Country Perspective’s Top Ten Albums Mid-Way Through 2020

2020 has been a tumultuous and crazy year around the world. But throughout all the madness of this year, I’ve found this year in albums to be pretty damn amazing in terms of quality. In fact it’s already surpassed the last couple of years and 2020 is easily on pace to be at the fantastic levels of 2014-2016, which saw some of my absolute favorite albums of the 2010s released. By year’s end some really good albums won’t even crack the top ten that would easily make it in average years. From your usual suspects and new contenders to surprise releases and comebacks, my best albums of 2020 list has a little bit of everything in terms of sound and artists. So without further ado, here are Country Perspective’s Top Ten Best Albums of 2020 so far (in no particular order)…

(Click on the titles to read the full review)

Dua Lipa — Future Nostalgia

Dua Lipa delivers an absolutely fantastic album in Future Nostalgia. It has the elements I want to hear in a pop album and it comes oh so close to be an album of the year contender. Despite one slip-up, this album delivers everything else perfectly. It encapsulates disco, electro pop and dance music with the kind of aplomb and grace I would expect out of Carly Rae Jepsen, while at the same time delivering incredibly infectious hooks and vocal performances that will stick with you long after listening. This is one of the best pop albums you’ll hear in 2020.

John Moreland — LP5

LP5 is another fantastic album from John Moreland. He’s always been a great songwriter since his first album, but it’s the recognition to grow and experiment with his sound starting with his last album that’s taken him to a whole new level in my mind. Too many singer-songwriter artists think they have to stick to a stripped-down, folk-y sound for their lyrics to be taken seriously. At the same time, drum machines are dismissed as “not real instruments” used by pop stars. Well with LP5, Moreland proves both these claims to be moot.

Khruangbin — Mordechai 

While I wouldn’t put it at the level of their great, southwestern-flavored 2018 album Con Todo El Mundo, this album is another pretty damn good record from the trio. This album centers mostly around a groovy, psychedelic funk sound with tinges of disco and jam pop mixed in at times. The band also surprises by mixing in some vocals on this record and they actually work pretty well. Most importantly they don’t detract from the hypnotic sounds of the band, which will always be the focus and strength of the group. If I had to pick my favorites they would be “Time (You and I)”, “Father Bird, Mother Bird” and album closer “Shida.” The latter is probably the top song for me, as the bass line is simply flawless. And if you’re looking for a relaxing album, you will be hard-pressed to find one more chill than this one in 2020.

Ashley McBryde — Never Will

Ashley McBryde delivers exactly what I had hoped for and then beyond with Never Will. She leans heavily into her natural heartland rock sound and combines it with traditional country to create an album I will remember for a long time. The songwriting is brilliant and varied, running the gauntlet of emotions and most importantly I think Ashley McBryde delivers a flawless presentation of flawed characters. They’re never framed as likable, but real and as they are, which can be hard to get behind as a listener. But just like Sturgill Simpson’s SOUND & FURY, it can be understandable to not want to listen to music about such real and flawed characters, songs where there are no heroes even. For me though this is the music that is truly intriguing and has a lasting impact.

Tennis — Swimmer

With Swimmer, Tennis delivers an excellent album about love. It’s quickly became one of my favorite love albums. And this isn’t rash hyperbole on my end. I’m being serious when I say that this album truly delivers a heartfelt, genuine and truly touching take on true love. Love albums and love song are an absolute dime-a-dozen. They’re churned out every day. Most only focus on the surface level of love and the flip-side with heartbreak. What they don’t ever seem to focus on are the little things, the nitty gritty of relationships that aren’t easy to convey in an informative and interesting way. But that takes brilliant songwriting with equally high-quality production that aids it. Tennis delivers this.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — Reunions 

While I wouldn’t put this amongst the very best of Jason Isbell’s work, it’s yet another fantastic album from the singer-songwriter and his talented band. Reunions more than anything is a testament to Isbell’s relentless pursuit of his craft and how he constantly pushes himself to do better than he’s done before (which is quite difficult considering how high he sets the bar). Of course as always there are lots of sad songs too. But it’s hard to argue anyone writes sad songs better than Isbell. Every generation has their own Dylan and Lennon. I feel it’s safe to say Isbell is that level of songwriter for this generation.

Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats — UNLOCKED

The songs themselves don’t have any big messages and are essentially bangers that focus on delivering fun bars. So many hip-hop albums are like this today and many are largely forgotten because the delivery just flat-out sucks. But Curry brings so much aggressive passion and rawness in his voice, along with his choice of diction in his delivery makes what would be an average banger into something that’s truly memorable. And this big reason is why UNLOCKED is the first great hip-hop album I’ve heard in 2020. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of ZUU (an album I’m ashamed I omitted from my best of 2019 list), this is yet another high-quality project from Denzel Curry (and another great one from Kenny Beats too).

Carly Rae Jepsen — Dedicated Side B

Dedicated Side B is yet another pop masterpiece from Carly Rae Jepsen. I can’t believe how she just continues to blow me away with fantastic project after fantastic project. Jepsen won Country Perspective’s 2019 Album of the Year with Dedicated and she’s putting herself in the unprecedented position to win it again in 2020 to make it back-to-back. It’s simply incredible. And oh yeah she still has another album on the way.

