XS Noize: ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2020 – Top 20

There isn’t much to say about 2020 that hasn’t already been said somewhere – it was chaotic, bizarre and unprecedented across all walks of life, and music in all its forms was hit hard. Sliding album release dates postponed and cancelled tours, the rise of the live-streamed show as a substitute for in-person experiences; every step was taken as a measure to navigate uncharted territory.

We sure did get some great music out of it all, though, and while we at XS NOIZE are pining as hard as the rest of you for live music as we knew it to make a return at some point next year, the recorded medium was as vital to us as it has ever been. Without further ado, here are our top 20 favourite albums of the year.

1. Doves – The Universal Want – Review

It’s been well worth the long wait. Doves have returned refreshed and rejuvenated with a lot more up their collective sleeves. The Universal Want fires on all cylinders and does not disappoint. Music has the ability to express so many emotions at once, this does that, and then some – The Northern souls are back.


2. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher


3. Levellers – Peace – Review

As with each Levellers LP Jez provides outstanding artwork with colours similar to those used on the Zeitgeist LP in a style reminiscent to his “King of All Time” piece that featured on the ‘What a Beautiful Day’ single. With honest, non-preaching social commentary and being a collective uplifting force for good; Peace is likely to become a lean and filler-free Levellers classic to existing and new listeners.


4. Erasure – The Neon – Review

The Neon is ‘Erasure’ personified, bright, colourful and electric – in fact, its that bright and electronic it should have an honourary place in Times Square or Shinjuku! The arrangements are sparse giving space for sounds to breath and don’t suffer from the need to clutter, and for the majority, this offering is energetic, upbeat and full of life. It may seem more heavily ’80s influenced and contains some not unfamiliar Vince post-1989 sounds and some twee lyrics. However, the trademark hooks are still present, and it’s unmistakably Erasure who are still on top of their game after 35 years.


5. Humanist – Humanist – Review

‘Humanist’ really captures the essence of our complex human endeavour with a stark realisation of the answers we endlessly search for and all of the struggles that this quest entails. As Marshall himself puts it, the music examines “…the ways we find meaning, the very liberation of the human spirit.” The album has real depth and authenticity to it, something that all artists aspire to. There is no doubt that the immediate credibility of ‘Humanist’ derives somewhat from the inherent collaborations on this project, however, tremendous credit must be given to Marshall for having the clear vision, courage and tenacity to execute it so well. An outstanding debut!


6. Taylor Swift – folklore


7. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia


8. Laura Marling – Song For Our Daughter


9. The Electric Soft Parade – Stages – Review

Stages ends with the sounds of children playing merrily and loudly together, allowing this LP despite its foundation and theme of suffering, mourning, loss and mental health to exit positively and optimistically.


10. James Dean Bradfield – Even In Exile – Review

As a concept album and another brilliant piece of education, it works wonderfully. It also shows that the reason James Dean Bradfield remains a legend in the world of British music is that he’s simply very good at writing songs. The songwriting on Even In Exile benefits from the freedom of making a solo record in a new context and minus the weight of writing a new Manic Street Preachers album.

Vocals, guitar and melodies all exemplary, the spaghetti western prog excursions a new avenue explored in awe-inspiring fashion. Repeated listens of this ambitious and rewarding album may be a real possibility for listeners.


11. EOB – Earth – Review

Earth leaves the listener pondering how that band produces such singularly identifiable music from 5 very divergent musicians whose tastes run the palette of music genres. Before the release of Earth, three of the five musicians in Radiohead have had successful solo creative efforts, and with this release, Ed O’Brien should easily join their ranks. I would love to find out if Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood can make it five for five; hopefully, time will tell. But in the here and now Ed O’Brien has come up with a noteworthy release that deserves the serious music listener’s attention.


12. Bartees Strange – Live Forever


13. Joshua Burnside – Into the Depths Of Hell – Review

Into the Depths of Hell is an amazing album. It has such grit, sorrow and weight yet it hits a nerve that’s joyous and heartwarming. After listening, all you will want to do is listen again. This will be an album that holds its place on the shelf for many years to come.


14. Caleb Landry Jones – Mother Stone


15. Deadly Avenger & Si Begg – Yokai


16. Faithless – All Blessed – Review

This album is a trip… It’s Faithless 3.0. We are ‘All Blessed’, and we need to remember that. Rollo & Sister Bliss as Faithless reaffirms this message continually on this record with their collaborations with new and old friends. Thank you for this message thank you for a return to your music. Welcome back old trusted friends, we still love you.


17. David Keenan – A Beginner’s Guide To Bravery – Review

It is fitting that among the first lines of the first track on A Beginner’s Guide To Bravery David Keenan references Samuel Beckett. The young man from Dundalk has produced a stunning debut album which bends and blurs the lines between music and great Irish writing.


18. Adrianne Lenker – Songs – Review

Above all, songs and instrumentals are defined by their warmth, simplicity, and sense of healing, filled with scattered poetry and glimpses of a life well-lived. In offering up this rare gift during such hard times as these, Lenker has chosen hope over despair – and this hope is something that all of us can be glad to share in.


19. Paul McCartney – McCartney III – Review

It is a wonderful thing to take in the sound of the most successful musician of all time crafting a DIY masterpiece during an unprecedented and unique period in human civilization. And it’s a wonderful thing to be on this earth at the same time as such a figure, who has surely given everything possible to popular music and yet is still giving so generously. On top of all that, McCartney hasn’t sounded this vital in years.


20. Moby – All Visible Objects

XS Noize: Albums of the year 2020 compiled by Gareth O’Malley from lists by Mark Millar, David Ham, Michael Barron, Daniel Lynch, SJ Sleator, Amanda Stock, Ben P Scott, Marija Buljeta, Sandra Blemster, Fionn Crossan, Jacob Thompson, Dan Volohov, Lee Campbell, Neal McClelland, Lori Gava, Randall Radic, Chris Snoddon

Xsnoize Author
Mark Millar is the founder of XS Noize and looks after the daily running of the website as well as conducting interviews for the XS Noize Podcast. Mark's favourite album is Achtung Baby by U2.

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