“People, I’ve been listening to music”: Andy Johnston’s Best Albums of 2020

What has 2020 done to us?

Here we are at the end of the year, doing the same thing we do for fun that we do every year: arbitrarily ranking the artistic endeavours of our heroes and newest discoveries in order to have our tastes validated by our peers. I’m not mocking it: I love it as much as the next permanently online citizen of music twitter. I’ve made more Topsters than I’ve made hot dinners in 2020; but that’s mostly because I’ve been supporting local restaurants during the COVID crisis by ordering takeaway. It just feels different this time round.

In a year that lacked structure or routine, where every day under lockdown bled into the next, where the borders between our work lives and home lives for many us blurred beyond distinction, there’s something comforting about going through the year’s music and picking our favourites. Of course, every album is tied to the same memories: namely of sitting inside. Or walking around outside with a mask on. In years to come it will be interesting to see how our collective recollection of the art produced this year will have been affected by the unique circumstances precipitated by a global pandemic. Will we all have forgotten about Fetch the Bolt Cutters?

Nevertheless, some musical memories stand out: Finding out that my body would move against my will whenever Christine and the Queen’s “Je disparais dans tes bras” came on; spending a week listening to nothing but Owen Pallett’s new record ahead of its surprise release and speed-writing a review for this very site; Lianne La Havas’ excellent new album soundtracking the homebirth of our third child; and having daily children’s dance parties in my living room to Orchards’ “Magical Thinking”. 

In a year that took a lot from us, musicians gave us so much. #BandcampFridays and the ever-growing discourse around unethical streaming royalty models made it clearer than ever before that musicians deserve so much more. Not being able to see bands play live this year has impacted my life in terms of spiritual richness, but it’s impacted the bands themselves very genuinely in terms of material wealth. At the risk of wearing out the hashtag button, I have one more: #SupportArtists

With publications limiting their Album of the Year lists to 50 or 100 entries, and many circling around the same heavily publicised critical darlings anyway, a lot of artists miss out on getting any scraps from the busy trough of publicity. With that in mind, and because arbitrarily ranking albums is so much god-darn’d fun (and, whatever Bandcamp might claim, provides a much needed false sense of structure and order in a world rapidly descending into chaos), I present to you, completely unironically, my Top 220 Albums of 2020:

