50 Best albums of 2020 so far

50 Best albums of 2020 so far

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By: Hanh Truong
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic // Getty Images

50 best albums of 2020 so far

Uncertainties have rocked the start of 2020, crushing promises of live concerts at venues and festivals. But today’s artists aren’t letting these aftershocks pause the show. The start of the new decade was blessed with so many fresh albums in various genres—from The Weeknd’s highly anticipated “After Hours” and the Strokes’ return with “The New Abnormal” to Rina Sawayama’s debut studio album “Sawayama.”

While reality seems to grow more chaotic by the minute, these new releases are perfect for those who want to temporarily escape from the real world through retro-pop tracks and trancy synth beats blasting in their ears. Soundtracks for fantasies played out in the minds of daydreamers are also in abundance, as with the silky and emotional vocals by Teyana Taylor in her recent release “The Album” and RICEWINE’s experimental, lo-fi melodies in “Lovesick.” Through headphones or loudspeakers, these enticing sound waves wash away nerves and worries for just a few precious minutes.

With so many new albums dropping every other week, it is easy to forget that almost everyone was just dancing to singles from Bad Bunny and Megan Thee Stallion three months ago. For those feeling nostalgic for the earlier months of 2020 (when life hadn’t yet turned 180 degrees), and for those who are looking for new tracks to dance along to in their bedrooms, Stacker created a list of the best 50 albums of the year so far, collecting data on top albums of 2020 from Metacritic. Each album is ranked according to its Metascore as of June 23, 2020, with ties being broken by the number of reviews.

New music has added color to the haze that has been 2020. Peruse this year’s best sounds—everything from sweet guitar licks infused with country twang, lyrical rhythm and blues, dreamy ballads, and the heavy distortion of hardcore punk.

[Pictured: Childish Gambino performing in 2019.]

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Play it Again Sam/ATO Records

#50. 'For Their Love' by Other Lives

- Metascore: 83
- Release date: April 24, 2020

“For Their Love” is Other Lives’ fifth album, including their 2006 debut “Flight of the Flynns” under their former name, Kunek. The Oklahoma trio’s cinematic orchestrations of violin, guitar, percussion, and trumpet notes recall a nostalgic scene of orange sunsets on faraway open fields.

Domino Recording Company

#49. 'Clockdust' by Rustin Man

- Metascore: 83
- Release date: March 27, 2020

Formerly known as the bassist for the band Talk Talk in the U.K. and co-creator of the duo .O.rang, Paul Webb shines with his vocals as Rustin Man. “Clockdust” quickly follows Rustin Man’s debut album “Drift Code” in 2019. This came to be after Webb found that he had recorded enough songs for two albums after the initial recording sessions for “Drift Code.”

Mongrel Records

#48. 'The Long Goodbye' by Riz Ahmed

- Metascore: 83
- Release date: March 6, 2020

Riz Ahmed, who is also an award-winning actor, is known for using his voice as an activist. With cameos by notable names such as Mindy Kaling, Mahershala Ali and Yara Shahidi, Ahmed compiles voicemails and musical tracks that speak about issues of xenophobia and identity under the guise of a romantic breakup. “The Long Goodbye” was released alongside a short film depicting a South-Asian family in the U.K. who are targets of a merciless hate crime.

Fat Possum Records

#47. 'You Make Me Feel' by Don Bryant

- Metascore: 83
- Release date: June 19, 2020

Memphis great Don Bryant brings back classic soul and R&B to the contemporary stage, belting out catchy hits about love and heartbreak. Bryant’s sonorous vocals are laid atop upbeat tracks and soft, melodic riffs in “You Make Me Feel.” Singles such as “Your Love is To Blame” and “99 LBs” are clear declarations of Bryant’s love for his wife of 50 years, soul singer Ann Peebles.

Jay Electronica

#46. 'A Written Testimony' by Jay Electronica

- Metascore: 83
- Release date: March 13, 2020

After making appearances in multiple projects, from Chance the Rapper’s “Coloring Book” and Talib Kweli’s “Radio Silence” to Curren$y’s “Pilot Talk: Trilogy,” “A Written Testimony” is Jay Electronica’s debut album. Produced by Roc Nation, Jay Electronica’s new release features Travis Scott, Jay-Z, and The-Dream.

