2020: A Year in Music

December 31, 2020

 

 

To say that this year was difficult for the average college student would be the understatement of a century. Whether you were attempting to start your life at a new university, preparing to complete a graduate course digitally or perhaps you were sequestered in your dorm for too many hours to count, new music helped us battle our way through the quarantine depression. 

 

With many artists bunkered in as well, we saw many ordinary homes turned into creative spaces that were used to generate some of the best music we’ve been presented in years. Here are 20 albums that made my year as a fledgling college student easier.

20.BUBBA by Kaytranda 

Genre: Dance/Electronic & R&B

Release date: December 13, 2019

A swan song to life prior to quarantine, BUBBA is a euphoric collaborative dance album. It’s lowkey afrobeats are fit for any blood pumping experience, but within it’s dance worthy beats lies a political and social subtext that feels poignant now as it did a year prior. Rounding out at around an hour in length, the album progresses both easily and smoothly, never missing a beat as Kaytranada opens the floor to a bevy of collaborators, including Kali Uchis and Pharell Williams. The result is one of the best dance records in recent memory, and is a worthwhile listen to anybody interested in Boiler Room sets and easygoing beats.

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19. Good News by Megan Thee Stallion

Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap

Release date: November 20, 2020

Operating within a male dominated genre that seeks to objectify and sexualize black women at any moment of success, few have truly refound their agency in the same way Megan Thee Stallion has on Good News. Her debut record is jam packed with filthy sex jams and earworm hooks that are sure to populate your TikTok for months to come. Megan feels more like a larger-than-life character than ever before, performing tracks that represent her southern and black pride in joyful ways that enable necessary conversations. It is the essential rap album of the year, and is sure to please anybody looking for an introduction to her sound.

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18. Róisín Machine by Róisín Murphy

Genre: Disco

Release date: October 2, 2020

After quarantine mandates closed down the clubs, several of pop music and electronic’s biggest heads ensured that the party continued in our homes. On Róisín Machine, Róisín Murphy provides some of her best tracks that have been in the works for over a decade. An incredibly fun nu-disco album, Murphy takes the traditional disco sounds we expect and expands onto them in ways that are danceable and entrancing, but also incredibly smart and deliberate. A perfect record for anybody yearning to get their groove on, my personal recommendation is to replace the standard tracks with their extended counterparts.

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17. Future Nostalgia by Dua Lipa

Genre: Disco & Pop

Release date: March 27, 2020

When we first met Dua Lipa, she seemed like a young pop star in search of a larger identity and star power. She has always had the production power and songwriting chops, evidenced by hit “New Rules”, but prior to this year the general populace couldn’t quite make her out. Now, she welcomes us into club Future Nostalgia, where disco is new once again. Revitalizing the genre within modern pop music, Lipa crafts an album that feels timeless and quick-pact. Its short runtime allows for each track to feel substantial, and the result presents the young artist as a pop star worthy of the crown.

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16.

Lianne La Havas by Lianne La Havas

Genre: Neo-Soul & Folk

Release date: July 17, 2020

Inspired by cycles of love and the birth and rebirth of nature surrounding her, Lianne La Havas’ self-titled and self-produced third LP feels like a serene waterfall hike. Fluttered throughout with pleasant acoustic guitars, soulful jams, and emotional ballads that feel made for television’s most dramatic moments, La Havas directly opposes those same neo-soul stylings by clashing them with rock sounds. The heavier moments on this record, such as its Radiohead cover, “Weird Fishes” feel like beautiful storms within a gorgeous forest. This album is certain to please those searching for an R&B record with edge, or perhaps a folk music fan looking for something to dance to.

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15.

KiCk i by Arca

Genre: Dance/Electronic & Pop

Release date: June 26, 2020

Beyond the incredibly harsh tones and glitchy surface of KiCk i, any listener will hear the sound of self realization. An artist coming into her form, Arca feels more realized than ever before, finetuning her sound into a place that is both listenable to longterm fans seeking the bizarre sounds of her early work and new fans seeking conventional but off-the-wall electro-pop. The result is an album that features some of the singers best performances and production, and promises an even brighter future for what could become of the pioneering electronic artists sound.

 

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14.

SAWAYAMA by Rina Sawayama

Genre: Pop & Nu-Metal

Release date: April 17, 2020

Any longtime fan of Rina Sawayama will tell you that a major label debut has been a promising idea for years. It’s arrival feels like a blessing to pop fans around the world, a fun album inspired heavily by Y2K pop and nu-metal. Despite its clearly dated inspiration points, SAWAYAMA feels incredibly modern, relying heavily on modern pop stylings and fusing them with the characteristic production of collaborator, Clarence Clarity. It’s an album that’ll transport any listener into a nostalgic buzz, one that will feel especially poignant within the record’s political subtext. It’s a necessary album for anybody interested in sophisticated pop music that pushes the boundaries of its genre.

