2020 has pretty much been a disaster so far. But in all of this darkness, one of the only guiding lights has been an especially stellar slate of new music releases. From debut albums from Hayley Williams and Dogleg to long-awaited new efforts from The Strokes and Tame Impala to Jeff Rosenstock’s poignant and political barnburner, incredible new indie music is one of the only things 2020 hasn’t been lacking in.
Over the last six months, there have been so many releases that it’s hard to keep track of everything. Luckily, we’re here to help you sift through all the noise with the 25 best indie albums of 2020 so far. If you’re wondering about methodology or think we missed something, make sure you check our list of the best albums and songs of the year so far before you yell at us.
25. Vundabar — Either Light
For their fourth studio album, the Boston band took two weeks to hunker down and make the best record they could, both from a performance and production standpoint. Brandon Hagen wrote the album while going through the entirety of The Sopranos twice, and you can hear it in his existential and nihilistic songwriting. Either Light features some of Hagen’s finest lyrics to date, with melodies that you will be hard-pressed to get out of your head.–Zac Gelfand
24. Higher Power — 27 Miles Underwater
On their major-label debut, UK punks Higher Power dialed back the hardcore tendencies of their previous releases and focused instead on the raw melodies and hooks that allowed bands like Alice In Chains and Deftones to transcend their scenes and make their way into the mainstream. “27 Miles Underwater proves that Higher Power have a unique range of versatility, which is not something that can be said for many bands with a firm footing in the world of hardcore punk.–Z.G.
23. Hayley Williams — Petals For Armor
We all thought we knew what to expect from Hayley Williams, but boy, were we wrong. Released in three parts, Williams debut solo album Petals For Armor mostly leaves behind her pop-punk history and instead digs into aspects of experimental art rock, R&B, and ’80s new wave. The resulting 15-song effort sounds like if Radiohead did a record with the Talking Heads with some help from Devo.–Z.G.
22. Jaime Wyatt — Neon Cross
For the mainstream music fan, there’s only a few country records a year that break into their listening habits, and in 2020 that record should be Jaime Wyatt’s Neon Cross. After overcoming the nightmare of drug addiction, and finally accepting her own queer identity and coming out, Wyatt has created the kind of album that won’t just comfort you — it’ll heal you, too.–Caitlin White
21. Margaret Glaspy — Devotion
Now that touring is how most musicians piece together a living, long tours can mean a long break between albums, and that explains the four-year gap between Margaret Glaspy’s 2016 record, Emotions And Math and this year’s Devotion. But all that time on the road just made Glaspy all the more crisp and all the more precise — Devotion is one of the cleanest, clearest, and most direct records I’ve heard all year.–C.W.
20. Ellis — Born Again
Some debuts hit you over the head, but Ellis’ first album impresses through more low-key, hypnotic gestures. Born Again succeeds through striking intimacy, with the rising Canadian songwriter dazzling with direct songwriting that often expands into grand gestures. It’s all distinctly comforting and familiar without treading into well-worn territory, the kind of first album that bodes well for an artist’s future.–Philip Cosores
19. Retirement Party — Runaway Dog
Retirement Party are at the top of their game throughout their sophomore album Runaway Dog. Across the LP’s ten songs, the Chicago trio shows off their exceptionally tight instrumentation and knack for weaving narrative arcs into their lyrics. The results are lyrics that give any listener more than enough meat to latch onto and fall in love with Retirement Party.–Z.G.
18. Wares — Survivial
One of the great “sleeper” albums of the first part of 2020 is Survival, the second album by Canadian singer-songwriter Cassia Hardy, aka Wares. A song cycle about her transition into a woman, Survival marries confessional lyrics with some of the year’s biggest sounding and most rousing rock music, evoking Against Me! and Titus Andronicus. It feels both personal and expansive at the same time.–Steven Hyden
17. Laura Marling — Song For Our Daughter
Song For Our Daughter feels both like a culmination of Laura Marling’s formidable catalogue up to this point, and also like something of a fresh start. On one hand, it retains that old-time early ’70s British folk feel, with lustrous acoustic strums playing off sumptuously recorded string sections in the manner of her best-regarded work. But at the same time, this feels like the least fussed-over of her albums, often sticking to first takes and vigorous, straight-forward arrangements.–S.H.
16. Empty Country — Empty Country
With Empty Country, former Cymbals Eat Guitars leader Joseph D’Agostino pared back his former band’s grandiosity and complicated song structures in favor of a highly stylized, alt-rock version of Americana, emphasizing sonic elements like Zena Kay’s pedal steel guitar to accentuate the anxious drama of his lyrics. The results are frequently stunning, like an early ’80s Springsteen record goosed with the extreme dynamics of prime-era Bright Eyes.–S.H.
15. Andy Shauf — The Neon Skyline
As scary as a concept album can seem on paper, Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Shauf infuses his latest with enough breezy melodies and wry observations to make his project — an album spanning one single night where an ex returning to town causes an outpouring of memories and reflections — feeling infinitely more comforting than it is daunting. The Neon Skyline is a wise and transportive album, with Shauf taking his place among the great contemporary songwriters.–P.C.
14. Ratboys — Printer’s Devil
Ratboys’ third album is much thicker-sounding than anything the band have released to date. It’s also incredibly dynamic, with songs like “Anj,” which sounds like it could have been in an early-2000’s teen drama, paired with tracks like “I Go Out At Night,” a more reserved number. But all of the songs on Printer’s Devil share the same DNA, delivering epic hooks that stick around long after you turn it off.–Z.G.
