You guys might remember me giving these guys some great remarks in my Best Albums of 2019 list and to be honest with y'all, I sort of forgot about them after that but scrolling through Instagram one night, I realized that this album had dropped so I gave it a listen. Maybe it was a mistake to listen to this album for the first time at 1:30 in the morning because I don't think I slept a wink after SUPREMACY ended. Singer Jason Aalon Butler is still channeling the energy of Zack De La Rocha on this album which I won't complain about, he pulls it off incredibly well. His flows and his energy on all of these songs are fantastic. The opener on this song is hands down a banger. The guitars are super thick and blown out, not in an obnoxious way though, and Butler's lyrics about police brutality and saying that nothing will change until the people bite back are really powerful. I also really love the title track on this album which has probably the most Rage Against the Machine energy on it, likely because Tom Morello had a hand in writing it. I love the slick RZA sample laced into the beat and Travis Barker's drumming is super sick. Butler's mantra on the song of "you f*cked with the wrong generation" gets more and more cautionary as the song continues. So if you're into rap-metal and that sort of stuff, give this a try for sure, you'll like it.
21. IDKHow - Razzmatazz
After a couple years of waiting, the debut album from this alternative-pop duo is here. The duo is made up of former Panic! at the Disco bassist Dallon Weekes and former Falling in Reverse drummer Ryan Seamen. Together, the two are making some of the best synth-pop and new wave music I've heard in quite a while. This album is a huge improvement from their 1981 EP with better production and Weekes has become a better writer since then. A lot of the songs are here are super groovy and make you wanna dance. And while some of these songs might be a little compressed, I won't make a fuss about it, they still slap. Most of the time it's for artistic effect anyways. Like on my favorite song from this album, Clusterhug, where the drums are compressed in a way that makes it sound like Ryan is beating them like they owe him money. Instrumentally and vocally, this song sound like Brandon Flowers and Win Butler got locked in a studio together and weren't allowed to come out until they wrote a banger. I also really love this album's title track. There's a lot of subtle details buried in the mix that make this a great headphone listen. I love the piano chords that drive the song and the amazing saxophone solo that pops in around 2:15 in. It's an awesome touch and I think it ties a great bow on top of this album. If these two continue in this direction, we could be witnessing the start of something great.
20. Blue October - This Is What I Live For
Blue October is without a doubt one of my favorite rock bands to ever come out of Texas and I think that Justin Furstenfield is one of the best writers in modern rock music. His lyrics are usually filled with shots at himself, his depression and dark thoughts, and love that either fell apart or has blossomed into something great. The first 4 songs on this album kick it off strong. The opener I Laugh At Myself is dramatic, tense, and Justin is not holding back on this song, just ripping himself a new one on the song. Singing about how his "hope is a fraud" and even at one point saying that he has the urge to drink to deal with his anger but won't because he promised his wife he would stay sober. The "the worst is yet to come" hook on the song The Way I Used To Love You is solid, it's my second favorite on the album right next to Moving On (So Long), a song about getting back at someone who left you in a bad spot by showing them how great you're doing. There's line about how this person told Justin that he would end up alone but he's "on top of the world" with his wife and kids. I also love the dark and grungy energy of Love Stupid, while it might not be my favorite song here lyrically, the production is nuts and the chorus is gonna kill live. I also don't think I'll ever be able to say enough good things about the song The Weatherman as I think it's the best song Justin has written in the past 5 years. 20 years since their debut, I'm really happy that Justin's pen game is only improving this far down the road.
19. Donaldish Glovebino - 3.15.20
I said in my mid-year list that I wasn't sure if this was the last Childish Gambino album or the first Donald Glover album and at this point in time, it's still unclear but it's leaning towards neither. But this album is still here, and a lot of people are still dismissing it because of how inaccessible it is. Especially the blank cover and the fact that only 2 tracks are named, but I'm here to tell you to stop ignoring it because it's mysterious. Give it a shot, you're in for a treat. The song Time featuring Ariana Grande is a feel-good song that shows Donald scared of what's coming next in the world, fearing that the end is near. The chorus on this song is fantastic and could easily rule the radio in the summer if it was released as a single. The song 19.10 might have one of the roughest mixes but you can't deny how danceable it is. I love that "To be beautiful is to be hunted," chorus. 47.48 is probably the closest we get stylistically to Awaken, My Love but what really sells me is the spoken word part at the end where Donald and his son are talking about love, it's a really adorable way to end the song. And the final song here ends the album well. Donald's voice is fiery and it's such an energetic way to end the album. The chorus is a nice change of pace and it's catchy too. If this is the end of Childish Gambino, it's definitely a great way to bow out, but if it's the beginning of Donald Glover's music career, I'm excited to see what else he comes up with in the future.
