The Best Albums Of The Year 2020
More than 50 artists, crews and labels from around the world pick their favourite albums of 2020
For much the same reasons outlined in the introduction to our Best Tracks of the Year 2020 feature earlier this week, we’ve decided to open up this year’s Best Albums rundown to a global spread of perspectives.
As well as artists, for this list we’ve reached out to collectives, labels, and other people involved in dance music culture all around the world. The resulting list has more than 60 albums for you to check out and enjoy, ranging across the stylistic spectrum.
There’s also some insightful write-ups, with voices spanning across the planet from Colombia to East Asia checking in with updates on what’s been happening in their respective corners during this year of limited travel and isolation. Dive in below.
This one is a tough one, there are many records I listened to, and picking one is not that easy, but here's a Top 3 from Latinoamerica, not the most popular or exotified releases, more like underdogs I would say, but some of the best music!
Aeondelit ‘Editing Destiny’ (Insurgentes)
Aeondelit comes from a little town in Colombia, his digital sound design is extreme, beautiful melodies, released on Insurgentes label from Medellin, Colombia.
NGLY ‘Sampler Vol 1’ (Self-released)
NGLY is a producer from Argentina and has released stuff mostly on L.I.E.S. records. The method in his productions is dark and distorted, but in this release he includes some melodic ambient cuts, it was perfect for this strange year that is almost over.
Danny Daze & RHR ‘Propaganda & Manipulation’ (Omnidisc)
This one is a collaboration between American-Cuban producer Danny Daze and young, talented producer from Brazil, RHR: percussive psychedelic techno and electro with acid textures.
AAAA is a producer from Mexico. Follow him on SoundCloud here
金巴利道路真理生命聯合/ Kimberley Road Union ‘金巴道理農場’ (Qiii Snacks Records/Seed Toss)
This little EP, created by more than 10 musicians of the local underground scene from all walks of life, has a soft spot in my heart this year because, in a way that it rly feels that doesn't try to be anything else, each separate tracks despite having distinct song structures, they are woven cohesively without having to rely exterior 'concept' or 'idea'. You can hear all kinds of musical influences if you listen closely enough underneath the seemingly simple songs, such as in 'Three Hours' where Nerve plays an important role in adding these subtleties via his improvised electronic productions, and the free-form percussionists' work from 龢 really elevate the songs' overall listenability. Very haunty and unconventional vocal processing of 611 on a hypnotic lullaby track 'Midnight'. While Sam Chan narrated the poems in spoken words in between the songs reminds me of cinema such as Kaili Blues. The EP ends with a high in post-rock fashion which is kinda a throwback to a genre that is so prevalent in the local underground scene of the last decade. In many ways this EP reminds me of my prolly equally loved album of the year 'Microphones in 2020' that is also very floaty and songlike yet taken in a long and improvised form, also ffo something like Okkyung Lee and Kali Malone for the droney and chamber parts. There's just so much to listen to in this one despite only clocking in less than 30 mins. A bold departure from their previous more linear indie/ rock sound towards more poetic yet being equally accessible. Gavin Wong
Absurd TRAX is a label and collective based in Hong Kong. Follow them on SoundCloud, Instagram, Facebook and Bandcamp
Royce da 5’9” ‘The Allegory’ (eOne)
I listened to a few albums this year and I enjoyed them but my favorite is ‘The Allegory’ by Royce da 5’ 9”. I love good lyrical content, of substance and depth with clever wordplay and stuff you might miss until you’re on the fifth listen. ‘The Allegory’ is a lyrical treasure hunt and you keep finding gem after gem.
Agent Sasco is an artist and lyricist from Kingston, Jamaica. He dropped his new EP ‘Sasco vs Assassin’ this November. The five-track release is the lyrical titan's take on the hybrid sound of afrobeats and dancehall and features Sean Paul, Chronixx and Kranium. Listen here. Follow Agent Sasco on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook
All Hands On Deck
Nidia 'Não Fales Nela Que A Mentes' (Principe)
‘Não Fales Nela Que A Mentes’ from Nidia is our pick as this album covers so much we love for all of us; it’s a touchstone for all our different tastes. Start to finish brilliance; Nidia delivers consistently surprising rhythmic patterns embedded in sometimes reflective, sometimes enlivening compositions. The album manages to be spacious yet complex, tense but unconcerned - gliding through 2020 in a way most of us haven't.
