cred.ai’s 2020 Albums of the Year

It’s played out to say 2020 was a weird year — we are all viscerally aware of how bizarre it’s been to be existing at this moment. The one thing that’s been consistent is how we all turn to music. And as it turns out, thankfully for all of us, artists turn to their work. In this time of technology, musicians are able to create music remotely and put it out immediately to streaming, without the traditional rollouts that were once necessary.

It’s also kind of corny at this point to wax poetic about the silver linings of quarantining and how we’ve all had time to focus on our hobbies and art (especially for those of us who have been having an especially hard time), but to some degree we can be grateful that artists not only had time to focus on great work, but released it now, when music isn’t as profitable without the touring element.

In no particular order (because, let’s be real, that would be unfair and far too difficult and you simply cannot force us to put these in order), here are a few of the best of the year from some of the cred.ai team. Nothing pretentious about these choices — just pure vibes.

folklore/evermore: Taylor Swift

Republic Records
Republic Records

No, this list isn’t in order, but yes, these are the two best albums of the year. Argue with the wall.

folklore and evermore are sister albums — it’s hard to look at them separately when they’re meant to be consumed together. They were both created alongside Aaron Dessner of the National and longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff. Swift broke a lot of traditional patterns with these two releases, primarily in the fact that there wasn’t massive build-up to either and that they’re not diaristic works. They focus mainly on the stories of other people, and she’s merely the narrator or the ghost in the background.

It’s so satisfying to see this new “era” of works, and Taylor’s ability to unlock emotion seems so much freer when filtered through the stories of other people. Whether they’re made up, people she knows, or based on literature and film, not having to pull directly from her real life (which almost always generates a headline), seems to have rid her of all inhibitions.

The fact that despite artists becoming these larger than life figures they’re able to still access specific, unique human experiences is really incredible. These two albums will be forever remembered as The Quarantine Art.

Standout tracks: The Last Great American Dynasty, Exile (feat. Bon Iver), Mirrorball, August, Peace
Champagne Problems, ‘Tis the Damn Season, No Body, No Crime (feat. Haim), Coney Island (feat. The National), Ivy, Closure

After Hours: The Weeknd

XO, Republic Records

This should have been nominated for Grammys, first of all. The Recording Academy will not see Heaven for this snub. This evolved ‘80s synth is sleek and really suits The Weeknd’s style. It blends with his vocal impeccably. He’s always been making great records, but this was out of this world. If you left your home at all this year (or opened TikTok), you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing “Blinding Lights.”

The Weeknd deserves better; this is a nearly perfect album from front to back both in concept and execution.

Standout tracks: Heartless, Blinding Lights, Hardest to Love, Save Your Tears

Punisher: Phoebe Bridgers

Dead Oceans

Phoebe Bridgers has had a busy few years since her 2017 debut Stranger in the Alps. She created the supergroup boygenius with fellow musicians Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus and the band Better Oblivion Community Center with Connor Oberst of Bright Eyes fame. This year she finally released her much-anticipated second solo project, and this is a stunning display of some of her best work to date.

Punisher features a wide range of sounds, including more rock (and even country on one track) elements and you can sense her clear inspiration from her influences, like Elliott Smith (for whom the title track is dedicated). While the record wasn’t made or intended for isolation, it somehow encapsulates perfectly the “end of the world” mood.

Standout tracks: Punisher, Chinese Satellite, Graceland Too, I Know the End

Ungodly Hour: Chloe x Halle

Parkwood Entertainment, Columbia Records

Chloe and Halle have been releasing music since their teenage years when they got signed to Beyoncé’s Park Entertainment. With each new release, they’ve grown and matured, and they’ve fully blossomed on this record. Their harmonies are so flawless that they could sing anything, but what a gift that they choose to be so experimental in the work they put out.

Chloe is the primary producer of the album, which is a huge flex of talent. They’ve really refined their talent and carved out their niche and while we’re basking in how much we’re obsessed with the title track, we’re so excited to see what future releases will be like.

Standout tracks: Ungodly Hour, Tipsy, Forgive Me

Manic: Halsey

Capitol Records

Once again, may the Recording Academy never know peace for snubbing this album. Halsey’s career growth has been so impressive to watch — Manic is both worlds away from her previous LPs and in some ways a return to form. It has the vibes like it embraces the younger self in a warm hug, making peace with the past, and allowing the space for the older self to move forward.

The title comes from Halsey’s vocal struggles with bipolar disorder, and therefore the tracks sonically follow a wide genre range as a reflection of that. In a lot of ways it’s reminiscent of Taylor Swift’s Red in the ways it presents an entire emotional spectrum. Sometimes not being sonically cohesive is effective and evocative, and that’s definitely the case with this record.

Standout tracks: clementine, I HATE EVERYBODY, killing boys, 929

Future Nostalgia: Dua Lipa

Warner Records

Dua Lipa committed to a theme, which in some instances can either be detrimental or a success, and in this case it was a nearly flawless execution. It’s almost a shame this was released during quarantine because we want nothing more than to hear these songs out in a bar, but at the same time, this is such an uplifting track list for being stuck at home.

The title Future Nostalgia is perfectly apt, as the tracks don’t sound like corny ‘80s tributes. They’re upgraded and elevated in a way that’s vaguely reminiscent of the way Carly Rae Jepsen did disco pop on 2019’s Dedicated and Taylor Swift did ‘80s synth pop on 1989.

