I don’t think I have listened to as many new albums and singles as I did this year, with the pandemic and with constant feeling to take my mind off of things. Here are the top 25 albums that caught my attention this year.
It’s really in no particular order and it’s mostly over the spectrum of my favorite genres. Still, I hope you will find some new music you have not heard before.
25 | 刺猬Hedgehog – A Newborn White Immortal
I do not know many Chinese bands but one of my absolute favourites would be Hedgehog, an indie rock with elements of post-rock. Somehow, whenever I listen or find Chinese rock music, whether it is indie rock, math rock or post-rock, which they do so incredibly well. “Newborn white…” is relatively fresh album that combines lyrics in English and Mandarin that sets perfect mood for late evenings and shows the typical sound of this band.
Recommended song: Yesterday was shining on (YouTube) | Listen on Spotify | Visit website | Indie / Post-Rock
24 | Troi Irons – Flowers, the album
What a voice, what an album. If you enjoy a rock vibes with powerful vocals and hint of grunge, you will absolutely love Troi Irons. I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to this album with beautiful lyrics, and Trois colour of voice which is very unique and you will not only remember her voice, you will want to hear more of it. But most importantly, listen to her lyrics that deal with heavy topics, such as the constant difficulty to be accepted for who a person is, what is their sexuality and demands on feminity.
Recommended song: Flowers (YouTube) | Listen on Spotify | Visit Instagram | Grunge / Indie
23 | Aiko – Expiration Date
I did not know any of the singles, rather I discovered Aiko’s Expiration Date when going through suggested artists and so I started the album with “Intro” and that really caught my attention, I am such a sucker for multi-instrumentalist, they have my utmost respect and Aiko is someone who really plays around with so many elements, not just with for example synths but also with sounds in general, her very beautiful voice included. It’s such nice upbeat album that I feel like fans of Aurora or Robyn could really enjoy. She combines so many elements, and part of for sure is her background, Aiko was born in Russia, raised in Czech republic and makes her music in the creative hub, London. Those are many influences and elements to combine and make your own.
Recommended song: Apology (YouTube) | Listen on Spotify | Visit Website | Synth Pop
22 | Gatsby in the Daze – 432
I have shockingly listened to very little shoegaze and the ones I did listened to were surprisingly all chinese-based bands. One of my absolute favourites this year was new album from Gatsby in the Daze, speaking of multi-instrumentalists earlier, this applies double with this band, they will use everything and anything in their disposal that somehow fits the songs perfectly and creates their sound, a combination of very melodic guitar at the top of the songs with blue influence that slowly melts into lo-fi and shoegaze style music. Highly recommend to not only listen to this new album but also check other of their work. If you are on the lookout for psychedelic vibes, this is perfect. Great for fans of Balthazar I would say as well.
21 | King Krule – Man Alive!
I almost missed this entire album, if it wasn’t for my friend to show it to me. King Krule is someone I respect immensely for his creative approach to his music and everything that surrounds it and this new album is just proof of how far he can go. He is an artist that does not shy away from topics that should make you so uncomfortable or feel so relatable it’s gonna make you cry, wrapped in poetic approach to his lyricism as well as the art rock music he creates.
20 | Open Mike Eagle – Anime, Trauma and Divorce
Sometime ago I have seen a review for this album which said something like “I wish he showed us bigger deeper picture” and I thought that makes no sense. The idea of this album is to show through music how he deals with the issues in his life and how the pop culture often stands at the center, as somewhat therapeutically essential presence. We all deal with out problems differently and we all try to find our footings in them in different way and Open Mike Eagle expresses that through his very unique approach to hip hip in its top tier art hip hop form. I would absolutely recommend this album and this artist, particularly for his lyricism he deservers lot more credit for than he is getting. Because you notice, on top of the chill beats that are very relaxing is a very heavy and deep topic, to which many people can relate in their own way.
19 | Se So Neon – Nonadaptation 비적응
When it comes to Korean music you would most likely think of K-pop, which essentially just means pop music, it’s only difference being that it is fully or partly in Korean, concept western media don’t seem to be able to grasp. Like any other country’s music scene, Korean music scene too is very diverse and not enough spoken to in regards to their independent scene. One of the best indie rock / experimental albums I have heard this year must be “Nonadaptation” by Korean band Se So Neon.
