The 100 Best Albums of 2020


The 100 Best Albums of 2020

Here is my list of the 100 best albums of 2020 (all styles, all genres) — and another 100  honorable
mention titles (below) also worth hearing. Happy listening!

John Luther Adams & the JACK Quartet  
Lines Made by Walking         
Contemporary Landscape Music for String QuartetTunde Adebimpe        
A Warm Weather Ghost         
Soulful Synthpop Meets Classical MusicThe Altogether            
Artisan Folk-Pop (with Bits of Bluesiness)Sam Amidon   
Sam Amidon   
19th Century Singing Style Juxtaposed with 21st Century SoundscapesAnakronos      
The Red Book of Ossory       
Medieval Music Mixed with Folk Sounds, Jazz and Celtic WitchcraftFiona Apple    
Fetch the Bolt Cutters            
Singer-SongwriterArab Strap      
Primavera Sound: Live in Barcelona
Scottish Indie RockYukihiro Atsumi         
Traditional Japanese Music Updated with GuitarBab L’ Bluz    
If Motown Had Existed in North Africa…Jeremy Beck   
By Moonlight
Contemporary Classical Music from KentuckyArt Blakey and  The Jazz Messengers           
Just Coolin’     
Previously Unreleased Album by a Classic Hard Bop ComboCarla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow    
Life Goes On  
Jazz TrioLouise Bock    
Sketch for Winter VII – Abyss: For Cello      
Mystical Drone Music for CelloStefano Bollani            
Piano Variations on Jesus Christ Superstar    
Solo Piano Reworking of Influential Rock OperaStephen Bradley & Edward Ruchalski           
Ringing Rock Geo-Phonics     
Soundscape Music Made on Mysterious Boulders at Ringing Rock County Park in PennsylvaniaBrooklyn Rider           
Healing Modes            
Five New Chamber Works with Possible Healing Properties  Cataventos      
Medieval-ish Portuguese Bagpipe MusicChouk Bwa & The Ångstromers        
Vodou Alé       
Haitian Drumming and Singing with Touches of Electronica and Dancehall MusicChronos Ensemble      
Old Russian Polyphony of the Passion Service         
Majestic Russian Polyphony from the Time of Ivan the TerribleThe Ciderhouse Rebellion (Adam Summerhayes & Murray Grainger)         
50-Minute Folk/Celtic Accordion and Violin Improvisation Recorded in a Single TakeNoah Cline      
Mountain Opus          
Solo BanjoFederico Colli
Domenico Scarlatti: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2      
A More Italianesque Interpretation of the Baroque Keyboard MasterJacob Collier   
Djesse Vol. 3   
Experimental Pop/R&B/ElectronicaContours         
Balafon Sketches         
Gamelan, Percussion and Traditional Instruments Meet Synthesizers, Software and Pedal EffectsMauro Arias Contreras           
Abismo de los Pájaros            
Chilean Guitarist and SongwriterSaskia Coolen  
Driftwood — A Gift of Time
Zen Music for Recorder Inspired by the Shakuhachi Tradition, Beat Boxes and Minimalist EthosHugh Crosthwaite/Stefan Cassomenos           
16 Lullabies     
Contemporary Lullabies for Piano by Australian ComposerSøren Mikkel Dalsgaärd          
Emotionally Intense Neo-Noir Music for Medieval Arpeggione, Electronics and Hints of VoicesDarling West   
We’ll Never Know Unless We Try     
Nordic AmericanaDeadstring Orkestra    
Rhapsody in Blue       
Percussion-Driven Reinterpretation of Rhapsody in Blue  Kiko Dinucci   
Guitar-Driven Experimental Brazilian PopDirty Projectors          
Epic 5 EP Rock/Pop Project from Brooklyn-Born (and LA-based) BandSteve Earle & The Dukes        
Ghosts of West Virginia         
Country/Roots Music Tribute to West Virginia Coal MinersField Music     
Making a New World
Indie Rock Song Cycle About the Aftermath of World War IElla Fitzgerald
