Every year, there are dozens of incredible albums released, and this year has most certainly had some amazing releases in its first half! While I typically enjoy crafting “year-end” lists in late December, I figured, due to the bevy of great music we’ve already received, I would craft a “mid-year” list at the year’s halfway point. In this article, I will be reviewing some of my favorite listens of 2020 (so far), and detailing the aspects and specific tracks that I found most favorable on each of these projects!
Mac Miller: Circles
Circles, released on January 17th, under Warner Records, is a posthumous release from rapper, producer and songwriter Mac Miller. Circles is a followup album to Miller (real last name McCormick’s) 2018 album Swimming, and serves as a “companion” to it. The subject matter and lyrical focus of Circles is similar to that of Swimming, as it finds Miller at both an emotional and comforted state. While Mac’s earlier works are mostly hip hop or pop-rap based in sound, Circles is an album featuring a wide variety of sounds, from acoustic guitar based slow jams, synth-based pop tracks, and small elements of sort of “lo-fi” rap based tracks. While the album’s entire track list is solid throughout, there are definitely stand out moments, such as the upbeat single “Blue World,” or the excellently performed and serene “Woods.” Circles is an absolutely beautiful album, and feels almost like the musical version of a comforting hug. Top Tracks: “Good News,” “Hand Me Downs,” “Woods,” and “Blue World”
Lady Gaga: Chromatica
Chromatica, released on May 28th, under Interscope Records, is Lady Gaga’s sixth studio album following up her 2016 release Joanne. In the time between Chromatica’s release, Gaga worked on various projects including the soundtrack to A Star is Born, a movie she starred in alongside actor Bradley Cooper, even performing the song “Shallow” at the Oscars. Chromatica was originally slated for release on April 10th, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the release date was pushed back a little over a month later. Despite the delay, this album just so happened to come out at the right time, as its sugary and synth heavy tracks sure have made quarantine a little easier. With guest appearances by the likes of Ariana Grande, Blackpink, and even Sir Elton John himself, this album is sure to please anyone craving some quality pop music in times like these. Tracks like “Alice” and “911” feature a techno-influenced and synth-drenched sound, and the album’s closing track, “Babylon” is an anthemic chant to wrap this project up. Chromatica is more than just an album, its an experience. Top Tracks: “911,” “Sour Candy,” “Alice,” “Babylon,” and “Enigma”
The Weeknd: After Hours
After Hours, released on March 20th, under XO/ Republic records, is The Weeknd’s (Abel Tesfaye’s) fourth studio album. His last studio album, Starboy, released in 2016, and began to lay the groundwork for the sound Abel would further experiment with on After Hours. While released during the pandemic, After Hours was still a smashing success, with chart topping singles like “In Your Eyes,” and “Blinding Lights,” being played by the masses on streaming services throughout April. The album itself is a culmination of sounds, ranging from trap, to 80s synth-pop, and even a few moments of lo-fi. The lyrics see Abel dealing with the fallout from a relationship gone south, and different tracks detail the lows and highs of the romantic relationship. Moodier tracks like “After Hours,” and “Faith” are sure to please any fans of The Weeknd’s older albums, and radio friendly tracks like “Blinding Lights” or “In Your Eyes,” are bound to bring in new fans. After Hours is a melancholy and lonely album, and that’s what makes it so fantastic. The Weeknd’s falsetto vocals mixed with stellar lyrics and gloomy production most certainly make this album a “must listen” project. Top Tracks: “Faith,” “After Hours,” “Blinding Lights,” and “Escape From LA”
Code Orange: Underneath
Underneath, released on March 13th, under Roadrunner records is the fourth studio album released by Metalcore outfit Code Orange. Bursting into the scene with their first three albums, Love to Love/ Return to Dust, I Am King and Forever, Code Orange has only improved since their debut. The band began to add more of an industrial and intense metallic influence into their last album, Forever, that would continue to play a major role throughout their newest record, Underneath. Underneath is an overwhelming cacophony of brash vocals, instrumentals and lyrics that will make any metalhead giddy. Vocalist/ drummer, Jami Morgan shines on head banging tracks like “Last Ones Left,” and the single “Swallowing the Rabbit Whole,” delivering harsh vocals with a lasting sting. Guitarist/ Vocalist Reba Meyers also delivers throughout the project, giving her most haunting and captivating performance on one of Underneath’s best tracks “Who I Am.” Experimenting lyrically with topics of technology and humanity, Underneath is deeper than just a standard metal core or hardcore album, and is an absolute must-listen for metal-heads craving something experimental and downright brutal. Top Tracks: “Swallowing the Rabbit Whole,” “Who I Am,” “Erasure Scan,” “Last Ones Left,” and “Sulfur Surrounding”
Denzel Curry/ Kenny Beats: Unlocked
Unlocked, released on February 7th, under PH Recordings and Loma Vista Recordings, is a collaborative EP performed by Denzel Curry and produced by Kenny Beats, which was accompanied by a short film of the same title. Over the last four years, Denzel Curry has continued to garner status backed by his rock solid albums, 2016’s “Imperial,” 2018’s “Ta13oo” (Taboo) and last year’s “Zuu,” his sound and lyrics on these projects were influenced by both his hometown of Miami Florida, and by larger issues, topics like the music industry or personal struggles. Unlocked is a showcase of both Denzel’s pure skill behind the mic, and Kenny Beats incredible production, and nearly every track is flawless. Despite this project being roughly 18 minutes in length, its quality is incredible for the short time span. Tracks like “Take_it_Back_v2” and “Pyro (leak 2019)” consist of Denzel spitting tight bars over crisp boom bap type production, and the track “So.Incredible.pkg” feels like it would belong perfectly on the track-list to Ta13oo. On the track “DIET_” arguably the project’s strongest cut, Denzel Curry channels his inner DMX, delivering a harsh flow over a perfectly clunky instrumental. Kenny Beats utilizes various samples perfectly throughout the project, and the duo of Kenny and Denzel hits like a one two punch. This project is a definite must-listen for fans of classic/ boom bap rap, Denzel Curry, or even artists like MF Doom. Top Tracks: “DIET_,” “Take_it_Back_v2,” “Pyro (leak 2019),” and “So.Incredible.pkg”
While this current pandemic sure has made 2020 a “memorable” year to say the least, these albums have most certainly made quarantine life a little easier. Being such an avid music listener, I know these albums have definitely helped ease my worries and stress levels during this health crisis, and hopefully yours as well! With half of this crazy year still remaining, there are bound to be more incredible albums from all sorts of genres to release, and I am beyond excited for the amazing releases to come! So, what do you think of my picks for the best albums of 2020 so far? Is there any you would say you agree/ disagree with, or any in particular you would add to your own personal list? Tell us in the comment section below!