14 Albums You Might've Missed In 2020

Armani Caesar's vortex of brevity, A.G. Cook's pop impressionism, Wizkid's global force majeure, and more

How did you spend 2020? With more with 70 million songs on Spotify alone and approximately 70 billion hours' worth of bingeable TV and movies available to stream — just a rough estimate — it would be safe to guess the answer is: at home, with your faves. Indeed, as many of us turned to what we know and love to stay warm and comforted in this most turbulent year, it was especially hard to keep up with what was new.

But we've got you covered. Much like MTV News does each week with Bop Shop, we've rounded up a good crop of 2020 music here to add to your next playlist — recordings that might've not have been on your radar this year, but that'll be sure to make 2021 worth every second.

As we put this year to bed, let's celebrate the albums we love that you might've missed in 2020. Maybe you'll come to love them, too.

Westerman: Your Hero Is Not Dead

Will Westerman's world is insular, but his music feels universal. For his debut, the London sound architect built a folk album from sparse parts: wiggly guitar lines, blinking electronics, and his ever-ascending croon, which takes flight with no warning. It's all on display on the skyward title track, where Westerman honors late post-rock icon Mark Hollis with a simple slogan committed to hope, even amid loss: "I will try to hold this / If you don't see where hope is." At the end of the most hellacious year in recent memory and in the face of unfathomable grief, those words double as a dedication to positivity, grace, and love in 2021. More of that, please. —Patrick Hosken

Wizkid: Made in Lagos

Four years after Drake's "One Dance" brought Afrobeats maestro Wizkid to the global pop stage, the Nigerian superstar's second major-label album found him once again blazing through a series of expert collaborations. Burna Boy, Ella Mai, H.E.R., Skepta, and more dip in and out of Made in Lagos, filling its runtime with energy and genres from quite literally all over the world. But it's Wizkid's standout solo moments, like the sexy "Sweet One" and breezy, confident opener "Reckless," that make the album yet another force to be reckoned with. —Patrick Hosken

Caveboy: Night in the Park, Kiss in the Dark

Caveboy deserved better from 2020. The Montreal-based indie-pop trio dropped Night in the Park, Kiss in the Dark — their years-in-the-making debut album — on January 31. Between one bandmate falling ill at the start of their 2020 tour and the global COVID-19 pandemic, the group had barely a month to promote the record IRL. And it’s a damn shame. Infused with lush, ‘80s-inspired synths and infectious beats, Night in the Park dazzles from first note to last. Its tracklist has everything: introspective ballads (“Find Me,” “Guess I’ve Changed”), sex-positive anthems (“Silk for Gold,” “Landslide”), and dance floor-ready bangers (“Obsessed,” “Hide Your Love”). In an alternate timeline, I’m knocking back tequila sodas at a dimly lit nightclub and shrieking in delight when the DJ plays “Obsessed.” —Sam Manzella

JoJo: Good to Know

I don't know how JoJo managed to release three versions of her latest album and have it still remain so slept on. Clocking in at just under 30 minutes, Good to Know, her first release since her 2018 re-recordings is a solid and concise look at how much she's grown as a songwriter, storyteller, and vocalist. While she traverses typical subject matter — alcoholic indulgence, no-good men, immaculate vibes — it's also clear that she's crafted her own slice of R&B sound that's so patently unique that the oft-repeated "Wait, JoJo is back?" jokes simply hold no ground anymore. She's here to stay. —Carson Mlnarik

Duckwrth: SuperGood

The disrespect of 2020 on the year’s best dance-floor albums, from Future Nostalgia to What’s Your Pleasure, will only make the inevitable return to the nightlife that much more thrilling. The entirety of Duckwrth’s most audacious album yet, SuperGood, should feel just as betrayed: It’s a sprawling effort across rhythms, concoctions of electronic, disco-funk, and soul that deserved strobe lights. “World on Wheels” is simply one of the year’s most freely feel-good jams, begging for you to head to the skating rink — you know, once they’re open. —Terron Moore

Elysia Crampton: ORCARARA 2010

While many of this year’s leading experimental musicians veered at times towards legible genrefication — Arca’s distorted reggaeton-pop on KiCk i, Yves Tumor’s glam-rock turn with Heaven to a Tortured MindElysia Crampton’s output remained ever formless and fragementary. The producer’s fifth album, ORCARARA 2010, was originally crafted to accompany an installation at the 2018 Biennale de l’Image en Mouvement in Geneva, trading narrative frameworks for sparse soundscapes that envelop and overwhelm. There are few times where a beat appears, and when it does, it rages as a thunderous maelstrom of drums ("Secret Ravine," “Spring of Wound”), giving way to sparkling expanses of burbling synths and piano keys (“Homeless”) that refuse to hold any true shape until eventually dissolving into nothingness. For Crampton, who is Aymara (a tribe indigenous to present-day Bolivia) and dedicates her album to an inmate firefighter named Paul Sousas, ORCARARA 2010 is a delicate, personal reckoning with intergenerational trauma and the deeply ingrained systems that continue to oppress people in the United States and abroad. —Coco Romack

Sault: Untitled (Black Is) & Untitled (Rise)

