Wednesday, October 27

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Top Albums

In no particular order, we’re rounding up 2020 by listing out some of our favorite albums of this year.
Dive in!

Run the Jewels – RTJ4

Hip Hop

 RTJ4 is a commendable hip hop album, following up to RTJ3 that was released in 2016. It is everything a conscious hip hop head would wrap their head around, especially in such trying times. Run The Jewels – with emcees Killer Mike and El-P – have been one of many acts across the world who are standing up against injustices to races, including the rising police brutality and political turmoil on micro and macro levels.

The first single from the album Oooh La La featuring DJ Premier and Greg Nice was released with a video in March, followed by the release of the album in June 2020. The unexpected incident of police brutality against US citizen George Floyd led to the shift of the release date to be more immediate. The nationwide protests based on police brutality against the black community in the US only helped affirm the duo’s confidence to move the release up. Many people have remarked on the impeccable timing of this album’s launch, and how these tracks were already ready before this incident. The track Walking in the Snow has the phrase ‘I can’t breathe’, and can give anyone goosebumps on the very first listen. Every song is an absolute truth bomb, and the album also features artists such as rappers 2 Chainz, Gangsta Boo, rapper and producer Pharrell Williams, RATM frontman Zach de la Rocha, Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme and gospel singer Mavis Staples. I’d be partial to say I prefer any song over another, but my top favorites would be JU$T with sensation Pharrell Williams and one of my favorite emcees Zach de la Rocha from rock band Rage Against the Machine. Holy calmafuck is quite a gripping track featuring 2 Chainz. Pulling the pin evokes a very visceral emotion of sadness and anger, which I can’t really describe until you listen to the song for yourself. Killer Mike and El-P are definitely one of the most powerful MC duos the world over and are a voice for the oppressed. They empathize with those suffering by society’s varied pressures and have struggled through these problems themselves, facing racism as an interracial duo. This is the hip hop the world NEEDS to be listening to.

Our Essential tracks: JU$T, walking in the snow, pulling the pin

 

The Weeknd – After Hours

RnB/Soul

 This album has a feel and emotion that relates to a lot of people in 2020. Just even sonically, this album by The Weeknd hit unexpected waveforms in our brains. It is a journey from start to end, something that cannot be confined or categorized to soul and RnB. The influences range from pop and synth-wave, all the way to fragments of hip hop and bass. This 13-track album has continuous ups and downs, which only help you relate to what life has been in the past 9 months of lockdowns across the world. For an album that didn’t get nominated for the GRAMMYs, it was one beautiful album that soared the charts and stayed on top consistently for four weeks.

All feelings of heartbreak are soldered into this one album, spread across the trickling emotions that variate every day. The album flows from Alone Again, to some favorites like Hardest to Love, all the way to hit singles like Blinding Lights and In Your Eyes. Tenderly ending on the title track and Until I Bleed Out, it’s quite hard to avoid reigniting the feeling of some emotions that run deep. Depending on how you take this album, it could be a great party album too, and that’s what makes it so special. Spotify says I was among The Weeknd’s top 3% fans on Spotify across the world this year, so you get how much I was digging this record. Don’t miss out on this piece of art, is all I can say.

Our Essential Tracks: Hardest To Love, Heartless, Blinding Lights, In Your Eyes, After Hours

 

Deftones – Ohms

Nu Metal

Rightly said by drummer Abe Cunningham, it’s beauty meets aggression. Deftones fans had definitely been waiting for an album since their last release Gore in 2016. However, while the album has disappeared from some streaming platforms, I think I’d turn to their album Koi No Yokan as the last notable piece of Deftones. In this new album Ohms, they bring back a fantastic blend of so many older works. I can think of everything from White Pony, Around the Fur and self-titled Deftones, with a dash of Koi No Yokan. Ohms is the 9th studio album, with its magnificent mix of Chino’s soaring vocals, heavy guitar parts, and punching drum grooves.

