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Top 50 Albums of 2020

These are the records we leaned on during what's been the strangest year in our lifetimes

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Top 50 Albums of 2020
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    As we return from Thanksgiving and head into December, our Annual Report will spend the next few weeks looking back upon the strange year that was 2020 and the music, film, and television that came with it. We begin today with our Top 50 Albums of 2020.

    You’ve heard it from me dozens of times already: 2020 has not been a normal year. And by that, I mean absolutely nothing has been normal. The music world hasn’t been immune, of course. I’ve spent more time cancelling flights and accommodations and trying to get tickets refunded than I actually did watching live music this year. Instragram became a concert venue, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions had no performances, and livestreams (which are pre-taped) seem to be the often-underwhelming future of live music at least for the forseeable future.

    I’ve also never spent so little time in a record store as an adult. And when I have shopped and browsed, it’s been sporting a mask, eyeballing my fellow customers like they’re Patient Zero, and all of this usually after having waited in line to get into my small, hole-in-the-wall, go-to record shop like a Tuesday afternoon was Record Store Day morning in a normal year. I also have to admit that times have been tough. The vaunted collection of vinyl that sits in my living room has actually shrunk this year because, well, I needed a buck. It’s also the first year of my adult life where I sold off my record collection instead of adding to it.

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    Stuck at home, I figured, if nothing else, I’d finally get a chance to listen to music more than ever, discover a million new bands, and finally put a serious dent in that bucket list of albums to listen to and live with before I die. And that didn’t really happen either. Truth is, that was our biggest discovery while piecing together our top albums list over the previous weeks. While nothing was normal about the music industry or the world around us in 2020, we all kinda used music in the same ways that we normally do. We looked for the same distractions, comforts, understanding, and inspiration. And we got them … maybe when we needed it most.

    Despite the strangeness of 2020, the year has been full of first-class artistry. We’ve seen tomorrow’s stars emerge, yesterday’s heroes return triumphantly, and the most hyped acts of today back up that excitement with records that seem both timeless and so of the time as to be almost prophetic. To all those who’ve grieved the loss of a loved one this year, felt the pain of racial injustice create fresh wounds and open old ones, or lost sleep not knowing how they would be able to protect and care for their loved ones in these uncertain times, we can only hope that music had their back in some small way like it did ours.

    Here are 50 albums we leaned on in 2020. Be safe and take care.

    –Matt Melis
    Editorial Director

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    Editor’s Note: If you enjoy this list and our other content, consider supporting Consequence of Sound by purchasing an item at our web store. Additionally, a portion of all proceeds are being donated to MusiCares’ COVID-19 Artist Relief Fund supporting independent musicians.


    50. Beach Bunny – Honeymoon

    Beach Bunny Honeymoon Album Cover Stream Track by Track

    Origin: Chicago, Illinois

    The Gist: Following a quartet of EPs and some unexpected TikTok popularity, Beach Bunny were big enough to land spots at their hometown’s Lollapalooza and Riot Fest. Not long after, the band signed with beloved indie label Mom + Pop and booked time in Steve Albini’s Electric Audio studios. Led by Lili Trifilio, the group’s full-length debut, Honeymoon, dropped appropriately on Valentine’s Day, instantly winning our hearts.

    Why It Rules: Looking at the rest of this list, it’s clear — and understandable — that there’s a certain “type” of album that really sticks out in 2020. Honeymoon isn’t the charged, soul-searching effort that dominates the current conversation. It is instead a relatively simple, sincere recounting of the highs and lows of young romance. And it nails those feelings to the wall with flawlessly aimed pop punk. The insecurity of self-worth (“Rearview”), the agony of unrequited affection (“Ms. California”), the bliss of proper love (“Cloud 9”) — the full gamut is run with such perfect sweetness that re-listening to even the most “emo” moments is a joy. February seems like such an innocent time compared to now, but there’s a reason we named Beach Bunny our Artist of the Month back then, and we haven’t forgotten it. —Ben Kaye

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    Essential Tracks: “Dream Boy”, “Rearview”, and “Promises”

    Pick up the album here.


