With 2020 being one of the hardest and insane years many people have ever seen, nobody quite knew what would happen to the entertainment scene. Many artists and people in the music industry, for example, have been struggling for ages, and have even lost their jobs. This has become such a problem that many artists have launched campaigns to try and revive the industry. Many more have also done concerts over the internet in order to try and re-stimulate the industry. It’s no surprise, then, that many of the struggles would be reflected in the music artists are creating. This, combined with the fact that many artists have more time than ever to create music, would translate to this year being one of the best and most unique years for music. This list has some of the most notable, unique, intriguing, and even flat-out insane projects of 2020:
Honorable Mentions: These are albums that couldn’t fit the list, but had a major impact in 2020, in no particular order.
Peaceful As Hell – Black Dresses: This album fuses lyrics of that of a metal song with the glitched-out instrumentals and vocals of a band like 100 Gecs or clipping.
Use Me – PVRIS: This album takes the instrumental influences of Billie Eilish and Halsey, but builds on them for a unique flair.
1000 Gecs – 100 Gecs: If there’s any noteworthy album from this year, it’s this one. This is the album that really brought the sounds of glitchpop and hyperpop onto the map, with influences being drawn from all sides of the spectrum, be it metal, ska, edm, or screamo.
Apolonio – Omar Apollo: Omar Apollo brought a new sound to the table with this album. His previous albums have been related to the sound of Frank Ocean, however, this album brought a sense of Apollo’s personality and his experimentation with music.
Rough and Rowdy Ways – Bob Dylan: This was Bob Dylan’s first collection of music in 8 years. The songs have a sense of Chicago blues and Memphis rock-n-roll. His airy voice brings his sense of music to the table.
RAZZMATAZZ – I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME
RAZZMATAZZ is the debut album from the band I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME (iDKHOW is the shortened name, and is also how I will refer to the band in the rest of this article), and shows them expanding on the conceptual ideas and sound from their 1981 Extended Play. iDKHOW, fronted by former Panic! At The Disco bassist and Brobecks’ singer, Dallon Weeks, has built their band up through their storyline, which is that of an undiscovered band from the ’80s, now being unearthed in today’s world. Conceptually, this album explores the importance of this band, by revealing that there are elements of time-travel, manipulation of space, and more; all through the shady, fictional company known as Tellexx. In fact, there is an entirely separate version of the album in the form of physical copies, which tell you the story through small tracks played in between the actual tracklisting. Despite the great concept, this album sonically does a fantastic job of recreating the sounds of 80’s pop music and is a nostalgia trip for anyone who may have grown up in that era. The opening track, Leave Me Alone, for example, has a very bouncy and catchy tone, despite its dark lyrics. There are so many other high points, like the 60’s sounding ballad “From The Gallows,” or the former Brobecks’ demo “Clusterhug.” This album has constant ups and is fantastic for people interested in the indie-pop vibe this style of music has, as its some of the best the genre has to offer.
Plastic Hearts – Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus has come out with a rock album, and it’s genuinely a great listen. Plastic Hearts was inspired by Cyrus’s own troubles such as a divorce from Liam Hemsworth, the burning of her house due to the California wildfires, and her battle with addiction. In this album, she lets go of all of her frustrations and guilt and lets listeners feel her emotions as well. The album takes on major influences from 80’s rock artists like Blondie, Pat Benatar, and more in order to create a slightly more modern update on these artists people loved years before. I feel like this couldn’t be depicted any better than with the song “WTF Do I Know,” which uses a fast-paced vocal melody that eventually morphs into a primarily instrumental chorus. At the end of this record, her influences become much clearer than they were even before with not only the inclusion of covers of tracks like “Heart of Glass” and “Zombie,” but a feature from Joan Jett on the song “Bad Karma.” If you’re a fan of the pop-rock feeling from these 80’s artists mentioned, I strongly recommend giving this album a chance. According to Sophomore student Emaleigh Kuta, “It’s definitely a new turn on Miley’s behavior because she went from more of pop to rock and I’m all here for it. She really showed what she grew up on and showed the side of her she loved more, the emotions she showed in that album were some emotions she’s definitely kept inside for a long time. Just the way she worded things and expressed them sold me on that album.”
