The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

The Top 50 Albums of 2020

30) Caribou – Suddenly (City Slang / Merge)

Caribou Suddenly

Following two LPs of festival-friendly bangers that elevated his critical stock to an all-time high, what was immediately noticeable about Dan Snaith’s fifth Caribou album was how intimate and personal it was, a slight return to the more textured electronica of his pre-2010s work. But it was Snaith’s sweetly unguarded and untutored vocals that made Suddenly an intensely human experience – named after his young daughter’s favourite word, tunes such as ‘Like I Loved You’ exuded a folksiness that many say has been missing from his music. (EB) (LISTEN)

29) Working Men’s Club – Working Men’s Club (Heavenly)

Working Men's Club

On their self-titled debut album, an electronic wave fused between Chicago house and post-punk crashes towards the ears of the listener, delivering an evolutionary stepping stone away from most artists in the genre whilst striking a fine balance with guitar work. Psychedelia and krautrock also find their place within the collective sound on Working Men’s Club, breathing new vitality into a very tired ‘indie-dance’ paradigm. (Jack Walley) (LISTEN)

28) Georgia – Seeking Thrills (Domino)

Georgia Seeking Thrills

The sophomore record from producer-performer Georgia Barnes radiated far greater personality than her 2015 self-titled debut, with brighter, more streamlined synth-pop. Songs like ‘About Work The Dancefloor’ epitomised Georgia’s ability to distil dance music down to it most euphoric qualities. A deeply felt love of club culture is evident in her careful curation of a collection of brilliantly vibrant pop tracks. Georgia may not be the finished article yet, but Seeking Thrills showcases her rapid rate of progress and proves that the sky is the limit on her potential. (JL) (LISTEN)

27) Fleet Foxes – Shore (Anti-)

Fleet Foxes Shore

Arguably their most accessible record to date, Fleet Foxes don’t slow down on songwriting ability and themes that bind Shore together. Here, that overarching theme is frontperson Robin Pecknold’s existential thoughts about death, but these tunes are drenched in bright and sunny folk rock, some of the most pristine sounding of their career. ‘Can I Believe You’ is an ear-grabbing leap into a vast ocean of pounding drums and harmonies, and ‘Featherweight’ sounds, appropriately as light as bird’s feather, but is irresistibly catchy. Many of the songs here seem simple, but the record is diverse and as ambitious as previous Fleet Foxes albums. Pecknold’s charming and thoughtful songwriting are in full swing on Shore. (Andy Ciardella) (LISTEN)

26) clipping. – Visions Of Bodies Being Burned (Sub Pop)

Released for Halloween in the middle of a pandemic, few albums have managed to capture the sound of 2020 quite like experimental hip-hop trio clipping.. Designed as a direct sequel to the ethereal darkness of last year’s There Existed An Addiction To BloodVisions Of Bodies Being Burned is an excellent example of how to follow-up a breakthrough. It remains true to the horrorcore meets industrial hip-hop sound; whether it be the drone/noise-rap of ‘Something Underneath’ or the more minimal and melodic ‘Nothing Is Safe’ the slasher theme, disguised by the ferocious flows of Daveed Diggs, permeate the record in a manner that is enticing as it is formidable. (JT) (LISTEN)

25) Grimes – Miss Anthropocene (4AD)

Grimes Miss Anthropocene

Slow burning but undeniably compelling, Miss Anthropocene stands as a strong contender for the most accessible album in Claire Boucher’s discography. It’s wall-to-wall intrigue, with songs switching from strong solid bangers to sensitive and more novel themes. From what we have seen from Grimes before, this album presents refreshing elements, not only in an autobiographical sense but also production wise. Miss Anthropocene is a mixed bag of goods that you cannot leave alone. (RC) (LISTEN)

24) Thundercat – It Is What It Is (Brainfeeder)

Thundercat It Is What It Is

It Is What It Is has further established bassist/vocalist Stephen Bruner as a modern pioneer of psychedelic soul; this album showcases the squelching bass and vulnerable falsetto vocal delivery that forms the now-trademark Thundercat style. A more concise selection of tracks than its highly praised predecessor Drunk, it boasts 15 slick ‘dream-funk’ tracks, including the standout singles ‘Dragonball Durag’ and ‘Black Qualls’. It Is What It Is creates a sense of summer nostalgia, and ambient tones paired with hip-hop beats and jazz-soaked basslines create a euphoric, yet somewhat gloomy soundscape, a style that Bruner has honed to perfection over the past nine years. The title of the album hints at the philosophical approach Bruner has come to indorse, particularly after the loss of his close friend Mac Miller in 2018, and as a result the message of It Is What It Is appears to be one of acceptance, and living in the moment. (JK) (LISTEN)

