best albums 2020
[Photos via NOFX, Nova Twins/Spotify, Machine Gun Kelly, Poppy, Bring Me The Horizon/Spotify]

If we could identify one incandescent moment to come out of the coronavirus pandemic, it would have to be having large stretches of time to listen to albums. Yes, in 2020, most of us binged on Netflix and chilled the best we could. But streaming services made access to music downright infinite. We could finally listen to those bands whose names we saw on shirts at the last gig we went to in February. We had the opportunity to reaffirm and discover.

What follows below is a smattering of great records that soundtracked our pandemic blues. We had some basic rules. No “hits” compilations or reissues. No EPs, either because if we had the time to listen, bands certainly had a clear schedule to deliver groups of nine songs or more. 

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Those nationwide lockdowns also helped us psychically reinvest in our music scene. How many so-called “music fans” decided to stay home last year when practically every band on our devices could still tour? This year, we had the time to actually listen to entire songs. Sure, TikTok is fun. But reducing culture to mere song parts says volumes about how we react, embrace and enjoy the art that’s out there. And that art takes the form of codified genres and new disruptive hybrids.

Here are the records that colored our quarantine, soundtracked our seclusion and made us get stupid with joy. And when you hear somebody whine and moan about how there’s “nothing good anymore,” just laugh at them. Because they’re really confessing that they’re out of the loop. And really, it’s a pretty fucking large one to ignore…

The 1975 – Notes On A Conditional Form

THE 1975 best albums 2020

If you’ve been online (all the time) this year, there’s a slim chance you missed this massive, earth-shattering release from Matty Healy and company. It fuses everything the 1975 have built their career on and more: Auto-Tune goodness, orchestral tracks, ’80s power ballads, pop-punk throwbacks reminiscent of their Drive Like I Do days and a genuine interest in outdoing themselves yet again. With NOACF, the four-piece broke their own rules for synth-pop excellence, pieced them back together, shredded them to bits again and gave us one of the best records of the year.—Brenton Blanchet

All Time Low – Wake Up, Sunshine

ALL TIME LOW best 2020 albums

Despite the chaos that is 2020, All Time Low encountered milestone after milestone in this otherwise bleak year and offered fans light with their appropriately titled eighth album, Wake Up, Sunshine. This record perfectly encompasses both their punk-rock past with So Wrong, It’s Right vibes in the title track, all while showing immense growth and their branching out into indie-pop realms (“Favorite Place” featuring the Band CAMINO). However, beyond showing their range, the band proved that they’re true chart-topping rock stars who kept the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Alternative Airplay chart for more than 10 weeks, their highest peak position ever with “Monsters” featuring blackbear. Veteran ATL fans will feel a wave of nostalgia with “Basement Noise,” which recounts their humble beginnings before they took the scene by storm. Wake Up, Sunshine is energetic, introspective, dynamic and everything in between. All Time Low certainly delivered when we needed it most.—Maria Serra 

Anti-Flag – 20/20 Vision

ANTI-FLAG

Seventeen days into the year that changed everything, Anti-Flag released 20/20 Vision, one of the standout albums from their revered multi-decade career. This time-stamped thematic release powerfully eviscerates No. 45, his corrupt cronies and the administration’s hateful policies in an aggressive, punchy and melodic fashion. We wouldn’t expect anything less from Anti-Flag, but we yearn for more LPs like this one in the future.—Scott Waldman

Asking Alexandria – Like A House On Fire

ASKING ALEXANDRIA

If 2017’s self-titled was testing the waters with Danny Worsnop back in the fold, Like A House On Fire is Asking Alexandria throwing themselves in the deep end and breathing comfortably at the depths. As cinematic as it is unapologetic, their melodic 2020 incarnation made its intentions clear through the words of “Down To Hell”: “You can want what I’m not or what I was/I can’t hear you through the new sound.” Armed with the revolutionary “Antisocialist,” AA asserted that the same venom behind the likes of “Not The American Average” rages behind a new singalong guise.—Ali Cooper

August Burns Red – Guardians

AUGUST BURNS RED best 2020 albums

August Burns Red are one of the most consistent bands in metalcore, as well as the metal and hardcore “ingredients” that make up the collision subgenre. Their penchant for brutal breakdowns eschews the problem they often carry: overreliance that supersedes the need to write interesting songs. Nay, August Burns Red‘s mastery of ever-evolving melodic guitar riffs that practically sing keep things moving. On Guardians, they go heavier than ever before on deathcore-approaching “Bloodletter” and explore atmosphere on “Three Fountains.” The superhero theme is apt because these Pennsylvanians helped save metalcore from sinister synths and continue carrying the torch.—Bradley Zorgdrager

