Thursday, December 10, 2020

YEAR END LISTS: My 10 Favorite Quarantine Albums


HERE WE ARE LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! IT'S MY FAVORITE TIME OF YEAR ON THE BLOG! YEAR-END LISTS!!! I'm super excited to share all of these with you and I hope you guys enjoy them!

Like many people this year, being locked down and forced to stay home was a burden. But as I started getting more used to the stay at home life, I realized I had more time to dive into albums and artists that I hadn't given myself a proper chance to. I started trying to do something I heard Tyler, The Creator mention on an interview with Nardwuar where he wakes up every morning and listens to two hours of new music that he's never listened to before. Of course, I couldn't end up keeping up with that, but I still got to immerse myself in a lot of new sounds and albums that I had been putting off for a long while. Here is a list of 10 albums that I either discovered for the first time or that finally clicked for me while in isolation.

Queens of the Stone Age: ...Like Clockwork

I've been a huge QOTSA fan for quite a while and while I had listened to various songs off of this album, mainly My God is the Sun and If I Had A Tail, for some reason, I never got around to listening to the album in full. I'm glad I finally did because the way this album all flows together is fantastic. A lot of the songs either transition into another or pair next to each other really well. For example, a synth line at the end of I Sat By The Ocean leads right into The Vampyre of Time and Memory. Or even funnier, lead singer Joshua Homme saying "I don't give a sh*t about them anyways." leads right into the intro of Smooth Sailing. The music itself is probably QOTSA's best work since 2002s Songs for the Deaf. There's a lot of fantastic high energy, stadium rock bangers on here like the previously mentioned My God is the Sun and Fairweather Friends. But there's also a lot of great slower songs on here too, most notably, the best and my favorite song from this album I Appear Missing. It starts off with this really sweet descending then ascending guitar lick that fits nicely on top of the guitar and bass. The choruses are these explosive bursts of cymbals and distorted guitar, and I absolutely adore the outro guitar solo. It literally pulls my soul out of my body every time. I'm so glad I gave this one a shot because it has slowly become my favorite QOTSA album. 

Gorillaz: Demon Days

If you've gotten annoyed with me talking about how great Gorillaz are in the past 7 or 8 months, you can blame the fact that I finally decided to listen to this album while cooped up in my bedroom. For a while, I just could not get into Gorillaz. One night while bored, I decided, "Eh why not, I'll watch this Gorillaz set from Outside Lands Festival." and I was blown away. The next morning I woke up and immediately threw on this album and it finally clicked for me. The production is super dark and 2D's vocal performances are always super sad, almost like he sounds hopeless most of the time. The album is a nice mix between slow burners and dance tunes, there's also a nice portion of fantastic features and rap verses on here. The most notable for me is MF DOOM's verse on November Has Come. The song itself is fantastic with DOOM's verses and 2D's chorus pairing so well together. And if you know anything about DOOM, you know that he can pack a punch in a short amount of time. There's also the absolutely timeless Feel Good Inc. which could probably drop today and still be a hit. The bass line is hypnotic and groovy and De La Soul fits on this track like a glove. I also can't end this writeup without talking about the closing tracks on this album, Don't Get Lost In Heaven and Demon Days because it might be my favorite closing run on any album ever. Don't Get Lost In Heaven is a piano-led track backed by this huge choir while the title track has these lush strings and an electric guitar picking away while that same choir sings these really dark lyrics about how "you can't trust the air you breathe because Mother Nature wants us all to leave." but it ends on a positive note with the choir saying "pick yourself up, it's a brand new day, so turn yourself around." This album is such a fantastic listen every time and I highly suggest everyone give it a shot. 

