The 50 best albums of 2020

We’ve collated our writers’ ‘best of’ lists and crunched the numbers in a big old music ranking machine. You can’t argue with science

Well, what a year it’s been. I’ve been recycling that line – nicked and repurposed from chatty man Alan Carr – since prehistoric times, but of course the words take on a different hue in 2020. Would it be a stretch to say that music has been the only consistently good thing since March? Perhaps it would be unfair. With absolute sensitivity towards those who have suffered the worst of Covid-19, there have been shards of light throughout this bleak year. I don’t know about you, but I have found people to be kinder, to have a greater sense of perspective, to value one another more. Let’s hope we carry that generosity into the dawn of 2021.

And, yes, the music’s been banging too. There have been surprise albums, lockdown albums, politicised albums, divisive albums, unifying albums – and everything in between. Here are 50 of the best, in the categorically and objectively correct order.

Jordan Bassett, Commissioning Editor (Music)

nme best albums of the year 2020

Words: Carl Anka, Elizabeth Aubrey, Dhruva Balram, Jordan Bassett, Mark Beaumont, Rhian Daly, Georgia Evans, El Hunt, Charlotte Krol, Ben Jolley, Damian Jones, Ilana Kaplan, Natty Kasambala, Dannii Leivers, Sam Moore, Hannah Mylrea, Matthew Neale, Caitlin O’Reilly, Kevin EG Perry, Stephanie Phillips, Nick Reilly, Will Richards, Gary Ryan, Ali Shutler, Tom Skinner, Thomas Smith, Andrew Trendell, Jenessa Williams, Kyann-Sian Williams, Sophie Williams

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Rico Nasty, 'Nightmare Vacation'

50. Rico Nasty, ‘Nightmare Vacation’

In a nutshell: Experimental rapper comes good with her wildly eclectic, boundary-busting debut

An inspiration to many of today’s viral stars, Maryland’s Rico Nasty has always had a more polarising sound than that of her counterparts. After five mixtapes full of the experimental rap style she’s coined ‘sugar trap’, her highly anticipated debut album ‘Nightmare Vacation’ proved just how much of a musical chameleon and trendsetter she is. She told NME, in our September cover feature, that that the record would be “Sugar Trap on steroids”, Sure enough, Rico’s debut was a deliciously eclectic, packed with her signature gruff, sparkly synths and bone-crushing 808s, pushing the boundaries for rap music. K-SW

Key track: ‘Smack A Bitch’

NME said: “A refreshingly liberating soundtrack for a year that has felt a little like the end of the world.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Bob Dylan, ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’

49. Bob Dylan, ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’

In a nutshell: Gather close: the poet is revealing his – and America’s – multitudes

Defying those who considered him a spent force, Dylan’s first album in eight years was a late-period masterpiece, enfolding keen, precise wisdoms about mortality, culture and the lessons of history within an amorphous Americana tapestry thick with Southern heat and myth. MB

Key track: ‘Murder Most Foul’

NME said: “The musical equivalent of the Great American Novel. It would be foolish indeed to assume that ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’ is Dylan’s last word, but it’s certainly a historic address.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Grimes, ‘Miss Anthropocene’

48. Grimes, ‘Miss Anthropocene’

In a nutshell: Claire Boucher comes over to the dark side

Such is her refusal to be pigeonholed, after the blissful art-pop of 2015’s ‘Art Angels’, Grimes’ only option was to take a sharp left turn. Her fifth album was a much denser, more claustrophobic effort that gleamed like dark chrome, reflecting the looming climate crisis and turmoil in her personal life as her relationship with Tesla CEO, Elon Musk put her firmly under the celeb spotlight. This was Grimes trying to make sense of her changing world. DL

Key track: ‘So Heavy I Fell Through The Earth’

NME said: “It’s a fitting next step for an artist who’s built her reputation as someone who refuses to keep in step with the rest of the world.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Moses Boyd, 'Dark Matter'

47. Moses Boyd, ‘Dark Matter’

In a nutshell: Dazzling jazz bangers built for the dance floor

The long-anticipated solo-debut from Moses Boyd as producer and bandleader was well worth the wait. A melting pot of genres and styles where complex jazz rhythms sit alongside electronica, dance, grime, rock and pop, ‘Dark Matter’ was ambitious and experimental in scope, but never lost sight of the dancefloor. EA

Key track: ‘Only You’

NME said: “[On] an ambitious work full of scope, where Boyd continues to innovate and impress.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 IDLES, ‘Ultra Mono’

46. IDLES, ‘Ultra Mono’

In a nutshell: The Bristol punks puff out their chests with an unflinching display of intent

Filled with quotable lines made for bellowing back in mosh pits, ‘Ultra Mono’ was a call for unity from the monolithic five-piece. Created with LA producer Kenny Beats, the album saw IDLES move from a cult live act to mainstream stars, with a more polished feel to their righteous indignation. GE

Key track: ‘Grounds’

NME said: “[‘Ultra Mono’ is] a breakneck ride that roars through sarcasm, defiance, compassion and controversy.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Princess Nokia, ‘Everything Is Beautiful’