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ANTI- Records

#45. 'The Universe Inside' by The Dream Syndicate

- Metascore: 83
- Release date: April 10, 2020

After making their names during the ‘80s Paisley Underground scene with their alternative- and psychedelia-infused styles, The Dream Syndicate came together again to make experimental sounds of electric, psychedelic jazz. “The Universe Inside” is the group’s seventh album and steers away from what’s conventional, with its first track running 20 minutes and 27 seconds.

Warner Music Nashville

#44. 'Never Will' by Ashley McBryde

- Metascore: 83
- Release date: April 3, 2020

One year after receiving big awards from CMT Music, the ACM and the CMA for her debut record “Girl Going Nowhere,” Ashley McBryde released her highly anticipated second album “Never Will” on April 3. There is no sophomore slump, as McBryde once again showcases her award-winning vocal tenacity and emotional storytelling.

Spacebomb Records

#43. 'Out of My Province' by Nadia Reid

- Metascore: 83
- Release date: March 6, 2020

Hailing from New Zealand, Nadia Reid dropped 10 tracks for “Out of My Province” filled with her signature soulful folk melodies. Working with Spacebomb Records, each song has its own inflections, borrowing from indie pop in “Other Side of the Wheel” and soft, alternative rock in “Best Thing.”

Blue Note Records

#42. 'Pick Me Up Off the Floor' by Norah Jones

- Metascore: 83
- Release date: June 12, 2020

Norah Jones’ career skyrocketed with her 2002 album “Come Away With Me” after her single “Don’t Know Why” reached the Top 30 on the Billboard Hot 100. The critically acclaimed artist released her seventh solo album, “Pick Me Up Off the Floor,” which compiles ballads about melancholy, hurt, and loneliness—and the strength to get through it all.

EXODUS Records

#41. 'Dark Matter' by Moses Boyd

- Metascore: 83
- Release date: Feb. 14, 2020

“Dark Matter” is Moses Boyd’s sophomore album, parallelling the eclectic jazz and electronic beats found in his first release, “Displaced Diaspora.” Since making a name for himself as composer, producer, and bandleader, Boyd has worked with Zara McFarlane, Theon Cross, and Poppy Ajudha.

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Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic // Getty Images

#40. '3.15.20' by Childish Gambino

- Metascore: 83
- Release date: March 22, 2020

Under the stage name Childish Gambino, Donald Glover experiments with funk, pop, and electronic sounds in “3.15.20.” This album is considered to be Childish Gambino’s “definitive” album, one in which he has perfected his craft and found his voice as a singer and rapper, according to Bryan Rolli of Forbes.

[Pictured: Childish Gambino performing in 2019.]

Warner Records

#39. 'Your Life Is a Record' by Brandy Clark

- Metascore: 83
- Release date: March 6, 2020

Brandy Clark makes you want to cry about a made-up lover who never existed or over that significant other you thought you’d already forgotten about years ago in “Your Life Is a Record.” Since it dropped, the album has been applauded for its intimate and well-constructed storytelling.

Warner Records

#38. 'Circles' by Mac Miller

- Metascore: 83
- Release date: Jan. 17, 2020

“Circles” is Mac Miller’s posthumous album. The highly anticipated album features Miller with a chiller and moodier vibe compared to his earlier, more lyrical hip-hop tracks. Miller’s family asked Jon Brion, who’s worked with legends like Kanye West, to finish producing the album, and on its first day on Spotify, it garnered almost 29 million streams, according to Gwen Aviles of NBC News.

Carpark Records

#37. 'All Things Being Equal' by Sonic Boom

- Metascore: 83
- Release date: June 5, 2020

Using the persona Sonic Boom, Peter Kember makes music reminiscent of Beach House and STRFKR. In his first-ever full-length album “All Things Being Equal,” Kember plays with spacy synth sounds and psychedelic pop.

Joyful Noise Recordings

#36. 'Fantasize Your Ghost' by Ohmme

- Metascore: 83
- Release date: June 5, 2020

Ohmme, a Chicago duo formed by Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart, is known for fusing their vocals together, creating a unique, trancy, and multifaceted sound. If it weren’t for the lockdowns, Ohmme would have taken the stage at SXSW in Austin.

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Impulse! Records

#35. 'We Are Sent Here by History' by Shabaka & the Ancestors

- Metascore: 84
- Release date: March 13, 2020

Shabaka & the Ancestors are a contemporary jazz outfit brought together by saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings. “We Are Sent Here by History” melds saxophone, trumpet, drums, percussion, bass, and piano notes to evoke images of South Africa’s traditions and culture.

