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As I am sure everyone with access to twitter, a television set, or even just a window knows, 2020 has been a hellish year thus far. Between the global onslaught of COVID-19, the United States having the worst response to the disease of any nation on earth, the murder of George Floyd, and the rampant police brutality in response to the protesting of his murder, there is little to celebrate. One of the few respites from this demonic year has been the consistent stream of excellent music from all over the earth. This may seem frivolous with given the state of things, but throwing on a new album from an artist near and dear has been a source of meditative peace for a lot of us. Whether it was a treasure trove of material they’d been sitting on for ages, a spur of the moment project inspired by the unique circumstances, or albums whose roll out was thrown into the fire thanks to COVID, nearly every week this year there were multiple albums dropping that had our writers dancing by themselves in their apartments.
This list includes the eighty (or so lol) records that our team have not been able to stop bumping in the last six months. There wasn’t really much curation past that, just whatever albums our writers felt hyped enough on to throw into our team google doc by our July 1st deadline. Dedicated readers shouldn’t be surprised to see a familiar face or two, and there will certainly be a number of albums that any passionate music fan has already spun on this list, but hopefully you’ll find a new favorite somewhere in here. The albums are listed in alphabetical order by artist name and include links to a stream of the album and to the musician’s social media page. Thanks to GSC writers/family members Josh Ramos, Kristyn Cheek, Dante Esser, Abbie Galloway, Luke McCanna, and Brendan Higgins for contributing to the list, with exemplary thanks to Chris Smith and Mike Polanin for the help with all the blurbs. Also, importantly, if your favorite album is missing from the list please know that it was an intentional omission done specifically to make you, yes you, pissed. Enjoy!
Virginia native and Divine Council member $ilkmoney kept things gritty and relentless on his third album. Keeping his titles as long and open to interpetation as ever, Attack of the Future Shocked, Flesh Covered, Meatbags of the 85 continues $ilkmoney’s streak of dense thought provoking bars over gorgeous golden era sounding beats.
Maybe the album that is truest to its title on this list, Stasis Sounds for Long-Distance Space Travel are the ambient sounds that will accompany you on your journey as you leave earth. Seeing as there are plenty of reasons to want to say goodbye to mother earth in 2020, these tracks will help you drift into the darkness of space and leave your human concerns on the planet you just said goodbye to.
Jerry Paper is the lofi rock brainchild of songwriter and producer Lucas Nathan, who wanted to use this alternate name to explore alternative universes. These thirteen jazzy jams almost serve as a collection of short stories. You will leave this album with a tune stuck in your head and a character whose life you cannot help but ruminate on, whether it be the captive alien on “Puppeteer” to the hunk who ruins his life getting caught smoking meth at his kids birthday party on “Body Builder on the Shore”.
Phoenix folk punk legends, the artists formerly known as Andrew Jackson Jihad, released their first album in four years back in January and showed that they very much so still got it. Good Luck Everybody features their loud and proud anti-authoritarian politics coupled with the good natured humor that has earned AJJ fans from coast to coast. If you need me, I’ll be in my bunker trying to build us a “Mega Guiottine.”
Brooklyn duo ELUCID and billy woods somehow live up to the gargantuan expectations set by Shrines cover art. Their raps reflect the reality of the New York City on the cover, they’re tigers fighting the militarized police force and the constraints that capitalism puts on us, all over some woozy ass beats. The album boasts a litany of features of everyone popping in the underground from KeiyaA to R.A.P. Ferreira, and pits ELUCID and billy woods as kingpins of this exciting, burgeoning rap movement.
BABERS, the LA dark pop duo of Dana Cargioli & Lisa Haagen, dropped a collection of tracks that are equal parts soft spoken sighs and honest loud declarations. While most tracks open soft and tender the two can’t help but get emotional as they reach into the heights of their vocal registers. These songs make for a deep and warmhearted debut album, we could not be more excited to see where BABERS takes us next.
A few years ago Chicago’s Lili Trifilio recruited a few friends to help fill out a live band so her group, Beach Bunny, could compete in a local battle of the bands in promotion of her Prom Queen EP. Before she even knew what the platform was the EP’s eponymous single went viral on TikTok, and thousands got introduced to Beach Bunny on their phones. With their debut album, Honeymoon, Beach Bunny takes advantage of their forward momentum and dropped an album’s worth of sunny power pop licks with a pop punk bent. Fans of Charly Bliss and Hop Along will no doubt find something to like about Beach Bunny.
Rapper/Producer/Cryptid/Underground Princess Backxwash put forth an unpredictable and innovative industrial rap album unlike anything else out in 2020 with God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It. She captures the pain and anger that one inevitably goes through being a Black trans woman with heavy gothic imagery. While Backxwash is certainly inspired by rap left fielders JPEGMAFIA and Death Grips, she is safely in a lane all her own and will no doubt be inspiring others in her wake.