The Lost Berlin Tapes            
Previously Unissued Live Recording of Jazz Diva Ella Fitzgerald from Norman Granz’s Private ArchiveFloral (Nate Sherman & Ty Mayer)   
Guitar-and-Drum Rock InstrumentalsBengt Forsberg            
Swedish Miniatures    
Piano Vignettes by Swedish ComposersSam Gendel     
Satin Doll        
Los Angeles Nu Jazz Meets the Jazz Standard RepertoireThe Gilberts    
The Gilberts: One       
Three Siblings Sit on the Floor of their Nova Scotia Home and Record a Folk Album with One Mic & One TakeMichael Gordon/The Crossing           
Anonymous Man       
Music for 24 Unaccompanied VoicesGrand Valley State University New Music Ensemble           
Dawn Chorus: Music Inspired by Our National Parks          
New Music from 11 Composers Inspired by (and Performed in) National ParksTigran Hamasyan        
The Call Within          
Jazz Trio with Traditional Armenian IngredientsBlake Hargreaves        
Improvisations on the Pipe Organs of Europe           
Improvisations on the Pipe Organs of Europe  Clifton Hicks  
Banjo Heritage            
Music for Archaic Handmade BanjosEleanor Hodgkinson    
Nino Rota: Complete Solo Piano Works, Vol. 1        
Solo Piano Vignettes by Italian Film ComposerHorse Lords    
The Common Task     
If La Monte Young Ran a Funky Microtonal Rock Jam BandLuke Howard  
The Shadow    
Ultra-Minimalist Piano Trio Music from Australian Composer/ImproviserJazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (with Wynton Marsalis and Wayne Shorter)       
The Music of Wayne Shorter
Jazz Tribute to Wayne ShorterJimanica          
Nothing But Cosmos  
Experimental Japanese Electronica/ElectropopKaruna Trio    
Imaginary Archipelago            
Non-Idiomatic Aural TapestriesKitgut Quartet           
‘Tis Too Late to be Wise        
An Inquiry into the Origins of the String QuartetRupert Lally   
Strange Systems          
Fractal-Based, Computer-Assisted Music (“with a Human Touch”)David Lang/Quince Ensemble
Love Fail         
Austere Lovelorn Music for 4 VoicesLee Han           
Piwa Pi            
Organ Improvisation by a Mysterious 16-Year-Old Korean Woman  Lina_Raül Refree        
Lina_Raül Refree        
Contemporary Fado with SynthesizersLionel Loueke
Solo Guitar Reworkings of Herbie Hancock CompositionsDmitry Masleev/Siberian State Symphony Orchestra           
Rapid Movement        
Soviet Union Classical Music Influenced by JazzMadison McFerrin     
Madison McFerrin on Audiotree Live           
R&B DreamscapesJohn McLaughlin / Shankar Mahadevan / Zakir Hussain       
Is That So?      
New Performances by Pioneers of East-West Musical FusionAndré Mehmari and Danilo Brito       
Nosso Brazil   
Mandolin and Piano Duet Performances of the Works of Brazilian Choro ComposersJoni Mitchell   
Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967)            
Previously Unreleased Music Featuring Joni Mitchell Before Her Rise to StardomMeredith Monk (with Bang on a Can)           
Memory Game           
Extracts from a Dystopian Ritualistic Sci-Fi OperaThelonious Monk       
Palo Alto         
Previously Unreleased Thelonious Monk Live Recording from 1968Tatiana Nikolayeva     
J.S. Bach: The Art of the Fugue (The 1993 Sibelius Academy Recital, Helsinki)       
Contemplative and Stately Final Live Recording by a Leading Bach KeyboardistOnyx Collective          
Manhattan Special      
Richard Rodgers Songs Turned into Art Rock/PopAaron Parks    
Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man    
Trance JazzPenya (with Msafiri Zawose)            
Penya Safari    
East African EDM/Call-and-Response Tanzanian PopVanessa Perica            
Love is Temporary Madness
