The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed individuals, including today’s top artists, to reflect on their personal passions and strengths. Critics are saying that this year may have seen some of the best music in years. The albums we selected were scored on a scale from 1 to 10 in four categories — Experience, Originality, Musicality, and Aesthetic; the average was taken to get the scores posted below.
how i’m feeling now – Charli XCX
This is definitely an album for those who can appreciate experimentation; this eleven-track project takes “hyper-wave” to a whole new level, turning a new trend in pop music into a genre of its own. Commonly known for her appearance on Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” “Boom Clap” and other cliché pop songs, Charli surprised fans with a style that critics are calling her most authentic one yet.
With tracks like “forever” and “i finally understand,” the project is uniquely a “quarantine album,” matching the energy of any setting, whether it be relaxing at home or driving aimlessly through Los Angeles. Everything down to the title and cover art, Charli establishes a sense of authenticity, discussing topics that are extremely relatable to her following, whether it’s missing friends and social events or adapting to a new style of living.
Kid Krow – Conan Gray
This album was one of the best debuts I have ever heard. Conan Gray, having left UCLA to tour, provides us with the perfect sequel to his high school project, Sunset Season. This was the perfect mix of upbeat songs and tear-jerkers. The upbeat songs were so catchy and reminiscent of earlier music; however, he definitely explored newer styles like alternative and rock while still maintaining a familiar sound.
One thing that the album excelled in was how real and personal his experiences were.
This is a project that portrays many new sides to him. His ballad “The Story” really sums up his personal journey, as well as his journey as an artist. The fact that everything is so simple is so inspiring to musicians, who started to cover these songs within a week after the release.
In A Dream – Troye Sivan
This six-track EP, although short, had the emotional value of a full-length album and really established Australian pop-singer Troye Sivan’s growth as an artist. The project was very experimental in instrumentation and vocals, blending alternative pop with hip-hop, electronic, and R&B, whether it was the techno breakdown at the end of “Take Yourself Home” or the reverberated autotune style in “Easy.”
As one could tell by the title, the EP is dreamy in so many ways: the abstract lyrics, the dramatic instrumentation, even the cover art. This project definitely made the list as it is super introspective, which is indicative of how quarantine impacted artists’ production of work.
folklore – Taylor Swift
Seemingly out of nowhere, Taylor Swift released folklore. The spontaneous release of the album alongside Swift’s blending of genres surprised fans all over the world. Starting off her career as a young country artist, Swift transitioned into pop as she has gotten older. Folklore seems to be a love letter to both genres. Folklore, taking a more narrative approach than previous albums has lyrics that go beyond some of her superficial break up songs of the past. With vivid imagery, her lyrics transport you into a rural setting, as Swift takes you on a journey. Its folksy vibe, mixed with modern instrumentation makes it the perfect song to drive at night to.
Imploding The Mirage – The Killers
The Killers are an American Rock band that have provided many worldwide hits, like Mr. Brightside, for nearly 20 years. Their new Album Imploding the Mirage includes some of their staple characteristics like the inclusion of electric guitar alongside the prominent usage of drums. However, their style is not dated, as this album feels fresh, rejuvenating the excitement around the band. The complex verbal arrangements seem akin to the Beatles or the Beach Boys, showing the skill of these veteran musicians. The album’s message and overall feel is very optimistic, provoking the same emotion a John Hughes film would, where the songs’ lyrics are full of wishful thinking and hope. The complimentary uses of electronic and traditional instruments perfectly displays the message of each song. With hits like “Dying Breed” and “Blowback,” Imploding the Mirage will make you forget about current events for at least 40 minutes.
Blush – Maya Hawke
In her debut album Blush, Stranger Things star Maya Hawke, flexes her musical muscles. The album, much like her earlier singles, focuses mostly on her vocal ability. Hawke swoons her audience with her soft voice. The prevalent use of guitar often intentionally takes a backseat to Hawke’s singing. The songs are sweet harmonies that act as an instant agent of relaxation, as most of her songs are very slow and melodic, akin to a lullaby.
Dreamland – Glass Animals
Dreamland is psychedelic pop band Glass Animals’ most complete album. The album’s melodious yet upbeat sound comes at the end of a long string of unfortunate events for the band members. In 2019, drummer and bassist Joe Seaward was hit by a car, forcing the band to cancel or postpone much of their tour. Much of the album focuses on the band’s despair through laments like the flowy and robotic “Tangerine.” The album’s music videos showcase life in a pandemic: Heatwave’s video features Dan Bayley, the band’s lead, solo in his neighborhood streets. It is filmed by his neighbors from their windows and represents a notable shift from lively and even crowded past videos like “Tokyo Drifting.” The album’s production combines Dr. Dre influenced elements of R&B with the instrumental elements reminiscent of Radiohead and the Beatles.
Suga – Megan Thee Stallion
Megan Thee Stallion’s Suga stands out among other rappers with its bold lyricism and aggressive delivery that manages to stay fun and exciting throughout the record. Megan’s ferocious style works to her advantage in tracks that display both her sexuality and vulnerability. She maintains her upbeat, in-your-face style even in more sensitive tracks that deal with her experiences being cheated on and living with fame. Megan’s tendency to keep things fun extends to her production choices as well, such as is the case with a beat featuring slashing swords in the aptly named Captain Hook. In a genre in which female artists have been few and far between up until recently, Megan has established herself as a top-tier female rapper.
Eternal Atake – Lil Uzi Vert
Lil Uzi Vert’s hit came at a time of need for the emo rap industry, securing its place as one of most influential projects since the passing of Lil Peep and XXXTentacion. Uzi utilizes electronic elements to portray his album as a journey through space, through the unknown. He wakes up after being abducted by aliens, tied up and in the unknown. The album’s production is exaggerated and larger than life, containing lyrics like “I live my life like a cartoon.” The album also focuses on Uzi’s humanness, as he laments about feeling high and removed from life and his friends.