It’s been a good year for rappers who have been long overdue on getting their shine. Boldy James and the Alchemist first linked on their 2013 mixtape My First Chemistry Set, which while being a critical darling did not capture the masses. In the seven years since Alchemist has become as Pitchfork put it, “this century’s great album length auteur” and Boldy continued to rack up a loyal and dedicated fanbase with his bullshit free street raps filled with extremely rich detail. The Price of Tea in China is two veterans doing exactly what they do best. Alchemist lays a grimy sample and Boldy talks enough shit for six rappers, taking you on midnight trips to Kentucky and into every Kroger in Detroit.
Brent Faiyaz isn’t the most satisfied R&B singer. He cannot help but yell out Fuck the World in anger as he does his damnedest to have as much sex as humanly possible, regardless of whose relationship may get destroyed as a result. His relaxed, unconcerned, and even dreamy style sets him apart from his countless peers doing everything in their power to sneak a track into the Spotify playlists he dominates. Make sure to give this album a spin if not just to figure out which of your homies has been stealing Brent’s bars for their IG captions for the last few months.
In 2017 Idaho indie rock titans Built to Spill were asked to accompany eclectic and beloved indie outsider Daniel Johnston on what would become his last tour, before he tragically passed last year. Inspired by the short and unique spurt of time they had together, BTS’ lead singer Doug Martsh wanted to commemorate this precious and magical soul in the best way he knew how. The two share similar voices and the tracks feel as much Daniel getting a second crack at them as they do BTS doing a tribute. This is a tender and warm memorial to a hero who became a friend.
While nowhere near its commercial peak, emo music is as strong and deep as a genre as it ever has been. For every different subsection of the genre that one can conjur up there are three or four bands making excellent records and helping prop up scenes in towns across the country. You could even argue that upstate New York is kicking the city’s ass right now, with bands like Carpool holding it down for everyone north of the Bronx and south of Canada. Carpool’s lead singer Chris “Stoph” Colasanto said his personal top three musical influences were Glocca Morra, Third Eye Blind, and the Highschool Musical 2 Soundtrack, with Buffalo emo stalwarts Del Paxton coming in a close forth. And in a weird way that comp makes sense to me, the band has the pop sensibilities and massive hooks of Third Eye Blind with the grit and basement edge of Glocca Morra. Not sure exactly how the HSM2 fits in tbh but good lord do I wish I could see Del Paxon and Carpool rock a basement to shreds, because this album was meant to be heard live.
celebration guns new EP combines mathy midwestern riffs with home cooked dream pop bubbles and affects, like if Clairo got her hands on some old Owen tracks. Hailing from Arizona, these four tracks are deceptively catchy with hooks that get lodged in your head. …on aging gracefully is as emo as the name of the EP would lead you to believe, and it lives up to the high expectations set by the absolute masterclass of a cover that features both bandmates having the best day of their lives at Medieval Times.
Chaaaaaaaahhhliiiii was determined to make lemonade out of the lemons that COVID had provided her. Cooped up in her apartment with the realization that all her fans were in the same state, Charli decided to see if she could come up with a new album in a month and a half while letting fans in on the process. She held regular Zooms letting her angels know updates on where tracks were in production, their potential titles and every little detail that popped into her head in the process. It truly was a family affair as Charli crowdsourced everything from cover art for her singles to full music videos from her fans, letting them not just watch but be fully immersed and involved in the project. And it worked out to say the least, every track on how i’m feeling now that is a timely and relevant bop.
One of the tragically beautiful realities of life on the internet is that there are without a doubt dozens if not hundreds of albums released just about every day across the globe that could be your new favorite album if you were lucky enough to have it pass your ears. I cannot remember why or how I ended up hearing the Xiamen, China based surf/dream pop trio Cheesemind, but I sure as hell am glad I did. This is a bright, breezy, and beautiful album that has cheered me up on many a cloudy day this year.
Cold Deck put together a little under ten minutes of fury on this quick and brutal EP. Cold Deck is the side project of Show Me the Body lead singer Julian Pratt, which he described quite accurately as black metal riffs with hardcore vocals. Fans of the Corpus family of bands will certainly fund something to like here.
Conway the Machine is a long way from Doat Street. He and his Buffalo bred Griselda crew seem to be everywhere in 2020. On LULU, after grinding for the past six years, Conway is toasting to all the haters who wished him hell that propelled him to the place he is today. Alchemist drops icy samples for Conway to glide right over.
Only Denzel Curry could begin a project with a fake beef and end it with a cartoon inspired by an episode of the Fairly Oddparents. Unlocked is a quick journey through the information superhighway as Denzel rips Kenny’s beats to shreds. Best paired with the music video/cartoon pilot that Denzel and Kenny made for it, and of course a fat J.
Baltimore bred, Los Angelas based singer songwriter Dijon is not someone you could nail down in one genre. How Do You Feel About Getting Married? was listed as a R&B album on release, but there are tracks on here that sound like digital folk music, and the album fits in a slice of everything in between. The music is as bizarre and magical as the marriage it celebrates on its cover. You wouldn’t think that you could make a song with vocoder laced crooning over an acoustic guitar that could fit on your baby making playlist, but you’d be wrong!
