the AU review is proud to announce The 40 Best Albums of 2020, from Australia and around the world. Who will top our 12th annual list? Read on to find out, and enjoy streams of the records as you scroll through.
40. San Cisco – Between You & Me
After more than a decade together, San Cisco (Jordi Davieson on vocals and guitar, Scarlett Stevens on drums, and Josh Biondillo on guitar) are now at a point where they know what they are capable of making and very comfortable in doing so. After albums two and three (Gracetown and The Water) left things a little stale and at times uninspired, Between You and Me is San Cisco back at their best, with a refreshed focus about what they want to achieve as a band. Between You and Me is San Cisco’s best album since their debut. – Read Our Full Review
39. Jaguar Jonze – Diamonds & Liquid Gold
From it’s bond-esque title track to the scintillating “Kill Me With Your Love”, Jaguar Jonze has managed to turn in a highly complex, cerebral package with dense soundscapes and a constant beat of urgency and chaos. Although it’s only an EP, Diamonds & Liquid Gold is big enough to easily best most studio albums this year, reiterating Deena Lynch’s strong grip on how to construct engaging, memorable tunes. – Chris Singh
38. E^ST – I’M DOING IT
If you told me back in 2014 when E^ST released her first single that it would be another six years before we heard a full album from her, I’d have definitely tried to call your bluff. It feels like E^ST has been around much longer than someone who’s only now releasing their debut album. After years of putting out downbeat pop brilliance, E^ST decided 2020 was to be the year that she gave everyone a chance to listen to her album I’m Doing It. And honestly, waiting until now has definitely been worth it.
I’m Doing It is an album made by someone who’s only now grown to be comfortable in her own skin. After years of trying to find the right time and space to release her debut, E^ST is showing all the signs of an artist headed for bigger and better things; whether that’s in a upwards or e^stern trajectory, who knows. – Read Our Full Review
37. Glass Animals – Dreamland
After teaching us how to be a human being in 2016, Glass Animals have been forced to adapt to a world in 2020 they definitely wouldn’t have even considered four years ago. Following the life-altering injuries sustained to drummer Joe Seaward, the band put plans for album number three on the back burner allowing Seaward to fully recover and the band to look at ways of reinventing themselves. With the band back in full swing and COVID looking to derail things once more, Glass Animals return with Dreamland, a nostalgic look back on past lives and the trials and tribulations that have allowed the band to get to the position they’re in now.
Released in a genuinely weird time, Dreamland allows the listener to escape the mundane nature of 2020 for the briefest of times. While not their best release, there’s enough nostalgia and progression on Dreamland to suggest the future of Glass Animals is nowhere as bleak as this year has been so far. – Read Our Full Review
36. Martha Ffion – Nights To Forget
Nights To Forget is something of a change in direction for Claire McKay, a.k.a Martha Ffion, with the Glasgow-based Irish singer-songwriter moving away from quiet confessional introspection and heading into a more contemporary pop vibe. Nights To Forget is a wonderfully stylish and perceptive collection of songs. Full of warmth, style and substance, Ffion’s music is well worth your attention. – Simon Clark
35. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud
Katie Crutchfield has created a modern classic in the world of folk. Five albums in, and the artist widely known as Waxahatchee has never sounded more engaged and focused, zoning in on the kind of clear and uncluttered sound that leaves enough room for her to truly showcase how strong of a songwriter she has become. – Chris Singh
34. Wolf & Cub – NIL
After a long absence, Wolf & Cub are back, but not as you know it, armed with a new drummer, a heavier sound and a ‘zero-f**ks-given’ attitude all on show with new album NIL. Released from the burden of expectation, that theme of acceptance combined with rapid stickwork, howling guitars and driving bass lines means NIL goes close to Wolf & Cub’s best work to date. – Ben Somerford
33. Caribou – Suddenly
The one where Caribou masters the art of brevity. It’s often taken far longer for Dan Snaith to build wrap you in the atmosphere of his consistently warm and welcoming pieces, but with Suddenly it seems that the acclaimed Canadian artist doesn’t need to be nearly as patient with his own material. The songs in this incredibly rewarding package are sharper than his usual forays into audio hypnotics, reflecting an astute understanding of how to involve the listener without ensnaring them with crescendos and slow-burns. – Chris Singh
32. Little Lord Street Band – A Minute Of Another Day
Often an album that shifts through so many different genres and styles is the symptom of something going wrong. An inability to settle on a particular sound, for example. But, on A Minute of Another Day, it’s perhaps one of the album’s greatest strengths. Of course, it helps when you’ve got a band that can slip between genres, styles and moods with ease and style. Whilst, this might be the band’s debut, they’re a well traveled bunch, and with some of these songs several years in the making, they know how to deliver.