The Weeknd — After Hours

After Hours is a phenomenal achievement by The Weeknd. This album is a rich, cinematic experience of love, losing it, fighting to regain it and ultimately reaching the realistic conclusion of realizing that it’s lost. The production team absolutely nails every emotion on this album and takes the lyricism to a whole new level. The juxtaposition of the breezy, mixed cocktail of genres (R&B, pop, hip-hop, dream pop, 80s) feels perfect on this album of frenetic, dark emotions that permeate throughout it. This is without a doubt an album of the year contender.

Tame Impala — The Slow Rush

The Slow Rush is another great album from Tame Impala without a doubt. But it’s also hard not to see this album is a few missteps away from equaling the brilliance of Currents. It lacks focus in a few spots and there’s one song that just isn’t needed. But this is also a bit nitpicking admittedly. The production from Parker is once again deeply rich and textured, engulfing you with it’s fantastic details. And the songwriting mostly hits. So ultimately I can say this is one of the best albums you’ll hear in 2020.

Honorable Mentions (just missed the top ten)

7 thoughts on “Country Perspective’s Top Ten Albums Mid-Way Through 2020

  1. Zackary Kephart July 16, 2020 / 12:11 pm

    Yeah, it seems to be the critical consensus – regardless of genre – that this has been a strong year for new music … even with delayed releases and the pandemic. I know I had more trouble putting together my own list than I had in years prior, and I think it’s due to the fact that, really, everyone’s tastes expand each year as they find new artists. Mine hasn’t shifted much since June, but it looks like we have some strong releases waiting on down the road!

    Anyway, love the all-genre approach you have here. I’ve been bad about hearing many new releases outside the country (or country-adjacent) realm, but I enjoyed the Weeknd’s album and Carly’s. Also just listened to ‘Alfredo’ yesterday – Freddie Gibbs is just badass, man. I know you had high praise for Tennis when you reviewed it, so I need to check out that album!

    Of the country ones, yeah, I had waned a bit on the Moreland release, but I just listened to again the other day and remembered what I heard in it the first time I heard it. I also love how Ashley decided, “fuck it, radio won’t play me anyway” and just made a grand artistic statement with her latest work!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh July 16, 2020 / 1:31 pm

      Yes, I figured the pandemic would slow things down but the quality just keeps going up. And I’m definitely not complaining haha! And yeah June slowed down a little for me too (Khruangbin being the big exception). I hear you on tastes expanding, as three artists in my top ten I had never really listened to before this year.

      Thanks man! I figured you would enjoy Alfredo! Gibbs is a badass for sure! He has been on fire! I also recommend checking out Conway the Machine’s album with The Alchemist earlier this year, as it’s very much in the same vein. I think you would like it. And yes I think you would enjoy Tennis!

      That’s funny because when organizing my list I would think the same thing about the Moreland release. Then I listen to it again and remember how great it is too. His greater emphasis on varied instrumentation and production on his last two albums made both of them the best records he’s made in my mind. All the while his songwriting continues to be excellent. Completely agree on Ashley! I’m so glad she threw caution to the wind and did what she wants. With as many alternative outlets that exist outside of radio I don’t understand why more artists don’t do this.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Raymond July 16, 2020 / 8:57 pm

    I will say the mainstream country has been decent as outside of Dustin Lynch none of the albums have been bad, and albums from Hot Country Knights, Ingrid Andress, Tenille Arts, Brett Eldredge and Ashley McBryde are all very solid and at minimum for me an 8 out of 10. I am very excited for Caylee Hammack’s debut album as she is a newcomer I see a ton of potential in. For mainstream country this year feels like the women really bring it, it’s just a shame that Gabby Barrett seems to be the new it female instead of any of the other solo female artists I mentioned,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh July 17, 2020 / 11:47 am

      I agree! Although I would add Sam Hunt’s album to the bad list with Lynch. And I will definitely be reviewing that Eldredge album soon! I haven’t heard a lot about Hammack honestly, but I’ll be sure to add her upcoming album to my listening list. Yes, I agree on it being disappointing that Barrett is the only woman getting significant attention. I would much rather see any of the other women you mentioned above be getting it instead of her. And its not that Barrett is a bad artist, but her album is just so mediocre outside of “I Hope” and “Footprints on the Moon.”

      Like

      • Raymond July 17, 2020 / 7:44 pm

        I genuinely forgot Sam Hunt had an album. Like that album came out right when the pandemic was getting really bad and in general I ignore Sam Hunt’s music because it is just so bad.

        In regards to Caylee Hammack: this is the song I go to when I say she has potential:

        Also hot take: I am not a fan of “I Hope” mainly due to how loud and overproduced the chorus is.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Zackary Kephart July 17, 2020 / 12:01 pm

      Raymond,

      Just want to say, it’s good seeing your name in the comments over here again!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Raymond July 17, 2020 / 7:44 pm

        Thanks, glad this site is still around as it is one of my favorite music review sites

        Liked by 1 person

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