45. Princess Nokia, ‘Everything Is Beautiful’

In a nutshell: Harlem’s finest (temporarily) quits the Big Apple in search of spirituality and quieter waters – and lands on a peaceful groove

Birthed in Puerto Rico, away from the bustle of the cartoonish New York City that featured so heavily in her previous releases, ‘Everything is Beautiful’ explored the peaceful, fluid side to rapper Princess Nokia atop jazz licks and snappy production. It was the perfect foil to ‘Everything Sucks’ – the brash, rougher full-length she released on the very same day. EH

Key track: ‘Soul Food y Adobo’

NME said: “It’s safe to say that we’ve come to expect contradictions and curveballs from Princess Nokia.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 BTS, ‘Map Of The Soul: 7’

44. BTS, ‘Map Of The Soul: 7’

In a nutshell: Ambitious pop on a turbulent journey through self-discovery and self-acceptance

BTS have always proved themselves as a band with big ideas, and ‘MOTS: 7’ was no different. As on 2019’s ‘Persona’, they mined Carl Jung’s psychological concepts to produce a compelling collection examining their personal flaws and façades, voyaging through an inventive spectrum that offered gems as brilliantly diverse as J-hope’s Afro-beat inspired fiesta ‘Outro: Ego’, the fiery hip-hop of ‘UGH!’ and the combative, marching band parade of ‘ON’. RD

Key track: ‘ON’

NME said: “While there are some displays of darkness, ‘7’ is a monument to strength […] It arrives after the longest gap between BTS releases but, as an album full of big ideas, strong conviction and unguarded emotion, it’s more than worth the wait.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 The 1975, 'Notes On A Conditional Form'

43. The 1975, ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’

In a nutshell: Unfiltered boundary-pushing experiments made for contemplative headphone listening and dancing around your living room

This genre-hopping exploration veered between Burial-inspired electronica, stadium-sized indie-pop, venomous anarcho-punk, Four Tet-style house and even a Greta Thunberg-powered climate crisis call for action across its ambitious 22-song tracklist. ‘NOACF’ was the band’s most daring set to date and proved they are unafraid to experiment beyond their fans’ expectations. BJ

Key track: ‘If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)’

NME said: “Taking a wrecking ball to his (Matty Healy’s) own ego, the album has the feel of a soundtrack for a Disney movie about a rock star who can’t make his mind up what his band sounds like.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Sault, 'Untitled (Black Is)’

42. Sault, ‘Untitled (Black Is)’

In a nutshell: A stirring protest album that accompanied America’s summer of racial unrest

Anonymous British collective SAULT made two standout albums this year: [‘Untitled (Black Is) and, ‘Untitled (Rise Is)’]. The former – more a stomp-the-streets soundtrack than its dance-the-beats successor – was the group’s arresting address on Black identity. Released on Juneteenth, it excoriated police brutality with spoken-word slams and stunning soul numbers. CK

Key track: ‘Wildfires’

NME said: “The collective hold their cards out of view and keep the details private. For them, the music, always, does the talking.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Junglepussy, 'JP4'

41. Junglepussy, ‘JP4’

In a nutshell: It’s an acquired taste, but the open-minded will fall in love with this singular, scattershot triumph

It’s been a twisted year, and the music has followed suit. Take ‘JP4’: Brooklyn’s Junglepussy’s fourth album was filled with desolate and droning guitar synths like, alongside more commercial trap beats, constantly teetering between control and chaos. 2020 has felt disjointed, to say the least, and ‘JP4 tapped into the zeitgeist with all the mind-bending prowess we’ve come to expect from Junglepussy. KS-W

Key track: ‘What You Want’

NME said: “Only a few can do what McHayle does: she brings together a multitude of sounds, scoping multiple genres, and somehow the result is a cohesive and enduring record.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Halsey, ‘Manic’

40. Halsey, ‘Manic’

In a nutshell: Alt-pop star goes for the jugular with her most accessible record yet

After two fantastical concept albums, the superstar ditched the world of make-believe for something more soul-baring. Full of country, industrial and emo-influenced anthems, this record bounced between heartbreak and ferocious confidence with a real pop swagger. An ode to strength in vulnerability, ‘Manic’ was truly epic. AS

Key track: ‘You Should Be Sad’

NME said: Halsey has made a record that is as thrilling as it is vulnerable… Her best effort yet.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Dominic Fike, 'What Could Possibly Go Wrong'

39. Dominic Fike, ‘What Could Possibly Go Wrong’

In a nutshell: The hotly tipped, musically ambidextrous artist delivers on the hype

After inking a multi-million dollar record deal in 2018, the Floridian star-in-waiting might indeed have asked “what could possibly go wrong?” when it came to album time. The record’s knowingly risky title might now sound like the subtitle to our 2020 New Year’s resolutions, but thankfully in the case of Fike’s debut, nothing went awry. Wielding his trusty guitar and confidently flitting across genre, style and vocal pitch, Fike pulled off a breezy album full of ideas, ambition and promise, proving that he can go wherever he wants to from here. SM

Key track:Cancel Me’

NME said: “Comprised of 14 scorching, razor-sharp vignettes – some scarcely a minute long – this is the sound of a songwriter standing on the top of their mountain, chest puffed-out and giving it the biggun’.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Yungblud, ‘weird!’

