The best albums of 2020

From 'Fetch The Bolt Cutters' to 'Future Nostalgia', there was a lot of great music in a difficult year

While 2020 has been a tumultuous year all around, it truly has delivered in one department: new music.

This year, we’ve been gifted some unbelievable, nuanced albums from acts like Fiona Apple, Phoebe Bridgers, Tame Impala, Run The Jewels, and more. While it was no easy task, we’ve put together an extensive list of the best records of the year.

Check out the best albums of 2020 below.

Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters

In 2020, Fiona Apple released Fetch the Bolt Cutters, her first album in eight years, and it’s an artistic masterpiece of beautiful, heart-wrenching and often hilarious stories. The 13-track album is just as out-of-the-ordinary as it is an ode to everyday life — it successfully combines various sounds, including instrumentals, whispers, screams, handclaps, chants and even dogs barking. Each track is a journey unlike any other. The title track explores the intricacies of girlhood, including not getting along with the “cool kids,” losing friends and the power of Kate Bush songs. – Andrea Josic

Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

Calling all The Sads™, you’re in for a treat. Queen of melancholy Phoebe Bridgers dropped her highly anticipated and perfectly devastating new album Punisher this year. The refined record sees Bridgers growing from the sorrowful quirkiness of 2017’s Stranger in the Alps, truly leaning into her full range of musical ability. While the 11-track collection is still primarily made up of downcast lyrics that explore self-destructive love, broken faith, and the difficulty of recovery, Bridgers seems to (rightfully) understand herself as a fully formed artist, leaning into her strengths with full force. From the sole up-tempo track on the record, “Kyoto,” to the spooky emo-folk ballad, “Halloween,” Bridgers’ witty songwriting is even more sharpened than that of her debut record. Buckle in and grab some Kleenex for this one! – Chelsea Brimstin

Lido Pimienta – Miss Colombia

Lido Pimienta shared her colourful, evocative new record Miss Colombia back in April. Pimienta calls her long-awaited third full-length album a set of cynical love letters to Colombia, as her voice shines atop steel drums, electronic rhythms, and woodwinds. Miss Colombia refers to the infamous 2016 Miss Universe mishap when host Steve Harvey crowned the contestant from Colombia instead of the contestant from Philippines, which sparked racist online rhetoric from Colombians around the world. After that, Pimienta re-examined her relationship to Colombia, looking at the struggle between the love for her birthplace and its marginalized communities. – Chelsea

Charli XCX – how I’m feeling now

Charli XCX’s bop-filled quarantine album How I’m Feeling Now is definitely a must-listen this year. Conceived and created entirely at home in quarantine in Los Angeles over just six weeks, this impressive creative endeavour sees the British electro pop star singing of love, loneliness, and partying on your own. How I’m Feeling Now feels like the perfect snapshot of quarantine life. From longing to be in a club in “Pink Diamond” to the bittersweet “forever,” the sentiments capture the collective fear and uncertainty of the pandemic beneath club-ready beats. – Chelsea

Moses Sumney – græ

Moses Sumney returned this year with his sprawling sophomore album, græ. The expansive 20-track collection sees Sumney truly leaning in to his refined lyricism and vocal finesse, as he finds the perfect balance between grand arrangements and intimate silences. Sumney covers nearly every emotion you can think of, ranging from lust to anger to melancholy. Despite immense growth between his debut release and this record, the most powerful moments in Sumney’s music come from his isolated vocal lines, aching in solitude for what feels like an unmatched sense of intimacy. – Chelsea

Tame Impala – The Slow Rush

Tame Impala shared their highly anticipated new album, The Slow Rush, in February. The record, which marks the band’s follow-up to Currents, features previously released singles “Borderline,” “It Might Be Time,” “Posthumous Forgiveness,” and “Lost in Yesterday.” Tame Impala’s fourth studio album features groovy, technicolour instrumentals as frontman Kevin Parker continues to sing about the battle between trying to better yourself and giving in to your darkest thoughts. – Chelsea

