Welcome to Part 4 of our super-sized Top 75 albums of 2020 list! If you missed 75-61, 60-51 or 50-41, click those numbers right there to catch up. They include Blackpink, Bruce Springsteen and Lady Gaga respectively, so you know it’s gonna be diverse if nothing else. This chunk of the list includes Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan (his 39th album in 58 years!), a double bill by Korean pop idol Taemin and the former frontman of metalcore band Dillinger Escape Plan’s solo debut. Our staff has… eclectic tastes.
40. Beabadoobee — Fake It Flowers – Dirty Hit – Chloe Catajan
Bedroom pop phenom Beabadoobee has officially left her digs. On debut record Fake It Flowers, the British-Filipina artist taps into her eclectic range of influences and busts out a full-fledged rockstar sound. While her affinity for ‘90s grunge and Y2K teen pop is evident, the energy powering through songs of self-identity, bad habits and lovestruck bliss is entirely Bea. Even through loads of chugging riffs or weepy orchestra strings, Beabadoobee’s confessional and unapologetic spirit shines. Her genuine love for what she does is incomparable, making her departure from her lo-fi roots feel natural and totally personal. Altogether, Fake It Flowers was an absolute breath of fresh air.
39. Jon Batiste & Cory Wong — Meditations – self-released – Rachel Goodman
At just 32 minutes long, Grammy-nominated Meditations is an album that takes you on a transcendental journey. It’s the perfect escape album for 2020. Funk guitarist extraordinaire Cory Wong, of Vulfpeck, paired up with Jon Batiste, the bandleader of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” The all-instrumental album was recorded over three days in New York. The album begins with the blissful 10-minute “Meditation,” which starts off sparse, but comes together at the two-minute mark with guitars and pianos creating an uplifting melody. From the jazzy “Relationships,” filled with pianos that soar into the air, to the sweet melodic guitar riffs on “Home,” the album is one in which you want to get lost.
38. Taemin — Never Gonna Dance Again: Act I and Act II – SM Entertainment/Capitol – Onome Uyovbievbo
Breaking out as a solo artist from the experimental K-pop group SHINee, Taemin delivered two-part album Never Gonna Dance Again Act I & II that sets him apart from his peers in the genre. From the rhythmic “la-la-la’s” on “Criminal” to Act I’s title track and the elongated vocal delivery on “Idea,” the 27-year-old South Korean artist has come into his own. The versatility of the genres featured across both parts of the album shows that Taemin is not limited to one specific sound but excels in each. Highlights include atmospheric ballad “Be Your Enemy” and Spanish-guitar-inflected “Waiting For,” which also features a trap beat. The songs alone tell only half of the story. That’s where the videos (check out “Criminal” and “Idea”) come to add more context about his growth as an artist.
37. Allan Rayman — CHRISTIAN – Republic – Roman Gokhman
Allan Rayman the man and “Allan Rayman” the persona are two different people and on his new album, CHRISTIAN, that’s never been clearer. The story is thematically based on the Christian Slater film “Pump Up the Volume.” In the movie Slater plays a loner who starts a pirate radio station where he can finally be himself. But there’s a third level of inception to the enigmatic music maker. The persona of “Allan Rayman” had created “Mr. Roadhouse” on previous records, as a more confident version of himself. In a roundabout way, CHRISTIAN is an album made by one of Rayman’s personas. The album crackles with scene-setters like the jangly “Road Warrior,” meditative mid-tempo tune “I Talk To My Cigarette” (with ‘80s synths and airy guitar alongside Rayman’s gruff yet syrupy vocals) and “Pretty Please,” which blends hip-hop beats with longing, soulful delivery. Meanwhile, garage rock bursts out of the gate on “Stitch.” While the album lives in the same universe as his previous works, it marks a stark difference in the creation process. Rayman worked with several producers, including Alex da Kid, who Rayman says pushed him to grow as a musician
36. Steve Earle and the Dukes — Ghosts of West Virginia – New West – Alex Baechle
West Virginia is known for beautiful mountains and luckless coal mining ballads. Steve Earle and the Dukes venture into that musical and economic heritage, exploring the hardships of the coal mining lifestyle through several American folk and rock styles. The record is gritty and persistent, with an undertone of defeated will. Earle’s downtrodden lyrics and the astute musicianship of the Dukes inhabit the subject matter admirably. The songs never come across as condescending or tacky, helped along by the loose jamming style of the band. Each instrument, including Earle’s voice, sounds loud and upfront. Energetic instrumental performances sizzle along with a clarity that captures the nuance and subtlety of live performance. The whole record sounds slightly overdriven, hot banjo and fiddle vying for primacy in the tumult. Earle’s convincing lyrics, authentically rustic chord changes and ragged dusty voice do justice to the subject matter and the region.
