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The Top 50 Albums of 2020


I love albums. In my mind, they are the perfect way to digest music. Sure, a great song can change the world, but a great album requires artists to do the same thing over several songs in a row. It’s a high wire balancing act; choosing the right collection of songs and ordering them in just the right way to achieve a desired response from the listener. Not only do albums require careful focus from the artists, but in a similar fashion to a movie, the audience has to give it their full and undivided attention for an extended period of time to grasp messaging, subtext, and intent from the notes and lyrics. If you lose focus or find it unpalatable the whole experience can be ruined. Albums become classics when they transcend the acceptable and inspire a rapturous response from start to finish. In 2020, we needed great albums more than ever.

As the world consistently teetered on the edge of peril, we leaned on music like a crutch to stay upright and sane. Confined to our houses with nowhere to go, albums made those never-ending days seem just a little bit shorter and the voices offered comfort and company when it got too lonely. As people took to the streets to protest injustice and support important causes, albums relevant to these times got us fired up to push for change. While the bright moments this year came few and far between, some records provided joy for our celebrations. It could easily have been a terrible year for music as a whole, particularly since live music and touring has been nonexistent for most of it. Musicians could have curled up on the couch with the rest of us and stayed there for nine months without ever producing a single note. That would have been completely understandable! Yet so many chose to flex their creative muscles either pre-pandemic or right in the middle of it, and the results were nothing short of astounding.

We are so incredibly lucky to have more quality music in our lives than we could ever hope to listen to. This year’s Top 50 Albums list fully reflects that, along with the additional 10 honorable mentions because it was tough to stop. I’m thrilled to share it with you, because while we might not agree on everything, my hope is that you’re inspired to continue seeking out new music whether it’s mentioned here or not. While not every album can be as great as the ones listed below, each one does set out to inspire us in one way or another, even if it means helping us figure out what we don’t like. The kindest sentiment I can offer about 2020 is that maybe someday we’ll be able to look back and say it was a shit year for just about everything except for music. The fact that we got so many wonderful records amounts to a small miracle, so let’s treat it as such. Here are the 50 albums (+10 more) that kept me sane throughout one of the most insane periods of our lives to date.

The Top 100 Songs of 2020

Selecting and ranking 100 songs as the “Best of” any given year is a fool’s errand. There’s simply too much music to choose from and the notion that any of these lists can truly encapsulate what it was like to listen to music in 2020 inevitably leaves some important things out or places too much importance on certain artists or genres. In the end it’s all subjective anyway, and what captures one person’s imagination might leave another in the cold. Plus, with so much music available there’s no way you can listen to everything. I know I’ve discovered plenty of songs and artists weeks, months, or years later, only to wish I had known about them sooner so they could’ve been included in a year-end roundup. It’s the way life goes sometimes. But that’s also the benefit of any list like this! For anyone to tell you these are songs that meant something to them in 2020 automatically elevates those tracks above your standard fare. If you’re looking to put your music listening in focus, a list like this can help to some degree.

Honestly, outside of the top 30 or so, the order of the songs in this list are somewhat arbitrary. They were ranked in large part by gut feeling, which is to say that I weighed each one and placed it into the spot that seemed most accurate. This actually could have been twice as long, given how many cuts were made to keep this whole thing manageable. It makes me think the best approach and listening experience would be to use the “shuffle” function on this Spotify playlist quite liberally. Alternatively, if you’re anti-Spotify, I’d encourage you to click around and listen to these songs in a very random way. Give each one at least 30 seconds of your time to get an idea of what it sounds like. That should be enough to determine if you’re interested in hearing more. Maybe next year I’ll get rid of the ranking system altogether. The top 100 songs should be good enough without needing to tell you if one is “better” than another.

The overall criteria for qualification on this list was pretty simple: each song must have been released as a standalone single or as part of an EP or album from 2020. No artist was allowed to appear more than once, though exceptions were made for featured guests (looking at you, Megan Thee Stallion & Ariana Grande). That opened things up a bit to enable more artists to be included and represented on this list. Some Chicago favorites too! And not to spoil any surprises, but you might not find some of these names on other “Best of” lineups so it’s just great to show them some (deserved) love. There’s so much fun and catchy stuff I can’t wait for you to discover, so take your time and please enjoy!

The Top 25 EPs of 2020


Is it just me, or have more EPs been released in 2020 than usual? Maybe it’s a pandemic thing. Artists trying to fill the absence of touring by releasing something, even if it’s only a handful of songs. You can’t rush or force the creative process, and there’s no rule book that says you need to be productive when there’s nothing better to do. If the world can shut down, then you can too. Not everyone can be Taylor Swift and give us TWO LPs in less than eight months. Let’s just be grateful to the artists who felt inspired enough to give us something in 2020, whether it was a song, an EP, an album, or a combination of b-sides and remixes.

One trend I didn’t anticipate from this past year involved artists releasing multiple clusters of songs at once and eventually combining them into a full length album. For example, Paramore’s Hayley Williams gave us her first solo LP Petals For Armor in May, but back in February we got the Petals For Amor I EP and in April we got the Petals For Armor II EP, which comprised the first 10 tracks from the album. Similarly, Jordana released an EP titled Something To Say at the end of July, followed it up with a second EP titled To You in December, but also combined the two to create the Something To Say To You album. Given the way they were released it’s tough to classify those types of things as standalone EPs or actual albums, but for the sake of clarity I’ve decided the final product should be the only thing that qualifies for year-end lists. On the flip side of that, Dirty Projectors gave us FIVE EPs in 2020 and technically didn’t combine them into an album but rather assembled a compilation titled 5EPs, so those each count separately. If you’re confused, just go with the flow!