13. Jeff Rosenstock — No Dream
When it comes to life-changing disasters, Jeff Rosenstock is like a musical first responder, always ready with inspirational jams whenever the world faces adversity. This year, the rousing punk rocker dropped a surprise album, No Dream, that supplies all of that “whoa-oh-oh!”-style live show energy that we’ve been craving lately, staring down these darkest times with appropriate fury and surprising, inspiring hope.–S.H.
12. Grimes — Miss Antropocene
Not everyone can successfully cultivate hype around an album while simultaneously working through their first and highly-publicized pregnancy. But then again, not everyone is Grimes. Her first record since 2015, Miss Anthropocene boasts the brooding synths that fans know and love. But Grimes also gets personal, grappling with real issues like losing a number of friends to addiction and detailing her grief through lyrics. This masterful combination ties together for a mature effort from the boundary-pushing artist.–Caroyln Droke
11. Tame Impala — The Slow Rush
Five years after the last Tame Impala record, The Slow Rush was worth the wait. Sonically, the album isn’t a far cry from 2015’s Currents, but has a more expansive feel, reveling in soundscapes and dissonant guitars. What makes The Slow Rush so engaging, though, is Kevin Parker’s knack for undeniable hooks that anchor the soundscapes and generate a unique flow that keeps you coming back for more.–Z.G.
10. The Strokes — The New Abnormal
On their first album since 2013’s Comeback Machine, The Strokes narrow in on what made those first two albums so special, while also swinging for the fences with more experimental synth-pop flourishes that veer closer to new-wave than garage rock. The New Abnormal also follows the sequencing formula of the band’s previous two albums, which Steven Hyden describes as, “four undeniable bangers, and five weird and bombastic sorta ballads in which Casablancas addresses his own profound Strokes disappointment in bizarre, fascinating ways.”–Z.G.
9. Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit — Reunions
Listening to Reunions, you can hear Jason Isbell write with as much elegance as he ever has. Two of the most affecting tracks, “Dreamsicle” and “Letting You Go,” are parental narratives in which the troubled boy in the first song becomes the anxious parent in the second. Other songs explore sobriety and wounded masculinity, pet topics that Isbell continues to explore with great insight and sensitivity.–S.H.
8. Dogleg — Melee
Dogleg’s Chase Macinski recently told Uproxx that the success and warm reception their debut album has received is “kind of unbelievable.” It makes sense, though: Punk is accessible to perform, but Dogleg do it particularly well, conveying personal themes on raucous and catchy songs like “Wartortle.”–Derrick Rossignol
7. Perfume Genius — Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
It’s been a decade since Perfume Genius emerged with the striking homespun piano ballads of Learning, and each successive album has felt less like a reinvention and more like natural growth. So, of course Set Yourself On Fire Immediately feels like the roots are deeper and the flowers more vibrant than ever before. Mike Hadreas still knows his way around a fragile melody, but he’s always best when at his most ambitious, be it the growling march of “Describe” or the expansive anthem “Nothing At All.”–P.C.
6. Soccer Mommy — Color Theory
After the massive critical acclaim of her debut Clean, many in Sophie Allison’s position might have faltered in the face of an invisible mass of anticipation. Allison does the exact opposite on Color Theory, which showcases a more confident and polished version of Soccer Mommy with an emphasis on the songwriting. The result is ten tracks that cement Allison as a star with a firm grasp on emotional and resonant lyricism.–Z.G.
5. Phoebe Bridgers — Punisher
Phoebe Bridgers has been in the collective conversation so consistently, it’s surprising to hear that Stranger In The Alps, our favorite indie album of the 2010s, already came out more than three years ago. Punisher is Bridgers’ sophomore offering, a record full of devastating imagery and candid songwriting that is supplemented by orchestral arrangements and experimental soundscapes. It is a document of a songwriter at the top of her game, living up to — and at times surpassing — the highs of her soaring debut.–Z.G.
4. Yves Tumor — Heaven To A Tortured Mind
On Yves Tumor’s most accessible album yet, the provocative artist doesn’t shy away from challenging listeners. Still, Tumor finds a sweet spot that pushes boundaries as much as their music explores new ways to package the familiar. In a time when heaven feels like a particularly foreign concept, beauty and ugliness find harmony on this incredible record, blurring lines until everything devolves into murky satisfaction.–P.C.
3. Yaeji — What We Drew
Although she already broke out in a big way with a pair of 2017 EPs, on her first formal full-length release, What We Drew, Korean-American producer Yaeji planted a flag for her glimmering, bilingual take on pop and hip-hop. Released right as the bulk of America began to bunker down inside, this moody 12-song set draws on predecessors like Grimes and Janet Jackson while remaining firmly original.–C.W.
2. Waxahatchee — Saint Cloud
Saint Cloud isn’t Katie Crutchfield’s first great album as Waxahatchee — her first couple, American Weekend and especially Cerulean Salt, are both essential listens — but it is without a doubt her best. Created after getting sober, the record expounds on dependence while also embracing her Southern roots like never before. From her stunning vocal performances to reflective, resonating lyrics, Saint Cloud feels like a second life for the Waxahatchee project, where possibilities seem endless thanks to newfound clarity.–P.C.
1. Fiona Apple — Fetch The Bolt Cutters
After an eight-year hiatus, Fiona Apple is back with a vengeance, once again wielding her lyrics like a sharpened pair of shears that spare no man — or woman, for that matter. Fetch The Bolt Cutters is brilliant for a lot of reasons: the easy, tangled piano melodies that sometimes feel downright messy but never stray off topic, the peckish analysis of past relationships, and most of all, the strong, overwhelming sense that sometimes that the only way to get free from a prison of your own making is to blow everything up and start again. This new beginning couldn’t be more bold, and her self-assurance is like a jolt of unrelenting light in an otherwise gloomy year.–C.W.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.