10 Best Projects of 2020
From Rolling Stone to Billboard to Pitchfork, it’s that time of year where all music publications reflect on the artistry we were blessed with this calendar year by compiling their year-end lists. Each list is always different – some choose to factor in streaming numbers or charting statistics, others skew towards what is considered “critically acclaimed” or extremely hyped returns, you get the gist.
With this collection, no data or statistics were considered, nor was there any reference to major publications’ opinions on these works. This list was compiled sheerly with the content and context of the work considered. With that being said, let’s get into the 10 Best Projects of 2020.
- Pray for Paris – Westside Gunn / Released: April 17th, 2020
Buffalo’s Griselda trio has been slowly ascending from niche underground crew to leaders at the forefront of hip-hop, releasing projects prolifically to reach an apex that few predicted. Pray for Paris is gritty MC Westside Gunn’s formal introduction into the world of high fashion and expensive art. As one of the best projects to come out of the Griselda Camp, Pray for Paris is riddled with feverish excess, dripping in luxury at every step.
Gunn’s grimy bars blur the lines between reality and fiction, expertly balancing the New York street life that birthed the crew with the high-art realm they now populate. Over glistening production, Gunn navigates this ecosystem like a seasoned veteran, primed to continue his ascent.
- After Hours – The Weeknd / Released: March 20th, 2020
Taking inspiration from the glitz of 80’s synth-pop and the steamy, high-drama R&B that made him a household name on Trilogy, After Hours finds Abel Tesfaye at his absolute best. Diving deep into themes of pleasure, despair, and internal dysfunction, The Weeknd finds harmony between mainstream arena hits and the enigmatic noir-pop that established his early career. Complete with an irresistible cinematic narrative, pop’s antihero finally pieces all of his skills together to create a beautifully blurred classic.
- Set My Heart on Fire Immediately – Perfume Genius / Released: May 15th, 2020
Mike Hadreas’ fifth album under the Perfume Genius moniker is cinematic in grandeur while intimate in its delicate inspection of the human form. Hadreas abandons the imagined world and explores reality, darkening his palette with sublime melodies and grimy dissonance. The result is an album that connects with and embraces the joys and burdens of human anatomy and existence. With his most ambitious music yet, Hadreas utilizes classic pop archetypes while injecting new life into them in an emotional, majestic opus.
- The Slow Rush – Tame Impala / Released: February 14th, 2020
Arriving five years after the career-defining album Currents, Kevin Parker confronts the perfectionist’s enemy: time. Though the album debuted a month prior to widespread quarantine, The Slow Rush is the perfect album for an isolated, socially-distanced summer, blurring the concept of time as many of us asked “wait, what day is it again?”
It’s easy to get lost in the layers of groovy, psychedelic rhythms and sonic maximalism that makes Tame Impala so hypnotic and intoxicating. Parker’s compositions are rich and musing, delicately smooth and detailed in crafting a bountiful opus.
- Alfredo – Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist/ Released: May 29th, 2020
In a world where twenty-plus track deluxe edition projects designed to game the system dominate mainstream hip-hop, the classic one-rapper-one-producer format is becoming a lost art. Enter Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist, seasoned veterans who have perfected their craft over the years.
Opting for quality over the quantity approach, Alfredo is concise and consistent, generating great excitement and ever-greater results. Packed with social commentary and pop culture references, Gibbs’ top-tier lyricism seems born and bred to slide over Alchemist’s gritty beats and soulful loops. Gibbs and Alchemist accomplish in just ten tracks what most rappers fail to accomplish in twenty.
- Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez – Gorillaz / Released: October 23rd, 2020
At the dawn of 2010, Gorillaz released their monumental album Plastic Beach, chock full of eccentric collaborations and social commentary. Ten years later, they start a new decade the same way. Song Machine, Season One is an uncanny look at the magical lore of the Gorillaz universe. With collaborators hailing from all across the world, Song Machine offers seventeen uniquely playful tracks that create a surprisingly cogent album in a disconcerted world.
