Jack's Favorite
Albums Of

Hey, welcome to my "Favorite Albums Of The Year" list. I wanted to just make a top ten, but as I was thinking through this year I had a hard time ranking them in order or picking just ten; and when I was done I realized I had an even 20. This list isn't really in any order, but I guess if I thought of one earlier on I probably like it more.

I made a playlist with my favorite track from each of these albums, which you can check out here if you want.

Makeup and Vanity Set – Endless Destiny

Data Airlines / September 25

Taking a turn away from the grungy, sometimes-cheesy synthwave energy of his previous albums, MAVS delves into intricate, neurological cybercore with Endless Destiny, a record that explores moods from the heavy and ominous thumping of Decode to the ethereal ambience of Algorithm. The emotional feat of making purely (even aggressively) digital music come across as not just unrepetitive but profoundly humanist is MAVS' strong suit, and shedding some of the gritty haze of more 80s-revival-style synth music allows it to flex that emotional effectiveness freely. Erik Jonsson's lush visualization of Endless Destiny's delicately organized sound also claims my prize for favorite album cover of the year.

Listen / Buy

Eyeliner – Drop Shadow

Orange Milk Records / August 15

Having already arguably made one of the best vaporwave records of all time, Eyeliner returned from a five-year hiatus this August with Drop Shadow— a followup to Buy Now that flexes much wider range, swinging back and forth between high-energy MIDIcore bangers and slow, meditational pieces with almost every other track. This variety might make a less-solid album feel disjointed, but on Drop Shadow it builds a smooth and incredibly listenable experience that manages to get me pumped up without the fatigue of something more maxed-out. Highly recommended working album.

Listen / Buy

Video Age – Pleasure Line

Winspear / August 7

Video Age is, to me, one of the most underrated bands on the scene. They're just repeatedly capable of putting out an album with zero weak points, and Pleasure Line is no exception. Feel-good— or even feel-sad, if you want— synthpop packed with both goofy fun and genuine heart. The range created by that mix makes this a premium all-purpose album to keep in the pocket for any occasion— relaxin', hangin' with some buds, or just feelin' some feelings. Honestly, even just Shadow On The Wall on its own would be a great track for all three.

Listen / Buy

Jerry Paper – Abracadabra

Stone's Throw / May 15

I love an artist who can make each album a total surprise, which means I love Jerry Paper a lot. Abracadabra is both a synthesis of Jerry's previous sounds— incorporating the casual pop vocals of 2018's Like A Baby with softer synth cues from earlier work like Fuzzy Logic— and a step into new territory, exploring a crunchier and more psych-rock vibe that starts out funky and gnarly with Quicksand and the all-time groove Cholla, melts into a mellower and smoother mood by the time you flip the record after Trash Can and finally fully unspools with Puppeteer, a track that just happens to deeply nail the feeling of our collective emotional burnout. (Is that just me?)

Listen / Buy

Woody & Jeremy –
Strange Satisfaction

March 13

Vulfpeck keyboardist Woody Goss and guy-I-hadn't-heard-of-before Jeremy Daly truly hit their debut album out of the park, securing "song of the summer" status from full-court by dropping Too Hot In LA all the way back in February and then keeping up the pace with an equally-delightful album that somehow sounds like it's from 1978 and 2050 all at once. I've said before that I always love an album where you can tell everyone was having a blast, and Strange Satisfaction just oozes that energy. This is another record that's got whatever you need— for some good-mood funk, throw on Hollywood Witches or my personal favorite Fat Boys in the Gym of Love. Need to lay on the floor and contemplate your emotions for a little while? On The Phone With The Song is the sad-boy hit for you. Tim Lahan's wonderful cover art for this one also deserves a place in the "coolest little dudes of 2020" list.

Listen / Buy


DESKPOP / March 20 and then October 23

Beardy is a really wild case of my horizons being widened by someone I follow deciding to change their sound up dramatically. Previously known as "capt. beard" for their VGM and electronic jazz work, beardy broke new ground in March with SATELLITE etc, an album that blends their already-sharp composition skills with rapid, playfully aggressive hip-hop about growing up online and building an identity for yourself. I'm too old to know for sure, but I think this is hyperpop. (Let me know if that's wrong.) The DELUXE edition features a handful of singles and some remixes from DESKPOP regulars, which reinforce what felt in March like a new direction from the same person into what feels now like an extremely strong debut album from a whole new artist.

