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Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus help over 20 million people live meaningful lives with less through their website, books, podcast, and Netflix films. The Minimalists have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Forbes, TIME, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, BBC, and NPR.

JFM’s Favorite Albums of 2020

Ryan and I started The Minimalists ten years ago this month, and each year since I’ve catalogued my favorite albums of the past twelve months. While it’s difficult to top last year’s releases, the year of the pandemic was well-stocked with a supply of hidden gems.

1. Ken YatesQuiet Talkers. That ebullient feeling when you stumble into something special—that’s what I felt when I happened upon this album. A quiet masterpiece—winsome, muscular songwriting, perfect for a late-night drive. Favorite lyric: “It’s true / the best thing I’ll ever do / is hold on tight to you / When everything else is unglued / we’ll stick together / When my life went off the tracks / I had a panic attack / You still had my back / Your loving was easy.”

2. Donovan Woods, Without People. Don’t let the title fool you—this is an album about our complex relationships with people. Favorite lyric: “I was okay with you seeing other people / It was always just some phase we were going through / I was okay with you seeing other people / Until I saw other people seeing you.”

3. The Weeknd, After Hours. This metaphysical pop music stayed with me after the first listen, and it continues to get better each time I revisit this album. Favorite lyric: “I can’t sleep / ‘cause I got everything I wanted / Got the money, got the cars, got the ceiling with the stars / Got everything I wanted / but I’d be nothing without you.”

4. Sufjan Stevens, The Ascension. You never know what you’re going to get with Sufjan—singer-songwriter, classical, electronic, atmospheric? This ethereal album is all of those genres, and none of them at the same time. Favorite lyric: “I don’t wanna be your personal Jesus / I don’t wanna live inside of that flame / In a way I wanna be my own believer / I don’t wanna play your video game.”

5. SAINt JHN, While the World Was Burning. The up-tempo follow-up to last year’s masterpiece, Ghetto Lenny Love Songs, which was one of my favorite albums of the decade. This album delivers a symphony of genre-bending melodies that make everyone get out of their seats. Favorite lyric: “Sucks to be you / ‘cause I would’ve loved you / I’d watch the whole world burn to see you dance / Runnin’ through cartels and jumpin’ through bombshells / I thought we would die growin’ old holdin’ hands.”

6. The Strokes, The New Abnormal. The perfect title for a pandemic album, these rock songs capture the onset of a new decade. Favorite lyric: “You begged me not to go / Sinkin’ like a stone / Use me like an oar / and get yourself to shore.”

7. Phoebe Bridgers, Punisher. The young queen of introspective darkness returns with her sophomore project. Favorite lyric: “You called me from a pay phone / They still got pay phones / It cost a dollar a minute / to tell me you’re getting sober / And you wrote me a letter / but I don’t have to read it / I’m gonna kill you / if you don’t beat me to it.”

8. The Kid LAROI, F*ck Love. A teenage rapper from Australia? Yep. And he’s crazy talented! Favorite lyric: “So maybe, maybe I’m driving me crazy / Maybe it’s me and it’s not you / I’m not too good at admitting when I f*ck up / But maybe, maybe it’s you who can save me / I got love for you, but I hate me.”

9. Michael Flynn, Survive with Me. One of America’s most underrated songwriters sings about surviving trying times (good timing!). Favorite lyric: “I’m easy to love / bathed in a sunset / Oh, I’m easy to love / blurry and moonlit / in the right light.”

10. Matt Berninger, Serpentine Prison. The lead singer of The National brings his abstruse lyrics into his first solo album. I don’t always know what he’s talk-singing about, but it feels like the Truth all the way down to the bone marrow. Favorite lyric: “When you walk in the room, the temperature drops / When I see you, something sad goes missing.”

11. Justin Bieber, Changes. The prince of pop releases his first R&B album. While it’s not a deeply personal album, it doesn’t have to be—it’s fun and seductive and in heavy rotation in the bedroom. Favorite lyric: “Heart full of equity / you’re an asset / Make sure that you don’t need no mentions / Yeah, these are my only intentions.”

12. Soccer Mommy, color theory. One-woman indie rock. Stay up late, dim the lights, invite some friends over, and turn this on. Favorite lyric: “I want someone who’s following a dream / someone like me / Feels the air inside their body running free / I want the breeze.”

Honorable Mentions: Ondara, 070 Shake, Ruston Kelly, DVSN, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Sam Hunt, Machine Gun Kelly, BENEE, Salem, Jay Electronica, Smashing Pumpkins, YoungBoy NBA, The 1975, Drake, Lewis Watson, Polo G, Pinegrove, YFL Kelvin, Joshua James & Nate Pyfer, Clever, Matt Nathanson, Jack Harlow, Mat Kearney, Mac Miller, Roger Eno & Brian Eno, The Killers, YUNGBLOOD, Taylor Swift, Nas, Cast, Matt Wertz, Benny the Butcher, Joshua Hyslop, Rod Wave, Ólafur Arnalds, Powfu.

What was your favorite? Let me know on Twitter or via text message.

Listen to the playlist in full on Spotify.

For my favorite albums from past years, visit our blog.

—JFM