It is mind-blowing how music has thrived in 2020. Despite everything going on in the world – the pandemic, the halt of the live music industry and the worldwide call for the end of racism in all its ugly forms – musicians have continued to put out heartwarming and heartbreaking works of art.
We’ve seen greats emerge out of nowhere with explosive and fiery albums, we’ve seen a crop of newcomers defy genres and expectations in ways never thought possible, and we’ve seen some of our homegrown acts do a total upheaval of their sound and shift things completely.
Just like how Music Feeds shared the best 20 Australian songs of the year thus far, we’re sharing the best albums released around the world in the first six months of this hellish year. From Barcelona to Venice Beach, from Western Australia to Woorabinda, here are Music Feeds‘ best albums of the year so far.
Fetch The Bolt Cutters – Fiona Apple
After eight years of silence, Fiona Apple released her highly anticipated fifth studio album Fetch The Bolt Cutters on Friday, 17th April – and the world fell in love with her all over again. Recorded over the past five years in Apple’s home, the album arrived at a time when we were all still getting accustomed to 2020’s solitary bleakness, and somewhat prophetically explored it. It’s an album that sees Apple reflect on middle school life lessons with ‘Shameika’, refuse to be silenced with ‘Under The Table’ and reach an enveloping and heartbreaking catharsis with ‘For Her’. If 2020 is going to be a year to remember for all the wrong reasons, Fetch The Bolt Cutters is an album to remember for all the right ones.
SAWAYAMA – Rina Sawayama
Rina Sawayama’s fusion of primarily pop and nu-metal elements can be jarring to some and off-putting to others, but to everyone else, it’s a shining beacon that could prove to be a trailblazing moment in pop history. But with her debut album, SAWAYAMA – which Elton John called his favourite of 2020 thus far – Rina refuses to be confined by any measure. She goes full nu-metal on lead single ‘STFU!’, manages a delicate introspection on ‘Bad Friend’, gives the ultimate Y2K R&B fantasy with ‘Love Me 4 Me’ and delivers a capitalist critique with ‘XS’ – fitting as COVID-19 has helped put an intense spotlight on the shortcomings of celebrity culture.
Black Thoughts – Ziggy Ramo
It is frankly ridiculous that a politically-charged concept album made five years ago was still relevant upon its 2020 release, but that grim relevance is what made Ziggy Ramo release it at all. It’s, in short, essential listening. No other way to put it.
Chromatica – Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga jumped on her long-dormant spaceship, leaving her pink hat, guitar and Academy Award behind, and invited us all into the futurist, cyberpunk utopia of Chromatica. With well-chosen features by Ariana Grande, BLACKPINK and Elton John, Gaga throws herself back into the bombastic and escapist dance-pop path that she helped paved over a decade ago.
Future Nostalgia – Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa’s debut album, while sprinkled with a few shining gems, was a mostly cluttered and extensive listen. But, with her more refined sound and vision heading into the cycle of her second album Future Nostalgia, Dua took pop culture’s yearning for yesterday and absolutely ran with it all the way into tomorrow. It’s funky, it’s electrifying and it’s looking like Dua has kicked things into fifth gear and is hitting full speed in her own lane.
Nyaaringu – Miiesha
It’s rare that an artist’s debut feels as polished and high quality, yet as vulnerable and honest as Miiesha’s collection of songs, Nyaaringu, does. There are tens of thousands of years of history packed into just under 30 minutes, as Miiesha shares her story and leaves you breathless with every word. This is an Australian album to remember.
What’s Your Pleasure? – Jessie Ware
Jessie Ware’s much anticipated fourth studio album What’s Your Pleasure? turned out to be a blindside for fans, as it saw her leave her heartbreak ballads at the door and step directly into the silver flashes of the disco ball. It’s the tequila shot high that comes before the red wine blues, but that doesn’t matter. What’s Your Pleasure? is an album that centres you and helps distract you from all that is 2020, if only for a moment.
The Slow Rush – Tame Impala
Music Feeds said of Tame Impala’s welcomed fourth album, “It’s the comedown, the clarity and the understanding by which Kevin Parker defines his own life, his own career and his own story. And, if The Slow Rush is anything to go by, there’ll still be an ever-expanding legion of fans to read it.”
The Slow Rush sees Kevin Parker tackle the constraints and the liberation of time, begging for it to hurry along and stop completely. It’s a journey he reluctantly embarks on, soundtracked by his unique take on maximalist pop.
Swandream – Jack Colwell
Jack Colwell has the type of voice that you remember. The type of voice that makes you feel like he’s in the room with you, looking into your eyes as tears well up in his. SWANDREAM is a devastatingly vulnerable record that’ll leave you without words and your heart bleeding. His story of his experiences as a queer man and the traumas that they led to might have you heaped up on the floor, but he’s still there to help you up to stand strong once again – just as he learns how to do.
Our Two Skins – Gordi
“It’s another story in a big tapestry of the queer community,” Gordi told Music Feeds of the album. “It’s a story worth telling.”
Quivering and fearful, Sophie Payten puts her heart on her sleeve for the world to stare and gawk at. Our Two Skins is a whole expression of Gordi – the fierceness, the anxieties, the downfalls. Any story that can consume you from the opening moments in the way the heavy ‘Aeroplane Bathroom’ does is a story worth telling – she’s right – but, for everyone else, you can be sure that it’s a story worth listening to.