Standout tracks: Physical, Levitating, Love Again

Gaslighter: The Chicks

Columbia Records

The Chicks deserve a long overdue apology. We could have the conversation about how unfair it was for country music to ostracize them in the early 2000s or about how “Not Ready to Make Nice” is still an incredible song, but this is about Gaslighter.

Many of us have not been through a heart wrenching divorce, but this record makes us feel like it, which is the power of good country music. The album opens with the title track with the traditional Chicks harmonies and progresses into a beautiful storyline about brokenness and growth, including an updated political anthem in “March March.” It’s also produced by Jack Antonoff, which is an interesting new genre step for him.

Standout tracks: Gaslighter, Sleep at Night, Tights On My Boat, Hope It’s Something Good

100 gecs and the Tree of Clues: 100 Gecs

Dog Show Records, Big Beat Records, Atlantic Records

This is a monster of a collaborations album. 100 Gecs released their debut last year and this was announced to follow not too long afterward, so while it’s not technically “new” to 2020, the remixes make the already hyper pop even more fresh. It features many staples of the PC Music community, including A.G. Cook, Danny L Harle, and GFOTY.

Some of the most interesting (and polarizing, according to TikTok), are the unexpected ones, like Fall Out Boy. It’s so random and weird, but it does work. These tracks scratch a very specific itch that exists in our brains.

Standout tracks: hand crushed by a mallet [Remix] (feat. Fall Out Boy, Craig Owens, and Nicole Dollanganger), ringtone [Remix] (feat. Charli XCX, Kero Kero Bonito, and Rico Nasty), gec 2 Ü [Remix] (feat. Dorian Electra)

Women in Music Pt. III: Haim

Columbia Records

After touring for their previous record, Haim realized they had some struggles to face, and therefore took it to music. This is such a beautifully intimate and personal album that at times we almost feel like we’re eavesdropping on a conversation we shouldn’t be. It pulls you into an entire world.

This is a much more fluid record than their previous ones in terms of the production, but the lyrics are sharper and more specific. We love when artists are extremely hyper specific, because as listeners we feel even more connected to the work, and that’s the feeling of listening to WIMPIII.

Standout tracks: I’m In It, Summer Girl, FUBT, 3 AM

Razzmatazz: I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME

Fearless Records

This somehow manages to feel like a throwback album and something we’ve never heard before at the same time. This is a project by bassist Dallon Weekes (formerly of Panic! at the Disco), and drummer Ryan Seaman. The record is cohesive, but never boring. The sonic landscape is so lush you’ll want the best headphones you can find to spot some of the hidden production elements — some of our favorites are on “Kiss Goodnight.”

Also, as a bonus fact, if you remember the 2004 tune “Memory” by Sugarcult, the lead singer produced this entire album.

Standout tracks: Leave Me Alone, From the Gallows, Sugar Pills, Kiss Goodnight, Razzmatazz

Good News: Megan Thee Stallion

300 Entertainment, 1501 Certified

Megan Thee Stallion solidified herself this year as the most in-demand woman in not just rap, but music in general. Everyone wanted a feature with her and it was almost guaranteed to skyrocket your song to the top of the charts à la Nicki Minaj in the early 2010s. Then along came Savage, and a cultural classic were born.

Megan Thee Stallion makes her craft seem effortless. Good News is her first full length, proper LP, and it is fantastic news indeed. It’s turned a “hot girl summer” into a hot girl year, which we think for many for us is growing into a hot girl mindset. Her flow is fun, sharp, and self-assured. We want to listen to this album for the rest of our lives.

Standout tracks: Body, Do It on the Tip (feat. City Girls & Hot Girl Meg), What’s New, Savage Remix (feat. Beyoncé)

The Ascension: Sufjan Stevens

Asthmatic Kitty

Sufjan has played around with electronic stylings on his records in the past (see: Age of Adz), but he leaned into it once again with all his instruments in storage. Ascension is new territory compared to 2015’s Carrie & Lowell, which dealt heavily with grief, and it’s surely a lot different from his states-themed work in the past.

This record is twinged with cynicism, making it perfect for a year plagued with some really awful news. The album really soars on the 12-minute-spanning track “America,” which clearly summarizes a lot of how his feelings have shifted.

Standout tracks: Video Game, Ativan, The Ascension, America

Petals for Armor: Hayley Williams

Atlantic Records

If Paramore’s After Laughter was “about the look on people’s faces when they’re done laughing [and] what it is that brought them back to reality,” then Petals for Armor is the moment after that one. The after, after laughter. It’s everything underneath it all that maybe takes a bit longer to process and uncover.

Hayley Williams lays herself bare on this record and it’s stunning how she can vocally transform in so many different sonic landscapes. Many of these tracks are more experimental than the works of Paramore in the past, but that’s the beauty of a solo project.

Standout tracks: Sudden Desire, Dead Horse, Sugar on the Rim, Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris, Why We Ever

Honorable mentions, because there are so many:

Fetch the Bolt Cutters – Fiona Apple
Down in the Weeds Where the World Once Was – Bright Eyes
How I’m Feeling Now – Charli XCX
Dreamland – COIN
High Road – Kesha
Beginners – Christian Lee Hutson
Show Pony – Orville Peck
Who Are the Girls? – Nova Twins
SAWAYAMA – Rina Sawayama
color theory – Soccer Mommy
Shore – Fleet Foxes

There you have it folks — a sampling of some of the best music of the year. It was absolutely impossible to include everything, but we’re not Rob Sheffield from Rolling Stone.

May your 2021 be filled with more beautiful tunes.