Bad Cop/Bad Cop – The Ride 

BAD COP BAD COP

Many versions of the punk-rock blueprint concentrate on being harder and faster and making the grand statement. On their third album, Bad Cop/Bad Cop project far more empathy than your typical punk emissaries. The songs on The Ride feel like snapshots of people who embody the slice-of-life vignettes. “Simple Girl” isn’t an overarching girl-power anthem. It’s about singer/guitarist’s Stacey Dee’s trip. Likewise, bassist Linh Le’s “Certain Kind Of Monster” isn’t a one-fingered salute to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. It’s an articulate treatise that focuses on the specific plights of people. Everybody is shouting platitudes. BCBC are making a faster path toward hearts without sloganeering. Now queue up “Community” and bask in their hope.—Jason Pettigrew

blackbear – everything means nothing

BLACKBEAR

Riding off the success of his career’s hottest bummer could’ve easily led to a rushed, pop-radio friendly gamble of a record for R&B/hip-hop mainstay blackbear. But he took his time. A year after touching down on the charts with a summer smash in 2019, blackbear gave it a home on his August release, everything means nothing. The record, however, is anything but a bummer. There’s synth-pop reminiscent of an early 1975 (“why are girls?”), acoustic ballads calling back to the heyday of ’00s punk vocal runs (“smile again”) and emotional anthems for cruising down the highway (“sobbing in cabo”). Everything may mean nothing for blackbear, but his fifth studio album is an indicator that he’s here to stay. [BB]

The Bombpops – Death In Venice Beach

THE BOMBPOPS

SoCal punk outfit the Bombpops went deep and hard into their psyches to create sunny, caffeinated songs inspired by dark subjects. Namely addiction, dead relationships and seeking a way out of these cycles. (Where do you think they got that album title, anyway?) The tandem guitar/vocal team of Poli Van Dam and Jen Razavi are tight and taut. But their gloves-off confessional songwriting (“Double Arrows Down,” “Zero Remorse,” “Sad To Me”) feels like a contemporary reading of the legendary BFF outlaw movie Thelma & Louise. The problem with wearing a mask is that you and your ride-or-die can’t watch each other sing along to the Bombpops. But if you love pop punk and your friends, you’ll certainly figure it out. [JP]

Boston Manor – GLUE

BOSTON MANOR best 2020 albums

GLUE marks a huge departure from the Boston Manor we’ve grown familiar with over the years. While the stark contrast between their new sound and old songs took a little while to warm up to, Boston Manor managed to branch out from the niche pop-punk scene into a new world of experimentation. From the aggression-filled “You, Me & The Class War” to the ominous “On A High Ledge” and the abrasive “Everything Is Ordinary,” GLUE has a little something on it for everyone and further proves that Boston Manor have no intention of ever playing it safe with their sound.—Rachael Dowd  

Bring Me The Horizon – POST HUMAN: SURVIVAL HORROR

BRING ME THE HORIZON

Bring Me The Horizon teased a return to their heavy roots for some time, and their 2020 output finally sealed the deal. Flanking the contagious and timely “Parasite Eve” with iconic collaborations from YUNGBLUD, Amy Lee and BABYMETAL, POST HUMAN: SURVIVAL HORROR delivered two EPs worth of storming content we could have never predicted. Combining the authoritative energy of Sempiternal with their tech-y amo infusions, you’d be hard-pressed to believe the same band conjured up the brutal, unforgiving offensive of “Kingslayer” and the electronic reflections of “Teardrops,” but one thing’s for sure: BMTH are back. [AC]

Code Orange – Underneath

CODE ORANGE

It’s clear that Code Orange have become the next leaders of heavy music through their explosive rise over the past few years. On Underneath, the band proved they were going to be anything but predictable. Their trendsetting metallic hardcore approach is still very present through jarring, off-kilter beatdowns while challenging both the status quo and themselves by infusing electronic, industrial, alt-rock and much more into their arsenal. The album sees Code Orange spreading their wings further than anyone could have really expected but stays true to their foundation and mentality as a group.—Joe Smith-Engelhardt  

