Here we are with the final installment of Discogs’ year-long look at the albums that you, the community, have told us are the most desirable from the first year of each decade.
It all started with 1970, when Led Zeppelin III was the surprise winner, and has continued until this grand finale. We have combed Discogs user Collections and Wantlists to find the 25 most desirable records of 2020.
Normally these lists would begin with a contextual look at the year being examined — what the world was doing, cultural shifts, where musical trends were leaning, that sort of thing. However, since we’re still in 2020 and, frankly, pretty freaking sick of it, there’s no need for that. It’s enough to say that this has been one of the strangest, most demoralizing, thoroughly dumbfounding years in modern history and it’ll be nice to see it go.
But isn’t it great that no matter how much the world crumbles around us we’re still gifted with one of the few things that makes it all bearable? That would be music (and tequila, of course, and probably Sun Chips).
There were a lot of great records released this year — and just imagine all of the amazing songs written in isolation that won’t surface until next year. Maybe that’ll be the delayed silver lining to the dark cloud of 2020.
Top 25 Most Collected and Wanted Albums of 2020
Right now, the idea of Fontaines D.C. is still more arresting than the reality, although the reality is pretty damn good. The idea of a post-punk rock n’ roll band from Dublin is the kind of thing that makes fanboys drool regardless of the music, and when Fontaines D.C. is on its game, the band is exhilarating. The best songs on A Hero’s Death, such as the crushing title track, are certified amazing; the lesser songs are unfocused to the point of annoyance.
Nostalgia and pop music will forever walk hand-in-hand into the sunset, and never more so than on Kylie Minogue’s 15th studio album. More slavishly devoted to olden times than Dua Lipa’s like-minded Future Nostalgia (more on that below), Minogue channels and recreates every forgotten disco record you rescue from a thrift shop and fall in love with.
Damon Albarn’s borderless project has lasted seven albums and nearly 20 years. His latest is perhaps the most free-form of the lot. Song Machine Season One collects tracks made for Song Machine, a web series of lyric videos that feature an unlikely assortment of guest stars. Robert Smith, Elton John, Schoolboy Q, and St. Vincent are among those who contribute to this genre-distorting gem.
Full disclosure: I did not make it to the end of this double-live album recorded with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Why? Because it’s a double-live album recorded with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, which is a nice way of saying it’s a bloated mess, or maybe BloatedMess2, as it’s essentially a remake of the 20-year-old S&M, also recorded with the SFSO.
Manson has never been funnier than on We Are Chaos, which is probably the best socio-Satanist-shock-rock comedy special ever recorded. “Now I’m a bee, the king bee, and I will destroy every flower/And I will cover the Earth in honey and everyone will eat themselves.” Hilarious. The album also rocks pretty hard, and “Don’t Chase the Dead” is the best Alice Cooper song in at least 25 years.
Mac Miller’s final album, released after his 2018 accidental overdose death, is a curious mix of styles that are held together by his personality as much as anything. There’s an introspective slant to many of the songs, and some actually lean more toward a singer-songwriter approach, which might not sit well for fans who were more into Miller’s hip-hop records.
For fans of American metal and/or nu-metal, Deftones has proven itself reliable and, occasionally, surprising (and sometimes dumb AF, TBH, IMHO). Ohms perfectly reflects the band’s twin creative catalysts — the elegant Chino Moreno and the boneheaded Stephen Carpenter — and they combine to deliver a mix of gentleness and destruction.
Khruangbin is the only second band to place two albums on this list. The Texas Sun EP is more grounded compared to the almost hallucinogenic Mordechai, which is at No. 3. Leon Bridges’ voice ensures a more soulful vibe but Khruangbin can’t help stretching and slowing the groove until the songs achieve full dreaminess.
It was perhaps the most Bob Dylan thing ever when he teased the release of Rough and Rowdy Ways with a 17-minute single, “Murder Most Foul,” that traces the rise of rock n’ roll as a cultural force and much-needed salve in times of crisis. The entire album, Dylan’s first of original material since 2012, is filled with dark humor, celebratory eulogies, and sparkling performances anchored by Dylan’s wonderfully broken singing.
Pearl Jam isn’t the only grunge-era band still recording, but it’s certainly the biggest. Frequently dismissed in the 1990s as posers, Pearl Jam has responded by maintaining its integrity and building a career that has stood the test of time and endless cultural shifts. Gigaton is heavy on the bangers but leaves plenty of room for left turns, like the bouncy “Dance of the Clairvoyants” and “Buckle Up,” a disturbing lullaby.
The Weeknd’s 2012 debut, a three-disc collection of mixtapes called Trilogy, was audacious at 30 tracks. Uneasy but fascinating, it was an effective combination that has largely eluded him until After Hours. These tracks move with a languorous determination powered by dark drama, although the innate seriousness of the mood is sometimes shattered by truly silly lyrics.
