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20. Soccer Mommy – color theory 

The second studio album by singer-songwriter Sophie Allison (AKA Soccer Mommy), color theory is a piece of work with big sound and simple instrumentation, mirroring its complex yet universally relatable subject material centering around an overall timely sadness. Opener “Bloodstream” and subsequent track “Circle the Drain” are mid-tempo rock songs that have a weary feeling, looking back on past memories with the realization that things will never be the same. Ballads “Gray Light” and “Night Swimming” have a haunting beauty to them, while Allison leans into post-grunge stylings on tracks like “Lucy” and the over-seven-minute “Yellow Is the Color of Her Eyes.” Throughout the album, the rising indie rocker is not afraid to get grim, going as far as to detail experiences of sleep paralysis on the chugging “Crawling in My Skin” and unleashing her pent-up anger on “Stain,” the intense, penultimate track made up of gentle guitar strums and Allison’s urgent vocals. With color theory, Allison explores sadness from a multitude of perspectives with her penetrating lyrics and comforting delivery, telling listeners it’s okay to feel blue sometimes. — Drew Pearce


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19. Perfume Genius – Set My Heart on Fire Immediately 

Mike Hadreas’ fifth studio effort is his most solid piece of art to date. On Set My Heart on Fire Immediately, Hadreas equips a number of musical stylings – incredible, uplifting string arrangements paired excellently with his dynamic voice can be found on album opener “Whole Life,” and more modern-sounding earworms can be found halfway through on tracks like “On the Floor”. The My Bloody Valentine-esque song “Describe” is an emotional standout from the album, with Hadreas singing about an older person who can’t remember much of their life, relying on a close friend to fill in the rest. Throughout Set My Heart on Fire Immediately, Mike Hadreas’ powerful singing voice expands from hauntingly high registers (“Jason,” “Moonbend”) to sweeping lower registers (“Describe,” “Nothing at All”). This album is one of the most innovative albums to come out this year – with an incredibly diverse tracklist. Set My Heart on Fire Immediately is an exceptional work. — Happy Haugen


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18. The Microphones – Microphones in 2020 

Phil Elverum’s embrace of autobiographical narratives has incited a creative resurgence and has arguably yielded his greatest work. It’s offered clarity for one of the most subtly revolutionary singer-songwriters of the 21st century — not just a peek into the songwriting process but a complete transparent overhaul. This wasn’t by choice; sometimes, life deems you must rehabilitate to keep living and creating. His wife’s illness and sudden death became the focus across three albums with A Crow Looked at Me being one of the most heartbreaking and starkly powerful albums of recent memory. For this album — consisting of one 44-minute track — The Microphones’ moniker returns after 17 years. It’s not just to make a headline; Elverum’s sound and lyrical narrative calls back the glory of The Glow Pt. 2. There are elements of drone, especially with the long acoustic intro that intends to numb the listener like an opening scene without dialogue. Then, Elverum recounts his life and start of The Microphones’ “imagined collective” all while ruminating on the psychology of life, death, and fleeting moments of justifiable meaning to it all. Oh, and the drums come in at 29 and a half minutes. — Andrew Cox


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17. The Soft Pink Truth – Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase? 

The side project of the experimental artist Drew Daniel, The Soft Pink Truth’s new album Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase? is a beautiful landscape that is fueled by Daniel’s passion for the unexplored side of recorded music. Last year, Daniel’s main band Matmos put out an album called Plastic Anniversary, a concept album that was created using only plastic. These kinds of experimentations are found throughout Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase? – from ambient soundscapes on the song “On,” to the eerie sounding “Go,” which sounds like it could be featured in the Rumble Fish soundtrack. This album is based on collaboration, as well, with a variety of different people: Andrew Bernstein, Angel Deredoorian, and M.C. Schmidt. It’s very good for long drives throughout the country at night; as it’ll have you simultaneously on edge and calm. Drew Daniel has once again created an outgoing and adventurous masterpiece, aided by his closest friends and collaborators. — Happy Haugen


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16. Nubya Garcia – SOURCE 

Nubya Garcia was destined to make music as intellectual and vibrant as appears on SOURCE from a very young age. She and her three siblings all learned to play music from a young age, her stepdad was a brass player with an array of instruments, and her mom was an avid listener of many genres of music. Garcia’s instrument of choice became the tenor saxophone, and she underwent all the formal training it takes to be a highly-regarded band leader. It’s no stretch to call Garcia’s 2020 breakthrough the most vital jazz album since Kamasi Washington’s The Epic; its preponderance on EOY lists would suggest a consensus forming. Washington and Garcia are now carrying the legacy of the tenor saxophone once led by Getz, Coltrane, and Rollins. Garcia breaks from Washington maybe through the influence of her mother’s listening habits; Latin and soul elements guide Garcia’s aesthetic into new directions, especially on the centerpiece title track and “La Cumbia Me Está Llamando.” It’s this variance of sound that offers a path forward for jazz musicians that fear there’s not enough of a welcoming climate for rising leaders in the jazz scene. — Andrew Cox


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15. Róisín Murphy – Róisín Machine 