Creeper – Sex, Death & The Infinite Void

CREEPER best 2020 albums

The sole positive aspect to the year that brought us COVID-19 was the triumphant return of the scene’s favorite grave-dwellers Creeper after a Ziggy Stardust-esque “deathonstage in 2018. Loaded with a commanding gothic narrative of an angel discovering the highs and lows of falling in love, Sex, Death & The Infinite Void saw them explore slick retro rock capabilities to tell their vivid tale through swirling melodies and swaying singalongs. Echoing inspirations from David Bowie to the Killers in their own inimitable, sensationally dark style, Creeper’s second era proved 2020 wasn’t a total write-off. [AC]

Dance Gavin Dance – Afterburner

DANCE GAVIN DANCE

Even after 15 years of releases, Dance Gavin Dance pushed out a unique tracklisting encompassing a plethora of styles on Afterburner. Experimentation between grooves embodied each song and beat, from Tilian Pearson’s echoing vocals in “Prisoner” to Bilmuri’s electric “Into The Sunset” feature. Taking it a step further from the progressive rhythms listeners recognize them for, the band dip into Latin and jazz vibes. The result (“Calentamiento Global”) is a burning hot salsa that gets your feet moving. As the band’s ninth studio album and filled to the brim with intricate riffs and eccentric harmonies, Afterburner is truly “One In A Million.”—Alyssa Quiles

Deftones – Ohms

DEFTONES

Balancing tranquility and ferocity has been Deftonesmodus operandi for years, and Ohms has everything a fan could want from the band’s later era. Through their mix of haunting calm and harsh brutality, they achieve a perfectly weighted record that explores the elements they’ve been perfecting since 2010’s Diamond Eyes with a veteran approach. They’ve taken enough time to experiment with their approach to now capture a pure sound that’s entirely their own and no longer hinges on crafting something new but rather perfecting what works. [JS] 

Dragged Under – The World Is In Your Way

DRAGGED UNDER best 2020 albums

Coming out of the gate with a massive kick in the teeth type of energy, Dragged Under conjure seriously infectious metalcore-tinged punk rock on their debut record. The World Is In Your Way is simultaneously nostalgic and fresh sounding, with a tone like the mid-2000s hardcore punk scene that has an extra punch packed into every riff. It’s an emotional, cathartic and high-energy album with loads of catchy hooks and beatdowns to return to over and over again. [JS] 

Ghostemane – ANTI-ICON

GHOSTEMANE

If an icon implies a defined symbol, a conventionally agreed-upon aspiration frozen in time, Ghostemane positioning himself as an opponent of that makes perfect sense. His eighth album sees an upgraded continuation of his body of work as well as an extension of heritage, with NIN, Marilyn Manson and Slipknot being the most prominent references. Which makes “AI” a smart choice of an acronym, which also puts a symbolic emphasis on expansive intelligence as his working mechanism so far and, quite possibly, his future course of action.Giedre Matulaityte

Green Day – Father Of All Motherfuckers

GREEN DAY

Try listening to this record without any preconceived notions of who Green Day should be and what kind of music they should make: You may be pleasantly surprised at the polarizing 10-track outcome. The band have been doing things their own way since the late ’80s, so why should they stop doing so now? Father Of All… explores many rock textures that were previously foreign to the band and truly deserves your time. [SW]

Halsey – Manic

HALSEY best 2020 albums

Halsey has every right to speak out about her Grammy snubs. After all, the pop singer and part-time punk rocker delivered her most personal season yet with 2020’s Manic. The record is a pop star’s confessional from one of the genre’s brightest. And it’s complete with the biggest tracks of her careerboth commercially and on the honesty-meterin “Without Me” and “You should be sad.” Just as genre finds itself imploding in popular music, Halsey is another culprit, mastering folk, hip-hop and whatever else she belts over throughout Manic. And with Alanis Morissette nodding her hat on an interlude, and Dominic Fike and BTS’ SUGA doing the same, Halsey highlights her admiration for music as a whole, and of course for listeners’ ears. [BB]

Hayley Williams – Petals For Armor 

HAYLEY WILLIAMS

If Paramore’s 2017 effort After Laughter was a taste of Hayley Williams’ pop influences, her debut solo LP, Petals For Armor, was the whole, full-course meal. But that makes total sense. Released initially in the form of two separate EPs this year, Williams helped fans digest the sonic departure in bits and pieces. And in all fairness, we fell in love with it even more as a whole. From the synthy staccato goodness of lead single “Simmer” to the explosive chorus of “Pure Love” to even that boisterous bassline in “Watch Me While I Bloom,” Williams proves successful in her independent pop exploration. And above all else, she proves a modern-day rock icon canand shouldwear the pop star hat better than most. [BB]