As debut album’s go A Minute of Another Day is a triumph. At times raucous, often thought-provoking and with some impeccable songwriting on show, it’s a strong contender for my album of the year. But don’t take my word for it, give it a spin now. – Simon Clark
31. Moses Sumney – græ
The mood changes so much on this two-disc stunner from Moses Sumney that it’s almost impossible to pick out the high-point. It’s the biggest, most boundless project the North Carolina artist has ever put his name to, drawing energy from a formidable roundtable of guests like Jill Scott, Thundercat and FKJ and channelling that into an idiosyncratic whole.
30. Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
The deep-soaking technicolour environment Kevin Parker draws his might from is all over The Slow Rush, but there’s something more polished about it that separates the album from previous Tame Impala releases. With the album hinged on the concept of time, it feels appropriate that it also sounds like the production of time. Time spent collaborating with various artists over the years, dabbling in sounds from hip-hop to house and bringing them back to interpret them in his own unique way.
It’s the multitude of influence that ends up strengthening The Slow Rush, validating the patience of Tame Impala’s considerable fandom with a project that feels as highly considered as a perfectionist’s will, but as spontaneous as a dramatic and carefully chosen hip hop sample. – Chris Singh
29. Woodkid – S16
Fans of the French artist Woodkid were made to wait no less than 7 years for his second record, and when he dropped the single “Goliath” (featured here), earlier this year, it was immediately clear his return would not disappoint. And it did not – delivering a near perfect record that took his music to new heights, as he explored subjects more personal, orchestrations more bold and an aesthetic that designers dream of. There was nothing not to love about S16 – one of the year’s finest albums. – Larry Heath
28. Black Thought – Streams of Thought Vol. 3: Cane & Able
Even without The Roots powering his unquestionable skills, Black Thought is still a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the art of pure lyricism. Witty, dramatic, and always slick – Thought experiments with more sounds than ever before to give plenty of texture for him to riff of. Most consistent rapper of all time? Yes. – Chris Singh
27. Everything Everything – RE-ANIMATOR
Everything Everything has always been a band that treads the fine line between grandiose displays of eccentric rock ready for heaving festival crowds, and smart, reclusive, ballad inspired classics fit for a small sweaty room filled with wine and scotch drinks. Being able to seamlessly meander across this spectrum of sound has enabled the Manchester four-piece to release a catalogue of music that has increasingly tested their fans’ ears as they ladle up layers of intricate musicianship and always razor-sharp lyrics.