    49. Megan Thee Stallion – Good News

    megan thee stallion good news debut album cover artwork

    Origin: Houston, Texas

    The Gist: Megan Thee Stallion’s 2020 was one of turbulence with moments of immense triumph thrown in, and the release of her debut album, Good News, seems like the rapper’s perfect send-off to a tumultuous year. She has always been an adept lyricist; three mixtapes and three EPs later, her talent has been all but cemented. However, listeners still eagerly await each and every one of her projects because she always has something relevant to say.

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    Why It Rules: Good News showcases Megan the Stallion’s creative depth, her euphonious inventiveness, and libidinous wordplay. She completely demolishes any track she appears on. Meg’s first album encapsulates her reality as a Black woman artist — especially since that means the world feels like it’s against you for simply existing. Good News is a sonic representation of resilience. The 25-year-old emcee has been through a lot in her brief career but still finds the resolve to channel her pain into song. We are more than familiar with Megan’s brilliance, but her debut album expands on it and reminds us that the charismatic artist can outrap your favorite in the game any day of the week. –Candace McDuffie

    Essential Tracks: “Shots Fired”, “Freaky Girls”, and “Intercourse”

    Pick up the album here.


    48. Andy Shauf – The Neon Skyline

    andy shauf neon skyline artwork Top 50 Albums of 2020

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    Origin: Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

    The Gist: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A man walks into a bar and some time later his former lover walks through the door. It’s really not much of an intriguing plot, but it’s the story Andy Shauf builds atop that simple setup that makes The Neon Skyline such a gratifying listen. The follow-up to the Canadian singer-songwriter’s The Party is once again a concept album centered on a singular location during a singular night. This time, however, Shauf makes it far more personal, and thus even more rewarding.

    Why It Rules: There are plenty of examples of ordinary stories becoming enthralling thanks to the details of the telling. The Old Man and the Sea is literally about one guy catching one fish — but it’s so much more than that. What Shauf does with one night at the eponymous bar of his sixth album so candidly reveals minor moments that it similarly outgrows its confines. The smell of a “Clove Cigarette” triggers an emotional deflation, or an aside about a kid meeting his mother in the “Living Room” forces a reexamination of the “Things I Do”. Our narrator is hard to cheer for, the literary definition of pathetic, tortured by mundanely self-defeating bad habits and jealousy. Yet his fumbling attempts at humor (“Try Again”) and utterly relatable failures (“The Moon”) end up comforting when he’s finally dancing in the ashes of his relationship (“Fire Truck”) and looking towards the future (“Changer”). Concept albums often challenge listeners to find the story buried in the lyrics; The Neon Skyline lays it out with plain poignancy. It pays off as one the most charming and subtly powerful entries in the form. —Ben Kaye

    Essential Tracks: “Neon Skyline”, “Fire Truck”, and “The Moon”

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    Pick up the album here.


    47. The Flaming Lips – American Head

    The Flaming Lips - American Head

    Origin: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

    The Gist: Looking back now, it feels safe to say that the ’10s represent something of a lost decade in the long, strange journey of The Flaming Lips. After ushering in the new millennium with a pair of unlikely mid-career classics (1999’s The Soft Bulletin and 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots) and closing out the ’00s with unexpectedly muscular rock fanfare (2009’s Embryonic), Wayne Coyne and his merrymakers spent most of the next 10 years getting into tabloid feuds, recording scattershot side projects, and cosplaying as Miley Cyrus’ acid-casualty uncles. With all of that in mind, it’s easy to see why this quote from frontman Wayne Coyne in American Head’s press materials warranted intrigue: “For the first time in our musical life, we began to think of ourselves as ‘an American band.'” After a decade lost in space, The Flaming Lips were headed back to Earth. How would they feel about what they found?

    Why It Rules: The best records in The Flaming Lips catalog are the ones that find the balance between the band’s penchant for fried psychedelic whimsy and the uncanny tenderness that underpins Coyne’s songwriting. For the first time in nearly two decades, they’ve rediscovered this winning formula. As a result, American Head stands alongside The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots as one of the very best records The Flaming Lips have recorded and should be required listening for anyone who’s gone on their own quarantine-induced walk down memory lane in search of a way to survive this year. –Tyler Clark

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    Essential Tracks: “Will You Return / When You Come Down”, “Dinosaurs on the Mountain”, and “Brother Eye”

    Pick up the album here.