Róisín Murphy has been around a while. She started in the duo Moloko that broke through in 1999 with the “Sing It Back” remix by Boris Dlugosch; the song is routinely considered a classic vocal house anthem. The next single “Time Is Now” was also a huge UK hit and offers a more interesting acoustic production style. Murphy then went solo and worked with Matthew Herbert on her fantastic debut Ruby Blue. Fifteen years later, Murphy managed to outdo her debut with this year’s release. Róisín Machine honestly snuck up on those of us who wrongly assumed her career was going through the motions, so to speak. The 2019 single “Incapable” was an infectious slice of disco pop, and the opener “Simulation” was released back in 2012, so there was enough evidence to expect the best indie pop release of the year. The album seems forever building, unwilling to engage in easy payoffs or to fully dive into tacky club territory. Murphy seems inspired more by the electro-disco stylings of Giorgio Moroder and Cerrone than the straight-up disco you’d hear on the radio. In 25 years of excellent artistry, Murphy has made the most flawless long-length of her storied career. — Andrew Cox


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14. Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure? 

Jessie Ware’s career beginnings at the start of the 2010s were full of collaborations with premier UK pop revolutionaries: Sampha, SBTRKT, Disclosure and Joker; she’d note others like James Blake as an inspiration. As we enter the 2020s, Ware seems the only one of that bunch still capable of finding tweaks in the original formula to reach new heights. Across four albums, Ware’s greatest strength has been that there’s nothing to not like — the sophisti-pop/r&b/soul/disco production is always handled artfully and Ware provides enough wistful melancholy in both her lyrics and vocals to set the mood. What’s Your Pleasure? is simply twelve pop gems that are impossible to not love if you have any respect for pop music’s history (particularly the type that would circulate in the club scenes). At a certain point, the question isn’t if a song will be rewarding but rather how it will do so? Is it a kissing sound in “Read My Lips,” or a Cybotron-worthy techno riff in “Soul Control”? What’s your pleasure, indeed. — Andrew Cox


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13. Taylor Swift – folklore 

Taylor Swift, at home during lockdown, does what is expected of her again: escape into “fantasy, history, and memory” through a surprise record folklore. Accompanied by a lackluster performance from The National’s Aaron Dessner, the stories spill over the edges of its soundtrack in typical Swift fashion. From one writer writing about another, it was always about that—the lore, the worldbuilding, the could’ve should’ve would’ve. These grand ideas in a new form in these grand fictions: through visions of falling dynasty, teenage lust, movie screens. It is cottagecore with a twist, as if dreaming of elsewhere in repeat: exile seeing you out, greatest loves over now. The allure of Taylor Swift is that old new smell, trying on something worn but new to you, becoming someone new we all know. These songs are all hypotheticals—if she never showed up to town, if she died and still was not free, if you called—would it be enough if she could never give you peace? Could this be the “invisible string,” this fated storyline, “just like a folk song / our love will be past” but also “past down like folk songs / our love lasts so long.” This is the tension that Swift excels at: “if you would’ve been the one.” But you were not or you couldn’t be that time. We all have that picture in the weeds. In a way Swift, while on that trapeze in plain sight, is still the greatest practitioner of empathy. Somehow, while she changes herself, she becomes more of a reflection of those that can see her. Those that she reflects are the “mirrorball” too. Past down throughout time, both folk and lore, all we ever do is try try try. — Lagnajita Mukhopadhyay


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12. Lil Uzi Vert – Eternal Atake 

Nobody could call Lil Uzi Vert a one-hit wonder going into this year, but now there’s no debate. Eternal Atake arrives in the sixth year of his reign as one of the best acts in hip-hop. “7AM” and “Top” from 2015’s Luv Is Rage have more streams than almost every track on this album. It would take a feature on “Bad and Boujee” and the massive success of “XO TOUR Llif3” though to gain critical traction. For this writer, it would take the vocabulary barrage of singles like “New Patek” and “Free Uzi” to fully have my attention and to expect his next album to be the best rap album of the year or else be a disappointment. He didn’t fail. What we got were 18 bops all in the 3-minute range where he flexes his unmatched lyrical and hook-constructing talents. He can internal rhyme a whole damn verse but still understands that just a slight vocal inflection is enough for the hook. To love Uzi is to just love how he says and arranges words; it makes Eternal Atake one of the most obvious classics of 2020. — Andrew Cox


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11. Adrianne Lenker – songs / instrumentals 

To speak of things that feed and are fed is to speak of the writing of Adrianne Lenker. In songs / instrumentals is it a grandmother’s recipe, like in “two reverse,” or the flies off the decomposing sugar of a great-aunt’s horse, “ingydar?” To speak of Adrianne is to speak of chefs: cooking on a fire in the cabin, mango in mouth, juice dripping, honey name, poison stains as she holds the knife, cracked eggshells, pictures that hang in your mouth. So much hunger in the head, such indulgence and excess, pared down to a simple meal: the sounds of the rain, the creek, the birdsong, the inside of an acoustic guitar. Or how it sounds to be inside yet have the outside breaking in, the kitchen and the prey, shelter as shelter as refuge, how the inside is the outside still, the hearth and the predator, how an old love is the wind knocking on the door. All of this at the dinner table in the wild, untamed, unnamed, yet with a place for someone else. One can say this record is death, but it is also communion, sustenance, survival. It is this misplaced emptiness and cooking for oneself. The record is a victorious, brutal, soft take on a new realism. Everything eats and is eaten, but not only time, not only decay, not only heartbreak, but we too, are fed. — Lagnajita Mukhopadhyay