50. Marilyn Manson – We Are Chaos
One of the biggest surprises of the year, We Are Chaos sees Marilyn Manson entering a new chapter in his life, reinventing himself as a glitter Goth cowboy. Filled with mature reflections and a newfound peace of mind, the frontman seems at his most relaxed in his skin so far. His partnership with Shooter Jennings brought the best in him, often covering the bluesy mindset of The Pale Emperor with a sweet country flavor. Overall, the results are miles away from most of his albums, yet this unexpected twist came together with a rejuvenation. Whereas a bit hard to digest for a fair number of fans, the LP is actually a major grower featuring some of his most layered tracks in a long time. There is something for everyone here, as each song boasts a catchy groove — whether aggressive or mellow — and the storytelling is kept to the point, making for an enjoyable record. –Raul Stanciu
49. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud
To me, Katie Crutchfield’s career floundered after Cerulean Salt, a record I was obsessed with upon its release, especially the affecting closer “You’re Damaged”. Saint Cloud, then, represents a revitalization of the Waxahatchee brand for me as well as for Crutchfield, recently sober and in love with none other than Kevin Morby, who also released an Americana album this year (albeit a middling one). Some writing about Saint Cloud focuses more on Crutchfield’s personal progress than its sonic achievements, but that is a mistake when the songs are so focused and strong. The album starts with the languid “Oxbow” and rarely slows down its momentum even as the tempo itself slows down. “Yell what you know,” says the closing title track. But singing it works, too. –Channing Freeman
48. Tired Lion – Breakfast for Pathetics
The short length and punchy sound of Breakfast for Pathetics belie the immense struggle behind its creation. After Sophie Hopes was abandoned by her Tired Lion bandmates, she picked up the pieces and created one of 2020’s best records. Her guitar-driven indie rock owes much to the ’90s grunge movement, but there are plenty of punk sensibilities, too. Because Hopes is a master of the well-placed, screamed expletive, the record is cathartic as well as catchy. The pain of abandonment and the elation of triumph live together in the closer’s unconventional title and chorus hook: “Screw you, man.” –Channing Freeman
47. The Most – Of What We Have
Of What We Have brings a frenetic energy to the fusion of jazz and rock that pushes punchy punk vocal attitude and unapologetically balances it with sax, clarinet, keys, and a rock ensemble that err toward a classic clean sound. Singer Nick Hasko’s timbre smacks of Dicky Barrett at a pack or two a day less, but there’s no ska sound to be found here despite the obvious coalescence of horns and strings. Of What We Have instead finds The Most creating the odd fusion record that starts from a jazz base (see what I did there?) and adds rock seasoning to taste — and the inverse is a different delicacy altogether. From the bombastic and upbeat (opener “First Frost”, “Mile Run”, and “Woah! Hot Cinders”) to the many shorter, downtempo compositions (“Fingerprints”, “Intro to Unlearning”, and the longer “It Starts In Your Head”), Of What We Have feels like a fresh take on fusion and presents a listen that’s both immediately appealing and a complex and rewarding re-visit on each new play. –Thompson Gerhart
46. Adrianne Lenker – songs
I wrote, in my initial assessment of songs, that the album felt like Adrianne Lenker’s most fragmented to date. I’ve since questioned this (thanks ramon., fuck u); in reality, songs is a remarkably smooth, thoughtful, and well-considered collection. What I meant at the time, though, and which I stand by, isn’t that the music is uncohesive or random. Rather, it feels spilt, or stumbled upon. This is because of a sort of propulsive fluidity that drives the album, and is driven itself in large part by Lenker’s urgent fingerpicking techniques — a fire at the tips of the songwriter’s fingers. There is, as always, an awful amount of care put into the songs, particularly their subtle structures; however, Lenker’s songwriting and lyrics are such that it is difficult not to imagine them as emerging, or having emerged from some place deep inside of her, of which she is not aware. This is evidently (intuitively) not the case. songs, though, is not an intellectual exercise. It’s an exercise in feeling; in sorting out reality through that which is beyond it. I like to romanticise it for that. –BlushfulHippocrene
45. Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
Tame Impala surprised fans with the more R&B and disco-oriented pop album Currents in 2015, lessening the ’60s classic rock influences and musically entering the 21st century. The Slow Rush does not represent a comparable renaissance for the Tame Impala sound once again, but continues with blissed-out psych-pop and representing a fitting sequel to Currents. The production is of course excellent, and the middle run of songs are some of the best Kevin Parker has recorded to date. The Slow Rush feels expansive and optimistic, embodying a successfully escapist, sunnier mindset during such a challenging year like 2020. –Benjamin Kuettel
44. Black Curse – Endless Wound
Despite their enchanting pedigree, Black Curse is anathema to the metal supergroup. Sure, members of Blood Incantation, Khemmis, Spectral Voice, and Primitive Man are all here, but Black Curse avoid whatever wet-dream scenario melded sound you think you’d be getting. It’s impenitently punishing death metal, full stop. Uninhibited by the retro-doom of Khemmis or space-faring explorations of Blood Incantation, the band cut deep to the beating heart of the genre, with mid-tempo riffs, punchy blast-beats, and a barbarous vocal performance. On paper, Black Curse’s debut Endless Wound recalls Teitanblood and other 2010s-style war metal bands, though its aggressive, incisive percussion, bewildering tempo shifts, and contorted vocals lend themselves to a unique and singular vision.