    46. Grimes – Miss Anthropocene

    Grimes Miss Anthropocene artwork Grimes Miss Anthropocene artwork

    Origin: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

    The Gist: It’s been five years since Grimes delivered Art Angels and recalibrated alternative pop for the better of humankind. Since then, it’s been a Byzantine story for the Canadian singer-songwriter (and for anyone who’s been interested enough to follow), one full of teases, snippets, collaborations, disagreements, love, and, ultimately, new life. Now, here we are, some five years later, and Grimes is with Elon Musk, has a child, and a fifth studio album in Miss Anthropocene.

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    Why It Rules: Grimes thrives in the complexities. Like Art Angels, each track demands a subreddit of its own to detail its melange of genres and sounds, all of which demand repeat listens from now until the sun becomes as black as sack cloth and the moon turns to blood. Speak of the devil, Miss Anthropocene is similarly dark, pushing Grimes into apocalyptic territory as she ruminates on human extinction. Hey, gimme death any day if it sounds this good. –Michael Roffman

    Essential Tracks: “Delete Forever”, “Violence”, and “4ÆM”

    Pick up the album here.


    45. Armani Caesar – The Liz 

    Armani Caesar - The Liz

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    Origin: Buffalo, New York

    The Gist: The story of hip-hop in 2020 is inexorably tied to the ascension of Griselda Records. While the label dropped stellar albums by founder Westside Gunn and the core group of Benny the Butcher and Conway the Machine, some of the best releases came from less well-known names. Armani Caesar has run in the same circles as the Griselda crew since their early days in Buffalo, New York, and last year she became the first woman that WG brought on board. The Liz is hardly her first musical release, but it’s the first to be heard on the national stage.

    Why It Rules: Armani Caesar has the usual Griselda ear for grimy, throwback beats. She approaches her jazzy flows with a conversational tone, preferring a simmer to a boil. She’s not the kind of MC to set off sparklers around her best lines or triple-underline her own jokes, and you’ll never catch her breaking a sweat. The Liz is mostly a solo effort, with guest features used like jalapeños, sparingly and to great effect. The album reaches its zenith with “Drill a RaMA” and “Simply Done”, two Benny the Butcher bangers in a row. But her easy chemistry with WG and zippy give-and-take with Conway bodes well for future Griselda collaborations. After The Liz, it’s fair to wonder if she’s the best rapper on the roster, period. –Wren Graves

    Essential Tracks: “Mac 10s for Everybody”, “Drill a RaMA” , and “Simply Done”

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    Pick up the album here.


    44. AC/DC – Power Up

    AC/DC Power Up

    Origin: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

    The Gist: This year AC/DC celebrated the 40th anniversary of Back in Black. Little did we know that the hard rock legends were poised to unleash another classic record in the bleak year of 2020. The band’s 17th studio album, Power Up, arrives like an antidote to the malaise and a triumphant statement that rock ‘n’ roll knows no time and no age. AC/DC have a new set of anthems for a vastly different world.

    Why It Rules: The album sees the return of classic members Brian Johnson, Phil Rudd, and Cliff Williams — all of whom had been out of the band by the time AC/DC’s last tour wrapped up in 2016 — alongside ever-present guitarist Angus Young. Guitarist Stevie Young rounds out the lineup, replacing the late great Malcolm Young, who shares a songwriting credit on every track on Power Up. As Angus tells it, Power Up is a tribute to his brother Malcolm, just like Back in Black was a tribute to Bon Scott. When it comes to hard rock, nobody does it better. AC/DC have once again proven that they’re masters of their craft. Not that they needed to, it’s just inherent in the band to produce epic riffs and huge anthemic hooks, which Power Up has in abundance. Simply put, AC/DC went in and kicked out the proverbial jams, crafting their best album in years and igniting a spark of joy into the stark timeline that is 2020. –Jon Hadusek

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    Essential Tracks: “Shot in the Dark”, “Kick You When You’re Down”, and “Systems Down”

    Pick up the album here.


