2020 has not been a kind year, but there’s maybe one silver lining to this smorgasbord of suffering: more time to listen to music. Beyond the likes of Taylor Swift’s “folklore” and Phoebe Bridgers’s “Punisher,” here are 10 recommendations from the Collegian’s own Emma Palmer and Emily Every for albums released since March.
Quarantine Casanova — Chromeo
Notable trax: “Six Feet Away,” “Roni Got Me Stressed Out”
Who knew that a Canadian comedy funk duo could make songs that were so silly, but also so very good and timely? “Quarantine Casanova” became an oft-played song in my house this summer because, like all good comedy albums, the music has more than just witticism in the lyrics. It’s fun and funky, clean-your-room kinda music, with the twist of being relevant to today’s world in a more immediate sense than you normally encounter.
Jump Rope Gazers — The Beths
Notable trax: “Dying to Believe,” “Jump Rope Gazers”
In their Sophomore album, New Zealand based band The Beths return with the less pop-full, yet still heartfelt “Jumprope Gazers.” This was one we listened to pool-side this year. Their music video for “Dying to Believe,” shot during quarantine made me cry. The instrumentation in particular is lovely in this little album. And while it may not be quite as peppy as their first album, “Future Me Hates Me,” that isn’t to say that “Jump Rope Gazers” is melancholic or down, far from it—it’s more that it’s not overtly sugary, maybe more of a honey?
RTJ4 — Run the Jewels
Notable trax: “walking in the snow,” “JU$T,” “a few words for the firing squad (radiation)”
I guess it makes sense that, in the year that Rage Against the Machine was going to head Coachella, Run the Jewels released an album that felt like Killer Mike and El-P had time-travelled to 2020 to write. The talents of RTJ and the guest artists glow in both the verses (Killer Mike’s verse in “walking in the snow” could put hair on your chest, to use an old saying) as well as in the hooks and choruses (I dare you to listen to “ooh la la” and not get it stuck in your head). Akin something like Jordan Peele’s breakout horror film, “Get Out,” RTJ4 both critiques and energizes its liberal base. Through the framing of the first and final songs in RTJ4, Killer Mike and El-P are our Saturday morning cartoon heroes, serving as entertainment with a moral at the end of the episode.
The New Abnormal — The Strokes
Notable trax: “The Adults Are Talking,” “Bad Decisions,” “Ode to The Mets”
“The New Abnormal” is a funny album — it pulls so much from riffs and melodies of other songs that, the first time I listened to it, I swore that I had heard it before. I hadn’t, and the realization that I was listening to something new that also felt like it had always existed produced an emotion that I can’t quite put my finger on. Within the acoustics and drum-machines there’s a sort of melancholy that is soft and welcoming. The whole album is like that, full of nostalgia and almost-not-quite-there emotions. Smooth and short, it’s one that grows on you with each listen.
Temple — Thao and The Get Down Stay Down
Notable Trax: “Pure Cinema,” “Temple,” “Phenom”
Another one that feels of the time in which it was created, “Temple” is classic Thao and The Get Down Stay Down, and classic Thao and The Get Down Stay Down is about the level of wailing and noise that I need during times of trouble. Textured and layered, and with a certain amount of dissonance that makes sense, “Temple” really matched the mood of my quarantined summer of dancing anyways but the music is just a little darker.
How I’m Feeling Now — Charli XCX
Notable trax: “pink diamond,” “claws,” “forever”
Riding the delicate balance between delightfully overproduced and heart-wrenchingly raw, Charli XCX’s quarantine project really just makes me want to lie down and cry. The album takes the now established trends of hyperpop — vocal distortion, metallic production, lyrical focus on partying — and combines them with intense vulnerability, capturing the eggshell-fragility feeling of early lockdown. The first half of the album is a contender for the best pop of the year, particularly “pink diamond” going into “forever,” a swing from two different types of loneliness: the want to be in a room full of people to the want to be with someone, part “fuck it” and part “I’m sorry, I love you.”
Peaceful as Hell — Black Dresses
Notable trax: “IM A FREAK CUZ IM ALWAYS FREAKED OUT,” “DAMAGE SUPPRESSOR,” “SHARP HALO”
Have you ever thought, “man, I wish my life made less sense and were stupider, actually?” Then have I got an album for you!. “Peaceful as Hell” sounds like an industrial trek through a burning house, or like hiring a troupe of strangers to play your favorite pop songs with synthesizers made out of garbage. For any fans of the likes of the Unicorns or even 100 gecs, this release is a must listen. The album is a powerhouse of non-sequiturs, clashing noise and irreverence for how pop should sound, and sometimes the best answer for a nonsensical year is nonsensical music. It’s all very postmodern, or whatever.
Heaven to a Tortured Mind — Yves Tumor
Notable trax: “Heaven to a Tortured Mind,” “Identity Trade,” “Super Stars”
I, like, want to be Yves Tumor. There is a supreme sort of confidence and artistic mastery in everything they create. It’s less like Tumor follows any specific genre and more like they’ve established their own sonic brand, especially with their earlier semi-ambient releases. 2020’s “Heaven to a Tortured Mind” is something of a darker, noisier take on Prince’s rock legacy. Despite the comparison, the album is totally self-encompassing, and I haven’t heard anything else quite like it. If you’re looking for a funky, noisy, contemplative love album, this is it. It’s also a great recommendation if you’re just in the mood for good music.
SAWAYAMA — Rina Sawayama
Notable trax: “XS,” “Akasaka Sad,” “STFU!”
We’ve finally reached early 2000s nostalgia, complete with a full-on Britney-esque pop revival, and Rina Sawayama is spearheading it. Honestly, thank God. The album is made of tight, catchy hooks and is infinitely replayable because of it. However, like its title would suggest, this is a deeply contemplative and self-critical album, and we hear Sawayama go back through the legacy of generational trauma, casual racism and the aches of losing friends. And, even with all this pain, I can’t stop listening. Its impeccable production makes the album feel bigger than life, but it still stops to make time and examine the importance of the smallest of life’s details.
Fetch the Bolt Cutters — Fiona Apple
Notable trax: “Shemeika,” “Relay,” “For Her”
Fiona Apple is the darlingest of critical darlings, and this release only further proves that she deserves her spot in the pantheon. This release feels like a living thing, pacing and yelping and biting. Or maybe it feels like a long line of falling dominoes, or the clanging of falling pots and pans — expertly planned and still spontaneous. It’s a brilliant, honest, impactful do-it-yourself alternative album. There has been so much media coverage of this album that I don’t know what left there is to say about “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” besides that it’s worth your time and then some.