Perfume Genius – Set My Heart on Fire Immediately

Perfume Genius, a.k.a. Mike Hadreas, truly made waves with his fifth album, Set My Heart on Fire Immediately. Each of Hadreas’ records over the past decade has seen the seasoned artist transforming into something completely new. Set My Heart on Fire Immediately explores both the joys and the burdens of the human body, focusing on yearning as Hadreas weaves in and out of soft, ethereal melodies and harsh, jarring dissonance. This three-dimensional album definitely serves as Perfume Genius’ strongest effort to date, as he embraces cinematic melodies while his lyrics explore the intimacies and intricacies of being a human. – Chelsea

Run The Jewels – RTJ4

Run the Jewels released RTJ4 in June, a couple days prior to the album’s scheduled release. The 11-track album features collaborations with Josh Homme, Mavis Staples, Zack de la Rocha, Pharrell Williams, and more. “Fuck it, why wait,” Run the Jewels explain. “The world is infested with bullshit so here’s something raw to listen to while you deal with it all. We hope it brings you some joy. Stay safe and hopeful out there and thank you for giving 2 friends the chance to be heard and do what they love.” – Chelsea

IDLES – Ultra Mono

Bristol’s Idles returned with a new 12-song collection of tracks that showcase the band’s implacable positivity, driving headlong into themes of the moment ranging from inequality, sexism, and self-empowerment. It’s no simple task to flaunt earnest messaging while maintaining the often punishing aesthetic that Idles remain grounded in, yet the band’s latest release, Ultra Mono, accomplishes exactly that. – Scott Lewis

Mac Miller – Circles

Mac Miller’s posthumous album Circles is not only a stunning epilogue for Miller’s dedicated fans, but provides a sort of resolution to where he had left off with previous releases like Swimming, The Divine Feminine, GO:OD AM, and Faces. Much like Swimming, most of Circles is about working through depression, except on this collection the tone feels more optimistic. Circles, which sees Miller almost completely stepping away from rapping, serves as a perfect final musical act, revolving around the idea of self-reformation. – Chelsea

Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind

Yves Tumor’s visceral, genre-bending album Heaven to a Tortured Mind came out back in April. The record sees Yves Tumor moving from experimental ambient and noise music toward a more carnal rock sound, with each and every track weaving in and out of different styles like glam, psych rock, and Britpop. Heaven to a Tortured Mind sees Tumor exploring everything from disgust to pleasure beneath powerful, buoyant vocals. – Chelsea

Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

Dua Lipa’s pop-funk sophomore album Future Nostalgia strays from her self-titled debut, making for a sophisticated collection of disco anthems. Where Dua Lipa came packed with catchy, modern bops, Future Nostalgia moves to a sort of retro-pop revival, revitalizing the flashy sounds of ’80s pop and ’90s club music. From the instant bar staple “Don’t Stop Now” to the Lily Allen-style tune “Good In Bed,” each track sees Lipa tailoring retro-funk sounds to suit her powerful pop persona. – Chelsea

Thundercat – It Is What It Is

Thundercat dropped long-awaited album It Is What It Is this year, and it put his artistic talents and production skills on full display. A beautiful fusion of funky jazz, rock, hip-hop and brief electronic inspirations, It Is What It Is is a medley for the ears. Chock-full of amazing features like Louis Cole, Steve Lacy, Steve Arrington, Childish Gambino, comedian Zack Fox, Ty Dolla Sign, Lil B and Pedro Martins, the album successfully balances emotional, humorous, existential and hopeful tones. – Andrea

The Strokes – The New Abnormal

The Strokes have released their first new record in seven years, The New Abnormal. The 9-track collection sees the band moving toward more of a synth-heavy, ’80s pop style instrumental as frontman Julian Casablancas delivers his distinctive croons atop pulsing synth lines. Packed with nostalgic hooks, The New Abnormal fluctuates between drum-less, powerful ballads and catchy, energetic anthems. – Chelsea

Adrianne Lenker – songs / instrumentals

Big Thief singer Adrianne Lenker made her return with songs and instrumentals. Spread across two albums that come together as one stunning, calculated work, songs / instrumentals contains some of the most vivid songwriting Lenker has produced thus far. Exploring themes of loss, solitude, and regret, the refined collection sees her music stripped back to just an acoustic guitar and vocals on songs before moving to the purely instrumental, windchime-focused instrumentals. Recorded in a one-room cabin in the woods of Western Massachusetts, both albums are so powerfully intimate that it feels as though you’re right there, sitting beside Lenker as she performs. – Chelsea