38. Yungblud, ‘weird!’

In a nutshell: Optimistic emo ready for stadiums

Yungblud made a name for himself with angsty outsider anthems. With a global fanbase hanging on your every word, though, that anger turned to hope and this celebratory coming-of-age album was all about believing in your choices. The wonderful ‘weird!’ was inspirational, exciting and loads of punk fun. AS

Key track: ‘the freak show’

NME said: “On ‘weird!’ Yungblud’s never looked more dangerous, felt more inspiring or been more vital as he proves himself as one of the most important rock stars around.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Thundercat, 'It Is What It Is'

37. Thundercat, ‘It Is What It Is’

In a nutshell: The effervescent bassist pays tribute to the late Mac Miller across his most sombre offering yet

Stephen Bruner was rocked by the tragic death of rapper and friend Mac Miller in 2018 (“Bye-bye for now, I’ll keep holding it down for you,” he sang on the moving ‘Fair Chance’), and his existential fourth album saw him pare down the usual Thundercat exuberance somewhat. There were still jazz-tinged larks to be had, though: “I may be covered in cat hair, but I still smell good”, from the excellently titled ‘Dragonball Durag’, is a serious contender for lyric of the year. SM

Key track: ‘Black Qualls’

NME said: “For all of the album’s heavy rumination on life, death and healing, Thundercat can still kick back when required.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Ela Minus, 'Acts of Rebellion'

36. Ela Minus, ‘Acts of Rebellion’

In a nutshell: DIY techno punk from Bogotá-born, Brooklyn-based analogue wizard

Minus’ debut album was fuelled by a mantra scrawled on her synth following Donald Trump’s election in 2016: “Bright music for dark times”. Trump was indeed dumped, but the fight to see us through to a better world is just about to begin, and on this collection Minus emerged battered and bruised, but with a stubborn mindset to never let the bastards get you down. Tom Smith

Key track: ‘megapunk’

NME said: “This innovative debut album fuses urgent anthems with meditative moments to soundtrack the momentum of change.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Soccer Mommy ‘Color Theory’

35. Soccer Mommy, ‘Color Theory’

In a nutshell: Potent emotions put to paper through melodic ‘90s rock

Stretching Sophie Allison’s world-crafting abilities, ‘Color Theory’ told tales of melancholia through three colour-themed sections of emotional catharsis: blue as an MTV-emo depression, yellow for the meandering low-fi sound of sickness and grey as a stark, alt-pop encapsulation of loss. All three came together with remarkable coherence – this was a concept record in the most stirring sense. JW

Key track: ‘Circle The Drain’

NME said: “Allison is a master at painting vivid pictures with lyrics, coupling earworm melodies and warm instrumentation with shattering words that pack an emotional punch.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Wizkid, 'Made In Lagos'

34. Wizkid, ‘Made In Lagos’

In a nutshell: A sensual sax-filled voyage through the diaspora

On ‘Made In Lagos’, Wizkid made a record for the grown and sexy gang. And with the title paying tribute to his origins, rich and velvety production that ranges from jazz to classic Afrobeats and appearances from Burna Boy, Skepta, H.E.R, Tay Iwar, Tems, Damian Marley and many more, the breadth and inspiration of this expansive project saw him extend far beyond the Nigerian capital. NK

Key track: ‘Blessed’ feat. Damian Marley

NME said: “The production on the album is mainly centred around Yoruba, Afro-Latin and Afrobeats percussion, which creates a sense of homecoming.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Declan McKenna, ‘Zeros’

33. Declan McKenna, ‘Zeros’

In a nutshell: Indie’s wonderkid reinvents himself as a world-weary, ‘70s-channelling troubadour

With the youthful ambition of 2017 fan favourite track ‘What Do You Think About The Car?’ in the rearview mirror, ‘Zeros’ saw Declan McKenna set about navigating the dystopian ideals of destruction and survival. By projecting his brooding existentialism onto vast, theatrical space-rock soundscapes, he created a striking portrait of an artist in transformation. SW

Key track: ‘The Key To Life On Earth’

NME said: “Climb aboard McKenna’s space shuttle, and let him transport you to a place where dancing and getting deep are equally encouraged.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Miley Cyrus, 'Plastic Hearts'

32. Miley Cyrus, ‘Plastic Hearts’

In a nutshell: Pop’s grittiest star fully throws herself into the mosh-pit

Over the years, Miley Cyrus has covered formidable rock classics from the likes of Blondie, Fleetwood Mac and Metallica – and better still, she nailed them. Her huge, gravelly rock’n’roll vocal is the worst-kept secret in pop, but hasn’t manifested itself in her own records – until now. And ‘Plastic Hearts’ finally made good on all that freewheeling promise, knotting together strutting ‘80s synth-pop, glam rock and the early-noughties alt-pop of Avril Lavigne and Ashlee Simpson. Rock on! EH

Key track: ‘Midnight Sky’