Listen / Buy

Swim Mountain – If

Monday Records / February 28

The best way I can summarize my thoughts on Swim Mountain is that they're a band I would have found "too indie" just a few years ago, when I was listening exclusively to loud EDM and hadn't yet decided it was good to feel and process emotions. If is an album I listened to so much when I found it that a friend texted me to ask if I was alright after noticing I'd had Somebody New playing on Spotify every time she checked it for several days. Is it extremely "indie?" Sure; it's a lofi-tinged soft-pop record full of lyrics about emotional confusion. And it's one of the best takes on that premise I've heard in a long time.

Listen / Buy

Shawn Wasabi – Mangotale

Warner Records / May 29

I think we're all agreed that this summer was kind of a rough one, for whatever reasons are foremost in your mind right now. And yet, in spite of it all, there was no shortage of premium summer jams. Longtime personal favorite and very cool guy Shawn Wasabi shows a stark evolution with Mangotale without letting go of his rapid-fire goofy roots, showcasing absolute slammers like Home Run and throwing us some fun bits like the cheeky samples on Lemons. A colorful, tropical trip of an album with zero filler to be found, this record wasn't just the soundtrack to my weird summer— it's continued to bring me urgently-needed good vibes as fall and winter roll in. As another perk, Mangotale taught me it's actually a compliment when someone says you have "very TikTok music taste."


Ginger Root – Rikki

Acrophase Records / October 23

I always have a hard time describing Ginger Root better than they describe themselves: as "agressive elevator soul". Their fusion of funky, soul-influenced retro-sounding vibes is in full force on Rikki, where a uniform fuzzy vibe lets the compositions underneath follow waves of danceable bassline-centric grooves and emotional, thoughtful ballads. Cameron Lew's soft but gritty vocal performance drapes over his equally comfy instrumentals on this album in a way that makes it both highly unique and extremely replayable. The middle peak of Multiply, Why Try and Out Of State is probably the best three-song run I've heard all year.

Listen / Buy

Thundercat – It Is What It Is

Brainfeeder / April 3

I'll admit I had doubts about Thundercat's 2020 record measuring up to his all-time 2017 album Drunk even after an initial listen. But after a handful of replays (and months of hearing my favorite few songs pop up on shuffle) I'm ready to call the two just about even. IIWII, as none of you can stop me from abbreviating it, incorporates new themes and thoughts that reflect on both Thundercat's growth as an artist and the ways we've all changed since 2017, which at press time was roughly 2,000 years ago. From appreciating your friends (I Love Louis Cole) to longing for affection (Dragonball Durag, which also wins Music Video of the Year from me), this record is more than a followup— the ideas it decides to keep and discard from Drunk give it an edge of rebuttal.

Listen / Buy

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – K.G.

November 20

As a recent Gizz convert I'm never fully sure how to pitch their music to people who haven't heard it. Imagine 70s-revival psych-rock that's probably a treat for music-theory nerds, made by a band that's somehow put out nineteen albums since 2012 without a single one landing below "pretty good" and several landing firmly in "all-time banger" territory (you guys know I love Nonagon Infinity). K.G. is a new spin on microtonal (this may be the wrong word but I know it's more correct than calling it "scaled like video game desert music") techniques that unfold into both "smiling like a big goof" (Intrasport just absolutely shreds) and "staring out the window contemplating" (Straws In The Wind) moods in the highly-talented hands of The Gizz.

Listen / Buy

Zanski – Upon Frigid Water

July 1

Zanski might be the one artist I've been a nonstop fan of for the longest, stretching all the way back to the now-forgotten Saturnine EP and his ancient Soundcloud work. Since then he's pivoted from a kind-of-interesting electronic producer to a powerfully talented singer-songwriter, ditching the harder, edgier EDM sound in favor of slow-burning, synth-backed bluesy ballads questioning the ideas of identity and self-image. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that that arc happens to parallel my own. Upon Frigid Water continues the trend with lower tempos and more moments of pure vocals than his last two post-pivot records; giving this list's more energetic summertime albums a slow and contemplative foil. I think my one gripe is that So Ill isn't on it, or maybe I just wanted to mention that track here because I love it.


Matt Watson – OUCH!

September 4

"The guy from that dumb podcast released an album this year?", you may be wondering, as I also wondered. As it turns out, OUCH! is a fun, inventive, heartfelt little record that embodied exactly the vibe I needed this fall. Matt's musing on loss, emotional confusion, and the struggle of self-improvement happened to hit me especially hard this year. Meanwhile, his goofy production style is both loaded with fun surprises and makes me think we might be fans of a lot of the same artists. I hear a lot of potential on this album, which doesn't mean it sounds underdeveloped— just that I think Matt has a lot more good music to make, and I'm excited for it.

