The Top Albums of 2020, So Far: 18 October 2020

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”.

Energy- Disclosure

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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My Desert 10 Albums: 20 April 2020

Welcome back to YDCS! I’ve been working on a project for a couple of months now and I’m finally ready to unveil it. I’ve spent months putting albums in and out of this list, adjusting the order, taking them all out to try again, and finally settling on my Desert 10. “What is a Desert 10” you might ask? Your Desert 10 is the ten albums that you would take with you to a deserted island to listen to forever. Basically, if you could only listen to ten albums for the rest of your life, what would they be? The rules are simple: No compilations, “Best Of” Albums, and no box sets. Each album must be the original release. With that, we’re going to hop right in! I hope you enjoy my Desert 10 and encourage you to put together your own as well!

Honorable Mentions

In the Wee Small Hours– Frank Sinatra

It’s not a rock album, but In the Wee Small Hours was Frank Sinatra at his finest. His silky voice is irresistible on this album and still has an ability to enchant people to this day.

Trout Mask Replica– Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band

An album that pushed what we could call music. Many portions feature spoken word and the whole album was written by plucking out melodies on a piano and a horn, by a man who had no idea how to play the piano or the horn, nor had an idea what a time signature was.

Takin’ It To The Streets– The Doobie Brothers

I love the Doobie Brothers and it hurt me to not include them in the Desert 10. Unfortunately for the Doobies, most of their best songs are spread across multiple albums, making it difficult to pick just one to include without breaking the rule excluding ‘Best Ofs.’ If there were one that would make the cut, it would be Takin’ It To The Streets for having three of my favorite songs by the Doobies, the eponymous song, “Wheels of Fortune,” and “It Keeps You Runnin’.”

Hemispheres– Rush

This is my second favorite Rush album, and it almost bumped the Number 10 album off the list. Hemispheres is a musical masterpiece and one of the best displays of musicianship that Rush ever put to record. They were quoted as saying that it was the most technically challenging album that the wrote, and listening to it you’ll believe it.

One Of These Nights– Eagles

One Of These Nights holds a special place for me as the first album to really get me interested in the Eagles and folk rock in general. For that, it almost made my list. Ultimately, I think there is one other album that is a better representation of what the Eagles were as a band.

From The Mars Hotel– Grateful Dead

From The Mars Hotel was the album that I played with including the most because every song on the album is really good. “Scarlet Begonias” is one of my favorites of all time and “Loose Lucy,” “US Blues,” “Ship of Fools,” and “Pride of Cucamonga” are right there next to it. Ultimately, it came down to would I want to listen to the Grateful Dead for the rest of my life. Answering that honestly my answer was no. I love the Dead, but there are other albums that would be easier listening.

Dad’s Desert 10

10. Animals– Pink Floyd

We open the list with my favorite Pink Floyd album and one of their best concept albums, Animals. The idea to write an album portraying British society as different animals based on their class was the perfect way for the band to describe their problems with the class system. “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” is one of the best songs on the album and the instrumentation was so innovative (particularly using the guitar and a squawk box to imitate pig squeals) that it still doesn’t get old to listen to.

9. Aqualung– Jethro Tull

At Number 9 we get Jethro Tull’s fourth studio album, Aqualung. They had been bubbling under the surface of mainstream prog rock for a few years before this album came out, and all of the work that they put into their first three albums came to fruition on this one. There’s really not a bad song on the album, and listening to a band headed by a flautist is truly a unique experience. The highlights are the song of the same name, “Aqualung,” but also include “Cross Eyed Mary,” “Hymn 43,” and “Locomotive Breath.”

