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Here Are The Best Albums and Songs of 2020 (So Far)

July 1 marks the official halfway point of 2020…does it feel like it’s been a lifetime to anyone else? While I’m sure millions of people are very much looking forward to getting into 2021, we still have six more months to go. Even though it’s been tough, to say the least, music will continue to be released.

The team over at Chicago Haze has compiled what we think to be the best albums and songs of the year so far. Each of us picked six albums and ten songs to share. Did your favorites make the list?

In chronological order:

REVIEW: Mac Miller's 'Circles' reveals inner thoughts, honors ...

Circles – Mac Miller (January 17, Warner)

Full disclosure: I’m a huge Mac Miller fan, and enthusiastically followed him throughout his career until his tragic passing in 2018. Watching his artistic progression from a “schoolyard” rapper to a soulful singer was enthralling. And in retrospect, it was heartbreaking, because so much of his music in the last few years of his life showed he was tormented by demons. Listening to Circles for the first time was a somber experience. I listened to it three times front-to-back, by myself, at an art museum in Chicago. Even though it’s a posthumous release, it’s a great album, because it remains true to Mac. “Woods” still gets to me. Rest in peace. – Mitch

Modus Vivendi – 070 Shake (January 17, G.O.O.D. Music / Def Jam)

Modus Vivendi is the most memorable debut I’ve heard in a long time. Danielle Balbuena has equal parts swagger and vulnerability, but they don’t cancel each other out. They collide to create raw, glittery hip-hop that explores young queer love and loss. “Guilty Conscience” was my first favorite track of the new year, and I’ve yet to get tired of it. Other highlights include upbeat songs “Under the Moon” and “Morrow,” as well as the closer “Flight 319.” – Emma 

New Jersey-based newcomer 070 Shake, at only 23-years-old, is already something special. I first heard Shake on Kanye West’s “Ghost Town,” and was immediately drawn in by her androgynous sound. Modus Vivendi is an orbiting masterpiece of psychedelia, autotune, 808s, and synths. This album is strong from beginning to end, and I guarantee you it’s unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. Don’t sleep on “Divorce” – the outro is beautiful. – Mitch

Grimes: Miss Anthropocene Album Review | Pitchfork

Miss Anthropocene – Grimes (February 21, 4AD)

Miss Anthropocene is the result of an artistically liberated Grimes who is making the music she wants to make, the way she wants to make it. Still wonderfully weird, Grimes isn’t making eccentric songs for eccentricity’s sake anymore, and Miss Anthropocene sounds smoother overall. “Violence” and “My Name is Dark” are phenomenal songs, and “Delete Forever” is an entirely new terrain to Grimes. Worthy of your time, and one of the year’s best albums. – Mitch

Soccer Mommy: color theory Album Review | Pitchfork

Color Theory – Soccer Mommy (February 28)

Twenty-two-year-old Sophie Allison toned down her harsher rock tendencies to make a more mellow, 90s-inspired record, and it suits her wonderfully. I’m a sucker for a good theme, and Color Theory’s division into blue, yellow, and grey sections takes the album from good to great. It’s a record primarily about depression, but there’s a glowing serenity about it, especially in tracks like “Circle the Drain” and “Night Swimming.” Soccer Mommy is, above all, an incisive lyricist, and Color Theory does her incredible justice. – Emma

Dua Lipa: Future Nostalgia Album Review | Pitchfork

Future Nostalgia – Dua Lipa (March 27, Warner)

I hate being proven wrong, but Dua Lipa’s ability to transform my indifference toward her music into full-fledged stanning deserves an award (preferably a Grammy). Future Nostalgia is the best pop “era” we’ve seen in a while, and much more established stars are struggling to nail this kind of record. It’s sexy, cheeky, retro, and an absolute crime that we can’t dance to this album in clubs for the foreseeable future. “Cool” and “Levitating” are instant highlights, and I haven’t heard a better pop song since “Physical” was released as the second single. – Emma

While I was definitely a Dua stan well before her debut came out (shoutout to her midday Lollapalooza performance WAY back in 2016), I was left only mildly interested in her first album. It was of course, stacked with massive pop bangers like “New Rules” and “IDGAF,” but a handful of tracks felt like a misfire. After the first few singles were released for Future Nostalgia, I had high hopes that it would deliver more of a cohesive sound, which definitely ended up happening. FN is full of dancefloor-ready disco tracks that left us wanting to dance out of quarantine even before it arrived in full force. Only time will tell to see if these songs stick it out through 2021, when we’re (possibly?) allowed in sweaty bars again. – Kristin

