Everyone got the chance to stop and listen in 2020. Time stood still and music kept us company in our most unexpected stretches of isolation. Luckily, some true talent was on hand to provide aural companionship throughout the year, from reimaginings of what folk can accomplish with the right assets, to celebrations of New York grime, seaside transcendence and a little bit of COVID-19 for good measure. With the annual disclaimer that I have little ability as a music critic, and often struggle to verbalise my reactions to the music I love, here are my favourite albums of 2020…
1. Fleet Foxes — Shore
The album art sums it up: Shore is a sumptuous walk along a beach on a slightly-too-cold day when the wind briefly blows the troubles out of your life and the sun can peek in. It’s musical perfection, frustratingly beautiful, too good to be background music, too moving to jump into without preparation.
2. Taylor Swift — Folklore
Nobody was really predicting the second best folk album — and album, overall of 2020 to come from Taylor Swift, were they? But, then again, Swift continues to surprise and impress with each stylistic pivot she makes. Folklore features some of her most intelligently-crafted, earnest songs to date.
3. Dua Lipa — Future Nostalgia
Throbbing disco melodies elevate a superior second album from the apparently incontestable heir to Kylie Minogue, with strobe light delights like “Hallucinate” and “Levitating” lifting a generation of pop fans out of lockdown malaise. A real case of ‘arriving just as we needed it most’, but also arriving just when Dua Lipa could elevate the farthest.
4. Kathleen Edwards — Total Freedom
There’s inspiration from The War on Drugs and The Weather Station present here, but Edwards’ country-cum-folk record touches upon hurt and hate with a distinctly female perspective; and that of a survivor. Tracks like “Hard On Everyone” and “Take It With You When You Go” uniquely capture the mixed emotions of exiting unhealthy dynamics.
5. Snow Patrol — The Fireside Sessions
Songs that so literally address the pains of COVID-19 would never work if sung by anyone other than Gary Lightbody who can singlehandedly drag cheese into the charm column. Five songs co-written with fans on Instagram Live are, shockingly, among the band’s best of the last few years, even if references to being “2 metres apart” hit a little too heavy.
6. Will Butler — Generations
Well, it would appear the younger Butler brother may have been Arcade Fire’s secret weapon all along. Generations is a terrific pan-genre experiment with hints of Trent Reznor, UNKLE, Springsteen, David Byrne and Butler’s own band. There’s so much going on that there’s really something here for everyone.
7. The Weeknd — After Hours
Was it deliberate that The Weeknd dropped this album right around the time his feature film debut Uncut Gems was released? They share scuzzy, Scorsesean, New York DNA. Standout singles “Blinding Lights” and the titular “After Hours” are two sides of a blood drenched coin.
8. The Killers — Imploding The Mirage
Collaboration with Lindsey Buckingham, KD Lang and Adam Granduciel proved to be the secret to a moderate, unlikely comeback for the Nevada wedding-rock cliche The Killers had become; songs like “My Own Soul’s Warning” are bold, blistering and clearly stolen from the book of the Drugs and Lucius. Still, this is hugely pleasurable.