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The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Including Bob Dylan, Lil Uzi Vert, Bad Bunny, Dua Lipa, and more

This year has already given us an emo-pop opus from Halsey, a welcome comeback from the Strokes, killer country from the Secret Sisters, an optimistic Future record, and great releases from up-and-coming artists like Moses Sumney, Beach Bunny, and 070 Shake. Here’s our unranked rundown of the year’s most noteworthy releases.

Charli XCX, ‘How I’m Feeling Now’

The adventurous pop singer’s latest was conceived and written during quarantine. “I’m so bored/Wake up late, eat some cereal/Try my best to be physical/Lose myself in a TV show/Staring out to oblivion/All my friends are invisible,” she sings. It’s definitely a sentiment for our times. But while songs like “Detonate” channel our fearful and confused mood, the album is no depressed lonely wallow. “Pink Diamond” is a pure dance-club banger, while “Party 4 u” combines intimacy, isolation, and longing as she sings, “I only threw this party for you/For you, for you, for you.”

Frances Quinlan, ‘Likewise’

As the lead singer of Philly’s Hop Along, Frances Quinlan has a peerless way of stopping you in your tracks with just a few choice words. On her own here, without the band’s clean classic-rock crunch to buoy her, she’s quieter but no less arresting. Some songs dance with Postal Service synths (“Rare Thing”), others stick with soft acoustic chords (“A Secret”), but all of them draw their power from Quinlan’s writerly vision, spinning fragments of dream, memory, and conversation into gnomic indie-pop gold. S.V.L.

Chloe x Halle, ‘Ungodly Hour’

Now in their twenties, the R&B sister duo move into decidedly adultish lyrical territory on their second LP. Mostly, though, the signs of maturity come through in their music. Chloe’s layered beat on “Baby Girl” is submerged but insistent, perfect for lyrics about going out into a worrying new world of adventure and independence. There’s a moving sense of strength through togetherness on the whole album, in the way their voices agilely glide through the songs but always end up finding each other. J.D. 

Neil Young, ‘Homegrown’

It’s taken 45 years since Neil Young was originally going to release Homegrown, an album he shelved because he felt it was too personal, but he’s finally ready to let us hear it. Of the album’s 12 songs, seven have never been released, making this the most revelatory of Young’s recent run of Archives releases. Homegrown was written during his split with Carrie Snodgress, an actress who was the mother of his first child, Zeke. Young channeled his pain into songs full of vulnerability, insecurity, and self-doubt, often suggesting a more ragged version of his country-rock landmark Harvest. A.M. 

Caribou, ‘Suddenly’

After the festival-ready R&B-house peaks of 2014’s Our Love, Dan Snaith steers back toward the weird and woolly, packing a triple album’s worth of twisted disco, sample-drunk collage, and psychedelic warmth into one 45-minute thrill ride. The highs (“Home,” “You and I,” “Never Come Back”) are as euphoric as any he’s hit in his two-decade career, but Snaith’s unusually forthright lyrics about love and grief give the album its staying power. It adds up to a rewarding payoff for anyone who’s been following Caribou since he was Manitoba — proof that an artist making their most “mature” album can still turn and face the strange. S.V.L.

Steve Earle and the Dukes, ‘Ghosts of West Virginia’

From a narrative standpoint, Earle’s latest record, Ghosts of West Virginia, is likely the most tightly focused and thematically driven collection of the songwriter’s career. Its inspiration was the horrific 2010 West Virginia mining explosion that killed 29 miners, and the album took shape as Earle signed on to provide music for a theater production called Coal Country. The songs on Ghosts feel mostly like a summation of the sounds and styles Earle has made his trademark since edging away from the country marketplace and toward singer-songwriter folk in the late Nineties. J. Bernstein 

Jehnny Beth, ‘To Love Is to Live’

Inspired by David Bowie’s Blackstar, Savages frontwoman Jehnny Beth set out to make her own defining statement with To Love Is to Live with open-diary lyrics and extraterrestrial electronic soundscapes that seem to blend together. The music transforms from sweet and cinematic to harsh and claustrophobic, and Beth’s voice similarly vacillates between acidic and lush, recalling everything from Nine Inch Nails to Patti Smith. Her lyrics are often uncomfortably revealing, as she examines her feelings about love, sex, sin, and violence, and how they define her. She’s a rare artist who thrives on overthinking everything (hey, she is French), and the album’s general grandiosity never feels obnoxious. K.G. 

Tony Allen and Hugh Masekela, ‘Rejoice’

South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela and Nigerian drummer Tony Allen — the man who gave Afrobeat its inimitable pulse — first met through Fela Kuti in the Seventies, but they didn’t record together until 2010. Following Masekela’s death in 2018, Allen and producer Nick Gold went back to the tapes, adding a few extra touches. The results, heard on Rejoice, are spare yet riveting, as Maskela’s plush lines dance over Allen’s hypnotic beats. There’s a chemistry and camaraderie here that’s impossible to miss. Allen passed away this April, which gives us even more reason to listen and appreciate his work here. H.S. 

X, ‘Alphabetland’

The iconic Los Angeles punk band’s eighth album overall and first with virtuoso rockabilly guitarist Billy Zoom since 1985’s Ain’t Love Grand!, is a rare animal among comeback records — it both feels like a continuance of the band’s classic Eighties sound and is actually good. They’re still obsessed with the same themes vocalists John Doe and Exene Cervenka have detailed eloquently in the past — freedom, fearlessness, and fun (and not always in that order) — in typically poetic lyrics. K.G.