Empress Of: I'm Your Empress Of Album Review | Pitchfork

I’m Your Empress Of – Empress Of (April 3, Terrible)

Lorely Rodriguez is back and better than ever. On an album that’s almost entirely produced on her own, the 30-year-old synth-pop singer, songwriter, and producer shines brightly on the 12-song, 33-minute album that’s full of Robyn-esque dance tracks that pack a punch from start to finish. To say I was blown away with this album during my first listen would be an understatement: the intricate production choices, incredibly personal lyricism, and overall storytelling feel of the album is strong enough to keep me returning to it for repeated listening sessions from its release date to today. Artists like Dua Lipa and Lady Gaga may have made big statements this year with dance-oriented albums, but my recommendation is to not let this one slip through the cracks. – Kristin

The Strokes - The New Abnormal

The New Abnormal – The Strokes (April 10, Cult and RCA)

I was worried that The Strokes’ comeback would feel self-indulgent or outdated. But The New Abnormal is breezily honest and just plain fun. Lead single “Bad Decisions” is pure exhilaration: “Selfless” and The Adults Are Talking” are also standouts. It’s refreshing to hear The Strokes update their sound a bit; the Tame Impala influence on “Eternal Summer” is obvious. But this record still sounds like them. In fact, it’s exactly like what I hoped they would sound like in the new decade.  – Emma

All I can say about The New Abnormal is that it’s fun to listen to. The Strokes’ first album in over seven years is seemingly nothing exceptional, yet it still manages to sound completely fresh and original. With just nine songs, absolutely none of them are skip-worthy, and when it finishes, it leaves you wanting just a little more. The whole album is dotted with wonderful melodies, hooks, and chord progressions, and it sounds like how The Strokes should sound in 2020, if that makes sense. “Selfless,” “Why Are Sundays So Depressing,” and “At The Door” are all standouts. – Mitch 

Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters Album Review | Pitchfork

Fetch the Bolt Cutters – Fiona Apple (April 17, Epic)

It’s 2020, and I thought every way the female experience could be explored in music had already been done. But Fetch the Bolt Cutters is lightning in a bottle. Apple’s admittedly bizarre record is a kaleidoscope of echoing pianos, unconventional percussion, and poetry worthy of a Pulitzer. It’s one of those rare albums that feels directly extracted from the soul of its creator. Selecting favorites is like pulling teeth, but “Under the Table,” “Relay,” and “Newspaper” are the highlights for me.  – Emma

When we look back at 2020, we’ll remember the soundtrack to one of the most chaotic years of our lives. For me, it was Fetch The Bolt Cutters, just about a month into quarantine, trying to adjust to a new normal. This album was anything BUT normal, and its chaotic energy felt entirely too poignant to the times not to include. I’ll be the first to admit that I was not familiar with Fiona’s catalog, but knew that this album was going to be a big moment, and it definitely delivered. – Kristin

Sawayama – Rina Sawayama (April 17, Dirty Hit)

Simply put, the debut album from Sawayama is a spectacle. How does someone manage to sound like Lady Gaga and Evanescence at the same time? Sawayama is sprawling, abrasive, and electrifying all at once. So many songs are straight gold, from the anthemic opener “Dynasty” to the rousing “Who’s Gonna Save U Now?” What genre is this album? Metal, pop, R&B, rock? Who knows, and who cares—there’s a little something for everyone if you keep an open mind. – Mitch

Screen Shot 2020-06-18 at 12.04.59 PM

how i’m feeling now – Charli XCX (May 15, Atlantic)

As someone who has tended to feel more comfortable being a fan of Charli XCX from afar, I was pleasantly surprised by this album. how i’m feeling now was made entirely in quarantine in just six weeks and represented how Charli was feeling in the moment (hence the title). Though there are excerpts throughout the album that are a bit too, well, robotic for my general taste, the overall vibe of this album is futuristic, genre-bending, and overall just really fun. As Emma wrote in Chicago Haze’s piece “Charli XCX: Pop Music in the Age of Quarantine,”  “How I’m Feeling Now has no guiding narrative but the present moment and is more interested in being an evangelist for the possibilities of distanced collaboration than parading Charli’s own aesthetics or talent.” – Kristin