Laura Marling – Song For Our Daughter

Laura Marling is back with a powerful, yet soft new album Song For Our Daughter. The album is written for Marling’s fictional daughter, and by extension, her younger self. Song For Our Daughter revolves not only around Marling’s imaginary child, but as she reflects on the music industry that shaped her late teens and early 20s, it’s about “the responsibility to defend The Girl.” “It’s strange to watch the facade of our daily lives dissolve away, leaving only the essentials; those we love and our worry for them,” Marling explains. “An album, stripped of everything that modernity and ownership does to it, is essentially a piece of me, and I’d like for you to have it.” – Chelsea

Haim – Women In Music Pt. III

Sister trio Haim shared third studio album, Women in Music Pt. III, in June. The album explores the sisters’ personal lives, as they sing about traumatic experiences like best friends passing away, living with Type 1 diabetes, and struggling with depression. While the lyrics are vivid and vulnerable, each track channels a sort of upbeat energy, encouraging the listener to keep moving forward. From the stomping country rock track “I’ve Been Down” to pop rock anthems like “Don’t Wanna,” the album serves as a versatile collection of catchy tracks. – Chelsea

U.S. Girls – Heavy Light

U.S. Girls released their highly-anticipated seventh studio album Heavy Light this year. The 13-track album focuses heavily on personal narratives. Each song a beautiful medley of ’70s-inspired pop and jazzy influences, creating a captivating and fulsome LP. The opening track “4 American Dollars” is carried by a funky electric guitar while backing vocals add a fun, dynamic element to the track. The powerful “Born To Lose” brings in prominent drums, sweet twinkling instrumentals and choir-like harmonies create a nearly-angelic song. “Woodstock ’99” slows things down with gentle piano as Remy’s voice powers along. – Andrea

Destroyer – Have We Met

Destroyer’s 13th album Have We Met dropped in January. The album follows along with the signature style of frontman Dan Bejar. Bejar was aiming to make “computer music,” but the album showcases much more than that. Imagining a sound that represents the Y2K era, all beneath some very catchy pop tunes. – Anastasia Coulson-Gagnon

Chloe x Halle – Ungodly Hour

R&B sisters Chloe X Halle made their return with the release of their sophomore album Ungodly Hour in July. The new collection sees Chloe X Halle taking more risks than on their debut The Kids Are Alright. Growing with their audience, the duo sing about everything from sex to drunken mistakes on top of pop production and colourful, catchy instrumentals. – Chelsea

Nap Eyes – Snapshot Of A Beginner

Nap Eyes have shared their new album Snapshot of a Beginner via Jagjaguwar. The album, which was recorded at The National’s New York Long Pond Studio, is an honest, raw collection of perfectly lo-fi tracks. Every song comes packed with poetic lyrics, as the band appears to reach new heights, treading into uncharted sonic territory. From killer guitar solos to laid-back riffs, this album has a little bit of everything. – Chelsea

Rina Sawayama – Sawayama

Japanese-British pop singer Rina Sawayama exploded onto the scene this year with her debut album Sawayama. The self-titled collection is a flashback to the early 2000’s, simultaneously capturing the pop punk sounds of Evanescence and the bubbly anthemic sounds of Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera. Sawayama truly makes her mark with her lyricism, from summoning the aggression of nu-metal while singing of casual racists in “STFU!” to clapping back against capitalism in “XS.” – Chelsea

Angel Olsen – Whole New Mess

Angel Olsen has shared her intimate new album, Whole New Mess, which marks the follow-up to 2019’s All Mirrors. The new collection is primarily made up of early, acoustic renditions of tracks from All Mirrors in addition to select new tracks. Whole New Mess is technically Olsen’s first true solo album since 2012’s Half Way Home, and it sees Olsen at her most raw and vulnerable. “I had gone through this breakup, but it was so much bigger than that – I’d lost friendships, too,” Olsen explains. “When you get out of a relationship, you have to examine who you are or were in all the relationships. I wanted to record when I was still processing these feelings. These are the personal takes, encapsulated in a moment.” – Chelsea

