L to R: I Break Horses, Oceanator, Bartees Strange, Moses Sumney, Jarvis Cocker, Phoebe Bridgers, Perfume Genius
Under the Radar’s Top 100 Albums of 2020
A Terrible Year Yielded Some Not Terrible Music
Jan 15, 2021
Photography by James Loveday, RayLego, Wendy Lynch Redfern, and Koury Angelo
So, 2020 was quite an uneventful year wasn’t it? Nothing much of note happened. It was pretty boring. But at least there were some decent records to liven things up. This is the intro to our Best Albums of 2020 list I wish I could be writing. Well… who wants life to be completely boring, but living through actual future history all the time has gotten quite exhausting. Depending on your age, you may have already experienced some living history, such as 9/11, but 2020 will go down as a particularly troubling year. You don’t need me to spell out why, but the two pillars were the COVID-19 pandemic and the most divisive presidential election in our lifetime. Many were financially affected by the coronavirus and the necessary lockdown that followed, but few more so than touring musicians, as venues across the world were forced to shut down most of the year (and some will never reopen their doors). At the outset of COVID-19 several notable albums were postponed a few months in hopes that things would improve, but it quickly became clear that touring wasn’t coming back any time soon and they were released anyway. There are probably some amazing finished albums that were going to come out in 2020, but were never announced and have been shelved until live music returns (hopefully later this year, now that the vaccines are very slowly rolling out). And yet 2020 was still filled with aural delights, including some creative full-lengths written and recorded while under quarantine.
Before I present Under the Radar’s favorite albums of 2020, I will fully acknowledge that we are late to the year-end party. While I don’t totally understand why some websites insist on posting their best of the year lists prematurely in late-November or very early in December—simply to be first and get more clicks, but without being able to consider any albums that might be surprise-released later in December—I’m aware that mid-January is also a bit too tardy. We have actually been working on this list since November and had intentions of getting it up by late-December, but various factors and other projects derailed those plans. And we also take great care to get our best albums ranking right each year, so it does take a lot of time to finalize everything and get new blurbs written for each of the Top 50 albums.
For list nerds, here’s how it’s done: Each of our writers and editors are encouraged to turn in a list of their favorite 45 albums of the year. Each person’s number one album counts for 45 points, with their number two getting 44 points, and so on down to their number 45 getting one point. They are also allowed to submit up to 15 honorable mentions that count for one point each. In order for an album to make the final list it’s got to be picked by at least three different writers, to give a true consensus, and each album also gets extra points for the number of people who voted on it. Almost all of the albums in the Top 50 were picked by at least four or five people, each of the Top 10 were all picked by 12 or more people, and our number one album was chosen by 17 different contributors. Overall, 22 of our writers and editors (including myself and my Co-Publisher/wife Wendy Lynch Redfern) weighed in. Our Top 100 Albums of 2020 represents Under the Radar’s 2020 coverage very well, with many being artists we interviewed and/or reviewed favorably last year and our Top 2 being the two artists who appeared on the cover of our last print issue (it was not engineered that way, that’s just how the vote played out).
Here’s hoping that my intro to the Best Albums of 2021 list will be more mundane, although based on the political events of the last two weeks and the continued pandemic that seems unlikely.
Check out part 1 of our Top 100 Albums of 2020 list (featuring #1-60) here.
Check out part 2 of our Top 100 Albums of 2020 list (featuring #61-100) here.
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