Higher Power – 27 Miles Underwater

HIGHER POWER

Even though Higher Power’s genre-melting 27 Miles Underwater poured into our ears all the way back in January, we’re still not over it. Blending surreal, Nirvana-esque melodic downturns with their hardcore heritage’s spitting through gritted teeth, 2020 definitely didn’t see this revolutionary second venture coming. Whether it’s the lulling “Seamless,” the dreamy confrontation surfacing through “Low Season” or the neon nostalgia of “Lost In Static,” there’s no contagious rock stereotype left unturned and clearly no boundaries this Leeds, U.K. outfit can’t break down. This year, we needed an utterly mind-bending album to take our minds off the chaos—thanks, lads. [AC]

Hot Mulligan – you’ll be fine

HOT MULLIGAN best 2020 albums

Hot Mulligan write lyrics that speak to specific problems in a person’s life with enough leeway to leave songs up to interpretation. And on you’ll be fine, the band showcase an array of tracks filled with raw emotions. “Green Squirrel In Pretty Bad Shape” puts forth a stagnant melody while putting emphasis on words such as “I’m so sorry.” The band also tackle difficult topics with tracks such as Digging In.HM built songs that have the ability to attach themselves to moments in a listener’s life, forming an intimate connection. Whether it’s an overwhelming feeling of happiness that fills a fan’s body or the sensation of nausea, you’ll be fine leaves a distinct imprint that die-hards will revisit well into 2021 and beyond.—Tabitha Timms 

I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME – Razzmatazz

IDKHOW

With the release of Razzmatazz, I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME made good on all of their promise. Here the duo of Dallon Weekes and Ryan Seaman deliver cosmopolitan grooves, sardonic commentary, weird genre splices and sonic in-jokes. You don’t need to be fans of their previous bands (actually, it helps not to) to pick up what they’re rolling around in. Spiked with ’70s glam affectations and early ’90s alt-rock eccentricities, Razzmatazz takes you forward into the past. Get in their time machine or end up lying that you did later. [JP]

IDLES – Ultra Mono

IDLES

Three records in and Bristol, U.K.’s IDLES are still maintaining extreme mania. On Ultra Mono, the quintet have seemingly doubled down on their original madness. Frontman Joe Talbot still rants like an afflicted homeless man with a Ph.D. in sociology: simultaneously surreal, scary and on point. In these dozen tracks, the band shore him up with both pneumatic drill precision and the occasional dark atmosphere (“A Hymn”). On “Danke,” the caustic guitars and tribal drums usher in a great sense of menace as Talbot yells, “True love will find you in the end!” IDLES’ sonic and vocal contradictions continue to make them one of the most exciting bands on the planet. You should feel what you’re missing. [JP] 

In This Moment – MOTHER

IN THIS MOMENT best 2020 albums

From their initial incarnation in 2005 to the release of their recent album, Mother, In This Moment have continuously found sonically innovative ways to reinvent both themselves and the wheelhouse of metal. Leaning heavily into spirituality, Mother granted Maria Brink and co. the opportunity to showcase a more theatrical and larger-than-life quality that In This Moment have embraced in more recent years. Clocking in at 54 minutes, the record oozes with the group’s classic darkness and anguish while merging subtle notes of softness and melancholy into each track, including the Steve Miller Band, Queen and Mazzy Star covers. From the first haunting chord on the interlude track, Brink confirms that she’s the mother of metal and the future of the evolving genre.—Paige Owens

Joji – Nectar

JOJI

Joji’s Nectar is a rare listening experience worth committing to—and quite possibly the brightest silver lining of 2020. Offering an 18-song manifestation highlighting Joji’s artistic maturity and growth from his massive 2017 debut record, Nectar is a truly exquisite album that affords no skips. Nectar defies all odds of the “sophomore slump” and works to redefine genre-bending across each track. The diversity of the album leads the way for every listener to find a track to sink into and effortlessly expands upon Joji’s atmospheric sound that gained him mass popularity on his first album. One full listen of Nectar will make it incredibly clear why it should be a top contender for your album of the year slot. [PO]

