2020 has been a terrible year for a multitude of reasons, and I’m eagerly awaiting flipping the calendar to 2021. Many industries have been severely impacted in a negative way this year and the music industry hasn’t been lucky enough to escape the issues plaguing so many throughout the world. With touring becoming impossible and longtime venues being forced to close their doors indefinitely, for example, everyone involved with music has had to find ways to adapt and survive.
Despite all the problems that 2020 has presented, many talented artists and bands proudly released a plethora of new content throughout the past 11 months. Speaking personally, music has been one of the outlets I’ve used to distract myself when I’ve needed to disconnect from the world for a bit. So, with the amount of free time at my disposal, I decided to put together a collection of albums that I enjoyed the most this year—50 albums, to be exact!
To be clear, this should not be viewed as a “Top Albums of the Year” list, but rather a “My Favorite Albums of 2020” compilation. Admittedly, there are certain genres that I typically don’t vibe with; while I know there were certainly some exceptional country albums released in 2020, for instance, I didn’t listen to them. Even with all that aforementioned free time, I’m sure that I also somehow missed some great albums in the genres that I dive into a lot.
Still, my hope is that you’ll find an album or two in here that you end up loving just as much as I did when I listened to it. Be sure to let me know your thoughts, I’d love to hear them!
Sidenote: I listened to a lot of great singles and EPs this year, but this five-part series (ten albums per post) will only include full albums. This list is unranked and is organized alphabetically by artist/band name.
All Time Low – Wake Up, Sunshine
Label: Fueled by Ramen
As with other popular longtime pop-punk bands, All Time Low were regularly accused of straying too far from their roots when Future Hearts and Last Young Renegade were released. Whether intentional or not, Wake Up, Sunshine feels like a blast from the past with appealing aspects for both old fans and new fans alike. Tracks like “Sleeping In” and “Melancholy Kaleidoscope” would profile well on the group’s late-2000s discography, while the back half of the album features the poppier and experimental direction the band has explored recently. It all results in an LP that combines the synth-driven instrumentals of more modern pop-punk music with that old tone that so many people fell in love with over a decade ago. As such, Wake Up, Sunshine represents the best work Alex Gaskarth and the boys have put out in years.
Favorite Song: Melancholy Kaleidoscope
Bacchae – Pleasure Vision
Label: Get Better Records
Following a solid debut album in Down the Drain, DC-based Bacchae (pronounced Bock-eye) provided a solid platform on which to grow over the coming years. With their sophomore LP Pleasure Vision, Bacchae have cemented themselves as one of the best up-and-coming groups in the punk genre. Confining them to one genre might be a disservice, though, as they effortlessly combine multiple different musical styles to create a top-tier final product. The pure punk vibes of “Leave Town” and “Older I Get” mesh well with the more upbeat and poppy “Hammer” and the slower but impactful “Everything Ugly.” It’ll be exciting to see where this four-piece goes from here.
Favorite Song: Open Wound
beabadoobee – Fake It Flowers
Label: Dirty Hit Records
It’s not easy to release a universally-acclaimed album; to do it at just 20 years of age makes beabadoobee’s accomplishment even more impressive. Her popularity has steadily risen over the past couple of years, but beabadoobee’s debut LP Fake It Flowers has successfully catapulted her into the musical stratosphere. Mixing elements of indie rock, emo, pop, and grunge (all with a 90s-inspired flair), Fake It Flowers is sonically one of the best albums you’ll listen to this year. The London-raised artist’s raw lyrics and inviting vocals further push this album up the ranks into “must-listen” territory. She has the potential to become one of music’s next big stars.
Favorite Song: Horen Sarrison
Beach Bunny – Honeymoon
Label: Mom + Pop Music
Another debut album, Beach Bunny’s Honeymoon exemplifies the endless potential of the four-piece group. It’s a natural step up from their 2018 EP Prom Queen and showcases how much the band has evolved. The combination of power-pop and indie rock works really well, and Lili Trifilio’s warm voice behind the microphone ties everything together quite nicely. Honeymoon clocks in at 25 minutes so it’s a quick listen but super fun at the same time. Trifilio tackles common themes in her songwriting and lyrically it shows from time to time, but then you hear “You stay, you go, you say ‘I’m sorry’ / I’m sorry too, for wanting you / Just let me know, I’ll change the channel / I’ve seen this show before” and suddenly feel the raw emotion coming through your headphones or speakers.
