Top Five Albums of 2020 from Six One Design-ers
Before we continue looking forward—imagining all of the ways 2021 will be better and brighter than years’ (specifically, this year’s) past—we couldn’t help but try and capture what a day of music might’ve held if we were still in the office curating a Sonos queue together.
Behold six “Top 5” lists, each as unique as its curator, with reflections on whatever you want to call the past 12 months. Or just let the music do the talking. Give this playlist with all of the top picks a spin.
Top 5 Albums of 2020
David Sieren’s Top 5* Albums of 2020
*Okay, okay—spoiler: we're going to start off by breaking our rules because why not. Narrowing it down to five albums is nearly impossible, so we gave David an extra five spots ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Pylon — Pylon Box
To be honest, what caught my eye was the stunning design of the box set. And what I uncovered was a post-punk band from the early 80s—one I’d never heard of before—that has quickly become a go-to favorite. Optimism and energy for one hell of a dark year. And, as with a lot of the music on here, I’m able to get my 5-year-old humming and dancing along to every second of it.
Beatrice Dillon — Workaround
Studies I-XVII for Samplers and Percussion has been on repeat play for me for years. Stripped down analog polyrhythms that you could both work and dance to. This new record took the things I loved about Studies I-XVII to the next level. Also, FWIW, the design of everything that comes out of PAN is just stunning. And, you know, that’s pretty damn important!
Kaboom Karavan — The Log and the Leeway
Intangible chanting and spooky layered vocals. Instrumental passages that sound like hundred-year-old folk jams. On Miasmah, hands down one of my favorite labels of all time. Not sure this one will lift anyone’s spirits, but if you want to wallow in the tone of the year, give it a spin.
Lau Nau — Live In Röykkälä
A simply lovely, haunting acoustic set full of dreamy melodies and Lau Nau’s wonderful voice. A perfect soundtrack for a dark, quiet evening.
Jeff Parker — Suite for Max Brown
All over the map, from jazz to soul to beat workouts. Yet somehow cohesive from end-to-end. This release is just ridiculously rad.
Shabaka and the Ancestors — We Are Sent Here By History
Everything saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings has been putting out over the past few years is genius. Driving. Propulsive. Simply on fire.
Horse Lords — The Common Task
More propulsive music to cut through this year’s impending sense of dread. Track 2—Against Gravity—specifically gets (perhaps too much) repeat play from me, with its swirling, insanely hypnotic saxophone madness.
Fiona Apple — Fetch the Bolt Cutters
I hadn’t really listened much to Fiona since high school. The power of this one—from the rattling percussion to the stunning lyrics—simply blew my mind. And, like a lot of the entries on this list, got my daughter singing every time.
PJ Harvey — Dry Demos
Speaking of mid-90s high school throwbacks! But damn if she isn’t one of my all-time favorites, and Dry is a go-to classic. So these stripped-back demos are heaven.
Jim O’Rourke — To Magnetize Money and Catch a Roving Eye
I’m a big fan of the drone-y side of this genius. And this crazy-long 4-disc set was the go-to soundtrack to many hours of screen-time isolation and focused work over the past few months.
Listen: Forced Exposure
Melinda Benoit’s Top 5 Albums of 2020
Lizzo — Cuz I Love You
Apparently, I needed Lizzo to get me through 2020. Lots of Lizzo.
Taylor Swift — Folklore
Dashboard Confessional — The Best Ones of the Best Ones
Yes, they’re still a band. Dashboard was one of the many artists I supported this year by attending a virtual concert. It made me miss concerts IRL, but Vindicated and Hands Down top my most played tracks every year, without fail.
Dua Lipa — Future Nostalgia
A little bit 80s, a little bit 90s, and a little bit modern dance floor. I literally can’t sit still when I hear Don’t Start Now, Levitating, or Cool. Perfect for all those kitchen dance parties this past summer.
The Wonder Years — No Closer to Heaven
Though it was released in 2015, I just discovered this album. Tracks that got me through this fall include I Don't Like Who I Was Then and Cigarettes & Saints.
James Johnston’s Top 5 Albums of 2020
Theo Katzman Modern Johnny Sings — Songs in the Age of Vibe
I saw this artist right before COVID lockdown at Thalia Hall, and it was a magical show that sort of carried over as a soundtrack for the first few months of the pandemic. Theo is a multi-instrumentalist probably best known as part of Vulfpeck, but he has an incredible gift for songcraft and storytelling. Key Track: Darling, Don’t Be Late.
Prince — Sign O’ The Times (Super Deluxe)
An incredible reissue of one of Prince’s most critically acclaimed works. This, and the podcast series documentary released alongside, reveals Prince’s creative process while he was at the peak of his songwriting powers and in some ways at his most experimental. Key Track: The Ballad of Dorothy Parker.
Loma — Don’t Shy Away
Loma is a trio from Dripping Springs, TX (and also Chicago). Super spacey and beautifully crafted dark music. Wonderful to just put on and float away. Key Track: Homing (produced by Brian Eno).
Khruangbin — Mordechai
Khruangbin is another trio from Texas. Discovered them through the Song Exploder podcast. They’re inspired by West African music, but it comes out as this sort of 70s euro-funk indie pop. All recorded in a barn with a pretty rigid process. They really feel like a band that plays together all the time. Dialed into each other. Key Track: Time (You and I).