8. Bat Out Of Hell– Meat Loaf

Bat Out Of Hell is an album that means so much to me. Every time one of the songs on this album comes on the radio, I instantly think about my Dad and singing the whole album with him in the car. We love Meat Loaf and Bat Out Of Hell, and the album is absolutely spectacular. It’s hard to believe that Meat Loaf could barely get a record deal for this one, considering that it would go on to be one of the best-selling albums of all time and a landmark for rock opera. If I were on a desert island, Bat Out Of Hell would let me rock out, and I’d be thinking of my Dad every time I played it. That’s good company. Check out “Bat Out Of Hell,” “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth,” and “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”

7. Led Zeppelin IV– Led Zeppelin

Three words: Stairway. To. Heaven. Led Zeppelin IV is so much more than “Stairway to Heaven,” but that’s a real high point. Led Zeppelin IV was a landmark album for rock music and proved that people wanted to hear long-form rock music. It was one of the first true mainstream progressive rock albums too, and I don’t think that the genre would have seen as much popularity without the benefit of some of the longer songs on this record like “When the Levee Breaks” or the more artistic songs like “The Battle of Evermore.” Prog rock acts were playing and performing, but Led Zeppelin IV gave them a leg to stand on.

6. Hotel California– Eagles

I wanted to include multiple Eagles albums in my Desert 10 but made myself settle on one, so I went with Hotel California for two reasons. First, I think it’s the best representation of the Eagles sound after having taken a few albums to come in to their own. This could arguably be extended to One Of These Nights as well, but there’s just enough experimental tracks on that album that it didn’t quite feel complete (See “The Sorcerer”). Second, I think that Hotel California had better singles than One Of These Nights. I love “Witchy Woman” and the song “One Of These Nights,” but “Hotel California” is literally the baseline for the modern guitar solo and “Victim of Love” and “Life in the Fast Lane” scratch the same itch for tight vocal harmony that I want from the former tracks. Great album and deservedly regarded as one of the best.  

5. Are You Experienced?– Jimi Hendrix

Halfway through the Desert 10 and it’s time to talk about the first album from Jimi Hendrix, Are You Experienced?. I like this album because it’s chock full of rock classics and lots of hidden gems that never make it on to ‘Best Of’ lists of Jimi’s work like “Fire,” “51st Anniversary,” and “Third Stone From The Sun.” It also features some of Hendrix’s most iconic songs like “Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe,” “Manic Depression,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” and “Foxey Lady.” All in all, this album just has too many big hits to exclude. The only song I wish it had on it is “Little Wing,” but I could live with “The Wind Cries Mary” in its place.

4. At Fillmore East– Allman Brothers Band

The only live album on this list, At Fillmore East is one of those albums that everyone talks about because it was a legendary, two-night performance from the Allman Brothers, but listening to the album you realize how good those shows really were. The whole band was firing on all cylinders those nights and laid down one of the best southern rock albums ever. Even at 78 minutes long, the album never feels long and will keep you entertained the whole way through. High points on this record are the immoral 23-minute long rendition of “Whipping Post,” “Hot Lanta,” and my favorite, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.”

3. Paranoid– Black Sabbath

Coming in at Number 3 is Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. While all of the albums on this list are my tops, Paranoid was one of the first albums that I listened to as part of Your Dad’s Car Stereo that made me think “This album couldn’t be any better, even if they tried.” The album has moments where you know it’s a rocker, moments that slow down to give you a break, and it’s one of the best displays of musicianship on this list. Let’s not forget its historical significance either as one of the precursors to heavy metal! When you put it all together, Paranoid is one of the most complete rock albums ever recorded. High points include “War Pigs/Luke’s Wall,” “Electric Funeral,” and “Hand of Doom.”

2. Close To The Edge– Yes

It may only be three songs long, but progressive rock would have never reached its true potential without those three songs that make up Close To The Edge. Nearly every major prog rock act has acknowledged that Close To The Edge influenced them in some way to follow the way of prog. It’s truly a beautiful album that features shining vocals from Jon Anderson, masterful, emotional guitar from Steve Howe, and some cool keyboard parts on everything from claviers to church organs from Rick Wakeman. I love the whole album, but if you don’t have time to listen to the whole album then “Siberian Khatru” is a must-listen-to song and will give you an idea how the whole album sounds.

1. 2112– Rush

My favorite album. I may have mentioned it on the blog during my review of 2112, but I think this is the perfect album that all others will hope to rival. The song of the same name is perfectly constructed and features so many ‘moments’ that you’ll hear something new each time you put it on. “The Twilight Zone” and “Lessons” are complete rockers, “Tears” is a beautiful, emotional ballad, and “Something for Nothing” rounds out the album with a barn burner! For me, 2112 is classic rock and what I think of when I think of prog rock or classic rock in general.

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.