18. Benny The Butcher - Burden of Proof
The Griselda camp had a huge 2020 with projects from Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine, Boldy James, and this one above me from Benny the Butcher. In my opinion, it's the best out of the camp this year with fantastic bars and flows throughout and HitBoy's production on this album is lush, rich. Benny pairs with this production as well as peanut butter pairs with jelly. I love how unapologetic Benny starts that album, loudly proclaiming "AH YEAH I'M BACK!" I love the guitar sample laced into the intro before it transitions into a great throwback boom-bap beat. The horns on the song are great and the bass is thick, but not overbearing. I also love the song One Way Flight featuring Freddie Gibbs (not the last time this duo will be mentioned.) Benny's bars on this song are super smart, I love the line where he raps "What's a stage with no mic and no voice of a poet? / What's more important, the flower or the soil that grow it?" Freddie's verse is filled with his usual humor, I love that line where he raps "Hoes get f*cked and sent home early just like the Clippers." I also love how braggadocious Benny is on the song after this, Famous. There's a lot of great bars on here, like the one where he raps "I chose money over fame, how I end up with both of them?" there's also the great bar that ends the verse where he raps "I remember doin' stick ups for less than a hundred dollars / Now we don't get dressed for less than a hundred thousand." This is definitely the most accessible album from Griselda this year so if you want a nice throwback hip hop album, give this album a shot.
17. Logic - No Pressure
This is how you bounce back. This such a strong bounceback from Logic that I'm actually a little upset that he's retiring from music. The sequel to his debut album, Under Pressure, Logic and legendary producer No I.D. paired up again and made Logic's best album since its predecessor. Logic's bars are a lot more honest, a lot more clever, and I don't think a single line on this entire album made me cringe. In fact, there's a lot of smart and thoughtful lines, like on Soul Food II where he raps "Your new sh*t ain't as good as your old sh*t / until your new sh*t is your old sh*t," or the song Celebration which shows Logic at his strongest lyrically in a long time, rapping that he gets "under people's skin like stitches" and a hilarious line near the end rapping "I have evolved, you's a motherf*ckin crustacean." A lot of this album is also personal, like the song Dadbod which is Logic breaking the fourth wall and pretty much telling his fans, "You want me to rap about real life? Okay, this is my real life, don't be mad when it's boring." He raps about waking up his son, going to the grocery store, even trying to figure out what garbage bag holds the most trash. It's an incredible moment of humility on this album and I really enjoy it. No I.D.'s production is grand, lavish, there's a lot of rich embellishments, and if you wrote off Logic in 2019 like I did, give this a shot, you might change your mind.
16. Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher
When I first listened to this album, I didn't understand the hype. I thought Phoebe was just another indie girl with a smooth voice singing simple songs that would sell to the masses. But when I finally got the chance to sit down and listen to it, I realized that it was much deeper than I imagined. While her songs might sound soft, it's really her writing that make this album special. Whether she's singing about murdering a skinhead neighbor and burying him in a garden on Garden Song or singing about fighting over John Lennon to the point of tears on Moon Song. Most of the album deals with trying to move past trauma even though in today's world, it's nearly impossible. The song Savior Complex really highlights those themes well. Phoebe explain that the song is about when you finally get with the person you want but they hate themself. The production and the strings on the song are dark and kind of haunting. I can't elaborate on this but it's the same vibe as driving through fog. I Know The End is a dramatic closer, once the tempo changes about 2 minutes in, the song turns into a haunting tale of the world ending. Phoebe sings at one point about how aliens are landing on Earth so she's weighing all of the options, saying she's okay living in a haunted house and she just needs a place to ghost her friends in. I also love the final line on this song where Phoebe sings, "The billboard said 'The End Is Near' / I turned around, there was nothing there / Yeah, I guess the end is here." The song ends with a chorus singing "THE END IS HERE! THE END IS HERE!" before the song just delves into madness to close the album. For an album so deeply rooted in trauma, it's still very enjoyable and with this album, Phoebe really won me over.
