Best albums of 2020
It's been a crazy year. One thing keeping us sane is that so many great indie and alternative albums (and a few from other genres) have been released. Here are our 30 favourites!
30. Bombay Bicycle Club - Everything Else Has Gone Wrong
This London band returned after six years, taking off where they'd left off with 2014's So Long, See You Tomorrow. They still have the groove and unique style which made them popular in the first place.
Best songs: Is It Real, I Can Hardly Speak & Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You)
29. The Killers - Imploding the Mirage
It might be uncool to declare yourself a fan of the Las Vegas synth-rockers these days, but their new album was a very enjoyable return. It's their best in over a decade, wearing clear 80s influences on its sleeves. Some massive choruses here.
Best songs: Caution, Fire in Bone, My Own Soul's Warning
28. Eminem - Music To Be Murdered By
It's juvenile, sharp, vengeance filled and also a lot of fun! It's proof that Marshall Mathers is still one of the best technical rappers around. Lead single ‘Darkness’ tells the first-person story of the 2017 Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock, whilst he's breaking records for his use of syllables on 'Godzilla'. If you loved his previous work, you'll love this. If you didn't, probably best you avoid.
Best songs: Godzilla, Darkness, No Regrets
27. Taylor Swift - folklore
A brilliant descent into indie-folk from the world's biggest pop star was one that surprised many back in July. Aaron Dressner and Jack Antonoff both do a great job in providing an ‘autumn’ indie-folk mood to back Taylor's storytelling. And fair play to her for showing versatility, it's nice to see at least one person has had a constructive lockdown!
Best songs: exile, august, epiphany
26. Grimes - Miss Anthropocene
I've always found Grimes to be a really interesting artist, though was worried her recent success (and romance with tech billionaire Elon Musk...) would thwart that in the chase for the mainstream. How wrong I was. On her fourth album she brings together her unique take on country, fantasy, trance, oriental, pop and alt-rock.
Best songs: Violence, So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth, Darkseid
25. Dream Wife - So When You Gonna...
Opener 'Sports!' is a fantastic statement of intent from the Brighton punks, a groovy dance-punk riff set the backdrop to sports cliches and a call to arms ("F*** sorry/f*** please will you so kindly start again? / now put your money where your mouth is"). The record also has its delicate moments too, with 'Temporary' (a song about miscarriage) and closer 'After The Rain', a stunning piano ballad addressing abortion. Its unapologetic, honest and, quite frankly, one of the most addictive listens this year. Just the album we needed in 2020!
Best songs: Sports!, Hasta La Vista, Hold On Me
24. Georgia - Seeking Thrills
English electro-pop singer-songwriter Georgia kicked off the year's album releases with her second album Seeking Thrills. A dancefloor-friendly record, with great pop hooks, 80s vibes and Dub influences. It was nominated for the 2019 Mercury Prize and remained a heavy favourite of ours this year.
Best songs: Feel It, About Work the Dancefloor, Started Out
23. Sufjan Stevens - The Ascension
As a recent convert to this alternative Detroit artist, his new album was right up my street. It's an album with a darker and more electronic vibe to his usual, with a mix of haunting soundscapes and pop hooks. The 80 minute listen wasn't enough to put me off!
Best songs: Sugar, Video Games, The Ascension
22. Deftones - Ohms
Chino Moreno and co released another brilliant metal album back in September. Despite being no fan of the genre, there's something irresistible about this legendary Californian band and the power of their sound.
Best songs: Error, Genesis, Urantia
21. Matt Berninger - Serpentine Prison
The debut solo album from baritone-voiced frontman of The National is an intimate, heartfelt collaborative project. He's in his element here and for me - already a big fan of his work with The National - it really wasn't that hard to enjoy!
Best songs: My Eyes Are T-Shirts, Oh Dearie, Distant Axis
20. Another Sky - I Slept on the Floor
Another Sky's debut album is an emotional collection of heartbroken songs set to post-rock soundscapes and a poignant delicacy you don't usually hear on mainstream radio (Radio 1 DJ Greg James made 'Brave Face' his song of the week back in March). Lead singer Catrin Vincent's uniquely stunning voice pulled at our heartstrings time and time again this year.
Best songs: Brave Face, I Fell in Love With the City, All End
19. The Cribs - Night Network
Like a lot of their work, The Cribs have a particular style and they don't stray far from that on their eighth studio album. If authentic, energetic post-punk is your thing, you'll enjoy this record from start to finish. Gary and Ryan Jarman may have both just turned 40 (though, still look exactly how they did 15 years ago...), but they're still able to mix it with the best of them. This ain't no retiral party just yet!
