We're more than a third of the way through 2020 and it's been an odd year to say the least. Albums have been delayed, pushed forward and cancelled but there are still a select few delivering gold. These are our favourite records from the year so far - the ones getting us through isolation.
Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia
This year’s blockbuster pop album came right at the start of self-isolation and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Lipa turned up the tempo on pop and delivered a sparkly, disco-flavoured album full of euphoria and heartbreak on the dancefloor. From record-breaking lead-single Don’t Start Now to lighter moments like Pretty Please, it’s great fun and the mark of a popstar who is taking her career to the next level.
Fiona Apple - Fetch The Bolt Cutters
“Blast the music, bang it, bite it, bruise it,” Fiona Apple sings on Fetch The Bolt Cutters opener I Want You To Love Me. It stands as a mantra for the whole album as she pulls apart the kitchen pantry to add maximum feeling to everything. Her voice is tougher and more commanding than ever as she joins with the power of the percussion for a liberating, urgent and anarchic set of songs. It’s the thrilling return we’d hoped for.
Rina Sawayama - SAWAYAMA
Rina Sawayama was making great underground pop before SAWAYAMA but her debut album took it to a new level. The 13-song set is a genre-traversing wild ride that moves from nu-metal (Dynasty) to sleek, modern pop (Bad Friend). All the while we get a vivid, honest introduction to Sawayama as a human being.
Hayley Williams - Petals For Armor
When Hayley Williams announced she was releasing a solo album no one was quite sure what to expect. Pop, punk, rock, R&B? It was none of those things though. Petals For Armor is a alternative insight into her journey with mental health that finds light and shade in unexpected places. Paramore bandmates Taylor York and Joey Howard are all over the album credits but this isn’t a Paramore album. It’s a different dimension for Williams.
The Weeknd - After Hours
The Weeknd is a superstar but his albums have been of mixed quality since Trilogy. Finally, on After Hours, he found a way to combine big pop songs with haunting, after dark R&B joints. After Hours is a cohesive trip through bombastic ‘80s beats (In Your Eyes), power ballads (Scared To Live) and menacing dark cuts (Faith). He’s never sounded so self-aware and simultaneously entertaining.
Lil Uzi Vert - Eternal Atake
After years of waiting and wishing 2020 finally brought Eternal Atake to us. It’s Uzi’s most accomplished album to date, stitching together an ambitious concept that brings together three characters - Baby Pluto, Renji and Lil Uzi Vert. As a result, we get three different sides to the album but it’s all tied together by Uzi’s undeniable charisma and ambition to take rap into another realm.
Kehlani - It Was Good Until It Wasn't
Kehlani has done a lot in between albums. She had her daughter and also dropped a mixtape While We Wait plus a handful of A-grade standalone. Still, she's never better than when she's in album mode and It Was Good Until It Wasn't is a classic. It's her most cohesive project to date, sticking with the R&B aesthetic and inviting in a tight bunch of collaborators including Jhené Aiko, Masego and James Blake.
Bad Bunny - YHLQMDLG
Bad Bunny is one of the most magnetic characters is popular music right now. His previous albums have been great but YHLQMDLG packs an extra punch. It’s a non-stop party from start-to-finish, consistently stretching the realms of reggaeton - a genre that is notoriously difficult to renovate. From the full body takeover of Yo Perreo Sola to the wild detours of Safaera, you’re never quite sure where YHLQMDLG is headed next.
Laura Marling - Songs For Our Daughter
Laura Marling is one of the most consistent songwriters on the planet, often at her best when it’s intimate and direct. Songs For Our Daughter is the shortest and simplest album she’s ever made but it’s also the most immediately heart-warming. She sounds crisp and clear as she delivers musings on life intended to teach her yet-to-be-conceived child about the world. Songs like Blow By Blow and Fortune are impossibly beautiful waltzes that are both melancholic and strangely uplifting.
Tame Impala - The Slow Rush
Tame Impala’s The Slow Rush is exactly that. Where Currents was an immediate burst of psych-pop, The Slow Rush takes its time, slowly releasing the endorphins over a set of elongated, groove-infused songs. Kevin Parker finds himself wrestling with contentment and restlessness, contemplating moving to Miami on Instant Destiny while reminding himself that things are moving along nicely on On Track. It’s an album you can pause or move to which are hard modes to achieve side-by-side.
Halsey - Manic
Manic is the first album Halsey has released as a certified superstar. She had her first solo number one with Without You and, as a result, Manic was globally anticipated. Instead of pandering to the radio, however, she made a project that’s an unwavering expression of herself. It’s hyperbolic, tapping into the extremes of her personality from the grandiose of Forever … (is a long time) to the punk-infused angst of 3am. We’ve never gotten this close to Halsey before and it’s a beautiful thing.
Grimes - Miss Anthropocene
Over the past few years Grimes has become unlikely gossip mag fodder. So much so that it overshadowed the release of Miss Anthropocene. Grimes pulled the attention back to her music though through the sheer quality of the record. It’s billed as a concept album but at its core its the most raw Grimes has ever been. From musings on death (Delete Forever) to ethereal declarations of self (IDORU), it’s an unexpectedly heartwarming record regardless of whether AI tugs at your heartstrings or not.
J Hus - Big Conspiracy
J Hus has made himself a UK rap staple through pure hard work and Big Conspiracy acts as a victory lap. It’s the biggest record he’s ever made dabbling in decadent, grandiose beats as he raps about everything from his come-up to racial inequality. The topics are heavy but there are also moveable moments of joy like Play Play and Repeat. It’s a diverse and endlessly intriguing listen.
Mac Miller - Circles
Mac Miller’s posthumous album is a bittersweet album. On one hand, it’s excellent, on the other hand, it’s a portrait of an artist who still had so much to give. Miller wrestles with his own demons throughout but there’s always a silver lining as if he’s forever striving to find the positivity. “Everybody keep rushing/Why aren't we taking our time,” he says on the final song Once A Day, just one example of the perspective he offers on Circles. Mac reminds us to look for the good around us.