BMG Rights Management (UK) Ltd

#34. 'A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip' by Sparks

- Metascore: 84
- Release date: May 15, 2020

Siblings Ron and Russell Mael have an extensive discography since 1971 under their group name Sparks. “A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip” is the pop-rock duo’s 24th album, and on the day of it dropped found its place at #8 on the U.K. iTunes charts and #44 in the U.S.

Highway 20 Records

#33. 'Good Souls Better Angels' by Lucinda Williams

- Metascore: 84
- Release date: April 24, 2020

“Good Souls Better Angels” adds to Lucinda Williams’ vast, fierce, and husky rock catalog. At 67 years old, the Grammy award-winning singer heavily channels punk influences on her new album.

City Slang

#32. 'Suddenly' by Caribou

- Metascore: 84
- Release date: Feb. 28, 2020

Caribou’s Dan Snaith showcases his eclectic style of shoegaze, lo-fi, and electronica on his new album “Suddenly,” displaying a variety of moods from mellow and ethereal to stirring. “Suddenly” gave Snaith his highest ranking on the Billboard charts, peaking at #19 almost a month after its release.

Generation Now/Atlantic

#31. 'Eternal Atake' by Lil Uzi Vert

- Metascore: 84
- Release date: March 6, 2020

Following his highly successful album “Love is Rage 2,” which featured the hit single “XO Tour Llif3,” Lil Uzi Vert finally released “Eternal Atake” four years later. Lil Uzi dropped 18 songs flaunting trendy trap beats and fast bars. “Eternal Atake” has since garnered over 400 million streams and is certified platinum by RIAA. 

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Roadrunner

#30. 'Underneath' by Code Orange

- Metascore: 84
- Release date: March 13, 2020

For their recent album, “Underneath,” Code Orange returns with their signature heavy, hardcore punk. The quintet is made up of Jami Morgan, Reba Meyers, Eric Balderose, Dominic Landolina, and Joe Goldman, and together they’re bringing hardcore music back to the mainstream.

Dead Oceans

#29. 'Countless Branches' by Bill Fay

- Metascore: 84
- Release date: Jan. 17, 2020

50 years since his first eponymous album in 1970, Bill Fay released “Countless Branches.” Although he sings with a much more mature voice, Fay’s sound has remained timeless, earning the album universal acclaim.

Brainfeeder Records

#28. 'It Is What It Is' by Thundercat

- Metascore: 84
- Release date: April 3, 2020

Los Angeles native Thundercat blends genres, incorporating jazz, funk, and R&B into “It Is What It Is.” His first single off the album, “Black Qualls,” features Steve Lacy and Steve Arrington.

Atlantic Records

#27. 'Petals for Armor' by Hayley Williams

- Metascore: 84
- Release date: May 8, 2020

“Petals for Armor” is pop-rock legend Hayley Williams’ debut solo album. Known for being the frontwoman of Paramore, Williams reveals her vulnerability on her new indie pop tracks.

New Deal Records / Verve Label Group

#26. 'Mutable Set' by Blake Mills

- Metascore: 84
- Release date: May 8, 2020

“Mutable Set” is a compilation of Blake Mills’ melodic ballads and intimate vocals, some co-written with Cass McCombs. This is Mills’ fourth album, and he has appeared in projects with Lana Del Rey, Diana Krall, and Weezer.

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Houndstooth

#25. 'Loom' by Katie Gately

- Metascore: 85
- Release date: Feb. 14, 2020

Four years since her last release, “Color,” Katie Gately continues to share her experimental mixes and texturized flow with “Loom.” This album is dedicated to Gately’s mother, who died of cancer in 2018. Scrapping a current project she was about to finish, Gately created a new album around “Bracer,” a 10-minute song that her mother favored, according to Pitchfork's Shawn Reynaldo

New West Records

#24. 'Walking Proof' by Lilly Hiatt

- Metascore: 85
- Release date: March 27, 2020

Lilly Hiatt’s initial claim to fame was her 2017 album “Trinity Lane.” Now known for her country-inspired rock, Hiatt’s “Walking Proof” quickly peaked at #13 on the Billboard charts within two weeks. 