The Michigan boys rocked the world with this one. Dogleg came onto the scene like a lighting bolt with their debut album Melee. As raucous as the fighting game that inspired it, which their bassist plays at a semi-professional level, Melee hits you like a ton of bricks from the second the album opens and it never lets up for a second. It has been one of the biggest surprise smashes of the year, garnering a rare Best New Music review from Pitchfork and racking up hundreds of thousands of streams. The album is massive and furious, like a Falcon Punch to the gut.
For those left wanting more after their performance the Axe to Grind Podcast, DRAIN’s debut LP “California Cursed” has more than delivered on expanding the frantic yet fun sound they have established for themselves. Fun is honestly a key word for me with this album, yet not in a way that demeans the amazing performances by the band on this record. It’s fun in the sense that it transports you directly into a mosh pit, as these riffs just seem to demand movement from the listener. DRAIN have proven themselves here to be one of the most unrelenting providers of crossover thrash in the hardcore scene, and I for one cannot wait until I can experience them in live setting. For now, fans will have more than enough to handle with this 22 minute absolute sprint of an album.
Drakeo Tha Ruler’s latest album is a triumphant fuck you to the police state that runs California. Locked up for crimes he has long been acquitted of, Drakeo has been fighting against the blatant racism of the LAPD for over a year, and clearly his entire life. Drakeo was not going to let the LAPD or anyone get in the way of his recording, and had producer JoogSZN mic up his raps from over a jail phone. The two made an instant classic in the process, as the record is already being hailed as one of the best jail rap albums of all time. Over nineteen fire beats Drakeo talks his shit and talks about the bullshit he’s being forced to deal with. The final track, “Fiction”, highlights how the cops are using his fictional raps against him in court. He tells a tall tale of a heist and predicts the cops trying to use this track in a court case in the future. Free Drakeo and all members of the STINC Team, and everyone facing the horrors that police departments ravage on communities all over the country.
Dua Lipa became a household name on the back of a string of absolutely gargantuan global hit singles with Calvin Harris and Silkcity. Her rich, deep voice had clubs bumping from Berlin to Brisbane, and with Future Nostalgia Dua proves she has much more than just a pretty voice. Dua dropped a borderline concept record inspired by the pop hits of the 80’s she grew up singing in her mirror. In the months since as retro inspired tracks like “Say So” have topped the charts, you can argue Dua reoriented the pop music landscape in her image.
The Massachusetts psychedelic prog rock formerly-trio now quad Elder seem like they are trying to one up their last release every time they drop an album. The floating world from their last album all but seems to be crashing into the earth on this release, as the band could not help but chart the world falling to ruins around them. The album is fifty six minutes spread across just five songs, as you are meant to get lost in these long meandering rhythms.
The term “supergroup” tends to carry a kind of negative connotation, but when it came to the formation of END, that phrase definitely fits here as their members came from a whose who of modern acts within the heavy music scene. After dropping an EP in 2017, anticipation just kept building for what was to come next. Unsurprisingly, “Splinters from an Ever-Changing Face” is an uncompromising and dynamic beast of an album that more than satisfies what fans were looking for. The production on this album feels almost disorienting at times, and producer/guitarist Will Putney adding what appear to be sound clips of psychiatric consultations during or between tracks make every one of the thirty three minutes of this album an unforgettable listen. For Fans of: Jesus Piece, Vein, Year of the Knife and Aversions Crown.
Florida Dame recently headed back home to Tampa Bay to recoup. While at home she became self reflctive on her life, accomplishments and short comings. While she has accomplished a great deal in her life as a transwoman, having performed at the White House back in 2015, she couldn’t help but still feel like something was missing, like she just was not herself. This lead to the production of her introspective and impressively sonically diverse new album, Lucky Me. Florida Dame here shows her wide range while talking about the unique trials and tribulations of her life.
I worry about solo material—I’ve been let down by side projects before, so I put off listening to Likewise for a long time. I regret the wait, the record’s a beautiful, unique work that stands apart from anything Quinlan’s done before, despite it being built around two songs intended for Bark Your Head Off, Dog. Her lyrics feel familiar as she blurs the lines between personal experience, historical event, and natural cycle, everything captured in small detailed moments. But she trades the immense noise of Hop Along for a more minimal, tempered sound that invites listeners to come closer. Even Built to Spill’s “Carry the Zero” sounds new, right at home as it rounds out the album.
Freddie Gibbs can do no wrong. He’s got to the point in the career where he can chose to only work with the best producers in the game for full length projects, and luckily for us he finds the time to do exactly that on a regular basis. Freddie and Alchemist are well acquainted, having teamed up with Curren$y for 2018’s incredible and underrated Fetti and the two work even better together here. Freddie hasn’t dropped a bad verse or picked a bad beat since 2012, and from the looks of it I can’t imagine that happening any time soon.
The Jersey Gremlin himself, GRIMM Doza has been producing and rapping for almost eight years now, making bangers with everyone from XXXTentacion to Retch. Doza is a uniquely versatile producer, few can make beats that work with such a wide range of artists. I mean look at how stacked the line up on GRiMM & EViL is. Who else can get Wifisfuneral, Robb Bank$, Nickelus F, Bishop Nehru, YL, WiFiGawd, Medhane, and Mavi all on the same tape? I can’t think of anyone else. And did we mention he’s only twenty-one? You’ll be hearing his sinister laugh introing hits with your faves for years to come.
