Finally Made It All The Way Through A Full Album By This Artist:
BTS ( I listened to both of their new albums this year and somewhat enjoyed one of them)
I Keep Trying to Make It Through A Full Album By This Artist But It Hasn’t Happened Yet:
Re-Listened to The Entire Discography of This Artist In Chronological Order And Loved It:
Unexpectedly Awesome Music Activism:
K-Pop fans united on social media to drown out White Supremecist hashtags
This Year in Lockdown Confirmed That:
I’m so thankful for all the live shows I’ve seen over the years. I don’t have any regrets about the money I’ve spent on them. Worth every penny!
My Wish for Music Fans:
Streaming is great but smaller artists make very little money from streaming. You should support them by actually buying their music, merch and tickets to their shows (virtual or in-person). Also, many of them accept tips through various payment apps. If you like what they do…support them!