NME said: “‘Plastic Hearts’ finds the pop-star-turned-rock-star going hell for leather – and when Miley Cyrus is at full throttle, it’s an absolute blast.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Empress Of – ‘I’m Your Empress Of’

31. Empress Of, ‘I’m Your Empress Of’

In a nutshell: The LA experimenter dances away heartbreak on her best record yet

LA’s own Empress Of has always had an ear for the avant-garde, and her first two albums ‘Me’ (2015) and ‘Us’ (2018) were meticulous affairs, painstakingly created over multiple years. In stark contrast, ‘I’m Your Empress Of’ poured out in a couple of fairly isolated months. The circumstances leant her latest record – which draws influence from Chicago house, her Honduran-American identity, and the slow-burn process of rediscovering yourself after heartbreak – a freeing kind of immediacy. EH

Key track: ‘Love is a Drug’

NME said: “Rodriguez has turned heartbreak into a glorious 30 minutes of club-ready electro-smashes. ‘I’m Your Empress Of’ is nothing short of breathtaking.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Khruangbin, 'Mordechai'

30. Khruangbin, ‘Mordechai’

In a nutshell: With warm, expansive melodies, Khruangbin’s lush singular instrumentals cocooned us temporarily from the difficulties of a rough year

Khruangbin‘s third album created a singular sonic landscape as the Houston trio pulled from regions as far-flung as South Asia to South America and Iran to Jamaica. It was a breakthrough project, as they artfully integrated a diverse range of sounds to evoke hot Texan summer nights, an ode to the band’s youth. DB

Key track: ‘Time (You and I)’

NME said: “Weaving Indian folk music, Jamaican dub, Congolese syncopated guitars with reference points to the South Asian musical innovation from the ‘70s and ‘80s, the trio have made an album still very much rooted in the city they call home.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 The Weeknd, 'After Hours'

29. The Weeknd, ‘After Hours’

In a nutshell: Abel Tesfaye brings the bangers, but offers a tantalising glimpse at the darkness that exists beneath them

On his fourth album, Abel Tesfaye managed to craft the rarest of things – a record that’s full of stadium-sized bangers and soul-searing honesty at the same time. Earworms such as ‘Blinding Lights’ may have lit up the airwaves, but deeper cuts – see the fizzing ‘Alone Again’ – showed that it was a record of many layers. “Take off my disguise / I’m living someone else’s life,” Tesfaye sang on the album opener. The result was one of 2020’s most brilliantly complex records. NR

Key track: ‘After Hours’

NME said: “[This is] a record free of features and full of probing self-reflection.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Blossoms, 'Foolish Loving Spaces'

28. Blossoms, ‘Foolish Loving Spaces’

In a nutshell: Blossoms bring the party at a time when we’ve never needed it more

When Blossoms released their third album in January, it seemed like Stockport’s finest had crafted the perfect party album for the festival season that seemingly lay ahead. While the small matter of a global pandemic may have stopped them in their tracks, there’s no denying that this album helped us all to continue dancing through the darkness. With nods to ‘80s synth pop and Talking Heads, Blossoms managed to deliver a magnificent pop masterclass. NR

Key track: ‘If You Think This Is Real Life’

NME said: “The Stockport heroes try on David Byrne’s over-sized suit for size. The fit? Pretty damn nice.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Headie One, ‘Edna’

27. Headie One, ‘Edna’

In a nutshell: The ‘king of drill’ pulls out all the stops on his dizzying debut

‘Edna’ was Headie One’s longest and most ambitious work to date. Over 20 songs, the Tottenham MC jumped from ice-cold drill to smooth R&B alongside special guests Future, Mahalia and Skepta. An entry-point into mainstream rapper territory, this collection served up sorrow and swag in equal measure. COR

Key track: ‘Only You Freestyle’ feat. Drake

NME said: “If Headie One’s 2019 mixtape ‘Music x Road’ hinted at cross-over ambition, ‘Edna’ is its grown-up, lavish cousin.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 The Cribs, ‘Night Network’

26. The Cribs, ‘Night Network’

In a nutshell: 2000s indie heroes come back from the brink with their best album in a decade. Jarmania ensues!

The Jarman brothers are spread out across the globe these days: Gary in Portland, Oregon; Ryan in New York; Ross holding the fort back home in Wakefield, Yorkshire. They almost went their separate ways as a band, too, but were talked round by one Dave Grohl. The result: blissful, forward-thinking guitar-pop. JB

Key track: ‘Screaming In Suburbia’

NME said: “This album gives ample reason to be cheerful… The trio now have a genuine shot at being a force in their own right in this new decade.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Laura Marling, Song For Our Daughter’

25. Laura Marling, ‘Song For Our Daughter’

In a nutshell: England’s finest folk songwriter strikes a reflective note on a seventh album drenched in pathos

If 2017’s ‘Semper Femina’ cast a backwards glance at femininity, its title adapted from some deep Virgilian wisdom, ‘Song For Our Daughter’ evoked hope for a future as yet untold – and the fictional child who might navigate their way through it. Bright-eyed and bold, it might just be her best work yet. MN