35. Bob Dylan — Rough and Rowdy Ways – Columbia – David Gill
Rough and Rowdy Ways by Bob Dylan captures the legendary artist as he eyes his musical legacy. His gravelly gravitas keys each of the album’s tracks as a largely somber affair, heavy on meaning and poetic allusion. The album moves through various musical moods, but Bob Dylan seems at home in all of them. Whether the tremolo-laden twang of “False Prophet,” the delicate and lilting “Oooohs” of “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself To You,” or the grim piano and strings that lead the listening through the nearly 17-minute funereal ode to JFK, “Murder Most Foul,” Bob Dylan seems dreamily at ease and catlike.
34. Aesop Rock — Spirit World Field Guide – Rhymesayers – Tim Hoffman
Aesop Rock’s obfuscated, elusive style of writing has cultured a following of inquisitive listeners, drawn to his abstract rhymes. In some ways, he has realized a multilayered concept album that escorts listeners through the dense, ethereal realms Aesop has conjured up as a sort of chronicling of his travels around the world. Throughout, Aesop ponders topics that have preoccupied his mind for a while, such as his anxieties concerning death and isolation to other esoteric and kitsch subjects.
33. Bring Me The Horizon — Post Human: Survival Horror – Columbia – Mike DeWald
Bring Me The Horizon’s first offering in its multi-part pandemic opus delivers immediate thrills. The album provides some scorching riffs and inventive songwriting. What’s even more impressive is that the record was recorded almost entirely under lockdown in the U.K., with band members recording their parts from home. The songs are urgent and speak to the immediacy of the moment. BMTH brings back the melodic elements of amo alongside the heavy ferocity of previous albums. Post Human: Survival Horror is one of the most exhilarating rock releases of 2020.
32. Greg Puciato — Child Soldier: Creator of God – Federal Prisoner – Max Heilman
Greg Puciato’s debut solo LP essentially takes a very screwed-up piece of rock music that has come out in the past decade and throws it into a blender full of Satan’s excrement. Turned off yet? Good. That’s what Puciato wants. The former frontman of Dillinger Escape Plan sees this record as the most honest expression of himself—a look into the dark crevices of his mind. To that effect, Child Soldier: Creator of God goes toe to toe with Dillinger’s most outrageous offerings, and sometimes goes farther with its mind-bending atmosphere. Some passages recall the bowls of noisecore and no-wave, while others revel in new-wavey pop music! The record realizes Puciato’s arctic breadth, essentially making him his generation’s equivalent of Mike Patton. Naysayers need only listen to his unbelievably rangeful voice.
31. The Cribs — Night Network – Sonic Blew / [PIAS] – Skott Bennett
You can tell a lot about a band by what kind of record it makes at the 20-year mark. If the band still has some fuel to burn, we get to enjoy some mid- to late career triumphs like Tattoo You, All That You Can’t Leave Behind or Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. In a parallel universe where all things are fair, The Cribs would be packing stadiums like The Stones, U2 or The Flaming Lips, but in our current existence (or simulation) we get a sparkly gem like Night Network. Against the backdrop of The Cribs closing out their second decade together and twin brothers Gary and Ryan Jarman turning 40—it’d be entirely forgivable if the band slipped into self-indulgent reflection or some kind of risky sonic reinvention and delivered a “very good” album. Instead, The Cribs did precisely none of those things and made a great one. Whether dabbling with Brian WIlson vibes on “Goodbye,” the shoegaze-glazed power pop of “Running Into You” or the more widescreen cinematic tracks like “The Weather Speaks Your Name” and “I Don’t Know Who I Am,” the band gives each song its own distinct palette. An album with this much variety that still hangs together in a sum-of-its-parts style is proof that after 20 years, not only are The Cribs here to stay, but they are just getting started.