Re-animator could well prove to be Everything Everything’s moment in the sun. Lauded for their music plenty of times before, Re-animator is the band’s chance to showcase everything they’ve grown into as a band over the past thirteen years. They’re as sharp and clever here as they’ve always been and yet you feel this could only be the beginning for a band so good they named them twice. – Read Our Full Review
26. Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
Mike Hadreas’s experimental pop has reached a point of grandeur few would have expected based on his previous material. While there’s never a dull moment of Perfume Genius’ decades-long discography, Set My Heart On Fire Immediately exposes how constrained he was. This new record is what true artistic freedom sounds like, brilliantly choreographed by a staggering list of collaborators (including Blake Mills, who also produced his prior work) all working together as Hadreas discovers new dimensions to his remarkable voice. The urgency of the album’s title is not just for show; Perfume Genius has simply never sounded more vital than now. – Chris Singh
25. Jeremy Neale – We Were Trying To Make It Out
The energy coursing through each cut on We Were Trying to Make It Out is at odds with Jeremy Neale‘s lyrical content, yet the marriage works brilliantly as he muses on uncertainty and existentialism. As his solo career ventures deeper into pop, Neale turns in some of his finest, and most interesting, work to date. – Chris Singh
24. Miiesha – Nyaaringu
Ending the year as an acclaimed, ARIA winning artist, to say 2020 has been a breakthrough year for Australia’s Miiesha is putting it mildly. Her album Nyaaringu, released at the end of May, was nothing short of a a stunning debut, filled with some of the year’s most beautiful tracks. If this is how we are just starting to get to know this talent, the sky is certainly the limit for this incredible artist. – Larry Heath
23. The Beths – Jump Rope Gazers
When The Beths released their debut album Future Me Hates Me in 2018, I thought they were one of the more refreshing and interesting bands of the past couple years. With harmonies aplenty, soaring guitars and ever-so-wordy and clever lyrics, the New Zealand four piece were seemingly bound to become everyone’s second favourite band (I say this in the most positive and genuinely complimentary way possible). Returning this year with Jump Rope Gazers, the band have maintained that same level of honesty, wit and cleverness in their lyrics, while falling just short of their debut best musically. – Read The Full Review
22. Fleet Foxes – Shore
Fleet Foxes‘ Shore arrived to a whisper, and it was quite the remedy during a profoundly tumultuous year. Those unimpeachable falsetto harmonies that have soothed many over the years had never sounded warmer, more welcoming, and more vital. Context aside, it’s so lush and likeable that it just may be the most perfect Fleet Foxes album to date. – Chris Singh
21. Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death
Returning a year after their debut Dogrel, A Hero’s Death is Fontaines D.C. on the next level. Still with the same humour and dry delivery they’re now synonymous with, A Hero’s Death is relentless, smart and melodic punk. With stand out moments in “Televised Mind”, “A Hero’s Death” and “I Was Not Born”, there’s no surprises at all as to how the band has managed to land a Grammy nom for the album.
20. Machinedrum – A View of U
The prolific LA-based producer has been quietly turning out records for two decades, but not losing any spark in the process. His 12th album as Machinedrum sees a consolidation of disparate influences, with a consistent package of IDM, post-D ‘n’ B and hip hop, showing the flair and excitement of any new producer out there coupled with the songwriting chops of someone with twenty years of experience. – Julian Ramundi
19. Sondre Lerche – Patience
My favourite album of the year! It’s thoughtful, laidback and fantastically playful. It is not quite in kitchen sink territory, but the Norwegian isn’t one to rest on convention, so there’s strings, spoken word, synthesisers and horns, sitting side by side with stripped back guitar and vocals. Patience is also chockfull of just brilliant pop songwriting. Joyful, heart lifting stuff in what has been a rough year. – Simon Clark
18. The Weeknd – After Hours
Blinding Lights’ got viral attention with home dance videos as the world went into self-isolation earlier this year but there was so much more to The Weeknd’s post-breakup LP. As the album title suggests, Canadian producer Abel Tesfaye maintains those late night 20-something themes like excess, infidelity, validation and loneliness. But there’s a mood of cinematic and sexy darkness that may be indulgent but is equally enjoyable and accessible. – Ben Somerford
17. Washington – Batflowers
With the title taken from a magazine cover, Batflowers is an album in believing in one’s own hype and trusting the process and reasons for why you’re making art. On Batflowers, Washington takes control and leads from the front. Choosing to work with a variety of producers that suited the nature of each individual song, Washington set the pace and made the rules for the album.