Soccer Mommy – Color Theory

Sophie Allison shared Color Theory, her latest album as Soccer Mommy, in February. The album is a magnetic collection of 10 tracks that calls upon the music of her childhood. Color Theory truly highlights Soccer Mommy’s growth as an artist, showcasing her finesse as a shoegazey indie musician, while still reflecting on and commemorating her past. The album is perfectly varied, from the combination of both acoustic and electric guitars on “lucy” to the extravagant, seven-minute track “yellow is the color of her eyes,” to the hazy, classic early 2000’s ballad, “circle the drain.” This nostalgic collection of tunes is one you’re definitely going to find yourself coming back to over and over, as it has a perfect balance of bright instrumentals and dark, vulnerable lyricism. – Chelsea

Grimes – Miss Anthropocene

Grimes’ fifth album Miss Anthropocene finally arrived back in February as well. Grimes said in an interview that the album is a “modern demonology or a modern pantheon where every song is about a different way to suffer or a different way to die.” The dark and honest album was inspired by losses that Grimes has experienced over her life. On her Instagram and Twitter, Grimes dedicated the album to her manager and friend, Lauren Valencia, who died of cancer last year. – Anastasia

Gorillaz – Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez

Gorillaz released their highly anticipated Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez in October. The band had been sharing a series of collaborative singles with high profile guests since the beginning of the year. Featuring previously released collaborations with the Cure’s Robert Smith, Peter Hook, slowthai, and more, in addition to new tracks with artists like Beck and St. Vincent, this epic collaboration is definitely a must-listen. – Chelsea

Beabadoobee – Fake It Flowers

London-based indie rocker beabadoobee finally shared her highly anticipated debut album, Fake It Flowers, this year. The new 12-track collection marks Bea Kristi’s first full-length release under the moniker beabadoobee, following a whopping five EPs. Fake It Flowers comes packed with grungy, yet bubbly tracks that feel reminiscent of the music she grew up with. The nostalgic album is “a record for girls to cry to and dance to and get angry to,” Kristi explains. “It’s all about, like, how annoying it is to be a girl.” – Chelsea

Jónsi – Shiver

Jónsi has made his return with his first solo record in a decade, Shiver. The new album sees Jónsi delving even deeper into his rugged, yet refined electronic experimentation. With production from A. G. Cook, the synth-driven album sees Jónsi adding some intentional chaos to his signature sound. “After 10 years in the making it’s finally out … can’t believe it,” Jónsi wrote on Twitter at the time. – Chelsea

Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension

In September, Sufjan Stevens shared his dense new album The Ascension via Asthmatic Kitty Records. The record, which marks the follow-up to Carrie & Lowell, is made up of 15 new tracks and a 16-page booklet of his drawings. Clocking in at a whopping eighty minutes, this heady album finds Stevens leaning toward a synth-based otherworldliness, as he takes an honest look at the state of America, while also painting a portrait of his own flaws. Recorded mostly at home on a computer, The Ascension shows off Stevens’ artistic finesse, as he moves toward a sort of fantastical, sci-fi-influenced instrumental, packed with glitchy synths. – Chelsea

Courtney Marie Andrews – Old Flowers

Seasoned singer-songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews delivered her fifth LP Old Flowers this year, and it serves as a stunning collection of folky tracks. Inspired by the end of a nine-year relationship, this gorgeous album sees Andrews simply wishing the best for her lost love, delivering lines like, “I hope you find love, settle down somewhere new/ And I hope that this world sees who I see in you.” Old Flowers isn’t your typical breakup album. Instead of harnessing anger, Andrews moves through a sort of melancholic longing, as each track is still so full of love, both through Andrews’ vivd lyricism and in her heartfelt vocal delivery. – Chelsea

The Flaming Lips – American Head

The Flaming Lips have released their 21st album, American Head, which was created with collaborator and producer David Fridmann. “The music and songs that make up the American Head album are based in a feeling,” frontman Wayne Coyne explains. “A feeling that, I think, can only be expressed through music and songs. We were, while creating it, trying to NOT hear it as sounds… but to feel it. Mother’s sacrifice, Father’s intensity, Brother’s insanity, Sister’s rebellion…I can’t quite put it into words.” – Chelsea

