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Every year in late November and throughout December, many music critics and publications share lists of their favorite albums. These lists are intended to remind you about albums you may have skipped earlier in the year, but sometimes, the sheer number of lists has a more disorienting effect. To that end, here is a short list of albums, with a short bit about each album, that have appeared most frequently on lists of 2020’s top albums.
Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters
Fiona Apple released her fifth album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, on April 17. Apple’s last album, The Idler Wheel… (which was also critically acclaimed and Grammy-nominated in 2013) was released nearly eight years prior in June 2012. Fetch consists of largely improvised recordings with industrial-style percussion produced by non-musical objects. The album is about abusive relationships, breaking free of exploitative bonds, and Apple refusing to let others control her narrative. It is generally considered the year’s best-reviewed album.
Phoebe Bridgers: Punisher
On June 18, Phoebe Bridgers released her second album, Punisher. Bridgers released her debut album, Stranger in the Alps, just under three years prior in September 2017. Bridgers said she wrote some of the songs in various places such as during soundchecks, on trips, and in her dreams. Her indie rock and emo-folk songs explore themes of recovering from trauma and breakups and growing from both. Punisher has four Grammy nominations, and all four nominations are Bridgers’ first.
Run the Jewels: RTJ4
Run the Jewels, the duo of long-acclaimed hip-hop artists Killer Mike and El-P, released their fourth album, RTJ4, for digital release on June 3. Their previous album, Run the Jewels 3, received widespread acclaim and was released over three years earlier, in December 2016. Initially, the duo’s third album was set to be released on June 5, 2020, but due to this year’s summer protests, Run the Jewels decided to release the album two days early. On the album, Killer Mike and El-P share their views on systemic racism, poverty, and activism in language at once incisive and entertaining, as the duo has long been known for.
SAULT: Untitled (Black Is) and Untitled (Rise)
SAULT has absolutely spoiled its listeners this year by doing an increasingly rare thing: Releasing two albums in one year. Not that this is anything new for them – they released their first two albums nearly back-to-back in 2019 as well.
SAULT’s third album, Untitled (Black Is), was released on June 19 and their fourth album, Untitled (Rise), was released on September 18. Both albums were received with enthusiastic reviews of the mysterious British jazz and soul collective’s music. Untitled (Black Is) and Untitled (Rise) explore their creators’ views about systemic racism, protests, and perspectives on what it’s like to be Black today. The group takes inspiration from many genres including R&B, jazz, soul, Brazilian music, and funk, perhaps explaining why their music has found such a wide audience despite the band’s signature anonymity.
What are your favorite albums of 2020? Sound off in the comments!