Best songs: Running Into You, Never Thought I'd Feel Again, I Don't Know Who I Am
18. Gorillaz - Song Machine, Season One: Strange TImez
Gorillaz seventh studio album is a joyful and diverse project with an unrivalled list of guests including Elton John, Beck and Robert Smith. Damon Albarn and James Hewlett might be 20 years into the Gorillaz project, but the enthusiasm to produce rich, diverse music from the worlds of Rock, Afrobeat, Hip-Hop, Electronic and R&B still remains.
Best songs: Aries, Momentary Bliss, Opium
17. Bambara - Stray
Always a sucker for the latest post-punk sounds, this Brooklyn band released their fourth studio album earlier in the year and it sounds as cool as anything! It's haunting, brooding rock 'n' roll with a cinematic vibe to it. Imagine Tarantino directing a rock band.
Best songs: Serafina, Heat Lightning, Sweat
16. Sports Team - Deep Down Happy
Sports Team are a band who don't shy away from their middle-class, University of Cambridge origins. Their resulting debut is a fantastically sarcastic and sharp album which wears its Suburban England background on its sleeve, both in an adoring and mocking way. It has a lot to say. The six-piece band are clearly influenced by 90s Britpop bands like Blur and Pulp, while getting their heavier sounds from the US alternative rock scene of the same era. An enjoyable, eloquent and quirky indie rock record with great hooks. Definitely one of the most unique!
Best songs: Here's The Thing, Camel Crew, Fishing
15. The Strokes - The New Abnormal
The New York garage rock legends released their first album in seven years and it was one that went under the radar. An album by The Strokes used to be a massive deal and today should be no different. They aren't exactly reinventing the wheel with The New Abnormal, but it's simply effortless indie rock with cool riffs, nostalgia and melancholia.
Best songs: Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus, The Adults Are Talking, Bad Decisions
14. Washed Out - Purple Noon
The godfather of chillwave returned over the summer with a brilliant fourth album. Purple Noon is extremely well-produced; there are smooth Lo-Fi R&B choruses, subtle 80s synths and mid-tempo tropical beats, all set to sun-kissed melancholia. It's dreamy and moody, what's not to like about that?
Best songs: Time to Walk Away, Reckless Desires, Too Late
13. Doves - The Universal Want
In September, Manchester indie giants Doves returned after 11 years with the melancholic and nostalgic The Universal Want. Over the summer they dropped the fairground inspired 'Carousels', surpassing everyone's expectations by some distance. Jangly and nostalgic, it sneaked in and blew everyone away. The rest of the album doesn't disappoint either, a mesmerising listen from start to finish. We were constantly blown away time and again.
Best songs - Carousels, I Will Not Hide, Universal Want
12. Run the Jewels - RTJ4
Released only a week after the tragic murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis Police Officer - which sparked Black Lives Matter protests across America - the fourth album from hip hop duo Run the Jewels couldn't have felt more relevant. Over three brilliant albums rappers Killer Mike and EL-P have addressed issues of social justice, the flaws of capitalism and racism. Why change now? Similar issues are again commented on and its as heavy as ever, both lyrically and in sound.
Best Songs - walking in the snow, Ohh La La, Ju$t
11. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Sideways to New Italy
The second album from this Melbourne band was more of the same, further mastering their danceable, jangly indie-pop sound. There's plenty of groove, dreaminess and melancholy to behold. Whilst there may not be an obvious 'banger', the hooks and songwriting are up there with the best of the year.