With Shapes I’ve Never Seen, Have a Good Season dropped an album that has me nostalgic for an era I didn’t know I could be nostalgic for yet. The Jersey Shore boys dropped a stellar alternative rock album that would have rocked the Boat House on the OC had it dropped in time. It sounds just as gorgeous in 2020 as it would have then luckily, as HAGS eschewed their pop punk roots to get both poppier and punkier. A beautiful rock and roll album with touches of Real Estate and REM while staying true to their DIY roots.
This follow up to 2018’s I Don’t Run shows Hinds in evolution. The Prettiest Curse offers expanded instrumentation and lyrics in both Spanish and English, while maintaining the garage-pop sensibility and trade-off vocals that fans have come to adore. The album demands to be taken seriously without sacrificing fun, with tracks like “Just like Kids (Miau)” taking a sarcastic look at the misogyny female artists are subjected to in the music industry. Hinds continues to impress with each new album, and I’ll be on the lookout for their next American tour.
If someone were to take a look at the cover for Horisont’s latest release, they would probably think they are in for an album of slam riffs. Most probably wouldn’t have guessed they were in for an hour of twin-guitar harmonies and vintage rock-choruses. Horisont unabashedly wear their 70s-rock influences on their sleeve, yet they don’t shy away from making a few experimental choices here and there on the album. This latest release by them has become the soundtrack of a summer day where you just want to feel good and maybe even do some air guitar solos and not really give a damn if anyone notices it. For Fans of: Blue Öyster Cult, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Thin Lizzy and Kvelertak.
The Hurricane EP, the debut record from London based singer/songwriter Jasmine Jethwa, is a haunting and ethereal listen. Jethwa’s folksy guitar and bright, tender falsetto paint the titular hurricane that she finds herself navigating. A strong debut from an artist we expect to hear much more from.
To say that people were waiting for this album would be the understatement of the century. Ever since Electronica came on the scene with ACT 1 he’s been hailed as a potential savior of rap, the next in a long line of legends. But a proper album never materialized, and the hype for Electronica’s debut was equal in fervor to the doubts that it would ever see the day, as he reached a level of anticipation that could only be matched by the likes of Half Life 3. And thanks to some help from none other than Jay Z, Electronica was able to meet those gargantuan expectations with A Written Testimony, as the two bounce off one another like Plato and Socrates.
Jeff Rosenstock’s ascendance since WORRY! dropped has been one of the most inspiring stories in music. He’s gone from playing any and every basement that would have him across Long Island and eventually the country to scoring television shows and getting interviewed by the Grammy’s. And to think all it took was damn near three decades making music outside of the major label system, preaching the exact same values on every release that lead to last month’s surprise release bash, NO DREAM. Present are the massive pop punk licks and ripping guitars that have made Jeff a folk hero for DIY kids, another great album from a talented musician working at the peak of his powers. Jeff writes songs that feel topical regardless of what day you listen, he’s clued into the unfortunate realities of life under capitalism and articulates them better than anyone else alive.
London based experimental/electro/pop duo Jockstrap, singer Georgia Ellery and producer Taylor Skye, were not afraid of offending peoples sensibilities with the mix of genre’s you can find on Wicked City. You’d figure anyone looking to have their sensibilities offended wouldn’t press play on a band named Jockstrap after all, an unforgettable band name that immediately brings me back to eight o’clock Saturday morning football practices. But listeners willing to look past the intriguing bandname will be rewarded from orchestral chamber pop to glitchy electro, all within five songs and twenty minutes.
Jersey born and bred production extraordinaire JWords has been on an absolute tear as of late. Her most recent two projects have shown that she can do just about anything and do it well. From the lofi dance bops she gave us on Dancepackvol.1 to the distorted electronic beats she had MIKE and Maassai rap over on SÍN SÉNAL, when JWords has her synthesizers and a drum machine there is nothing she cannot accomplish. And she can rap! Definitely a name to get used to hearing a lot more of.
The hazy melodies of the Bay Area R&B singer’s sophomore album showcases her voice and resolve. This is a collection of love songs about how distant someone standing next to you can feel. Highlights include her duet with James Blake “Grieving” and the Jhene Aiko assisted “Change Your Life.”
One of a rarified few artists whose production work is as beautiful as her singing, KeiyaA exploded onto the underground hip hop and R&B scene this year with Forever, Ya Girl. The Chicago bred, New York City based musician put together a gorgeous and raw body of music that reflects the struggles of being a Black woman in the United States today. These are self-empowerment anthems, meant to lift herself up as she brings up every black person listening with her. At the same time KeiyaA is brutally honest about her struggles may they be mental, social, and even financial. KeiyaA’s production work is not to go unnoticed either, as the eclectic collage of samples she invokes throughout the album set the mood as much as her beautiful voice. A deeply rewarding album, among the strongest releases of the year without a doubt.
Kenny Mason is one hell of a story teller. On his debut album, the West Atlanta native grabs you by the hand and takes you into his world, not wasting a second on a track. While his voice is so young there is a wisdom to his words. He can both ride a beat and say something while he’s doing in a way reminds me a whole lot of his mentor Denzel Curry.