The rollout of this album was equally creative – singles released as “episodes” with music videos on a near-monthly basis since January, each furthering the Gorillaz story arch. Whichever genre of music dominates your playlists, Song Machine definitely has something for you.
- Heaven to a Tortured Mind – Yves Tumor / Released: April 3rd, 2020
Following 2018’s auteurist pop effort Safe in the Hands of Love, Miami-born multi-instrumentalist and experimental producer Yves Tumor continued their artistic growth and transcendent musical development with Heaven to a Tortured Mind. Tumor establishes themselves as a full-fledged rockstar with an intense, sexy, visceral rock record filled with howling confidence and unmatched bravado. No emotion is sparred, balancing the serious with the sensual to craft an electrifying record meant to be played exclusively at high volume.
As expected, there are plenty of great projects that just barely did not make the cut for my year end list. A very special shoutout to Fiona Apple (Fetch the Bolt Cutters), Aminé (Limbo), Bad Bunny (YHLQMDLG), Rina Sawayama (SAWAYAMA), and the late Mac Miller (Circles) for creating amazing, career-defining projects.
- Untitled (Black Is) – SAULT / Released: June 19th, 2020
Released at the height of the social justice protests across the nation, SAULT’s third album in just over a year channels the rage and sorrow felt by millions into contemplative streams of thought. The music itself is brooding, purposefully so, to slow your heart rate and make you hang on every word. The project is a collection of funk, soul, spoken-word, and protest chants that score the endless fight for social justice.
- Pixel Bath – Jean Dawson / Released: October 23rd, 2020
The follow up to 2019’s Bad Sports reaches an unprecedented level of sonic versatility with purposeful lyrics that shine through to achieve true unbound creativity. Pixel Bath is the epitome of genre-bending innovation, creating controlled chaos at its finest. Dawson confronts masculine tropes, challenges crooked authoritarian perspectives, and imagines a future without these traditional power structures as he reinvigorates the pulse of indie music. With his exceptional talent and limitless creativity, Jean Dawson is sure to be one of the most interesting artists to watch throughout the 2020s.
- 3.15.20 – Childish Gambino / Released: March 22nd, 2020
On March 14th, a mysterious link appeared on Twitter to the previously unheard of website, donaldgloverpresents.com. It was the middle of the night, Sunday morning for some people, and a new Childish Gambino project was the last thing anyone was expecting.
At the same time, the reality of COVID was setting in. Earlier that week on March 11th, the NBA announced a league-wide indefinite shutdown due to COVID-19, sending shockwaves throughout the country and forcing many to realize that this would not be a normal year. The impending lockdowns would arrive quickly, competent citizens would mask up, and we all would attempt to process just what the hell is going on.
At 12:00 AM PST on March 15th, an hour-long Gambino project began playing on a loop. There was no album art, no song titles, no promotion – just a four-panel sketch depicting exactly how the world felt. At 12:00 PM, the album disappeared.
3.15.20 captured a singular moment in time. When the world started burning, Donald Glover snapped a picture. The project is tense yet freeing, terrifying and hopeful, wildly experimental yet safe at home. Glover creates an air of darkness but remains playful in it, confronting both existentialism and nihilism at their core. The project is best enjoyed as a singular, front to back listen, with dead air and sonic experimentation between tracks adding to the overall experience.
3.15.20 is the album you play when the asteroid is flaming towards Earth and we’re all going to perish in an hour: embrace the human experience, feel every emotion one last time, vibe right to the end. Donald Glover masterfully created the first transcendent work of art this decade, and all I have to say is Thank You.
Dom Maiorca is a writer and filmmaker from Los Angeles, CA. He graduated from UCLA where he studied Psychology and Film & TV while contributing frequently to The Paper Mixtape, an independent student-run magazine. He loves talking about music and movies and is always looking for new recommendations for both. Some of his favorite artists include Childish Gambino, Toro y Moi, Tyler, the Creator, KAYTRANADA, Gorillaz, and many more.