Joyce Manor – Songs From Northern Torrance

JOYCE MANOR

Culled from early material circa 2008-2010, Songs From Northern Torrance acts as a snapshot in time by resuscitating rarities that have never existed on a studio album. Capturing Joyce Manor’s beginnings as a two-man acoustic unit spitting bare-bones oddities, the compilation segues into full-band rumblings at the halfway mark (including the self-released Constant Headache EP in full). In either setting, frontman Barry Johnson sounds as formidable of a storyteller as ever, cramming sloppy suburban tales about suicidal admissions at driving ranges (“Five Beer Plan”) and staying in love with people who tell lies as easily as politicians (“House Warning Party”) into cuts that rarely dare to exceed two minutes. It’s a quick 15-minute ride—one that evokes all the feelings of heading back down to the basement or slamming your first tallboy in a stranger’s backyard.Neville Hardman

Knuckle Puck – 20/20

KNUCKLE PUCK best 2020 albums

Knuckle Puck did the unthinkable in pop punk and developed a definably unique sound. “20/20” and “Earthquake” show their ability to avoid obvious hooks and, in doing so, produce extra compelling ones. Lead single “Tune You Out” builds from an introspective first verse to a second that maintains the motif but is driven by chords, with Joe Taylor‘s vocals going from falsetto to blunt yell, all with creative placement. Their music has always felt particularly earnest, perhaps borrowing that from cousin genre emo, which permeates here. If they keep going like this, they’ll never need to worry about hindsight. [BZ]

Laura Jane Grace – Stay Alive

LAURA JANE GRACE

The cover of Stay Alive, the surprise album from Laura Jane Grace, offers no better likeness of all the joints we’ve snuffed out to muster through this garbage year. More in line with As The Eternal Cowboy’s slower cuts (“Cavalier Eternal”) than hot-blooded rock, Grace recorded the songs exactly how she’d rehearsed them in her Chicago home, with producer Steve Albini at the helm. As a result, she sounds freer than ever. Unencumbered by overloaded digital mixes that blend 20 different versions of a song together, the tracks came out more organic. This allowed Grace to wax poetic on seclusion, despair and holding out for hope in a way that sounds like she’s finally breathing again. Don’t worry: Her punk snarl still persists—it’s just quieted down, echoing a call for survival above all else. [NH]

Loathe – I Let It In And It Took Everything

LOATHE

From a distance, it may seem like an elegant network connecting hardcore, shoegaze, black metal and djent like little dots on a map. Zooming in, it starts feeling like getting plugged into multiple storylines that merge into a fully immersive RPG experience. Three years after their debut, Loathe came back with a sonic equivalent of a roller coaster ride across surrealistic, Deftones-esque soundscapes while taking sudden turns and making deep dives into groovy down-tuned distortions while lyrically exploring the terrors of the human condition. For Loathe, it was also an explosive breakthrough from Liverpool’s metalcore underground to mainstream recognition. For the rest of us, it will remain as a memo about how powerful of an escape this type of music can be. [GM] 

Machine Gun Kelly – Tickets To My Downfall

MACHINE GUN KELLY best 2020 albums

Pop-punk purists have had a lot of thoughts about Machine Gun Kelly jumping into the genre with the release of Tickets To My Downfall. But with rock influences blended throughout his previous four full-lengths, the transition was only a matter of time. With Travis Barker producing, MGK continued to close the gap on genre expectations with a stacked list of collabs featuring Halsey, Trippie Redd, blackbear, iann dior, the Used’s Bert McCracken and YUNGBLUD. While each track on the chart-topping album will have you air-drumming even harder than the last, you’re missing out if you think that’s all TTMD and its deluxe cut have to offer. A slew of powerhouse singles (“bloody valentine,” “concert for aliens”) and underrated anthems (“drunk face,” “jawbreaker”) are accented by soul-baring lyrics as well as emotional tributes to MGK’s daughter, Casie (“play this when i’m gone”), and late father and aunt (“lonely”) for a well-rounded release that’s paving the way for the future of the genre.—Rachel Campbell

Marilyn Manson – WE ARE CHAOS

MARILYN MANSON

If anyone could save us from the insanity of 2020, it’d be Marilyn Manson. No less hypnotically menacing in his eleventh studio sensory onslaught, the “God Of Fuck” returned with WE ARE CHAOS to brighten the prospects of a disastrous year with melodic narratives. Armed with the movie soundtrack-esque “DON’T CHASE THE DEAD” and industrial nostalgia of “INFINITE DARKNESS,” you’d be forgiven for thinking this was just another Manson album—that is, until the title track broke Manson’s previously aggressive facade for a surreal singalong we haven’t seen the likes of since Eat Me, Drink Me. [AC]

