In a year of uncertainties, fears and unprecedented disruptions to everyday life, music has remained a dependable comfort to so many. I don’t know about you, but 2020 albums helped save this thing for me, and here are a few of my favorites from the past year. Like many, there are a lot of things I miss, including live shows, but I really am grateful for so much, and hopeful for a brighter world in the year to come. Stay strong, stay safe and happy New Year!
10. The Chicks – Gaslighter
Not going to lie, “Not Ready To Make Nice,” off of The Chick’s 2006 album, Taking The Long Way, is a song I catch myself still pulling up from time to time. All in all, I’ve never really been one for much country music, but when Natalie Maines and company drop their first album in 14 years, I thought I’d give it a listen, and from there, I gave it a few more, and then a few more. From the invigorating title track to the reflective “My Best Friend’s Weddings” to the delightfully sparse “Tights On My Boat”, Gaslighter proves The Chicks are still as strong, fiery and fevered as ever.
9. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud
I don’t know when exactly I first came across “Fire”, but the Saint Cloud‘s gem was a track I played often in the early days of the pandemic. The piercing enchantment of it served as a comforting self-check in a time when the fears of the world were running wild. Katie Crutchfield’s fifth album under the Waxahatchee title incorporates more country and folk than previous albums, and the result is nothing short of her natural talent in its purest form.
8. Hinds – The Prettiest Curse
The Prettiest Curse was one of my most anticipated albums of 2020. This was going to be my go-to fun album to throw on at pool parties and barbecues all summer long. Well, the year didn’t cooperate, but nonetheless, the tunes prevailed. The hard-working ladies from Madrid always bring the party, even if it’s just a socially distanced party of one. Start with the joyous “Riding Solo,” anthemic “Boy,” and dive deeper with frenzied “The Play” and enthralling “This Moment Forever.”
7. Glass Animals – Dreamland
Drinking cold beer in city parks on warm nights was how I spent much of my summer and Dreamland was there too. On their third studio album, the English quartet crank the psychedelic pop fusions into fantastical overdrive. From the mesmerizing title track to the sultry “Heat Waves” to the thumping “Tokyo Drifting,” Dreamland was the escape we all needed this year, and never forget, “You’ve had too much of the digital love…”
6. Hamilton Leithauser – The Loves Of Your Life
Hamilton Leithauser’s 2016 collaboration with Rostam, I Had A Dream You Were Mine, was my favorite album of that year and the former Walkmen frontman followed it with an excellent successor. The Loves is a loosely based concept album with each track being about someone Leithhauser knows, and he wonderfully paints each each of these scenes with delicate details and poignant swells of emotion. “Isabella,” “Here They Come,” and “Stars & Rats” are all delightful starters.
5. Haim – Women in Music Pt. III
On their thirds studio album, the Haim sisters deliver their most comprehensive album yet. Women in Music Pt. III features a level of confidence and control that can only come from being the utmost vulnerable and carefree. From the perfectly structured “Gasoline” to the R&B-infused “3 AM” to the twangy shredding of “FUBT,” Haim shows off all of their potential on one of the best albums of the year.
4. The Killers – Imploding The Mirage
Even before Imploding the Mirage‘s summer release, The Killer’s were one of my quarantine comfort bands. Brandon Flowers and company really have never made a bad album, and their sixth effort continues to show why the Vegas lads are one of the most consistently great rock bands of our era. With each new album, The Killers know exactly how to pump new inspiration into go-for-broke stadium anthems, and “Fire in Bone,” “My Own Soul’s Warning” and “Blowback” are destined for their long-awaited crowd singalongs.
3. Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters
One of the fears of growing older is that you’ll start to feel less. On her fifth album, released in her early 40s, Fiona Apple proves your emotions don’t have to dull while the strands of grey begin to show. On Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Apple displays her trademark master of rhythm and words with all the intensity and intimacy we have come to know and love from her. “I Want You To Love Me, “Ladies,” and “Cosmonauts” are just a few of my favorites off another outstanding collection from the one and only.
2. The Strokes – The New Abnormal
We waited seven years for a new Strokes LP, and it came a month into a global pandemic, and it was intuitively called The New Abnormal. In a year none of us expected, the New York modern rock legends may have released an album far beyond what any of us could have ever anticipated. Perfect album opener “The Adults Are Talking” sets the stage for some of the best Strokes tracks yet, including the digitally manic “Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus” and spirited lounge gem “Not The Same Anymore.”
1. Taylor Swift – Folklore
Devout National fans are probably aware the longtime rock band is a brotherhood of perfectionists. So when one of the quintet’s main composers, Aaron Dessner, teams up to produce pop queen Taylor Swifts’s new album, alongside fellow hitmaker producer Jack Antonoff, the result was likely going to be pure magic. And sure enough, Folklore was that and more– nearly flawless. It could have been half as good, and we all still would have been very impressed. I mean, Bon Iver does a duet, a killer duet. And then the whole team doubles down on surprise followup, Evermore? It almost seems unfair, but 2020 had to have some winners after all, right? And Folklore really was a bright spot, a highlight in a tough year none of us will forget. But it’s time for a new year, a new start, and I think a few of us are taking our cardigans along.