Best songs: Cars in Space, Falling Thunder, The Only One
10. The 1975 - Notes On A Conditional Form
The Manchester band gifted us a masterful collection of tour-created songs in the most eclectic serving of the year. Its opening track named 'The 1975' (as is tradition on each album) was released on the hottest day on UK record, July 24th 2019. Aptly, the record saw the band ditch the usual opening track lyrics for a call-to-arms speech about Climate Change by Greta Thunberg, where she speaks over some haunting ambient piano. This track starts the album, which was finally released on May 22nd this year. What followed this environmental piece was, well, a bit of everything. The immediate successor was a punk track called 'People', which they released on the eve of their iconic headline slot of Reading & Leeds Festival in 2019. And then they effortlessly sprinkled in an array of fused genres in a coherent way. Bags of experimentation, multiple bangers & classic music videos but at a staggering length of 22 tracks you have to book out a slot in your day to give it a full run-through. However, when you do get round to a proper listen, you realise each song is deliberate and plays its part in forming this fantastic fourth album. (Words by Josh Robinson)
Best songs: Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied, If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know), The Birthday Party
9. Declan McKenna - Zeros
Declan McKenna's banger filled, critically acclaimed second album Zeros (released in September) saw the 21-year-old artist provide a nod to 1970s glam rock. Lead single 'Beautiful Faces' wowed and reeled everyone in prior to listening to the album. With a guitar riff that demanded a head-bang, alongside thought-provoking lyrics, it was the obvious lead single that admittedly softened us up by the time the new project came out. Zeros has a round, traditional ten tracks, with a total run time of just over 40 minutes. It starts off with a fantastic album curtain-raiser called 'You Better Believe!!!'. Daniel earns his name in the fifth track title 'Daniel, You’re Still A Child' where McKenna steps up the glam rock, 60s/70s inspired sound. It's a great album from start to finish. (Words by Josh Robinson)
Best songs: Beautiful Faces, You Better Believe!!!, Rapture
8. Future Islands - As Long As You Are
Baltimore synth-pop kings Future Islands released As Long As You Are in October and it had uplifting-melancholy in abundance. After a disappointing last album (2017's The Far Field), it felt more important than ever that their next record hit the mark... and it did! The album starts with 'Glada', an unusually downtempo about feeling worthy of love, setting the album's thematic tempo of self-acceptance. Lead single 'For Sure' landed high up in our list of top songs of 2020. With a signature Future Islands sound, powerful vocals, dreamy synths and a funky bass-line, it's a heart-warming track about "love and trust". Songs like 'Plastic Beach' and 'Waking' brilliantly follow the Future Islands template, though it's the reflective 'Moonlight' and final track 'Hit the Coast' which bring an unrivalled emotion to the record. Its an album to remind you that you still have emotions, feel uplifted and accept yourself.
Best songs: For Sure, Moonlight, Hit the Coast
7. The Weeknd - After Hours
This might be a surprise entry to many. Whilst this is a site which focuses mostly on indie and alternative music, we'll risk the wrath to add in the fourth album by Canadian r&b singer The Weeknd. Back in March, I described this record as "the most enjoyable of 2020 so far" and it's a statement I still stick with. It combines 80s synth-pop and dark, alternative r&b together brilliantly. On the nostalgic, synth-pop side of things, it produced two of the most addictive pop songs of the year ('Blinding Lights' and 'In Your Eyes'), but around the corner, darkness was always close by ('After Hours', 'Heartless' and 'Faith'). Through the album, The Weeknd paints a picture of himself as a self-loathing and contradictory character, corrupted by the ‘blinding lights’ of success and fame. He lives an empty hedonistic lifestyle consumed by sex and drugs, yet he’s conflicted by the mistakes of a previous toxic relationship. There's a cinematic narrative running throughout and (without spoiling it) there's an ending to fit! What a journey.
Best songs: After Hours, Blinding Lights, Save Your Tears
6. Tame Impala - The Slow Rush
Just as we were running out of patience for Kevin Parker to drop a new album, he finally released The Slow Rush after five long years! The Australian electro-pop singer, multi-instrumentalist and producer is quite the perfectionist when it comes to music and, in the end, we were delighted with the end result. The Slow Rush sounds amazing. The songs are funky, disco-influenced and soulful, and you can just hear the obsession that went into the layers of electronics and percussion. There are songs here that sound personal, sad, confessional, inspiring and melancholic. Though, the main theme running through the album is all about 'time'. Opener 'One More Year' inspires the listener to get out of the rut they're stuck in, 'It Might Be Time' helps us come to terms with getting older, and 'Lost in Yesterday' is all about not dwelling on past mistakes ("eventually, terrible memories turn into great ones"). In anxiety-filled times, this is just the album to get us through the dark days.