For all its merits, Endless Wound avoids the excess and indulgence one would expect from such a collective. Songs like “Charnel Riffs” can start with wretched violence then collapse into a twisted funereal dirge, but these moments serve as embellishments to tracks like “Seared Eyes”. A dizzying and unpredictable structure allows each piece to undulate and rivet without losing intensity. This lends itself to a debut that has the makings of a modern classic; an expertly crafted thesis on death metal written by those who genuinely understand the abject bliss it can provide. –Xenophanes
43. Seiko Oomori – Kintsugi
Seiko Oomori’s headstrong reinvention of the J-pop playbook has been one of the most exciting developments of the last ten years, and her latest tour-de-force Kintsugi is a thrilling affirmation of everything she’s worked towards since her 2014 major-label debut. As per usual, she’s openly audacious at points: “Night on the Planet”‘s psych-pop doomcloud is a particularly bold stroke, her throwback to her razorwire folk-punk days at the start of “Kekkon” is an endgame shock, and her vocals express more through raw conviction than most artists can manage at peak melodiousness. Another of Seiko’s staples is to revitalise innocuous J-pop clichés with a feisty edge; it’s entirely on-brand for her to pen her most vanilla pop song to date as an ambivalent hymn to individuality named “Counter Culture”. Perhaps the peppy gal-pal back-and-forth of “Dakyoushi” will be wasted on those who bankrupted their intercultural curiosity daytripping the anime block, but the track’s gleeful stampede and lyrical evisceration of high school tropes is one of many instances where Seiko works pop convention to her favour. This comes to a head in one of her strongest statements to date, the single “Singer Songwriter”. It’s at once a thoughtful self-critique and a confrontational rallying call, starkly asserting that even its most acerbic and pessimistic, this music is to taken as an openhearted gesture of empowerment. This rings true through both Kintsugi and the rest of Seiko Oomori’s near-impeccable canon; she may be an artist of extremes, but her confidence and craft are as constant as ever. –JohnnyoftheWell
42. Sorry – 925
Had 925 been released a decade ago, I have no doubt it would place near the top of this annual list. Equal parts sleek and stylish, sleazy and sinuous, the London group’s debut is the rare example of an indie band exceeding the expectations hyped up by cryptic Soundcloud demos, their vigorous live act and a sinister, post-punk aesthetic that would seem suspiciously cultivated if it didn’t feel so properly lived-in. Sorry appropriate both the grimy cool of turn-of-the-century NYC and the acerbic attitude and overcast, washed-out tones of their home country to create a miraculously fully-formed statement on lust, jealousy, and uniquely 2020 ennui. Darkly funny and caustically critical, 925 unfortunately dropped at the onset of the pandemic and its accompanying tour was consequently stillborn, consigning greater success to another in the long list of could-have-beens from this year or, hopefully, simply delaying it. Of course, it’s no longer 2001 or 2010; the Sorry buzz has generally been confined to those corners of the blogosphere that still care about new guitar music; as the music critic gestalt has shifted from indie to tentpole poptimism over the last decade, the amount of online oxygen to go around for a band in this mold has grown increasingly limited. For someone like me who came of age when bands like Sorry were argued over online incessantly, 925 admittedly scratches a familiar itch and had me waving my cane around crankily wondering why it wasn’t getting more attention. But even if you’re not a homer for stormy indie-pop, horny melancholy, and lackadaisical British wit, the endlessly re-listenable 925 proved the perfect accidental soundtrack to the hypnotic paranoia of the next several months. Give it a spin if you haven’t — this miserable year isn’t over yet. –Rudy K.