Movements – No Good Left To Give 

MOVEMENTS

Following the warm reception of their 2017 debut, Feel Something, it was clear Movements had some big shoes to fill when it came to their sophomore release. Rather than cracking under the pressure, however, Movements managed to create a harmonious piece of work that truly explores what it means to exist. From the nostalgic punk sounds reminiscent of their Outgrown Things days on “Tunnel Vision” to the somber poeticism on “Don’t Give Up Your Ghost,” there’s rarely a moment on No Good Left To Give a 20-something won’t identify with. With No Good Left To Give, Movements prove once again that their music is a permanent solace listeners can turn to when life reaches its darkest points. [RD]

NOFX/Frank Turner – West Coast Vs. Wessex

NOFX FRANK TURNER best 2020 albums

What could’ve become a bro-laden shits ’n’ giggles project actually turned out to be a wonderfully inspired mutual admiration society. Esteemed SoCal punk wise guys NOFX took on their favorite tracks by U.K. favorite son Frank Turner, who then returned the favor. West Coast Vs. Wessex sports a great tracklisting and even greater interpretations. Exhibit A: Fat Mike rearranging “Thatcher Fucked The Kids” into a sweet ska jam. Exhibit B: Turner’s take on NOFX’s “Scavenger Type” is the kind of aural amphetamine we’d like him to dose us with frequently. Honestly, any dream pairing of your favorite bands covering each other probably wouldn’t contain a fraction of the greatness West Coast Vs. Wessex has. [JP]

Nothing – The Great Dismal

NOTHING

2020 was hideous. But esteemed Philadelphia-based guitar unit Nothing delivered their fifth and best album. The feedback/noise/shoegaze elements that helped define the band toward more aggressive realms (read: metal, post-hardcore) blossom here for maximum bliss. The Great Dismal is not a record you listen to when you’re getting ready to go out or serving dinner to friends. No, you break plans and schedule Nothing into your life, allowing it to convey all the atmospheric vistas your imagination hasn’t yet considered. There isn’t a song on that last My Bloody Valentine album that’s as compelling as “Say Less.” This writer will fight you. Without a mask on, even. [JP]

Nova Twins – Who Are The Girls?

NOVA TWINS

London duo Nova Twins, aka Amy Love and Georgia South, signed to Jason Aalon Butler’s 333 WRECKORDS at the end of 2019 and broke out into the scene in a brilliant way with their debut album, Who Are The Girls? The two have been cranking out heavy, bass-laden tracks since 2016 but hit their stride with sludgy rock bangers such as “Taxi” and “Undertaker.” Nova Twins are definitely experimental and not afraid to mix elements with rave beats and airy vocals. No two songs are alike, but each one’s carefully inspired beat will make you feel completely badass. This roller coaster of a record is a spectacle to behold, with their powerful personalities showing through in each lyric and out-of-this-world songwriting sure to bring a much-needed refresher to the heavy rock scene. If you don’t know them by now, you’ll see them headlining shows in no time, and they’re just getting started. [MS]

Ozzy Osbourne – Ordinary Man

OZZY OSBOURNE best 2020 albums

A decade since his last studio output, Ozzy Osbourne’s 12th album saw the Prince of Darkness openly contemplate his own mortality. Using towering orchestral compositions to reflect upon the life and times of metal’s craziest icon, it’s almost as if we had to wait until the world nearly came to an end in 2020 before we’d see Osbourne share the mic with Elton John in the heart-wrenching title track. Ordinary Man was far from mundane in its approach—even flipping Osbourne’s two-way collaboration with Post Malone on its head with the ferocious “It’s A Raid.” [AC]

Palaye Royale – The Bastards

PALAYE ROYALE

Serving as the trio’s third LP, Palaye Royale’s The Bastards presents roaring anthems alongside reverberating odes. Just as they wished, the full-length takes you into another world. Behind ominous backbeats scattered throughout (“Tonight Is The Night I Die,” “Nightmares”) is an element of elegance drifting through each riff. The album would fit seamlessly in a black-and-red ballroom of rock ’n’ roll, where the patrons spin around one another, lost in the rhythm of each drum pattern and lyric. [AQ]

Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

PHOEBE BRIDGERS

Very few records have fit 2020 as snug as a skeleton onesie. Phoebe BridgersPunisher just so happens to be one of them. Bridgers has every 2020 state of emotion on lock in her 40-minute modern indie classic. There are heartbreakingly personal anecdotes like the apocalyptic closer “I Know The End” to remind us of current times. There’s the occasionally upbeat anthem, which just so happens to be about feeling like you’re living someone else’s life (“Kyoto”). And Bridgers’ ability to unite some of the genre’s best and most talented peers in members of Bright Eyes or her own boygenius is enough of a testament to the layers this record can offer if you listen close enough. We’ve been punished with much of 2020. But Punisher was our escape from one hell of a time out. [BB]

Picturesque – Do You Feel O.K?

PICTURESQUE best 2020 albums

Told through sonic hooks and thundering breakdowns, Picturesque share a story of heartbreak and love with their sophomore release. Do You Feel O.K? features a cohesive tracklisting not only capturing the frustrations behind toxic online dating culture but the vulnerability that comes along with finding and caring for someone. Elements found in hip-hop and trap to rock and hardcore make appearances throughout the LP. From Dylan Forrester’s “ATTN:”-grabbing guitar solo to the emotional ballad that is “Day By Day,” Picturesque’s mixture of genres created a new wave of sound in a time where some believe they’ve heard it all. [AQ]

Poppy – I Disagree

POPPY

Poppy’s I Disagree is an excellent record. But nothing excellent could ever come out of disagreeing with the nü-metal mogul and AP cover star. On her January release, YouTube’s greatest game-changer made the full-blown transition into rock hero. And it’s got everything. There’s a fiery title track of epic proportions. There’s “Sit / Stay,” which almost sounds like a monstrous and intense early ’00s Need For Speed cut minus its futuristic harmonies. And there’s even a song for those who want an easygoing ballad and a full-time escape into Poppy’s atmospheric universe in “Sick Of The Sun.” I Disagree gave us something we all could agree on in a year full of contention: Poppy is the real deal. [BB]

PVRIS – Use Me

PVRIS

Deep crescendos, lilting vocals and intimate lyrics are what make PVRIS unique to their audience. With Use Me, vocalist Lynn Gunn takes credit for her work, unleashes her anxieties and lays her mind out for everyone to hear. Using technical rhythms and danceable instrumentation to complement Gunn’s shining vocals, PVRIS occasionally revisit soft melodies (“Use Me”) and pump up the energy for others (“Dead Weight”). Reminiscent of 2014’s White Noise, Use Me is a sonic roller coaster crashing through waves of euphoria and peace. [AQ]

Sharptooth – Transitional Forms

SHARPTOOTH best 2020 albums

Sophomore albums are traditionally meant to be a nightmare, but vicious hardcore outfit Sharptooth are having the time of their lives. Transitional Forms created a neat soundtrack that made us all miss those events we once called “shows,” offering an up-in-your-grill onslaught exploring vocalist Lauren Kashan’s enviable range accompanied by bleeding atmospherics. While we’re unable to hear the incendiary “Say Nothing (In The Absence Of Content)” booming out surrounded by a snarling pit, we’ll have to settle for windmilling in the kitchen to the acerbic “Mean Brain” and two-stepping in the bathroom mirror to “Life On The Razor’s Edge.” [AC] 

Silverstein – A Beautiful Place To Drown

SILVERSTEIN

A Beautiful Place To Drown simultaneously flows seamlessly yet comprises a collection of could-be singles. Case in point? The electronic-driven “All On Me,” which succeeds in spite of its distance from their post-hardcore sound and comes complete with a Saxl Rose sax solo. Speaking of, Silverstein masterfully selected friends (Beartooth‘s Caleb Shomo, Underoath‘s Aaron Gillespie, Simple Plan‘s Pierre Bouvier, Princess Nokia and Intervals‘ Aaron Marshall) to guest, pushing songs forward without steering them adrift. Rather than give up their past or wallow in it, they embrace their role as trendsetting elder statesmen and toe the line—laugh lines and all. [BZ]