Kenny Hoopla didn’t know how to play the guitar when he wrote the song “how will I rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//” a track that sounds and feels like a spiritual successor to Bloc Party’s “Banquet.” And to be honest, he still doesn’t know how to play the guitar, but that didn’t stop him from releasing the best britpop-meets-emo album of the year. Talking to NME he said ““There’s an aura about indie rock music, and a sound and energy that I can’t explain, but I feel like I have it in me,” and these six tracks absolutely back up that claim.
Memphis is one of the strongest regional scenes in rap right now. Historically the city has always been a hotbed for brilliant oddballs putting their unique spin on the southern rap tradition. Three Six Mafia may have put Memphis on the map, but Key Glock is part of a new wave keeping it there. Son of a Gun opens with a frantic violin sample that feels like it was ripped out of a Beethoven symphony. Key quickly finds a pocket of the beat you didn’t even know was there and never gives up the reigns.
The Delaware band with not only the best merch but the funniest twitter account put out a magnificent self-titled release that is equal parts emo and screamo. The group balances the two well and is excellent at both, making bright poppier tracks and heavy languid screamo. They are definitely a group to keep an eye out for in the future, as is just about every band that Chillwavve works with.
In an NYC underground filled with talent, Khalil Blue sets himself apart. On his latest mostly self-produced release, “DOG”, Khalil takes the high minded raps and choice sampling of his underground friends and gives it a pop bounce. Tracks like Runway Talk, which features a stand out verse from Charlotte rapper Mavi whose among one of the most thoughtful lyricists out today, might be the most accessible track either rapper has ever been on. Regardless of what kind of rap fan you may be, there is something for you to like on DOG.
Having a child has not made Archy Marshall any less melancholic. The London based singer songwriter continues to use his deep bellowing voice to chart the anguish and malaise of modern life over positively deary instrumentals.
The DMV is a hot bed of young rap talent right now. The likes of Xanman and Yung Manny have the area outside of DC popping harder than the city itself. The strongest of these DMV acts may have to be Lil Gray, who dropped his excellent Recycle Bins tape last month. Tracks like “Hoodrat” make it hard to believe these were the songs that Gray nearly left on the cutting room floor.
An album that had Uzi tied with his twin for Twitter’s most anticipated album of the year, Eternal Atake somehow lived up to the monumental hype. The track as expected featured some superb eerie trap beats from Philly production stalwarts Working on Dying, but the bests beat may have come from Chief Keef, whose “Chrome Heart Tags” has stayed in my playlist rotation since EA dropped. And then after keeping everyone begging for music for the better part of three years he blesses us with not just one but two tapes worth of excellent music, the later of which was packed with long awaited snippets and loosies that fans had been asking about for ages. Thank you Uzi!
Long Neck had a longer than expected road to releasing their excellent sophomore album, World’s Strongest Dog. However they took the lemons of unexpectedly needing to leave their label into the lemonade of connecting with fans in ways that they likely would have never had the opportunity to. The album is packed with power pop jams that all tie back in one way or another to the forests of the Garden State that our titular World’s Strongest Dog can be seen exploring on the cover. It’s a fun, at times funny, and always rewarding album, best accompanied by your favorite pooch, the local natural trails of your choice, and a pair of binoculars to catch a bird or two.
Maassai is one of the most impressive rappers in an extremely deep NYC underground. She has been making fans at live shows and with her excellent features on fellow underground standouts Medhane and Pink Siifu. More recently she has begun to prove herself as a solo artist with her phenominal C0n$truct!0n mixtape series, the second volume of which dropped back in March. Theses quick burst show maassai sounds good over just about everything, though they left me hungry for even more music.
Everyone misses Mac Miller, and rightfully so. The Pittsburg born rapper was a student of his craft, he sought out to learn more about music everyday with a genuine and childlike curiosity. He also knew a talented musician when he saw one and sought out to befriend and support every talented musician he knew. This was the last collection of tracks that he had been working on before his untimely passing, and it is as beautiful and penchant a collection as anything in his discography. RIP Mac.
The Pittsburg duo Machine Girl have changed a great deal since they first burst onto the scene in 2014. The group started as a solo experimental project and now seems to be an outlet for the duo to go out on a limb in whatever direction they want. The one consistent factor across their catalog being the music’s animalistic rage and manic unpredictability.
Medhane came into this year inspired by none other than Future Hendrix. While Future may seem as far from Medhane’s style and output possible, Medhane recognized his work ethic above all else and sought to release a series of cohesive projects that built on one another. With this year’s Full Circle and Cold Water and last year’s Own Pace, Medhane is walking in Future’s footsteps without sounding anything like him. These are thoughtful, introspective projects where Medhane has got both more comfortable and more proficient with each release. The sky is the limit for the young MC.
On his most recent release, “Weight of the World” MIKE reflects on the highs and lows of success and the expectations that come with it. While he continues to drop honest and self reflective bars about his life, MIKE is decidedly more guarded on this tape. As our resident therapist the HYD put it best in his write up, “Pivoting from the caring and generous identity he once portrayed, MIKE wants to remain open and vulnerable, but without wasting his emotional energy on those who just want to take advantage.” His raps and production here are consistent with his best work, even if they are a touch less triumphant.
