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Rob Sheffield’s Top 20 Albums of 2020

Folklore, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, and more

Rob Sheffield runs down the albums that kept him moving in 2020.

photographs in illustration by William Claxton, Beth Garrabrant, Parkwoord Entertainment, Fiona Apple

Music kept us moving this year. We depended on our favorite music like never before, to give us that jolt of human connection, to shake up our emotions, to keep us dancing on our own. These were the albums I loved best, the music that lifted me up, and pointed me forward. My favorites run all over the map stylistically, from pop gloss to indie rock, from rap to R&B to folk to disco. Some come from longtime heroes; some are by new kids; one is by Paul McCartney. But all these albums were something to celebrate in 2020 — and a reason to look ahead to the future. More than ever, “Have you heard this?” is the best way to begin any conversation.

From Rolling Stone US


Lil Uzi Vert, ‘Eternal Atake’

Uzi made it worth the wait for this one. The adventures of a hip-hop space cadet, floating through outer space, rising above the dystopian nocturnal haze, as if he’s using AutoTune to talk to sensual aliens.


Dua Lipa, ‘Future Nostalgia’

Whatever “New Rules” you brought into 2020, they didn’t take you very far. But Dua responds with the disco glitz of Future Nostalgia, bending a knee to Olivia Newton-John (“Physical”) or Gloria Gaynor (“Don’t Start Now”) or Madonna (“Hallucinate”). She dances through these songs with a pocketful of honey, and her eyes on a tomorrow where we might even look back with future nostalgia for right now. Bonus points for the viral video of Dua and Bernie Sanders discussing health care. I’d love to hear Bernie sing, “I can’t teach your man how to wear his pants.”


Jarvis Cocker and Jarv Is, ‘Beyond the Pale ‘

Like Winston Churchill during the Blitz, except a slightly better dancer, Jarvis rose to the crisis with the leadership we needed. The Britpop poet laureate returned with a new album of scathingly empathetic satires, Beyond the Pale, 25 years on from the Pulp classic Different Class. When his tour got axed, he took to social media to DJ his Domestic Disco parties and read bedtime stories. “House Music All Night Long” became an accidentally perfect lockdown anthem, a cabin-fever banger about sitting in the basement listening to disco (“Goddamn this claustrophobia/I should be disrobin’ ya”) when you’d rather be out on the floor, with the party chant, “One nation under a roof.”


75 Dollar Bill Little Big Band, ‘Live at Tubby’s’

The old-school live album made a huge comeback this year, filling the cosmic void in a 2020 when live music went 2112. 75 Dollar Bill recorded this show in early March, an ordinary night in the Hudson Valley, when nobody knew it was all about to crash; they put it up on Bandcamp in May, when nobody knew how long this would last. It’s a festive gig: power-drone guitar, plywood-crate percussion, friends sitting in on sax, bass, viola. The room crackles with energy, for modal trance grooves that stretch into double-digit minutes. You can lose yourself in this album, then return to the world recharged, maybe even a little less lonesome. Not the same as being there, but as close as we can get for now.


Waxahatchee, ‘Saint Cloud’

“I hope you can’t see what’s burning in me” is such a quietly effective line to sum up such a tempestuous album. It’s almost exactly 10 years since Katie Crutchfield wrote and recorded her first Waxahatchee album, American Weekend, a kid snowed in at her folks’ house in Alabama during a January 2011 blizzard. On Saint Cloud, she moves on down the road, as she ponders the passing of time, watches the lilacs drink the water, makes herself vows she can’t keep, and stumbles into moments of newfound clarity. Sad but true: “Real love don’t follow a straight line/It breaks your neck, it builds you a delicate shrine.”


Paul McCartney, ‘McCartney III’

Can you take me back where I came from? Brother, can you take me back? Paul McCartney wasn’t planning to cut an album this year, but he got stranded like the rest of us, quarantining on the farm, strumming his guitar to the sheep and chickens, until McCartney III spilled out. Made in lockdown — or “rockdown,” a very Paul thing to call it — it’s not as ambitious as his evergreen 2018 opus Egypt Station. (“Dominoes,” damn.) These songs are moments in time, captured to keep them from slipping away, because when you’re Paul, nothing redeems a lost day like singing a lazy song beneath the sun. Imagine being so in love with music you could write “The Kiss of Venus” with the same fingers you used to write “Blackbird,” 53 years later. Maybe even on the same guitar? An inspiration to us all.