Bathtime Sessions 'A Quarantine Dream' (Bathtime Sessions)
Our other pick is ‘A Quarantine Dream’ by Bathtime Sessions. Bathtime Sessions was a radio show that was run monthly by our pals Luce and Rizmi. They asked friends of the show to explore the concept of dreams during quarantine and came out with this exceptional compilation. It features tracks by brilliant artists, like Carlos and Billy2chips. Lots of the songs have been featured in our collective and individual mixes so we think it definitely deserves a bit of recognition. The proceeds of the albums are split between Concern's emergency COVID efforts in the world’s biggest refugee camp and Solace Aid, who provide refuge and advice for people suffering domestic abuse.
All Hands On Deck is Manchester’s regular open-deck party to allow women, trans and non-binary people to try their hands at DJing out in a low-pressure, all welcoming, and inclusive environment. Follow them on Facebook here
Jasmine Infiniti ‘BXTCH SLÄP’ (Self-released/Dark Entries)
When we got invited to contribute to the Best Albums of the Year list, we immediately thought of ‘BXTCH SLÄP’, the debut album by Jasmine Infiniti. Self-released earlier this year in March, this album is queer and here. With an IDGAF approach in the production, it blends different styles of techno, electro, and house with an undeniable inspiration from ballroom beats. It’s dark and aggressive, but somehow manages to turn that raw energy into something sensual. And right now, when we can’t go out to clubs, it really makes us go back to those nights of dancing and sweating next to complete strangers. Also, imagine how good the album is that it got remastered and will soon be re-released for the first time on vinyl by Dark Entries.
Verraco ‘Grial’ (Insurgentes)
Bonus track: ‘Grial’, the debut album from Colombian producer Verraco, deserves an honorary mention because at least for us, we have never heard something like that coming from this side of the world. Hypomania
While we have been a little bit quiet this year, for obvious reasons, we would like to invite everyone to listen our podcast series ESPECTRO, where we invite different queer artists from Colombia, and all over the world, to showcase their very own sonic expressions. To everyone struggling during this time, hang in there. We know this year has been a bxtch to all of us, but hopefully soon we will be reunited, dancing and sweating again in dark, foggy rooms.
BULTO is a queer and techo fetishist collective from Colombia. Follow them on SoundCloud, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Co-founder and resident Hypomania is a DJ, follow him on Instagram and SoundCloud
B L A C K I E ‘FACE THE DARKNESS’ (self released)
I will say B L A C K I E's album. For me the title alone summed up the energy of 2020, let alone the music. It helped me see through a lot of the bullshit noise. B L A C K I E's the GOAT.
Chino Amobi is an artist and the co-founder of NON and is from North America. Follow him on SoundCloud here
Colin Steven (Velocity Press)
Khotin ‘Finds You Well’ (Ghostly International)
I only discovered Canada’s Khotin this year but I’m glad I did. ‘Finds You Well’ is 10 tracks of impressionistic, dream-like music that sways from melancholic synthesized atmospherics to hypnotic, dance-minded frameworks.