Closing out on the gospel and jazz coloured “Kiss Me Like We’re Gonna Die”, her vocals truly come into their own, as Washington sounds at ease and entirely comfortable with how the Batflowers feels, sounds and looks. It may have taken longer than anticipated, but Batflowers is here, completed and ready to be loved by her fans; just as they have for the past ten years. – Read The Full Review
16. Four Tet – Sixteen Oceans
There’s a unique formula that Four Tet, aka Kieran Hebden, has employed and evolved that makes his music like no other. That’s evident on his 10th studio album Sixteen Oceans, which is electronic music with a subtle quivering twist. It’s part dance floor, part chillout, but never predictable. The beat in ‘Baby’ and the urgency of ‘Something in the Sadness’ are standout tracks. – Ben Somerford
15. Bruce Springsteen – Letter To You
After diversions onto Broadway, into filmmaking and memoir writing, The Boss is back, and with The E Street Band along for the ride. Following a period of writers block, Letter To You is very much a return to form for the New Jersey star, with Springsteen and the band in fine form, ruminating on themes of regret, morality and ageing. There’s also the added bonus of finally getting studio versions of fan favourite deep cuts “Janey Needs A Shooter” and “If I Was The Priest” after nearly fifty years. It was worth the wait! – Simon Clark
14. Northeast Party House – Shelf Life
Northeast Party House have awoken. While their first two albums (Any Given Weekend and DARE) were both great releases in their own right, it felt like both were building to something bigger. And now, four years on from DARE, the band has fully metamorphosed into what they’ve always shown signs of becoming. Shelf Life is what Northeast Party House has always promised and they’ve definitely followed through on that promise. Ten years into their life as a band, Shelf Life will be a turning point for Northeast Party House. This deserves to be on all end of year lists. – Read our full review.
13. Run The Jewels – RTJ4
Fist held high, Killer Mike and El-P stomp across what is easily their best album to date. There’s no mistaking how powerful Run The Jewels have become when their slamming this hard, making even the most potent of hardcore hip hop look like it was produced by a bunch of skittle-haired copycats. – Chris Singh
12. Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters
The precision of Fiona Apple‘s lyrics has always been the recipe of her tremendous success in the music industry. Her cogent, pragmatic songwriting and unwavering dedication to detail has long been admired by peers and fans alike, and on Fetch The Bolt Cutters it has never been more obvious that Apple is in a league of her own. The unpredictable musicianship, from found-sounds to oddly shaped riffs, seems to reflect Apple’s steady control over her own performance. Where previous material may have indulged in chaos, the legendary artist has never sounded more at peace with herself, even when dealing with trauma and resentment. – Chris Singh
11. Gordi – Our Two Skins
Here on her second album, Our Two Skins, Gordi reveals a passage into her life over the last few years that has shaped who she is as a musician and person. After juggling music and becoming a doctor for the majority of her adulthood, Our Two Skins is Gordi at her most honest. Here, she opens up about the trials and tribulations she’s endured on her journey of learning, love, adventure and self-discovery. The album is enlightening – a transparent dive into someone who is seemingly now comfortable in her own skin.
The evolution of Gordi from her first EP, to her first album and now Our Two Skins has been nothing short of fantastic. Our Two Skins is raw, blunt and fulfilling. It is Gordi at her most exposed and open. It’s an album of acceptance and growth. A deep dive into personal philosophy, Gordi should be proud of what she’s put together here. – Read Our Full Review
10. IDLES – Ultra Mono
Ever seen a band post about current affairs on their socials, and then read comments where morons say something to the effect of “stick to music”? There’s a very good chance you have. IDLES are the type of band that this would occur to regularly. They’ve built a platform on their anti-establishment themes, lyrics, persona and general anger at those in power. And honestly, with the way the world is in 2020, who could blame them?