Key track: ‘Song For Our Daughter’

NME said: “Across 10 air-tight tracks, meticulously crafted and elegantly delivered, it’s an absolute triumph.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Charli XCX – 'How I'm Feeling Now'

24. Charli XCX, ‘How I’m Feeling Now’

In a nutshell: Wonky-pop superstar gets in early with the first official lockdown album

This avant-pop opus was written and recorded in six weeks while Charli self-isolated in California; she shared the entire process with fans who gave feedback as the songs took shape. The results are hooky, prickly and packed with the experimental flourishes that Charli and producer A.G. Cook. excel at – in other words, a perfect lockdown tonic. NL

Key track: ‘Anthems’

NME said: “Brimming with the prickling anxiety and stress that’s become commonplace during the pandemic… [this is] a glorious, experimental collection.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Burna Boy, 'Twice As Tall'

23. Burna Boy, ‘Twice As Tall’

In a nutshell: Big tunes; bigger attitude

The follow-up to Burna’s 2019 breakout record ‘African Giant’ may have featured guest appearances from the likes of Stormzy, New Jersey hip-hop trio Naughty By Nature and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, but the Nigerian icon, born Damini Ogulu, was never overshadowed. Here he blended fierce political proclamations with dancefloor-ready party anthems. KP

Key track: ‘Monsters You Made’

NME said: “[This album] encompasses traces of Afrobeat and throws in hip-hop dancehall and afro-fusion for good measure.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Working Men's Club, 'Working Men's Club'

22. Working Men’s Club, ‘Working Men’s Club’

In a nutshell: West Yorkshire band’s stellar first album sees them throw 2020’s most intoxicating basement rave

The Todmorden combo vibed on the dark electro of ‘80s bands, with pulsating synths, squelchy acid house sounds, taut punk-funk and an oppressive atmosphere. There were flickers of New Order (‘Valleys’) and LCD Soundsystem, but they mixed these touchstones into a potent idiosyncratic brew that sounded like a Berlin warehouse party. GR

Key track: ‘Valleys’

NME said: “Cycling through the conflicting emotions that come from living in a society that’s set itself on fire, ‘Working Men’s Club’ is an attention-demanding debut that couldn’t have come at a better time.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Roisin Murphy, 'Roisin Machine'

21. Roisin Murphy, ‘Roisin Machine’

In a nutshell: Disco euphoria that turns back the clock to a carefree time of mirrorballs and late-night boogie-ing

Returning to claim her throne as queen of the dancefloor, the eccentric Irish outsider delivered a decade-in-the-making album full of pulsating feel-good anthems. Loaded with hedonistic singalong hits that made us really, really miss the club and, landing just when we needed it, ‘Roisin Machine’ doubtless provided the soundtrack to countless home parties during lockdown. BJ

Key track: ‘Murphy’s Law’

NME said: “With her fifth record, Murphy invites us on an escapist journey to a utopian universe where pleasure and fantasy go hand in hand.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Lil Uzi Vert, 'Eternal Atake'

20. Lil Uzi Vert, ‘Eternal Atake’

In a nutshell: Brilliantly bonkers second album from the Philadelphia rap hero / high-fashion alien from outer space (delete as applicable)

Lil Uzi Vert’s long-awaited ‘Eternal Atake’ beamed the uncompromising rapper into the cosmos thanks to an alien abduction narrative. He crafted an utterly unique album, somehow squeezing in a Backstreet Boys sample amid the breathless chaos. Why would you want to be on Planet Earth when you could be on Planet Lil Uzi Vert? SM

Key track: ‘Baby Pluto’

NME said: “Lil Uzi Vert still has the game in a chokehold… He has made another record that will stay close to the hearts of a generation of rap fans.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 The Killers, ‘Imploding The Mirage’

19. The Killers, ‘Imploding The Mirage’

In a nutshell: With a little help from cutting-edge friends, the ex-Vegas showmen turn up the bombast. BY A LOT

It took a lot of people to fill the gap left by guitarist Dave Keuning – Adam Granduciel, Weyes Blood, Foxygen, Lucius, k.d. lang, Lindsey fucking Buckingham – but they brought with them a contemporary alt-pop edge that made ‘Imploding The Mirage’ not just The Killers biggest-sounding album yet (some of Ronnie Vannucci Jr’s drum fills could be classed as terrorist attacks) but their most relevant, and best, since ‘Sam’s Town’. MB

Key track: ‘Caution’

NME said: “‘Imploding The Mirage’ is a record about racing on to glory… a raised fist to the future.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Porridge Radio, ‘Every Bad’

18. Porridge Radio, ‘Every Bad’

In a nutshell: Dream-rock from the band who should have owned festival season

The Brighton indie quartet and co. brought some much-needed humour, humanity and modernity to post-punk with their second record. This album won them a Mercury nod, spoke to a legion of new fans and should have won them scores more at festival sites across the globe. There’s always next year for that. AT

Key track: ‘Lilac’

NME said: “Here Porridge Radio nail some of music’s hardest tricks – breathing fresh life into indie and making a record that can loosely be compared to other bands in fragments, but also feels entirely their own.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Hayley Williams, 'Petals For Armor'