There’s a fair amount of weird or off-putting stuff on this Top 25 EPs of 2020 list, and that’s partly by design. One of the things I love most about EPs are how they give artists free reign to experiment without the pressure that comes with a traditional LP. You can play around with song structure and sounds that might not otherwise fit with your current or perceived aesthetic. You can respond to current events in the world without having to write 10 songs on the same topic. For new artists, an EP can be an opportunity to introduce yourself to the world and start to build a fan base. I’m very excited about a few of the artists that gave us their debut EPs in 2020, as evidenced by their inclusion on this list. Chances are you won’t like everything here, but I sincerely hope you discover something new to enjoy and that it expands your consciousness to some degree. There’s a little something for every kind of taste, along with some love for Chicago artists as well. If you’re unfamiliar with any of this music, dig in, sample a song or two, and decide whether or not you want to explore even more.

The Chicago 20 From ’20


The Chicago music scene had a very good year, despite everything that happened in the world (gestures broadly at the flaming dumpster that’s been 2020). Seriously, I’m incredibly thankful for the many, many artists that work hard and make their city proud by releasing wonderful music that inspires and radiates with feeling. While many of these releases came out or were recorded pre-pandemic with an obvious eye on touring to support them, the tragedy of all that getting cancelled was lessened primarily because the albums themselves were so wonderful. It’s been a pleasure to live with these songs and absorb them in ways we otherwise might not have been able to had the hustle and bustle of a normal year gotten in the way. In lieu of concerts and events and social engagements, I got to press play on that Dehd record for the tenth time or drop the needle on Ohmme’s latest until the groove started to crackle a bit due to frequent wear and tear.

As this is a Chicago-based site, I felt it was particularly important to give some additional representation to some of the local artists and bands that helped make my year much more bearable. Many of them are scraping by and doing their best given the circumstances, and they could use your support! Buy some vinyl, downloads, and/or some merch if you can afford it – especially on Bandcamp Fridays (the 1st Friday of every month) when the site waives their cut of fees so more money goes back to the artists. You can also stream their music, which is helpful but doesn’t pay nearly as much. Some also have Patreon pages and accept direct donations on Venmo or CashApp, so look into that too if you’re interested. Most of that information can be found on their social media pages.

When it comes to this list, it doesn’t feel right to assign anybody numbers or claim that some records are better than others. I’d be doing a disservice to the community that is the Chicago music scene by ranking and encouraging competition. My hope is that you’ll check out all of these albums, because each one is worth your time and consideration. They cover almost every conceivable genre, and often play with your expectations by taking some wildly fun detours. So here are my 20 favorite LPs released by Chicago artists in 2020. Can’t wait to hear each one performed live at some of our legendary local venues once it’s safe to do so again!

Pick Your Poison: Thursday 12-17-20

Alexander 23 – Nothing’s the Same

Frances Forever – Space Girl

UPSAHL – Arizona

Pick Your Poison: Thursday 12-10-20

Emergency Tiara – Mr. Claus

James Blake – when the party’s over (Billie Eilish cover)

KITTEN – Daddy Don’t Take My Phone

Pick Your Poison: Monday 12-7-20

Alaska Reid – Warm

Aminé – Mrs. Clean

Troye Sivan & Kacey Musgraves – Easy (ft. Mark Ronson)

Pick Your Poison: Thursday 12-3-20

Anamanaguchi – Stay Home (American Football cover)

Ganser – Bags For Life (GLOK Remix)

Juice WRLD – Real Shit (ft. benny blanco)

Pick Your Poison: Monday 11-30-20

Jack Garratt – The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You)

Westerman – Your Hero Is Not Dead (Unaccompanied)

A Winged Victory for the Sullen – Desires Are Already Memories

Pick Your Poison: Monday 11-23-20

James Blake – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

King Princess – PAIN

Rosie Carney – Bullet Proof … I Wish I Was (Radiohead cover)

Pick Your Poison: Thursday 11-19-20

Baby Goth – B OK

Kitten – What Year Are We In

Peach Tree Rascals – Fumari

Pick Your Poison: Monday 11-16-20

G Flip – I’d Rather Go to Bed

girl in red – two queens in a king sized bed

October and The Eyes – Dark Dog

Pick Your Poison: Thursday 11-12-20

Billie Eilish – Therefore I Am

City Girls – Pussy Talk (Remix ft. Quavo, Jack Harlow, and Lil Wayne)

Thys – Departure (ft. Amon Tobin)

Pick Your Poison: Monday 11-9-20

Alaska Reid – Oblivion

ARMNHMR – Fragile (ft. Melanie Fontana)

Wasuremono – Big Big Smiles

Pick Your Poison: Thursday 11-5-20

2 Chainz – Quarantine Thick (ft. Mulatto)

Magdalena Bay – Sky2Fall

Rosie Carney – Black Star (Radiohead cover)

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