    43. Becca Mancari – The Greatest Part

    becca mancari the greatest part artist of the month album cover artwork

    Origin: Nashville, Tennessee

    The Gist: Becca Mancari released Good Woman, a well-received indie folk debut, in 2017. That same year, she joined Brittany Howard and Jesse Lafser in Bermuda Triangle. Big steps for any developing artist, and yet not quite in the direction Mancari wanted or, perhaps more accurately, needed to go. For her second solo effort, she brought on her friend Zac Farro (drummer for Paramore) as producer to get closer to the indie sounds on which she’d first based her artistic identity. At the same time, she pushed herself to confront her personal identity: A queer woman still haunted by her fundamentalist Christian family’s reaction to her coming out.

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    Why It Rules: Writing a coming-out record a decade after the act could put “too much” distance between the feelings and the expression. Not the case with The Greatest Part, the writing for which began with Mancari penning the opening line of “First Time”: “I remember the first time my dad didn’t hug me back.” There are deep, deep scars all over this wonderfully open album (“I’m Sorry”, “Forgiveness”), and any artist’s willingness to put them under the microscope so many years later would be worthy enough of admiration. Mancari’s examination rises to greater success, though, by rewarding repeat listens. That’s when you uncover the inventiveness in the arrangements (performed largely by Mancari and Farro themselves) and the complexity of the lyrics. What at first seems like an easy-listening LP anchored at the center by a song about a sad puppy (“Lonely Boy”) is revealed as a powerful seizing of self-actualization in the face of all that tries to “Tear Us Apart”. —Ben Kaye

    Essential Tracks: “First Time”, “Stay with Me”, and “I’m Sorry”

    Pick up the album here.


    42. Bartees Strange – Live Forever

    Bartees Strange - Live Forever

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    Origin: Mustang, Oklahoma

    The Gist: With an opera-singer mother and a military father, Bartees Strange spent his early childhood criss-crossing America and Europe. He eventually landed in Mustang, Oklahoma, receiving a classical music education from mom and learning DIY recording methods with his friends. Live Forever is his debut album, and it boasts a fresh take on indie rock with jazz and hip-hop influences.

    Why It Rules: Live Forever is focused yet eclectic, and you might almost mistake it for a well-curated playlist except that Strange’s voice is so singular. His tenor rings out with rock and roll aggression, but his pinpoint control and heartfelt emotionality are pure opera. He wails through the anthemic choruses of “Mustang” and “Stone Meadows”, vibes like a soulful Bon Iver on the ballad “Far”, and busts out the whole toolkit on standout cut “Boomer”, rapping, crooning, and shouting his way through a tour de force performance. –Wren Graves

    Essential Tracks: “Mustang”, “Boomer”, and “Stone Meadows”

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    Pick up the album here.


    41. Westside Gunn – Pray for Paris

    westside gunn - prayforparis

    Origin: Buffalo, New York

    The Gist: It sounds criminally reductive to say it’s been an insanely prolific and fabulous five years for Westside Gunn since he dropped his first commercial album, Flygod, because that notice pays no notice to the decade of mixtapes and honing his craft that came before a national spotlight began to shine on the Buffalo native and Griselda Records founder. Since “turning pro,” Gunn has signed deals with the likes of Eminem and Jay-Z, dropped some of the grimiest east coast hip-hop around, and brought his Griselda family and seemingly the entire city of Buffalo along with him (August 28th was named “Westside Gunn Day” in his hometown) on a ride that’s led to arguably his best release yet, Pray for Paris.

    Why It Rules: In a year that saw Griselda drop solid album after album — and Gunn himself release two acclaimed records (see also: WHO MADE THE SUNSHINE) and a mixtape — Pray for Paris might be most emblematic of the collective’s recent rise in the rap world. Heaped in an old-school taste for melody and beats, Paris spins smooth and gritty all at the same time with marquee names like Joey Bada$$ and Tyler, The Creator on-hand to round out the features alongside usual Griselda suspects like family Conway the Machine and Bennie the Butcher and regulars Boldy James and Freddie Gibbs. More accessible than other Westside Gunn releases, Paris feels like a well-deserved victory lap with the like-minded brethren that have always had his back. And now it’s back to work. –Regan Bexler

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    Essential Tracks: “George Bondo”, “327”, and “$500 Ounces”

    Pick up the album here.


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