15. Thundercat - It Is What It Is
If you've never listened to Thundercat, you probably have, you just didn't realize it. He's been all over the place in recent years. From being in the creative circle while Kendrick Lamar was creating To Pimp A Butterfly to popping up on Mac Miller and Flying Lotus songs over the past few years, he's been all over the place. With his newest solo album, he's once again doing what he does best. Dropping some groovy basslines and giving us a whole lot of falsetto. His lyrics are also usually really funny. While he takes the production and performances seriously, his lyrics are his place to goof off, and they're not bad either, they fit with the music. You just catch a funny line or subject every now and then. Like on the song Miguel's Happy Dance where he says in an almost threatening way, "Do the f*ckin' happy dance / Even when you're really f*ckin' mad." The lead single for this album, Black Qualls, is still probably my favorite song on this album. It's a solid, funky, soul song with a bit of a psych edge to it. Thundercat, Steve Lacy, Steve Arrington, and Childish Gambino all top each other vocally leading to a truly magic song. The album ends on a more somber note with Thundercat using the last few songs to say goodbye to Mac Miller, a close friend of his. There's even a moment on the closing track where he says "Hey Mac," before the band breaks into an extended jam. The song Fair Chance featuring Ty Dolla $ign and Lil B is another tribute to Mac with Ty's verse interpolating lyrics from Mac's songs Hurt Feelings, What's The Use?, and Small Worlds. Thundercat's bass playing on the song is fantastic as well and it's a fitting tribute for him. This album will make you feel a range of emotions from wanting to dance to wanting to cry but don't let that be a turnoff for you. The production is still solid and Thundercat is still and insane musician so give this a listen and let the bass hypnotize you.
14. Freddie Gibbs x The Alchemist - Alfredo
If I had to describe this album in a sentence it would be this: it's a celebration. Truly, that's what this album feels like. Especially the opening song 1985, it sounds like you just won a championship and you're going into the locker room to get showered with champagne. The guitar sample here is amazing, Freddie's flow is great, and his bars are a mix between hard and funny. I love the one bar where he raps, "Bomb on n*ggas like Nagasaki / Rocket next to my pocket, hot like hibachi." Freddie's rapping all over the album is fantastic and The Alchemist's production just makes it so much better. The beat on the song Frank Lucas is sort of haunting and Freddie and Benny the Butcher's verses on the song are delivered in a super cold and bitter way. I like Freddie's bars about how he told Jeezy that he didn't need an advance with his contract because he was still "shipping packs." He follows it up by saying that people around him thought he was taking a loss by leaving Jeezy's label but he "jumped off, then [he] got richer." Benny the Butcher's flow is great during his verse, he has a few clever bars throughout, especially that one "sold lines to abusers, now I abuse y'all with lines" bar. It's fantastic. I also love how flashy Freddie is on the song Baby $h*t. I love his bar in the chorus where he says "Rabbit potty trainin' every mornin', ho, I'm cookin' dope and cleanin' baby shit," Rabbit being the nickname he gave his son. I also love his bars in the first verse where he raps, "Get that white and I beat it up like I'm Mike / Jumper broke man, a n*gga can't be like Mike." And the song All Glass is a great closer. It's one last touch at all of the themes of the album, crime, drug dealing. There's a sequence here where Freddie says he shot a guy twice but wasn't sure if he was dead so he followed his ambulance to the hospital to finish the job. There's also a hilarious line where he says, "I'm in this sh*t like Burberry shirts at baby showers." I can only hope that Freddie and Uncle Alc come together more often because this was magic.
13. Hayley Williams - Petals for Armor
It's funny to look back on my original review of this album and see my say "I'm not a huge Paramore fan" because over the summer, I had a huge Paramore kick. I listened to After Laughter for the first time since its release week and it just snowballed from there. I do still have to reiterate my point that even when I wasn't big on their music, Hayley Williams was always a reason I respected the band. She's a one of a kind singer in the current state of alternative rock, always crafting great happy but sad songs, and always sings with a lot of passion like she truly loves making music. For her first solo endeavor, I was interested to hear what it would sound like and I'm happy to report that it doesn't just sound like Paramore B-Sides. There are a few moments that could be Paramore songs though, especially the song Dead Horse which could've been on After Laughter. The bright keyboards and sharp guitar chords give the song a great summer vibe while Hayley sings about some rough subject matter, admitting to cheating on her now ex-husband Chad Gilbert, also singing in the chorus about she stayed with him too long. A lot of the songs also deal with Hayley's feminity and how she's trying to be comfortable with it, especially on the song Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris singing in the bridge about how she won't compare her beauty to anyone else's and that she doesn't want to "become a thorn in [her] own side." The song Pure Love is a fantastic pop song. I love how unassuming the song is at the beginning, just a simple drum beat, some smooth synth chords, and Hayley's singing. Then there's a drum fill that leads into the chorus which is synthpop greatness. The lyrics cut deep again with Hayley realizing that if she wants to be in love again, she has to open up. I love the opening line where she sings, "The opposite of love is fear / I'm still trying to get used to how the former feels." She also sings in the chorus that if she wants to find true love, she has to stop acting so tough and has to open up. Yeah, this album was much better than I expected it to be and if you enjoy Paramore's music to any extent, I highly recommend this album to you.