Debut Album from Australian Composer and Big Band LeaderBek Phoenix    
Park Variations           
Man Sits in Park in Geneva, Switzerland and Plays GuitarGregory Porter           
All Rise           
Soul/Pop/Gospel/JazzLyra Pramuk   
Futurist Art Pop Drawing on Choral Music, Sound Collage, and Contemporary Dance Club StylingsHania Rani      
Mystical Singer-Songwriter from GdanskReverso (Ryan Keberle/Frank Woeste/ Vincent Courtois)     
The Melodic Line       
Classical/Jazz Chamber Music for Trombone, Piano and CelloRoomful of Teeth/Michael Harrison  
Just Constellations     
Celestial Harmonies of the Spheres (for Eight Voices)Ryuichi Sakamoto       
Soundtrack to The Staggering Girl     
Film SoundtrackMaria Schneider          
Data Lords      
Contemporary Music for Jazz OrchestraRaymond Scott           
The Jingle Workshop: Midcentury Musical Miniatures 1951-1965             
Mid-20th Century Commercial Jingles by Electronic/Cartoon Music InnovatorShabaka and the Ancestors     
We Are Sent Here by History            
Collaboration Between British-Barbadian Sax Star and Young South African MusiciansRavi Shankar/London Philharmonic Orchestra           
Premiere Recording of Ravi Shankar’s Only OperaEmilio Solla/Tango Jazz Orchestra     
Puertos: Music from International Waters     
Big Band Tango JazzThe Sorcerers  
In Search of the Lost City of the Monkey God         
Moody Late Night Ethiopian-Flavored Funk  Esperanza Spalding & Fred Hersch    
Live at the Village Vanguard   
Jazz DuetsColin Stetson  
Soundtrack to Color Out of Space      
Horror Film SoundtrackGeorgie Sweet
Debut Album from 20-Year-Old British Singer with an Amy Winehouse/Laura Mvula/Thundercat VibeJohanna Summer         
Schumann Kaleidoskop          
Solo Piano Improvisations Inspired by Robert Schumann (1810-1856)Brother Theotis Taylor          
Brother Theotis Taylor          
New Music from 92-Year-Old Georgia Gospel/Soul MusicianRichard Thompson     
Bloody Noses
Contemporary Acoustic Folk (Recorded at Home During Lockdown)Jaan-Eik Tulve / Vox Clamantis          
Cyrillus Kreek: The Suspended Harp of Babel          
Choral Music by Estonian Composer Cyrillus Kreek (1889-1962)William Tyler  
Soundtrack to First Cow        
Film Soundtrack Performed on Guitar, Lap Dulcimer, Harp and Other Traditional InstrumentsGottlieb Wallisch        
20th Century Foxtrots Vol 1 – Austria and Czechia  
Modern Classical Composers Write in Popular Dance RhythmsMax de Wardener (composer) & Kit Downes (performer)    
Music for Detuned Pianos      
Music for 4 Types of Detuned PianoMarcin Wasilewski and Joe Lovano   
Arctic Riff       
Moody Chamber JazzThe Westerlies            
Wherein Lies the Good           
Genre-Fluid Music for Brass QuartetCristina Vane  
Old Played New         
Traditional BluesVarious Artists           
Apala Groups In Nigeria 1967-70      
First Collection of Apala Music Released Outside NigeriaVarious Artists           
11 New Solo Piano Compositions by Prominent ComposersVarious Artists           
Imaginational Anthem, Vol. 10: Overseas Edition      
European Exponents of the American Primitive Guitar TraditionVarious Artists           
The Missing Link        
Compilation of Rare Tracks That Provide a ‘Missing Link’ Between Ragtime and JazzCaetano Veloso & Ivan Sacerdote       
Caetano Veloso & Ivan Sacerdote      
Leading Brazilian Singer-Songwriter Collaborates with Choro ClarinetistFrank Zappa   
The Mothers 1970      
Four Hours of Unreleased Frank Zappa Tracks from 1970HONORABLE MENTION LISTHere are another 100 albums from 2020 (all styles, all genres) well worth hearing.
Happy listening!