Colin Steven is based in London and is the former Editor of Knowledge magazine and runs Velocity Press which has published key dance music books State Of Bass, Join The Future, Bedroom Beats & B-Sides and The Secret DJ Vol. 2
Mac Miller ‘Circles’ (PLGFLUS)
RIP Mac. He gave us so many gifts, and this album was one of them. Priyam (Priyamvada Grover)
Anhad + Tanner ‘In Other Words’ (Gravity Sounds)
This album really goes to show that music has no boundaries, two people from two different parts of the world came together and created this beautifully arranged album. This has become my go to album to find my centre and at times for that occasional pick me up. E (Esther Lalrinzuali)
Les Mamans du Congo ‘Les Mamans du Congo & Rrobin’ (Jarring Effects)
This album is a beautiful fusion by Congolese artists Les Mamans du Congo and French producer RRobin, mixing traditional Bantu sounds with electronic music. The album was released this November and speaks of emancipation and the strength of women. Favourite song: ‘Bordel de Rap’. Pia Collada (Pia Brar)
Alina Baraz ‘It Was Divine’ (Mom+Pop)
Alina Baraz is a queen and everything she does resonates with me fully. From her first album to now, I am a big fan of her work, her world and her aesthetic. It's pure poetry. Lush Lata (Nandini Bansal)
Piezo ‘Perdu’ (Hundebiss Records)
Driving, sludgy underpinnings, twitchy percussion, and a melodic thread via resonant clanging, it's got endless layers to uncover. Plus a beautiful dreamy track towards the tail end. Have been a fan of Piezo's ability to wrest very addictive grooves from what sounds like the edge of chaos, and this is no exception.
I also want to highlight Stain’s ‘Demon Child’. While it is technically an EP, with six tracks it's sort of an album. A wonderfully cohesive set, combining poignant melodies, and traditional rhythms with the punch and familiar structures of dubstep. The songs are almost glass like, with percussive elements that are crisp and unexpected in places, but soft enough to provide the perfect container for the records delicate musicality. Just beautiful. Shireen (Shireen Jawed)
Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes 'What Kinda Music' (Blue Notes)
Best collaboration of the worst year! Amazing piece of art! The whole album is a masterpiece. Everything is insane, the drums, the grooves, the synths and the audiovisual. Really cool combination of different musical genres. This is perfection. Kavtinaa (Shona Das)
The local scene here has been quiet for the past eight months, with a few venues recently reopening, but so far very few gigs to speak of. Venues are still figuring out SOPs and a safe way to hold gigs. However, activity is slowly opening up, with specific time and social distancing measures. Organisers are also focusing on adhering to and providing for all government issued covid guidelines, so there is a degree of adaptability required, with experimental new formats being explored.
One of the more notable events coming up is a gathering called EarthenxSol, where one of our members, Zequenx, will be playing along with some talented homegrown artists . It is intended to be an invite-only event, in order to align with social distancing and Covid protection measures, and will be held at a heritage palace in Udaipur, Rajasthan. The performances will run the gamut from Indian folk inspired electronics, to more urbane modern pop, and down to thunderous club music. Their main focus for this is to create quality content from the Indian Subcontinent which can be consumed through the comfort of people’s homes.
Given the pandemic and the fact that it has been such a turbulent year, both domestically and internationally, the scene has, perhaps as a natural reaction, had significant musical output of various styles with numerous compilations, many of them to benefit various social and political causes. We have also seen the launch of quite a few new labels and multiple collaborations between Indian and global artists, as well as a whole lot of individual releases. There has also been an upswing in community radio shows, new podcasts, and a general broadening of how and what music people are exploring, interpreting, and creating from.
As for our collective, we have expanded out from Delhi, which is our home base, with members relocating across the country - from Goa to Himachal, still following their passion for sound and music while we navigate a new normal in Covid times. We have been working on projects remotely this year, both as a group and individually. One stand out group collaboration we did was a radio show for the British Council and the Manchester museum in August, featuring our favourite Indian artists.
Members have also been involved in various individual projects, such as working on music production and with labels such as 4ncy, as well as doing radio shows on our local community station - boxout.fm. Members have also been playing gigs as they slowly open up. Outside music, members have been working in the visual arts, as yoga instructors, in public policy, as well as on various side hustles in the entertainment and hospitality industry.
We can’t wait to get back together and dive head first in the scene again, once it’s safer. It's been a really hard year but music as always, has remained a constant that helped us stay in community and cope in so many ways.