Deftones: White Pony 

I always knew this album was supposed to be special but similar ...Like Clockwork, I had only listened to a few songs off of it rather than digesting the whole thing. This album is, simply put, an experience. From front to back, it really pushes the boundaries of rap-rock and nu-metal, if you can even call it nu-metal, I hate putting that label on Deftones though. This was the first album I listened to when I wanted to do the "2 hours of new music every day" thing because I kept hearing rave reviews and a lot of critical acclaim about it. On first listen, the songs Back To School and Feiticiera didn't really strike me as anything amazing. The riffs were cool and the energy was cool but I was starting to think the album was gonna be something that was great at the time but hadn't aged well, then Digital Bath started which put any doubts I had to rest. The song starts off with this killer drum groove and some soft guitar chords while singer Chine Moreno sings in this really breathy voice. When the chorus drops in, it's an eargasm. Loud distorted guitars, even groovier drums, it's probably one of the best songs the band has ever released. Immediately after this, the song Elite is a high-energy, chaotic banger. I honestly can't tell if Chino is whispering or screaming during the verses but it works well so I don't care. The riff on this song is insanely good and is probably my second favorite riff on here, the top spot being taken by the song Passenger. I can't explain it but the song sounds like getting in your car, turning on to open road, and flooring it. Chino and Tool singer Maynard James Keenan have amazing chemistry on the song and bring out the best in each other on the track. I'm glad I gave this a shot because the production, the performances, the band was on fire recording this and I highly recommend it to anyone who is into that shoegazey/90's alternative stuff.

Cage The Elephant: Melophobia

I'm so mad that I slept on this album. If there's an album that should prove how great indie rock was in the 2010s, it should be this one. Across 10 songs and 37 minutes of runtime, Cage The Elephant just bring hit after hit after hit. The album consists of two types of songs. Loud, distorted, energetic rock songs that make you want to jump and dance, and lowkey, more midtempo numbers that hit different when you turn all the lights off in your room and put both headphones on. Of the first category, the first two songs that spring to mind are Spiderhead and Teeth. Spiderhead kicks off the album with a huge bang. I love how the piano and guitar pair together throughout the song and singer Matt Schultz's performance is fantastic. Meanwhile, Teeth is hands down the rowdiest song on the album. Blaring distorted guitars, pounding drums. Don't ask me to explain this but the song sounds thick. Of the second category, Telescope is definitely the standout song. It starts off super lowkey with these synth chords popping in and out. I absolutely adore the chorus of this song, especially the one line where Schultz sings "Time is like a leaf in the wind / Time is like a leaf in the wind / Either it's time worth spent / Or time I've wasted / Don't waste it." There's also this sort of breakdown where the song shifts into louder drums and a great guitar solo. It's probably my favorite Cage The Elephant song to date. I also can't not mention the song Cigarette Daydreams because if you've never cried listening to this song, you haven't lived. It's a really solid closer to the album with some strummed acoustic guitar chords, some drums and strings pop up on the back half of the song. But it's the lyrics that really steal the show where Schultz sings, "You can drive all night / Looking for the answers in the pouring rain / You wanna find peace of mind / Looking for the answer / If we can find a reason, a reason to change / Looking for the answer / If you can find a reason, a reason to stay / Standing in the pouring rain." I think it goes without saying that this isn't only my favorite Cage album, I think it's their best as well.

The Cure: Disintegration

Contrary to all of the other albums on this list, I knew I loved this album before I was forced to stay home. I'd even go as far as saying it's my favorite album of all time. This one really helped with that isolation. Every time I threw it on, it almost felt like I had just covered myself in a warm blanket, and I still get that feeling every time the synths and drums kick in on Plainsong, it's just so comforting. All of the songs on here feature super lush and super beautiful production, pair that with Robert Smith's incredible voice and writing over 12 songs and you have an amazing album. The album is full of hits. Whether it's Pictures of You, an epic 8-minute long song with Smith pining over the times in his life where he and his now-wife were split apart from each other. I usually cannot stand when a singer takes over 30 seconds to start singing but this is a song where I let it slide because the guitar riffing for the first 2 minutes of the song is beautiful. Lovesong is a cheesy song that Smith wrote as a wedding present for his then bride to be, and before you come at me for calling it cheesy, even Smith himself thinks the song is super weak and who's gonna fight the person who wrote it. My personal favorite song on this album has to be Last Dance. The lyrics tell a sad story of meeting a person you haven't seen in forever and realizing that they aren't the person they used to be with Smith singing "And the fur and the mouth and the innocence turned / To hair and contentment that hangs in abasement / A woman now standing where once there was only a girl." I also have to mention the title track as it's easily one of the best songs on the entire album. I love the slick guitar lead and fat snare drums leading the song. I also love how the fuzzy guitar and keyboard sync up right before the vocals come in. The lyrics are a gut punch once again with Smith singing about either infidelity, drug addiction, maybe even the band breaking up? No one still knows for sure, but it's definitely not a happy track. There's one line that always hits me super hard where Smith sings "I leave you with photographs, pictures of trickery / And stains on the carpet and stains on the memory." But despite all of the sad lyrics, this album is still a solid listen every single time and has aged beautifully in the past 31 years. 

