Yes, this year sucked. But thankfully, there was music to help us get by. Here are The Aquarian‘s Top 25 Albums of 2020 — the year we’ll NEVER forget.
25. Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor
Paramore has dabbled in many genres in the course of their modern day career. Pop punk, rock, new wave… the list (thankfully) goes on and on. Adding to that collection of music released by Paramore and their subsequent members is frontwoman Hayley William’s first solo endeavor, 2020’s flawless 15-track record Petals for Armor. Separated into three sides, the album tackles emotions in a way Paramore never outwardly covered. It also dabbles in catharsis from hardships and the anger felt personally and publicly. Williams expertly wraps listeners around her finger on this release, telling them in the strongest, most feminine, lustful, and vulnerable way possible that the cycle of feelings humans go through are frustrating, legitimate, and worthwhile in the end.
24. The Strokes – The New Abnormal
The Strokes’ return with their sixth album was a pleasant surprise to fans new and old. The New Abnormal reminded the world that The Strokes don’t come to play, they come to challenge what the music industry is doing in the moment and what the public think of when they hear their name. This new record is distressed in all the right places, like a fashion designer’s take on ripped denim jeans. The elements of early 2000s garage rock clash beautifully with outside-of-the-box harmonies and soundscapes. Anybody who listened to this album felt transported to a new place upon completing the nine tracks – whether or not that place was in the past or the future is hard to tell.
23. Yungblud – Weird!
The UK-born rockstar has helped bring punk rock to the forefront of young people’s minds once again. There’s pop punk bands who have made their mark and rock artists who control the charts, but Yungblud has made a point to separate himself from that, whether consciously or unconsciously. Weird! is original, authentic punk rock and it is about him, his family, his fan community, and the world around us that is diverse, creative, different, challenging, and questionable. Yet, in this singular piece of music, life is simple to understand, people make sense, and the relationships we have with each other and ourselves are explained through real stories and vital, effective reflection.
22. Phantom Planet – Devastator
Their first record in 12 years and their return to the music industry post hiatus, Phantom Planet’s Devastator reminds fans why they fell in love with this band those decades ago. Those reasons? Their eclectic interpretation of alternative rock mingling with their hard-studied knowledge of electronic beats all interspersed between life-questioning, earth-shattering lyrics. The equal balance of remixed artistry with an acoustic approach makes Devastator one of Phantom Planet’s most cohesive and explosive pieces of work to date
21. Lauren Mascitti – God Made a Woman
With the warmest country sound, Lauren Mascitti’s 2020 release is all you need to look back on this year fondly. The starlet’s voice drips with honey and musical melody like it’s second nature and this record encompasses that gorgeously. The title track is contemplative, but assertive, with the sweetest musicality and production that lingers throughout the 13-track love letter to the greatest, most romantic and well-versed singer-songwriters of all time.
20. Low Cut Connie – Private Lives
Once again Low Cut Connie proves their worth in blues rock storytelling. Private Lives is a musical fiasco in the best way possible, creating vignettes of music about people, places, thoughts, and feelings right from the heart of frontman Adam Weiner. He’s an over-the-top performer on stage (and online), but an introspective artist who is gathering influence from even the smallest, daintiest corners of the world. Private Lives, like in the name, puts that on display flawlessly with exemplary R&B stylings and a homegrown piano-driven rock sound.
19. Hands Off Gretel – The Angry EP
Riot grrrl bands are still alive and well – if not at their peak. Hands Off Gretel is a female fronted punk group that are breaking boundaries left and right, while still paying homage to the early days of Bikini Kill. The Angry EP is the epitome of everything Hands Off Gretel does right, including screeching harmonies and guitar riffs that stumble into your mind and stay there forever. These girls are, in 2020, taking back the narrative of women in music and doing it with more strength and vocal range than anyone in the rock game.
18. Louis Tomlinson – Walls
While the former One Direction member was the last of the five-piece to drop a solo record, it is without a doubt one of the best. Every song features Tomlinson’s expert storytelling abilities, even when documenting the loss of his mother or his whirlwind decade long relationship. Integrating the technical skills he learned while in a studio with a boyband with his own instrument expertise and love of Oasis, The Killers, and Foo Fighters, Walls is a personal, cleverly crafted approach to a bubblegum pop meets alternative rock debut album.