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13.

how i’m feeling now by Charli XCX

Genre: Dance/Electronic & Pop

Release date: May 15, 2020

One of the earliest popular musicians to declare publicly that she would be releasing a “quarantine album”, how i’m feeling now manages to arguably be Charli XCX’s best album to date. Fusing modern hyperpop sounds with her knack for writing impactful pop hooks and the nostalgic clubby experimentation presented in her debut, the album manages to strengthen many of the elements at play in her previous full-length. Abandoning her frequent reliance on collaborators to create a personal pop album with old and new producers, the album highlights Charli’s attention to detail and refrain, stripping her larger than life sound into a more intimate and approachable affair. A digestible album for any person in search of exuberant pop sounds.

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12.

5EPs by Dirty Projectors

Genre: Alternative/Indie

Release date: November 20, 2020

Releasing five EPs throughout the course of the year alongside his newly introduced lineup of performers, David Longstreth latest Dirty Projectors piece is an inviting and incredibly ranged piece of indie pop. Drifting by as though a breeze in a park, the album flows masterfully within each respected EP, and its result is a compilation piece that shows a band coming into full unity. There are several moments on the album about love and the power that it has over others. But its best moments are its most intelligent, subtly telling political stories in an accessible and creative manner. It is an essential indie album that jumps from genre inspiration, but is sure to please all listeners at some point.

 

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11. What’s Your Pleasure by Jessie Ware

Genre: Disco & Pop

Release date: June 26, 2020

Disco definitely found new footing this year within the pop landscape, but this was no more clear and effective than Jessie Ware’s latest effort. What’s Your Pleasure feels like an effortless display of good pop and dance music. With an emotional opener that is certain to grasp listeners, and grooves that are fluent and evocative throughout, Ware set out to do what the best escapist music does, “Will this make people want to have sex? And will this make people want to dance?”. That idea is prevalent in fun and sweat-soaked anthems throughout, an album certain to please any listener hoping to get their groove on.

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10. Shamir by Shamir

Genre: Alternative/Indie & Rock

Release date: October 2, 2020

Upon the release of his critically acclaimed debut record, Ratchet, it seemed Shamir was primed for indie fame with an already viral classic under his belt. In the years following that, he left XL Recordings and self-released four records that took inspiration from “outsider music, country & punk”. These ideas come to full fruition on the singer’s latest self-titled album, which contains the finest moments of the young artist’s career in a brief, engaging record. Featuring memorable lyrics and earworm hooks that are accompanied by a DIY-rock sound, you’ve got an essential lofi-indie rock that is certain to please any fan of the genre.

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9. WHAT WE DREW 우리가 그려왔던 by Yaeji

Genre: Dance/Electronic & K-Pop

Release date: April 2, 2020

Signing with XL Recordings, Yaeji was inspired by the support systems within her life to create her most playful and collaborative music yet. Whilst still clubby and fun throughout, WHAT WE DREW largely contrasts the moodier sounds of her previous EPs, with moments on this record coming across as bubbly and bouncy. The record, which was entirely self-produced by Yaeji, is at its best when it manages to fuse these unlikely elements into dance tracks that feel substantial and are easily danceable. Above all, WHAT WE DREW is the artist’s most diverse body of music to date and promises an exceptional full-length debut.

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8.The Angel You Don’t Know by Amaarae

Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap & Afro-Pop

Release date: November 12, 2020

Amaarae is an up-and-coming Ghanian-American artist whose steadily subverting expectations with her progressive and stylish brand of afro-pop. Inspired by a multitude of stylistic genres, including southern trap and mall rock, The Angel You Don’t Know is wildly experimental and written exceptionally well also. The best tracks feel layered and sultry, combined by Amaarae distinctive whispery vocals. The end result is an incredibly enjoyable pop record that is fueled by its fun collaborations and genre-bouncing tracklist.

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7. Every Bad by Porridge Radio

Genre: Alternative/Indie & Rock

Release date: March 13, 2020

It’s always a dream when a band grows with their second record, and Every Bad is an example of this. An incredibly enrapturing rock album, Porridge Radio presents a series of truths, dreams and realities, and incredibly emotional themes that are later propelled by the band’s brash sound. At its heaviest, lead singer Dana Margolin vocals highlight a harshness to the bands songwriting, which is sometimes counteracted by the bands brighter, pop rock production pieces. While its tougher moments are cathartic and encasing, the album’s strongest elements are its dramatic builds throughout, with each song feeling large and climatic. It is an enjoyable rock record and is certain to please any fan of the genre.

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6. St. Cloud by Waxahatchee

Genre: Alternative/Indie & Folk

Release date: March 27, 2020

Amassing a decent cult following and building a reputation for herself with the indie music scene as a promising songwriter, St. Cloud feels like an exuberant highlight within the young artists building discography. Where her previous records were somber and sparse, an intimacy that highlighted her prowess as a songwriter, the ‘90s rock sound exhilarating. The result is an American folk record that fits as well into indie circuit radios as it might on a big country festival stage. Featuring some of the most stylistically bright music in the young artists career, it is a transformative album that is certain to leave any willing listener impacted by the end of its concise runtime.