Like every album, this one is no less of a journey, and the surmounting excitement made this album impactful from the very first listen. You will get caught in their hypnotic net almost instantly. Clean vocals over tasty riffs and basslines just makes for such a unique act. I can’t think of any band like Deftones unless they’ve ripped them off! I love the journey of Deftones, and this album shows exactly that maturity. The album kicks off from Genesis, and just before hitting halfway, a face-melting riff hits you in the middle of track Error, almost changing the direction thereon. The Spell of Mathematics comes in like a good old song from their self-titled record Deftones, with that very punchy riff spread over Chino’s typical vocals. We then travel into the power chunk of the album, ending off humbly on the title track. Did you also know, this cover of the Deftones album artwork has 12,995 dots on it, after which they launched an Adopt a Dot campaign, where any person could buy a dot on the cover. All proceeds go to the UC Davis Children’s Hospital and Crew Nation relief fund, and the donor’s photo appears on the Ohms Adopt a Dot digital experience online. From early Nu metal days, to this mature piece of work, this album is definitely one to watch out for. The production is fantastic, and if you haven’t given this genre or band a listen yet, it’s never too late.

Our Essential Tracks: The Spell of Mathematics, Pompeji, The Link is Dead, Radiant City

 

Krewella – Zer0

Electronic

 This 11-track electronic album dropped during the end of January 2020, and has since become a staple for Krewella fans across the world. Housing powerful leadlines and signature bass-drops that are unique to their sound, every song in Zer0 has a strong cohesion brought on by the sister-duo’s own vocals, while delivering an electronica-infused genre mix that makes this entire album a wild ride from start to finish!

Standing out from the rest, tracks Anxiety, Martyr and Overboard each explore different sonic and vocal treatments. Anxiety featuring Arrested Youth takes on a laid back R&B approach; Martyr boasts exquisite vocal treatments paired with scathing lyrics; while Overboard throws back to mid-2000’s pop songs, laying down vocal distortion and a four-on-the-floor beat that calls for head-bopping.

Zer0 is Krewella’s second official studio album, and their first album without producer Kris Trindl (Rain Man).

Our Essential Tracks: Anxiety, Overboard, Martyr, zer0

 

Lauv – How I’m Feeling

Pop

 Since the smashing success of his hit single I Like Me Better, Lauv aka Ari Staprans Leff has released some major chart-toppers, including collaborations with fellow musicians Ariana Grande and Julia Michaels. March 2020 saw the release of this American singer/songwriter’s first studio album, complete with 21 tracks featuring some of pop music’s largest names. How I’m Feeling (~how i’m feeling~) has since topped various charts, the world over, and continues to be a fan favorite.

The creativity induced into this album is notable; with Lauv bringing various versions of himself to life as part of the characters featured in ~how i’m feeling~.  Dressed in color-coded tank tops and trousers, sized down and placed on a larger version of himself, the album art is a cute nod to each song. There’s an orange-themed f*ckboy Lauv, a blue-themed hopeless romantic Lauv and even a red, spicy Lauv – among others – all created to represent the many versions of the artist himself.

While every track is a powerful addition to the American pop music scene, Julia, El Tejano, Sad Forever and Canada deliver above and beyond Lauv’s known style. Julia features hopeless romantic Lauv, singing to ‘Julia’ about a very vividly-depicted heartbreak. Lauv’s raspy, melancholic vocals are backed by only a piano, but he manages to craft a sonic experience that is bittersweet to listeners new and old. Sad Forever talks about Lauv’s experience with sadness and successfully manages to throw listeners into existential crises of their own, all while shaking shoulders to what otherwise sounds like an upbeat song fit for long car rides. Canada featuring Alessia Cara is a sweet amalgamation of the two vocalists’ unique tones, producing a collaboration that begs for a part two.

All-in-all, How I’m Feeling came right on time, giving listeners a beautiful album that served well-beyond the many months spent hunkered down and Purell-ed.

Our Essential Tracks: Julia, Sad Forever, El Tejano

 

Hayley Williams – Petals For Armor

Alternative/Indie

Petals For Armor is the debut solo album of Hayley Williams – frontwoman of American Rock band Paramore. The 15-track album, released in installments of three EPs, encapsulates the principle part of the singer’s life and experiences. Veering from Paramore’s alt-rock influences, Petals For Armor is a tenacious record that exclusively defines Hayley’s sound of eclectic pop with nuances of rock, R&B, jazz, explored across the tracks, while still highlighting her exemplary vocal abilities.