They put so many elements into their music, not afraid of switching them up mid song, which may sound like it breaks the song, but quite the opposite, it adds so much to it, as Se So Neon build up their unique sound not only in their approach to music, but vocals as well, catching your attention immediately. If you open your mind to Korean language, you will discover many wonderful and creative artists and Se So Neon are right on the top of that.
18 | Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats – UNLOCKED
My god, this album? Mini album? EP? Honestly I am not sure. But it’s absolutely brilliant. The combination of artists like Kenny Beats and Denzel Curry is exactly the type of things that make me go crazy over hip hop. Between the creativity of these two you get lyrical genius with his unique raspy colour and beats that are not afraid to go all out. I absolutely enjoyed this album, there is really nothing else to say because the each and every one of the songs on it says it all. This project, I wish we seen more of it. All the songs are curated brilliantly with MVs to accompany them.
Recommended song: Take_it_Back_v2 | Listen on Spotify | Visit Instagram (Denzel) | Visit YouTube (Kenny) | Hip Hop / Rap
17 | Stella Jung – STELLA I.
Stella Jung is a Korean singer who released her first full album this year and it’s such a joy to listen to. Infused with elements of jazz, soul and ballad it’s perfect night listen. While some songs are upbeat, other are mellow, speaking on many topics from love, to emotions. I enjoyed this album a lot and keep coming back to it, especially in the evenings. I would say it’s the perfect singer to discover if you already love Norah Jones or Diana Krall. Her soulful voice delivers beautiful vocals that go well with the music, fitting perfectly together making it album that falls to the easy-listening category. The lyrics itself jump between Korean and English.
Recommended song: Villain | Listen on Spotify | Visit Instagram | Jazz / Ballad
16 | Samuel Seo – UNITY II.
Staying in Korea for little longer, I would like to introduce you to one of my favorite artists. Samuel Seo is a Korean rapper and producer but this album is very far from hip hop, instead gives you the perfect jazz / lounge experience. Although I have enjoyed his last year album little more, where he experimented more, this one is again beautiful listen mixing many elements and showing the ability of his vocals, be it in low it high registry. What is amazing on this album is the symbiosis between the instrumentalists who participated on the album 허아민(keyboards), 최준영 (bass), 권한결 drums), 한덕용 (guitar) and Samuel himself, the chemistry shows even more in the live clips from studio, you can check on YouTube.
15 | Run the Jewels – RTJ4
When it comes to rap or hip hop music it’s a culture and style that I found my way to pretty late, having rock’n’roll and blues influence in my life but also being from place where hip hop is style that arrived or rather was imported later (also due to political aspects of the country) but sometimes you hear an album and music that is so shockingly good and you can just tell “that’s top of the game” without needed to know anything deep about it, that is a power that music as an element of art, has. And that is how I feel about “RTJ4” album.
Not only are the beats amazing, not only did I found it through RATM (which is hilarious) but it’s a state of art as a whole and even if you don’t listen to rap music, this is something you should check out, it may surprise you. Run the Jewels is a project made of producer El-P and American rapper Killer Mike, the album features hell of a big names drops like Pharrell Williams, Zack de la Rocha (hence RATM) or the queen herself Mavis Staples.
14 | NIKI – MOONCHILD
As debuts go, the debut of the Indonesian singer and songwriter NIKI is very strong. This singer, under the 88rising label, released brilliant album divided into three acts that is not afraid to offer many changes not only mid its acts, but songs as well. Combines with her vocals that have both dreamy and powerful hint to them, Moonchild makes for perfect debut. The record has its base in R’n’B but it goes way beyond that scope and NIKI allows herself to dive into experimenting with her own sound but also with the definitions of modern rhythm and blue and expands to other genres, such as pop / lounge and indie or folk. You can find it all in what seemingly could be perceived as R’n’B is much more.
