Label: XO/Republic
Released: March 20

After Hours was released less than nine months ago, but in many ways, it’s already withstood the test of time. When Abel Tesfaye recorded these songs, the world was very different than it was when he actually released them. As the story goes, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down just weeks before the album’s scheduled release date, Abel was advised to push it back, but he chose to put it out anyway. And despite everything being in upheaval, the music immediately connected with fans. It doesn’t matter what time period or physical setting you consume After Hours in—it’ll still resonate. This is timeless pop music, and with every listen it sounds better, which is why you may have noticed it jumped up three places from its position on our midyear list (and we expect to look back on it just as fondly a decade from now). Abel was able to accomplish this by seamlessly blending the best he’s had to offer from each stylistic era of his career. He pulls from his brooding, early-era mixtape aesthetic on songs like “Snowchild” and “Escape From LA” while also reaching for the mountaintop of pop success with radio-friendly anthems like “Blinding Lights,” “Heartless,” and “In Your Eyes.” Somehow, he’s able to successfully scale his Trilogy-era sound up to an arena-size capacity by doubling down on his favorite tropes—overindulgence, toxic relationships, and drugs—in a more refined way than he’s ever pulled off. The songwriting is tighter, the production is more dynamic, and his worldview has grown a little more mature. A beautifully sequenced body of work, After Hours flows from one song to the next with no skips, as Abel shows off his knack for world-building. Without question, it’s the very best album of 2020. —Eric Skelton