Ugly is Beautiful – Oliver Tree
Oliver Tree may make good music, but I can guarantee that’s not how almost anyone has found out about him. Oliver has taken a bizarre approach to music promotion, and that is through achieving internet or meme status. By creating this, for lack of a better term, inside joke around himself; be it for his 90’s cup designed shirts, his notorious bowl-cut, or his annoying and over-the-top attitude; he has gotten people talking about him, and in turn, discovering his music. His debut and also (possibly) his final album, Ugly is Beautiful, pictures his character perfectly. Some highlights of the album are “Bury Me Alive,” which has a major influence from Rage Against the Machine, and also the bass and electronic-heavy “1993,” which features a faceless artist known as Little Ricky ZR3. There is speculation that this featured artist is actually Oliver Tree with a voice effect, yet this has yet to be confirmed. Ethan Botts, a former student from CHS, talks about the album, “I really loved Oliver Tree’s album, he has a really unique sound to him and I think he appeals to a wide audience. The lyrics have depth if you want them to and the instrumentals are intricate, the whole album is super well produced overall.”
Nectar – Joji
On his second LP, Joji finds himself starting to go away from the lo-fi vibe that he was so well known for from the album Ballads 1 as well as his many eps from before. This risk tends to pay off, allowing for Joji to increase his abilities and gives him more to work with during its length. Despite this, he still pays homage to that lo-fi sound through songs like “Tick Tock,” with an upbeat, percussion-driven beat and slightly grainy and distorted vocals. Yet, songs like “Daylight (ft. Diplo)” and ”Run” show a much more high quality instrumental, and give Joji so much more power to his performances, and also show how much he has improved his vocals since his first album. Joji really shows what he’s capable of in the future on this album, and may end up being a stepping stone into something even further into a high-gloss album in the future.
The Sandscript did a more in depth review of this album, which you can find here!
After Hours – The Weeknd
On The Weeknd’s fourth album, he added more texture with the levels of despair and emotions but still kept the same distinct R&B lo-fi vibe. With this album, he returned to his ‘older’ sound that wasn’t as upbeat and lively but combined his music senses from previous albums. This album had a narrative to it and took characteristics from each of his past albums to create this telling cinematic album.
No Pressure – Logic
Rapper Logic is back with what appears to be the final album of his career, having retired to take care of his newborn child. Up until now, his music has yet to achieve anything close to what is done on this album. This may be because of the way he approached creating this album; stating that he had a very anxious mindset as he created his previous records, but had made this one without caring what other people may have thought about this. This mindset may have given him what he needed to create a project that is as unique, different, and exciting as it is. Fans of logic may actually recognize this title and album art, as it references that of his debut album “Under Pressure.” Logic explores his personal life and the problems with having a child on tracks like DadBod, which showcase his eagerness to leave music so that way he can focus on his kid more than he would have been able to. The album is beyond worthwhile for any fan of rap, or for anyone interested in his personal story in creating music, the industry, and his personal life. Finally, it’s worth noting that Logic is still going to be in the spotlight of the mainstream, as he is now a partner with Twitch and has been streaming on their service.
The Slow Rush – Tame Impala
Every Tame Impala album has a clear theme; Currents, their previous album had the theme of hypnotic melodies with psychedelic tunes. Just by the album cover, the album name, and the names of the songs you can get an idea of what The Slow Rush is about – time. Kevin is channeling his internal thoughts and ideas about memories, nostalgia, and the overall concept of time in their 4th album. The Slow Rush was released 5 years after their previous album Currents, however, they pre-released the song ‘borderline’ from The Slow Rush in 2019. This album has a whole new meaning to it with a different significance; rather than meaningless feel-good music; this album is centered around time and it makes you think.
Song Machine – Gorillaz
The 2018 album from Gorillaz, The Now Now, showed the band getting back on their feet after what was arguably their biggest fall from grace in the form of Humanz. However, it was left to the fans to determine whether or not the band would be able to pick up where they left off on their next project. Thankfully, the band succeeded in even the most optimistic fans’ expectations. A student at CHS, Joe Goveia, says, “(The) Gorillaz (album) is an album with some of the best and most enjoyable features of the year.”