Thrill Jockey

#23. 'Shall We Go on Sinning So That Grace May Increase?' by The Soft Pink Truth

- Metascore: 85
- Release date: May 1, 2020

The Soft Pink Truth’s haunting and expressive new album “Shall We Go on Sinning So That Grace May Increase” is a response to the political unrest in the world. This new project is much different from previous releases, as the group trades in their usual uptempo house pulses for melancholy, eerie beats.

Polyvinyl Record Co.

#22. 'The Avalanche' by Owen

- Metascore: 85
- Release date: June 19, 2020

Produced by Sean Carey of the band Bon Iver, “The Avalanche” is Owen’s most self-reflective album. Behind the stage name, Mike Kinsella uses this project to show his range outside his 11-plus years in rock band American Football.

Secretly Canadian

#21. 'Every Bad' by Porridge Radio

- Metascore: 85
- Release date: March 13, 2020

Channeling Charlie XCX and Karen-O, Porridge Radio’s “Every Bad” releases pent-up emotions of despair, lack of belonging, and emptiness. This project is everything but bad, having been widely acclaimed by critics.

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Daptone

#20. 'Nick of Time' by The James Hunter Six

- Metascore: 85
- Release date: March 6, 2020

“Nick of Time” highlights James Hunter’s velvety voice as he weaves his lyrics with his band’s soul-blues orchestration. These nostalgic tracks are reminiscent of old-timey diners and young love.

Arts & Crafts

#19. 'U Kin B The Sun' by Frazey Ford

- Metascore: 86
- Release date: Feb. 7, 2020

“U Kin B The Sun” is Frazey Ford’s third album. Ford, who is also a member of the folk band Be Good Tanyas, focuses on soul and groovy tunes on her solo project. In her single “The Kids Are Having None Of It,” Ford passionately speaks on the hate that breeds throughout the world.

Heavenly

#18. 'The Night Chancers' by Baxter Dury

- Metascore: 86
- Release date: March 20, 2020

Baxter Dury filled his sixth album “The Night Chancers” with retro tempos and his trademark spoken vocals and spacy choruses. Coming from a musical father, new wave artist Ian Dury, Baxter has made a separate name for himself. 

Black Butter Records

#17. 'Big Conspiracy' by J Hus

- Metascore: 87
- Release date: January 24, 2020

Known by many names, such as Hustler, The Fisherman, and Bouff Daddy, J Hus is a rapper, singer, and songwriter from London. His second album “Big Conspiracy” finds him addressing prison life, maturity, love, and prejudice in his raps. The album debuted at #1 on the U.K. Album Charts, making it his first album to do so.

Reprise Records

#16. 'Homegrown' by Neil Young

- Metascore: 87
- Release date: June 19, 2020

Finally, after 45 years, Neil Young has released “Homegrown,” an album he initially chose not to share with fans because of its depressive energy. Young wrote the songs during his breakup with actress Carrie Snodgress, and the hurt he felt was embedded in the album. “Homegrown” has since received favorable reviews.

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PAN

#15. 'Workaround' by Beatrice Dillon

- Metascore: 87
- Release date: Feb. 7, 2020

Electronic artist Beatrice Dillion plays with rhythm using a variety of instruments on “Workaround,” including but not limited to synths, drums, tidal bass, tabla, saxophone, electric guitar, cello, and clave. Marking her debut with this release, Dillion uses experimental sounds and complex, hypnotic beats.

Caroline Records

#14. 'A Billion Heartbeats' by Mystery Jets

- Metascore: 87
- Release date: April 3, 2020

“A Billion Heartbeats” is Mystery Jet’s sixth album. The British indie-rockers advocate for political and social change on their new record—and in a timely manner, as protests against systemic racism and law enforcement are seen across the world.

Warp Records

#13. 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind' by Yves Tumor

- Metascore: 88
- Release date: April 3, 2020

Yves Tumor’s latest album “Heaven to a Tortured Mind” is a perfect compilation of electronic, pop, and psychedelic rock. His single “Gospel For A New Century” is a standout track, signaling Yves Tumor’s next artistic phase.

Merge Records

#12. 'Saint Cloud' by Waxahatchee

- Metascore: 88
- Release date: March 27, 2020

Katie Crutchfield, better known as Waxahatchee, fuses her indie style with a folksy cadence on her new release “Saint Cloud.” The Guardian's Ben Beaumont-Thomas compared this album to "peak Dylan" (referring to icon Bob Dylan). 

 

Warner Bros.