Algiers: There is No Year         
Contemporary Electrified RockAnrimeal: Could Divine   
Computer FolkMara Aranda: Trobairitz        
Spanish Singer Performs Songs by Trobairitz (Female Troubadours of the Late Medieval Era)Kyshona Armstrong: Listen  
Soul/R&B/PopBookie Baker: The 1st EP      
Folk Pop/Alt Country
Kenny Barron: Without Deception     
Jazz Piano TrioMajid Bekkas: Magic Spirit Quartet   
Trance-Indusing North African ‘Gnawa’ Music Meets JazzJerry Bergonzi: Nearly Blue     
Tenor-Sax-Driven Exploration of Jazz StandardsClair-Obscur Saxophonquartett: Nikolai Kapustin: Saxophone Chamber Music          
Jazz-Oriented Russian Chamber Music Adapted for SaxophoneFabrice Bollon/Freiburg Philharmonic Orchestra: Albéric Magnard: Symphonies 1 & 2
Orchestral Music from the “French Bruckner”Guy Buttery & The Bandura Express Marimba Ensemble: Guy Buttery & Bandura         
Marimba-Driven South African Jazzy World Pop  Caixa Cubo: Angela
Electric Brazilian Jazz-Rock-PopSharel Cassity: Fearless           
Jazz SaxophonyEvelyn Chen / Brinton Averil Smith: Exiles in Paradise: Émigré Composers in Hollywood             
Music by 20th Century European Composers Living in the USChildish Gambino: 3.15.20            
Experimental R&BEvan Christopher & David Torkanowsky: Live at Luthjen’s         
Clarinet and Piano Jazz Duets in a Traditional StyleShirley Collins: Heart’s Ease    
Traditional Folk Music from 85-Year-Old Who Helped Launch 1960s Folk RevivalDakhaBrakha  Alambari         
Eccentric Folk-Pop from KievDumama + Kechou: Buffering Juju
African Traditional Song Meets SynthpopSeamus Egan: Early Bright    
Alt CelticKurt Elling (with Danilo Pérez): Secrets Are the Best Stories   
Jazz VocalsEnsemble Italiano: Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Chamber Music           
Chamber Music from an Émigré Hollywood Composer (& Teacher to J. Williams, Mancini, Previn, Riddle, etc.)Ēriks Ešenvalds: There Will Come Soft Rains   
Contemporary Choral Music from Latvian Composer Ēriks EšenvaldsEteria: V Sadu, V Sadu          
Ukrainian Choral Folk MusicElliot Galvin: Live In Paris, At Fondation Louis Vuitton     
Solo Jazz PianoTim Garland: ReFocus          
Reinterpretation of Stan Getz’s Seminal Focus AlbumGrimes: Miss Anthropocene    
ElectropopTrilok Gurtu: God Is a Drummer      
Drum-Driven Improvisational MusicIdjah Hadidjah/Jugala Jaipongan: Jaipongan Music of West Java           
Classic Tracks of Sensual Indonesian Slow Groove Music (Influenced by Rural Fertility/Harvesting Rituals)Harmonicblend: Sandhikala: Mantradeva Vocal Soundtrack     
Video Game Music Sensibility Infused with Gamelan Sounds and Balinese Mythology
Heare Ensemble: Vox      
Contemporary Classical MusicDaniel Hersog (with Noah Preminger and Frank Carlberg): Night Devoid of Stars
Compositions for 16-Piece Canadian Big BandRay Wylie Hubbard (with Guest Stars): Co-Starring      
Outlaw Country/Roots RockJazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (with Wynton Marsalis): Duke Ellington: Black, Brown & Beige          
Concert Hall Presentation of Duke Ellington’s Most Expansive Work
Clarice Jensen: The Experience of Repetition as Death          
Contemporary Music for Cello (with Electronic Effects)Seu Jorge & Rogê: Night Dreamer Direct-To-Disc Sessions        
Acoustic Brazilian Popular MusicMatthew Joseph: Mood Masala
Funk Influenced by Indian Music and Fingerstyle GuitarThe Just Joans: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of the Just Joans      
Scottish Indie PopJyoti: Mama, You Can Bet!  
