List 'Em Carefully
Fact: The Internet loves a good list

Top 25 Albums of 2020 (So Far)

on June 22, 2020, 2:00am
view all

15. Thundercat – It Is What It Is

Thundercat - It Is What It Is

Origin: Los Angeles, California

The Gist: The fourth album from Stephen Bruner (aka Thundercat) follows the excellent Drunkfrom 2017. While the 15-track collection looks inward to pose existential questions — especially in the wake of the death of close friend Mac Miller — the bass maestro doesn’t go it alone, bringing together one of the year’s most impressive lists of special guests.

Why It Rocks: It Is What It Is features heavy-hitters in Childish Gambino, Kamasi Washington, BADBADNOTGOOD, Steve Lacy, Steve Arrington, Ty Dolla $ign, Lil B, and Flying Lotus, who also serves as executive producer alongside Thundercat. The all-star contributions provide extra support to Thundercat’s usual whimsical humor, as well as bolster the jazz fusion artist’s more serious inquiries, many of which have to do with mortality, grief, and the unknown. The album is Thundercat’s first since Miller’s passing in 2018 and much of it feels like an homage to him in some way, with “Fair Chance” being directly inspired by the late rapper.–Lake Schatz

Essential Tracks: “Fair Chance”, ” Black Qualls”, and “Dragonball Durag”

Pick up the album here.

14. Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA

Rina Sawayama - Sawayama

Origin: London, England

The Gist: Rina Sawayama has been on the pop circuit for a while, but her self-titled 2020 release is her official debut album. Thanks to her frequent collaboration with producer Clarence Clarity, Sawayama’s style has tended to skew towards the kind of maximalist, bubblegum pop that was all over Top 40 in the late ‘90s, but with her own unique twist.

Why It Rocks: Sawayama, our April Artist of the Month, knocked it out of the park on her debut. Elton John is even saying it’s his favorite album of the year, which is possibly one of the highest compliments you can get as a new(ish) pop artist. From opener “Dynasty” down to the very last track, “Snakeskin”, we’re taken for a thoroughly wild ride, hitting the unexpectedly metal “STFU!”, a theatrical, Circus-era Britney Spears-esque track “Akasaka Sad”, and the sweet, feelgood “Chosen Family” along the way. No two songs are alike, but somehow they all fit seamlessly together. Sawayama is an artist to watch closely, because she’s not stopping anytime soon. —Annie Black

Essential Tracks: “XS”, “Comme Des Garçons (Like the Boys)”, and “Bad Friend”

Pick up the album here.

13. Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind

Heaven to a Tortured Mind by Yves Tumor artwork

Origin: Miami, Florida

The Gist: Sean Bowie (aka Yves Tumor) came onto our radars in 2018 with Safe in the Hands of Love and a couple singles, “Noid” and “Licking an Orchid”, that we couldn’t extract from our collective headspace. Two years later, they stood no chance of sneaking up on us again. Heaven to a Tortured Mind takes the artist’s hypnotic looping to all new levels of addictiveness with more vocal hooks and even richer tapestries.

Why It Rocks: If you grew up on good, old-fashioned verse-chorus-verse rock or even fairly conventional pop, the world of “experimental” music can leave you scratching your head. The genius of Yves Tumor is their knack for taking both old-school and unfamiliar sounds and creating a groove that’s so infectious that you forget about genre altogether. Tracks like the pining “Gospel for a New Century” and sexy “Kerosene!” are irresistable jams that feel as at home blasting from a car stereo as they would pulsing through a club on Saturday night. –Matt Melis

Essential Tracks: “Gospel for a New Century”, “Kerosene!”, and “Dream Palette”

Pick up the album here.

12. Bad Bunny – YHLQMDLG

bad bunny yhlqmdlg rimas entertainment Top 25 Albums of 2020 (So Far)

Origin: Vega Baja, Puerto Rico

The Gist: Arriving just weeks after his Super Bowl Halftime performance with Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, and J Balvin, sophomore album YHLQMDLG is the quintessential Bad Bunny effort — a release that not only captures the Puerto Rican artist at his best, but shows us exactly what it’s taken for him to reach star status.

Why It Rocks: On the follow-up to 2018’s X 100pre, Bad Bunny amplifies his true self and holds nothing back — a pure embodiment of the album’s title, YHLQMDLG, which stands for Yo hago lo que ma de la gana (Spanish for “I do whatever I want”). That means there’s double the party anthems and double the sad boy aesthetics, the two elements that put the Latin trap icon on the map in the first place. Bad Bunny acknowledges his past by tapping into the classic reggaeton of yesteryear with help from legends like Daddy Yankee, but he’s also always firmly looking forward, envisioning the evolution of the genre. Between dressing up in full drag in his video for “Yo Perreo Sola” and calling attention to a slain Puerto Rican trans woman while on The Tonight Show, as an LGBTQ+ ally, he’s carefully dismantling bits of Latin culture’s deep-seated machismo one release at a time. –Lake Schatz

Essential Tracks: “Safaera”, “Yo Perreo Sola”, and “Está Cabrón Ser Yo”

Pick up the album here.

11. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – Reunions

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Reunions

Origin: Nashville, Tennessee

The Gist: On his fourth album with The 400 Unit — and seventh overall — Jason Isbell is at his most haunted. Whether alcoholism (“It Gets Easier”), divorce (“Dreamsicle”), or distance from a loved one (“Overseas”), the Alabama-born, Nashville-based songwriter gathers all his ghosts together on Reunions. Like a modern Southern Gothic master, he doesn’t always find ways to lay his past to rest, but listening to him commune with its specter is some of the most superb soul searching we’ve heard this year.

Why It Rocks: Isbell’s growth as a solo artist has been remarkably steady, and you can hear him pushing himself with each new effort. On Reunions, it perhaps for the first time sounds truly effortless. Not to say there isn’t clear, loving labor in the songwriting, only that there’s a sense it’s materializing more naturally than ever before. It’s what makes tracks like the mournful remembrance of “Only Children” feel so open and the gauntlet toss of “Be Afraid” a daring challenge rather than pomposity. Unanswered questions on standout single “What’ve I Done to Help” work simultaneously as self-admonishing introspection and keen moral commentary. This is what happens when a gifted artist is confident enough in their identity and craft that the songs come through them, not to them. And Isbell has the perspective not to question it, which allows Reunions to contain his most powerful songs to date. –Ben Kaye

Essential Tracks: “What’ve I Done to Help”, “Be Afraid”, and “Only Children”

Pick up the album here.

view all