Bright Eyes – Down In The Weeds Where The World Once Was

Bright Eyes are back with their first new album in nine years, Down in the Weeds Where the World Once Was. The grand new record, which marks their follow-up to 2011’s The People’s Key, sees Bright Eyes with their biggest sound yet. Clocking in at just under an hour, the record comes packed with intricate, orchestral arrangements and shimmering synth lines. “Even though we all collaborate with different people all the time, I think the connection the three of us have is probably the most intimate,” frontman Conor Oberst tells Consequence of Sound. “It feels the most like home, I’d say, after all the projects I’ve been involved with. It was nice to get that feeling back after so long.” – Chelsea

Hayley Williams – Petals For Armor

Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams shared her debut solo album Petals For Armor in early May. The album sees Williams stepping away from her usual emo-pop sound to take on a more intimate and experimental approach throughout its 15 tracks. “Some of my proudest moments as a lyricist happened while writing PETALS FOR ARMOR,” Williams explains in a release. “I was able to get my hands a little dirtier than usual when it came to instrumentation. I’m in a band with my favourite musicians so I never really feel the need to step into a role as a player when it comes to Paramore records. This project, however, benefited from a little bit of musical naïveté and rawness and so I experimented quite a bit more.” – Chelsea

The 1975 – Notes On A Conditional Form

British pop-rock outfit The 1975 made their return with their highly anticipated fourth album, Notes On A Conditional Form, in May. The epic, 22-track album clocks in at an hour and twenty minutes, marking a moment in time, as they weave in and out of genres ranging from punk-rock to R&B to orchestral anthems. While none of the tracks quite sound like another, the album somehow still feels somewhat cohesive, despite the songs’ jarring juxtaposition. – Chelsea

Caribou – Suddenly

Canadian electronic artist Caribou dropped his sweet album Suddenly in February. Led by Dan Snaith, the 12-track LP is Caribou’s first full-length album since 2014’s Our Love. Suddenly is one of Caribou’s most sonically diverse albums, where Snaith takes musical risks by exploring various sounds. It opens with “Sister,” a melancholic track about family dynamics accompanied by gentle, yet somber synths. The previously-released uplifting house track “Never Come Back” makes a well-timed appearance on the album, balancing the slower songs that come before and after. The dreamy, tranquil song “Magpie” is carried by light piano as Caribou’s falsetto vocals ring throughout. – Andrea

Backxwash – God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It

Polaris Music Prize-winner and Montreal-based rapper Backxwash made waves with her latest album, God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It. The album blends elements of rap and metal with Backxwash’s (real name Ashanti Mutinta) experience with faith, family, and queer identity. The record borrows samples from Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and David Lynch’s Eraserhead. “I see samples more than just sounds,” Backxwash tells NPR. “They represent a slice of time. From my perspective, I wouldn’t use something unless I was connected to it in some way.”

Andy Shauf – The Neon Skyline

Andy Shauf shared his new album The Neon Skyline way back in January, and it’s particularly relatable if you live in Toronto. Most of the album takes place in Parkdale’s Skyline diner, and the 11 songs all take place over the course of one night. The songs talks about sharing pints at the diner and focuses on the sadness the narrator’s ex-girlfriend Judy has caused him. – Anastasia

Holy Fuck – Deleter

Holy Fuck have shared their gritty new electro-indie record Deleter. “The robots are smarter than ever, and the algorithm knows more and more what we like as individuals,” Holy Fuck explain of the album in a press release. “We have to remind ourselves that there is music in the margins that can go missing and that that music is more important than ever.”

Yukon Blonde – Vindicator

The latest from Vancouver, B.C.-based indie outfit Yukon Blonde is an exercise in a band shifting gears sonically, while maintaining the elements central to their success. Vindicator, the band’s fifth studio album, leans heavily on an 80s’ synth-inspired sound that compliments their familiar indie dream-pop aesthetic. – Scott

Austra – HiRUDiN

Austra has shared her highly anticipated new genre-bending album, HiRUDiN. The new record acknowledges what it’s like being in a toxic relationship, and how you can feel lost in a maze, landing back where you started after every turn. Where Austra’s last album, Future Politics, looked at external power structures, HiRUDiN looks inward as the artist looks at “regeneration, dealing with the fallout of toxic relationships, queer shame, and insecurity,” according to a press release. Throughout the record, Austra finds a sort of electronic despair rooted in ballad and powerful, layered vocals reminiscent of Florence + The Machine. – Chelsea