Moses Sumney, the San Bernadino born and Asheville based singer-songwriter, blessed the world with this ambitious, sprawling, and gorgeous double LP. The beautiful string and horn arrangements feature performances from Thundercat, Shabaka Hutchings, and Adult Jazz. That kind of firepower was necessary to cover the scope of Sumney’s mission, and to provide a worthy accompaniment to his rich, dynamic, alluring voice. He’s a man working on a different plane of vision than the rest of us.
Skateboarder turned rapper and producer Sage Elsesser aka Navy Blue has been making noise in the hip hop underground for quite sometime. Àdá Irin, his long awaited debut, more than lives up to the considerable hype that Navy has built off his features and production work. Navy Blue told BandCamp that the title Àdá Irin comes from the ancient story of Ogun, the God of War and Iron known to West Africa’s Yoruba peoples, and Navy shows a great deal of gratitude for both his immediate family and his ancestors throughout the project. Beautiful beat selections and thoughtful lyrics throughout from this man of many talents.
Ness Lake is one of the many small but promising emo bands from the great state of Michigan. Their latest release, everything green and overgrown, is a stripped back meditation on a year gone wrong. The tracks are entirely self-produced by band leader Chandler Lach and feature little more than an acoustic guitar, a simple drum machine, and a synth here or there. Chandler plays with his voice a good deal, pitching it up and down to fit the song, but this music is as simple and lo-fidelity as you can come by in the digital age, all to match the melancholy of the music. The end result is a sort of digital age emo Nebraska, with Bruce’s harmonica subbed out for synths as Chandler takes us through the hell he has suffered and back.
Brooklyn based Nick Hakim’s psychedelic and otherworldly new album, Will This Make Me Good, is a deep groovy album that rewards attentive listening. I’d recommend nuzzling up with a warm cup of coffee and more importantly with a high quality pair of headphones that can help you properly chart the ebbs and flows of this wailing odyssey.
Okay Kaya, the bedroom pop alter ego of Brooklyn by way of Norway singer song writer Kaya Wilkins, brings listeners on an intimate journey through her delightfully odd life with Watch This Liquid Pour Itself. Over lovely folksy arrangements Kaya coos about her interests and habits and traumas and hopes and fears and dreams.
Spencer Rose didn’t even wanna drop illinois. He was nervous enough about it all to the point of recording all the album’s vocals in his car like he was Will Toledo. Luckily Spencer did indeed upload illinois to BandCamp, providing the world with a gorgeous lofi rock record that sounds equal parts My Bloody Valentine and Guided By Voices. There is a touch of whimsy to the album, but these are honest songs that often represented conversations that he couldn’t bring himself to have verbally with the person in question, so the humor really seems to be to cheer himself up rather than for us. As he is on the absolutely perfect cover, Spencer spends the album doing everything he can to try and smile as he works his way through his troubles.
It has been two years since the tragic passing of Caleb Scofield, and most people would not have expected Old Man Gloom to continue without him. However, with Stephen Brodsky (Cave In, Mutoid Man) joining the group, Old Man Gloom pulled the ultimate fast one on their fans by dropping two stellar albums in quick succession while only announcing a single album. I honestly count both as a package deal, but if I had to truly choose between the two, I would go for Seminar IX: Darkness of Being. “Procession of the Wounded” may be one of the greatest opening tracks to any album within any genre I have ever heard, as the driving piano and guitar riff just propels the track before the vocals kick in and just flatten you. The rest of the album is all you would expect from OMG (“The Bleeding Sun” and “In Your Name” being personal favorites) and more, and if these two albums are the final send-off to the band, they have left us with an excellent culmination to their discography.
It’s a shame how few opportunities Oolong have had to play About Your Imaginary Friend since it dropped in February. The band, in an emo-Voltron like move, has members from Long Island AND Philadelphia. I am surprised the SEC didn’t come in to break up that monopoly on suburban angst, and to boot they are among the most promising acts coming out of either part of the tri-state right now. Oolong has the balance of mathy and noodly riffs that meander on their merry way while still making tracks that would rock any basement from Philly to Fresno. Imagine one part Prince Daddy and the Hyena and one part Queen Moo. Also we gotta talk about how fucking incredible this cover is. My man is getting some massive air on that Arizona Green Tea board. I can’t wait to read the story about the band the kid in the orange shirt forms in a decade.
Oranssi Pazuzu seem to have been on a hell-bent path to push the boundaries of their established psychedelic black metal sound after their first release, but “Mestarin kynsi” seems to be their most enthralling work yet. The guitars churn and wail while being driven by the drums and bass to establish an almost hypnotic groove (particularly on the final track “Taivann portti) and the vocals just tear into you with their ferocity. The band shows further elements of experimentation that they had shown on their previous album, which only adds to the massive wall of sound they are creating. Though several of the tracks clock over the 8 minute mark, it never seems like a moment is either wasted or unnecessary in creating a dynamic atmosphere for the listener that will have fans constantly returning to this album to just dive right back in again. For Fans of: Wolves in the Throne Room, Blut Aus Nord, Earthless and Dark Buddha Rising.
