10. “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” — Fiona Apple
“Fetch the Bolt Cutters” has been described by critics as “chaotic,” “jarring,” “rough-hewn,” and “claustrophobic,” and it is these exact qualities that make the project the resounding success that it is. Percussive and off-beat, dissonant and playful, Fiona Apple’s fifth studio album is beautifully imperfect — displaying a vulnerability unlike what we’ve come to expect from an often-mechanical music industry. As one of the first major albums released during the COVID-19 pandemic, its themes of isolation and freedom prove both eerily relatable and remarkably inspiring. — Hunter T. Baldwin
We recently examined “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” within the context of Apple’s career more broadly. Read more here.
9. “Plastic Hearts” — Miley Cyrus
On her seventh studio album “Plastic Hearts,” Cyrus finally gives into the rock and roll persona she had been teasing ever since her Disney Channel days — and she does so spectacularly. The album is a glittering explosion of glam rock and pop influences through which Cyrus’s gritty, powerful vocals and iconoclastic persona shine. Tracks like “Midnight Sky” and “Night Crawling” pay a nostalgic homage to the rock giants of the past, all while exemplifying Cyrus’s refusal to stick to one particular era of influence. She cycles through a range of sounds, from stadium ballads to new wave tracks, and does each justice. Of course, Cyrus is no stranger to shocking music and career shifts (lest we forget her headline-grabbing transition from Miley Ray Stewart to controversial pop star), but it seems that on “Plastic Hearts” she has finally found her sound as an artist. — Sofia Andrade
8. “folklore” — Taylor Swift
Swift at once returned to her country roots and uncovered whole new veins for her storytelling with two surprise albums this year, the first just barely edging out its recently-released sister. “folklore” descended like a warm blanket in July, providing an unexpected soundtrack to the profound loneliness of 2020. Developed in collaboration with the National’s Aaron Dessner (plus superproducer Jack Antonoff and a helping hand from the mysterious William Bowery, better known as Swift’s low-profile boyfriend Joe Alwyn), the album is a rich tapestry of gothic aesthetics, crunchy leaf piles and cobblestones, and the heart-rending details of loves past and present on which Swift has built her legacy as a songwriter. It’s one of the best albums of her career and certainly the one where, singing of worlds beyond herself, she sounds the most at home. — Amelia Roth-Dishy
We reviewed “folklore” and gave it a perfect 5 stars. Read more here.
7. YHLQMDLG — Bad Bunny
Released on “Leap Day,” Feb. 29, “YHLQMDLG” is Bad Bunny’s sophomore album and was, until then, his most aggressively reggaeton release. (He has since released one additional album and a compilation of songs not originally intended for audiences, satisfying fans worldwide.) In this case, “aggressive” is the best possible thing to be; the entire album crackles with energy. Highlights include “Pero Ya No,” “Soliá,” "Está Cabrón Ser Yo," and “Yo Perreo Sola,” all of which capture the best of Bad Bunny’s range — listen now before he wins the Grammy for Best Latin Pop or Urban Album next year. At the risk of being wrong, we’re calling it now. — Cassandra Luca
6. “Punisher” — Phoebe Bridgers
Three years after her debut “Stranger in the Alps,” Bridgers finally released “Punisher,” her critically acclaimed sophomore album. Written and recorded sporadically throughout the past two years, “Punisher” was released into a world very different from the one it was created in, and yet still managed to capture the spirit of 2020 through its drawn out explorations of isolation and intimacy. When we reviewed the album back in June, we called it a “slow burn,” citing the album’s final track, “I Know The End,” where the album’s various sounds and themes coalesce into “almost six straight minutes of unadulterated ascent.” Indeed, Bridgers’s skill at reflecting her sadness proves cathartic for the listeners drawn into it, cementing the album as a defining one for the year. — Sofia Andrade
We reviewed “Punisher” and gave it 5/5 stars. Read more here.
5. “Good News” — Megan Thee Stallion
One word: Body-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody. Like Mitski and Rihanna before her, Megan Thee Stallion managed to capture the hearts of critics and audiences alike with a chorus made up of little more than a single phrase. And that’s just the start of what Megan’s debut album “Good News” has to offer. From the cutting lyrics of opening diss track “Shots Fired” to the dancehall stylings of “Intercourse (feat. Popcaan & Mustard),” each song on “Good News” is a celebration of Black womanhood and a testament to Megan’s skills as a rising performer. In a year marked by misfortune after misfortune, we could all use some “Good News,” and that is exactly what the original Hot Girl delivers. — Hunter T. Baldwin
4. “Ho, why is you here?” — Flo Milli
Best known for her viral TikTok song “Beef FloMix,” 20-yearold rapper Flo Milli released her debut mixtape “Ho, why is you here?” on July 24. The mixtape gained great critical acclaim — rightfully so. Flo Milli’s flow is instantly recognizable, completely unique, and beyond impressive for a young, up and coming rapper. With lines like “All they do is talk shit like a toilet with some lips” and “Ladies, listen, I ain't talking 'bout fitness when I say / These n***** weak (Eww),” the mixtape is rife with humorous, sharp lyrics, expertly delivered in Flo Milli’s distinctive tongue-in-cheek style. “Ho, why is you here?” is the perfect body of work for anyone looking to feel, as Flo Milli would put it, “Like That Bitch.” — Annie Harrigan
3. “Ungodly Hour” — Chloe x Halle
Two years after the release of their debut album “The Kids Are Alright,” R&B singer-songwriter duo (and sisters) Chloe x Halle have returned with their critically acclaimed sophomore album “Ungodly Hour.” Released June 12, delayed a week from its original scheduled release date in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, “Ungodly Hour” shows the growth of Chloe x Halle’s artistry. The album, co-written by the sisters and heavily produced by Chloe, is an R&B record with pop, hip-hop, and soul influences. “Ungodly Hour” navigates messy situations, self acceptance, love, and being unapologetically yourself. The singers’ voices and harmonies are incomparable, the lyricism is impressive for artists so young, and the production is immaculate. With its three nominations at the upcoming Grammy Awards, “Ungodly Hour” exceeded expectations and completely avoided the dreaded sophomore slump. — Annie Harrigan
2. “Sawayama” — Rina Sawayama
A conglomeration of nu metal, dance pop, R&B, and rock influences, Japanese-British singer songwriter Rina Sawayama’s debut album “Sawayama” has something for everyone. The album gives listeners a peek into the life of its titular artist with songs about family, friends, identity, and dealing with racism. With tracks reminiscent of a 2000s Evanescence but also a 2000s Britney Spears, “Sawayama” takes listeners on a musical journey through a myriad of genres, themes, and emotions. If you’re looking for something to dance, cry, sing, or headbang to, “Sawayama” is just the album for you. — Annie Harrigan
1. “Set My Heart on Fire Immediately” — Perfume Genius
Perfume Genius has been releasing music for over 10 years, but it’s on this unforgettable album that he truly finds his stride. Released in the quiet of early quarantine, “Set My Heart On Fire Immediately” is labored, frenzied, and electrifying — an intimate portrait of untamed artistry and emotion. Let the album take you with it on its reckless rollercoaster of sound and feeling; you won’t be disappointed. — Joy C. Ashford