Spanish Love Songs – Brave Faces Everyone

SPANISH LOVE SONGS

Spanish Love Songs have always had a talent for voicing all of our self-loathing and anxiety. But on Brave Faces Everyone, they’ve cranked it to a 10, conjuring every last fear, addiction, panic attack and suicidal tendency that’s ever surfaced. Throughout 10 tracks, most of them eerily prescient, the band attempt to strike a balance between rich realism and a message of hopefulness trying to bloom through the cracks. At points, the songs cement the utter bleakness of our reality. Other times, they offer solace for our faults and failures, swearing that pain is a shared experience and we are never alone. By the album’s end, however, one thing remains absolute: “It gets harder, doesn’t it?” [NH]

Stand Atlantic – Pink Elephant

STAND ATLANTIC best 2020 albums

With their sophomore album, Stand Atlantic made us forget about the woes of 2020 with the confident, upbeat Pink Elephant. Aside from the classic pop-punk songs we’ve grown to know and love from the Australian group, Stand Atlantic experimented with their sound, implementing alt-pop synth tracks and heartfelt ballads to prove to fans that they’re growing into something all their own, and they’re not done yet.—Alex Darus

THICK – 5 Years Behind

THICK

5 Years Behind, the debut full-length from Brooklyn trio THICK, is the product of playful, abundant joy mingling with frenetic punk energy. Named after feeling like you’re lightyears behind friends who found success early on and need to catch up, the team of Nikki Sisti, Kate Black and Shari Page alleviate our anxieties about not being good enough. Across 11 tracks, THICK are accosted by change (“Sleeping Through The Weekend”), undermined by clueless men (“Mansplain”) and stifled by expectations (“Your Mom”). But through it all, they don’t sound like they’ll ever harden from their experiences, emulating their punk predecessors by singing tongue-in-cheek lyrics over perky melodies instead of grumbling on Twitter. [NH]

Tommy Lee – ANDRO

TOMMY LEE

Did anybody ever expect that Mötley Crüe’s drummer would reinvent himself as an electro/hip-hop stylist? On ANDRO, Tommy Lee made a solid record that will stretch your subwoofers, soundtrack your wildest adventures and flirt a bit with pop. Lee has a cadre of hungry MCs and Rock Star Supernova’s Lukas Rossi (remodeling Prince’s “When You Were Mine”) in tow, and the results are stellar. Not sure how many people who had tix for Mötley Crüe’s postponed stadium tour ponied up for ANDRO. But that’s not the point. The act of reinvention hasn’t sounded this inspired, quantized and badassed in a long while. [JP]

Touché Amoré – Lament

TOUCHE AMORE

Originally intended as a love album, Lament finds Touché Amoré penning their most accessible work to date. While 2016’s Stage Four was written during a period of intense mourning, Lament wasn’t about crafting a better, more anguished record. Grief cracks you open and changes you. With that, there will always be pressure to “move on” and “feel better.” For frontman Jeremy Bolm, it meant stepping back and reflecting on where his life is at instead. Featuring the poppiest song within their catalog (“Reminders”), pedal steel quirkiness (“A Broadcast”) and a collaboration with Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull (“Limelight”), Touché Amoré deliver resonating blasts of vulnerability that sound like the most fun they’ve had stretching their boundaries in years—and they’re all the better for it. [NH]

The Used – Heartwork 

THE USED best 2020 albums

The Used rarely shy away from tugging at your heartstrings, and the sonically and stylistically diverse Heartwork more than does the trick in the emotion department. Returning to svengali producer/songwriter John Feldmann after one record away (2017’s divisive effort, The Canyon) successfully reignited the fire with the band, and this release is certainly their most consistent front-to-back album since 2009’s Artwork. Hopefully we all can hear these songs live soon. [SW]

YUNGBLUD – weird!

YUNGBLUD best 2020 albums

With more than two years passing since YUNGBLUD released his breakout debut, 21st Century Liability, saying his next full-length was highly anticipated is an understatement. Embracing the tongue-in-cheek lyricism and relatability of his past releases, the musician takes it up a notch on weird! for an album that is anything but a sophomore slump. With everything from a punk-fueled banger (“strawberry lipstick”) to a sugary-sweet pop anthem (“cotton candy”), channeling the Beastie Boys (“superdeadfriends”) and crooning through a powerful ballad (“teresa”), YUNGBLUD explores both new sounds and lyrical themes with a fresh perspective. Coupled by his message of acceptance for both yourself (“god save me, but don’t drown me out”) and others (“mars”), weird! certainly has a track for anyone who’s willing to listen. [RC]