Returning with their third album in four years, on Ultra Mono, Idles are near to their thumping best, as they pound through twelve tracks of mostly relentless punk and overly obvious lyrics. Following in the steps of their acclaimed second album Joy as an Act of Resistance, an album of full-throttled punk, Ultra Mono is just as vitriolic and emphatic in its delivery. It’s also just as blunt with its commentary on politics and the absolute shitfight the last couple of years has been worldwide.
While it does have a couple moments that aren’t as impactful as the rest (mainly “Mr. Motivator”), Ultra Mono is a refreshing reminder that constructive anger will always have a place in the world. Even from musicians. – Read Our Full Review
9. Johnny Hunter – Early Trauma
It’s hard to place Johnny Hunter, the four piece from Sydney’s Inner West. With a slew of singles already released, their sound changes from dirty and heavy, to anthemic and poetic; from unruly and messy to clean cut and hopeful.
One thing that is easier to work out is that Johnny Hunter are a band on the up, and you’d be stupid to miss the jump. With debut EP Early Trauma setting the scene for what the band are primed to deliver, Johnny Hunter draw the listener in with every engrossing guitar lick, relentless drum beat and the atmospheric and imposing vocals of front man Nick Hutt.
Early Trauma is as close to perfection as you could hope for a band releasing their first EP. Built on the back of a stellar live show, Johnny Hunter will do well if they continue to push the boundaries on their sound. Here’s hoping they maintain their inability to be pigeonholed. – Read Our Full Review
8. Sports Team – Deep Down Happy
There’s an immediate punch to Sports Team‘s sound that intrigues you from their opening notes. A certain level of brashness, and a fast-and-loose approach to their debut album Deep Down Happy that sets you in step to instantly love the release.
The English six-piece have built a loyal and passionate following on UK shores. That has allowed them to build a live show which fans have continually embraced. For a debut album built on the back of an infectious live show, Sports Team have well and truly delivered on the hype. With no obvious shortfalls during its run, Deep Down Happy proved itself to be one of the best debut albums released this year. – Read Our Full Review
7. Tim Minchin – Apart Together
Tim Minchin‘s story is one of many failures and victories. Seemingly as stop as it was start, Minchin is now one of the most recognisable Australian artists anywhere in the world. It may have been a slow burn for him, but ever so slowly and surely the West Australian has managed to cultivate a persona and catalogue that will be remembered for a long while still.
Here on his debut studio album, Apart Together, Minchin places his lived experiences (from struggling musician to thriving and award winning composer) at the forefront and paints the picture of not only someone who is very self aware and at times modestly sardonic, but also of someone who on the inside may be as uncertain about their success as the rest of us.
Tim Minchin’s Apart Together is a musical masterpiece to help wind down 2020. It is an album from an artist who’s been through a heap to get to where he is now, and manages to distill every drop of that journey in all of the eleven tracks. It’s pure, great and honest; ironic, funny and true. – Read Our Full Review
6. DMA’S – THE GLOW
Much like their progression from their Hills End to For Now albums, THE GLOW has elements of what you’ve come to expect from the three-piece Sydney act, whilst throwing in a couple welcome surprises that justify the ever-present hype the band have seemingly had since bursting onto the scene in 2014. For every moment that is filled with a slow love song ballad, there’s a dance floor banger waiting to explode at 3am in a poorly lit and equally filthy club. – Read Our Full Review
5. Alex the Astronaut – The Theory of Absolutely Nothing
Who said science and the arts can’t go hand-in-hand? At a time where everyone is being told that STEM is more important than the arts, it’s the Venn diagrams like Alex The Astronaut that help put everything into perspective. Equal parts scientist and musician, Alex The Astronaut has taken a few years to put to her debut album The Theory of Absolutely Nothing together. But, all things considered, it’s been worth the wait.
