30. Beatrice Dillon – Workaround 

If you knew Beatrice Dillon before coming into 2020, then kudos to you because that just makes one of us. The London-based electronic artist had collaborated with Rupert Clervaux for a couple full lengths in ’15-’16, but few outlets gave it much attention (having gone back and listened to them, they’re quite interesting though a bit muted compared to Workaround). What’s evident from Dillon’s work is that her style is always tasteful, patient, and meticulous, and her solo debut album harnesses those strengths into the best collection of progressive electronica from a rising artist in quite some time. It’s an album for those that get excited about unique drum programming and synths that never become too garish. A great pair of headphones is necessary to catch the sophisticated layering happening across each soundscape. Much of the unique layering at work depends upon extended uses of the double bass (yes, the type you’d hear on a late-’50s jazz record). It’s easy to imagine a track like “Workaround Seven” not featuring that bass to fill in the gaps, but it’s that acoustic texture that offers a sophisticated comfort against the icy, dense percussion. — Andrew Cox


29. Dogleg – Melee 

Melee, the first album from Michigan post-hardcore quartet Dogleg, is instantly impressive. It’s an album that, musically, hits hard without making any pretense; it fills you with an unrelenting buzz that you feel in your bones. The band sounds like a cross between Joyce Manor and Cloud Nothings, but with a turbo-charged energy that surpasses either. Vocalist Alex Stoidsiadis’ yelps and cries communicate perfectly the intensity that makes the record so striking, while the frantic musical backing is equally invigorating; they play like they’re all trying to catch up with each other, breathless and grinning. There’s a feel that it was captured in one take, in a dizzy frenzy, only for the band members to wake up on the ground not entirely sure of what just happened (though this can’t be verified). Simply put, it’s great fun, and possibly the sorest casualty of this year’s loss of live music. — Mia Hughes

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28. Run the Jewels – RTJ4 

Protest rap has never looked so restrained, so hidden between other things, so accidentally keyed in to the moment—as is the case for everyone’s favorite old-heads Run The Jewels’ newest record. El-P’s humor meets Killer Mike’s activism for a duo that is so effortless it almost sounds rehashed. But it isn’t; this record is different somehow. RTJ4 is less revolt and more instruction manual: albeit one that does not take itself too seriously. No harm done but all contempt given. No care for niceties, no era-fixation, just relevant and timely and still kicking: “I’m afraid of nothin’ but nothingness.” This is clear on tracks such as “goonies vs. E.T.” or “JU$T,” which stand out as particularly memorable warning signs and wisdoms against Capital. “Look at all these slave masters posin’ on yo’ dollar,” points out an incredible chorus made of Killer Mike, Pharrell Williams, Zack de la Rocha & El-P. It’s both commanding and relaxed, as if they have known it all along. Who else could have said it so simply? — Lagnajita Mukhopadhyay

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27. Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now 

With inspiration from the COVID-19 lockdown just eight months after dropping her third studio album, Charli, pop visionary Charli XCX hatched the idea to craft a “do-it-yourself” project in the span of six weeks. The album, aptly titled how i’m feeling now, deals with the theme of Charli’s ever-changing mental and emotional states while in self-isolation, featuring the star’s big pop songwriting fused with the hard-hitting electronic production by Dylan Brady of 100 gecs fame and PC Music head A.G. Cook. Though the music loses the sleekness that defined Charli XCX’s previous efforts due to recording at home, its experimental nature adds to the vulnerability of her lyrics. Tracks like “Forever,” “Claws” and “7 Years” manage to remain tender love songs in spite of their industrial production, while “Anthems,” “Pink Diamond” and “C2.0,” a part two to Charli’s “Click,” deal with the cabin fever and stir-craziness that come with quarantine. Throughout the album, Charli also opens up about mental health on tracks like “I Finally Understand” and “Enemy,” showing a softer side over her unbothered party girl front she often puts on. The final track, “Visions,” perfectly caps off the project with a raving, hyperactive electronic instrumental, proving that even a global pandemic cannot stop Charli XCX from pushing the boundaries of pop music. — Drew Pearce

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26. Porridge Radio – Every Bad 

Porridge Radio exists at the crossroads of the bedroom indie rock of acts like Soccer Mommy, Snail Mail, etc. and the post-punk of bands like Protomartyr, Iceage, etc.. In my experience, you don’t find many avid listeners of both these indie rock spectrums which may explain why they haven’t particularly blown up quite yet. However, it’s exactly that meeting place of the two subgenres that made them a refreshing listen once confessional lyricism or tight-chested anger doesn’t do enough on its own. On Every Bad, call it a new form of confessional anger. A song like “Don’t Ask Me Twice” features mosh-pit worthy yelling in the middle and then ends on a harmonious-yet-anxious refrain of “I don’t know what I want, but I know what I want.” Their therapeutic draw works in multiple ways. This dynamic is understood by looking at the inception of Porridge Radio; it started as a solo bedroom project for Dana Margolin and has since grown into a full-fledged band. Of all the breakout acts in this year, Margolin’s voice when it reaches its breaking point might be the most memorable. — Andrew Cox