17. Selena Gomez – Rare
Selena Gomez has had quite the 2020. She started it off by releasing her third solo release, Rare, which featured the heart wrenching, chart-topping single “Lose You to Love Me,” and ended it as a People Magazine Person of the Year. Her work, musical or otherwise, is always intricately crafted, always comes from the heart, and always hits close to home. The deluxe version of Rare is no exception. Whether she’s crooning about wanting a boyfriend or reflecting on being just as deserving of love as anyone else, the pop star lets her soul shine in between sugary electronic beats and modern interpretations of pop musicality.
16. Machine Gun Kelly – Tickets to My Downfall
Machine Gun Kelly’s journey to pop punk might have surprised some, but true fans know that the Cleveland rapper has been integrating punk rock tendencies and all that he does since the very beginning of his career. This record, his first to hit number one, is as mosh pit ready and rip roaring as it is vulnerable and unguarded. It is clear throughout the entirety of the record that it brought Kelly so much peace to bare his soul and share these songs with the world. Ironically, an album chronically the lowest points in his life brought him the most happiness, respect, and success.
15. Jonathan Wilson – Dixie Blur
With the storytelling abilities of a wise Woodstock era rockstar and the creative direction of a nineties garage band, Jonathan Wilson has a song for everyone on Dixie Blur. Toeing the line of country rock, the expert lyricist and old soul croons, shimmers, feels, and shines on every heartwarming, anthemic, atmospheric track. No sound ties him down and no influence is too obscure, making Dixie Blur an outlandish, adventurous feat… but one that was pulled off more than wonderfully.
14. Phish – Sigma Oasis
Right out of the gate, Phish fans of all ages adored Sigma Oasis, the band’s 15th studio album. Months later, that holds true. The pseudo-prog. rockers let their improv skills fly as they jammed throughout the nine track release heartily and fulfillingly. The band has paid their dues and this album was the gloriously unrefined break from perfection they needed – and it was successful! The vibrant, unpolished, live show-sounding record brought listeners right into the studio or right onto the stage with the beloved rock group.
13. Circles Around the Sun – Circles Around the Sun
Circles Around the Sun’s third album is a self-titled masterpiece giving way to the band’s evolution as musicians and artists, but also slick producers. The overarching piece of music is creative like never before and captivating right from the get-go. While bittersweet circumstantially, the record is more than musician, but it is spiritual, telling the stories of the instrumental band and letting sorrow fall from their shoulders as they celebrate the life of the late Neal Casal, the band’s founding member. For a dose of nostalgia, a hint of mourning, and a tall glass of familial, musical catharsis, turn this record on loud and proud.
12. X – ALPHABETLAND
While it may have taken the punk rock gems that make up X quite a bit of time to get this 2020 release together, it was well worth the wait. Rightfully so, fans quickly grasped onto the hammering drums and fueled-by-fire guitar battles. LA’s original punk sound roared to life in this record, highlighting the speed, bluntness, and intensity of hardcore creatives looking for fresh air in what they’ve known for years.
11. Thurston Moore – By the Fire
With an ear keen to picking out and manipulating experimental rhythms, Thurston Moore shines on By the Fire. In depth bridges, alternating beats, twinkling solos, and a theme of adoration and healing help this record stand out in the musician’s vast collection of music. It is artistically sound, borderline instrumental, very much experimental, and thoughtfully rock and roll – a riveting soundscape from start to finish.
10. Deftones – Ohms
Deftones have always been a compelling band, one that engaged their audience through raw energy and atmospheric vocals. Ohms is no different. It’s heavy, authoritative, sensual, distortive, and haunting. (Everything Deftones does best). To group this record in with any of their previous LPs is fair, but almost inaccurate as the sound that encompasses Ohms is distinguished, polished, and ravaged with hostility and beauty.
9. AC/DC – POWER UP
Six years since their last record, hard rock veterans AC/DC have returned with a vengeance. It is imperative that this truly revitalized, fired up record be tuned into at full volume, as that was it was made for: rooftop down, speakers up, driving down the highway at a speed just a little too high. POWER UP is a classic rock album for the new generation, breathing new life into old styles and sounds that made the band what they are today. It’s creative and consistent modern metal magic with powerful hooks (or occasionally none) and roaring musicality (always).