23) Haim – Women In Music Pt. III (Columbia)

Haim Women In Music Pt. III

Haim’s third album turned out to less summery and shiny than the band’s previous records, yet Women In Music Pt. III was always meant to be a statement, with its personable and vivid storytelling and bold approach to the topics of depression and working in an infamously male-dominated industry. Still equipped with beautiful vocal harmonies and classic rock feel so loved by the fans of the Haim sisters, their latest album is definitely their best yet. (AR) (LISTEN)

22) Nadine Shah – Kitchen Sink (Infectious / BMG)

Nadine Shah Kitchen Sink

On the evidence of Kitchen Sink, an album of political and social urgency as well as immense creativity, Nadine Shah is fast becoming a figure as revered as Polly Jean Harvey. Addressing issues of gender and societal expectations – namely, those of a woman in her mid-thirties to have a career, have a family, keep a home and get it all done quickly – with sharp wit, generous compassion and a keen ear for a hook, Shah delivered her most accomplished and engaging album yet. (EB) (LISTEN)

21) Summer Camp – Romantic Comedy (Moshi Moshi)

Summer Camp Romantic Comedy

With soft, gorgeously intricate instrumentation and heartbreaking, funny, satirical lyrics, Romantic Comedy soundtracked a whole summer where so many of us found ourselves unexpectedly in long distance relationships, and reminded us why we fall in love in the first place. A married couple themselves, Elizabeth Sankey and Jeremy Warmsley played with romantic expectations, ‘80s and ‘90s movie tropes and the ideas of love, heartbreak and on some cases, a mix of the both. Summer Camp’s adept ability to write amazing songs about ordinary people is on full display, throwing fantastic takedowns on toxic masculinity on the biting ‘Nice Guy’ and ‘Mr. Wrong’ into the mix for good measure. It made for an essential release for the pop-rock outfit. (HK) (LISTEN)

20) Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song (Smalltown Supersound)

Kelly Lee Owens Inner Song

Boldly adjusting the sound she established with her 2017 self-titled debut, Kelly Lee Owens brought a great deal more of her personality to Inner Song. Although the digital soundscapes of that debut were undeniably impressive, these tracks felt more like organic songs, and benefitted immensely from Owens bringing her voice to the mix much more prominently. Inspired by personal trauma and upheaval, and the overhanging external environments that make life under late-stage capitalism, Inner Song was a restful and pleasant place to simply be, a shelter from the stresses of the year. (EB) (LISTEN)

19) Gorillaz – Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez (Parlophone / Warner)

Gorillaz Song Machine Strange Timez

Maybe more than any other group, Gorillaz seem perfectly equipped to soundtrack the hellish landscape of 2020 – they’ve been conjuring post-modern dystopia long before it permeated our reality. Therefore it should have been no surprise that this year’s upheaval would only provide the ideal creative grounds for Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett to conjure up an album – so wonderfully eclectic in genre yet consistent in quality – that would capture the unpredictable scope of current times. With some of the year’s best features and collaborative pairings strewn across the album, Strange Timez represents a new and unique method of serialised song production which could keep Gorillaz at music’s cutting edge for years to come. (JL) (LISTEN)

18) Róisín Murphy – Róisín Machine (Skint / BMG)

Roisin Murphy Roisin Machine

Dancefloor-orientated pop is becoming an increasingly crowded marketplace, but it’s not surprising to have it re-affirmed that a scene veteran as stylish and accomplished as Róisín Murphy can still beat all comers. Róisín Machine saw the former Moloko frontwoman drawing on a quarter of a century’s experience to make some of the most joyous and emotionally heartfelt dance music in recent memory. ‘Incapable’ felt like floating on a cloud, ‘We Got Together’ was a psychedelic disco anthem, while opener ‘Simulation’ was a monolithic, deep house banger par extraordinaire. (EB) (LISTEN)

17) Laura Marling – Song For Our Daughter (Chrysalis / Partisan)

