Top 25 Albums of 2020 (So Far)

on June 22, 2020, 2:00am
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20. Princess Nokia – Everything Is Beautiful

Princess Nokia Everything Is Beautiful Album Artwork

Origin: New York, New York

The Gist: It’s hard for a single album to capture the entirety of some artists, even if it stretches into the 20-track range. In searching for new ways to express all sides of her admittedly “weird” identity, Princess Nokia’s solution was to release two records simultaneously: Everything Sucks and Everything Is Beautiful. The former is the “brash, ruthless” counterpart to the “sensitive, feminine side” of the latter. While it’s almost unfair, then, to consider the projects separately, the world itself is defined by this dichotomy; it’s usually best when we focus on the beautiful, and it’s no different here.

Why It Rocks: Which isn’t to say Everything Is Beautiful is in any way one-dimensional. Princess Nokia battles insecurities on “Heart” and express their willingness to throw down (“on racists, bigots, and scum”) on the funky gospel of “Sugar Honey Iced Tea (S.H.I.T.)”. While they explore the hallmark warmth of the modern independent hip-hop scene throughout, throwback flows like “Gemini” align them astrologically with artists like André 3000, Tupac, and Anne Frank. Whatever style they adopt, Princess Nokia finds ways to elevate above the harsher realities of Everything Sucks. It all comes to a clear-cut, well, conclusion on the contemplative closer “The Conclusion”: “Hi, my name is Destiny, and I’m a good person/ I see that you’re mean to me, and I did not deserve it/ I survived from trauma, and I’m living out my purpose/ And I’m sure you are, too, we’re really not that different.” We should all be able to embrace our multitudes with Princess Nokia’s candor. —Ben Kaye

Essential Tracks: “Sugar Honey Iced Tea (S.H.I.T.)”, “Wash & Sets”, and “Gemini”

Pick up the album here.

19. Caribou – Suddenly

caribou suddenly album artwork cover Top 25 Albums of 2020 (So Far)

Origin: Dundas, Hamilton, Canada

The Gist: Caribou, aka Dan Snaith, has been on the electronic music radar for the vast majority of the last two decades, but it had been about five years since we’d heard from him last. The Merge Records mainstay dropped Suddenly at the end of February, and well, suddenly, Caribou is right at the front of our brains again.

Why It Rocks: Caribou’s Suddenly starts out slowly and eerily, almost Sufjan Stevens-like in the vocals, but quickly ramps up with the second track, “You and I”, which, oddly enough might have been a good fit on Daft Punk’s 2013 album, Random Access Memories. From then on, the album takes a dive into pure electronic groove with unexpected, delightful instrumentals and samples, like the piano on “Sunny’s Time” and the use of Gloria Barnes’ 1973 hit “Home” on Caribou’s track sharing the same name. It’s impossible to listen to this record and stay still at the same time, so good luck if you decide to give it a try. —Annie Black

Essential Tracks: “You and I”, “Never Come Back”, and “Ravi”

Pick up the album here.

18. Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Now

Charli XCX coronavirus quarantine album how i'm feeling now album artwork

Origin: Cambridge, England

The Gist: How I’m Feeling Now came less than a year after Charli, one of our favorite albums of 2019. Not only that, Charli XCX wrote and recorded it in just a six-week period while entirely in quarantine, channeling her own pandemic-induced anxieties as well as those of her fans, who offered creative input nearly every step of the way. Although there are no big-name guests to be found here, Charli did gather assistance from futurist pop purveyors like producers PC Music leader A. G. Cook and BJ Burton, Dylan Brady of 100 gecs, Dijon, and Danny L Harle.

Why It Rocks: Whereas her previous album focused on polished, experimental club pop and the pizzazz of friendly collaborations, how i’m feeling now is concerned with the unprecedented present and all the raw feelings that come with this coronavirus era. There’s a vulnerability, exposure, and stream-of-consciousness outpouring of emotions never-before-heard from Charli, the weight of the world weighing down on her in real time, forcing her to reimagine love and life from the confines of a lockdown. “I’ve been reeling for 12 days, when I start to see fear it gets real bad,” she sings on the instantly relatable “detonate”. We’ve always considered Charli an artist making pop for the future, but this time around her music documents the here and now, our messy and scared selves, like a perfect time capsule. –Lake Schatz

Essential Tracks: “claws”, forever”, and “party 4 u”

Pick up the album here.

17. Frances Quinlan – Likewise

Likewise by Frances Quinlan solo album artwork

Origin: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Gist: Frances Quinlan is a name you might not know right off the bat, but you probably know her band, Hop Along. Likewise is her first release under her own name, released by Saddle Creek Records at the end of January.

Why It Rocks: Quinlan strips it all down for us on Likewise. The album as a whole is earnest, raw and absolutely sparkling with sincerity as we hear Frances sing in her signature, inimitable rasp over beautiful instrumentals. While the standout track on the album is “Rare Thing”, a song that features Hop Along as backup, that doesn’t mean Quinlan needs her usual crew of boys with her to make a great album. Quinlan does it all on her own, right down to the album cover, which is a work of art in itself. —Annie Black

Essential Tracks: “Rare Thing”, “A Secret”, and “Went to LA”

Pick up the album here.

16. The Weeknd – After Hours

 Top 25 Albums of 2020 (So Far)

Origin: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The Gist: After exorcising his inner demons on 2018’s cruelly underrated My Dear Melancholy EP, The Weeknd announced a proper follow-up to 2016’s Starboy by the end of that year. Not surprisingly, it took another 365 days for the Canadian sensation to deliver — and for good reason. After Hours is an unprecedented odyssey for the singer, a tour de force in poetry and production that disengages from the expectations set upon him — by his fans, by his critics, and certainly by himself.

Why It Rocks: No doubt inspired by the pawn shop, hologram glaze that ensconces the Safdies’ filmography — after all, he did appear in their magnum opus, Uncut Gems — The Weeknd returns not as a starboy but a starman. After Hours wastes zero time making that point clear with opener “Alone Again” warping right into his soul. Yet, it’s not exactly a torturous space anymore; instead, his introspections are laced with an adventurous spirit that’s as affecting as it is addicting. –Michael Roffman

Essential Tracks: “Blinding Lights”, “Alone Again”, and “Save Your Tears”

Pick up the album here.

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