The Purple Sneakers team takes a look back at the best albums of 2020 so far with just a few of the records we have been loving this year.
We're only half way through 2020, but already it is has been a transformative, anxious, tumultuous and challenging year. From a pandemic to global civil rights movements, environmental crises, political upheaval and so much more, the term "unprecedented times" has lost nearly all meaning.
However, we have been lucky to have a fantastic six months or so of outstanding music releases. We recounted some of our favourite tracks of the year back in May (follow the Spotify playlist below), and noted just how much we'd already seen including artists flipping the script of what it means to be releasing music in 2020 to artists delivering career-defining records. Homegrown heroes have been raising the bar here and abroad, while international legends have delivered their best records yet. Dance music is as strong as ever, hip hop continues to be redefined, and the term "pop" is now so versatile and accessible that it seems everyone is leaning into it.
While the remainder of 2020 seems just as uncertain as the months already past, we're certain that fantastic music will continue to be released despite the odds, even if we can't assemble and share in the liberating joy of witnessing it live. These are just some of the best records of the year so far.
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The Slow Rush came out super early this year (Valentine’s Day, to be exact), and for fans of Tame Impala it probably reminds them of our sunny summer days pre-COVID. At least that’s what this album does for me. Everytime I hear the hypnotic synths and heartbeat rhythms of a track like Borderline or Lost In Yesterday I am absolutely transported back to a time when my biggest problems included what to wear to the pool party or what time to call the Uber to go and see ALL OF MY FRIENDS. Whelp. I miss 2019. Read our review of The Slow Rush here.- Clare Neal
Back in 2007 when I first fell in love with the wonderful Hayley Williams as the front woman for Paramore, it was in the midst of the band’s Riot phase and subsequently I was in the midst of my angsty pre-teen search for independence. It’s funny to think that an artist I associate so closely with my own search for identity has now, in 2020, released a body of work that for her follows this same tangent. Enter Petals For Armor, the debut solo album by Williams. Absolutely nothing like her Paramore days of yore, Petals For Armor is full of soft instrumentals and fluttering vocals, encapsulating the album’s focal theme of finding strength in vulnerability. It’s a complete and revitalising 180° twist for the artist and cements her as an individual that’s not afraid to defy the expectations placed upon her. Honestly, this is Hayley William’s most punk move to date. - Clare Neal
Grimes is undoubtedly pop music’s biggest enigma and for fans this can often be ~hard~. This year, in between birthing her ambiguously named firstborn with boyfy Elon Musk, her newest album Miss Anthropocene has also arrived. Honestly, it is almost as much of a blessing as any newborn babe, only infinitely less innocent. Think of everything you heard during the artists’ Art Angels phase and invert it into a sinister parallel universe and you have Miss Anthropocene, a concept album about the anthropomorphic goddess of climate change. Grimes explores the fact that the weight of the world will eventually crush humanity and humanity probably deserves it. Listen from front to back for the full experience with this one. Read our review of Miss Anthropocene here. - Clare Neal
My first taste of Run The Jewels’ 4th studio album RTJ4 (aptly named, I know), was in the form of the track Walking In The Snow. This track is heavy with BLM-related messages and I immediately knew this album was one for the ages. As always, El-P and Killer Mike bring it with the vocals- that goes without saying. But what I DO need to say about this album in that it is a body of work that so perfectly encapsulates the anger felt by so many around the world right now, not just in America. With a bunch of featured artists strewn across the track listing and themes that will force you to have those uncomfortable discussions. RTJ4 is poetry and sadness sprayed with a spicy rage coating. - Clare Neal
Two of Australia’s best exports and Salt Mines label heads Rudolf C and Shedbug combine for a follow up to their 2017 Honey Mushrooms EP, laden with driving, dance floor ready cuts and cosmic synth lines. - Jessica Negus
Minor Science continues to provide compelling, idiosyncratic soundscapes in Second Language on Whities (now AD 93). Playful, flighty percussion dances around shimmering synths, forgoing traditional form and structure to provide a joyful ride through expansive, iridescent IDM. - Jessica Negus
‘Modern Bliss’ shows just how versatile Roza Terenzi really is. She teases a variety of tempos and styles to find the perfect balance between tranquility and snappy four-on-the-floor techno. ‘That Track (Rewired Mix)’ is a personal favourite - its intoxicating vocals and streamline melodies tips the song into pure dance-floor excitement. - Evie Weily
Reputable Sydney selector COUSIN released his ‘Overtime’ EP last month, offering up a fresh take on floaty down-tempo production. The subtle drums and blunted breakbeats in ‘Welcome’ form a sense of comfortability and familiarity, solidifying COUSIN’s inventive shapeshifter ability. - Evie Weily
