1. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
It was announced in early April this year, and a few weeks later Fetch the Bolt Cutters arrived.
There may still have been an eight-year gap since The Idler Wheel but by Fiona Apple’s standards this was a quick and effortless release strategy, and it couldn’t have come at a more feverishly welcomed time.
An early lockdown release to help keep us comforted, amused, shocked and awed by Apple’s sharp curve to a sound that was ramshackle and raucous.
For many artists this may have been the demo stage but sounds like these need no further refining for fear of what may be taken away and subsequently lost.
Fiona Apple’s most lyrically and sonically astonishing, and therefore essential, album yet.
2. Róisin Murphy – Róisin Machine
One of Róisin Murphy’s many skills, as witnessed on her fifth album, is her ability to take a group of songs, some of which are over a decade old, and place them into a new setting where they sound reborn and make complete, cohesive sense.
Over half the tracks on Róisin Machine had been heard before. Along with longtime collaborator Richard Barratt, Murphy added new songs, so that the catch-all genre term of ‘disco’ was both applicable and completely inappropriate.
More than anything, Róisin Machine sounds like sister album to ZE Records’ classic Mutant Disco compilation from 1981 and I can think of no higher praise than that.
3. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia and Club Future Nostalgia
Dua Lipa has had an incredible year and took the risky decision of releasing her second album, which was predominantly about dancing, at a time where no one could dance together.
‘Physical’, the pop song of the year, like a lot of the record, took old and new elements and captured the most delicious energy of both.
Amazingly, the remix album, which focuses more on the club culture of the 80s and 90s than the disco template of the main album, is as committed and joyous, and actually improves on some of the original arrangements.
4. Taylor Swift – Folklore and Evermore
No-one saw this coming and what a clever move – new music from a global superstar at the point where many wanted reassuring comfort.
So Taylor Swift surprise-drops an album (two albums!) that sees her reinvented as a indie singer-songwriter.
Folklore teams Swift with Aaron Dressner from The National and wonder-boy producer Jake Antonoff; the result is wonderful songs with a thrillingly quiet fury at its core.
Evermore has less Antonoff and more filler but is a beautiful and heartfelt companion piece nonetheless.
5. Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure
Passion projects seemed a real trend for artists in 2020 and after stuttering to a holt with her last couple of albums, Jessie Ware has made a record that only a true lover of the very best of disco and synth pop could conceive.
Beautifully constructed and performed, this is organic dance music of the highest order.
6. Junglepussy – Jp4
It’s always a thrill to see an artist manoeuvre themselves within an established genre and step into new corners and hidden pockets where a less accomplished performer would fall.
Junglepussy has made the most compelling record of her career so far. Teaming with David Sitek in particular has allowed her to bring elements to the forefront which previously were only hinted at – a wildly kaleidoscope continuation of Junglepussy’s art.
7. Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Now
Setting herself an impossible deadline, Charli XCX documented and completed her fourth album over six weeks of the early days of lockdown. Regardless of the extraordinarily challenging logistics of this project, How I’m Feeling Now is a brilliant, utterly modern pop record of the standard that we’ve come to expect from Charli XCX.
The urgency and passion is so compelling that it feels like it’s almost alive, changing shape each time you listen.
8. Megan Thee Stallion – Good News
2020 was really Megan Thee Stallion’s year and of the two releases from 2020, Good News was the one which secured the Southern rapper’s place within the contemporary pop cultural landscape.
Pulling from hip culture over the last four decades, this is not a record that is overly concerned with radio-safe trends and is all the better for it.
9. II Quadro di Trois – II Quadro di Trois
A merging of late 70s electronic music, the electro clash trend of the early noughties and the immediate future, Il Quadro di Trois’ eponymous debut is a slick and very beautiful machine.
If there is one record here that demands headphone listening, then this it. Get lost in Il Quadro Di Trois for an hour and feel the fascino.
10. 070 Shake – Modus Vivendi
070 Shake’s debut was one of the most startling of the year.
Singer, rapper and Kanye West collaborator Danielle Balbuena’s queer melancholia was punctuated with pounding electronics and melodies that would unexpectedly and soulfully soar.
Ambitious and articulately structured, this was the sound of an artist so secure with their identity, sonically and otherwise, it ensured that Modus Vivendi landed hard and with no compromise.