12. Taylor Swift - folklore
Was there anyone who expected this change of style from Taylor Swift? Furthermore (probably the next album title), was there anyone that expected her to do it this well? Maybe Taylor Swift stans did but I doubt the casual Taylor Swift fan saw this coming. The production on this album, handled mainly by Aaron Dessner with some occasional help from Jack Antonoff, is a lot more lowkey and a little darker than any other Taylor Swift album. The huge synth leads are replaced by smooth piano chords, booming 808 drums are replaced by glitchy electronic percussion, and there are even a few callbacks to her country days, especially on betty which honestly could've been on Fearless. The song is about a chaotic high school fallout with the narrator James trying to figure out why this fell apart blaming everyone but himself. He's also not sure if he and Betty are on good terms with Taylor singing, "But if I just showed up at your party / Would you have me? Would you want me? / Would you tell me to go f*ck myself?" Taylor's storytelling all over this album is great. I think her best is featured on the song the last great american dynasty. Taylor sings about the life of Rebekah Harkness, how she married into a Standard Oil fortune, how her and her husband bought Holiday House, how she passed away, letting the house sit vacant for half a century before Taylor bought it. I also love the instrumental on the song invisible string, probably my favorite song on this album. The acoustic guitar lead is simple but does a lot with a little. I also like the humor in some of the lines here, whether it's the line about a waitress saying Swift "looked like an American singer" or the one about how she now sends baby presents to boys who broke her heart at one point. It sucks to see that some people are sleeping on this album because it's some of Taylor's best work to date. I don't care if you like Taylor or not, just listen to it once, there will be at least one thing you like.
11. Fiona Apple - Fetch The Bolt Cutters
Fiona Apple needs no introduction from me. She's without a doubt one of the boldest and best female writers in alternative/pop music. I've become a huge fan of her music more recently and after giving all of her albums a listen, I can confidently say that this is her most experimental and exciting album probably ever. The production on here is wild. It's such a raw sound to as Fiona recorded the whole album at her home relying mainly on GarageBand to record. There's also a lot of interesting moments throughout the album that reflect that confinement, whether it's her sampling her dogs barking at the end of the song Shamieka or that moment on the closing song On I Go where she presumably messes up a line or a beat so she just bluntly trails off and goes "ah f*ck, sh*t" before continuing on. Fiona's voice carries some of the same tones as it did on The Idler Wheel... where she would go from soft singing to coming unhinged. It's highly present on songs like Heavy Balloon where she repeats a few lines for the first verse in a calm manner before the chorus hits and she starts pretty much yelling the line "I SPREAD LIKE STRAWBERRIES! I CLIMB LIKE PEASE AND BEANS!" Another great example of this is on the opening song I Want You To Love Me where her need for love is described in such a harsh and nearly brutal way, singing at the end of the second verse, "And while I'm in this body / I want somebody to want / And I want what I want and I want!" I also love the bridge on the song where the percussion resembles the sound of dropping 4 or 5 heavy books on the floor and once again, Fiona goes off. While a lot of the songs do deal with failed love, there are also some incredibly dark and unsettling songs too, namely For Her. It's a song that deals with sexual assault and has some tough lines to listen to, especially the one line where she sings "Good morning / You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in." This is the worst it gets but don't let that line turn you off from listening to this album, it's one of the wildest and experimental albums of the year and proves that Fiona Apple is still in fine form, she's not going anywhere soon.
10. The Killers - Imploding the Mirage
The Killers are back with 10 solid songs that show them coming into their own again, not trying to fill the void left by original guitarist Dave Keuning and bassist Mark Stroemer leaving the band. Because of that, this album is a lot more synth-based and full of different electronics. That's not to say that guitar is completely gone though, when there is a guitar riff or a solo, it totally rips, but it's not trying to be the focal point of said songs. For example, the song Lightning Fields with k.d. lang is driven by a groovy drum beat, some disjointed pianos, and some synth lines. But after on the chorus after lang's verse, these massive distorted guitar drop in and thicken up the mix. They're not overbearing, but they just give the song a little more edge. The same thing happens on the song My God with Weyes Blood where the song is based around a bassline and some different synths but in the final chorus, huge distorted guitar chords drop in again once again adding more energy and a little more edge to the song. This is probably my favorite song on the album though. The chorus is so catchy and Weyes Blood's voice is beautiful. Brandon Flowers' pen game on this album is as strong as ever, painting vivid pictures with his lyrics and singing with a lot of passion and charisma. I think he's at his strongest on the songs Dying Breed and the lead single for this album, Caution. Dying Breed has a lot of great comparisons to show affection with Brandon saying that he'll be this girl's lifeguard when water is rising and how they're "cut from a stained glass mountain." I also love Brandon's breakdown on this song, so much emotion is flowing through his voice. Caution on the other hand tells the story of a girl from Las Vegas introducing her as a "featherweight queen" and how she's "black top, white trash / straight out of the news." With another Killers album apparently on the horizon, I don't think it'll be an easy task to top this as this is without a doubt their strongest album since Sam's Town.