A lush change of pace from the clubbier fare he’s known for, Cape Cira invites you to gaze inward and find an escape amidst the turbulence that has so far defined 2020. ‘Honey’ is my pick here, hitting that sweet spot between meditative bliss and the swagger that’s defined his previous records. - Cameron Dun
Ilian Tape would have to be my favourite record label and Andrea has a big part to play in that. With Ritorno, he rolls up the best parts of techno, dub, breaks and ambient and absolutely smokes it, standout cuts being ‘TrackQY’ and ‘Twin Forests’. - Cameron Dun
With the voice of an indie singer song writer and production of PC Music/Alt Electronica - Winterreise is a chaotic and gratifying journey’. He’s the missing link for your friends who just can’t do anything without a ‘real’ instrument. Highlights include ‘A Star is Born’ and ‘Oh God’. - Lloyd Crackett
Stepping into the forefront of his production, Sega Bodega released a tender yet raw look into his personal life. From the childish moments of ‘U Suck’ to the heartbreaking ‘Calvin’ - he’s demonstrated his experimental electronic beats have as far to go forward into the future and as they do inward into himself. - Lloyd Crackett
MIKE is the best. Glitchy soul sampled hip hop beats, brilliant wordplay, introspective bars all combine to create a crackly, lo-fi piece of art that is nothing short of brilliant. On weight of the world MIKE stands up as a producer and wordsmith like none of his previous efforts cementing him as a name to watch in the depths of the underground rap scene. - Parry Tritsiniotis
One of the most prolific and sonically brilliant producers of the modern hip hop era combines with one of its most ambitious wordsmiths. This was an album destined for greatness, and it delivered on every single front. From buttery lush jazzy beats to hard hitting boom bap rhymes, stellar features and a niche message, this is an exemplar in what it means to make a hip hop album. - Parry Tritsiniotis
Ninajirachi has backed up her sprawling singles over the last couple years with a dazzling EP, Blumiere. Continuing her trend for glitchy beats and euperial vocals, Blumiere, see’s Nina’s inevitable turn on the mic. It’s a new dimension to her already incredible techno music, showcasing her as one of the exciting voices in Aussie electro. Read our review of Blumiere here, and read our interview with Ninajirachi here. - Lawson Wrigley
Diamonds are made under pressure, and that is certainly the case with Charli XCX’s 1 month quarantine album. It’s a glistening, sharp, sparkling soundscape that provides the perfect escape from isolation. She offers a more introspective look into her personal life, pushing out some of her best gems yet. - Lawson Wrigley
First pick is soul-diva Cleo Sol’s enigmatic album Rose In The Dark. Moving somewhere between Beyonce and Solange - perhaps a long lost sister? - the release details the navigation of love, lust, and reclamation of the self, both with a sensual feminine power and a touch of gospel. - Julie Fenwick
Four Tet’s ‘Sixteen Oceans’ is the naughtier cousin of 2017 release ‘New Energy’. While it nods towards his signature ethereal soundscapes that teeter between club and ambient, it also falls back onto something more commercial, like in second track ‘Baby’. Cutting away with interlude-style melodies that viscerally capture everyday life. - Julie Fenwick
When I sat down with Dan Snaith earlier this year, I was blown away by how fully-realised this album really was. 'Suddenly' is a record that encapsulates so much of Snaith's own life over the last five years, including love, loss, grief and family. Simultaneously, it mirrors what the rest of the world has gone through as well, and offers a comforting embrace to know that even though things might seem really uncertain right now, we're going to be okay. It's a masterclass in songwriting, composition and ultimately passion for what you do with your life and who you spend it with, and still sounds so good months later. Read our interview with Caribou here. - Emma Jones
Phoebe Bridgers bucked the "second album curse" and made it look damn easy with the release of Punisher. Maybe because it's not really her second album, having released records in her various other projects, and by doing so tapped into realising exactly who she is, what she's about and what she believes in. Punisher is a record made for millenials grappling with the world imploding before our very eyes, and leans into the many contradictions that come with being in this generation. Bridgers is a formidable storyteller, and with Punisher she shakes off any pre-conceived notions or pressures from before to be wholeheartedly herself, and encourages her listeners to do the same — whatever that means anymore. Read our interview with Phoebe Bridgers here. - Emma Jones
This album makes me really emotional, and that's probably because it was custom made for a thriving, packed dance floor and the liberation, discovery and emancipation we can find there. It's arguably Ware's finest work, and is definitely her most acclaimed. She leans right into the dance-pop of her early days, but takes aim at this space with a fresh, matured and ultimately sophisticated lens. It's sensual, emotive, and so much fun. - Emma Jones