20 – Deftones – Ohms
Ohms, the 9th Studio Album from Alternative Metal trailblazers the Deftones is aggressive, persistent, and polished. Ohms is their best album since their 2010 hit Diamond Eyes that came out after the death of long time bassist Chi Cheng. Lead Singer Chino Moreno is able to create vocals that can be so gentle yet so vicious presenting an album that you need to listen to more than once to fully appreciate. Guitarist Stephen Carpenter’s relentless metal style will satisfy Deftones fans and his inventiveness should be able to appeal to a new generation of fans. Overall Ohms is the story of a band that has reinvented itself but also stayed true to has made them successful in the past.
19 – Thundercat -It Is What It Is
Thundercat is an amazing lyricist, groove composer, and possibly the best bassist alive right now. His latest album It Is What It Is stays true to his avant grade style taking us for a ride to new heights of Neo-funk creating a style that can not be defined by one genre. After following up on his magnum opus Drunk, It Is What It Is is complex in structure but really easy to listen to. The album climaxes at “Overseas” and “Dragonball Durag” presenting lyrics that are fun and light on the surface but with a tragic double meaning. Stephen Bruner’s alter ego Thundercat continues to resserect the genres of Jazz, Funk, and R&B while unapologetically being himself.
Favorite Track:Dragonball Durag
18 – Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
The follow up to her smash hit self titled debut album Future Nostalgia has a enough disco and funk influence to get your most stiff hipped friend dancing. This album is a true throw back to ballads of the past with lyrics focusing on love, lust, and heartbreak. The biggest tragedy of this album is that it came out in a year where it couldn’t played in clubs where it truly belongs due to the pandemic. Future Nostalgia is a fitting title because it pays respect to genres that created what is now considered pop but the production quality is innovative enough to make the album a unique experience.
Favorite Track:Break My Heart
17 – Machine Gun Kelly- Tickets to my Downfall
In the surprise album of the year rapper Machine Gun Kelly dips his hand into the punk rock game with Tickets to My Downfall. The album pays homage to the pop punk era of the early 2000s reinventing his entire sound and persona in a transition that feels natural. The project simply sounds like it was just fun to make bringing in features from Trippie Redd, Halsey, Bert McCracken (The Used), and Travis Barker pumping the overall quality up to a stellar level. This is one of the few albums of the year that feels like it was needed due to the subject matter of dealing with addiction, self destruction, and redefining purpose. MGK allows himself to be completely vulnerable and takes a calculated risk that ends up being a home run.
Favorite Track: forget me too ft. Halsey
16 – Tame Impala-The Slow Rush
Kevin Parker does it again with The Slow Rush, an album that focuses on space, time, and existentialism. The psychedelic virtuoso continues to be a pillar in the electronic genre and his competition is still playing catch up. The synth aesthetic is the driving force of the project and Parker’s soothing voice is the right levels of spacey without feeling over produced. As a whole it makes for very easy listening experience but has enough bass and drums to dance too. The Slow Rush is a complex multipurpose album that on the surface can make you dance but like most art carries a deeper meaning.
Favorite Track:Posthumous Forgiveness
15 – Pop Smoke – Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon
In the posthumous release of his first commercial album Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon Pop Smoke delivers from start to finish and is a showcase of the lost potential of one of rap’s quickest rising stars. The project is a meld of the grungy bangers of New York’s drill scene, slow jams that help complete any album, and old school call backs paying respect to the history of New York Hip Hop. Though it has a few flaws that are inevitable when the artist isn’t present for the final cut, it still is a versatile, hard hitting, and ultimately tragic memorial of talent due to the bright future we see go up in smoke.
Favorite Track:The Woo ft. 50 Cent & Roddy Rich
14 – Cali Kev – West Coast Hov
San Diego rapper Cali Kev’s latest album West Coast Hov has the grit of a mixtape sold from the trunk of a car and the production of a finely tuned Roc-A-Fella record. The unique rapper’s unorthodoxed cadence is influenced by Mac Dre and Gucci Mane giving each of his songs a life of their own. West Coast Hov has a collection of popular singles like “Stiff Arm” featuring Fresh Heir & KJ Smith, “Sun N June” featuring Joey Wild, and “Goat” who’s presence give the project the same feeling of a greatest hits album due to their prior success and visibility. This doesn’t discount the strength of the new music that dropped as well, they actually are some of the strongest songs on the album. Cali Kev’s unique lyrics continue to dazzle with references to the attitude era of Wrestling, Ed Hardy, Eric Kostan, as well the Ninja Turtles in “97 DX” and the title track “West Coast Hov” making his songs relatable to the average listener. West Coast Hov purposefully doesn’t have the feel of a mainstream rap album giving listeners reason to take notice making the experience memorable enough to have to listen to more than once.