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5.All the Time by Jessy Lanza

Genre: Dance/Electronic & R&B

Release date: July 24, 2020

Completely uprooting her life in her hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, Jessy Lanza prepared for a new journey as a budding popstar. Now, her most energetic record must live within the walls of a quarantined New York apartment; however that doesn’t deprive the record of its deeply effective grooves and sensations. Writing some of the smartest dance tracks in her career, Lanza pitches and plays with her vocals in fresh ways that create variance throughout the album. However, that is already easily done by the immaculately understated production that is on display by Lanza and club-pop musician, Jeremy Greenspan. Several tracks on this record depict Lanza’s resentment and emotionality towards the duo’s relationship, and when paired with glossy pop and R&B-adjacent productions, the result is sickeningly sweet and fun.

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4. Ungodly Hour by Chloe x Halle

Genre: Pop & R&B

Release date: June 12, 2020

With a Disney acting role inbound, and an incredibly underrated debut record in the foreground, the sister duo expands on almost every element on their debut record with an instant-classic R&B record. With religious imagery that is utilized effectively throughout the record, Ungodly Hour is consistent in quality and sound throughout. Having found a bouncy, club-pop lane within the modern R&B landscape, they greatly avoid the failures of their contemporaries with a non-excessive runtime and varied emotionality. Ungodly Hour promises sultry and romantic, if not downright sexy, jams and empowering anthems that are bouncy and relatable, yet subtle. Its pop hooks are catchy, and its production quality is airtight, which is further highlighted by the duo’s resiliency in live performances and shows. If anything, the greatest takeaway is that Chloe x Halle seemed primed for R&B royalty, with a backing system that is determined to see success.

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3. Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple

Genre: Alternative/Indie

Release date: April 17, 2020

What will probably go down as the critical quintessential quarantine record, Fiona Apple’s magnum opus record is incredibly expansive and nuanced. Incorporating the best elements of her phenomenal discography, Fetch the Bolt Cutters began as a conceptual album about her Venice home and grew into a political record for the times. While the sentiment “fetch the bolt cutters” is certain to feel relatable in a time of quarantining with financial insecurity and political unrest, Apple’s themes of freedom from oppression will be deeply relatable to anybody who’s felt cast aside by society. With songs written over the course of a decade and inspired by several relationships and lived experiences, the result is an almost confoundingly infectious record, with its best tracks making philosophical assertions seem effortless.

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2. Women in Music Pt. III by HAIM

Genre: Alternative/Indie & Rock

Release date: June 26, 2020

HAIM has quietly been a force within the indie-pop genre, with their debut album Days Are Gone being a deliberate take on the blown-out pop productions of the early-2010s. While this momentum may have been stifled by their second record, which leaned heavier into country and pop genre-stylings than their previous had, it was evident that the band’s inspiration points, including Joni Mitchell, Destiny’s Child, and Blondie, were resulting in groovy nostalgic pop that was occasionally overcrowded. This is a critique that is nearly totally resolved by the bands euphoric and genre-fluid third record. Mastering their production with Rostam, formerly of Vampire Weekend, the result is incredibly explorative and fully realized. No melody on this record sounds like another present here, and that is quantified by Danielle Haim’s songwriting, which is stronger than ever at effectively telling stories with simple words. Women in Music Pt. III is by far the most fun album of the year, occasionally campy, entirely sentimental, and briefly political at times throughout.

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1. Song for Our Daughter by Laura Marling

Genre: Alternative/Indie & Folk

Release date: April 10, 2020

Inspired by global chaos and political turmoil, as well as the 2009 novel Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou, British songwriter Laura Marling welcomes audiences into her northeast London home with a beautifully simplistic folk record. Written to a theoretical daughter, and more generally mothers and women as a unity, Marling writes ten straightforward, endearing and coyly political tracks that continue to demonstrate her unmatched talents as songwriter. Occasionally joined by sparse percussion, Song for Our Daughter mostly features Marling alongside her guitar, orchestrating heart wrenching ballads and serenades that pull on the strings of any romantic listener. Marling demonstrates a knowledge beyond her years, always skeptical of those around her and the love that she both must give and receive. While most of the themes on this record can be directly tied to Marlings visions and expectations of motherhood, Marling continues to touch on themes related to her livelihood as a woman operating love and romance in a world that allows men to control every aspect of their lives and fails to allow said security to women. One of the best tracks on the album, “Strange Girl” feels jubilant, intelligent, and above all fun on a folk album that is otherwise emotionally charged and generally weary. Even at the record’s most somber moments, Marlings vocals feel hopeful and enticing, and when the record ends on a joyfully aware note of appreciation and understanding, listeners feel as though they’ve come to understand Marling in a new way. It is the best folk album of the year, and album of the year because it manages to display emotionally fragility, strength and growth over a stunning and deliberate 37-minute runtime, a feat worth praising. It is the serene and insightful record that we all needed during our clamorous year, and is sure to be enjoyed by romantics and those with an appreciation for delicate lyricism.

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