41. Wobbler – Dwellers of the Deep
All praise heaped on Dwellers of the Deep by veterans of modern prog registers true as math. Telltale Hammond C3 organ and Rickenbacker bass on hand, Wobbler set out over the course of 4 tracks and 45 minutes to prove, or demonstrate anew, that old-school virtuosity and dedication to theme can captivate all of the senses, especially when harnessed into compelling large-scale structures. Their efforts are entirely successful: you can zoom into and out of Dwellers and keep finding new sonic quirks, lil’ elucidations of melodic counterpoint, clever bits of business, etc., to listen to, usually in awe (my favorite detail: of course these cheeky Norwegian bastards throw in the single coolest paradiddle/polyrhythm/whatchamacallit 13 minutes and 38 seconds into the 13:49 opener “By the Banks”).
What fun it is, too, to be taught by an album on the subject of how to listen to it, as you listen to it. Blessedly, this strength extends all the way from the worked-through musical structures to the realm of words. The aforementioned opener adduces both New Testament epistle-recipient Philemon and Ancient Greek goddess of vegetation Persephone in a way that somehow feels natural. “Five Rooms”‘ closing salvo “We are nothing but debris / Collected by the maelstrom of eternity” scans pretty nicely as a Cormac McCarthy-like expression of nihilism to this particular English major. And did you know that “quern,” casually dropped in the very same song, is both an Old English-derived noun, meaning a hand-mill, and a verb referring to what you do with it? C’mon now. Blast Wobbler and get thineself an education. –robertsona
40. Elysia Crampton – ORCORARA 2010
Life, unity, expression, gender, place and being. These are just some of the themes explored in ORCORARA 2010. Someone could write their thesis on it if they wanted, but you don’t have to be an academic to understand why this is so meaningful. If you listen with a willing ear, you can hear it all without understanding a single reference or reading a sentence of a press release. There’s so much raw feeling here, so much passion instilled into one record. At times in her past work, this was explored (such as in “Sword”) but always bookended with easier-to-understand rhythmic genre-bends, ones that impress the critics. For the first time in her career, this feels like just her emotions — and they’re striking. –Kirk Bowman
39. The Birthday Massacre – Diamonds
Throughout The Birthday Massacre’s career, I’ve always been in an emotional tug of war between unabashedly enjoying their sound and politely cringing. This stems from the fact they have a very distinct dualism, one that takes cordial sweetness and lets it languish in the macabre, and it’s this very M.O. that has always sat on a knife’s edge of borderline obnoxiousness and utter allurement for me. It’s probably the main reason why I’ve always come back to them when they’ve dropped a new record. With that said, in light of any issues I’ve had with the band in the past, Diamonds is a record I unironically embrace with open arms. Its candid articulation displays what the band have always done well: the ability to make you feel like you’re in an ethereal dream and hovering over spooky, vibrantly-coloured vistas. What makes Diamonds so successful this time around is that it has a really keen ear for powerful melodies like never before, great vocal work, and versatile instrumentation that can switch between menacing industrial rock and electro-pop at the drop of a hat. –Simon K.