Listen / Buy

nelward – Eat Your Dreams

October 2

Every nelward album seems like it takes me a couple shots to really get into. Alive In Screen ended up as one of my 2017 favorites but struck me at first as too out-there and too weird to really vibe with. In contrast, Eat Your Dreams is almost equally startling in its relative conventionalness. Does it lack the classic nelward style of outsider-influenced VGM-style jazz-funk? Absolutely not. I think this different impression is a credit to both nelward's influence on the surrounding scene and his impressive range. This album stretches the distance between the more experimental sound of AIS and the straightforward pop vibes of his interalbum singles; a niche that takes a little time to adjust to if you're expecting one or the other but once it clicks feels totally natural.

Listen / Buy

Theo Katzman –
Modern Johnny Sings: Songs in the Age of Vibe

Ten Good Songs / January 10

Big shocker, there's a lot of Vulfpeck-adjacent music on this list. Turns out that good band is made up of talented musicians! Theo's full-length expansion of the Modern Johnny canon is a journey through the myriad feelings associated with just trying to keep it together in an unraveling world; told through intimately smooth compositions and Theo's soulful vocals. It's by no means the most wide-ranging album on this list— I've got more tracks from it on my "getting sad" playlist than in my liked songs— but that feels like it was the idea and it's executed with absolute conviction. This is an album I would love to tell myself circa 2014, "This is gonna be one of your 2020 favorites."

Listen / Buy

Windows 96 – Glass Prism

100% Electronica / May 22

I've been using the word "vibe" a lot on this list, and, well, buckle up. Windows 96 stands apart from the broader vapor/"chillwave" scene for their incredible ability to distill a sort of relaxed melancholy into smooth sounds on record after record of what I'd call "pure vibes." This, to me, is what vaporwave was always meant to be: relaxing the listener to draw out their nostalgia and then twisting it into strange new shapes. I don't think Glass Prism is a major step forward or departure from the Windows 96 sound but I would say that in this case what wasn't broken didn't need to be fixed.

Listen / Buy

TWRP – Over The Top

September 25

Something I think about a lot is how when I saw TWRP live in 2016 they prefaced every single song with "This one goes out to all the ladies!". Their brand of funky, hard-rockin' synthpop is always an absolute treat, and Over The Top delivers more of that excellence— ten tracks where you can't decide whether to smile at the charmingly corny lyrics or make the classic "funk face" at the incredibly tight and smooth arrangements. This album's whopping four features are just as much of a treat, stirring some outside styles into the classic TWRP sound (plus, the part of my brain that's eternally fifteen is a huge sucker for Dan Avidan).

Listen / Buy

Vulfpeck – The Joy of Music, The Job of Real Estate

Vulf Records / October 23

I kinda debated whether to include this album, since it's more of a compilation of Vulf tracks from this year than a record of new material. "THE RECYCLED ALBUM - The band goes full green and sustainable on their 2020 outing," reads a Bandcamp review from user Fifou 3000. "Lead the way, boys." But JoMJoE is some of the best recycling out there, and the lack of new tracks due to Vulf's sort of constant release trickle as opposed to finishing a whole record without showing anyone is barely a detriment to how solid a listen it is. Honestly I appreciate them releasing the surf-esque banger Radio Shack and the absolutely funk-face-worthy Antwaun Stanley hit 3 On E early enough to join my summer playlist.

Listen / Buy


July 1

Since I first got very, very into chiptune as a kid, I've sort of gone in and out with it, having occasional phases where I hear some chip-adjacent music I dig so much that I get back on the wagon for a while. More often than not, that phase is kicked off by a new PROTODOME album. What I love about PROTODOME's approach to chiptune (or I guess it's more FM funk?) is that it's comfortable pulling back from the sort of hardline maximalism we so often see, instead leaning on impeccable composition. That's not to say Super Chipfunk feels sparse or too light-handed— the careful selection of bouncy, crunchy, funky sounds on each track create an almost improvisational atmosphere that still delivers absolute neck-aching grooves.

Listen / Buy

Red Vox – Realign

July 10

I'm a very casual Red Vox fan. I thought Another Light was pretty good when I finally heard it last year and then mostly moved on after one listen. But Realign, whether it's objectively a much better album or I'm just in a different spot now, has really grabbed me. It's loaded with dreamy, layered melodies that can end up looping in your head for the better part of a day punctuated by pockets of harder psych-rock that stop you from zoning out. Maybe it's more interesting to me, a nerd who's not familiar with their influences, than it would be to someone else more steeped in the genre, but I would put it up as a great record either way.

Listen / Buy

Thanks for reading my list. I'm sure something will come out in like, late December that'll force me to rearrange it. In the meantime, definitely check out these records and support the artists if you like them!

Script courtesy of Luke Haas.

Type set in Inter by Rasmus Andersson.