While 2020 will be remembered for the coronavirus pandemic and the protests in the U.S., it has been a very good year for music. As we rapidly approach halftime on the year, here’s the top 10 albums to be released so far.
10. Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways
2020 has been a banner year for the Minnesota native whose extensive catalog (this is album No. 39 from him) dates back to the 1960s. Despite his icon status, his lead single from the album, the 17-minute-long “Murder Most Foul” became his first-ever song to reach No. 1 on any Billboard chart (U.S. Rock Digital Song Sales). At 79, his famous nasally wail is still there as Dylan delivers his best album since 1997’s Time Out of Mind.
9. Medhane – Cold Water
Brookly ambient hip-hop artist Medhane has been busy. Cold Water was his second release of 2020 and his third in the calendar year. With deep internal lyrics and a lack of hooks combined with the soothing ambient beats, this isn’t your typical hip-hop album, but it works.
8. Perfume Genius – Set My Heart on Fire Immediately
To pigeonhole this album into one genre is a disservice as Mike Haderas seamlessly transitions between pop, indie rock, goth and everything else in between. Lyrically, Haderas has become a man who no longer wants to be someone in the physical world, but instead the spiritual one. Haderas raised the bar for himself with this release.
7. Lady Gaga – Chromatica
After a more stripped-down country/soft rock approach with Joanne, Lady Gaga is back to doing what she does best with Chromatica, an album that blends dance-pop with elements of EDM and house music. Contrasting the poppy, upbeat sounds of the album are dark lyrics of sexual assault, self-worth and mental health. Not to mention support from Ariana Grande and Elton John in a pair of tracks. Lady Gaga may have reclaimed the throne as our Queen of Pop.
6. Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor
It feels like we have waited an eternity for Williams to release her solo album. The Paramore frontwoman was just 14 when she was discovered and her label wanted her to become a solo pop artist, but she heavily objected to this, preferring to front a pop-punk band. Williams moves away from her pop-punk roots in favor of a more mature alternative sound that blends well with her vulnerable lyrics. Williams has grown up before our eyes and it’s hard to believe that this is the same person who helped deliver Riot to us in 2007.
5. I’m Glad It’s You – Every Sun, Every Moon
When Chris Alvis, close friend and touring videographer of I’m Glad It’s You died in a van accident in 2017, it put the band in a standstill. They immediately canceled the remainder of their tour and it would be a full year before the band would perform together again. Fortunately, they used music to grieve and put together Every Sun, Every Moon, an emo album that delivers the raw emotion many artists in the genre fail to emulate while simultaneously giving nod to the genre’s forefathers.
4. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
Ripe with funky beats that blend disco and pop, Future Nostalgia is more than appropriately titled and Dua Lipa pays homage to artists of the past by masterfully sampling INXS and White Town (among others). With lyrics like “I know you ain’t used to a female alpha” in the title track and the indictment of misogynistic behavior in “Boys Will be Boys,” Future Nostalgia is a soundtrack on feminism brought to you by a 24-year-old who has firmly entrenched herself as pop’s newest star.
3. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
I can already hear the click-clacking of angry keyboard typing that I don’t have this album as No. 1. It is nothing against Fiona Apple’s latest release, which is incredible, I just liked the other two albums a little bit more. Equally complex and diverse, each song is different from the last. The bolt cutters are a liberation tool as she is free from her chains as her fierce vocals discuss sexual abuse, depression and relationships.
2. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
Bridgers had out attention with her first release, Stranger in the Alps, and she has incredibly built off of the first album with her sophomore release. The indie-folk singer does what she does best as she blends her beautiful, soulful vocals with dark lyrics that make you double-take, especially since she provides such a deadpan delivery of the bomb before quickly moving on. Punisher is a cleverly-written album that can be as funny as it is dark.
1. Run the Jewels – RTJ4
RTJ4 was my first foray into the hip-hop duo’s and I was blown away immediately. With lyrics centered around police brutality and systemic racism, Run the Jewels smartly released the album two days ahead of it’s scheduled release date in response to the protests regarding the death of George Floyd. The album is hard-hitting and no-nonsense that appeals to hip-hop purists and those who don’t love the genre.