The Theory of Absolutely Nothing is a wave of unbridled emotion. It covers the entire spectrum of the human psyche, whilst genuinely leaving the listener in a better place at the end than they were at the beginning. Alex The Astronaut masterfully intertwines her lived experiences with those of her peers, and helps the listener realise that love, loss, happiness and hope can’t be explained purely or independently by either science or the arts. – Read Our Full Review
4. Hayley Mary – The Piss, The Perfume
Known as the vocalist and songwriter for Sydney’s The Jezabels, Hayley Mary consistently wrote some of the most brooding and emo music of the past decade or so. And while there is definitely still some of that broodiness here on The Piss, The Perfume, there is a noticeable pop and Americana trend as her vocals once more shine through.
A distinct departure from the music you’ve come to expect from Mary, The Piss, The Perfume, shines with its wailing guitars, crunching drums, excellent vocals and effulgent all round performance. – Read Our Full Review
3. Lime Cordiale – 14 Steps to a Better You
On the back of a solid 2019 where they slowly teased out a more progressive and grown up sound, 14 Steps slowly grew into the consciousness of just about anyone who loves a toned down and cruisy time and/or tune.
One of the first things you notice of 14 Steps is that it is not misleading at all with its title. Clocking in at 14 tracks and 55 minutes, it is a long listen, but hardly taxing. In a time where attention spans are shorter than ever, you’d expect listening to 14 songs back-to-back as part of one body of work to be a little tedious. Fortunately for you and me, Lime Cordiale definitely know how to write a catchy hook that will get stuck in your head days at a time.
As 14 Steps to a Better You is a surprising near hour of self growth, it closes out with “Following Fools”, a song written about growing to love yourself irrespective of your faults.
It’s a mature take from a band that very easily could have trotted out much of the same that they’ve become known for. There’s enough here to suggest Lime Cordiale are more than just everyone’s favourite after school treat of post mixed sweetened water. – Read Our Full Review
2. Laura Marling – Song For Our Daughter
In such strange times, there are certain things in life that are bound to bring some kind of familiarity to what, at times, feels completely foreign. One of these things is Laura Marling, her songwriting, and the re-assuring nature of her stories. Returning with her seventh studio album, Song For Our Daughter is Laura Marling at her most accomplished, as she caresses you through a space and time that absolutely no one is entirely sure of.
Song For Our Daughter is an album all mothers and fathers – whether current, past or future – should listen to. It makes a pretty special statement about how you can guide and nurture those in your care. Whether this child is real or not, there’s a sentiment in the album that makes you want to be protective and garner a glowing love and respect for those nearest and dearest to you. Whether they’re your daughter, son or no relation at all, Song For Our Daughter is an album that is there to reassure and provide a special type of level-headedness. In today’s climate, we can all use a little bit of this. – Read Our Full Review
1. Ball Park Music – Ball Park Music
Recipient of a five star review back in October, the self-titled effort (their sixth full length!) from Brisbane legends Ball Park Music has taken the top spot in this year’s list of best albums. In that review, Dylan Marshall had this to say:
“There’s a strange level of satisfaction reviewing a new album for such a universally loved band like Ball Park Music. It’s like listening to the news that your best friends are getting married. Or that you’re going to become a parent for the first time. Or that the coronavirus has been eradicated. It’s pure, unadulterated excitement, happiness and pure ecstasy all wrapped up in red hot songs. Returning on their sixth album, aptly titled Ball Park Music, the consistently prolific five piece from Brisbane are back with their most complete and flawless release yet.”
“In a year where you can’t really bank on anything going to plan, just know Ball Park Music has you covered. If I was a betting man, I’d back them all the time, every time. Ball Park Music is proof you’ll never lose.”
Read our interview with Ball Park Music HERE.
Stay tuned for the Top 40 Tracks of 2020, which will go live on Monday!
All reviews without credit are by Dylan Marshall. Additional contributors to this list include: Ben Somerford; Daniela Koulikov; Lyn Harder; Kate Rafferty; Larry Heath; Simon Clark; Chris Singh and Bruce Baker.