Top Ten Music Albums of 2020
2020 was a challenging year for everyone, but the music scene also suffered a lot. The beginning of the year seemingly saw most of the music releases and then there was a drought. So much of a drought I started doing that 1992 albums thing for fun. But as the year came to a conclusion some good albums started dropping. By the end I felt like the quality of music rose a bit making this an alright time for music, even if we were all stuck at home. These happen to be the best music albums of 2020.
Most Disappointing Album: Blackpink – The Album
This is going to upset a lot of the blinks out there but the more I hear from Blackpink the less into it I get. Personally I had been waiting since their debut in 2016, which blew me away, for a full album. After a handful of singles and mini albums, 2020 would be the year they dropped their first album. It’s a beautiful package actually. I big shiny box (4 different versions) with a hardbound picture book inside and a whole bunch of goodies. But get to the music and it’s quite uninspiring. The album clocks in at 24 minutes which is disappointing enough but the music, while not bad, it is lacking variety.
I think if you look at a lot of other K-Pop groups (or maybe many artists in general) the songs change up. There’s singing, melody, and good hooks. For the most part the music on this album are very similar ostentatious bass beats. The lyrics for the most part are hogwash and the inclusion of guest appearances from Selena Gomez and Cardi B are just a waste of time. I think my main disappointment comes from that when this group first hit I thought they would be the next 2NE1, but they aren’t even close. They’re like a pretty girl rap group, which might be for some but it’s starting to wear thin for me.
Best Cover Song: Caligula’s Horse – Don’t Give Up
Originally recorded by Peter Gabriel this cover of Don’t Give Up accomplishes the rare feat of not only being good but better than the original. Caligula’s Horse has the luxury of not only being a technically proficient band but they also happen to have a great vocalist. The original song is a lot more electronic and subdued but the cover has a bit more bite and both of the vocal performances are better. In any case this is the correct way to record a cover song.
Philanthropist of the Year: Devin Townsend
In a pandemic year where no one could go anywhere or do anything, Devin Townsend hunkered down and gave us oodles for free content. He gave us a series of podcasts, a somewhat retrospective of his career, that were quite informative actually. He released some goofy ambient songs and such. Most importantly he had 4 quarantine concerts. Some free (he put them up on youtube) and some were just five dollars, but totally worth it and all of them were super fun. So Devin Townsend gets a special shout out for 2020 for all keeping us smiling.
BoA – BETTER
BoA has been bringing us music for 20 years now. This one happens to be her latest album and it’s pretty fun, a lot of variation as you’d expect. Also her second Korean language album in a row, if you find any significance in that fact.
Kylie Minogue – DISCO
If you thought 20 years was a lot, Kylie has been bringing us music for over 30 years! Disco is a high energy album that shows us all that she’s still got something left in the tank. It certainly evokes the mood of the album’s namesake. Bringing something fun and energetic to a year that was anything but.
Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song
A hard album to describe but thought it was pretty good. A former nurse turned electronic musicians, she brings some very tight song compositions. But also leans a bit on the indie side because she sings too. There’s also a song on here featuring John Cale so she must have some pull. I wasn’t into her first album for whatever reason but I really enjoyed this one.
Aesop Rock – Spirit World Field Guide
At some point I’ve probably described Aesop Rock as the Dennis Miller of rappers, in a good way of course. His lyrics are poetic and somewhat complex, you might not grasp what he’s saying until you hear it a couple of more times. The album title kind of alludes to the nature of the album actually being about his world travels. Sleeper Car for instance is about a trip to Thailand and Holy Waterfall about a trip to Cambodia. “The strays in the plaza look happier than my neighbors, They answer to Paddington Bear in waders, It’s amazers” Amazers indeed.
Hail Spirit Noir – Eden in Reverse
I actually had some praise for this band back in 2016 when they released Mayhem in Blue. This album is actually a bit different. They’ve let up on the harsh vocals, so now they are kind of like straight up kind of a psychedelic metal type of band, well on this album at least. Some of the guitar riffs kind of remind me of Opeth and the vocals are kind of like Solefald at times. Overall it’s a very trippy and spacey feeling album and I think the lack of harsh vocals is very fitting. A strange trip (in a good way) for sure.
Koven – Butterfly Effect
Koven is one of those electronic groups, a DJ and a singer. It’s kinda dubstepish (Drumstep?) but it’s also a lot of things. Sometimes you just want to hear a nice voice (Katie Boyle) sing over electronic music and that’s what this album gave me and I found it to be enjoyable.
Havukruunu – Uinuos syömein sota
These guys are a type of a vikingish / folk black metal group. Pretty uptempo music for the most part, not depressive like a lot of black metal. Certainly not a sound that appeals to everyone but it is fun and interesting.
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
It’s interesting that I did that albums of 1992 list earlier last year and this band actually happened to be on it, their second album to be precise. Sometime after 1999 this band took a long hiatus and this album is in fact their first studio album since 1996! Judging this album based on their old material I would say that the vocals are maybe a little bit more tolerable and the songs are a bit more focused. Overall great songwriting and a great comeback for a band out of the scene for a while, it’s like they never missed a step.
PassCode – Strive
I actually enjoyed PassCode’s 2017 album, ZENITH, a great deal. They released a couple of albums in between this new one and that 2017 album but none of them really blew me away. But this one is a return to form. If you’re unfamiliar with the band they’re like a J-Pop electronic metal hybrid band, they don’t play the instruments but they do the singing and one of them, Yuna, does the cookie monster vocals. If you weren’t into them before this won’t change your mind but if you’ve been a fan you’ll likely be pleased with this release.
John Pettrucci – Terminal Velocity
Dream Theater has had some questionable releases over recent years so the question is, “does Pettrucci have anything left in the tank creatively?” The answer is this album and turns out it is a enthusiastic “yes!” – Not much to say here. Lot’s of cool guitar songs and Mike Portnoy on the drums. It’s like old times.
Pain of Salvation – Panther
I had actually been following this album throughout the year. The band would release several singles up till release, each one sounding very different. . The sound was unexpected, not really straight up rock like their previous albums. Some poked fun at some of the songs (Panther) calling them Linkin Park of Salvation and at first blush it was odd but after several listens it turned out to be a great song. But there are a ton of other great songs on the album that sound like traditional Pain of Salvation, “Wait” being a huge highlight. In any case I ended up enjoying this more than I thought I would. It turned out to be a stellar album.
Dark Tranquillity – Moment
Funny enough I had also been following this album throughout the year as well and this album could have been a disaster. You had the pandemic, the guitarist left in the middle of making the album. But this turned out to be another album I enjoyed more than I thought I would. It’s clear that Niklas Sundin’s guitar style is absent. In fact the new guitarist, Christopher Amott, didn’t even attempt to emulate it. Normally this would be a big problem but they ended up getting it to work. The albums is a bit more slower and melodic than the rest of their albums so perhaps the Sundin riffs would have felt out of place. But in any case like I said they got it to work and the album turned out fantastic.
Run the Jewels – RTJ4
If there was ever an album that released at the right time it is this one. Half fun songs, half political songs it was very topical to current events even before the events of George Floyd. El-P’s production is spot on as always and great lyrics. Not only is it the album of the year it’s probably the best Run the Jewels album period. The charity concert they aired on cartoon network was also a nice touch, just icing on the cake for such an amazing album.
In case you missed it: The best music albums of 2019