17. Hayley Williams, ‘Petals For Armor’

In a nutshell: Paramore’s vocalist strikes out alone – and doesn’t hold back

Pop-rock heroes Paramore’s new-wavey 2017 album ‘After Laughter’ marked a serious turning point for Williams; following her divorce from New Found Glory’s Chad Gilbert, she moved into a decrepit cottage in Nashville and struggled with the disorientating excess of touring. Landing back to earth with a crash, she poured all of her pain into ‘Petals For Armor’, a tender flower-bloom of a record with which she tackled grief and femininity with sharp wit and disarming honesty. EH

Key track: ‘Dead Horse’

NME said: “The underlying message of Hayley Williams’ stunning solo album is this: wear your flaws like a coat of gleaming armour and find strength in being open and vulnerable. This would be a prescient message at any time, but seems even more so in today’s uncertain climate. We could all do with a little kindness.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Tame Impala, ‘The Slow Rush’

16. Tame Impala, ‘The Slow Rush’

In a nutshell: A cosmic nostalgic pop behemoth that makes you long for normality

Little did we know, when Kevin Parker’s psychedelic pop behemoth ‘The Slow Rush’ was constantly blaring out of the NME office at the start of the year, how prescient the ‘Lost In Yesterday’ lyrics would become: “We used to get on it, four out of seven.” As we ache for the world we once had, the mastermind’s fourth album remains the perfect soundtrack to 2020. DJ

Key track: ‘One More Year’

NME said: “This is much more than just a solid return. It is, overall, an exhilarating listen.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Fontaines DC, ‘A Hero’s Death’

15. Fontaines DC, ‘A Hero’s Death’

In a nutshell: The Dublin post-punks return for round two – battered, bruised and defiant

2019 debut album ‘Dogrel’ catapulted the Dublin five-piece into the stratosphere, as they became the most-talked-about new rock band around. While that record was a poetic punk record filled with bravado, its follow-up looked inward, expelling the demons that brewed over their brutal two-year tour, interrogating the downsides of the ego. WR

Key track: ‘I Don’t Belong’

NME said: Fontaines D.C. have exerted a knack for writing anthems that are at once self-excoriating and intimately relatable.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Lady Gaga, 'Chromatica'

14. Lady Gaga, ‘Chromatica’

In a nutshell: Utopian pure-pop excess from the Queen of OTT

In many ways, pop is the genre that saved us from the sheer drudgery of the pandemic, and pulling influence from gaudy euro-trash, belting house music and jubilant synth-pop, Lady Gaga’s sixth album saw her take up residence on the fictional planet of ‘Chromatica’. It’s an appealing place saturated with whopping choruses, sweaty dance floor exuberance and an underlying warmth. When this is all over, book a flight to Planet Gaga. EH

Key track: ‘Rain on Me (ft. Ariana Grande)’

NME said: “From the exhilarating melodies to the positive, hope-filled lyrics, ‘Chromatica’ is a celebration – and a well-deserved one at that.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Deftones, ‘Ohms’

13. Deftones, ‘Ohms’

In a nutshell: Metal legends strike the balance between fury and euphoria

The Sacramento art-metallers’ ninth record continued an esteemed run of almost perfect albums. Where 2016’s ‘Gore’ vaulted the band into a light, starry space, drawing out their new wave and post-punk tendencies, the heavier ‘Ohms’ thrust them back to Earth. This record was both claustrophobic and liberating, with ethereal choruses on tracks such as ‘Error’ and ‘Urantia’ giving way to pulverising riffs on ‘This Link Is Dead’ and ‘Ceremony’. ‘Ohms’ had a little bit of everything that makes this band so great. DL

Key track: ‘Genesis’

NME said: “It is wonderful to once again hear a Deftones record as heavy as molten lead.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Megan Thee Stallion, 'Good News'

12. Megan Thee Stallion, ‘Good News’

In a nutshell: The soundtrack to twerking through the pandemic

At the age of 25, Megan Thee Stallion is almost a household name, with multiple Billboard hits (including the raunchy-turned-political ‘WAP’ single with Cardi B) under her belt. Solidifying 2020 as the year of Thee Stallion, her debut was full of raunchiness and vapour rap style that meshed her love for ‘00s gangster rap with contemporary flair. K-SW

NME said: “This debut finds Megan Thee Stallion determined to retain her freewheeling positivity in a difficult year.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

11. Fiona Apple, ‘Fetch the Bolt Cutters’

In a nutshell: The return of a singular, confessional artist – right when we needed her most

Bursting at the seams with chaotically sampled barking dogs and clattering home-made percussion, ‘Fetch the Bolt Cutters’ was the sound of one woman ready to break away from her sense of isolation. That it arrived when the world was forced into another form of isolation only made its impact even more profound. SP

Key track: ‘I Want You to Love Me’

NME said: ‘‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’ will cut straight to the gut for Apple fans old and new. It’s an intoxicating listen – and one of her best.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 J Hus, ‘Big Conspiracy’