Here's what we know about Sault, the mysterious British music collective with millions of streams on their nocturnal, rhythmic, and bewitching assortment of tunes. On Juneteenth, the group — purportedly based around U.K. producer Inflo — released its first untitled album, (Black Is), via a name-your-price model, with proceeds going to charity, and with a clear message: "We present our first 'Untitled' album to mark a moment in time where we as Black People, and of Black Origin are fighting for our lives." Musically moving between funk, soul, subterranean R&B, and more, the 20 tracks comprise a powerful statement — one Sault followed up three months later with yet another untitled album, (Rise). Taken together, the pair of recordings mark a crucial year characterized by protests against racial injustice and frank, long-overdue conversations about equity. "Maybe you're uncomfortable / With the fact we're waking up," goes the haunting "Uncomfortable." "Why do you keep shooting us? / How do you turn hate to love?" —Patrick Hosken

The Ivy: We Move Faster at Night

Emerging trio The Ivy’s We Move Faster at Night feels like modern nostalgia: a brief six-track collection of earnest yet humble ambition, an adolescent coming of age steeped in the fuzzy filter of '80s synth-pop. Most of its songs approach the past — see “Memories,” “It Was Always You” — with a tone both somber and hopeful. The one song that does look forward, “Give Me a Try,” is the catchiest earworm, but even here, there’s still a timeless longing that binds the album together: for love, for patience, for a first chance, or maybe a second. —Terron Moore

Armani Caesar: The Liz

Screen legend Elizabeth Taylor had two of the most famous eyes in the world. On the cover of her latest mixtape, Buffalo rapper (and Griselda's "First Lady") Armani Caesar adds a third, directly in the middle of Taylor's forehead. It's a nod to the slightly off-kilter, warbling world the Griselda rap crew inhabits, fortified by dusty loops and braggadocio. "Every time I spit the flow, it get applause," Caesar raps on "Gucci Casket." "Queen of this shit, you bitches mad or nah?" Between references to Casino's tortured heroine, CB4's intrepid business woman, and pro wrestling's independent force Miss Elizabeth, Caesar thrives in the vortex of brevity. That's the secret of The Liz, which covers 11 tracks in just 25 minutes and sets the stage for an even more staggering 2021. —Patrick Hosken

Ryan Beatty: Dreaming of David

Ryan Beatty’s sophomore album is experimental, genre-defying, and moody, following in the footsteps of his frequent collaborators Frank Ocean and Brockhampton. There are no pop earworms here, just lo-fi reflection on the queer experience, daring in both its production styles and candidness. You’d never guess the processed, sensual vocals on "Dark Circles" belong to the same artist who got his start covering pop tunes on his YouTube channel and making cookie-cutter bops on Radio Disney. I think it's time we had that conversation. —Carson Mlnarik

Boniface: Boniface

2020 created distance in a multitude of ways: between people, between goals, between our pasts and futures while stuck in a murky, unknown present. And that space of reconsideration is where Boniface’s excellent self-titled debut shines most: swelling, anthemic indie pop with its best moments pulling its narrator away from the things that once defined them — aged friendships, lost loves, and the monotony of suburbia — to see them through different eyes. On tracks like “Ghosts,” there’s a joyous invincibility to predictable small-town life, but standout “I Will Not Return As a Tourist” is fueled by a burning desire to escape everything known. “I can’t stand spending nights away from home,” they realize, “but that’s all that I’ve been doing.” —Terron Moore

Boldy James & The Alchemist: The Price of Tea in China

Out of the three collaborative projects storied hip-hop producer The Alchemist dropped in 2020, his expansive set with Detroit rapper Boldy James feels the most like a dream. Not as celebrated as the verbose Alfredo (with Freddie Gibbs) and yet not as sweeping as Lulu (with James's Griselda cohort Conway the Machine), The Price of Tea in China moves in its own orbit, shape-shifting from grimy to soulful to ethereal in single snare snap. James sounds right at home behind Alchemist's menacing whistles on "Giant Slide," while "Surf & Turf" feels light as a feather thanks to a quick verse from Vince Staples. It's only one of James's own four projects in 2020 as well, and The Price of Tea in China — a pseudo-sequel to the pair's own My 1st Chemistry Set in 2013 — captures the collision of two prolific artists at the top of their respective games. —Patrick Hosken

A.G. Cook: Apple

As the progenitor of London’s PC Music collective, which has influenced artists like Chari XCX and 100 gecs, A.G. Cook has stretched pop to its extremes. This year, the producer, who has long been behind the scenes, released his debut solo album, an experimental, 49-track collection called 7G that let fans in on his song-making process for the first time. It largely overshadowed the release of his second LP, Apple, the following month, but it’s the latter that distills that methodology into truly accessible tunes. It melds all the synthetic blips and ticks for which the genre has become known (“Airhead”), with earnest pop-punk vocals (“Animals,” “Beautiful Superstar”) for a sound that feels surprisingly both nostalgic and of the moment. It shows that, though this particular strain of hyperpop has often been dubbed the future of pop itself, it’s perhaps better served as a reflection of the present. —Coco Romack

The Avalanches: We Will Always Love You

Twenty years ago, two crate-digging Australians stitched together a masterpiece album of sampling-based electronic music called Since I Left You. A carefree sequel followed in 2016. But late this year, well after the typical best-of lists had already been published, The Avalanches looked up from the dance floor to take in the night sky, recruiting artists as diverse as Leon Bridges, Jamie xx, Pink Siifu, and Vashti Bunyan to merge spectral romance and hypnotic stargazing on We Will Always Love You. What does a Valentine's Day dance party at the International Space Station sound like? Here's your answer. Now get out there and move. —Patrick Hosken

Latest News