Radiohead: In Rainbows

Hey guys, in case you didn't know, Radiohead is incredible. Want proof? Listen to In Rainbows while you're speeding down the highway at night. That's how I listened to it for the first time ever and it was magical. I think my fondest memory of my first listen was hitting the entrance ramp right as Bodysnatchers started and that still sticks with me. I had never gotten into Radiohead until one night after picking up dinner, this album cover stared at me when I opened Spotify so I said, "I might as well, let's see what happens." The result was me listening to this album any and every chance I got over the next few weeks. The production is beautiful, the band doesn't deliver a single bad performance, and all around, the whole album is a vibe. It all flows together super well and there's not a single dull spot on the album. From the glitchy but groovy opener, 15 Step to the slow but super passionate Nude to Weird Fishes/Arpeggi which has probably the best guitar work on the album. If you've never seen the video of them playing this song live in The Basement, please do. It's fantastic. The hits keep on coming later into the album. The song Reckoner has this sick drum groove driving the whole thing, the guitar licks throughout it are really great too. Thom Yorke's voice on top of the song takes it to the next level though. His falsetto is almost like a warm, sunny day after three days of rain. Videotape is a fantastic closing track to the album. The song is just Thom and a piano for the first minute and a half before some drums cover in and some strings start building up. I honestly wouldn't complain if it stayed all piano the whole time though because it's beautiful. I guess my only somewhat gripe is that the song builds up to nothing, I don't care though, it's still a great end to this otherwise perfect album. 

Paramore: After Laughter

I don't really know why I put off this album and Paramore as a whole for so long. It's almost like it's been a missing piece. I didn't know how much I needed it until I had it. This album was the soundtrack to many solo dance parties in my room and in my shower and was always great background noise driving to work when I was working. The album might be the textbook definition of happy but sad music as lead singer Hayley Williams is singing these really dark and sad lyrics over these incredible synth-pop and new wave instrumentals. The first two songs on the album really show that off well. Hard Times has this super fun guitar lead and these chimes in the same tune but Hayley starts off the album singing, "All that I want / Is to wake up fine / Tell me that I'm alright / That I ain't gonna die." The chorus is super catchy too even though Hayley is saying that hard times are "gonna make you wonder why you even try," how they're gonna "take you down and laugh when you cry." I also love the song Rose Colored Boy so so much. It's a song about a person in Hayley's life who's always cheery and always sees the bright side of life and that bothers Hayley singing "I'm so annoyed / 'Cause I just killed off what was left of / The optimist in me." The chorus on here is infectious with Hayley saying "Just let me cry a little bit longer / I ain't gon' smile if I don't want to." This song also ties into Fake Happy. A more mid-tempo groovy song about how on stage and online, we see Hayley as this super bubbly and fun person but on the inside, she's a mess, even saying in the first verse, "You see, it's easy when I'm stompin' on a beat
/ But no one sees me when I crawl back underneath." The song Idle Worship might honestly be my favorite song on this album. There's this weird synth lead and bassline that start off the song before Hayley comes in with these great lyrics about the pedestal that she's constantly put on, singing "Hey baby, I'm not your superhuman / And if that's what you want / I hate to let you down / I got your hopes up / Now I got you hoping / That I'm gonna be the one to let you down." I really hope the band continues with this sound because it fits them so well. 