Completed in 1975 for release that year, Homegrown was ultimately considered by Neil Young to be far too depressing to drop as it chronicled his crumbling relationship with Carrie Snodgrass. A stylistic cousin of the artist’s acoustic records, Homegrown is more emotionally thorny than Harvest and more rustic than American Stars ‘n Bars (with which it shares two tracks). Well worth the 45-year wait.
The most assured Strokes album in years is filled with pleasures large and small. The New Abnormal oozes with confidence, which is most evident in how effortlessly the band cruises through a rich, supple set of modern pop. Far less self-conscious than the band’s overrated debut, this is the sound of a band comfortable in its own skin and willing to push itself sonically and lyrically.
The pandemic has been around 99% crap but at least one good thing came out of it: Taylor Swift has been in lockdown, which means no new boyfriends, which means no new songs about ex-boyfriends. Instead, she turned to her imagination and delivered perhaps her finest record in Folklore. Written largely in virtual collaboration with The National’s Aaron Dessner, It’s filled with richly melodic low-key gems that tell a variety of sharply-realized stories.
Who could have imagined a day when an Ozzy Osbourne record would include the credits “feat. Elton John” and “feat. Post Malone”? Or one co-written by a Top 40 pop producer like Andrew Watt? Now that’s satanic. Approached with an open mind and sense of humor, Ordinary Man has its charms. There’s a cartoonish quality to the entire record, almost like it was meant as a soundtrack to a Tales from the Crypt movie, but much of it reaches for something it can’t quite find.
This isn’t an easy album. Some of it is straight-up unlikable — self-conscious, self-indulgent, more annoying than genius. Then again, it’s frequently almost unbearably astonishing, with Fiona Apple finding that rare intersection of inspiration, invention, and brutal honesty. You won’t hear anything else like it, this year or next, which is more than enough to recommend it to anyone who loves the sound of envelopes being pushed or crushed.
The most important instrument in the Idles is singer Joe Talbot’s anger, which he uses like a jackhammer. But that anger is also the band’s greatest stumbling block, as it too often feels like Talbot has decided to simply rail against everything imaginable, which ultimately dilutes any message. Idles is a thrilling band regardless, and someday it’s going to release an undeniable masterpiece of post-punk righteousness.
During the hellscape that has been 2020, some friends and I have been having a weekly online record night using the JQBX app. Inevitably, someone will play a stone-cold 1980s R&B jam that brings down the virtual house. Dance and pop music of the ’80s is the central inspiration behind Future Nostalgia and Dua Lipa, along with a small army of producers, effortlessly nail the vibe.
A natural storyteller with a biting wit and a gift for seeing into dark corners, Phoebe Bridgers reflects a songwriting tradition that reaches back to the classic singer-songwriters while being thoroughly modern. She blends live instrumentation and electronics in ways that make perfect sense, neither dominating the mix, but the spotlight is always on her expressive voice and densely beautiful lyrics.
Run The Jewels’ Killer Mike and El-P have never looked the other way when it comes to the injustice that’s built into American society, but after four years of neofascism masquerading (barely) as a presidential administration they come out with a more targeted rage on RTJ4. Over beats that pulse like blood pumping from a bullet wound, they deliver the kind of truths that neither the hard-right nor the far-left wants to hear. “I promise, I’m honest, they coming for you the day after they coming for me,” Mike says on the powerful “Walking in the Snow,” and it feels like a prophecy that has every chance of coming true.
There’s no way this record should exist, and it’s glorious. Just a few years ago, AC/DC was facing the impending death of founder Malcolm Young, the retirement of bass player Cliff Williams, the arrest of drummer Phil Rudd, and singer Brian Johnson was going deaf. And yet here we are, all of the living returned to pay homage to Malcolm with Angus Young leading the way. The songs all come from Angus and Malcolm’s songwriting vaults and the performances come straight from the heart.
Khruangbin loves trying on different cultural influences, so to speak, exploring new musical influences on each album. Mordechai embraces a few elements from the band’s prior catalog but its prevalent vibe is low-key, late-night funk, the kind that sounds like it was made using a codeine drip and a bass player who never sleeps.
Even during the glory days of 1980s small-label rock, when the Replacements walked the Earth like fractured gods, there was no denying the power and glory of Chicago-born house music. Lady Gaga uses house as the template for Chromatica, and she and co-producer BloodPop perfectly channel the music’s ability to flood a dance floor with endorphins and giddy, unbridled hope.
Kevin Parker continues to be a force as Tame Impala’s catalog grows, but The Slow Rush does come off as a minor letdown after a five-year wait following the mind-expanding Currents. It’s still a beautiful ride, sometimes downright glorious, with shimmering pop filtered through Parker’s seemingly boundless curiosity and creativity. Listen on headphones to get the full impact of Parker’s elastic production.