Coven Code are a femme collective that aspires to build a creative culture around sound in a safe, inclusive and multicultural community based in New Delhi, India. Follow them on Instagram here and the members featured here via Priyam, E, Pia Collada, Lush Lata, Shireen and Kavtinaa
V/A 'SOS MUSIC VOL. 1' (SOS MUSIC)
My favorite compilation of the year is ‘SOS MUSIC Vol. 1’. 14 tracks showcasing dance music from some of the best producers working at the moment including rRoxymore, Violet, Ivy Barkakati, Lara Sarkissian, Umfang, LCY & Minimal Violence and more. My vinyl copy came with a personalized note from the four-year-old step-daughter of the label owner, who helped pack the records. Josh Cheon
Dark Entries is a label based in San Francisco, USA. Its final release of 2020 is Jasmine Infiniti 'BXTCH SLÄP' remastered and on double vinyl. A collection of techno-hybrid dance tunes is built for the dancefloors of underground nightlife. Order it from Bandcamp here
DeForrest Brown, Jr. (Make Techno Black Again, Speaker Music)
dreamcrusher ‘Panopticon!’ / ‘Another Country’ (PTP)
In a year of a racial reckoning over state-sanctioned killings of Black people, an apocalyptically surging pandemic and an imminent economic and employment crisis within the United States, dreamcrusher’s two summer releases ‘Panopticon!’ and ‘Another Country’ for New York collective PTP, forged ahead into a deeply personal unknown, precisely capturing the painful reality of the failure of civilization at the end of the European colonial project and its technological and scientific revolution.
Luwayne Glass is the multidisciplinary artist behind dreamcrusher having released upwards of 40 music projects since forming in 2003 on myspace and other early social media platforms. Their slogan of “☥ NIHILIST QUEER REVOLT MUSIK ☥” confronts the white supremacist concept of “normal” that so many desire to return to, instead focusing their thoughts and feels on the outer parameters of social and musical communication through soul-crushing, spirit-raising waves of sculpted noise and audible sound worlds.
In the live setting dreamcrusher carries the entire weight and context of their life in the American Bible Belt; routing the energy-channeling sermons, communions and rituals of the Black church tradition into a brazen new format that literally freezes time and arrests audiences as they hover throughout the room, lighting incense, laying compassionate hands upon the people who came to feel an exorcism as well as all at once dismantling the confines of our present moment and reality.
Written in 1985, Jacques Attali’s Noise: the Political Economy of Music, presented a Eurocentric history of music that provides a four staged framework for how music ought to be produced, distributed and consumed in a modern free-market capitalist industrial society. The professional political advisor posed a strategic reaction to the technological boom that allowed for music - a powerful tool for emotional expression, relation and perhaps manipulation - to be freely shared among a general population as a commodity. In 2020, the industrial noise and hardcore punk impulses of dreamcrusher’s output defies the self-cannibalizing theorizations of how music should be valued, releasing the albums digitally and via the affordable, compact and sustainable cassette format, then crowdfunding for made-to-order vinyl.
From their genreless vocalizations of stereophonic audio to their multi-pronged revenue and production model that recharacterizes how and when to release music in the factory-like schedules and list-based articles of our current music industry, Luwayne Glass as dreamcrusher offers a compelling social alternative and beyond the scope of the excess and waste of our present.
DeForrest Brown, Jr. is a New York-based theorist, journalist, and curator. He produces digital audio and extended media as Speaker Music and is a representative of the Make Techno Black Again campaign. His work explores the links between Black experience in industrialized labor systems and Black innovation in electronic music. On Juneteenth of 2020, he released the album Black Nationalist Sonic Weaponry on Planet Mu, and Primary Information will publish his first book Assembling a Black Counter Culture in 2021
Dengue Dengue Dengue
DJ Python ‘Mas Amable’ (Incienso)
The way the tracks interconnect with each other, the pace and momentum this album builds is masterful. The mood of the record was a perfect contrast with the world situation in 2020, helping keep us sane in these weird times. We’ve been playing ‘oooophi’ and ‘DMSDP’ heavily in our online sets.