Despite every track on this album having a feature, they make incredible sense in terms of their placement in the record. Songs on this record take what they would have done on a project like Demon Days but add an experimental flair to it in order to make it newer and more refreshing. The album is kicked off with the track “Strange Timez (ft. Robert Smith),” with a creepy, pulsating synth leading a lo-fi and atmospheric instrumental. The song “Pac-Man (ft. ScHoolboy HQ)” is, for lack of a better term, peak Gorillaz. It has your standard vocals from 2-D that are similar to something you’d have heard on their first album, and a great feature that makes the track so much better than it was even before. Overall, each track is incredibly vibrant and colorful and provides for the same immersion you would find on a psychedelic project like The Now Now, only much more unique than ever before.
Fetch the Bolt Cutters – Fiona Apple
Fiona Apple returns to creating music for the first time since 2012’s The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (no, you’re not the only person who felt that that title was obscenely long), and comes back with an incredible bang. This album, which has reportedly been in the works since 2015, uses bouncy and fun sounding piano chords alongside its unconventional forms of percussion which earned the album major appraise. The creation process involved several takes of improvisation until each song was perfected, as supposed to editing and changing instruments through cuts or filters. The album feels like a soundtrack to a broadway play; a feeling I haven’t gotten successfully from an album since Jukebox The Ghost’s debut Let Live & Let Ghosts. According to a senior at CHS, “Fiona Apple is basically the sounds of the quarantine turned to music.”
Conceptually, the album explores different situations that can cause you to need to leave a toxic situation in order to better yourself; something that many people are struggling with, especially recently. Vocally, she also takes major influences from jazz and blues music of the mid 20th century (see the track “Relay”) in a way that calls back to that style in an indescribably fantastic manner.
Circles – Mac Miller
Just one month before Mac Miller’s death on September 7, 2018, he released the album Swimming on August 3, 2018. Then 2 years after his unfortunate and untimely death, he released Circles. Circles was composed of songs that he envisioned as a counterpart for Swimming. The songs on Circles were songs that he was experimenting with and wasn’t completely sure of. This album was different from previous albums by Mac Miller by adding different melodies, percussions, instruments, and thoughts. This was a more personal and individualistic album. A senior at CHS states, “Mac Miller(‘s album) is a posthumous album done in good faith.”
I Disagree – Poppy
YouTuber and (former?) pop artist going by the alias Poppy has put out her first ever nu-metal album. If you’re unfamiliar with her, she blew up on YouTube for the content she was making there; a series of cryptic and frightening videos of her going on a series of monologues as part of what, in retrospect, was a large ARG. These videos explored concepts of industrial plants and even the Illuminati, hinting at her being a robot or brainwashed human from the music industry. This record seems to be a conclusion to her story, with her seemingly breaking out of being controlled. Songs like the title track portray this the best; where she talks about the problems she has in the industry and says that the only way you can be safe from it is if we were to “burn down” the system. Despite being, lyrically, an interesting listen for anyone who can remember her being popular, the album features some of the most off-the-wall, zany, and fun songs of nearly any modern nu-metal. The song “BLOODMONEY,” for example, is a song that uses electronics to its advantage; distorted guitars and percussion lead you through the first verse and eventually build into an off-the-wall, industrial instrumental chorus that sounds like if deadmau5 collaborated with Slayer for some reason. Despite being a mostly metal album, it does leave some pop elements in songs, either fully or partially. The song “Concrete” has a verse that sounds like something the Beach Boys would have made, only to then be thrown back into a death metal sounding guitar riff. And it doesn’t end there; the songs “Nothing I Need” and “Sick of the Sun” are pop ballads, with no references being made to any of the other heavy elements on the record. Despite being such a tonal shift, these tracks work well as cohesive breathers to break up the constant insanity that nearly every other track gives. This album, despite its short length, is an emotional rollercoaster that’s bound to leave you listening to it over and over.