9. American Aquarium - Lamentations
Back at the end of April, I was scrolling through Instagram and happened to come across BJ Barham, singer and founding member of this band, promoting a new vinyl variant for this album. I hadn't paid attention to the band since a random listen through Wolves when he was promoting a repress for that album. The vinyl for this album looked really cool and came autographed so I said why not and pulled the trigger. I am so grateful I did because it sent me down a wormhole of this band's music and to be honest, I think this might be their best album to date. Any kinks on their previous album Things Change have been worked out and BJ Barham continues to be one of the most under-appreciated songwriters not just in Country music, but in all of music in general. His storytelling is always fantastic and he's never afraid to speak his mind or get political, even if his fans don't like that. A Better South is a perfect example of that with BJ even calling out those who get uncomfortable singing "They say 'Sing your song, boy, shut your mouth.'" I also really love his lines in the final verse where he sings about how he's tired of listening to "daddy's generation," and hating that they can tell people where to live or who they can love. But besides the occasional opinion based song, this album is full of honesty and as I mentioned before, BJ's great storytelling. His storytelling prowess are flexed a little bit on the song Six Years Come September. A song that at first sounds like a sad breakup song that leads to the narrator finding his sobriety but there's a dark twist at the end where it's revealed that the narrator is responsible for killing this past lover due to a drunk driving accident. There's also the song Starts With You which is a fun song with some great one-liners, especially the "Sad songs make me happy" refrain. I also love the line where BJ sings "I'm the kinda guy that hits rock bottom / Laughs and asks you for a shovel." The Shooter Jennings production on this album really makes it unique in the American Aquarium catalog but as time as gone on, it ranks at the top of their discography for me.
8. Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia
I said this in my mid-year list but I just want to say it again. Every year, there's one pop album that I either didn't know I needed or didn't expect to enjoy that always comes and knocks me off of my feet. 2018 it was Janelle Monae, last year it was Ariana Grande, and this year, it's Ms. Dua Lipa. Just like the title of the album states, this album feels like the 80s but it also feels modern. You hear some of the songs and think, "I've heard this before," but it's just because it feels so familiar. I do have my gripe with this album and that's how hard it face plants on the last two songs. If this album ended with Break My Heart, this would probably be my Album of the Year, but since Good in Bed and Boys Will Be Boys are on here, she's at #8. But that aside, this album is pretty much flawless. The title track opens up the album sort of posing the goal for the album singing "You want a timeless song / I want to change the game / Like modern architecture / John Lautner coming your way." The instrumental is a fantastic piece of electro-funk and you can't help but groove to the song. Don't Start Now has a great house beat with these awesome disco piano chords popping up in the pre-chorus. I also love the mantra of this ex-lover trying to get back in her life after she's thrived from her breakup, that chorus of "Don't show up, don't come out / Don't start caring about me now." The song Physical is another highlight. I love the speedy synthpop beat and the energy of this song. There's also a really neat shoutout to Olivia Newton-John's song of the same name in the chorus. And the song Break My Heart could be the perfect closing track to this album. The INXS sample is fantastic, Dua's performance is great, and the song's beat is one of the best on the album. You can write off pop music all you want but it's albums like this that make you realize that there's nothing better than a great dance song.