Dengue Dengue Dengue are a production and DJ duo from Peru. Follow them on Bandcamp here
There is plenty to be said or has been said about this year. For us as a collective it is a period of experimentation, growth, and broadening the scope of what we do, all within the unprecedented setting of a global lockdown. We moved into the realm of virtual events with our Eastern Margins Ceremony series. We launched our label arm and have released projects by Ill Japonia, QQBBG, Laenz and T5UMUT5UMU. For this feature, though, we want to highlight music from our wider community that has inspired us and provided the much needed antidote for our longing to be in the club again. Hope to see you all in the smoking area soon.
Sonia Calico ‘Simulation of an Overloaded World’ (More Time)
Sonia Calico, born and raised in Taipei, has long been the queen of underground dance music in Asia. 2020 has seen her increasingly become a household name on the global stage, with her latest album released on London-based More Time Records. 'Simulation of an Overloaded World' feels like a journey into outer space, mixing mechanical sounds with beating drums, whose rhythms are impossible to stay still to. One of our biggest regrets this year is not hearing these tracks in the club (felt especially in her track 'Club Simulation!'). EZ
Jiafeng ‘Emotional Dance Music’ (Jiafeng)
‘Emotional Dance Music’ takes me all the way back to the Y2K era. Growing up in Shenzhen, China, this sound echoes through dance machines in DongMen arcade. The leading track for me is ‘Forbidden City Tech Support’ – a mix between high-speed trance-pop and futuristic non-club music. The whole album was also released as a dance game with each song split into three difficulties which you play using a dance mat. JDX
Kelvin T ‘Aerate’ (Absurd Trax)
This release via Absurd Trax is filled with transcendent textures, anchoring beats and warped vocals. Inspired by psychedelics, the album is simultaneously hypnotic and chaotic, with eclectic samples ranging from dogs barking to Britney Spears guaranteed to mesmerize. The raw energy of this album puts it in the forefront of Hong Kong's electronic music scene. Adanko
Pisitakun ‘Absolute C.O.U.P’ (Chinabot)
Best protest music I’ve heard in awhile: fun, colourful, hard, highly-conceptual yet conveys clear direct messages and moods. Throughout the album Pisitakun makes cheeky references to techno, molam, psych, Thai traditional music, an assortment of field recordings and vintage samples, all amounting to a huge middle finger to the establishment. If you’re not familiar with Thai sociopolitics, this album also feels like a middle finger to bland and uninteresting established club music. Arya R
Grack Thany ‘Wafer 1.91’ (Grack Thany)
If there's one album that's made me miss clubs the most this cursed year, it's this compilation from Seoul swashbucklers Grack Thany. Chrome alloy melodies underpin frenetic back-n-forth exchanges between the crew's MCs, all atop productions pushing the horizons of what ‘rap’ and ‘club’ music is. Sounds like warping in a Cybernetics Core whilst playing Starcraft II at 300 APM - straight from 3019. I've always been astounded by the depth and breadth of sounds coming from Seoul - this album is a perfect statement of an amazing scene. Lumi
Eastern Margins is a label, event series and collective representing sounds from the margins of East & South-East Asia and its diaspora. Follow them on SoundCloud, Instagram, Facebook and Bandcamp
Errol (Touching Bass)
cktrl 'robyn' / Demae's 'Life Works Out...Usually' (Touching Bass)
Call me biased but my favourite records from this year include the two that Touching Bass put out; Demae's 'Life Works Out...Usually' and cktrl's 'robyn'. Both were stylistically different but shared a reflective, inner-city London energy and spoke directly to how I was feeling within myself around their respective release dates. I haven't listened to a lot of dancefloor music this year, so that's also guided my choice in a certain direction.
The cktrl record was particularly poignant for me. I was especially in my feelings and contemplative around the release date, and the temperature was shifting into the wintry cold we're now experiencing in London. Although the record is about cktrl's personal journey through and out of heartbreak, there is something so uplifting, soothing and hopeful about it.
The musicians he's worked with (Coby Sey, Purple Ferdinand, Duval Timothy and Shirley Tetteh) have captured something magical in my opinion. I never thought we'd be releasing a contemporary classical record but the music moved us so much that the choice was made for us.
