2020 In Review: Day 3 – Album of the Year

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2020 In Review

1. Introduction + Best Album Art
2. Song of the Year
3. Album of the Year
4. R&B and Soul
5. Rock and Alternative
6. Rap and Hip-hop
7. Dance and Electronic
8. Pop and Ballad
9. Folk and Country
10. Jazz and Blues
11. Crossover and World
12. Best Collaborative Work
13. Rookie Artist of the Year
14. Artist of the Year
15. Other Recognition
16. Concluding Remarks

On Day 3, we continue with a look at the best overall albums of 2020. Starting tomorrow, we’ll delve into eight days of genre-specific discussions before resurfacing on Day 12 with Best Collaborative Work.

Album of the Year is perhaps our most important distinction, recognizing the best overall body of work held in a coherent collection of songs. We think these albums were some of 2020’s most ambitious, important, and enjoyable; many are lesser-known, but no less deserving.

Again, the next-best ten albums are ordered alphabetically to avoid genre-category winner spoilers. (Most of these contending albums will get more detailed treatment in the genre category posts.)

Album of the Year 2020

Jeongmilla – 청파소나타 (CheongPa Sonata)

Unlike the Song of the Year, our Album of the Year – and likely the most decorated album of 2020, by some margin – intentionally reflected the pandemic. Documenting the sights and sounds around her new abode in the Cheongpa neighborhood of Seoul, Jeongmilla wrote and sang incisively about a changed city and changed self. An authentic and indefatigable warmth shone over the entire album, regardless of the mood: from the delightfully chatty reminiscence of “Departing from Seoul Station” to the ceaseless, mournful breaths and roiling drums of “The Square”, Jeong consistently gave us a perspective that found life even in stillness and cast the built environment in unexpected lights. Unassuming arrangement and sighing delivery accompanied the beautifully detailed writing, fleshing out a timeless picture. Perhaps I’m inclined to be biased towards the album starring the neighborhood I was born in; but even for someone who doesn’t know what the place is like anymore (or ever), CheongPa Sonata will serve as a meaningful record.

The Runner-up

Jo Dong-ik – 푸른 베개 (Blue Pillow)

Jo Dong-ik’s first album in 22 years was light on talking and intent on showing. In many ways it bore the marks of Penicillium Music, the community that Jo and his pioneering siblings (Dong-hee and the late Dong-jin) built: the ambient electronica, New-Age motifs, and nature-oriented imagery all familiar elements from there. Leaning in, Blue Pillow realized a beautiful and heavily instrumental soundscape of rolling strings and dripping bells. When there were words, as in Jang Pil-soon’s performance of “Frozen Tunes from That Winter”, they were similarly steeped in a natural, spiritual flow and seemingly unmoored from time. The seven-minute epic of “Wings II”, which expanded a brief motif from earlier in the album into a sprawling yet surprisingly accessible ode, was the album’s highlight and one of the year’s most powerful tracks.

The Next-Best Ten (Alphabetical)

Ahn Da-young – Antihero

Beck Junghyun – One Groove

Choi Ye-geun – 갈 곳을 잃어도 어디든 흘러갈 수 있게 (Even If Get Lost, It Can Flow Anyway)

Chudahye Chagis – 오늘밤 당산나무 아래서 (Under the Dangsan Tree Tonight)

Cifika – Hana

Deepflow – Founder

Kim Sawol – 헤븐 (Heaven)

Leenalchi – 수궁가 (Sugungga)

Remnants of the Fallen – All the Wounded and Broken

Ye Ram – 성 (Castle)

All album art from Bugs Music.

Read our past series:

2019 In Review

2018 In Review

2017 In Review

2016 In Review

2015 In Review

2014 In Review

2013 In Review

2012 In Review