Published Jun 24, 2020We've all heard it a million times before: six months ago, at the start of the calendar year, who could have predicted what 2020 had in store for society at large? But the issues and ideas that have dominated the year so far — isolation, paranoia, self-love, a long overdue need for all-encompassing change — are front and centre in 2020's best albums, most of which were completed long before the year began. It speaks to how we probably should have seen all this coming, and there's actually nothing that surprising about 2020... except for maybe the murder hornets.
Here are Exclaim!'s 33 Best Albums of 2020 So Far:
33. Jon McKiel
Bobby Joe Hope
A mysterious cross between indie, folk and psychedelic, Jon McKiel's Bobby Joe Hope is a nine-track collaboration between the Canadian artist and distorted samples found in the reel of a recorder he purchased in 2015. McKiel's hazy vocals soundtrack the yellowed, churning reel — and through its anonymity, something special is born anew, something bright emerging from the dark.
32. Cleo Sol
Rose in the Dark
(Forever Living Originals)
British singer Cleo Sol bursts with soul on Rose in the Dark, a soothing and uplifting effort that plays like a balm for the spirit. While her pensive lyrics can easily apply to current times, Rose has a serene, timeless groove that will never grow old.
At its surface a visceral rock record brimming with confrontational punk energy, the second album from Edmonton-based Wares transcends when vocalist Cassia Hardy bursts free from her arrangements for moments of pure, revelatory catharsis, as she sings about her transition with gripping candour amid heart-pumping instrumentation.
30. Okkyung Lee
Avant-garde giant Okkyung Lee abandons her ferocious bow-scraping attack on the cello in favour of a focused fragility on Yeo-Neun, an ensemble record inspired by traditional music and popular ballads from Korea. Her accompanying quartet follow her expertly through 10 movements rich in resplendent melancholia and, every once in a while, give in to the odd free jazz inclination like a flirtatious wink.
29. Andy Shauf
The Neon Skyline
(Arts & Crafts)
The Neon Skyline tells the story of a night out in Toronto's Parkdale neighbourhood at one of its iconic hangout spots, the Skyline Restaurant. A revolving door of characters gives Andy Shauf room to tell an array of personal stories, with his wide palette of charming wind instruments, playful keys and assorted guitars underscoring his nimble arrangements.
28. Owen Pallett
Trading acrobatic violin melodies and electronic flourishes for gentle guitar and piano, Owen Pallett's Island basks in sheer beauty. The latest solo effort from the Arcade Fire collaborator rolls in and out like a tide, deliberately allowing tasteful orchestral passages to linger, heartfelt lines to soak in. It's a deliberate, sparse work from an unmistakable voice, and Pallett's most inviting record yet.
27. Nap Eyes
Snapshot of a Beginner
Snapshot of a Beginner is a deep dive into the restless, free-flowing mind of Nap Eyes frontman Nigel Chapman. His stream of consciousness goes from wondering if Facebook's fearless leader is a ghost to musing about The Legend of Zelda and openly rambling about procrastinating. It's deeply charming, humorous, and supported by evocative guitars that shimmer and bend with Chapman's imagination.
26. Westside Gunn
Pray for Paris
Recapturing the spirit of hip-hop's glory days, Pray for Paris is Westside Gunn's first charting album and possibly his best so far. Galvanized by his trip to this year's Paris Fashion Week, the Griselda member and Buffalo-born rapper delivers some of his best rhymes, complete with ample features and intricate production — placing Gunn and Griselda at an apex nobody could have expected.
Boniface does what many of the best pop artists do: takes small moments of intimacy and blows them up widescreen, turning private confessions into universal anthems. The self-titled debut from Winnipeg's Micah Visser is full of the kind of timeless songwriting that would sound equally good as electro bangers or stripped-down ballads — and if you don't believe me, just listen to the subsequent Acoustic EP.
24. Mac Miller
Posthumous releases tend to be hit or miss. Circles, however, is a definite home run. Following Mac Miller's tragic death in September 2018, the album showcases brilliant production and the rapper's well-crafted, emotional rhymes. Flirting with emo rap but still featuring Miller's unique brand of songwriting, Circles is a powerful release that begs to be listened to deeply.
23. Code Orange
With their third album, Pennsylvania hardcore kids Code Orange have solidified themselves as an unstoppable rising force in the world of heavy music. Taking their innovative, modern musical approach to a new extreme, the now-sextet unleashed a record as diverse as it is unrelentingly crushing, making themselves impossible to ignore in the process.