R&B/Hip-Hop/Nu JazzNick Keeling: A Slow Dance With Someone Who Is Leaving You   
Nostalgic Experimental Music for Piano and Four 8-Track Cartridge PlayersKhruangbin: Mordechai       
Psychedelic Texas TrioSonny Landreth: Blacktop Run  
Contemporary Louisiana Roots/Blues/Country MusicLauv: How I’m Feeling          
Pop Singer-SongwriterLighthawk: Shape Shifter   
Atmospheric (and Sometimes Punk-ish) Music for Didgeridoo  Charles Lloyd 8: Kindred Spirits (Live from the Lobero)      
JazzRudresh Mahanthappa: Hero Trio        
Jazz Sax TrioMeadow Maker (Ty Maxon): Newborn         
Solo Guitar Music for SleepingStephen Malkmus: Traditional Techniques
Psych-Folk/Alt FolkLaura Marling: Song for Our Daughter            
Pared-Down Songs for an Imaginary ChildMatthew Marshall: Fragments       
Music for Classical Guitar by 7 New Zealand ComposersWall Matthews: The Plum Women’s Blues: The Guitar Music Of Wall Matthews, Volume 3, 1994-96        
Solo Blues GuitarMakaya McCraven/Gil-Scott Heron: We’re New Again: A Reimagining by Makaya McCraven     
Reworking of the Final Album from Jazz Poet and Proto-Rapper Gil-Scott HeronBrad Mehldau: Suite: April 2020        
Solo Jazz PianoPat Metheny: From This Place          
JazzCahalen Morrison: Wealth of Sorrow        
Stark, Underproduced Folk Made with a Guitar, Banjo, Wood Stove and the WindAli Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge: Jazz is Dead 1
LA Hip-Hop/R&B Producers Collaborate with Jazz VeteransWolfgang Muthspiel: Angular Blues
Jazz Guitar TrioWillie Nelson: First Rose of Spring    
CountryUncle Nop Nen: Kite Songs: Traditional Music from Cambodia          
Traditional Songs Performed on the Chapei (2-Stringed Cambodian Guitar)Johnny Nicholas: Mistaken Identity       
Louisiana Swamp RockOregon Symphony/Carlos Kalmar: Aspects of America: Pulitzer Edition
Pulitzer Prize-winning Symphonic Works from Walter Piston (1961), Morton Gould (1995) and Howard Hanson (1944)Orgone: Connection      
LA Funk Ensemble (with Lots of Horns and Voices)Owl’s Head Mountain: Loon Callas     
Minimalist Guitar Plus Soundscapes of Wind and BirdsEd Palermo Big Band: The Great Un-American Songbook    
Unconventional Big Band Arrangements of Unconventional SongsMaceo Parker: Soul Food: Cooking with Maceo        
R&B SaxophonyEd Peekeekoot: Front Porch     
Native American Roots GuitaristBec Plexus: Sticklip            
Björk-ish Amsterdam Art PopGiulio Prandi / Ghislieri Choir / Orchestra Ghislieri: Niccolò Jommelli: Requiem    
Serene Requiem Mass by Neglected Neapolitan ComposerGabriel Prokofiev: Concerto for  Turntables and Orchestra No. 1           
Concerto for  Turntables and OrchestraGwenifer Raymond: Strange Lights over Garth Mountain  
Neo-Noir Traditional Folk GuitarJoshua Redman & Brad Mehldau (with Christian McBride and Brian Blade): RoundAgain    
All-Star Jazz QuartetRicardo Richaid: Travesseiro Feliz        
Brazilian Pop with Rock/Jazz/Funk IngredientsRookie: Rookie
Chicago Rock (in More Ways Than One)Roomful of Teeth/Wally Gunn: The Ascendant            
Unconventional Contemporary Choral MusicRoyce da 5’9″: The Allegory   
Allegorical Hip/HopDenzel Sachs: I Thought About You
Tenor Sax Playing Out of a Time Machine from the 1930s  Caroline Shaw: Is a Rose/The Listeners          
Contemporary Classical MusicAndrei Shereshovets & Mamkin Maxim: Six Fragments  
Music for Two Shakuhachi flutes (and Other Wind Instruments)Patti Smith with Soundwalk Collective: Peradam          
Metaphysics and SoundscapesMartial Solal & Dave Liebman: Masters in Paris          
Piano-and-Sax Jazz Duets
Son Rompe Pera: Batuco
Traditional Mexican Marimba MusicLuciana Souza and the WDR Big Band: Storytellers     
Brazilian/Jazz Vocals with Big BandSwamp Dogg: Sorry You Couldn’t Make It   
Soul/R&BBenedict Taylor: Swarm
Hive-Like Drone Music for 100 Violins/Violas and 1 GuitarFred Thomas: J.S. Banjo        
Renaissance and Baroque Music Performed on Solo Tenor BanjoTriantán: Triantán          
Unaccompanied Irish & Scottish Traditional Songs Performed by 3 Singers (in Gaelic & English)Jimmy Triplett: Lee Hammons Repertoire Vol. 1        
Traditional Fiddle Music from West VirginiaVarious Artists: Anthology Of Contemporary Music From Indonesia           
