2020 was absolutely tragic. When the clock hits midnight tonight, few years will have seen more celebration for a new year. Natural disasters, a pandemic, destroyed relationships and the usual political nonsense have made for the worst year in living memory. However, there was one saving grace to this year: music.
What a year it has been. Okay, the whole concept of the tour died, but what we got from the studio has been nothing short of phenomenal this year. This top 10 was incredibly difficult to put together and so many deserving artists, such as Ozzy Osbourne, Lianne La Havas and Metrik who all released fantastic albums, have unfortunately missed out. Those who made it have been the best of the best, but make no mistake: it's just been a fantastic year for music.
Without further ado, let's countdown our favourite records of the year (note: this is only based on what we reviewed, a small drop in the ocean compared to the mammoth number of released).
10: Kylie Minogue - Disco
After releasing a more country-pop record in 2018, Minogue wound the clock back to the late '70s to create a disco album which brought a much-needed upbeat record into our lives. With tracks such as 'Supernova', 'Where Does The DJ Go' and 'Miss a Thing', the record makes you wish your light bulb was a disco ball. But the best part of the album is Minogue herself, who performs as energetically and as gracefully as ever. It's not particularly groundbreaking, but it's Hell of a lot of fun and a big return to form after the slightly disappointing Golden.
9: BTS - Map of the Soul 7
With MOTS7, the Bangtan boys released quite possibly their strongest effort yet. Its 20 tracks, spanning well over an hour, showcase a band hitting their peak levels. BTS have taken the world by storm in a way that no band before them has and on the evidence of this record, it's completely deserved. Whether it's the electric 'Dionysus', the excellent 'ON' or the aggression of 'UGH!', BTS' latest work was simply proof of their immense talent. They're certainly not done yet.
8: Ghostpoet - I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep
On the total opposite end of the spectrum lies Ghostpoet's latest album, whose bleak lyrics regarding Brexit, Windrush and other political issues discuss the harsh reality of living in the UK in the last few years. It's a record that takes a few listens to fully digest, but its melancholic and ethereal nature on songs such as 'When Mouths Collide' often make you feel like you're floating into space. Its downtrodden nature is more than matched by its musical beauty and it's well worthy of your time.
7: Lady Gaga - Chromatica
This album has only grown in stature for me since I originally reviewed it back in May. It is one of the few that I genuinely keep returning to as it is simply impossible to rid my head of its many earworms, including 'Alice', 'Enigma', 'Babylon' and the Ariana Grande collaboration 'Rain on Me'. The seeds of this album were clearly planted in 1999 as it wears its Trance influences on its sleeves. What with Gaga, Kylie and Miley Cyrus, this has been an utterly spectacular year for Dance-Pop. Oh, and Elton John makes an appearance too. Featuring "more hooks than a tackle shop" (yes, I'm reusing that line), it is simply one of the best of the year (duh, that's the point of this list).
6: Bloxx - Lie Out Loud
Debut albums don't get much better than this. Bloxx have stepped into the Indie scene and without any hesitation, have served up a record that veterans of the genre would be proud of. Bloxx have a particular strength in their choruses and once you hear the title track, 'It Won't Work Out' or 'Go Out With You', you'll never go back. With Lie Out Loud, Bloxx have introduced themselves as real contenders to reach the top of Indie music and the 2020s could be very fruitful indeed for them.
5: Amaranthe - Manifest
In many ways, Amaranthe are my dream band. They combine metal with synths, they have three vocalists to cover all the bases and they bring the always-perfect Scandinavian flair to their music. Featuring tracks like 'Archangel', 'Viral' and 'Scream My Name', Manifest is their best work yet, quite a feat when you consider they recorded it after making a hasty decision to cross the border to the studio before a lockdown was implemented. Melodic, heavy and and Hell of a lot of fun, Manifest is one of metal's standout records of the year.
4: Miley Cyrus - Plastic Hearts
So, if Kylie drew on the 1970s for inspiration and Lady Gaga on the '90s, what could Miley Cyrus possibly do? Oh yes. Draw on the 1980s. That's exactly what she did, and like the others she did it to stonking effect. 'Night Crawling' and 'Midnight Sky' in particular are huge call-backs to the day, with the latter even being mashed-up with Stevie Nicks' 'Edge of Seventeen' in a bonus track. Outside of the 1980s, album opener 'WTF Do I Know' hasn't really left my head since I first heard it and is undoubtedly one of my favourite songs of the year. Having never listened to Cyrus before, I went into this record sceptically and came out feeling very humbled. A fantastic effort from the controversial star.
3: Taylor Swift - Folklore
It had to be on the list somewhere. Perhaps no album made a bigger splash this year than Swift's surprise album Folklore, released in July after being announced mere hours beforehand. Though she later released its sister record Evermore in December, it doesn't quite stand up to this one, which shines with magnificent tracks such as 'cardigan', 'the last great american dynasty', 'august' and the absolutely tear-jerking 'epiphany'. Like us, her own label didn't know of its existence until they were suddenly told to release it, which begs the question: is this the true Taylor Swift, one without label input on her sound? She ditched the catchy hooks of previous records to make one full of wonder and beauty and it's arguably her best yet. Might it be a sign of things to come? We'll have to find out.
2: Hayley Williams - Petals For Armor
Williams' solo debut is a sheer delight. Proving that she is more than just Paramore, Williams described making PFA as a 'scary, empowering experience' and that shows in the personal nature of the lyrics. It varies in style throughout; there's a bit of Billie Eilish ('Leave It Alone') and a bit of '80s synthpop ('Over Yet') interspered with other genres. The pick of the bunch is the sensational 'Dead Horse', a truly outstanding track that cements Williams as a great artist in her own right. There will be more Paramore, but we certainly hope there's more to come from this side of Williams as well.
Honourable Mention - DOOM Eternal (OGS)
Before we get to #1, let's give an honourable mention to the DOOM Eternal soundtrack album. Plagued by trouble due to the fallout between id Software and Mick Gordon, it suffers sonically with poor production on much of the album. But with that being said, it still delivered some of the greatest tracks of the year, with 'The Only Thing They Fear Is You' and especially my personal favourite song of 2020, 'Meathook'. WHAT A RIFF. Also, only Mick Gordon would be crazy enough to use compressed chainsaws ('Cultist Base') and a f***ing LAWNMOWER ('The Only Thing They Fear Is You') as lead instruments. Kudos, you Australian madman.
Production issues aside, this is without doubt one of greatest collections of music of the year. And as good as Andrew Hulshult is, DOOM has lost a supreme and unique talent in Mick Gordon.
1: Burning Witches - Dance with the Devil
It was never going to be anything else. From the moment I heard this way back in March, I knew this would be the AOTY. My dissertation for my BA was an analysis of sexism in the rock and metal community and to the many men in that community who continue to look down on women, I triple-dog-dare you to listen to this album and tell me women don't belong.
It's fast. It's electric. It's huge. It's aggressive. From start to finish, this is a practically perfect metal album, taking influence from the likes of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and modifying that influence into an outrageous set of modern metal tunes. 'Lucid Nightmare' is just sublime, possibly the best metal song of the year, and it's followed up with the likes of 'Necronomicon' and 'Battle Hymn'. It's grand in every sense of the word and represents everything that heavy metal should be. It is the best metal album of 2020 and one of the best of the last few years. Bosh.
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