Shouts to everyone that released good music this year though, for real. Artists have once again succeeded in providing all the emotions/escapism we've needed this year and I couldn't be more grateful.
Errol is a DJ, broadcaster and curator. He's the founder of Touching Bass and is from London, follow him on Twitter here
Le Makeup ‘微熱 (Slight Fever)’
Warm and introspective, '微熱 (Slight Fever)' is a pocket of sunshine peeking through the darkness of 2020. It's an 18-track, self-produced debut album from Osaka’s Le Makeup filled with bright guitar-tinged ballads like ‘Ray’, ‘愛のしるし’ and ‘Story Of Us’ which are all perfect for both a day off at the park and chilling alone at home. ‘微熱 (Slight Fever)’ is akin to Organ Tapes’ 'Hunger in Me Living' and Jam City’s 'Dream a Garden' – signaling a sonic shift in club producers thawing out of icy, metallic club sounds. Andrew3M
HAUS of ALTR ‘HOA010’
Released on Juneteenth this summer, a day for honoring the resilience of Black people in America, HAUS of ALTR’s ‘HOA010’ is an offering of Black excellence. 27 brilliant tracks by 27 brilliant Black electronic artists. Diverse in its range, yet cohesive in its sound, both a nod to electronic dance music’s roots and a look towards its future, full of bangers from start to finish. DJ Oyasumi
Ana Roxanne ‘Because of a Flower’ (Kranky)
Ana Roxanne’s album ‘Because Of a Flower’ is an exploration of yin and yang, light and dark, and the beauty found in their union. Roxanne invites us to indulge in slowness and witness its healing powers. Gorgeous, expansive, introspective, calming music we so desperately need in these times. DJ Oyasumi
Ojerime ‘B4 I Breakdown’ (Fang)
This is the clearest vision of r’n’b I've heard in what seems like forever. She's got such a strong understanding of her voice and you hear it in every phrase. And there's everything in it — pain, honesty, euphoria, distance. Whenever I hear her voice acappella I think there should've been a whole album of them. Justin Tam / Tzekin
Eternal Dragonz is a collaboration between musicians, artists, designers, curators and writers that draw inspiration from Asian diaspora. Follow them on Bandcamp here
GILA ‘Energy Demonstration’ (Lex Records)
This record feels like an immersive exploration of a mysterious world. Weaving fluidly between mesmeric drum work and eerie textures. Clever sampling and sound design create floaty spaces contrasted against commanding, chuggy pulses that feel dance floor ready. Every time I listen to this record, I find something new :) ELLLL
Craic Boi Mental ‘Craic Magic’ (Sham Rebel Records)
Craic Boi Mental is one of the most unique and creative artists in the Irish Hip Hop scene. His latest album explores life on the autism spectrum with humour, infectious beats and hooks to die for. Lolz
Ana Roxanne ‘Because of a Flower’ (Kranky)
A lush rumination on gender and identity, ‘Because of a Flower’ is a beautiful, lush hypnotic experience. In a year of fear and confusion, Ana Roxanne delivers an ambient emotional release that feels like freedom. Gadget & the Cloud
GASH is a collective focused on supporting womxn + LQBTQ producers & DJ’s in the field of electronic music based in Ireland. Their debut compilation ‘GASH Trax Vol.1’ presents a pick ‘n’ mix selection of some of the many varied voices in Irish music at present, blurring the lines between experimental dance and contemporary electronic music. ‘Gash Trax Vol 1’ is out now on Art For Blind Records
SAULT 'Untitled (Back Is)' / 'Untitled (Rise)' (Forever Living Originals)
There’s only one record in this race really isn’t there? Well in fact make that two: SAULT ‘Untitled (Black Is)’ and ‘Untitled (Rise)’ which are absolutely spot on in every way. Mystery, tone, funk, production, voices, politics, energy – rise up people! A sure shot for the Mercury Prize 2021, put your money down now!
Gilles Peterson is based in London and is a DJ, broadcaster and the founder of the Worldwide label, festival and radio station. Follow him on Twitter here