10. J Hus, ‘Big Conspiracy’

In a nutshell: The most summer vibes album to ever be released in January

In hindsight, ‘Big Conspiracy’ getting a January was a sign 2020 was not going to go to plan. Arriving eight months after a stint in prison and bundling in a double drop of singles (‘Must Be’ and ‘No Denying’), you might have been tricked into thinking Momodou Jallow’s second album would end up being a rushed project. But the album was an absolute triumph, confirming J Hus as one of the best rappers in the UK. The current generation of British rappers have worked on their assonance skills, stressing vowels to create clever punchlines whenever need. Here’s one of J Hus’ best efforts on ‘Cucumber’: “I met that girl back in October / Then I gave her the cu-coom-bah.” CA

Key track: ‘No Denying’

NME said: “Hus rarely puts a foot out of place over 13 tracks… The growth and progression here is stunning.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Beabadoobee, ‘Fake It Flowers’

9. Beabadoobee, ‘Fake It Flowers’

In a nutshell: Modern-day grunge hero dances through the whirlwind of adolescence

On ‘Fake It Flowers’, Beabadoobee truly established herself as one-of-a-kind artist, able to pay her dues to her beloved genres of choice (grunge-pop and ‘90s alt-rock) while contorting their limits – and painting them over with a modern finish. Her sprawling, dynamic debut LP a sharp and remarkably candid effort, skyward riffs effortlessly capturing the conflicted nature of young love: the unhinged glee of the early days and the emotional emptiness of ensuing heartbreak. It was affecting and intimate, a clear cathartic release with confessions, hopes and dreams to hold onto. SW

Key track: ‘Worth It’

NME said: “A thrilling debut from Gen-Z’s newest guitar hero.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Haim, ‘Women in Music Pt III’

8. Haim, ‘Women in Music Pt III’

In a nutshell: The LA group gets personal on their melancholy third album

Here was the soundtrack to a thousand LA sunsets (‘Summer Girl’), late-night anxiety dreams (‘I Know Alone’) and relationship breakdowns (‘Don’t Wanna’). The sisters’ humour and vulnerability was evident in the acerbic album title alone. Haim embarked on a slight detour from the classic rock-inspired pop they were known for; a calculated risk. Instead they combined gloomy electronica and sleek ‘90s-indebted R&B to create perhaps their most introspective and cohesive albums to date. It is in these experimental quirks that the nuance and evolution of Haim’s songwriting truly shines. SP

Key track: ‘Man From The Magazine’

NME said: “[Haim] have produced a record that’s experimental, soothing and vulnerable; it’s a thing of great beauty.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Rina Sawayama – ‘SAWAYAMA’

7. Rina Sawayama, ‘SAWAYAMA’

In a nutshell: Alt-pop don makes nu-metal cool again

This debut album was long anticipated: Rina Sawayama released her first tune in 2013 (the louche ‘Sleeping and Waking’) and hustled as an independent artist until signing to ultra-cool label Dirty Hit last year. The record arrived as a genre explosion. Poignant country-laced balled ‘Family’ was an emotional tribute to the queer community; the bouncing ‘Comme des Garçons (Like The Boys)’ referenced the ‘00s dance tunes that made her feel confident when she was younger; and on ‘STFU!’ Sawayama rode brash nu-metal to rail against racist micro-aggressions. The singular ‘SAWAYAMA’ was a musical gut-punch. HM

Key track: ‘STFU!’

NME said: “Drawing on every aspect of her identity, Sawayama creates an expansive musical account of her personal history, all bolstered by her impressive experimental song-writing techniques.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Kelly Lee Owens, ‘Inner Song’

6. Kelly Lee Owens, ‘Inner Song’

In a nutshell: Welsh musician masters emotive techno-pop on meditative second album

In her debut NME cover story in October, Owens said that her childhood in Wales had taught her how to appreciate “the magic around me at all times”. On her second record, though, she conjured plenty of her own. There was fun to be had with climate action anthem ‘Melt!’ and her trippy interpretation of Radiohead’s ‘Weird Fishes’ on album opener ‘Arpeggi’, but it was when she embraced her mystical side – see the John Cale-featuring ‘Corner In My Sky’ and banging techno tribute to her late nanna, ‘Jeannette’ – that Owens solidified her status as one of Britain’s most forward-thinking producers and musicians. Thomas Smith

Key track: ‘Corner In My Sky’

NME said: “‘Inner Song’ is a perfectly-arranged album where each track has a part to play… Kelly Lee Owens has made one of the most beautiful records of the year.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Phoebe Bridgers, ‘Punisher’

5. Phoebe Bridgers, ‘Punisher’

In a nutshell: The multidimensional LA songwriter cements her place as a cult indie icon

Phoebe Bridgers has learned to lean into the chaos of existence in 2020. The 26-year-old Los Angeles native’s second album was filled with blissful contradictions, from the dry wit of the muted, acoustic ‘Halloween’ to the searing directness of chamber-pop beauty ‘I Know The End’. Introspective, with a sense of solitude woven throughout, ‘Punisher’ found Bridgers asserting herself as an individual force through self-production and pragmatic collaboration (with the likes of Conor Oberst, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus). The result: a multifaceted ode to embracing life’s oddities and living in the moment. GE