7. Run The Jewels - RTJ4
I almost envision Killer Mike and El-P as superheroes because they know how to come and save the day when we need them the most. This album couldn't have dropped at a better time. Two days ahead of schedule, amid worldwide protests around the killing of George Floyd, Mike and El released a statement saying, "Why wait?" and dropping the album on all platforms. It's 11 songs and 39 minutes long but man, Mike and El pack a punch here. If you've never listened to Run The Jewels before, you should know that they're diverse when it comes to writing. Killer Mike will go from describing his disdain for authority and saying that people are the pride of a republic, not the people in charge on the song ooh la la to on the next song rapping about how he and El are "cool as penguin p*ssy on a polar cap peninsula," all with this grit and hunger in his voice that makes his delivery super powerful. And RTJ has always mixed humor into their music well, just listen to the opening song yankee and the brave ep. 4 where Mike and El depict themselves as bandits running from the law. At one point Mike gets cornered and El tells him to run like he's hungry, he also adds at the end that Mike can't die because he still owes El "for the Nikes." Mike responds rapping, "My brother made a point, so out the back door I'ma slide / I'm chubby, husky, thighs scrubbin', f*ckin' up my Levis." The collaborations on this album go over a lot better than expected as well. The song JU$T with Pharrell Williams and Zack De La Rocha still has the hardest hook of 2020 and Pharrell's verses on the song are super clever, and yeah, "Look at all these slave masters posing on your dollar" is such a cold hook. It's also great that Zack came out of his cave for his verse because to be honest, there wasn't a better time for him or his band to come back. This is without a doubt RTJ's most important album yet and given some more time, I think it's going to be a landmark album for this decade.
6. The Weeknd - After Hours
On this album, The Weeknd does something that I was praying he would do the second I heard Blinding Lights for the first time, make an album that embraces new wave and 80s pop influence. I am so thrilled that he finally gave in. Dare I say that this is his best work since the Trilogy and it's his most cohesive work...ever. While there are still some missteps here and there, like the song Escape From L.A. which overstays its welcome in my opinion, or the song Until I Bleed Out which is a weak closing song but does tie things up nicely thematically, the great moments on this album make up for it. The song Scared To Live has become my favorite Weeknd song of all time with an incredible vocal performance from Abel, great production too, it's such a fantastic song that I'm gonna have to restrain myself from talking about this whole time. I also love the pulsing dance groove on the song Too Late, a song that's gonna tear down arenas once concerts come back. I love the synth arpeggios that hide in the chorus and all of the synth swells on the song add a lot of great textures to it. The song Faith is one of the most energetic songs on the album but also has a bit of a dark twist. The first leg of the song is Abel high on life and narcotics feeling invincible, even telling a love interest "If I OD, I want you to OD right beside me." However, the song ends with Abel in the back of an ambulance after, presumably, overdosing. The song Save Your Tears is a fantastic piece of Fleetwood Mac type alternative rock with a more modern flair to it. There are some synths that lead the song, the drums are electronic and a bit beefier, and the chorus on the song is fantastic. It's pretty hard not to like this song. I hope Abel has realized that in this musical lane, he's killer and I hope he continues this sound onto future projects.
5. Chris Stapleton - Starting Over
When it comes to country music, I don't think that there is anyone at this level of fame that is still as authentic and true to their roots as Chris Stapleton. Bursting onto the scene in 2015, Stapleton was a breath of fresh air to a country music scene which, looking back, 2015 was a wild year for the genre. Whether it was Luke Bryan saying that Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson spent their careers "laying in the gutter, strung out on drugs" or the now-infamous "tomato-gate." So when this newcomer Chris Stapleton performed with Justin Timberlake at the CMA Awards that same year, the country world set ablaze. Here's a rugged man with a huge voice singing a David Allan Coe song. His album Traveller became a huge overnight success and almost instantly, Tennesee Whiskey, Nobody to Blame, and Parachute were all over the radio. Now, fast forward 5 years to today. Stapleton now has 3 albums under his belt and has gained the respect of everyone from George Strait to Axl Rose to the late Tom Petty. With his fourth album, Stapleton is still in fantastic form. He's still writing fantastic songs with a lot of honesty and still singing with his huge, booming voice. Take for example my favorite teaser track from this album, Cold. The song is introduced with some somber piano chords, guitar strumming, and a simple drum beat, then after the chorus, we're hit with more piano, a bunch of strings, it's very bold for a country song. I also love the breakdown where the guitar solo and the strings pair up and harmonize together. The title track is super simple with the only instruments in the song being a snare drum and an acoustic guitar. I also love the lyrics about sticking with your lover through thick and thin. But the deeper cuts here are fantastic too. There's Maggie's Song which is sure to bring a tear to anyone's eyes. It's a song about a dog that Chris and his wife found abandoned in a shopping cart that they brought into the family. There's also the blues-rock inspired Devil Always Made Me Think Twice which has some of my favorite guitar work on the album. I also like the lyrics talking about dealing with temptations, singing about how his mom set a good example, his dad gave him good advice, and Jesus steered him in the right direction but the Devil on his shoulder is always nagging him. Now look, I know not every who reads this is a fan of country music but you know what, give this album a shot, Chris is an outlier from today's pop-country and who knows, you might enjoy it.
