2020. What a year, hey? There have been countless cancelled tours, and we've watched more livestreams than ever before. Music creation has moved online, and artists are collaborating via email in lieu of not being able to hit the studio together. Music, it seems, finds a way to thrive in even the toughest of circumstances.
While we haven't been able to see our favourite artists live, we have received some killer albums this year from a range of musical superstars. We've taken a look at our favourite albums of the year, as well as what made them so great.
Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
When Dua said she’d be modernising the sounds of yesteryear, we didn’t expect it to enthral us this much. Blockbuster first single Don’t Start Now set the scene (and our volume levels) perfectly, becoming the dancefloor filler we truly needed in a year where we danced in our living rooms more than at the club. Packed to the brim with groove-filled basslines, ‘80s pop elation and Dua’s sophisticated vocals, we even got to experience the remixed Club Future Nostalgia and the next-level livestream production of Studio 2054. It proved that Dua is more than just a pop face - she's got creativity pouring out of every crevice and it's exciting to see it showcased in so many different ways. - UC
E^ST - I'm Doing It
E^ST has been working towards her debut album for years, slowly revealing more and more about herself through her music. I’m Doing It arrives at the boldest point in her career. She’s emotionally unbarred on this album, tackling relationships and self-love with a startling honesty.
From her opening declaration of, “I’m not fit for company,” she sets out to rebuild from a relationship and find her confidence once more. It’s a journey. On Flight Path she’s nostalgic, on I’m Not Funny Anymore she’s broken and on Fresh Out Of Love she’s rebuilding. Those moments are buoyed by the glorious points at which she finds her confidence. She’s got spark on Talk Deep and I’m Doing It reveals an optimistic outlook for the future. She’s so convincing in each mode it’s impossible not to be deeply moved by her story on this album. - SM
Elderbrook - Why Do We Shake In The Cold?
Elderbrook made waves years ago on CamelPhat’s Cola and has spent the years since carving out a career of his own. On Cola, he brought a calm cool to the table and while Why Do We Shake In The Cold? is bereft of any menacing beats, he maintains that.
Over sparse, transforming electronic beats Elderbrook delivers emotive, funky and considered vocals to the table. On My House he lights up the dancefloor tapping into Chromeo’s pocket of retro funk while on the title track he shimmers as he elongates his voice over a pulsating beat. The dancefloor harnesses a wide-array of emotion and Elderbook covers a stunning variety of them on his debut record. - SM
Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist – Alfredo
Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist proved on Alfredo that sometimes two heads are better than one. It’s a look into the mind of a gangster, continuing the celebration of the Mafia like many rappers that have come before Freddie. A true veteran of the game, Freddie has always done things his own way – but much like his album with Madlib, Pinata, Alfredo proves he’s able to play well with others.
From the richness of Scottie Beam, to the track Baby $hit, where he trades the gangster image to talk about being a father, it's Freddie at his most potent. He's at home on The Alchemist's beats, and the pair seem to inspire each other to greater heights. Freddie’s put in the hard yards, and now he’s reaping the rewards. - BM
Haiku Hands – S/T
If you’ve been to an Australian festival over the last few years, chances are you’ll have seen Haiku Hands live. They’ve become one of the most talked-about Australian live acts, and their debut album sees them capture that live energy on record. If you’re a fan of pop music that gets you dancing, and you want to get the party started, then you’ll want to chuck on Haiku Hands.
From the opening notes of Not About You, the track that first introduced us to Haiku Hands, it's clear that the band isn't messing around. The tempo of tracks like Manbitch and Eat This Bass contrast with the softness of Car Crash, proving the band makes music for both the party and the comedown. Haiku Hands' debut album is pop music with something to say – which is when pop music is at its best. - BM
HP Boyz – 6 To The World
When HP Boyz released their debut EP, 6 To The World, it was a sign that while they might outgrow their south-east Melbourne beginnings, they’re always going to rep it loud and proud. The group’s chemistry is as undeniable as ever, but it showcases a variety to their sound that proves they’re only just getting started.
Each track is produced by someone different, and it keeps the EP sounding fresh as well as giving the three members a chance to evolve. Eeny Meeny might just be the band's biggest hit yet, and indeed, one of the peaks of hip-hop in Australia in the last few years. HP Onit, YJ and MWAYS seem to grow musically every time they step into the booth, and their potential feels genuinely infinite. Don’t step on HP Boyz’s toes. - BM
Hayley Williams – Petals For Armor
For Paramore fans, a Hayley Williams solo album has always been the holy grail and 2020 brought us a treasure trove of Hayley-led creations in the form of Petals For Armor (which were released as three EPs). Boasting a significantly darker, jazzier sound than Paramore as Hayley reckoned with her mental health, feelings of isolation and anger, the album ended with brighter moments like Sugar On The Rim and Watch Me While I Bloom. Classy and mature, Petals For Armor took us by surprise but we absolutely loved seeing this side of Hayley. - UC
Joji - Nectar
Joji successfully transformed from internet meme to heartbreaker on 2018’s Ballads 1. On this year’s Nectar he widened the scope and entered superstar territory. This is a blockbuster alternative pop record exploring a spectrum of production from transcendant electronics to shimmering orchestrals.