The White Stripes: Elephant

I mean, what can you say about The White Stripes that hasn't been said already. This album was the soundtrack to many bike rides and many days out at the pool. It also inspired me to start playing my guitar more whenever I got the chance, just because of how fantastic Jack White is as a guitarist. Almost like Melophobia, there are two types of songs on this album. Super fuzzed-out and solo heavy ragers, and slower ballads led either by acoustic guitar, piano, or both. The first category holds songs like Black Math which has this awesome switch to half time in the middle of the song, I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself, which is a cover of an old Blues song that sounds nothing like the original. Jack And Meg White bring a completely different energy to the song. But my favorite song of the category has to be Ball and Biscuit because over the 7 minutes of runtime, Jack is constantly rubbing in my face how much better of a guitar player he is than me. Just face-melting solo after solo. The last one I wanna mention from this category is Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine. I love the part in the middle of the song where Jack alternates between chunky guitar chords and little guitar solos. The second category is a little bit more hit or miss but the hits make up for it. I Want To Be The Boy Who Warms Your Mother's Heart is a piano ballad of Jack trying to impress a girl, asking what cartwheels does he have to do to attract her and saying that she even makes him want to finish high school just to make her notice he's around. After this, You've Got Her In Your Pocket is a cute acoustic number with Jack trying to hold onto this lover no matter what the cost is, he doesn't want to lose her. Jack's voice is super passionate and he packs a lot of emotion into his words. I think it goes without saying that this is the best White Stripes album and if you've ever wondered why I'm as obsessed with Jack White as I am, this album is why.  

Run The Jewels: Run The Jewels 2

Run the Jewels have probably been my favorite discovery in this period of time. Killer Mike and El-P are such a fantastic duo together and their chemistry is part of what makes this album as incredible as it is. The production on this album is super dark and grimey, it's very bass-heavy as well, and Mike and El flow very well over these beats coming through with these super clever or super funny bars, for example on the song Oh My Darling (Don't Cry) where they both come through with a handful of hilarious bars. My favorite bit being where El raps "My business cards says you're in luck / I do two things, I rap and f*ck," then Mike follows it up saying "I f*ck and rap, I tote the strap / I smoke the kush, I beat the puss." There's also an amazing beat switch near the end of the songs that always leads me to hitting a stank face. Close Your Eyes (And Count To F*ck) is the first Run The Jewels song I ever heard and I still think it's my favorite song by the duo. From Killer Mike's fantastic opening verse covering an uprising in a prison to El taunting the jury to the hilarious "A wise man once said 'We all dead, f*ck it."" It's a fantastic song and when you think it can't get any better, enter Zack De La Rocha, legendary Rage Against the Machine frontman and a man who I guess only comes out of his cave to record verses for RTJ. Early might be the most serious song on the album with Mike rapping about the effect that police brutality has on a victim's family. Mike details how out of the window from the back of the car, he can see that his wife is trying to fight to get her husband out but she's thrown on the ground and gets a gun pointed at her. He continues saying that he could hear his song begging for the cop to not hurt his mom but he's too late as Mike says, "My life changed with that sound." The versatility of Run The Jewels always blows me away, they can go from songs like this explaining a husband and son losing their mom to police brutality to on the song after dropping bars like "I'll beat you to the pulp, no fiction" or my personal favorite, "The beat gets abused like I wear a wife-beater." It's a fantastic rap album and if you need something lyrical that will also get you turned up, this is your album. 

Lorde: Melodrama

Where the hell am I supposed to start. Am I supposed to start with how consistent this album is? Or am I supposed to start how incredible Jack Antonoff's production is? Or do I need to start with how amazing Lorde's voice is? I have no clue. All I know is that this album is incredible. The opening song Green Light starts off with just some piano and Lorde coming through with some great harmonies before this amazing dance beat drops for the chorus. It's such an incredible opening song, probably the best on all of the albums on here. I love the beat on Sober so much. The percussion loops are that drive the song are fantastic and I love the horns that keep popping up in the chorus. I also love the non-drop in the first chorus, the song keeps building up and it just kind of stops to highlight her voice. Homemade Dynamite has probably my favorite chorus on the album. The harmonies are incredible and I love the distorted synth chords that randomly pop up throughout it. It's also super catchy and gets stuck in my head often. Liability is a beautiful piano ballad with these super sad lyrics with Lorde singing about troubles she has loving herself and in the second verse even questioning her fame, singing "The truth is I am a toy that people enjoy / 'Til all of the tricks don't work anymore / And then they are bored of me." The song Supercut almost sounds like it samples the same piano from the opening song but I don't care, it fantastic. It's another dance tune with a sad twist. Lorde is dreaming of this ideal relationship, thinking of how perfect her and this person would be, but she has to bring herself back down to reality after realizing the relationship she has isn't as perfect as the one she's thinking of, singing, "In my head, I do everything right / When you call, I'll forgive and not fight / Are the moments I play in the dark." This album is without a doubt pop perfection. I eagerly await the day Lorde drops another album because if this album is any sign, we're definitely in for a treat. 

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