Favorite Track:West Coast Hov
13 – 070 Snake- Modus Vivendi
Modus Vivendi is the premier album for 23 year old New Jersey native Danielle Balbuena who first came on the scene for her work on Kanye West’s heavily criticized album Ye. The young artist’s creativity is oozing on every track leading the listener into a very personal experience that bends genres blending Hip-Hop, Soul, and Electronic. Balbuena’s voice is very melodic and the vulnerable lyrics make the project as a whole very touching adding a bit of spirituality to the futuristic beats. Overall this is a complete album that creates a lot of excitement for the potential of this young artist’s future.
Favorite Track:Under the Moon
12 – Lil Uzi Vert – Eternal Etake
Rap is evolving and Lil Uzi Vert is staying on the cutting edge of what the future holds for the genre. The aggravatingly long delayed album Eternal Etake is Uzi’s best work and that is saying a lot for such a heralded young artist. The hour long epic is a trip through space while navigating on the complications of fame and riches. Songs like “Prices” and “Celebration Station” contrast well and show that Uzi has a deep appreciation for what rap was and what it could be. This young Philly rapper is unapologetically himself and this project reflects that uniqueness as his calling card for the for things to come.
Favorite Track: Prices
11 – The Ohsees- Protean Threat
The product of eccentric Bay Area rock frontman; John Dwyer’s OCS, The Oh Sees, Thee Oh Sees, and now Osees can now be pinned down into a digestible form for a more mainstream audience. Even after going through several name changes there have been few bands that have been this prolific in the last two years, The Oh Sees pump out a ton of music creating a vast catalogue that is honestly overwhelming for new fans. From the get go Protean Threat is all gas no breaks riding relentless drums that don’t take a break from cover to cover. Groovy guitar riffs and Dwyer’s vocals have the charm of a band playing a dive bar but don’t let these guys fool you these guy’s are far from your dad’s favorite rock band. Though it still gives the same feelings of angst and rebellion that Rock & Roll should Protean Threat is a well orchestrated psychedelic trip, sit back and enjoy the ride.
Favorite Track:If I Had My Way
10 – Taylor Swift- Folklore
Disney, Coca-Cola, and Taylor Swift; all American made classics who’s fanfare outnumbers it’s critics with a loyalty that is almost unrivaled. Putting past opinions aside on Taylor Swift the person, Folklore is an awesome surprise installment to the artist’s already amazing catalogue. With tender lyrics Folklore is heartfelt and really feels like a passion piece for Swift who worked remotely with The National’s Aaron Dessner during the first couple months of the pandemic. The project uses organic instruments, many acoustic, and chooses to include drums sparingly making most of the album sound light and delicate. The quality recording makes it really hard for this project not to tug on you heartstrings. Taylor Swift is product of the music industry that often creates pop stars but Folklore showcases true magnanimous talent that is behind the Taylor Swift Brand.
Favorite Track: Exile ft Bon Iver
9 – Ty Dolla $ign- Featuring Ty Dolla $ign
Ty Dolla $ign has always been considered a bridesmaid but never the bride in the sense that he has been featured on hits like Post Malones “Phycho”, Kanye West’s “Real Friends”, and Mac Miller’s “Cinderella” making him the king of the feature. Featuring Ty Dolla $ign playfully acknowledges that reputation but it is the most amazing collection artists on any album to date featuring Kid Cudi, Post Malone, Kanye West, Anderson Paak, Quavo, Lil Durk, Nicki Minaj, Big Sean, Mustard, Roddy Rick, Jhené Aiko, Kelani, Future, Young Thug, Gunna, 6LACK, FKA Twigs, and Skrillex. Though this albums includes so much amazing talent Ty Dolla $ign cements himself as the main course on every single track on an album that has 25 songs. His range of being able sing, rap, and produce is showcased on this impressive project.
Favorite Track: Ego Death ft. Kanye West & FKA Twigs
8 – Pheobe Bridges – Punisher
Phoebe Bridges makes music to listen to when you’re enjoying a cigarette with you coffee on an ice cold morning. Punisher is a poetry lover’s dream album giving us detailed stories of Bridges’ personal life, issues, and chaos in the world we all share. Her voice is melodic, gentle, and equally haunting laid on top of an acoustic guitar fully leaning into the indie persona she now champions. On the surface this could sound like a depressing album but the truth is it’s about life and that makes it truly beautiful because it touches on the light and dark that is ever-present. Punisher is a slow moving indie masterpiece that plays on our emotions with tragic tales, soft guitars, and well placed violins that will make you stare into the mirror in self reflection.
7 – Polo G – The Goat
Polo G’s sophomore album The Goat is a modern look into the viciousness of the the street life and the dark reality of it’s repercussions. The Chicago Rapper’s storytelling style leaves little to the imagination and I think that’s the point. Most of the beats rely on the piano to set the mood and his cadence rides the quick high hat that is the backbone of most of the songs creating the tempo. I don’t necessarily like music that glorifies drugs and violence but I do think that there is a place for it in music because for too many Americans this is real life and art imitates life. This formula is duplicated by many rappers but The Goat has an authenticy that sets it apart.
