2020 Has Been The Best Year for Music Ever.
The COVID-19 era has put out some of the strongest and most thought-provoking releases I've heard in a long time. Here are some of my favorites.
It has been an incredible year for music. I really thought COVID-19 would affect music output negatively but some of the best albums I've heard were released between March and now. When I look back on 2020 musically, I’ll remember feelings of sadness, defeat, despair, anger, hope, inspiration and happiness.
Here are some of my favorites since COVID-19 sorted by the month it was released. As always, my taste in music is all over the place. Hopefully there’s something new in here for you!
Nils Frahm - Empty (March)
Eight solo piano pieces. Incredibly somber but beautiful at the same time. Especially great on a rainy and gloomy day. I had COVID-19 just before this album came out. Once I was healthy and finally out and about again, the city just felt darker and desolate. Perhaps it was the weather coupled together with personal circumstances that made this period of my life seem darker than it was. I just remember aimlessly walking around the city with this album playing looking for some sort of direction for my life.
Standout tracks include First Defeat, A Shine and Second Defeat. I recommend listening start to finish though.
Nicolas Jaar - Cenizas (March)
Listening back on this album now, I remember walking around DC in disbelief of what I was seeing. The start is so somber and the atmosphere of the entire album is so… empty. And that’s what the city was like for almost two months. No one left their homes. No cars on the roads. A silence I have never experienced in the city.
Nicolas Jaar published a small note before the album released stating
Hopefully Cenizas only shows darkness so as to show a path out of it. I want this music to heal and help in thinking through difficult questions about one’s self, and one’s relationship to the state of things. We are living in a time of complete transformation, a metamorphosis— and the transformations are happening within as well. There is potential for great healing and great destruction.
I think he nailed it with this album.
Standout tracks include Vanish, Menysid and Mud.
The Scotts - The Scotts (April)
This one wasn’t even an album, it was a full-on experience and without a doubt, the greatest music marketing activation I’ve ever seen. This experience just gave me so much hope and inspiration. The live events industry was dead but this event was perfect in so many ways. The opportunities are endless, the future is so damn exciting. Over 12.3 million people tuned in for the first concert making it the largest concert in history. Epic says over 27.7 million players participated in the in-game event live. The event was held 5 times. In total, the event was attended 45.8 million times, meaning that many players attended at least twice.
In the weeks leading up to the event, the map transformed weekly with Travis Scott focused challenges. They added Travis Scott skins and emotes to the store for purchase. You could see the "stage" being built week over week.
The entire concert was immersive and EXTREMELY impressive.
Oh, and it was completely free for attendees.
Future - High Off Life (May)
I’m the biggest Future Stan ever. The WIZRD from 2018 is without a doubt my favorite album from him. This album marked the beginning of the return to “normal” for me. I was in a solo-quarantine until this album came out on May 15th. It was a boring and depressing time, but I was finally ready to head back out and be social. This album put a pep in my step. Production is top-notch as always and the album is riddled with clever metaphors and hyperbole. Not my favorite record from him, but a solid album from the Toxic King.
Standout tracks include HiTek Tek, Ridin Strikers, Posted With Demons and Harlem Shake.
Ace Hood - Mr. Hood (May)
This album really hit different for me. I’ve been a big fan of Ace Hood since he released Trust The Process II: Undefeated in 2018. In that album, you could tell he was absolutely going through it. There was an aggressive fire in him. He was relentless. He was insatiable. You can hear it throughout the album - Ace Hood had something to say. 29 songs clocking in at 74 minutes. That’s a massive project right there! It turns out he was having a really difficult time with his family at the time. Even the album cover shows him shirtless in a full sprint on an empty road.
Fast forward two years to the Mr. Hood album. “Confident, never mistake it for cocky.” Ace Hood is suited up. He’s more composed and in control than ever. He handled his business, he got his situation under control - he got married to the love of his life. The change in tone between these two albums is night and day. He found peace and you can hear it.
That’s how I felt when I heard the album too. I was finally at peace with where things were at in the world. I almost lost my business to COVID-19. It was a hopeless time for me at first but I came to terms with it, focused on building and bettering myself. I was ready to finally move forward with my life.