Komeda — What Makes It Go?
Not a new record, but something I rediscovered. Originally released in 1998 and virtually unknown, this is just an incredibly produced genre-mixing record by some Swedish songwriters who were way ahead of their time. Key Track: Binario.
Alibaster McDonald’s Top 5 Albums of 2020
Christine & the Queens — La vita nuova
With lyrics that are moody and self-reflective, La vita nuova’s raw outpouring of emotion feels like a punch to the gut, but in a good way. I can’t think of a song that better captured 2020’s general mood than People, I’ve Been Sad.
Run the Jewels — RTJ4
Released in the midst of this summer’s uprisings, this is Killer Mike and EL-P at their absolute best. The aggressive beats provide the perfect backing to the duo’s sharp, political lyrics—RTJ4 pulls you in from the jump and doesn’t let go.
Carly Rae Jepson — Dedicated Side B
I feel so badly for the fools who only know CRJ for Call Me Maybe because everything she touches is pure pop gold. Dedicated Side B is no exception. Put it on whenever you need a dance party fix.
Orville Peck — Show Pony
By pairing an old school country sound with lyrics that speak to the queer experience, Show Pony makes me nostalgic for a past that never was. His reimagining of Bobby Gentry’s classic track Fancy to be told from a trans woman’s perspective is nothing short of genius.
Haim — Women in Music III
The Haim sisters shift effortlessly from genre to genre, and they nail it every single time. Whether you’re looking for gritty garage rock or an R&B jam, there’s a song on here to fit every mood.
Katie Mazikins’s Top 5 Albums of 2020
I’ve always thought of music chronologically—so in honor of this weird-ass year, I’m treating my Top 5 as a timeline of my life and music in 2020.
Allie X — Cape God
I miss a lot of things about our physical office, but the Sonos speakers are probably at the top of the list (human interaction, you are a close second). That’s how I first heard Allie’s latest album, Cape God. I loved her 2015 song, Bitch, but I became obsessed with this entire album. Gloomy pop equals the perfect soundtrack for this year. Favorite songs include Devil I Know, June Gloom, Love Me Wrong, Life of the Party, Learning in Public (...they’re all great, okay?).
Charli XCX — how I’m feeling now
Charli was one of the first artists to release an album in quarantine about quarantine. Not only that, but she crowdsourced and shared the album’s creation from start to finish on Instagram. It was really fun to watch her experiment and make something a little rough around the edges—especially after her super-polished 2019 album. Favorite songs include anthems, forever, and 7 years.
BENEE — Hey u x
Around July, a friend texted me BENEE’s song, Supalonely, with the message “this is that one song.” I assumed that meant they liked it—but it turns out it’s just one of those overplayed TikTok dance songs, and they hated it. I’m too old for TikTok, so I had the exact opposite reaction. BENEE has mastered whatever it is that makes songs catchy to the human brain and I am here for it. Favorite songs include Sheesh (feat. Grimes), If I Get To Meet You, Supalonely (feat. Gus Dapperton), and Winter (feat. Mallrat).
sqip — battery
I’m very lucky in that I know lots of talented people (see: One Design). My friend, Tori, and her partner, Cole, are both multi-talented creators that actually took advantage of all this free time.* Cole released his first album, battery, under the name sqip—and it’s a dreamy, multi-layered masterpiece. Favorite songs include boot, backseat, voice, and share.
*What did Tori do with her free time, you might ask? She made custom hand-tufted rugs—check them out here.
Maison Fauna — Field Guide 1
This year, my friend, Sarah (whose artist name is Kir), her partner Simon (whose artist name is 2Dwave), and some friends started Maison Fauna, an independent record label based out of Durham, NC. They recently released their first compilation album, and it’s gorgeous. I can’t wait to experience it in person someday. Favorite songs include Fine By Me, Flood Cove, and A Groove From Here.
Nick Rissmeyer’s Top 5 Albums of 2020
Nothing — The Great Dismal
Nothing has been one of my favorite modern bands since 2012 or so, and this album is possibly the best yet. Everything about it is huge. Shoegaze wall of sound to the max. Recorded fully in quarantine, it also speaks to the time really well and is fittingly very gloomy. I also really loved the album art, packaging, merch, coordinated music videos, and the live-streamed show.
Mo Dotti — Blurring
I listened to this album a ton this year. The melancholy bright dream-pop sound is so fun, and they do it so well here.
Choir Boy — Gathering Swans
All the best sounds of the 80s, repackaged in a super catchy and smart album with incredible vocals. Impossible not to love. The motorcycle revving at the start of Nites Like This, the trumpet in Toxic Eye, and the music videos with the layered clips, like...come on.
Power Trip — Live in Seattle
R.I.P. Riley Gale
Without a doubt, one of the best live metal albums I’ve ever heard. Pure crossover thrash aggression. Perfectly captures the chaotic essence of the band live and at their best. Also, it was nominated for a Grammy this year.
The Berries — 2020 Singles
I’m a big fan of Matt Berry and every band he’s part of (The Berries, Big Bite, Happy Diving). They released five singles this year that really built on top of the sound of the previous album’s alternative country-ish rock sound. More solos and bigger, more poppy songs with some psych-rock things going on. Just very cool. Stand out tracks include Saturday Music and Sci-Fi Racer.