16 incredible albums you might have missed so far in 2020

As we hit the halfway mark on the year, here are some musical gems -- released from January to June -- that may have slipped under your radar.

by Douglas Greenwood
30 June 2020, 3:00pm

Considering just about every facet of the entertainment industry felt like it ground to a halt around the middle of March, it’s quite mad that we’ve reached the end of June -- aka the halfway point of 2020 -- and have so many mega records to look back upon. As artists started to pause their schedules, laying low until the worst of the international pandemic blew over, some went into overdrive. Dua Lipa gave us Future Nostalgia (and thus, life) a week early. Troye Sivan scrambled out of hiding early to release an apocalyptic pop banger then dipped again.

In some ways, the music industry is split into before and after, the pandemic changing things exponentially. Still, there’s a collection of records that made their mark before what felt like the end of the world, and a few others who released projects into a landscape that made touch, dancing with friends, and large crowds consumed by loud music not possible. It’s bittersweet: we needed music to get us through this, but also can’t enjoy a lot of it in the way we’re supposed to. Still, that time will come once all of this blows over; when the clubs and venues reopen and we can remember what it feels like to not fear another person’s sweaty body. These albums are some of the best that have arrived in the past six months; ones that may have slipped you by, but are, in our opinion, essential listens.

Georgia – Seeking Thrills

Back in early 2019, London-born pop magician Georgia dropped a song supercharged by melancholy and euphoria in equal measures: “About Work The Dancefloor”. Nine months later, the magnificent record it was lifted from, Seeking Thrills, arrived. In a time when British pop music feels like a lost, unreliable space, here you have a record that epitomises everything that’s so great about it when things go right. Inventive, hook-laden, genius.

070 Shake – Modus Vivendi

“ENJOY THE TRIP LADIES AND GENTS TELL ME HOW IT GOES,” rapper 070 Shake told you, via us, back in January when her debut album dropped. And what a trip it was! Having made her name as the stand-out feature on Kanye’s controversial and concise ye, here, 070 -- real name Dani -- absconded the co-sign heavy traditions of hip-hop and built a world of her own that was cinematic, soulful and shape-shifting.

J Hus – Big Conspiracy

Called “career defining” by critics, and featuring appearances with everybody from Burna Boy to i-D cover star Koffee, J Hus’ masterful examination of British Black culture hit number one in the UK back in January. But for those from further afield who are yet to experience this man’s power, Big Conspiracy is the perfect introduction.

Ryan Beatty – Dreaming of David

Ryan Beatty’s debut album was a masterclass in repositioning: a kid sapped up by the Bieber-making pop machine absconding it to make a record that was freeing, original and rooted in his queerness. And yet still, Dreaming of David feels like an almighty ascent for the California-born Brockhampton collaborator: sensitive and accomplished; a robust, statuesque work of art.

Grimes – Miss Anthropocene

Grimes’ narrative nowadays is so often centred on the world that exists around her, rather than the work she produces. A shame, considering Miss Anthropocene, a world-building and frenetic left-leaning electronic pop record, is one of her best. Beyond the bullshit, she thrives, and this album proves that whatever is coming later down the line is going to be both unpredictable and impressive in one fell swoop.

Christine and the Queens – La Vita Nuova

Nobody does sadness and carnal energy coalescing quite as brilliantly as Christine and the Queens does. La Vita Nuova is a beautiful, trilingual six-track exploration of sex and love and all that lies between it. The French singer links up with Caroline Polachek on the title track, cries to herself on “People I’ve been sad”, and judges figurative distance on “Mountains (we met)”. It sparkles from every surface.

Conan Gray – Kid Krow

Bedroom pop’s angsty head honcho finally made his full length debut in March with Kid Krow, a collection of boisterous pop songs by a boy who’s deep in his feelings and proud of it. “Maniac” is the song you sing to the shittalker who can’t stop thinking about you. “Heather” is for everybody who’s embarrassingly in love with someone out of reach. Men in pop music seldom have the nerve to make songs as great as this. In 2020, Conan Gray is the gorgeous exception.

Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind

Yves Tumor’s borderline terrifying take on music continues to be fascinating and brilliant on this record, which followed in the footsteps of their critically lauded 2018 album Safe in the Hands of Love. Across 12 tracks, they flit from punk rock to shoegaze to funk to twisted soul. Purposely affrontive and fearless, this is regal multi-genre music that will confuse as many people as it will coerce. Yves Tumor continues to be a genius.

Laura Marling – Song For Our Daughter

One of the rare records that was pushed forward during the pandemic, Laura Marling’s latest continued her long standing reign on British folk music. A master songwriter, it sees her singing to an imaginary child she’s not yet had about the future; one that’s frightening and unpredictable. Mellow, soothing and still pristinely formed, this is Laura Marling’s best album in nearly a decade.

Rina Sawayama – Sawayama

What did we do to deserve a popstar as almighty as Rina Sawayama? From the moment we heard her first EP she’s been an i-D fave, but she came fully formed and ready on 2020’s Sawayama: a bold homage to old pop sounds twisted with the unexplored possibility of its future. Unpacking everything from her Japanese roots to toxic masculinity, it flits effortlessly from Britney-esque bubblegum to screamo, proving her undefeated pop chops are oiled and ready to wreak havoc on an industry in desperate need of her presence.

Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately

God, remember the days when you could experience love and heartbreak properly? Like, the burning desire to be closer to someone, or sobbing in their arms? Feels like that was fucking ages ago. Anyway, Perfume Genius is a master at articulating the nuances of queer bodies and relationships, and Set My Heart On Fire Immediately is as searing and brilliant as its name suggests.

Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated: Side B

What’s better than a Carly Rae Jepsen record? Well, as history has taught us, the B Sides of her biggest records! The pop star, famous for being amazing and having a predominantly gay fanbase, unveiled a whole record of new material with just 24 hours notice, and it contains some of the best songs she’s ever written.

Chloe x Halle – Ungodly Hour

Chloe and Halle Bailey are old hats when it comes to entertainment. They’ve acted and sung since they were kids, but their big renaissance moment came with the release of Ungodly Hour: a radiant sophomore record that painted them as the women they’ve become. Executive produced by Beyoncé (yes, Beyoncé!!), this soulful, harmony-driven collection of throwback R&B is one of the most polished records you’ll hear in 2020. To sleep on it is a sin.

Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

There are minor things in all of our lives that we dwell on, over and over, torturing ourselves to the point they seem bigger, and then we look up and realise the world is burning anyway. That, Phoebe Bridgers says, is the thread that runs through Punisher, her hugely emotive masterpiece of a second album. Diaristic and gigantic, exposing and elusive, it’s an album of beautiful contradictions that position Phoebe Bridgers as one of the most important songwriters capturing what it means to exist in the modern age. If the apocalypse is nigh, then thank fuck we have this as a soundtrack to usher us out.

Arca – KiCk i

If her self titled 2017 record was Arca’s scene-setting masterpiece, a haunting, brittle exploration of sound and its limits, KiCk i is its celebratory, party animal half sister. For the first time, we see the Venezuelan producer explore their gender in full view, but the traditional baggage of queer existence is reformed into something big and fun and beautiful. Arca’s talent is boundless; KiCk i proves that.

Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?

Before this record, Jessie Ware had experienced an industry shaping, listening to some of the right and wrong people until she wound up making pleasant adult contemporary. But deep down she knew that wasn’t it, so she threw out the rule book and made a dance-house record instead. Like a relic lifted from a 70s record box and dusted off, this shimmering, sexy, tongue-kiss-friendly collection of songs was co-written and produced by everybody from Kindness to Joseph Mount (he produced and wrote on Honey, btw) and Clarence Coffee Jr. If 2020 was the year pop music looked backwards, revisiting a smoky, sexy era of club music that has barely grazed the charts in the decades past, consider What’s Your Pleasure? its crowning jewel.

Christine and the Queens
Rina Sawayama
070 Shake
conan gray
best albums 2020