The best and worst albums of 2020
It was the year we turned to music, but what were the best albums 2020 gave us?
National music writer Cameron Adams picks out some of the finest, and a few of the duds.
1. THE AVALANCHES - WE WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU
2020s best album is also peak 2020. Melbourne duo The Avalanches created this third album in lockdown - funded by JobKeeper - while working remotely with musicians around the world. And it delivered the deeply immersive soul-hug and long-overdue hit of joy we'd all earned. As expertly curated as an art house movie, you'll get Jamie xx speeding up a beat or Johnny Marr's guitar fingerprints and the most glorious cast of vocalists. It's melancholy but still euphoric, with fewer samples and more instruments but sky-high unrestrained vision. The masterpiece no one saw coming this year.
2. TAYLOR SWIFT - FOLKLORE/EVERMORE
Even Taylor knew she was running on fumes with her last pop album Lover. Like Madonna in her imperial period, Taylor uses her immense, loyal popularity to take musical risks. But while she could master pop, few pop stars could master feelings-filled, indie alt-folk. We had some awful surprises in 2020, but Swift managed to drop two secret pastoral pop records so understated they even avoid capital letters in their titles. As sister records, evermore is the Jan Brady - it's a little moodier - while working with Bon Iver (and the National) meant she finally passed Triple J's hallowed gatekeepers. They weren't the only ones who suddenly became Swifties this year, and hello to all the Swifties working their way through The National's majestic back catalogue.
3. JESSIE WARE - WHAT'S YOUR PLEASURE?
With her passion for music reignited by, of all things, a food`n'chat podcast with her mum, UK soul singer Ware's fourth album knelt at the shrine of electronic music. Not just disco, although Spotlight, Save a Kiss and Mirage are certified bangers, but everything from the digital gloom of Grace Jones to the experimentalism of Brian Eno, with the sass of Chaka Khan and Mary Jane Girls. For the epic closer Remember Where You Are (one of Barack Obama's most-played of 2020) she's Donna Summer, Minnie Riperton and Vangelis all floating in outer space. Dream big.
4. ROISIN MACHINE - ROISIN MURPHY
A lifelong student of the dancefloor, Murphy did some serious educating here. With partner in rhyme DJ Parrott, this roped in their previous extended workouts (Incapable and Narcissus always deserved to be on an album) joined by new treats polished off in UK lockdown. From Murphy's Law's sly but stoned funk groove to the dark disco of We Got Together, bank this as the ideal soundtrack to future parties and raves.
5. KYLIE MINOGUE - DISCO
Surely it's no surprise by now that Kylie knows what she's doing. She returned to the dancefloor, but on her own terms. Instead of chasing trends, these songs were instant but work on a deeper level - the adult pop she's been gravitating towards for a few years. From the heartbreak funk of Real Groove to the uplifting euphoria of Celebrate You and iso-anthem Say Something, it wasn't just another Kylie dance album. There was also impressive attention to detail in warm disco vibes on Miss a Thing or the Prince-on-speed Dance Floor Darling. Imagine this album on tour.
6. RUN THE JEWELS - RTJ4
Dropped literally amid the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter rallies, this was protest music in real time. El-P continued to distance himself from the pack with his beats, his wide taste ranging from sampling Gang Starr and Gang Of Four or getting Mavis Staples and Josh Homme together on a track, or Pharrell Williams with Zach De La Rocha on JU$T.
7. MIIESHA - NYAARINGU
Miiesha comes from a small Aboriginal community of Woorabinda in Central Queensland and is a gust of fresh air into the our music industry. Her debut album is refreshingly simple, just her stories and beats (plus words of wisdom from her late Grandmother) where she moves from reflective to resilient.
8. DUA LIPA - FUTURE NOSTALGIA
This album was too strong to be paused by a pandemic. Cementing the Brit as a superstar not just a pop star, Dua had a vision and it's unmistakably her album, despite the litany of people in the credits. With Don't Stop Now as a first impression (and the perfect sonic signpost, cowbell and all) listening to it at the bitter end of 2020 it's basically a greatest hits set: Hallucinate, Love Again, Physical, Break My Heart. Could Levitating be her finest single to date?
9. THE STROKES - THE NEW ABNORMAL
In April, when were looking for familiar things to comfort us, The Strokes finally release a new album that sounds like a return to form without lazily recycling past glories. With flashbacks to Psychedelic Furs and Generation X songs, Julian Casablancas still got to explore his keyboard hijinks but they sound like a functional and functioning band again.
10. WASHINGTON - BATFLOWERS
Megan Washington's return was triumphant in its own way, but the intimacy on this album really resonated this year - the sound of someone looking inside and finding themselves again. You're drawn down a rabbit hole on the bruised rave comedown of Not a Machine, treated with tenderness on Catherine Wheel. But most of all it's that voice and that trademark honesty.
Lianne La Havas - Lianne La Havas
The Chicks - Gaslighter
The Weekend - After Hours
Bruce Springsteen - Letter To You
Something For Kate - The Modern Medieval
Paul Epworth - Voyager
Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher
Haim - Women in Music Pt. III
Megan Thee Stallion - Good News
Braille Face - Original Cast Recording
WORST ALBUMS OF 2020
KATY PERRY - SMILE
After her "experimental" album flopped and sent her into a tailspin, Katy desperately needed an album of undeniable pop hits. This wasn't it.
LOUIS TOMLINSON - WALLS
Credit for trying something different to his One Direction bandmates, sadly his songwriters served up Aldi Oasis.
NIALL HORAN - HEARTBREAK WEATHER
Harry Styles totally eclipsed Niall's beloved American-tinged pop simply by having much better songs.
MEGHAN TRAINOR - TREAT MYSELF
Still looking for that next hit. It wasn't here. Last seen doing a Christmas album
JUSTIN BIEBER - CHANGES
Biebs moaned that the Grammys classified this record as pop not R & B. The main shock is that these tuneless dirges were nominated at all.
Originally published as Best and worst albums of 2020