4. Gorillaz - Song Machine, Season 1: Strange Timez
When you look at the tracklist for this album, it might be a little concerning. A feature on every song? Such a weird variety of features? But look, this is Gorillaz, and if any band can pull off an album like this, it's gonna be them. It's also a testament that the band had been putting out a song a month from January to October and when this album released, all the songs still sounded new and fresh. I don't think Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's vision for this band has been this strong for an album since Plastic Beach and it really feels like Gorillaz are hitting their stride again. This album is, of course, all over the place stylistically, but that's what makes it fun. You go from the LCD Soundsystem flavored song The Valley of The Pagans featuring Beck to a slow piano ballad featuring Elton John and 6lack on The Pink Phantom to Robert Smith from The Cure singing over a House beat on the title track, Strange Timez. I don't know how much longer I can go without mentioning the song Pac-Man featuring ScHoolboy Q because it is probably the best song to listen to if you don't understand what Gorillaz are or what they do. 2D's voice has that signature fuzzy/muffled effect on it. The beat is cartoonish and the way it keeps building behind Q's verse is nuts. This song could've easily fit on Plastic Beach. It's a song like this that could actually convince me that the band is actually 4 cartoon characters. Désolé is a beautiful, smooth song that is perfect for speeding down the highway to. The chorus on this song is to die for with these grand rushes of strings pairing well with some subtle piano. I also can't not mention the song Aries featuring Peter Hook from Joy Division/New Order who lays down an amazing bassline over the song. This song is straight new wave and synth-pop with a bit of a psychedelic edge to it. It's definitely one of my favorite Gorillaz songs ever. There's a certain tension in 2D's voice that sets the track above a lot of the songs on here. And while I already talked about it in my best songs list, I have to mention Momentary Bliss again because it's just such a banger. If this song doesn't convince you that Slowthai needs to be in a punk band, I don't think anything will. His lyrics on the song are the same energy as the IDLES song Television where Joe Talbot sings "If someone talked to you / The way you do to you / I'd put their teeth through...LOVE YOURSELF!" With rumors of Season 2 coming soon, I can't wait to see who Damon and Jamie pull together next and I'm excited for more Gorillaz magic.
3. Deftones - Ohms
After having this album in my hands for almost 4 months now, I can confidently say that Deftones have hit their stride again. I can also confidently say that I want Terry Date to produce every Deftones album from here on out. This is their best album in over a decade. And look, I don't hate Diamond Eyes or Koi No Yokan, I just think they have high highs and low lows, Gore is another story but that's not important. This album is super dense and heavy but also manages to be dreamy and sometimes even psychedelic at times. The song Pompeji is a great example of that. It starts off with a drawn-out guitar lick and Chino Moreno shining through the mix. It sort of draws you into this lull, then the chorus hits and it's like a mushroom cloud erupting. Chino starts screaming, the guitar is layered in distortion, and Abe Cunningham's drumming gets a little louder and heavier. The outro on this song is pure bliss with the sound of seagulls chirping, waves crashing, and some synth leads that pull your soul out of your body. But that's just one highlight out of many. There's the opening song Genesis which is such an amazing way to open an album. The simple guitar riff is loud and cuts through the mix like a knife through butter, Chino's lyrics on the song about finding peace and achieving balance are fantastic even though it's hard to hear the positive message through how angry he sings it. Ceremony is a heavy shoegaze banger. The chorus is huge and this song is another example of the heavy but dreamy mix. I love the bridge on this song so much where everything drops out for Chino to sing a few lines before all of the guitar and drums rush in. There's also the doom metal flavored Spell of Mathematicians. The chorus on this song rips and lyrically, this is one of the stronger songs on the album with Chino singing about drinking poison from the hands of an enchantress and how her love places a spell on him and how it "beholds the sacred key to life." I also love at the end where Abe starts busting into all of these awesome drum fills and little solos, it gives the track an awesome push at the end. I want you guys to be advised though that if you want to listen to this album, make sure you do it front to back though as all of the songs on here transition into one another. Did I have Deftones releasing an album this good in my 2020 bingo card, absolutely not, but I am so grateful that it happened.