With splashes of inspiration from Björk, Janet Jackson, and Radiohead, the album unveils a raw and vulnerable side of the singer. At its core, Petals For Armor is about healing from past traumas in life or love; a theme that is perennial throughout. Among other themes, it discusses Hayley’s acceptance of femininity in herself in Cinnamon, a revelation to the singer herself after battling neck-to-neck in the male dominating genre of pop-punk since the early 2000s. Rose/Lotus/Violet/Iris, with musical trio boygenius, is a flowery metaphorical song that is an ode to heal the women who are pitted against themselves or face generational violence. “I got what I deserved, I was the other woman first” she sings in the upbeat and grief-stricken track Dead Horse which delves into the relationship with her ex-husband. Rising through the tribulations of her past, the tracks Crystal Clear, Taken, Sugar On The Rim, Pure Love denotes Hayley has found love again in her own metaphorical means.

Petals For Armor is produced by bandmate Taylor York, who also co-wrote several songs in the album with Hayley along with Paramore’s touring bassist Joey Howard. The record made it to Billboard and The Rolling Stones ‘Top 50 Albums in 2020’, and it also won ‘Best Alternative’ at MTV’s European Music Awards (EMA).

Our Essential Tracks: Crystal Clear, Sugar On The Rim, Pure Love 

 

Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA

Pop, R&B, Nu-metal

British-Japanese singer Rina Sawayama is one of 2020’s new artists to make it huge with a debut album. Titled SAWAYAMA, the multi-genre record consisting of 13 tracks was rolled out on April 17th due to her debut EP RINA in 2017.

Rina has meticulously imbibed a variety of genres in SAWAYAMA, ranging from Evanescence-Esque punk rock with piercing guitars in Dynasty to dream pop, Carly Rae Jepsen vibes in Tokyo Love Hotel. The singer didn’t hold back with her lyricism either and talks deeply into her experiences as a Japanese, queer woman. SAWAYAMA starts with Dynasty that probes into Rina’s intergenerational pain of coming from a Japanese family. Lead single STFU! is an anthemic nu-metal track for marginalized groups trying to wade past microaggressions. “We don’t need to be related to relate/ We don’t need to share genes or a surname,” she sings in Chosen Family, a song dedicated to queer people who are often ostracized by their family or friends after coming out, who then find solace in their chosen group of people who accept them.

Even with the inclusion of a plethora of genres, SAWAYAMA sounds cohesive and delivers its message across superbly. This week, Rina released the deluxe version tracks from SAWAYAMA, and reportedly, a sophomore album is in the making.

Our Essential tracks: Dynasty, Paradisin’, Tokyo Love Hotel

 

Katy Perry – Smile

Pop

 Most of pop’s leading women artists dropped an album in 2020; Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa, Halsey, Selena Gomez and so many more! Lost in the sea of talent was the OG pop-queen Katy Perry, who – in my opinion – has now become an underrated artist. Ten years after the blockbuster release of the album Teenage Dream, Katy put out her sixth studio album titled Smile on August 28.

Critics have bashed Smile mercilessly, citing it to have a repetitive sound of her previous albums – Teenage Dream, Prism. But she was also criticized for experimenting in her 2017 album Witness which saw pixie-haired Katy Perry singing tracks such as Swish Swish and Bon Appétit.

Smile, a 12-track-album, is a testimony to her old roots and an anthemic record that is divided into four categories – Therapy: Never Really Over, Cry About It Later, Teary Eyes; Recovery: Daisies, Resilient, Not The End Of The World; Happiness: Smile, Champagne Problems; and True Love: Harley’s in Hawaii, Only Love, What Makes a Woman.

This album proves Katy’s brilliant and wide-reaching vocals and is undoubtedly one of her best despite the poor reviews it received.

Our Essential Tracks: Never Really Over, Cry About It Later, Daisies

 

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