38. Four Tet – Sixteen Oceans
This is Four Tet’s most disappointing project in years. I know I’m trying to sell this album, but really, I think I’m trying to sell him. It’s his worst since Pink, but due to his sheer excellence and consistent level of quality as a producer, songwriter, and artist, Sixteen Oceans is still fantastic. It’s understated and full, full of a rainbow of nature sounds, bleeps, drums, and ambient pads, as implied on the cover. From the beats of “Teenage Birdsong” and the Ellie Goulding-sampling “Baby” to the ambience of “4T Recordings” and “Mama Teaches Sanskrit”, it’s a lovely listen, one with further layers to dissect on each further attempt to understand it fully. Even if I’d rather be listening to There Is Love In You or Morning/Evening, I’d still rather be listening to Oceans than almost any other downtempo album. Give it a try, and while you’re at it, do a discog run. You won’t regret it. –Kirk Bowman
37. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
The video for “Don’t Start Now” was shot a few blocks from my apartment (well, the club scenes were). Watching that video now, days after she performed the song on SNL, and a whole year after the song hit YouTube is a fucking trip — not so much because the song has aged poorly (it still bops, as does “Physical”, “Levitating”, “Hallucinate”, “Good in Bed” and even the Offspring-referencing “Boys Will Be Boys”), but because of the changes I can feel in my own guts since the last time I watched it. I dig the hell out of this album, but pop music has always been a weird benchmark for measuring the passage of time, and the quaking vibes of 2020 amplify a thousand-fold the anxieties of this restless pursuit. Still, a part of me thinks this is an album that will stand apart from the time it was released and the time it was consumed (by me) (alone with my roommate for 3 months) (on repeat). Lipa has curated a motif heavily vested in the passage of time (see, e.g., album title), so I’m optimistic. –theacademy
36. Godcaster – Long Haired Locusts
Contra the burgeoning Zoomer trend of un-capitalizing song and album titles to evince, uhhhhh — indifference? Reflexive amusement at the very project of naming something you’ve created (which amusement or indifference or what have you doesn’t belong to Zoomers wholly, to be sure: think of Phil Elverum’s countless “something”s, or more abstractly of Jandek’s barely differentiated early-’90s album covers)? — NY/Philly-based Zoomer band Godcaster ply their trade in ALL MOTHERFUCKING CAPS, except not literally along the aforementioned lines of song and album titles, but absolutely on social media, which gives me the sense that they would if they could, but no matter all that maybe you get my point? Infusing psych with punk with glam with prog, all delivered with impeccable music-school chops impeccably employed to juxtapose impeccable dissonances with impeccable consonances, all recorded and performed with reckless abandon (and direct to motherfucking tape!), replete with gonzo lyrics about sexy heffers [sp?] and feral girls and “Serpentine Carcass Crux Birth” and the kind of kitchen-sink prog-fantasy this-‘n’-that which scratch-guitar virtuoso Judson Kolk and the rest of the Godcaster crew (full-time flautist included, duh) feel best corresponds with their manic musical energy and overwhelming desire to be not-of-this-world at least for 38 minutes — Long Haired Locusts, in short, brings the heat with nary a lacuna in its full-speed charge toward unadulterated sonic vitality, and if you think I sound breathless (which fine whatever), you should hear the climax to the math-y hundred-yard dash “Dirtbike Bike (Vaccine Girl)”, which I’ve put on for my prog friends and my punk friends and my glam friends and my psych friends, all of whom, in the face of its unbridled ebullience, inevitably ask: “Who is this?” That’s G-O-D-C-A-S-T-E-R, like “podcaster” but with a ‘G’ — and why not spell it in all caps while you’re at it? –robertsona
35. Boris – NO
As a prolific act who enjoys touring every year, Boris’ activity was brought to a sudden halt this spring as the pandemic forced the entire live music industry to shut down. In order to relieve their anger and stress regarding the ongoing situation, the band worked on what became their most powerful and raging release in more than a decade. Fusing hardcore punk, thrash, noise and sludge metal, NO offers a very intense and rather diverse listen. The musicians are continuously channeling massive amounts of fuzz and feedback over pummeling drums. Firing on all cylinders, each track seems to hit harder than the previous one in a very uncompromising manner. The resulting album is one of the most concise, fun and easiest to digest in Boris’ catalog. –Raul Stanciu
34. Taylor Swift – folklore
Speaking of folklore as the first of Taylor Swift’s “serious” albums is reductive and, I think, less a reflection of the content of the music than the broader music culture’s newfound (or, perhaps, newly revived) willingness to contend seriously with pop music. In reality, Swift has always made serious music. Yes, folklore feels less concerned with dominating radioplay than its predecessors; that, like them, it is a pop album, however, is no less clear, and no less for it.