220WVRMColony Collapse
218Nadia ReidOut of My Province
217MamaleekCome & See
216OceanatorThings I Never Said
215YaejiWHAT WE DREW 우리가 그려왔던
214Frances QuinlanLikewise
213Horse LordsThe Common Task
211Black WingNo Moon
210Aesop RockSpirit World Field Guide
209Dinner PartyDinner Party: Dessert
208The Big MoonWalking Like We Do
207Higher Power27 Miles Underwater
206An Autumn for Crippled ChildrenAll Fell Silent, Everything Went Quiet
205Nap EyesSnapshot of a Beginner
204Terminal NationHolocene Extinction
203Daniel Avery & Alessandro CortiniIllusion Of Time
202ShoppingAll Or Nothing
201NaedrPast Is Prologue
200Chicano BatmanInvisible People
199The Budos BandLong in the Tooth
197HAAiPut Your Head Above The Parakeets
196Phoebe BridgersI See You
195Rafael Anton IrisarriPeripeteia
194Year of the KnifeInternal Incarceration
193WoodsStrange to Explain
191Umbra VitaeShadow of Life
190William BasinskiThe Wheel of Fortune
189BedsoreHypnagogic Hallucinations
188Loraine JamesNothing
186Napalm DeathThroes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism
185Mr. BungleSudden Death
184Bill CallahanGold Record
183U.S. GirlsHeavy Light
182Hey ColossusDances / Curses
181Oliver Coatesskins n slime
180Laura VeirsMy Echo
179Inter ArmaSouthern Man
178Kacy HillIs It Selfish If We Talk About Me Again
177Westside GunnPray for Paris
176Lido PimientaMiss Colombia
175R.A.P. FerreiraPurple Moonlight Pages
172Beatrice DillonWorkaround
171Jerskin FendrixWinterreise
170Peter Bjorn and JohnEndless Dream
169Special InterestThe Passion Of
168YashiraShades Erased
167Narrow Head12th House Rock
166GarganjuaToward the Sun
165WayfarerA Romance with Violence
164Porridge RadioEvery Bad
162Elephant TreeHabits
161DélugeÆgo Templo
160Killer Be KilledInner Calm from Outer Storms
159The Soft Pink TruthShall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase?
158070 ShakeModus Vivendi
157UndeathLesions of a Different Kind
156Insect ArkThe Vanishing
155Ichiko AobaWindswept Adan
154Mary LattimoreSilver Ladders
153Jeff RosenstockNO DREAM
152Sylvan EssoFree Love
151Rope SectThe Great Flood
150Black DressesPeaceful as Hell
149Kelly Lee OwensInner Song
148Nation of LanguageIntroduction, Presence
145Them AirsUnion Suit XL
144Cindy LeeWhat’s Tonight to Eternity
142Holy FawnThe Black Moon
141PyrrhonAbscess Time
140WaxahatcheeSaint Cloud
139Crack CloudPain Olympics
137Code OrangeUnderneath
136Caroline RoseSuperstar
135Sufjan StevensThe Ascension
134The Koreatown OddityLittle Dominiques Nosebleed
133Fawn LimbsSleeper Vessels
132GiverSculpture of Violence
131ArcaKiCk i
130ObongjayarWhich Way is Forward?
129SumacMay You Be Held
128ProtomartyrUltimate Success Today
127Chris Keys & Quelle ChrisInnocent Country 2
126SprainAs Lost Through Collision
125Primitive ManImmersion
124DestroyerHave We Met
123Craven FaultsErratics & Unconformities
122The MicrophonesThe Microphones in 2020
121Old Man GloomSeminar VIII: Light of Meaning
120Old Man GloomSeminar IX: Darkness of Being
119Blake MillsMutable Set
118Against All Logic2017 – 2019
117Told SlantPoint the Flashlight and Walk
11616Dream Squasher
115Rina SawayamaSAWAYAMA
114Yves TumorHeaven To A Tortured Mind
113Shabaka and the AncestorsWe Are Sent Here By History
112True BodyHeavenly Rhythms for the Uninitiated
111StatsPowys 1999
110Trace MountainsLost in the Country
109XythliaImmortality Through Quantum Suicide
108Frail Handsparted/departed/apart
107LoatheI Let It in and It Took Everything
106MetzA Boat to Drown In
105Lyra PramukFountain
104SpiritworldPagan Rhythms
103Wasted StruggleAgenda of Fear
102DagnyStrangers / Lovers
101TuriaDegen van Licht
100CaspianOn Circles
99Bonny Light HorsemanBonny Light Horseman
98Soul GloSongs to Yeet at the Sun
97YelleL’Ère du Verseau
96A.A. WilliamsForever Blue
95Neptunian MaximalismÉons
93Modern RitualsThis is the History
91ClosedownBask in the Dancing Light
90keiyaAForever, Ya Girl
89Carly Rae JepsenDedicated Side B
88envyThe Fallen Crimson
87SAULTUntitled (Black Is)
86Lola MarshSomeday Tomorrow Maybe
85TOPSI Feel Alive
84Katie GatelyBracer
83NuvolascuraAs We Suffer From Memory & Imagination
82Moses Sumneygræ
81SeahavenHalo of Hurt
80Moor JewelryTrue Opera
79Spirit AdriftEnlightened In Eternity
78Touché AmoréLament
75Imperial TriumphantAlphaville
74WestermanYour Hero Is Not Dead
73Black CurseEndless Wound
72Boldy JamesManger on McNichols
71KralliceMass Cathexis
70Half WaifThe Caretaker
68Katie DeyMydata
67PallbearerForgotten Days
63Armand HammerShrines
62HAIMWomen In Music Pt. III
61ENDSplinters from an Ever-Changing Face
57Frazey FordU kin B the Sun
56Keeley ForsythDebris
55Adrianne Lenkersongs
54Stay InsideViewing
53Vous AutresSel De Pierre
52UboaThe Flesh of the World
51Helena DelandSomeone New
50Emma Ruth Rundle & ThouMay Our Chambers Be Full
49Fall Of MessiahSenicarne
47Run The JewelsRTJ4
46Mare Cognitum & Spectral LoreWanderers: Astrology of The Nine
45SvalbardWhen I Die, Will I Get Better?
44Oneohtrix Point NeverMagic Oneohtrix Point Never
43Freddie Gibbs & The AlchemistAlfredo
42Empress OfI’m Your Empress Of
41Of Feather And BoneSulfuric Disintegration
40Vile CreatureGlory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm!
39Open Mike EagleAnime, Trauma and Divorce
37Boldy James & The AlchemistThe Price Of Tea In China
36GulchImpenetrable Cerebral Fortress
35Bartees StrangeLive Forever
34WakeDevouring Ruin
33Laura MarlingSong For Our Daughter
32Sightless PitGrave of a Dog
31Infant IslandSepulcher
30Kate NVRoom For The Moon
28PhoxjawRoyal Swan
27Oranssi PazuzuMestarin kynsi
26Dua LipaFuture Nostalgia
25Hidden MothersHidden Mothers EP
24Jessy LanzaAll The Time
23…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of DeadX: The Godless Void and Other Stories
22Lianne La HavasLianne La Havas
21Charli XCXhow i’m feeling now
20UlcerateStare Into Death And Be Still
19KaDescendants of Cain
17Everything EverythingRE-ANIMATOR
16LiturgyLonely OIOION
15Klô PelgagNotre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs
14SAULTUntitled (Rise)
13Fiona AppleFetch The Bolt Cutters
12BackxwashGod Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It
11AnnieDark Hearts
10Young JesusWelcome to Conceptual Beach
9Couch SlutTake a Chance on Rock ‘n’ Roll
8Andy ShaufThe Neon Skyline
7RespireBlack Line
6Jessie WareWhat’s Your Pleasure?
5Empty CountryEmpty Country
4Perfume GeniusSet My Heart On Fire Immediately
3Infant IslandBeneath
2Owen PallettIsland
1Christine and the QueensLa vita nuova

And one last beautiful Topster for the Top 20:

Find links to purchase these albums here.

Read Andy Johnston’s BPM posts here and follow him on Twitter.