#11. 'Future Nostalgia' by Dua Lipa

- Metascore: 88
- Release date: March 27, 2020

Dua Lipa’s second studio release “Future Nostalgia” features a dance-inducing set of disco-pop tracks. This album comes after her eponymous debut in 2017. Among her successful singles, “Don’t Start Now” reached #1 on the iTunes worldwide chart.

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Xl Recordings

#10. 'We're New Again: A Reimagining by Makaya McCraven' by Gil Scott-Heron

- Metascore: 89
- Release date: Feb. 7, 2020

In “We’re New Again,” McCraven transformed legendary soul and jazz artist Gil Scott-Heron’s 2010 album “I’m New Here.” McCraven, who is lauded for his use of jazz samples, reinvigorated Scott-Heron’s original record.

Chrysalis/Partisan

#9. 'Song for Our Daughter' by Laura Marling

- Metascore: 89
- Release date: April 10, 2020

“Song for Our Daughter” is Laura Marling’s ode to an imaginary daughter dealing with feelings of great sadness and the will to become a better person. This is the seventh album by the British musical artist.

Bella Union

#8. 'Shortly After Takeoff' by BC Camplight

- Metascore: 89
- Release date: April 24, 2020

BC Camplight’s synth-pop and indie-rock sounds are unmatched in “Shortly After Takeoff.” On the album, Brian Christinzio sings about mental illness and the experiences he’s had to face because of it, intimately communicating to his listeners through his lyrics.

Dirty Hit.

#7. 'Sawayama' by Rina Sawayama

- Metascore: 89
- Release date: April 17, 2020

Rina Sawayama dabbles in nu-metal, rock, and electronic pop on her first full-length studio release album “Sawayama.” Sawayama’s eclectic style has garnered her album positive reviews, with Rolling Stone's Brittany Spanos suggesting every song "sounds like the type of music you dream of hearing at an unbearably cool party."

Dead Oceans

#6. 'Punisher' by Phoebe Bridgers

- Metascore: 90
- Release date: June 18, 2020

Despite its name, Phoebe Bridgers’ album highlights her ethereal voice with soft, alternative ballads. Also known for being a part of the musical groups Boygenius and Better Oblivion Community Center, Bridger’s new project marks her second solo album. “Punisher” topped the U.S. iTunes charts the day of its release.

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Paras Griffin // Getty Images

#5. 'græ' by Moses Sumney

- Metascore: 90
- Release date: May 15, 2020

Moses Sumney packs 20 songs over 1 hour and 5 minutes on his electro-alternative album “græ.” Cut into two parts, Sumney removes all boundaries of genres and explores the gray areas in between. 

BMG Rights Management

#4. 'RTJ4' by Run the Jewels

- Metascore: 91
- Release date: June 3, 2020

Hip-hop duo Run the Jewels, made up of Killer Mike and El-P, filled their 11-track record “RTJ4” with their notably raw raps and hard beats. The duo decided to drop their album two days earlier than the original date following the protests that broke out against police brutality after George Floyd’s murder. “RTJ4” is the first of their four albums to be placed in the Top 10 of the Billboard 200.

Matador Records

#3. 'Set My Heart on Fire Immediately' by Perfume Genius

- Metascore: 91
- Release date: May 15, 2020

Perfume Genius’ latest installment navigates through different influences in each song, from soft-pop in “Jason” to alternative rock in “Your Body Changes Everything.” The voice behind Perfume Genius, Mike Hadreas, found the human body in its spiritual and physical form to be the inspiration for his music.

Columbia

#2. 'Rough and Rowdy Ways' by Bob Dylan

- Metascore: 94
- Release date: June 19, 2020

Legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan recently dropped his 39th studio album, “Rough and Rowdy Ways.” Dylan’s talent ages like fine wine, and the album is quickly selling. On June 26, at the age of 79, Dylan was named the oldest male solo artist to have a #1 album in the U.K. charts, making this album his ninth chart-topper.

Epic

#1. 'Fetch the Bolt Cutters' by Fiona Apple

- Metascore: 98
- Release date: April 17, 2020

Fiona Apple’s “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” reached the top of the Billboard charts and is currently Metacritic’s highest-rated album. The title, which references dialogue from the TV show “The Fall,” parallels Apple’s way of telling herself and her listeners to find freedom. This is her fifth studio album and has been highly acclaimed for her detailed lyricism and raw harmonies.

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