Folklore is, I think, Swift’s most consistent album since, taken seriously, 2010’s Speak Now. It is, indeed, a different kind of consistent: whereas on Speak Now, Swift essentially and effectively bakes her pop ambitions into the deepest of album cuts, folklore sees such ambitions thrust to the side in favour of a more long-form, cohesive/uniform experience (pop is, at this point in the songwriter’s career, baked into her DNA). Both find considerable success, however, in hanging Swift’s straight, heart-on-sleeve songwriting onto what are ultimately superficial aesthetics: Speak Now‘s country; folklore‘s… [indie] folk. But it isn’t the garbs that Swift dons (important as they are) that make her music so engaging; rather, it’s the versatility of her songwriting, the way in which she is able to jump seamlessly and confidently from one sound to another, with no more pretence, and no less authenticity. –BlushfulHippocrene
33. Havukruunu – Uinuos Syomein Sota
Few metal acts in recent memory have expressed the same level of passion and excitement in their music as Finland’s Havukruunu. Their third effort, Uinous Syömein Sota, continues an impressive streak of potent black metal that envelops you with one hell of an old-school, Bathory-esque atmosphere. Kicking up the folk influence a generous notch or two, the album’s mesmerizing chants and galloping riffs are hellbent on getting to their destination. It’s all so perfectly balanced. Havukruunu’s knack for laying down a convincing atmosphere without sacrificing their forceful bite will keep you fully alert and satisfied. As evident in the subtle ’80s-inspired guitar noodling in the vast finale “Tahi-Yo Ja Hevoiset”, Havukruunu have never sounded better; the backdrop of a desolate beach guarded by the ancient Gods is merely a bonus. –Atari
32. clipping. – Visions of Bodies Being Burned
clipping. for most of their career have been too artsy for their own good. Noisy beats and idiosyncratic rhymes peppered their early records with not much in the way of hooks, resulting in music that is more appreciated than it is enjoyed. Despite the morose title, Visions of Bodies Being Burned is clipping.’s most fun and pleasant record. Expanding on the horror movie references from last year’s There Existed an Addiction to Blood, Visions is mid-’90s horrorcore homage galore with rhymes about people hanging from trees and being brutally murdered that is just delightful. Of course with clipping. it’s not all references to Scream and Triple 6 Mafia — the tableau of horror movie tropes is washed in a contemporary critique of real-life violence against African Americans. Visions is basically Candyman, except the subtext has become full-blown text. Amongst the experimental tendencies and noisy beats is earworm quality hooks like the pitched-down refrain “Candlesticks in the dark, visions of bodies being burned” in “Say the Name”, and the catchy as all hell chorus to “’96 Neve Campbell”. I never dreamed that mixing horrorcore with clipping.’s brand of experimental hip hop would yield such salivating results, but Visions of Bodies Being Burned is this year’s best peanut butter and jet fuel jelly experiment. –Trebor.
31. Rivers Cuomo – Alone XI: The EWBAITE Years
Rivers Cuomo sold a link to a dropbox folder for $9 and it ended up on our year-end list. Wait, no: Rivers Cuomo sold a link to about 40 hours of untagged, unorganised demos/scratch vocals/phone memos for $9 and it ended up on our year-end list. Guys, I like Weezer probably more than anyone unironically should — how the fuck did this make the cut?
Maybe because, in spite of his breathtaking lack of quality control or general ability to translate his ideas to a finished album, Rivers Cuomo is one of the greatest pop songwriters of all time. That isn’t a meme, even if the presence of Alone XI on a curated list of the 50 best albums of the year most certainly is (it’s not even an album) — listening to the best of this set makes it abundantly clear how much raw talent Cuomo has, before all that pesky production and editing and worrying about radio viability whittles it down.
To help you get a grip on this behemoth, play the demos intended for Ecce Homo, a theoretical album that was eventually replaced by the much safer Everything Will Be Alright in the End. Even unfinished it’s the far superior piece of work: a shockingly dark, shockingly funny meditation on religion and Catholic guilt throughout history as filtered through Cuomo’s Californian dude-bro speak and inimitable knack for chorus melodies that will never leave your head again. The Beatles-esque stomp of “The Rules of Life” and the angular, post-punky “Tower of Babel” alone are top-tier cuts that could stand with the best things Weezer released this decade. There’s “Back of Your Heart”, which takes possibly the piano bridge of “Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori”, and stretches it out across three addictive minutes; there’s the outright gorgeous power pop of “A Boat on the Sea” and the wildly experimental “Pacific Sunset”. Basically, the term ’embarrassment of riches’ was coined to describe the kind of onslaught of good tunes this set provides. The question is, can you allow enough leeway for the messy, baffling mess –- otherwise known as The Weezer Of It All – to give Alone XI the time it needs? –Rowan5215