Standout tracks include Facts & Confident.
Also plugging Trust The Process II: Undefeated because that album was 10/10 for me:
Standout tracks include 3 Bless, Beast Mode, Fwea, Be Calm, Devil Get Off Me, Can’t Keep Running & Testify.
Run The Jewels - RTJ4 (June)
I have been a fan of Run The Jewels since they had a track on the DJ Shadow album I worked on in 2016. Their music has always been extremely woke. They consistently challenge the establishment with their music - their messaging is on point. El-P is an incredible producer too.
Killer Mike and El-P decided to released the album early due to all the George Floyd & Black Lives Matter protests all over the country. The timing was impeccable. This was the soundtrack to my protesting. It woke me up and fueled action. I wasn’t going to stay home and stay silent anymore.
The most important verse from the album:
And every day on the evening news, they feed you fear for freeAnd you so numb, you watch the cops choke out a man like me
Until my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, "I can't breathe"And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV
The most you give's a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy
But truly the travesty, you've been robbed of your empathy
Replaced it with apathy, I wish I could magically
Fast forward the future so then you can face it
And see how fucked up it'll be
Standout tracks include walking in the snow, JU$T and a few words for the firing squad (radiation)
Howling - Colure (July)
You can’t go wrong with RY X and Frank Wiedemann. A voice that is smoother than silk and world-class production. This album is really moody and deep which is right up my alley. It’s a great soundtrack to play at home after cooking & eating a nice meal with friends. Doesn’t need to be played loud. Just grab a few bottles of wine, light a few candles and hang out on the couch. I missed being able to do this. This album captures that vibe so well.
Standout tracks include Pieces, Bind, Healing and Phases.
Sevdaliza - Shabrang (August)
Sevdaliza is one of only two artists who I will always purchase music from even before hearing it. She has been without a doubt my favorite artist for the past five years. I really appreciate that she continues collaborating with her producer Mucky. He knows exactly how to capture her vision. If anything, Sevdaliza should be viewed as a collective instead of just Sevda Alizadeh. Her music loaded with heavy symbolism and themes. The ten key themes from this album include abuse, narcissism, substance abuse, death, heartbreak, abandonment, despair, mental health, love, and passion.
She released Shabrang (which translates to “Color of the night sky”) at the end of August. Her statement about the album really resonated with me as did the music (as always!)
Shabrang is a depiction of functioning in my soul, like watching life happening in front of you and not for you. Always trying to return to the light, I shift between hope, faith and fear/dystopia. I feel privileged yet misunderstood. The underdog.
I feel like we have all shifted between these feelings over the past six months.
I particularly loved the song Gole Bi Goldoon because she sang in Farsi and I could understand it. The lyrics are beautiful - you can read them translated here. I was so excited about the song that I sent it to all my Iranian friends and also my mom who quickly pointed out that these aren’t her lyrics, but the lyrics of Googoosh, the legendary Iranian singer. What an incredible nod to her roots.
And you already know I ordered the vinyl.
Standout tracks include Shabrang, Dormant, Gole Bi Goldoon.
Young Dolph - Rich Slave (August)
I can’t believe I’ve slept on Young Dolph for this long. This album is a front runner for rap album of the year for me. It’s a fun one to listen to. Some of the lyrics and metaphors are straight up comical. Everytime I listen, I laugh or smile at least once because of how clever some of the lyrics are. I also like that he didn’t have to rely on features to make this album bang. He went in on this album and only had 3 features on it.
I was visiting my parents last week and playing this album in the kitchen. My mom stopped what she was doing to ask “Did he just say he has bitches on his payroll?” And then we watched the music video to “What’s Da Bizness” and she finally understood what he meant.
As this year wraps up, I’m finally starting to have fun again. I’m back to work and loving what I do. I’m seeing my friends and family more. I’m counting my blessings. I’m eager to see what’s next. This album couldn’t have come at a better time.
The only thing I wasn’t crazy about with this album? The two skits. They kind of kill the vibe for me, but the rest of the album is awesome!
Standout tracks include Hold Up Hold Up Hold Up, What’s Da Bizness, Death Row, RNB, Rich Slave and 1 Scale.