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25. Fleet Foxes – Shore 

The folk rock legends Fleet Foxes’ newest album Shore is an album that is deep-rooted in reflection and gratitude with a focus on lyricism. “Sunblind,” a beautiful track, has lyrics that memorializes and honors Robin Pecknold’s late heroes – from David Berman to Elliott Smith, he’s clear in who his influences are, and in turn, the influences on Shore. “A Long Way Past The Past” is a great realization almost halfway through the album: “And my worst old times look fine from here,” is a personal favorite line, and one that most people can relate to. This song is where that deep-rooted reflection shines through on Shore – the reassurance that you’ve lived through the hardest times of your life. Throughout their fourth album, Fleet Foxes not only showcase their incredible songwriting ability with a heavy emphasis on gorgeous lyrics, they’ve grown into these more mature reflections and reminiscences. — Happy Haugen


24. KeiyaA – Forever, Ya Girl 

Not many youngsters doing it by themselves in their bedrooms can make a record so multifaceted as keiyaA’s Forever, Ya Girl. Fatigue drips through, weariness, a Black woman tired of performing emotional labor for others, the weight of Whiteness upon her shoulders. She wrote this album for Black folk, for the continuation of revolution and of honesty. There are wounds in the house, in full view, a pleading testament to unrequited love and justified rage and indignation— “Think about it – they knew! Why they copy every single thing that we do?” The record is spiritual in its confession: aloneness is necessary for healing. But why they leave her alone like that? Why they tear her down like that— “If to build and destroy is to be divine / Then all I really want is peace of mind.” It is not easy to hear her admit defeat, to give and not be given back, to dedicate and not be dedicated to, to rectify and receive a stale and pale imitation of togetherness. It is a battle women have faced for years against their counterparts, a fight that is all the more difficult for those that have darker skin. It is not her responsibility to heal you, to rid you of your burdens, nor is it us that create your happiness. It is shameful to expect her to love but not be loved back. As a legacy and a continuation to the Black women writers that came before, some of which make an appearance, the record is a tremendous tribute and a determination to home, both sonically and thematically. It is done past time to listen up and take notes. — Lagnajita Mukhopadhyay

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23. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia 

As I watched Dua Lipa perform a great highlight from Future Nostalgia, “Levitating,” on SNL recently, I wondered about how pop stars often brand themselves as diva caricatures with outrageous attire and to what extent it distracts from how exhilarating their music can be. Is Lady Gaga’s brilliant ’08-’10 run of singles overshadowed by the meat dress? Do they work in tandem to build an artist’s legacy? Maybe poptimism could be less of a controversial stance if it wasn’t attached to the hip of the grotesquely lavish cultures of tabloid/fashion. Whatever the case, it prevented this listener from getting on the Dua Lipa bandwagon sooner. What I see now as excellent pop craftsmanship appeared first like overt disco-diva cosplay. Where’s the soul or distinct personality? The answer to that last question is still a little fuzzy, but there’s no denying this: Future Nostalgia is a classic pop album full of songs you’ll be hearing on the radio for a long time. That it’s easily-digestible is the whole point. — Andrew Cox

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22. Grimes – Miss Anthropocene 

Capturing the ever-changing world in the 21st century is no simple task; there’s constantly something different being presented to you, and everything feels so temporary. Grimes set out to create an album about something that is changing a bit too quickly for anyone’s comfort – the earth itself, and more specifically, climate change. On her darkest album yet, the singer takes us through multiple themes, exploring concepts like addiction, insomnia, and of course, climate change. However, the approach to the controversial climate change issue is actually a pro-climate change view. To get people talking about the looming issue, Grimes said in interviews she feels people aren’t responding and recognizing the importance because “the only time you hear about it is when you’re getting guilted,” and so to present it in a new light would hopefully create conversation. Throughout Miss Anthropocene, you’ll hear hints at this topic over songs taking the form of nu metal, electropop, and industrial music. It’s one of her more bold albums full of statements you can’t take at surface level, and have to search for a deeper meaning to discover what she’s actually trying to say. All this together comes together to create an album that is just as intriguing and mysterious musically as it is lyrically. — Happy Haugen


21. Destroyer – Have We Met 

Have We Met, the twelfth studio album from Destroyer, finds Dan Bejar creating an album that tends to push the seams on what he’s done in the past. While Bejar has grown older and begun to explore new worlds that come with adulthood, his music has taken influence from these new ventures: Have We Met sounds mature. Not necessarily mature in the sense that Bejar was once young and is now old, more so he’s been focused on things he wasn’t earlier in his life. Using first take vocal tracks and building full songs with John Collins, Have We Met strays from the guitar sounds that have become accustomed with Destroyer, and lean more into synths, new basslines, and an environment more focused on the lyrical content, even if it tends to be darker and more abstract. It’s an interesting album that turned out more pop-sounding than Bejar had intended, but still maintains a level of ambiguity that leaves the listener wondering. — Happy Haugen