Favorite Track:Flex ft Juice WRLD
6 – The Killers – Imploding the Mirage
In true blast from the past fashion The Killers released their sixth full length album since their 2004 magnum opus Hot Fuss. The Las Vegas quartet delivers in dramatic fashion giving fans the nostalgia bomb they didn’t know they needed. Imploding the Mirage brings the emotions of a great rock album using open space to invoke the spirit of the American west. Lead singer Brandon Flowers is heavily influenced by 80’s ballads most notably Bruce Springsteen with lyrics of hope in the face of the human condition. Imploding the Mirage is the Killers best album in over 15 years wiping the slate clean by recreating themselves and improving their overall sound.
Favorite Track:My Own Soul’s Warning
5 – The Weeknd – After Hours
The Weeknd’s latest album After Hours is a retrospective of his choices and the circumstances he now lives in. The album’s cover art is a bloody and beaten up version of Abel Tesfaye’s alter ego “The Weeknd” smiling looking down at the camera embracing what he’s become and what he’s gone through. This album is critically acclaimed and touted as his most complete project to date. I tend to agree even though I will always be chasing the high I got when I first heard House of Balloons. This album differs from his early works because it leans more into the music and storytelling rather than being carried by the raw robust power of his voice. After Hours pays homage to music of the 80’s relying heavily on the synthesizer, electric drum pad, vocoder, and even has a sprawling saxophone solo. This album has vision, narrative, and delivery.
Favorite Track:Escape From LA
4 – Juice WRLD- Legends Never Die
The posthumous album following Jarad A. Higgin AKA Juice WRLD’s untimely death is a bitter sweet achievement for the now deceased rapper. Legends Never Die is an emotionally honest album that gives a window into the inner turmoils of addiction. The superbly talented Juice WRLD’s library of work in the studio was compiled by longtime collaborator Nick Mira into a truly epic hour long experience that shows the range of the young artist. With features from The Weeknd, Trippie Redd, The Kid LAROI, Marshmello, and Halsey this doesn’t feel like a good bye album but more of a testament to the mountain of talent that is Juice WRLD giving the albums title Legends Never Die a deeper meaning.
Favorite Track:Life’s a Mess ft. Halsey
3 – Kid Cudi – Man on the Moon III
After a decade long hiatus crooning rapper Kid Cudi is back to what made him a hip hop innovator and a cult legend. With the third installment of his Man on the Moon series, Man on the Moon III doesn’t disappoint. A now older and clear minded Scott Mescudi delivers and crushes the high bar that he set for himself ten years ago. This album highlights growth and self improvement in the lyrics and beat selection that makes for a full album experience with flawless transitions, skits, and mood setters. He pays homage to his old persona while making it abundantly clear that he is a new man whose dealt with his demons and the complications that come with the rock star lifestyle. With no shortage of beautiful humming that became Cudi’s calling card Man on the Moon III is a crowning achievement settling unfinished business pleasing his hungry fanbase while creating new ones along the way.
Favorite Track:The Pale Moonlight
2 – Lady Gaga-Chromatica
Fashion, Film, and Music icon Lady Gaga makes her triumphant return with what many of her adoring fans consider to be her best album in Chromatica. The pop titan continues to dazzle standing head and shoulders above the competition creating music that is heavily influence by House but reinforces that she is a once in a lifetime artist. In what could be here most heartfelt project Chromatica is an emotional album lyrically because Gaga gets personal about family trauma, sexual assault, addiction, and recovery. Though the lyrics touch on the serious nature of real life it still has banger after banger making you want to dance and bob your head separating herself as the cream of the crop in the Electronic genre once again. This theatrical and ambitious album is the dance-pop project that her fans have been dying for.
Favorite Track:Sine from Above ft. Elton John
1 – Bad Bunny – YHLQMDLG
It would be hard to make the argument that any artist had a more impactful year in the music industry than the 26 year old Puerto Rican superstar Bad Bunny. YHLQMDLG made history by being the first all Spanish Language album to debut at No. 2 on Billboard’s coveted All Genre Chart. For an album that is this unapologetically Latino to be universally praised at this level is important because it opens the door for so many artists around the world. YHLQMDLG redefines Dance, Trap, and what the future of the music industry may look like breaking down barriers the same way Richie Valens and Selena did in the past. Production wise the album is nearly flawless using 808 drums to perfection making beats that are undeniably good even for Non-Spanish speaking fans to enjoy. Bad Bunny pays homage to Perreo and Reggaeton that formed him into the artist he is today pushing it to the forefront of what pop music can be. YHLQMDLG showcases the elegance of Urban music sincerely seen the eyes of sad Trap loving Latino youth creating a rollercoaster of an album that will have you listening over and over.
Favorite Track:Bichiyal ft. Yaviah