2. The Strokes - The New Abnormal
I don't think I'll ever be able to express how grateful I am that The Strokes bounced back as well as they did this year. I don't know if The Voidz led Julian to more inspiration or if Rick Rubin's production breathed a different life into this album, but whatever it is, The Strokes finally managed to drop another album on the same level as Is This It and Room On Fire. This has to be The Strokes most interesting and off the wall album since those first two albums with amazing production, some of Julian's best writing and singing, and the band experimenting with more sounds than just distorted guitar and loud drums. And while sometimes those experiments don't exactly pan out (namely the song Eternal Summer that gets pretty stale pretty quick), it's still an incredible effort. Take the first teaser track to this album, At The Door which might be the most experimental song the band has ever released. There are no drums, guitars don't show up until a minute and when they do, it's minimal, just strumming a couple notes. Julian's writing on the song is fantastic and I love how he keeps comparing himself to objects that get used to help someone achieve a purpose and nothing else, singing lines like "Use me like an oar to get yourself to shore" or a personal favorite, "Like a cannonball / Slammin' through your wall." The outro on the song is pure synth bliss. If you put both headphones on and listen to this, it is insane. Speaking of headphones, I do recommend wearing two or listening on stereo speakers if you want to give this album a shot because the panning on this album is very extreme but that makes listening to it in a stereo setting fun. Like on the opening song The Adults Are Talking where the guitar solos pan back and forth, almost like they're talking to each other. Or like on Ode to the Mets where in the intro, you have the guitar lead in one channel and a synth lead in the other. It's also such a fantastic closing song for this album. I love the part after the first chorus where the full band finally kicks in even though it's a little short-lived. Once again, it's the outro on this song that sends your body into orbit. Julian's performance on the song is emotional, passionate, he even comes unglued at times which fits the tone of the song so well. Considering the expectations I went into this album with, I was really impressed with what these guys could pull off in 9 songs. It's such a tight album that blows everything since First Impressions out of the water and I really hope that this is the start of another hot streak for one of the most influential bands of our generation.
1. Mac Miller - Circles
Yep, as this crazy year kept on moving, this album still stood at the top. I really don't think I'll be able to thank Jon Brion and Mac's family for crafting and releasing an album quite as beautiful as this. I really don't think there is a better or more fitting send-off for Mac than Circles. It's 12 songs of Mac still fighting his demons, but he's in a much more positive headspace than he was on Swimming, his previous album. The songs on here are all beautifully produced with all of them featuring live instrumentation and it adds a different level to a lot of these songs. Especially songs like Everybody and Hand Me Downs where the drumming on here really shines and elevates the songs to new heights. Every time the drums come in on Everybody I tear up. It's a beautiful song led by piano and some upright bass. I love the chorus with that sort of sad twist where he sings, "Everybody's gotta live / And everybody's gonna die." The final verse on here is super sweet but it stings considering how the Mac Miller story ends with him singing, "Feel like I've seen a million sunsets, yeah / If you're with me I'll never go away / That's when I stopped and I took a look at my baby / She said, 'If you're with me, I won't go away." Hands Me Downs is similar in the fact that it's even sadder with Mac gone, with Baro Sura singing in the chorus about passing down genes like hand me downs. But possibly the biggest gut-punch on the album is the only teaser track we got, Good News. Whether it's Mac likening clearing his head of toxic thoughts to spring cleaning, or the line about how all he does is say sorry but "half the time I don't even know what I'm sayin' it about." There's also the devastating lines about how he's "running out of gas" and hoping he can make it home from work, and another saying "Why I gotta build something beautiful just to go set it on fire." The chorus also hurts with Mac singing about how no one likes him when he's down, but when he's happy and "flying high," he makes everyone uncomfortable. I don't think I've ever made it through the full song without shedding a tear.
But aside from the sadness and how hard some of the lyrics hit now, there's still a lot of happiness and some positive bangers on this album. Blue World will probably never get old with an amazing, catchy chorus and that awesome chopped up vocal beat. The song Hands sounds like it could've fit perfectly onto his Faces mixtape. I love the drum fills that travel across the stereo space and the "eh, AY" vocal sample. I love how animated he gets on the "Call me what you want, she call me 'daddy' / Got a knack for gettin' nasty, every day we keepin' tally, yeah" bar. There's also the hilarious "GET THE F*CK OUT OF MY CAR THIS AIN'T A TAXI" line. And while the song is mostly sad, I do love the closing line on the chorus of Complicated where Mac drops a sad but funny line where he sings "I'm way to young to be getting old." I don't think anyone will be able to fully process the loss of Mac Miller, but this album helps to ease that hurt a little bit. As I said, I'll be forever grateful to Jon Brion and Miller's family for putting this together. And there is no doubt in my mind that this is the best album released in 2020. Rest in Peace Malcom Miller.