Moses Sumney: græ Album Review | Pitchfork

græ– Moses Sumney (May 15, JAGJAGUWAR)

“I insist upon my right to be multiple; even more so, I insist upon the recognition of my multiplicity.” I had never heard of Sumney until a friend told me about his 2019 single “Polly,” and græ really took me by surprise. Listening to this album isn’t a “pleasant” experience, per se —it is a profoundly intricate one. It’s layered, and at many points, it feels messy. Vulnerable. It feels like we’re watching Sumney bloom before our very eyes, coming to terms with his naked range of emotions and irreconcilable human contradictions. This is a twisting, emotional album, with a vast array of multitudes – undoubtedly one of the year’s best. – Mitch

Perfume Genius: Set My Heart on Fire Immediately Album Review ...

Set My Heart on Fire Immediately – Perfume Genius (May 15, Matador)

There is something about Mike Hadreas that feels independent of the time/space continuum. The retro Prince inspiration is obvious, there’s a sense of futurism about him, and he also seems to be a Baroque era time-traveler. I can’t put my finger on why; Perfume Genius is inimitable and exists in his own radiant universe. Set My Heart on Fire feels similarly timeless. It’s sad, sensual, lonely, and as androgynous as Perfume Genius is as a figure. His production is as intricate as ever, especially on tracks like “Without You,” “On the Floor,” and “Nothing at All.” – Emma

Punisher – Phoebe Bridgers (June 18, Dead Oceans)

It’s hard to put into words a way that an album makes you feel when a feeling you’ve never felt before. Though Phoebe’s music has certainly gotten me in my feels in the past, Punisher has taken those emotions to a whole new level. It’s been said a million times: Bridgers has a way of describing the most mundane details like they are life-changing moments. Finding beauty in sadness is a trope that’s been overdone since the dawn of time, but something about this album has revived the concept in an unprecedented way. Also—ironically enough, the concept of being a “Punisher” is about fans who linger just a bit too long in hopes of striking up a conversation with their favorite artist at all costs: which feels all too familiar to my brief run-in with Bridgers at a show in Chicago last year. – Kristin

Haim: Women in Music Pt. III Album Review | Pitchfork

Women In Music Pt. III – Haim (June 26, Columbia)

This album has only been out for a few days, but I was instantly hooked after my first listen. There’s something about the HAIM sisters’ ability to make music that sounds contemporary yet unique while simultaneously pulling inspiration from artists like Joni Mitchell and Andre 3000. Recognition for Women in Music Pt. III wouldn’t be complete without giving a nod to Rostam’s production work, who also collaborated with HAIM on their 2017 release, Something To Tell You. The music that HAIM has released in the past has always been steeped in universal truths, but in this album specifically, they really draw you in with personal anecdotes of individual struggles that still feel relatable in the broad sense. No wonder they’re BFFS with Taylor Swift. – Kristin

Best Songs:

  • “Guilty Conscience” – 070 Shake
  • “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” – The 1975
  • “Internet Religion” – Baby Queen
  • “Famous” – Car Seat Headrest
  • “claws” – Charli XCX
  • “People, I’ve Been Sad” – Christine and the Queens
  • “Cool” – Dua Lipa
  • “Physical” – Dua Lipa
  • “Love Is A Drug” – Empress Of
  • “Newspaper” – Fiona Apple
  • “Cayendo” – Frank Ocean
  • “21” – Gracie Abrams
  • “Delete Forever” – Grimes
  • “Violence (Club Mix)” – Grimes
  • “Now I’m In It” – HAIM
  • “Up From A Dream” – HAIM
  • “I Can’t Breathe” – H.E.R.
  • “Hand Me Downs” – Mac Miller
  • “Polly” – Moses Sumney
  • “I Know The End” – Phoebe Bridgers
  • “On Track” – Tame Impala
  • “Gaslighter” – The Chicks
  • “Flowers of Neptune 6” – The Flaming Lips
  • “Bad Decisions” – The Strokes
  • “Selfless” – The Strokes
  • “In Your Eyes (Remix)” – The Weeknd ft. Doja Cat
  • “Snowchild” – The Weeknd
  • “Surefire (Piano Version)” – Wilderado

 

 

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