13 | Kenshi Yonezu – Stray Sheep
Moving to another corner of the world – Japan, and you’ll find very talented rock singer, musician and songwriter Kenshi Yonezu who is very creative not only with this songs but also with the visuals that often accompany them. Kenshi Yonezu has that unique Japanese rock / indie sound but on top of it he adds he own colours, be it through the way he works with his music, adding many unique elements or through his voice that keeps on lingering on your mind. Stray Sheep is an album that mixes upbeat rock songs with emotional ballads whose inspiration lies in the New Testament and rightfully has become the most selling Japanese album for 2020.
12 | HYUKOH – THROUGH LOVE
Another of my favorite bands from the alternative Korean scene, HYUKOH are not only great indie band in the South Korea, they are great indie rock band in general. They combine number of influences, always exploring new ways to which they can take their music, that is heavily based on instruments and yet keep very ambient (ish) sound with chill vibes. This new album offers full album experience with songs that further explore bands abilities as composers who are on a lookout for something new to add to their music. It is overaly an album with very soft and chill sound, probably the most chill albums they ever did, since they usually implement more rock(ish) sound now and then. This one is little on the easy-listening side when you can just vibe.
11 | Raleigh Richie – Andy
I absolutely love the music Raleigh Richie makes, its a mix of so many elements from hip hop to dance, to indie rock, it’s always absolute joy. Apart from combining many aspects in his music he is more importantly wonderful lyricist and that’s what ultimately draw me to his music, hearing “Bloodsport” years ago. He does not shy away from speaking about heavy topics, like depression, mental health, love, relationships and everything in between of the modern day life. This album is truly fun to listen to, it jumps up and down, taking you on a rollercoaster ride, meanwhile you can bop your head and hips to the unique beats based on instruments. The great thing about this album is also the Instrumental version of it that Raleigh released simultaneously.
10 | Joji – Nectar
Joji is an interesting one, his music jump among many elements and yet remains very attractive to many types of listeners, from lovers of alternative and experimental style to listeners who enjoy the “mainstream” sound. “Nectar” is an amazing album that has a lot to offer in regards getting to know Joji as musician and explore all his producing styles. In the time stamp close to 60 minutes you go from his soulful music based around the piano and neo-soul style to songs based more heavily around experimental sound, hip hop and a style, that if it were colour, it would most likely be dark lit neon. Just like NIKI, this Japanese singer and songwriter also comes from the home of 88rising label, with songs entirely in English varying in many topics – forgiveness, life and its many emotions in an almost hypnotizing music style.
9 | QUEEN BEE – BL
And this time we will stay in Japan for little longer and explore even more experimental sound. While Joji is heavily based around electronical aspects of music, Japanese band Queen Be jumps heavily into rock, yet keeping it very unique to their playful sound. Their latest album “BL” is a record that talks about many aspects of life, for example being different and open about who you are, such as in song “PRIDE” and what is important in love, wrapped in their typical sound that has no fear in its experiments, strongly resolving around melodic guitar. It’s a very fun album, especially if you are not afraid of adding and trying out a little different sound to your music library. Their lyrics are fully in Japanese and the main vocal Avu-chan will attract you immediately, having a very smooth deeper colour that she is not afraid not only embracing but also explore further. They are a band that expresses emotions freely, which often stuns their live crowds.
8 | BTS – BE
This is an album that should not have existed, not in sense that it would not be a good album, but because it is a project brought on by the ongoing pandemic. So at the time the members worked on composing the songs, they should have been on their world tour with the record released earlier in 2020. “BE” has a unique concept which allowed all the members participating not only in producing, but also creating the whole concept from the idea behind the songs down to the photoshoot ideas. The album itself is a soundtrack to how many people feel about the pandemic and sudden stop that world has been forced into. While some songs think of the perspective of fans, they don(t forget to include their own perspective as an artists, such as in J-Hope produced track “Dis-Ease”.
7 | Kaleida – Odyssey
One of my absolutely favourites dropped surprising album during the summer and I have not been able to stop listening to it since. I think it was on Alt-J concert, to which Kaleida were an opening act, where I found them. Their sound could be described and electropop that has an ability to be both dreamy and haunting. This new album takes you on a journey from the very fist song, their lyrics with a hints of longing, poetics and sadness. The album was created uniquely, while the two members lived apart, separated by the Atlantic, and came up with beautiful poetic Odyssey.
