The comprehensive 2020 music album review

By Will Lazzara

            2020 was full of ups and downs but one thing we could count on was newly released music from our favorite artists’. Some of the biggest names in the mix were Harry Styles, Taylor Swift, and Justin Bieber. They all succeeded in producing top hits on the billboard charts. Taylor and Justin placed first and second on the top 100 artist’s chart. Many of our favorite artists had songs in the top 100 songs of 2020, like Ariana Grande, Drake, Dua Lipa, and many more. Ellie Goodfriend is a freshman at Ponte Vedra High School whose favorite album of 2020 was Willow by Taylor Swift because it was an entirely new genre for one of her favorite artists. To put it even simpler the PVHS sophomore Tori Balser loved the song One of Them Girls by Lee Brice just because of its’ good beat. However, Madison Schramm, a freshman at PVHS, enjoyed the new releases from AJR, Dua Lipa, and Kane Brown for a bit more than just how good they sound. Her favorite songs included Be Like That, Levitating, and Bang! She explains “they are all really good songs and I like the messages behind them”. It is safe to say that despite the numerous downs 2020 brought on, newly released music was at an all-time high with its’ numerous head-bopping hits.  -Chloe Goode

The PVHS Tiburon staff’s standout albums of 2020:

Starting Over- Chris Stapleton

Released in late-August of 2020, Starting Over, Chris Stapleton’s fourth studio album touches back to his natural roots as a Nashville songwriter. The album was nearly entirely written alongside Stapleton’s wife, Morgane Stapleton, allowing his lyrics and music to be written comfortably in domestic joy. The title track “Starting Over” features harmonies provided by Morgane Stapleton, serving as a counterpoint to Chris’ baritone voice. Stormy rock piece “Watch You Burn” serves as Stapleton’s response to the 2017 mass shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas, being county music’s most direct response to the matter. 

You and Your Friends- Peach Pit

Peach Pit is a rising band out of Vancouver, Canada. They received some acclaim after their 2016 EP Sweet FA. People quickly came to love their long guitar solos, catchy melodies, and crunchy production. They gained some more recognition from their 2017 album Being So Normal. After a three-year hiatus, the Vancouver foursome released their best music yet with their Indie-Rock album You and Your Friends. The group refined their sound, with the lead guitarist Chris Vanderkooy delivering some of his best riffs yet. Some standouts from the album were: “Feeling Low (F***boy Blues),” “Black Licorice,” “Figure 8,” “Camilla I’m Home,” and hit single “Shampoo Bottles”. This album showed a lot of potential and it seems like the group has a bright future.

Is This It- The Strokes

Nearly marking 19 years since The Strokes debut success, Is This It, the band released their heavily 80s, New Wave inspired, The New Abnormal, their sixth studio album to date. Album opener “The Adults are Talking” offers a repetitive beat from Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out” followed by an intricate structure of micro-leads and riffs. The band brought in acclaimed producer, Rick Rubin, to provide aid in bringing a charming, yet de-focused energy to the album. Through this intention, bleary tunes such as “Selfless” and “Why Are Sundays So Depressing” provide somberly glowing moments on the album.

Punisher- Phoebe Bridgers

When you reach the top where do you go? Phoebe Bridgers is presented with that question after releasing her possible magnum opus Punisher. The album is airy and atmospheric, but somewhat comforting. She seems to make emptiness appealing with her dreamy singing and clever lyrics. I first learned about the album through the hit song “Kyoto”, where Bridgers explores her strained relationship with her father. “Garden Song” is another standout, as well as “ICU” and “Halloween.” The album received critical acclaim and was nominated for a few Grammy’s. 2020 was Bridgers year, as she started her own label and performed on multiple TV Shows. I’m excited to see where her career goes.

Folklore-Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift released her eighth album this year “folklore,” which surprised fans as she had just released an album 11 months beforehand. Swift is known to stick to her two-year break schedule, however, with the lockdown, she says that her “imagination ran wild” and released folklore with little to no warning. This is the beginning of a new time for Swift as her music swings in a new direction- alternative pop-folk. The album brings a side to Swift as each song holds its own side in the “story” as the New York Times said “she swerves away from her last releases,” this by embracing “other characters’ points of view.” Folklore restates Swift as a musical chameleon delves into a genre while still having the same supporters from when she was a Nashville darling. The album’s tone is hopeful, nostalgic with a twinge of sadness. Swift “The lines between fantasy and reality blur and the boundaries between truth and fiction become almost indiscernible,” states Swift before folklore dropped, giving listeners an insider. Although the album seems different than her past albums, many fans have stated that it is a continuation rather than a complete change.

Fine Line- Harry Styles

Fine Line is Harry Styles’ second album since his solo debut in 2017. The album is based on Styles’ personal experiences in love and life. Throughout the album Styles brings SoCal soft rock, R&B groove, feel-good pop, and soulful ballads into one mix. Each song is about self-acceptance and moving on, as many are about ex-girlfriends and insecurities. The apparent “Break up Album of the Year” brings you through life with Styles’ as he navigates his life. The sophomore album gave way to a new “era” of Harry Styles, defined by key aspects of what Styles’ was going through which Fine Line is the soundtrack of. This era is known for Styles moving towards acceptance of himself and breaking gender norms in society. He has been seen at award shows and in music videos wearing more feminine clothing pieces, but not without backlash. However, when you’re 25 years old trying to figure out who you are while in the limelight, its’ never easy. Styles told Rolling Stone that throughout the 2 years of making the album he has gone through a lot of “personal changes” and “feels more comfortable with being” himself. As the Fine Line era is coming to a close the growth in Styles music is obvious and there are plenty of rumors of a third album already in the works.