Experimental and Underground Music from IndonesiaVarious Artists: Blue Note Re:imagined           
Updatings/Remixings of Blue Note Hard Bop Tracks in Contemporary Commercial StylingsVarious Artists: New Horizons            
Anthology of New Jazz Music from South AfricaVaro: Varo    
Traditional IrishAndrey Vinogradov: Distant Calls   
Neo-Medieval Music for Hurdy-GurdyDoc Watson and Gaither Carlton: Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton       
Previously Unreleased Live Tracks from Folk Music Legend from Greenwich Village 1962Gillian Welch: Boots No. 2: The Lost Songs, Vol. 1
Previously Unreleased Home Recordings of a Leading Contemporary Folk Singer-SongwriterImmanuel Wilkins: Omega
Rising Star Jazz SaxophonistMarcel Worms: Piano Works by Jewish Composers 1922-1943        
Modern Concert Works for Solo PianoyMusic: Ecstatic Science           
Contemporary Chamber MusicBenny Yurco: You Are My Dreams  
“Alternative World Album of Instinctual Free Thought, Spirit-Guided”Denny Zeitlin: Live at Mezzrow        
Jazz Piano TrioEvritiki Zygia:  Ormenion        
Thracian Fusion-Funk
“I can’t speak highly enough about Music: A
Subversive History
Michael Dirda in Washington Post“A dauntingly ambitious, obsessively researched
labor of cultural provocation.”
Robert Christgau in the Los Angeles Times“An entirely new way to look at how music
The Atlantic“One of the most perceptive writers on music has
cut a wide swath down the path of history,
illuminating details often left in the shadows and
broadening our understanding of all things sonic.
Gioia vividly points out that the wheels of cultural
advancement are often turned by the countless
unsung heroes of inventiveness. A mind opening
and totally engaging read!”
Terry Riley“In the past, [Gioia has] written a series of
acclaimed books about jazz, but
Music: A
Subversive Histor
y is by some distance the most
wide-ranging and provocative thing he’s come up
Alexis Petridis, The Guardian“The highlights are too many to list, and mostly
arrive via Gioia’s refreshingly non-academic take
on the subject – he knows how to tell a story in a
way that will keep people reading….He has a
lovely light touch, a mischievous sense of humour
and a determinedly skewed take on how music
has been chronicled.”
Lloyd Bradley, The TLS“In this excellent history, music critic Gioia dazzles
with tales of how music grew out of violence, sex,
and rebellion. Crisply written with surprising
Publishers Weekly (starred review)“Gioia’s sprawling and deeply interesting history
of music defies all stereotypes of music
scholarship. This is rich work that provokes many
fascinating questions. Scientists and humanists
alike will find plenty to disagree with, but isn’t that
the point? ‘A subversive history’ indeed.”
Samuel Mehr
Director, The Music Lab, Harvard University
“This book fells like the summation of a lifetime’s
avid musical exploration and reading. It has an
epic sweep and passionate engagement with the
topic that carries one along irresistibly.”
Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph“Ted Gioia’s Music: A Subversive History is one of
the most important and welcome books I’ve
encountered in the last decade. If ever there were
a book the world sorely needed, it’s Gioia’s.”
Jeff Simon in Buffalo News.“As a fan of ‘big histories’ that sweep through
space and time, I gobbled this one like candy as I
found myself astounded by some idea, some fact,
some source, some dots connected into a fast-
reading big picture that takes in Roman
pantomime riots, Occitan troubadours,
churchbells, blues, Afrofuturism, surveillance
capitalism, and much more. A must for music
Ned Sublette
Author of
Cuba and Its Music and The World
That Made New Orleans
“In this meticulously-researched yet thoroughly
page-turning book, Gioia argues for the
universality of music from all cultures and eras.
Subversives from Sappho to Mozart and Charlie
Parker are given new perspective–as is the role
of the church and other arts-shaping institutions.
Music of emotion is looked at alongside the
music of political power in a fascinating way by a  
master writer and critical thinker. This is a must-
read for those of us for whom  music has a central
role in our daily lives.”
