Boston.com readers choose their top albums for 2020

No matter how you listened — some of you are probably still spinning platters , while we know others are strictly cloud-based consumers ...


No matter how you listened — some of you are probably still spinning platters, while we know others are strictly cloud-based consumers — music helped plenty of people get through this most unusual of years.

And with thousands of new albums to choose from, there was no shortage of options, especially judging from what Boston.com readers had to say.

We asked readers which new albums rose to the top this year, and heard from more than 100 avid music fans about what discs made their playlists in 2020. Their picks included rock, rap, R&B, pop, country, and more — everyone from AC/DC to Allie X (not to mention Quinn XCII and Charlie XCX, for those of you counting along in Roman numerals at home) — along with some eloquent arguments in defense of their favorites.

Let’s count down the top five:

5) “Man on the Moon III: The Chosen,” Kid Cudi

Who says the concept album is dead? “The Chosen,” the third installment of the trilogy the Cleveland rapper kicked off in 2009, got into 2020 just under the wire, debuting Dec. 11 at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. And clearly Boston.com readers were looking forward to the final chapter chronicling Cudi’s apparently decade-long battle with his alter ego, “The Rager,” giving the album enough votes to make the top 5 in our poll.

4) “Gigaton,” Pearl Jam

It took seven years — by far the Seattle rockers’ longest stretch between albums — but Pearl Jam’s latest was definitely worth the wait. Combining their familiar grunge tendencies with the gravely tenderness of some of lead singer Eddie Vedder’s solo work, it’s probably their most versatile album, even dabbling ever-so-slightly in electronica on the dynamic lead single, “Dance of the Clairvoyants.”

3) “After Hours,” The Weeknd

A certified smash for The Weeknd, “After Hours” saw the Canadian R&B singer expand his pop bonafides with hits like “Blinding Lights” and “In Your Eyes” — and he even shoehorned some new wave influences in among its 14 tracks. (The album’s rollout also turned some heads, featuring a short film inspired by “Joker” in which The Weeknd murders a couple in an elevator. So there’s that.)

2) “Letter To You,” Bruce Springsteen

Once you get past COVID-era anxiety — why aren’t these old guys wearing masks? — it’s a pleasure to see Springsteen back together with the E Street Band (in a pre-pandemic session, fortunately). As chronicled in a film for Apple TV+, the longtime bandmates embraced their “River”-era sound for the first time in decades for an album celebrating music, friendship, and how the loved ones we lose are never really gone.

1) “Folklore,” Taylor Swift

Tay-Tay (yes, some people call her that) had no albums on the schedule for 2020 — and then just went ahead and dropped two, including this literal overnight sensation from July that went on to be the best-selling album of 2020. Her most mellow offering to date, “Folklore” eschews Swift’s more typical pop stylings in favor of an indie-folk sound, replete with incisive lyrics and even the occasional F-bomb. Clearly it’s just what her audience (and Boston.com readers) needed during this lonely pandemic year.

Rounding out the top 10 with multiple mentions among Boston.com readers were “Evermore,” Swift’s December follow-up to “Folklore”; “Fetch The Bolt Cutters” by Fiona Apple; “Future Nostalgia” by Dua Lipa; “Ohms” by Deftones; and “Shore” by Fleet Foxes. Below, our Spotify playlist of the top 5 albums in full, followed by a list of every 2020 album recommended by readers (including a few from late 2019 we let slip in), and remarks from respondents about why they loved the albums they chose.

Full list of 2020 albums recommended by Boston.com readers:

  • “A Letter To My Younger Self,” Quinn XCII
  • “After Hours,” The Weeknd
  • “Alfredo,” Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist
  • “As Long As You Are,” Future Islands
  • “BE,” BTS
  • “Cape God,” Allie X
  • “Changes,” Justin Bieber
  • “Chip Chrome & The Mono-Tones,” The Neighbourhood
  • “Circles,” Mac Miller
  • “Coastin’,” Iration
  • “CTV3,” Jaden
  • “Don’t Feed The Monster,” Homeboy Sandman
  • “El Dorado,” Marcus King
  • “Evermore,” Taylor Swift
  • “Everyday Life,” Coldplay
  • “Exploding the Mirage,” The Killers
  • “Father of All…,” Green Day
  • “Fetch The Bolt Cutters,” Fiona Apple
  • “Fineline,” Harry Styles
  • “Folklore,” Taylor Swift
  • “Future Nostalgia,” Dua Lipa
  • “Gigaton,” Pearl Jam
  • “Gravestones,” Tom Macdonald
  • “Gus Dapperton,” Orca
  • “Half Moon Light,” The Lone Bellow
  • “Hate For Sale,” The Pretenders
  • “Home,” Billy Strings
  • “How I’m Feeling Now,” Charli XCX
  • “Introduction, Presence,” Nation of Language
  • “Jump Rope Gazers,” The Beths
  • “Lamentations,” American Aquarium
  • “Laugh Now, Cry Later,” Drake
  • “Letter to You,” Bruce Springsteen
  • “Life on the Flip Side,” Jimmy Buffett
  • “Man on the Moon III: The Chosen,” Kid Cudi
  • “Manic,” Halsey
  • “Mordechai,” Khruangbin
  • “Music to be Murdered By,” Eminem
  • “Ohms,” Deftones
  • “Plastic Hearts,” Miley Cyrus
  • “Power Up,” AC/DC
  • “Punisher,” Phoebe Bridgers
  • “Purple Mountains,” Purple Mountains
  • “Quadra,” Sepultura
  • “Quarantine Sessions,” Naughty by Nature
  • “Red Rocks Live,” Cody Jinks
  • “Reunions,” Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
  • “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” Bob Dylan
  • “Run the Jewels,” RTJ4
  • “Said The Sky,” Worth Living For
  • “Shore,” Fleet Foxes
  • “So Done,” Alicia Keys
  • “Song Machine,” Gorillaz
  • “Starting Over,” Chris Stapleton
  • “St Cloud,” Waxahatchee
  • “Stumbling Home,” The Sea The Sea
  • “The Blessing,” Kari Job
  • “The First Rose of Spring,” Willie Nelson
  • “The New Abnormal,” The Strokes
  • “The Piano Album,” PJ Morton
  • “The Slow Rush,” Tame Impala
  • “The Whistleknower,” The Whistleknower
  • “This Christmas,” J. Butler
  • “Total Freedom,” Kathleen Edwards
  • “Ungodly Hour,” Chloe x Halle
  • “What’s Your Pleasure,” Jessie Ware
  • “Without Fear,” Dermot Kennedy
  • “Women in Music Pt. III,” Haim
  • “YHLQMDLG,” Bad Bunny

Readers offer their thoughts on their favorite albums:

“Folklore” and “Evermore,” Taylor Swift: “It was a pleasant surprise because she didn’t tell anyone she was working on or releasing an album, never mind two!”

“Folklore,” Taylor Swift: “The perfect album for pandemic times, beautiful instrumentation and vocals.”

“After Hours,” The Weeknd: “The album rollout was fantastic. It felt like a horror movie experience and the album spoke for itself. Nothing seemed tone-deaf but it gave us great music even at the height of the coronavirus epidemic. The Weeknd is a phenomenal artist and the music makes me feel alive.”

“Manic,” Halsey: “This album was a change of pace for Halsey, very open and honest and sweet.”

“Letter To You,” Bruce Springsteen: “A return to a classic E Street Band sound that he hasn’t really delivered since 1980. And while everything since then has been amazing, it was so great hearing him do something new in the old way.”

“Cape Gods,” Allie X: “This album is so mature yet fun, super smooth, and has really gotten me through this pandemic.”

“Waxahatchee,” St. Cloud: “A great album — songs ranging from slow to mid-tempo to fast paced. In this digital / playlist era it is rare after a few listens that I want to play an entire album all the way through — but that is the case here. The last time I remember an artist making this kind of leap from previous work was Lucinda Williams with ‘Car Wheels On A Gravel Road.’ This intellectual, inspirational work is fantastic for our time and for all-time.”

“Gigaton,” Pearl Jam: “Pearl Jam made a nearly seven-year wait for a new album worth it. ‘Gigaton’ is brimming with life, energy and passion. No more so than on the lead single, ‘Dance of the Clairvoyants.’”

“Ungodly Hour,” Chloe x Halle: “Lots of opportunities to dance in the house!”

“Rough and Rowdy Ways,” Bob Dylan: “I know everyone calls his latest album his best since ‘Blood on the Tracks,’ but this really is Bob’s best since ‘Desire.’ And that is saying something because 2001’s ‘Love And Theft’ was also brilliant.”

“Father of All…,” Green Day: “The last new album I listened to before the pandemic hit.”

“Alfredo,” Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist: “It’s not garbage Taylor Swift music.”

Check back later this week to see which individual songs Boston.com readers chose as their favorites for 2020. Boston.com occasionally interacts with readers by conducting informal polls and surveys. These results should be read as an unscientific gauge of readers’ opinion.

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