Key track: ‘I Know The End’

NME said: “Bridgers captures the everyday figments of life with a bleak smirk.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 The Strokes, ‘The New Abnormal’

4. The Strokes, ‘The New Abnormal’

In a nutshell: The indie OGs save the day with their aptly titled comeback

The Strokes entered their fourth decade (!) as a band in 2020. Produced by Rick Rubin, album six boasted plenty of indie anthems to satisfy fans who’ve been on this wild ride from the start (‘The Adults Are Talking’, ‘Bad Decisions’, ‘Why Are Sundays…’), but also ventured far, far beyond their signature sound. The sprawling synth-led ‘At The Door’ and the disco-indebted ‘Brooklyn Bridge…’ were particular standouts, the former a prime example of Casablancas’ stellar, razor-sharp vocal performance. ‘The New Abnormal’ found The Strokes reconnected, experimenting and looking to the future. Tom Skinner

Key track: ‘Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus’

NME said: “Like its cover, the Jean-Michel Basquiat artwork ‘Bird On Money’, it’s spiky but quite stunning.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Dua Lipa, ‘Future Nostalgia’

3. Dua Lipa, ‘Future Nostalgia’

In a nutshell: Strap on your roller boots – the disco revival is in full swing

In a year when live music came to a halt, Dua Lipa came to dance. With ‘Future Nostalgia’, the pop star led the charge with a ‘80s-themed disco revival, alongside Kylie Minogue and Jessie Ware. Lipa’s latest album married the sounds of the last four decades – dance, electropop, R&B, house and much more – into her own signature (and empowering) retrofuturistic pop concoction. With the standout singles ‘Don’t Start Now’ and ‘Physical’, Lipa embraced campy, sticky-sweet choruses and funky synths, while meditating on lust, love and breakups. ‘Future Nostalgia’ arrived at an optimal time, helping us dance through the pain of 2020 together. IK

Key track: ‘Levitating’

NME said: “‘Future Nostalgia’ is a bright, bold collection of pop majesty to dance away your anxieties to.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Taylor Swift – ‘folklore’

2. Taylor Swift – ‘folklore’

In a nutshell: Taylor takes a trip to her cabin in the woods for the ultimate lockdown album

A lot of artists created isolation albums, but it was Taylor Swift’s ‘folklore’ that felt like the perfect accompaniment for the weird loneliness that’s permeated 2020. Taking a step away from the glossy pop that’s been a staple of her past few records, she surprise-released an astonishing collection of indie-folk tunes that acted as a soothing balm during this strange time. The record meshed Swift’s masterful songwriting with introspective production courtesy of long-time collaborator Jack Antonoff and The National‘s Aaron Dessner (who worked on 11 of the 16 songs). From the glittering euphoria of Bon Iver collab ‘Exile’ to complex story-telling of ‘The Last Great American Dynasty’, ‘Folklore’ found Swift trying something entirely different – and sounding better than ever. HM

Key track: ‘The Last Great American Dynasty’

NME said: “’Folklore’ feels fresh, forward-thinking and, most of all, honest.”

NME Album Of The Year 2020 Run the Jewels, ‘RTJ4’

1. Run the Jewels, ‘RTJ4’

In a nutshell: You can describe 2020 in a number of ways, but the most appropriate word for the last 12 months is perhaps “memorable”

In addition to the pandemic, another economic recession put the jobs and livelihoods of many in precarious positions. Thousands of people around the world marched in protest of police brutality and white supremacy. Donald Trump looked to further change the world before being defeated in an election that took days before a decision was decided. A lot happened in 2020, a year that sometimes sped by but more often felt slow, frustrating and full of fear. There were only so many loaves of banana bread you could bake before a wave of sadness hit and you wondered ‘what is the point?’ and apathy grew.

Which is why ‘Run The Jewels 4 ‘was damn important.

In a year where most of our social interactions happened through a screen, RTJ4 felt like a wake-up punch to the face and a shot of tequila from your reckless best friend. Rapper Killer Mike and producer/rapper El-P tore through police brutality, hatred-stoking media outlets and white supremacists with gatling gun-levels of devastation across a propulsive, electrifying effort that was loud as cannons. It made you want to sprint into the unknown. A lot of us screamed into our pillows in anger this year, but Run The Jewels channelled that emotion to make an instant rap classic.

Key track: ‘JU$T’ saw Run the Jewels, Pharrell and Rage Against The Machine’s Zack de la Rocha make the case for prison and police abolition in the wake of corrupt police officers and state-sponsored violence.

NME said: “If a hip-hop album alone could change the world, this might do it.”

The final word: Look at these lyrics, which Killer Mike recites on ‘walking in the snow’, a song recorded before the death of George Floyd and the resulting Black Lives Matters protests: “Every day on evening news they feed you fear for free / And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me / ‘Til my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, ’I can’t breathe’ / And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV / The most you give’s a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy / But truly the travesty? You’ve been robbed of your empathy.” Years from now, when they ask what living in 2020 was like, you can show them this. CA