RTJ4 – Run The Jewels
Run The Jewels have consistently called out what can be seen right in front of us, but it’s hard to imagine a time where their calls to action have been more pertinent than it was during the release of RTJ4. Released smack bang in the centre of the flood of #BlackLivesMatter protests that happened – and are still happening – around the world, the album acts as a megaphone for the voices that have too long gone ignored and silenced – complete with features from Zach De La Rocha, Pharrell and Greg Nice. It is both a banging reprieve and a sobering reminder, a balance that only Killer Mike and El-P could pull off.
Shelf Life – Northeast Party House
“Shelf Life is an album that pits the bloom of new love against the wilting of lost love,” Music Feeds said of Northeast Party House’s third album in a review.
“It bounces within this dichotomy flawlessly, where less deft hands may have fumbled. It circles the neon green and midnight blue of the club with the misty pink and burnt yellow of the walk home. But, above all else, Shelf Life is Northeast Party House’s best album to date and is bound to fling them to a level of appreciation and adoration that they’ve always deserved.”
Punisher – Phoebe Bridgers
Phoebe Bridgers may have released Punisher before it was expected, but no amount of warning would’ve prepared listeners for the sadness, the heartbreak and the anxiety she was about to share. Living in a world scared of the future – who can blame her? – Bridgers once again displays her masterful ability to arrest your mind in just a few words. ‘Kyoto’ soars, ‘ICU’ devastates and ‘Halloween’ shows off the lyrical waltz she and Conor Oberst of are capable of perhaps far better than anything on Better Oblivion Community Center.
Women In Music, Pt. III – HAIM
The best part about Women In Music, Pt. III is that it feels like something that was burning away inside Este, Danielle and Alana Haim for so long. Their sound is so often attributed to the breezy freedom of summer – and they still maintain that here – but they’ve also allowed themselves to experiment with harsher, crunchier sounds. It’s a genre-defying effort that sees the band turn their back on palatability and look straight forward to authenticity. HAIM are building a huge legacy for themselves, and Women In Music, Pt. III is going to be a moment that fans will keep coming back to.
The Glow – DMA’S
“(They) have paired their Newtown-takes-Britpop stylings with sparkling synths and electro-pop beats to reach an elevated sound on The Glow,” Music Feeds wrote of DMA’s refreshing third album.
“Rather than fearing change, they’ve embraced it and pushed their record to a new place while maintaining the warmth and sincerity of their songwriting.”
Ungodly Hour – Chloe x Halle
The Kids Are Alright, the first full-length album Chloe x Halle released once they had graduated the School Of Hard Knowles, was perfectly fine – but it left something to be desired.
Ungodly Hour, however, is set to become their statement album, their raison d’etre. Led by the phenomenal slinky R&B offering ‘Do It’, Ungodly Hour proves that the kids weren’t just going to be alright – they are ready to conquer. The tracks are vocally flawless – as to be expected – but what’s most impressive is that the Bailey sisters have demonstrated a decade worth of growth and maturing in just two short years. Each track is lacquered in richness and substance, and their interplay between each other hits new levels of ethereal, haunting and inspiring.
Kick I – Arca
The Venezuelan producer has long been influencing what contemporary music sounds like thanks to her production on seminal albums from the likes of Kanye West, FKA twigs, Kelela and Bjork, but she truly steps into her own with the stunning Kick I. While other albums on this list defy genre, Arca endeavours to hit as many as she can – without once sounding forced or unnatural. She once said that there was “a clear intention to allow every self to express itself,” and she does that with glitchy, quirky delight. Even with an all-star smorgasbord of collaborators like Bjork, SOPHIE and Rosalia, Arca stands in the centre of the spotlight and garners every ounce of attention – with no sign of relinquishing any time soon.
Rough & Rowdy Ways – Bob Dylan
“Although Bob Dylan has never claimed to be revolutionising the form – his songs are typically mutations of existing compositions – he’s time and again changed how we perceive popular music, stretching the limits of its artistic potential,” Music Feeds wrote in the review of Dylan’s latest effort.
“And he’s not done yet – for one hour and ten minutes, Rough and Rowdy Ways makes you feel like you’re hearing something that’s never been said, proving that at 79 years old, Dylan is still capable of going way, way deep.”
City On Lock – City Girls
As grim as it is, there hasn’t been an all-female rap duo to really take it big since Salt ’N’ Pepa. But, with JT finished her year incarcerated, Yung Miami has been reunited with her partner and the two have delivered one of the year’s punchiest rap efforts. Far more impactful and arresting than anything they’ve done previously, City On Lock sees City Girls rep the 305 with strength, wit and power. ‘Jobs’ barely stretches over two minutes, and gives an unlimited amount of potential Instagram captions – “I don’t work jobs, bitch I am a job” – while their collaboration with 2020’s defining artist Doja Cat, titled ‘Pussy Talk’, might even trump their viral Cardi B collaboration from 2018, ‘Twerk’.
Miss Anthropocene – Grimes
Honestly, it’s a testament to Claire Boucher that, even through all the absolute nonsense and the ~discourse~ she has both been involved in and contributed to, she was still able to release an album that so beautifully rests on the pulse of what is driving the world right now. Miss Anthropocene is as meme-able as it is magnificent but demonstrates a more subdued side to her usually explosive take on electronic and pop. ‘Delete Forever’ – a song set to a loop of an uncharacteristic acoustic guitar – will go down as one of her greatest musical moments, even if it is lost in the noise of everything outside of her music.