We're not even going to go into the usual spiel about what a year it's been. We assume everyone reading this is well-versed enough without us having to recap for you, and for those who feel well and truly ready to see the back of 2020: keep going, we're almost there.
It would be remiss, however, to totally gloss over the impact 2020 has had on the music industry. While music might not have quite stopped this year, it certainly hasn't looked how many of us expected it to. No gigs, tours or festivals has been hard on us all, but it's been disastrous for those who rely on those things to make a living. Musicians, venue staff, roadies and everyone in between – we look forward to seeing you all again in 2021.
It also caused havoc with the year's release schedule. Albums were pushed back, then pushed back again, some were sneak released out of nowhere, live albums became livestreams, livestreams became live albums, and almost everything was recorded in people's basements or bedrooms.
Still, out of the chaos, hundreds of essential albums made their way into the world. Jaw-dropping debuts, storming comebacks from rock's old guard, records which seized upon the spiralling global situation – whether that be the pandemic, the President, social and racial inequality in the US and beyond – and records which sought to offer comfort if not a solution all shaped the soundtrack to 2020.
It's easy to look at this year as a terrible one for music, but actually it's been unique and in many cases, utterly remarkable. Below, 50 of those remarkable albums which soundtracked this most challenging of years, as voted for by you.
50. Tame Impala - The Slow Rush
Kevin Parker’s unlikely journey from psych rock weirdbeard to 21st century pop visionary reached its final destination on Tame Impala’s fourth album. The Slow Rush was an album with no sharp edges whatsoever, but its smooth facade and dancefloor-friendly sound hid a deep well of emotion just beneath the surface. A psychedelic disco album for the body and mind.
49. Kvelertak - Splid
Norwegian punk-metal terrors Kvelertak have spent their entire career half a beat out of step with everything else going on around them, and a change of singers wasn’t going to alter that.
Their first album in four years wasn’t so much a rebirth as a doubling-down on the glorious don’t-give-a-fuckness made them so great in the first place.
From the Queen-goes-punk epicness of Bråtebrann to killer Troy Sanders collab Crack Of Doom, all life truly was here.
48. Bitch Falcon - Staring At Clocks
Bitch Falcon is a name that leaves little room for speculation. If it wasn’t already obvious, this is a band who mean business, but there’s a lot more to unpack on their debut LP than the assertive moniker lets on.
Frontwoman Lizzie Fitzpatrick has a tone that’s on par with the sweet but scary magnificence of Oathbreaker’s Caro Tanghe clean vocal, while channelling Siouxsie Sioux doing her best Bjork impression. The instrumentation provides soaring alt-pop/rock which often reaches quite staggering heights, propped up by deliciously moody shoegaze.
Love the name or hate it, Bitch Falcon are not to be ignored.
47. Fontaines D.C. - A Hero's Death
'The clouds cleared up, the sun hit the sky'. If their debut album Dogrel was the rainfall, their latest offering A Hero’s Death is the weary-eyed, solemn sigh of relief after the gloom begins to slowly dissipate from around them.
After said predecessor, the real question was whether Fontaines D.C. would manage to meet the anticipation following their debut or succumb to difficult second album syndrome. Fortunately, A Hero’s Death delivers. A complex, staggeringly mature record that engulfs its listener in a blanket of solace and stylish post-punk.
46. IDLES - Ultra Mono
Sonically this record is stripped-back and brutal, focused; reminiscent of Public Enemy and Sleaford Mods as much as underground punk heroes Mclusky (2000s) and Big Black (1980s) with its relentless repetition and metal discord. Not punk rock by container, punk through attitude.
Ultra Mono is Idles’ third album, recorded over 2019 but forged during lockdown, and its lacerating connections feel entirely appropriate for these times. Emotionally draining, masculine in a forward-looking sense, fragmented but bone-shakingly whole.
45. Death Valley Girls - Under The Spell Of Joy
Although the instruction to “never judge by its cover” is an all-round agreeable philosophy, Under The Spell Of Joy is an album where it's perfectly safe to do so.
Laced with webs of hypnotic rhythms and ghost-like crooning, this conjuration by Death Valley Girls manifests a curious comfort – in other words, a spell of joy.
Revealing an underbelly of Bowie-esque saxophone honks and atmospheric organs, its star feature is its fuzz-soaked, garage rock style guitar and defiant, cooler-than-you attitude.
44. A.A. Williams - Forever Blue
You think Paradise Lost are misery merchants? You ain’t heard nothing yet.
The dynamics on display on A.A. Williams' stunning debut album are what give the heavy moments their weight, a lesson that many metal acts could learn a thing or two from. Williams is a multi-talented musician, playing cello, piano and guitar, but it’s her voice that impresses the most, her angelic lilts masking the moribund sentiments brought forth from her psyche.
This album emerged only halfway through 2020 but the chances of a more heart-rending and fully formed debut following it were practically zero.
43. All Them Witches - Nothing As The Ideal
Based in Nashville – but wholly removed from the countrified ‘contemporary Nashville scene’ – All Them Witches freak out with more power and originality than most.
From Saturnine & Iron Jaw’s haunting ambience and chugging Led Zeppelin guitars, to the trippy, pitch-black tones of See You Next Fall and the cathartic finale Rats In Ruin, Nothing As The Ideal is a dark, enticing feast for the senses, with one foot in ancient times and the other in some far-off dimension.
42. Enslaved - Utgard
Focusing on the titular home of giants in Norse mythology, Utgard is a journey into mysterious and uncharted realms both thematically and musically. Take the opener, Fires In The Dark, which moves from ancient chants, folky harmonies, apparitional summonings and the band’s trademark marriage of the extreme and ethereal, all within six minutes of unequalled mastery.
At times bleak and barbarous, at others limitless and life affirming, Utgard is a vast and unpredictable. There’s still no one else like Enslaved in this or any other realm.
41. Rick Wakeman - The Red Planet
This instrumental album’s style deliberately harks back to prog’s – and Rick Wakeman’s – halcyon days of the early 70s, and he relishes the chance to slip back into his old habits with the added spice of the sampled keyboard sounds that are now available to him, starting with a thunderous church organ on Ascraeus Mons.
The English Rock Ensemble are no mere backing band, either; just check out Lee Pomeroy’s bass at the start of Valles Marineri.