After Hours- The Weeknd

One of 2020’s biggest albums included the Weeknds 4th studio album After Hours. The album was released on March 20 with 444,000 albums sold in the first week. The Weekend delivers a mix of high-quality R&B and dreamy pop style into his album. Some of the top hits in the album include Heartless, Blinding Lights, In Your Eyes, and Save Your Tears. He shows some very retrospective beats in Heartless and most famously Blinding Lights. The Weekend takes some very different routes in this album with having a mix of slow and lyrical songs including In Your Eyes, Save Your Tears, After Hours, and Until I Bleed Out. Some very high energy songs include Heartless, Blinding Lights, and Faith. The Weekend delivers a lot of aesthetic vibes and flows that develop and connect into his lyrical flow throughout the album. Throughout the album, The Weekend talks about many different messages including his past relationships and his former self that had depression. What makes this album very unique is that The Weekend has zero features on the album and is produced primarily by himself.  

It Was Good Until It Wasn’t- Kehlani

In the R&B genre, Kehlani takes the top as of the best albums of 2020. This was just Kehlanis 2nd studio album that was released on May 8. Kehlani delivers a very mellow and slow vibed album in “It Was Good Until It Wasn’t.” Some of the top songs of the album include Toxic, Can I, and Open (Passionate). Throughout the album, Kehlani features artists Jhene Aiko, Masego, Lucky Daye, and James Blake. Throughout the album, her style is very lyrical and low toned in her songs. Kehlani talks a lot about love and romance throughout the album and also opens up about her previous breakups. This would be an album just in time for your Valentine’s love mood. The album dominates the R&B genre and was rated high on the charts on Spotify and Apple Music. Open (Passionate) is one of the deepest lyrical songs on the album. 

Chilombo- Jhene Aiko

Jhene Aiko was back in 2020 with her third studio album, and she did not disappoint. Jhene Aiko is one of the best R&B singers right now, and her soothing yet sometimes tense songs are loved by millions around the world. Her new album has everything from therapeutic hymns to anxious love songs. She touches on her past relationships, but also seeks and finds healing at times. It’s a nice relaxing listen and features many other artists that contrasted nicely with Jhene. Of course, her long-time boyfriend Big Sean was featured, as well as other notable R&B singers H.E.R. and Miguel. Chilombo is a smooth album that doesn’t have any lows and remains consistent throughout. It has singing, rapping, and also meditation-like tones that create a beautiful listen. Jhene Aiko seems to only keep getting better with her music and I look forward to her upcoming projects.

Circles- Mac Miller

Mac Miller tragically passed away in September of 2018. He had released his most commercially successful album earlier that year, Swimming. Miller talks about his struggles with mental health and drug abuse problems, but he ends with a more optimistic note by talking about his recovery. His death caught many fans as a surprise because all signs were pointing up for Miller and his mental health. One and a half years later, his posthumous album was released. Circles gave Miller’s fans an insight into his days, it was recorded in August and September of 2018 You can hear his pain and frustration with his mental situation. In the hit song “Good News” he sings about how his fans and members of the media only want to hear positive things about his mental health, but in reality, he is lost. The album is as comforting as it is haunting, he uses beautiful instrumentals and focuses more on his singing rather than rapping. Mac’s Music was ever-evolving and it is unfortunate he passed away at the young age of twenty-six.

Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon- Pop Smoke

The first posthumous release from late Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke is possibly his best project yet, thanks to production from 50 Cent and 808 Melo. The album has a melancholy feel and serves as a “ what could have been” for Pop Smoke, who blew up on the scene within a short amount of time. Shoot For the Stars, Aim for the Moon, is Pop Smoke’s most complete project and shows the full range of songs he was able to make. Previously, we had seen almost exclusively Brooklyn drill music on Pop Smoke’s music, from both of his Meet the Woo mixtapes. One of the complaints about him was the fact that he wasn’t as versatile of a rapper, but his posthumous album proves that Pop Smoke was only just getting started. The album is a tribute to the man who took the New York music scene by storm and blew up within one short year, only to be tragically taken from us at the age of 20. Shoot For the Stars, Aim for the Moon is one of the best albums this year. 

Alfredo- Freddie Gibbs

Freddie Gibbs has long been one of the most underrated rappers in the game, and he raises to a higher mainstream level on his new album, produced by the legendary producer The Alchemist. He touches on socially conscious issues, specifically revisiting the famous protest song “ The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, by Gil Scott-Heron. He flips the chorus and remarks that “ my execution might be televised”, in light of the current social justice movements in the United States. He also raps about his usual themes, including how he grew up and the heavy drug use that surrounded him in early life. The Alchemist’s production is crisp and features many samples that help shape the theme of the album. Another bright spot is the excellent features. Rick Ross, Tyler, The Creator, Benny the Butcher, and Conway the Machine all deliver on their verses. Overall, Alfredo is likely the best lyrical rap album of the year, and also one of the best albums, in general, this year. 


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