Tiffany Majette, the airy Philadelphia r&b crooner better known as Orion Sun, added rapper to the long list of things she is good at on Hold Space for Me. Her gorgeous voice is still very much so the vocal point as she coos and hums her way through every track, but she didn’t let that stop her from spitting a bar or two as well. This album is full of the soulful yet breezy R&B jams that has earned her fans from coast to coast.
Pink Siifu dropped an album that matched the justifiable rage that Black people all over the country have been feeling for a long time and have been expressing since the murder of George Floyd. NEGRO feels inspired by 80s hardcore and punk as much as it is the lo-fi rap Siifu has become known for, employing each in equal measure to powerful ends. The album takes the radical politics that had always been present in Pink Siifu’s music and presents them with the anger and urgency that the current moment demands.
Hudson County’s POOTIE is best when he has the chance to link with one producer for an entire project to make a cohesive tape. He sought out to do exactly that with beatsmith Tab Jones, experimenting in the studio over the course of a few nights. After one particularly fruitful session the lights crashed except for one which served as a spotlight on the Ben Wallace Piston’s jersey that hangs in Pootie’s recording studio, and like that the name of the tape was set. Tab Jones chops up some samples and lays them down for POOTIE to stomp all over them, sounding like if Ghostface had a son from New Jersey. A tape as strong as the four time Defensive Player of the Year it’s named for.
Raw Materials’ new album could not be better advertised. This is quite literally a collection of white noise tracks from the Massachusetts based musician and producer, that were meant for sleep and relaxation. He had heard enough attempts from others and figured he would try his hand at developing pleasant and relaxing sounds, and boy did he hit the nail on the head.
If I was a betting man I’d bet that Julia Steiner, the lead singer and ring leader of Chicago band Ratboys, was a Wilco fan. After graduating Notre Dame she started a band that they labeled “post-country” which might leave you thinking country had been outlawed with how little is present. Now the young group is transitioning to a poppier alt-rock release with a few long, experimental, drony jams thrown in for good measure. Sound familiar? This is also far and away the strongest release from the group, with songs that are sure to stick on your Spotify pregame and road trip playlists for years to come.
I know what you are thinking. One look at this cover and you are afraid, because you know that Remi Wolf is younger than you and cooler than you and knows more about memes and Tik Tok than you and would probably even make fun of you if she met you. But do not get intimidated out of listening to one of the funkiest and most fun pop releases this year. Every song feels like it’s soundtracking a debaucherous party full of characters pulling hijinks, and every track is a slapper.
For fans of Retirement Party, Runaway Dog is a prime sophomore effort. Their high energy approach lets them measure up with the best pop-punk bands, but moments of intricate guitar and drums echo classic emo influences and show that Retirement Party brings more to the table than fast-paced fun. Frontperson Avery Springer’s stream of consciousness lyrics make the familiar world surreal, turning laments like “I’ll always know to look both ways before I cross the road/If I get hit, all that means is compensation” into catchy hooks that stay with you long after the record ends.
Run the Jewels have certainly found their groove, with their fourth effort offering everything their diehard fans have come to love. While RTJ4 is full of gigantic sound, social commentary, and hyperfast wordplay so dense it’ll have you scouring genius for hours, Killer Mike and El-P seem to be having a lot of fun with this one. The overall tone is less abrasive and more uplifting, and the features feel more organic than some on previous records. “ooh la la,” built around its “DWYCK” sample, stands out as a moment of pure fun (and the video is a perfect fit).
Baltimore rapper Shordie Shordie often gets called an east coast 03 Greedo. While the two could not have more different voices, they very much so approach music the same way. Each is known for confessional street anthems both rapped and sung in a warbally and distorted but harmonious croon. And that is the exact energy Shordie brings on > Music. His dynamic voice and ability to jump through different flows will have you forgetting this is a featureless tape.
Marcus ‘Swami Sound’ Harley nearly skipped the trip on which he would record his excellent It Is What It Is EP. Even though it was an incredibly unique opportunity to perform in Nairobi, he’d have to pay for his flight and he wasn’t sure it was worth the investment. However, Swami Sound made it more than worth his investment recording this EP on that trip. Swami thrives off of collaborating and on this tape bridges continents not just with the artists he features but with the genres he blends, with tracks inspired from everything from UK garage to Afropop.
We are all lucky to be walking the earth at the same time as Thundercat. The Grammy award winning king of the bass is one of the most impressive and talented musicians of his time. Starting out as a member of Sucidal Tendencies and then becoming a household name thanks to his work with Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat has now released two of the funkiest albums of the decade. After getting Kenny Loggins and Michael MacDonald on his last album Thundercat seems as inspired by those two as ever Thundercat’s falsetto bounces off the musty bassline on standout slap “Dragonball Durag”, though I don’t think Mike or Kenny have a video nearly as funny as Thundercat does to boot.
