Despite the weirdness and social and political fracturing of 2020, there were still plenty of great albums that saw the light of day – and that light was a salvation for many. You can check out our Post To Wire (alt-country, cosmic Americana & dark folk) Favourite Albums of 2020 HERE and Favourite AU & NZ Albums of 2020 HERE.
Here are our 40 favourite albums of the year, ranging from alt-country to electronic, ambient to indie rock, post-punk to soul.
* Full disclosure – I worked on the publicity campaigns for the Golden Fang and Buddy Glass albums
40. Khruangbin – Mordechai REVIEW
39. Jessica – The Space Between REVIEW
38. Choir Boy – Gathering Swans
37. Buddy Glass – Wow & Flutter
36. Darren Cross – Keeping Up? REVIEW
35. Cinder Well – No Summer
34. Arbor Labor Union – New Petal Instants
33. Califone – Echo Mine
32. Shopping – All Or Nothing
31. Baxter Dury – The Chancers
30. Luke Vibert – Presents: Amen Andrews
29. Cable Ties – Far Enough REVIEW
28. The Phoenix Foundation – Friend Ship
27. Blake Scott – Niscitam
26. Thurston Moore – By The Fire
25. Makaya McCraven – Gil Scott-Heron – We’re New Again: A Reimagining
24. Billy Nomates – Billy Nomates
23. Brian Eno & Roger Eno – Mixing Colours
22. Drive-By Truckers – The Unraveling REVIEW
21. The Bats – Foothills
20. Suicide Swans – Through The Years
19. Bill Callahan – Gold Record
18. Jeff Tweedy – Love Is King
17. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
16. Neil Young – Homegrown
15. Rose City Band – Summerlong
14. Golden Fang – Here. Now Here.
13. Protomartyr – Ultimate Success Today REVIEW
12. Courtney Marie Andrews – Old Flowers REVIEW
11. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Sideways To New Italy REVIEW
10. James Thomson – Golden Exile REVIEW
On our favourite AU/NZ album of 2020, Thomson delivers his most accomplished work to date… ‘Sunday Girl’ is the closest Thomson’s got to a pop song, ‘Roll Away The Stone’ is smoky, winding blues, while ‘See The Wheels’ could roll on forever with its effortless groove. ‘Fatal Ribbon Highway’ is a dreamy slow dance, cosmic, heavy-lidded and sparkling and just one example of the diversification Thomson has brought to his impressive songwriting on Golden Exile.
9 Arlo McKinley – Die Midwestern
A new name for us and what a way to announce your arrival. Restrained songwriting with some exceptional lyrical content, Die Midwestern is built on poetry of the finest quality, delivered in a wonderful roughed-up country voice.
8. Moodymann – Taken Away
We couldn’t stop listening to this when it came out. Like a mix of D’Angelo circa Black Messiah, soul-jazz and futuristic electronic space funk. It was all in the rhythms, the breaks and the soul of it all. Deep hypnosis par excellence.
7. SAULT – UNTITLED (Black Is)
An album (and its follow-up UNTITLED (Rise)) completely of it’s time politically and socially, yet timeless in its blend of soul, funk, r&b, trip hop and more.
6. RVG – Feral REVIEW
Feral found them presenting a fuller sound with even greater depth and clarity in the guitars and the spotlight still firmly on Romy Vager’s declamatory yelp and melancholic musings.
5 Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Reunions REVIEW
For us, Isbell was off his game on his last album The Nashville Sound but here he’s fully resumed his mantle of one of the finest songwriters of his generation. Lyrically and melodically there are gems galore right across Reunions. It was one of those albums that constantly inspired repeat listens throughout 2020.
4. Coriky – Coriky
Coriky are half of Fugazi (Ian Mackaye & Joe Lally) with Amy Farina (The Evens) and it’s the iconic DC band that they swerve closest to in the stop/start, quiet/loud dynamics and lyrical repetition, though it’s a less caustic, more intimate and organic vibe overall. Great drum sound on this damn catchy and gently visceral record.
3. Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death
The Irish quartet sought to find different angles to approach their second album after the success and touring of Dogrel. They were hugely successful too. Widening their palette, going for denser guitar textures and rhythms that dug deeper and with more insistency. The vocals were just as earnest if more detached, observational and aloof. The key success to the album was that they showed they weren’t one trick ponies and look to be in it for the creative long haul.
2. Bob Dylan – Rough And Rowdy Ways
Once again Bob brought the element of surprise with this immense piece of work. Bold, literary, graceful, funny and highly moving. We thought his muse may have taken an early retirement with the endless touring and American songbook albums taking up his creative real estate. But no, Bob was back, hunched over his typewriter, casting an eye over the last century of pop and political culture, weaving in heartache and devotion. Nobody can bring together universality and the minutiae quite like the master.
1. Young Jesus – Welcome To Conceptual Beach
An intoxicating blend of post-rock and indie rock that in my mind ranged threw up comparisons to Talk Talk, Lift To Experience, Talking Heads, Wild Beasts and Radiohead. This was an album that created a sonic world to escape to, with heady and evocative ideals and some incredible dynamics in the arrangements.