Top Albums of 2020 So Far
I’m back! I suppose there’s some explaining to do. After 1.5 years of publishing every week, I needed a break from blogging. I was burnt out after trying to prepare so many posts during the early days of COVID-19 quarantine. I spent some time working on some other projects (like my first novel!), and now I feel comfortable coming back to Your Dad’s Car Stereo refreshed and ready to write some more. During this sabbatical I never stopped listening to music, in fact, it gave me more time to focus on new releases! Something that you might not know about me is that not only do I listen to the album for YDCS every week, I try to listen to at least one new album per week. Usually it’s a release from an artist that I’ve never listened to before, but if one of my favorite artists put something out that week, then I’ll listen to that too.
This week, I would like to take a look at some of my favorite releases of 2020 so far. This has been a great year for music so far, and I hope you take the time to listen to some of these albums. You might just find a new favorite single, artist, or subgenre. In no particular order, here are my favorite albums of 2020, so far. Enjoy the list!
RTJ 4- Run The Jewels
Killer Mike and EL-P are back at it again with RTJ 4, the fourth installment in the “Run The Jewels” series. This duo is one of the best rap groups in the game right now. Their raps manage to be both poignant, socially conscious, appropriately braggadocios, and creative. Released ahead of schedule in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the album is a bouncing soundtrack to the Black Lives Matter movement that never seems preachy, but speaks to both of their opinions on the social state of America. Regardless of what you think about the movement, I believe this album will go down as one of the greats in the genre and be remembered for its role in spurring a generation to action. Highlights include “Yankee and the Brave,” “Out Of Sight,” “Holy Calamaf**k,” and “Goonies vs. E.T.”
It Is What It Is- Thundercat
Thundercat is a fantastic bassist, and although you might not know his name, you might have heard his contributions on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. This smooth album is all Thundercat, and most of the album has a modern funk influence. Spacey vocals, fantastic instrumentals from his backing group, and some great bass solos. One of the highlights of the album are Thundercat’s lyrics. He’s known for his funny songs, and they definitely make an appearance on It Is What It Is. Check out songs like “Dragonball Durag,” “I Love Louis Cole,” “Black Qualls,” “How Sway,” and “Funny Thing.”
Chromatica- Lady Gaga
Mother Monster is back and just as good as she ever was with Chromatica. 2016’s Joanne was a return to Lady Gaga’s pre-stardom, open mic night roots, but Chromatica is harkens back to her first commercial albums as The Fame and Born This Way. Chromatica was produced by American producer BloodPop, and the album is dripping in his signature multi-layered electronic sound. The singles off of this album would have been in every club across the country if it weren’t for the pandemic. You may scoff, thinking this is just another pop album, but it does have some good messages in songs like “Free Woman,” and “Rain on Me.” Above else, this is a fun, easy album to listen to that will have you dancing all day long. Check out “Alice,” “Rain on Me,” “Stupid Love,” and “Sour Candy.”
The Slow Rush- Tame Impala
2020 finally brought us a new Tame Impala album, five years after the release of their critically acclaimed Currents. Tame Impala is an indie group that exploded out of Australia with their last album, and this has been one of the most anticipated albums of the last few years. Even though we had to wait five years for it, I’m honestly glad because the final product is fantastic. The Slow Rush is essentially a continuation of Currents; high-echo vocals that are often difficult to discern, esoteric lyrics, and a great electronic sound. If you’ve never listened to this group or have never really been interested in indie music, The Slow Rush is a great place to start. The whole album is really good, but check out “Instant Destiny,” “Borderline,” “Breathe Deeper,” and “Lost in Yesterday” for some of the best songs.
What’s Your Pleasure?- Jessie Ware
I have had “What’s Your Pleasure?” on repeat for the past three months. This is my pick for one of the best albums of the year. English singer-songwriter Jessie Ware managed to put together an album that legitimately sounds like it could have been a Sheila E album produced by Prince. The whole album drips in a late 1970s/early 1980s New York disco/funk sound mixed with Detroit big bass. The image that I get listening to this album is that it could have fit perfectly as the soundtrack to a smoky 1970s nightclub. If you’ve been pining for new Prince music since his passing a few years ago, What’s Your Pleasure will scratch that itch for you. Songs that are definitely worth checking out include “Soul Control,” “Read My Lips,” “Spotlight,” and “What’s Your Pleasure?”.
TRANSLATION- Black Eyed Peas
The Black Eyed Peas have had a rough few years and haven’t managed a big hit album since 2009’s “The E.N.D.”. They released two albums since then, a handful of singles, and Fergie left the group to focus on recording The Duchess 2. They needed something big to get back on track and TRANSLATION hit the mark dead on. This reggaeton album capitalizes on the latin trend in pop music right now, features significant portions in Spanish and Tagalog, and makes great use of samples from acts as diverse as Corona’s “The Rhythm of the Night,” and Rick James’ “Superfreak.” Many artists (like Kanye West) try to hide their samples so that they’re not as obvious, but I actually appreciated the forwardness of the samples on TRANSLATION; it made the album easier to follow for a non-Spanish speaker. Songs to check out include ”RITMO,” “MAMACITA,” “VIDA LOCA,” and “GIRL LIKE ME”.
The English electronic group Disclosure finally released their new album Energy in 2020, five years after 2015’s fantastic release Caracal. The group is best known for their string of hits in the early 2010s featuring Sam Smith, AlunaGeorge, and Lorde. They’re a collaboration heavy group that I think has truly picked up the ‘English Electronic Torch’ where Basement Jaxx left it in 2013 with Junto. As the title would suggest, this is a high-energy double LP that features house songs with samples from around the world. Energy is decidedly a more worldly album than Caracal, pulling a significant number of samples from African music. Overall, this a solid house album from one of my favorite electronic acts. Check out songs like “Douha (Mali Mali),” “Ce n’est pas,” “ENERGY,” and “Tondo.”
Thank You For Using GTL- Drakeo The Ruler
We’re wrapping up the list with a decidedly more artistic effort. Drakeo the Ruler recorded Thank You For Using GTL exclusively while he was incarcerated by rapping through the phone in prison (GTL being a company that provides phone calls to inmates) and having his producer add the beats afterwards. The album was clearly recorded through a phone, the vocals are scratchy and hard to hear at some points, but during the times where they’re more pronounced Drakeo raps about his time in prison, his alleged innocence, and the crimes of his fellow inmates. This album, laced with profanity, is not for folks more sensitive to language, but it does provide a haunting look into the U.S. prison system. There are frequent interruptions that remind the listener that Drakeo was being monitored while he was on the phone. I can’t highlight one particular song on this one, but if you’re looking for something off the beaten path, Thank You For Using GTL might be the album for you.
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