Laura Marling Song For Our Daughter

Both mannered and uncompromising in that effortless way that has characterised Laura Marling’s work for over a decade at this point, Song For Our Daughter was the first album she’s written since turning thirty. Naturally, that brought forth a number of new themes to her music, specifically considering the future and how she might raise a hypothetical daughter, what challenges that child could face, what might change and what would stay the same. Released just a few weeks into the lockdown, those themes felt particularly prescient, and its trans-Atlantic mixture of dusty country folk and English finger-picking styles was a perfect setting. (EB) (LISTEN)

16) Tame Impala – The Slow Rush (Island / Modular)

Tame Impala The Slow Rush

No one can doubt Kevin Parker’s knack for writing a great melody, nor his now infamous detail-oriented, obsessive production. The Slow Rush delivered on both ends, being as much a treat for Tame Impala fans (or really, just fans of a solid a melodic line) as it is a masterclass for producers. Whilst it may not have possessed the immediate emotional grip factor of 2015’s masterpiece Currents, it still pulled you in with its excellent hooks and the ever-so relatable and familiar themes of the unstoppable passage of time. (Ellie Wolf) (LISTEN)

15) Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 4 (Jewel Runners / BMG)

Run The Jewels RTJ4

Were Run The Jewels ever irrelevant? Social and political commentary have been infused into their brand of hip-hop since their dawn, but RTJ4 shows us that these problems haven’t been solved yet. Killer Mike and El-P deliver bars and beats that combine everything great about their past three records – clever lyricism, creatively composed instrumentals, and the ugly truth of oppression. From the rage against the money machine on ‘JU$T’ to the lyrics in ‘Walking In The Snow’ that chillingly reflect the death of George Floyd, these messages resonate harder than ever before. What RTJ4 does best is further prove the musical power of the duo as well as demonstrate that injustice is not just alive and well in America, but thriving. (AC) (LISTEN)

14) Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension (Asthmatic Kitty)

Sufjan Stevens The Ascension

Sufjan Stevens’ first return to the full-length LP since the achingly beautiful Carrie & Lowell delivered both exactly what you would expect from him at this point in his career, and not at all. The Ascension combines his soft vocal inflection and a deep sense of melancholy, familiar to anyone who has listened to his stripped-down folk records such as the aforementioned, with electronic intricacies and dense arrangements that harken back to his cult favourite, The Age Of Adz. Overall, taking a slightly overtly angrier turn in theme and mood (or, at least, what would be considered angry by Sufjan standards), the album sounds as familiar as it does revelatory, proving an excessively satisfactory and interesting listen for fans and newcomers alike. (EW) (LISTEN)

13) Protomartyr – Ultimate Success Today (Domino)

Protomartyr Ultimate Success Today

The quasi-Biblical references and images of civil collapse in disorder scattered throughout Protomartyr’s Ultimate Success Today had many discussing the possible predictive powers of the band’s frontman and lyric writer, Joe Casey. But that speculation somewhat overshadowed the brilliance of the Chicago outfit’s fifth record, a slate-grey furnace of post-punk creativity. Absolutely every aspect of it representing a finessed improvement on all of its (already impressive) predecessors, containing raging career highlights like ‘Michigan Hammers’ and ‘Processed By The Boys’. (EB) (LISTEN)

12) Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas (Warner / Nonesuch)

Lianne La Havas

Lianne La Havas’ first project in five years saw her at an artistic peak, as immense vocal talent and intimate lyricism coalesced to create her most thematically cohesive and accomplished album to date. Lianne La Havas tenderly embodies the vast spectrum of emotions involved in a particularly tumultuous break-up, yet never falls into clichéd meditations on love and loss. Powerhouse vocal performances in both the opener ‘Bittersweet’ and the beautifully recast version Radiohead’s ‘Weird Fishes’ are striking highlights amongst lower-key cuts like the devastatingly poignant ‘Paper Thin’. On her appropriately self-titled album, La Havas channelled personal catharsis to construct the most authentic expression of herself to date. (JL) (LISTEN)

11) The Orielles – Disco Volador (Heavenly)

The Orielles Disco Volador

The Orielles stepped into new territory with Disco Volador, a record containing much influence from the sounds that shaped the ‘70s musical landscape, hitting a sweet spot between indie, funk, disco and psych-rock. On highlights like ‘Come Down On Jupiter’ and ‘Bobbi’s Second World’, they channelled the polyrhythmical grooves of prime-time Talking Heads and George Clinton P-funk and repurposed them for 2020. Any hints of difficult second album syndrome were effortlessly shrugged off, with the promise shown by phenomenal debut Silver Dollar Moment two years prior built upon marvellously. (JW) (LISTEN)

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.