Fleet Foxes – Shore

Fleet Foxes made their return this year with their first new album in three years, Shore. The record, which was released to coincide with the autumnal equinox, comes accompanied by a 55-minute film of the same name. “Since the unexpected success of the first Fleet Foxes album over a decade ago, I have spent more time than I’m happy to admit in a state of constant worry and anxiety,” frontman Robin Pecknold explains. “Worried about what I should make, how it will be received, worried about the moves of other artists, my place amongst them, worried about my singing voice and mental health on long tours.” – Chelsea

The OBGMs – The Ends

In October, Toronto-based punk trio The OBGMs released The Ends, the follow-up to their 2017 debut via Black Box. The 10-track record checks in at 23 minutes of limitless, grinding energy from vocalist/guitarist Densil McFarlane, bassist Joseph Brosnan, and drummer Colanthony Humphrey. – Scott Lewis

July Talk – Pray For It

This year, July Talk released their third album Pray For It. The album sees July Talk looking at vulnerability as a powerful tool for growth. “You know this one thing,” co-lead vocalist Peter Dreimanis explains. “Your love should change you, surprise and rearrange you. But you have to challenge it to become a transformative love that makes those around you feel remarkable and new, like absolutely anything can happen at any time.” – Chelsea

Basia Bulat – Are You In Love?

Canadian artist Basia Bulat has shared her fifth album, Are You In Love? The powerful album comes packed with atmospheric instrumentals, shimmering melodies, and poetic, yet vulnerable lyrics. Are You In Love?, which was produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, sees Bulat singing about everything from falling in love to losing her father. “Throughout this whole record, I was struggling between keeping it together and letting it go,” Bulat explains in a press release. “Between holding onto old narratives or accepting what’s before me.” – Chelsea

Born Ruffians – JUICE

Toronto trio Born Ruffians returned with their sixth full-length album, Juice, in April via their own label Wavy Haze Records. 15 years into their career, Born Ruffians have really refined their artistic vision, with nine-track collection full of earnest and catchy rock & roll anthems. With nuanced tracks like “I Fall In Love Every Night” and “Dedication,” JUICE truly tells a story. – Chelsea

Sarah Harmer – Are You Gone

Canadian artist Sarah Harmer is back with her new album Are You Gone via Arts & Crafts Productions. he 12-track LP is a stylistically dynamic project, with sounds ranging from indie rock to pure folk. The album’s opening track “St. Peter’s Bay” is a melancholic ode to a lover and the small municipality in PEI. “What I Was to You” pulls on listeners heartstrings as Harmer dedicates it to her late friend Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip. Indie rock energy is channeled with “Cowbirds,” an upbeat, tambourine-filled track elevated by electric guitar. Harmer closes off the album with “See Her Wave (For Jacqui),” a song dedicated to an old friend, as Harmer uses her vocal range to pull on folk influences. – Andrea

Dizzy – The Sun And Her Scorch

Dizzy have shared their new album, The Sun and her Scorch. The new album sees the Oshawa indie rockers exploring a more refined sound, growing profoundly since their last record, Baby Teeth. “Baby Teeth was all about the confusion and sadness of my late teens, but this one is more about the qualities about myself that I’m not very proud of,” frontwoman Katie Munshaw explains. “I wanted to be completely honest about the things nobody ever wants to admit, like being jealous of your friends or pushing away the people who you love. So instead of being about romantic heartbreak, it’s really about self-heartbreak.” – Chelsea

Mav Karlo – Strangers Like Us

Hollerado’s Menno Versteeg shared Strangers Like Us, his debut album as Mav Karlo. “A lot of the record is about looking within and trying to find the source of your pain, trying to figure out why you behave the way you do, but by the end there’s a sense of starting to trust yourself,” Versteeg explains. “So even though there might still be self-doubt, it’s a confident kind of self-doubt – an understanding that everyone feels this way sometimes, and you’ve got to just keep pushing on.”