8. Marcus King – El Dorado
No matter how the year ended up going, Marcus King started it off with a bang. El Dorado’s January drop showcased King’s growth as both a man and a musician. The now 24-year-old skilled guitarist has gained an immense amount of wisdom since he appeared on the blues rock circuit at just 16. His debut album reflects that development and those observations. That being said, the album is chock full of fierce, mind numbing riffs, throat-y vocal patterns, and a genuine feeling of maturity.
7. Green Leaf Rustlers – From Within Marin
From Within Marin is the country rock jam band album 2020 needed to survive. World class instrumentation that doesn’t get left for background noise is warming to note and exciting to hear and pick out. An inkling of influence from The Grateful Dead brings a wave of timelessness to the record. Unexpected shifts in keys and tone only adds to the naturalistic, homey musical landscape.
6. HAIM – Women in Music, Pt. III
In the best way possible, the paisley underground lives on in in the subtle alt-pop of HAIM. Warm-toned guitar riffs laid down under sunshine-y harmonies almost distract fans and critics alike from the condescending jabs at album reviews, depression, and side-eye-filled commentary. Intentionally all over the place and slightly whimsical, the singer-songwriter sisters prove yet again that 1960s folk rock has a strong home within critically-acclaimed, female-fronted pop music.
5. Lamb of God – Lamb of God
For a band that sticks to what they know time and time again, Lamb of God crafted a self-titled record that is their most hard-hitting and organic sounding to date. Any true metal fan can pick out a Lamb Of God song like it’s nothing, and while this record is just as consistent to the sound that fans know and love, there is an air of wanting to focus in and who they are and perfect what they do in an album that takes their name. From the top, the album starts with a rollercoaster of on-the-rise drums and aggressive guitars that somehow sound harmonious amid Lamb of God’s effortless style of intense, emotive groove metal.
4. Morrissey – I Am Not a Dog On a Chain
The greatest vocal performance of his career with an electronic edge has made I Am Not a Dog On a Chain Morrissey’s most memorable recent release. The 60-year-old musician has continued to push boundaries and float within the outskirts of the art-rock world – no matter how popular or obscure he finds himself. Cynicism to the point of comedy with an inkling of deep-rooted compassion all intertwined with computer-laid backing tracks and an eye for unbalanced instrumentation makes Morrissey’s latest record an artistic homage to himself and his very own nostalgic poetry.
3. Pearl Jam – Gigaton
Pearl Jam’s longest album to date is, thankfully, one of their best. There is a newfound level of sentiment and relevancy that the Seattle rockers have already had, but only perfected on Gigaton. Vigorous, almost impulsive guitars come at listeners full force while the messages within each song tickle at their contemplative side. It’s authentic grunge, sure. It’s also wildly catchy with a superb amount of soul and passionate harmonies laced geniusly between ominously thundering drums. Pearl Jam at their best is when they have reason behind what they are creating, so an album with songs reference the end of the world and human destruction felt oh-so-very pertinent for 2020.
2. Mapache – From Liberty Street
Anyone who was looking for a love-struck breath of fresh SoCal air found solace in Mapache’s second album. The folk duo wrote and recorded a record with a simply and concise sound, but one that is groovy nonetheless. With high levels of comfort in both the musicality and the lyricism, as well as a homegrown approach to creating that the band themselves recognize, this record is without a doubt one of the most laid back and heartwarming releases of the year.
1. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
Within the comfortable setting of her own home, Fiona Apple shined in a way that even our biggest fans didn’t expect. An artist who strives for privacy and intimacy by Nature, Apple constructed her most off-the-wall and simultaneously cohesive work to date within the confines of her home studio. There is reflection and contradiction within her lyrics that are so clever and crafted so mesmerizingly, as well as a catharsis felt from the stories she expertly tells from various points in her life. It’s comforting to know that Apple herself was comfortable in the creation and release of this record from start to finish, even during a pandemic, which only made the timing of this record even more appropriate and relatable.