Favorite Song: Rearview
Billy Cobb – Zerwee, Pt. 2
Label: Please Sign Me
It’s essentially a pastiche of Weezer’s 1996 hit record Pinkerton (also, Weezer -> Zerwee might have been another hint), but Cobb still knocks it out of the park. Zerwee, Pt. 2 is an incredible follow-up to Cobb’s Zerwee EP that he dropped last year. You can definitely hear the Weezer influence, but it’s not like Zerwee, Pt. 2 is a blatant rip-off. Cobb interjects enough of his own personality to make this album more than just a touching tribute to the well-known California rock band. The vocals are a bit raw at times but not in a grating, “shut that off now” way; in fact, they almost add to the appeal of the record.
Favorite Song: Sail Away, Old Friend
Brian Fallon – Local Honey
Label: Lesser Known Records
You likely know Fallon as the frontman for The Gaslight Anthem, but his solo work deserves praise as well. Building on Painkillers and Sleepwalkers, Local Honey is by far Fallon’s best work as a solo artist. The artist has discussed his admiration for Bruce Springsteen and that influence shines through here, with notes of John Prine and Bob Dylan also present throughout. Lyrically, though, is where Local Honey really separates from the pack: this is Fallon at his most vulnerable state, and it carries the album into the upper echelon of 2020 releases. Coming in at 31 minutes, you’ll end up listening to this one again and again.
Favorite Song: Vincent
Bruce Springsteen – Letter To You
Label: Columbia Records
Speaking of Springsteen, the Boss is still the Boss. Letter To You is vintage Bruce: pure rock and americana that just make you want to sit on the deck, crack open a beer, and reminisce about the past. Following some polarizing albums, Springsteen shot back with Western Stars which was a masterpiece, and Letter To You is even better than that. The bellowing vocals, powerful lyrics, and pristine melodies all work in harmony to make this an elite Springsteen LP, one that will sound incredible when Bruce and the E Street Band are able to tour again. If you’re a Springsteen fan, this album will likely be on repeat for the foreseeable future. Even in his early 70s, the Boss has still got it.
Favorite Song: If I Was The Priest
Carpool – Erotic Nightmare Summer
Label: Acrobat Unstable Records
Carpool’s 2018 release I Think Everyone’s a Cop was rough around the edges but encapsulated what the Rochester-based four-piece would be capable of given some more time to hone their craft. That time resulted in one of the soundtracks to my summer (album name checks out!), Erotic Nightmare Summer. With fun and high-energy riffs, excellent drum work, and even a glockenspiel, indie-punk and emo fans will definitely be drawn to this LP. That’s not all, though: refined vocals and eye-opening lyrics are noticeable immediately. With a strong closer in “Stolen Self Help (I Like You)” that was hard to stop listening and relistening to, Carpool hit a grand slam with this album.
Favorite Song: Stolen Self Help (I Like You)
Charmer – Ivy
Label: No Sleep Records
After such a strong showing with their self-titled debut album, fans were interested to see if Charmer could somehow top it. Two years later, it’s safe to say that they shattered the high expectations that came with ivy. That Midwest emo sparkle is prevalent and it’s beyond beautiful as is everything else on this album. The guitars, the drums, the vocals; everything works perfectly here and, combined with the pop-punk elements that can be heard throughout, ivy is just as energetic as their freshman album and is a complete joy to listen to. It was an album of the year contender for me after my first listen in early April, and eight months later that still hasn’t changed.
Favorite Song: Wolf Fang Fist
Diet Cig – Do You Wonder About Me?
Label: Frenchkiss Records
It had been a long three years since Diet Cig released their first full-length album Swear I’m Good At This so there was substantial anticipation surrounding Do You Wonder About Me? Suffice it to say, Alex Luciano and Noah Bowman’s sophomore effort was worth the wait (which, coincidentally, is also one of the best songs on a strong album). There’s vulnerability present in the lyrics which, when combined with the tight instrumentals, help to form 10 tracks that are dynamic and passionate. Do You Wonder About Me? is certainly different from its predecessor but it’s different in a good way. At 24 minutes long, it’s a quick, energetic, and fun LP.
Favorite Song: Thriving
(Cover Photo Credit: All Time Low)