London based musician and producer Tom Misch and Yussef Dayes, one of the most innovative and intereting drummers coming out of the UK today, came together as mutual appreciators of one another’s art for a one off studio session. Quickly they had a handful of tracks and considered an EP, and then before they knew it they had ten tracks and an album. This is an LP full of two inspired musicians at the height of their powers trying to one up one another in the best of ways.
Japan’s favorite math rock group were back and as good as ever with their first album in three years. They continued to provide fans with the intricate rythms and chorus heavy jams that have made them fans not just all across Japan but across the world. This was Tricot’s major label debut, and while some fans have argued that these tracks are just updated versions of the finer points of their old hits, I for one, found that a tad cynical. While this is far from their most innovative album, it’s arguably their most accessible, and it certainly sounds no worse for revisiting themes that worked for the band in the past. If anything I expect it to serve as a fertile starting ground for new fans to get into Tricot as they continue to broaden their international scope.
Death metal, at the surface level, is not exactly a genre that most would describe as promoting deep emotional thought or having any sense of melody. However, Ulcerate’s latest album may be the one example I would show to non-listeners of the genre to fight against those aforementioned assumptions. Its an album that envelopes you with it’s punishing drum work, blistering guitars and vocals that paint a picture of a haunting yet almost freeing view of humans existence and it’s end. Ulcerate had already more than established themselves with their previous albums, but the production on this album takes their already stellar musicianship into a whole other category. I am scared to think how on Earth they will top this album, but I am extremely fascinated to see what they will do next while I keep drooling over this gift they have given us.
Doom Metal is not unlike other genres of music in the sense that it has its key elements, and while all of those are present in this album, Vile Creature’s latest work just seems to be on a different level than other entries in this genre as of late. The distorted guitar work, drums and vocals are abrasive and absolutely uncompromising in trying to have the listener feel all the emotion Vic and KW are pouring into this album. I feel like the final two tracks exemplify that the most, as the choral vocals of “Glory! Glory!” eventually mesh into the blistering closing track of “Apathy Took the Helm”. This album is certainly a unique contribution to the modern metal scene, as this duo seems determined to provide catharsis for their fans in a time where we all could certainly use some. For Fans Of: King Woman, Cloakroom, Primitive Man and Cough.
While this album did start Virgil’s streak of fucking up great NY rapper’s album covers, Westside Gunn was able to overcome that with ease and drop by far his best project to date. On standout “327” rips through the xylophone plucks on the gorgeous Camo Munk beat before letting Joey Bada$$ and Tyler the Creator in on the fun. Griselda is on top in 2020, Westside Gunn and his illustrious cohorts have officially put Buffalo on the map.
“Love Spectrum” changed Whoarei’s life before the project even existed. Whoarei dropped “Loving You Ain’t Complicated,” for a girl he was crushing on, having no idea that Kendrick Lamar was in fact among the people listening. The track got flipped into the famous refrain on “u” and Whoarei changed how he looked at music forever. He wrote an albums worth of dark electronic neo-soul tracks that will make a connection regardless of who happens to be listening.
When a rapper with bars as hard as WiFiGawd gets the chance to connect with a producer as hard, left field, and forward thinking as Tony Seltzer, you know the results are going to be prime. On the second volume of their Heat Check Wifi continues to pull up from half court and reign threes all over Tony Seltzer’s bubbling beats. The more these two work together the better they seem to understand what makes one another tick, as the pockets in beats like the bumpin “Bora Bora” feel like Seltzer custom fit them for Wifi to slide into.
Maybe my favorite surprise smash of the year, Woodrose’s self titled debut was made over the course of a month of file sharing in the beginning of quarantine. The album is full of tunes that sound like the audio embodiment of laying on a grassy hill with someone you love and pointing out the shapes in the clouds. These bright, beautiful tracks have touches of Mac DeMarco, Morrissey, and Michael MacDonald. To think that these three are just freshman at Villanova, I cannot wait to see what the next three years of classes brings them.
Florida has had a strong and resilient DIY scene for ages now, and the latest group who seems destined to take over the Sunshine State next has to be Worst Party Ever. There had been plenty of online chatter about how good their live show was before those were no longer a possibility. Luckily however their excellent new EP here, online is streaming here, online. The album features a smathering of newer cuts and old tracks that have been updated, reimagined, and renamed, most notably “False Teeth” which used to be called “Worst Party Ever”. They provide a fresh take on tracks that everyone from Sarasotta to Miami has been calling classics for ages, and serve as a perfect introduction to this promising group.
Chelsea’s native son, YL has been making a name for himself in rap for a number of years now. Alone Time has YL continuing to lace his silky smooth bars over a smathering of samples from some of the best producers out today. It starts strong with “Been Gone” and never relents with the shit talk and shouts out to any number of NYC institutions. He also has a limited edition run of the album on vinyl so get to coppin that ASAP!
LA based singer songwriter zach villere put forth a tape full of fun lofi tracks that fall somewhere between bedroom pop and alt-rock but that all have the bright Californian sun shining right through them. While from the cover art down you can tell that zach has a certain levity about his career and could never be described as “self serious” these are still raw tracks that document his many trials and tribulations. His videos in particular have caught a number of eyeballs, with Sore Throat getting the approval of not only Brockhampton’s Kevin Abstract but Tyler the Creator.