Fred Hersch“A sweeping and enthralling account of music as
an agency of human change.”
Booklist (starred review and selected as one of the 10
best arts books of 2019)
“A bold, fresh, and informative chronicle of
music’s evolution and cultural meaning.”
Kirkus“Thought-provoking….Gioia’s argument is
persuasive and offers a wealth of possibilities for
further exploration.”
Library Journal

The One Hundred
Best Albums of 2020
One of the 15 Best Books of the Year
(The Atlantic)
One of the 50 Notable Nonfiction Books of the Year
(Washington Post)
One of 13 Best Non-Fiction Books of the Year
(Christian Science Monitor)
Best Art Books of the Year
(Library Journal)
Best Art Books of the Year
I am often asked how I compile my
annual list of the 100 best albums.
Here is some background information.  
Why isn’t this list in rank order (from
best to worst)?
I am listing my top 100 and honorable
mention albums for 2020 in alphabetical
order, rather than ranking them. This
marks a change from some of
my earlier end-of-year lists. I am doing
this because each of these albums
deserves recognition and a purely
sequential ranking tended to focus
too much attention on just a few
What styles of music do I include in my

I listen to all genres and all styles of
music. I like to listen to music that is
fresh and different, and this spurs me
to search outside the dominant
commercial categories and hit
releases. But I also listen to the
heavily promoted albums from the
major labels.    

How much music do I listen to?   

I like to hear new music every day.   
During 2020 I listened to more
than 1,000 new  album releases.
(The exact number was 1,032.)  

Why do I compile this list?Like any music lover, I enjoy
sharing my favorite music with others.
But in the last few years, a different
motivation has spurred me. I believe
that the system of music discovery is
broken in the current day. There is
more music recorded than ever before,
but it is almost impossible for listeners
to find the best new recordings. The
most creative work in music is
increasingly found on self-produced
projects and releases from small
indie labels— to an extent hardly
conceivable only a decade ago. Very
little of this music ever shows up on
the radio or the heavily-promoted
playlists, where formats seem to get
narrower and narrower with each
passing year. Music fans once heard
good new music at indie record stores,
but most of them have closed. Or
they could read reviews in the
newspaper, but both the newspapers
and the music reviews are shrinking or
disappearing. And the big record
labels are the worst culprits of all,
picking acts for their looks or their
potential appeal to fourteen-year-olds,
or some other egregious reason, and
in general jumping on the most trivial
passing fads. On the other hand,
the Internet presents an almost
infinite amount of music and music
commentary—yet where do fans
even begin to separate the good from
the bad and ugly?  My personal solution
to this dilemma has been to listen to
lots and lots of music, and try to
identify recordings of quality and
distinction. I share my list because
I know, from past experience, that
many other listeners are frustrated
with the broken system of music
discovery, and are also looking for
good new music.  
Why is this list so strange?There are two kinds of end-of-year
lists. The first type celebrates
cultural heroes and popular successes.
But there’s a second type of list that
focuses on musical discovery and digs
deeply into under-the-radar releases
seeking hidden gems. This list is
clearly in the second camp.
What criteria do I apply?  I have no axe to grind.  My list is
filled with music I enjoy, and suspect
others will too—especially if they
have a reasonably good ear, and
an open mind.  I like recordings that
show some flair and creativity, a
sense of style, solid musicianship,
and an emotional commitment to
the moment of performance. I
appreciate it when an artist
possesses a sense of musical
tradition; on the other hand, I don’t
want to see slavish imitation of the
past.  When music strikes me as
too formulaic or contrived or cold,
I start to lose interest. Like any critic,
I want my readers to think that I am
cool and hip and oh-so-up-to-date,
but I learned some time ago that
many of the best recordings are
decidedly uncool and unhip. So if
you want to laugh at me for honoring
some superannuated country star or
unfashionable Celtic or lullaby album,
go right ahead. But also check
out some of the lesser-known titles on
the list…you might just be pleasantly
surprised by what you hear.
Happy listening!Related Links:
The 100 Best Albums of 2019
The 100 Best Albums of 2018
The 100 Best Albums of 2017
The 100 Best Albums of 2016
The 100 Best Albums of 2015
The 100 Best Albums of 2014
The 100 Best Albums of 2013
The 100 Best Albums of 2012
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