Joji’s voice is rock solid throughout taking each twist and turn with an unmistakable believability. There’s something about those vocals that just pour out honesty and tap straight to the heart. Daylight with Diplo both cries and shines, Run finds both cinema and intimacy and Your Man jogs the album home with vulnerable promises. No matter how big it gets, Joji retains heart. - SM
Lauv - ~how I’m feeling~
For a totally independent artist, Lauv has made immense strides to cement himself as one of the most honest popstars of today. Released bit by bit as he was recording the album on tour – truly encapsulating how he was feeling at each moment – the album is bright, poignant and at times, intensely vulnerable (just listen to Sad Forever and try not to feel things), while songs like Mean It with LANY and fuck, i’m lonely with Anne-Marie showcase a lighter side to love. Lauv's got a knack for writing about love in a fresh, non-traditional way, and for a topic that's been written about since the dawn of time, that's a mean feat. - UC
Lil Uzi Vert – Eternal Atake
After waiting on Lil Uzi Vert to drop his long-anticipated Eternal Atake, 2020 has seen him release a ton of new music. Eternal Atake proves that Lil Uzi Vert still can’t be touched when it comes to mixing elements of pop, trap and rap, and his energy is legendary. The mythical aura that developed around Eternal Atake might have been broken by its release, but it was replaced by an aura of greatness that surrounds the album.
Uzi knows how to turn an album release into a moment - highlighted by the sequel to XO Tour Llif3, P2, which ends the album. No matter what style of music Uzi turns his hand to, it turns into gold. He truly has the Midas touch, and he's not going to let up any time soon. - BM
Mac Miller - Circles
It’s difficult to capture the artist’s intent on a posthumous album. The special thing about Circles, however, is you can truly hear Mac. Producer Jon Brion set out to finish a project the pair began together and delivered one of the most human, humble and wide-eyed hip-hop projects of the year.
Continuing down the same introspective path that Miller originally offered lamentations on life, specifically mental health, love and what the future holds. “Before I start to think about the future, first can I please get through a day without any complications,” he raps on Complicated. Miller always sat in the present with one eye on the future even when it was cloudy. Circles doesn’t offer any answers but it delivers stark visions from one of the most vivid minds in music. - SM
Machine Gun Kelly – Tickets To My Downfall
Another 2020 curveball, no one quite expected rapper Machine Gun Kelly to throw down one of the most fun pop punk albums of the year in arms with blink-182 drummer Travis Barker. Each song is a hook-laden and euphoric treat, with collabs from Halsey, Yungblud, The Used, iann dior and blackbear rounding out the album’s bratty and rambunctious sound.
In a nod to veteran pop punk kids, MGK even threw in a cover of Paramore’s Misery Business for good measure. Tickets To My Downfall tells us pop punk is alive and well and, much to music snobs' surprise, truly resonates with mainstream masses when done well. - UC
Run The Jewels – RTJ4
2020’s been a politically charged year, and Run The Jewels’ fourth album sees them at war with the police. They’re fighting back against racism, and a society that still continues to value Black lives less than their white counterparts.
Tracks like walking in the snow capture the turmoil that America finds itself in, while tracks like holy calamafuck see the pair flexing like almost no other hip-hop group on the planet. If you’re looking for voices that represent the anger you’re feeling, then you’ve found them. Killer Mike and El-P have become two of the voices of the generation that have had enough – and while the pair might be a little bit more measured than on past releases, they’re still just as furious. - BM
Taylor Swift – folklore
Even through the unexpectedness of 2020, we never thought we’d actually get a folky, indie surprise album that strayed from T.S.’s usually impeccably planned album roll-outs (let alone two, a surprise sister album called evermore)! The result was a warm, humble album that focused on bardic tales and collaborations with The National and Bon Iver instead of effervescent stadium pop. Songs like exile became a warm hug for all of us feeling 2020's claws of anxiety, while sweeter moments like betty and august felt like a campfire serenade with close friends. By reigning it in on folklore, Taylor truly showed us that even when you strip back all the production, at her core she remains one of the world’s finest storytellers. - UC
Tkay Maidza - Last Year Was Weird Pt2
In the past, Tkay Maidza has unfairly bubbled under. On the second part of 2018’s Last Year Was Weird, however, she made global waves. By doing away with any box she’d been put in, she opened herself up to an array of styles and showed off her stunning versatility.
Over eight tracks she covers more ground than most artists do on several albums. She traverses wobbly dancefloor grooves on 24k, gets braggadocious on Shook and then switches to psychedelic soul for closer Don’t Call Again. The bind is Maidza’s magnetic charisma. There’s a uniqueness in the way she approaches all these genres that make it unmistakable Tkay from the nonchalant laughs of You Sad to the relentless rapping of Grasshopper. No need to box yourself in when you can truly do it all. - SM