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Nialler9’s Top 40 albums of 2020

Nialler9’s Top 40 albums of 2020

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See all best of 2020 coverage.

20.

Clipping.

Visions of Bodies Being Burned

Released a week before Halloween and following up last year’s horrorcore-themed album There Existed An Addiction To Blood, Clipping’s Visions of Bodies Being Burned delves deeper into the eerie rap music vibes. The entire album is like been watched in the shadows, to a soundtrack of dark hip-hop with night vision goggles on.


19.

Jay Electronica

A Written Testimony

The long overdue appearance of a Jay Electronica album arrives 13 years after the mixtape that made it all possible, but, all is not what it seems. The voice of Jay Z is the first person delivering raps on A Written Testimony but despite the presence of Jay Z, Travis Scott and The-Dream, Jay Electronica’s booming and cerebral tones hold the album’s centre weight as does his dreamlike production which dominates the tracklist. When he’s on form he’s electric and throughout, Jay Electronica  is at his authoritative grandiloquent best.


18.

Niamh Regan

Hemet

The debut album from the Galway singer-songwriter Niamh Regan was on of the most revealing Irish albums of 2020.

Making a huge step up in both sound and scope of songwriting in her debut, Regan’s songs on Hemet touch on matters of the heart, growing up, of the duality of thinking of having a child after parental loss, of meeting an old friends/ flames after paths have diverged. People get married, worry too much, give themselves a hard time and can’t sit still.

Hemet is certainly a testament to a life lived, with wise lyrical insights, imaginative arrangements and a voice, recalling the spirit of revered singers like Karen Dalton and Laura Marling, centering these songs with an authority whether the record is intimate or swelling with sonics.

Hemet is an under-rated gem.


17.

Caribou

Suddenly

Following up the majestic emotional club heft of 2015’s Our Love was always going to be tough for Dan Snaith. Suddenly sidesteps that expectation with an album that features hip-hop loop-inspired productions, a return to his psych-folk roots and the clubby body music he’s released as Daphni on a gentler choppier album inspired by sudden personal and familial upheavals.

Caribou brings a softer side (Nialler9 Podcast)


16.

Empress Of

I’m Your Empress Of

Loreley Rodriguez’s third Empress Of album is her singular best. It’s mostly self-produced, adept at spinning dreamy electronic pop into hooky forms and rich delights informed by her family lineage (her mother appears more than once to offer advice), relationship makeups and heartbreaks.

The immediacy of Empress Of (Nialler9 Podcast)


15.

Fiona Apple

Fetch The Bolt Cutters

When albums that receive the kind of universal acclaim that Fetch The Bolt Cutters did, sometimes it’s a good idea to give it some breathing space and return with fresh ears. We pretend that a Pitchfork scoring of 10/10 isn’t a big deal, but the day the review was published was a giddy and argumentative spell of discourse. 

But when it comes to Fiona Apple, there is a lot to talk about. A fiercely expressive artist since the beginning of her career, Apple has this year released a record that overflows with grit, humour, and harsh truths. 

Bolt Cutters is Apple’s first album produced solo in her home. Using — literally — what is lying around the house; her dogs, her voice, her scream, her small home-world, it’s confounding how a space so small can sound so colossal, so furious, so utterly self-reliant. Here, she sends out songs like letters from a fortress. 

Rhythms of work songs and playground chants abound, supported by boxes of bones and percussive noise from around the home. There’s a fiery domesticity that jumps off the record as safety: to speak, to reach out, and to confront memory. 

Fetch The Bolt Cutters does not pull any punches. It is a ‘safe space’ built with a militaristic eye. It is an important text in our current conversations of feminism — especially in the era of Me Too — that speaks not for women, but to them. 

– Andrea Cleary

Fiona Apple sets herself free (Nialler9 Podcast)


14.

Charli XCX

How I’m Feeling Now

The lockdown album. No one quite did it as well so far as Charli, who in documenting her process and taking suggestions from fans, produces a sparkling  visceral rave pop album about yearning, anxiety, boredom and relationships in close proximity. Pretty much the mood of 2020 in one album then. 

Nialler9 Podcast: Charli XCX reviewed


13.

Mac Miller

Circles

Mac Miller

We’ll never hear the completion of Miller’s intended trilogy of albums, of which Swimming was the first and Circles the second. Producer and collaborator Jon Brion decided to complete work on Circles upon Miller’s untimely passing, although the recording process had already been well underway. 

Circles is the most pared-back project in Miller’s discography, featuring arrangements of mostly two or three elements and sung vocals. It’s a superb showcase of the influences beyond hip-hop which informed Miller’s music and creative outlook, particularly his take on Love’s ‘Everybody’. 

The idea of ‘Swimming in circles’ (putting his last two albums together thematically and sonically) is agonising for fans of the Pittsburgh native. Not just because the idea lacks closure, but because that same lack of closure mirrors the life of an artist who couldn’t seem to put his demons to rest. 

– Luke Sharkey

Mac Miller’s last act of self-care (Nialler9 Podcast)


12.

Kelly Lee Owens

Inner Song

The Welsh producer and singer/songwriter Kelly Lee Owens’ second album Inner Song is an album that explores the personal – mental struggles and pain along with the global – climate change and the natural world. Musically, it moves effectively between ambient, techno body workouts and contemplative electronica with a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Arpeggi’ and a spoken word appearance from fellow Welshman John Cale.

Nialler9 Podcast: Our favourite albums of 2020


11.

The Vision

The Vision

Ben Westbeech and Kon’s production collaboration as The Vision is informed by a bleeding-heart love of classic disco and early house music. With main vocalist Andreya Triana and guests like Roy Ayers, Honey Dijon and Dames Brown, this self-titled record is a celebratory album that captures the beauty, emotion and dancefloor prowess of the best disco music.


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