6 | Hurts – Faith
Staying with the electro-synth genre just turning to bit darker elements in it, delving into the rock and ballad aspects every now and then. Hurts have been one my favourites since their release of Happiness so I was very excited over the the new release. The amazing thing on Hurts is their impeccable way to show their emotions, where are they now, what has changed and what has been on their minds. Every album they release is a nod to all that, expressing it through little changes in their sound, not abandoning what makes them Hurts in the process. This album has been full of emotions that scream at you even though Theo sings in complete calmness. An album I enjoyed listening to throughout the year and I will continue to do so and hope the upcoming tour will indeed happen.
5 | Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA
I don’t know how deep under the rock have I been living, but I have only discovered this singer last year and fallen in love completely and practically immediately, it was almost embarrassing. She is incredibly daring with her music, not only on the scope of her career but in terms of her album. It jumps from ballad, dance, to nu-metal and even the early 2000s sound, what a journey. Not only is she creative in her music, her lyrics are another joy. Sawayama is someone who plays with words beautifully and delivers lyrics that are like a balance between ones emotional state where you can say your piece but then you reach the point where you simply want for people to shut the fuck up! Beautiful, beautiful album that I have on a vinyl now, what an experience that is. This is the type of album that is meant to be play live and I hope we get to that soon.
4 | MINO – TAKE
Definitely one of my favorite Korean artists and at the same time one of the most underappreciated globally. Korean rapper, producer but also painted (if you are in London, you can now see his paintings as part of Korean Eye 2020 in the Saatchi gallery). This is a second solo album from Song Mino, who is part of the Korean idol band WINNER. MINO is someone who has very unique style in both his rap and the beat he makes, and while the first solo album was daring in his own sound, this one shows how much he explored his abilities with beats. He is also someone whose lyricism cannot be ignored, often playing with words in a way that is impressing not only the general public, but also the academic one, in regards to his use of the Korean language. On this new album, Mino talk a lot about emotions in many states, the need to get out there, the need to fall in love or existence.
3 | BTS: Map of The Soul: 7
Staying within’ the Korean music spectrum, BTS are a band that transcends the idol category, be it with their music or their concepts. For the “MOTS7“, they continue with the concept established in “Map Of The Soul: Persona”, heavily inspired by the Jung philosophy, which is expanded further with songs such as “Shadow” and “Ego”, creating a whole journey through fear all the way to accepting who we are. BTS explore number of sounds on this record and while it’s not as continually together as the previous series (Love Yourself or HYYH) the album draws a clear picture on who the 7 members are and how far they’ve come in their 7 years.
2 | Glass Animals – Dreamland
Glass Animals are a band whose creativity never seizes to amaze me. 2020 was to be a big return with their “Dreamland” album and despite all that happen it was a huge and grand return to the scene with a brilliant and the most personal album the band put out yet. In sense having to abide by the restrictions allowed us to have a wonderful online live in The Internet as well as many background stories about number of the songs, the new and the old. Dreamland is such a brilliant albums with so many sounds implemented into it. What Glass Animals are particularly good at is the build up of emotions with their songs, it’s absolutely disarming.
1 | Agust D – D-2
I was wondering whether to really put this album here, and all the way to the top too, since it’s technically a mixtape but there was not a single album that I have listened to or enjoyed more last year, and those 3k plays on Last.fm prove as much, yes, 3k. This mixtape, compared to the previous one (Agust D) is suits my style just perfectly, it has chill beats, it has wild beats, it has that old school aspect to it, great vocal featuring’s and lyrics that are meaningful, that you can relate to and understand, which is quality you can notice in Min Yoongis style of writing.
Agust D is better known as SUGA from Korean band BTS. All of the members are active a soloists as well showing more of they music style and colours.
Hope you will find some music you have never heard of or that intrigues you. Obviously there were more amazing albums, such as the brilliant live album from Nick Cave, new albums from Fiona Apple, Alicia Keys or David Nance and more. But I picked the albums that I truly enjoy throughout the whole year and maybe albums you might not have heard of before.