Best songs: One More Year, It Might Be Time, Lost in Yesterday
5. DMA'S - THE GLOW
The Australian indie trio released their third album back in July, finally exploding like never before. Praised by Liam Gallagher and One Direction's Louis Tomlinson alike (hardly a duo you'd expect to share the taste in anything...), THE GLOW further established themselves as Australia's best-kept secret. Their greatest weapon is the voice of Burberry-clad frontman Tommy O’Dell, whose powerful, delicate vocals carry prominence through this 42-minute record. He's supported by strong melodies and hooks, pounding bass, Britpop-inspired anthems and electronics. This is their most dance album to date, songs like 'Life is a Game of Changing' and 'Cobraceaine' being high on the rave scale. There are sentimental moments in the beautifully infectious 'Silver', bagginess to opener 'Never Before', haunting vibes on 'Strangers' and bouncy chant-a-long anthems in 'Hello Girlfriend' and 'The Glow'.
Best songs: Life is a Game of Changing, Silver, Never Before
4. Soccer Mommy - color theory
Soccer Mommy (real name Sophia Allison) is another artist who exploded this year through the release of her second album color theory back in February. The 23-year-old singer-songwriter may have only been a toddler when the 90s came to an end, but her music draws upon the indie rock of that era brilliantly. The songs on the record are nostalgic, with brilliant hooks and pop melodies that'll have you tapping your feet and reaching for a box of tissues at the same time. It's a pretty honest album covering her mental health struggles and anxiety. Many songs, like 'circle the drain', sound like they were designed for 90s teenage movie montages! The seven-minute 'Yellow Is the Color of Her Eyes' acts as a beautifully delicate centrepiece, tackling her mother's cancer. Just a sublime effort from start to finish and one I couldn't get enough of!
Best songs: Yellow is the Color of Her Eyes, circle the drain, bloodsteam
3. IDLES - Ultra Mono
The Bristol punks third album caused quite the stir upon release back in September. As a band who have portrayed themselves as a champion of the working classes, suddenly their working-class merits were being criticised by bands like Fat White Family and Sleaford Mods. The fear was they'd be written off as phoneys, though, instead, they came out of the criticism largely unscathed, producing one of the best albums of the year. Pummelling basslines, dark riffs, explosive choruses and a general rawness amounts to one of the freshest sounding albums of the year. It sees four 30-something outcasts whose roughness is usually written off by today’s music industry. That in itself is something to celebrate, and tracks like 'Carcinogenic', 'Model Village' and 'Mr Motivator' showcased the strengths of the band. Bold, energetic, anthemic, political and the sound of a band who couldn't care less what the haters say. All the power to them.
Best songs: Model Village, Carcinogenic, Mr Motivator
2. Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher
The Californian singer-songwriter's second album initially went under the radar for us, but seeing the name repeatedly suggested forced us to commit the time and effort. And how glad we are that we did, it's an outstanding indie rock album from a singer now receiving the acclaim she deserves (Punisher was recently nominated for 'Best Alternative Music Album' at the 2021 Grammy Awards). The great thing about the album is just how honest Bridgers is in her lyrics, covering topics from on tour depression ('Kyoto'), failing relationships ('Halloween') and even her overzealous obsession with Elliot Smith ('Punisher'). 'Kyoto' is the catchiest on the record but, in truth, most of the songs are intimate, melancholic and eerie on occasion. The two best tracks are at opposing ends of the tracklist. 'Garden Song' starts off with the cover-up of murder before moving onto childhood nostalgia. It may never reach a climax, but it's intimate and evocative. On the other end, you have the apocalyptic 6-minute finale 'I Know the End', which builds up before an explosive end. A magical end to a brilliant album.
Best songs: Garden Song, I Know the End, Punisher
1. Fontaines D.C. - A Hero's Death
In July, we described the Dublin post-punk band's second album as "the best indie rock album of 2020" and we're still sticking to that. Released just a year after their debut Dogrel, they delivered their L.A. studio-recorded follow-up. Lead single 'A Hero's Death' just felt different from what they'd done before, with positive mantras and Beach Boys-inspired vocal harmonies. The album opens with 'I Don't Belong', a haunting anthem for a rainy day. Their second album is the sound of a band who have progressed massively in such a short space of time. The heavier sounds of 'Televised Mind' and 'A Lucid Dream' were easy highlights, with Grian Chatten's sneering vocals bringing a brilliantly dark vibe throughout. The upbeat first-person stories and the references to Dublin have been replaced with tales of isolation and detachment. It won't be everyone's cup of tea, but those who get it, are obsessed with it.
Best songs: A Hero's Death, Televised Mind, A Lucid Dream
And that's your lot! What were your favourites this year? Let us know @BFloodlights.
Check out our playlist of the best songs from our top 30 albums of 2020.