Thrill Seeker (EP) – Sub Urban
Sub Urban, who became fairly popular in late 2019 when his song “Cradles” became immensely well-known, mostly thanks to social media app Tik Tok, released his first EP. The 7 tracks here explore a horror-filled circus atmosphere, similar to that of Panic! At The Disco’s debut album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out; only much more refined, intense, and dynamic. The opener “Freak” uses an electronically filtered organ, which creates a dark and twisted sound when it’s combined with his intense and soft vocal performance. Then, REI AMI, who appears as a feature on this song, plays the role of one of the many characters in the “circus” these tracks try to convince you you are watching. Additionally, songs like “Isolate” explore into more of a personal story, while still keeping up the eerie sound. The track personifies the concepts of enjoying loneliness and being introverted (to an unhealthy extent) due to psychological issues such as depression, with lyrics that describe it almost like it was being sung by a vampire. It explores feelings such as self-hatred and a false sense of being dangerous, to the point where you feel the best place you could be is locked, alone in a room. At the end of the day, the only people I can see not liking this ep are those in elementary school who thought they could handle watching the “It” franchise.
Folklore – Taylor Swift
After only 11 months after releasing Lover, Swift surprised everyone with the release of Folklore, announced only a few days before its release. The whimsical album leaves listeners feeling like they should be drinking a hot cup of tea by the fireplace. Folklore was written and recorded in the first few months of the Covid pandemic. Being in the spotlight throughout your life can be exhausting, those months of isolation are presumably just what Taylor needed to create this lo-fi bedroom pop album. “I think the album was a perfect creation to come from quarantine – a melancholy reflection on love, sadness, and comfort that displayed some of the best songwriting of Taylor’s career,” stated Trey Cummins, Junior at Valparaiso High School
Last Year Was Weird Vol. 2 (EP) – Tkay Maidza
Tkay Maidza, an Australian artist who recently switched into the genre of rap in her 2016 album, Tkay, after previously creating EDM music, shows off her talent in such an incredible way on the second installment of her Last Year Was Weird EP series. This relatively small set of songs showcases some of the best parts of her music while changing up anything that might have made her previous work unappealing. The end result ends up being a nearly 30-minute long masterpiece, with songs that, despite being incredibly different from each other, end up blending perfectly together. She combines a pop and indie style on many tracks, most notably 24k, which features these fast paced, yet psychedelic synths along with a distorted chorus to match them, all while radio-host talks in the instrumental points of the song, giving it a unique futuristic sound. Then, with other songs like “Awake” (which features rapper JPEGMAFIA) and “Grasshopper,” she raps with an incredible flow that is practically screaming for you to pay attention to her. Overall, the entire album gives you a mix of vibe songs with powerful beats, making everything on this album incredibly worthwhile to indie and trap fans alike.
Visions of Bodies Being Burned – clipping.
On their second album in their horror-core album, a sequel to There Existed an Addiction to Blood, the hip-hop group clipping. Takes major influences from the metal and intense instrumentation of Nine Inch Nails and even Death Grips, the lyricism of Daughters, and the impressive rapping of Tyler, The Creator. Despite these amazing flows, intense lyrics, and impeccable instrumentation, this album really takes pride in its use of samples on tracks like “Something Underneath,” “Intro,” and ‘Looking LIke Meat (ft. Ho99o9).” It’s the sampling on tracks like these that really give off the energy of listening to a horror movie soundtrack, which is the entire atmosphere the album tries to give off. In fact, it’s hard not to picture the stories they’re telling on this album simply from the effect these samples have on the lyrics, which are amazingly dark and brutal. Each song on this album tells the story of many different horror characters created by frontman Daveed Diggs (who you may also know as an actor in the play Hamilton). Be it for its dark depictions of killers, paranoia, and zombies; or for its amazing sonics, anybody who’s a fan of anything horror-oriented, rap-oriented, or glitch-oriented is bound to find something on this record. This album crosses fans like no other; people who enjoy 100 Gecs’ bizarre instrumentals, the intensity of a metal song, and people who may even find more joy in movies instead of music will all find themselves listening to this album and thus deserves the top placement on this list.