Six Essential Albums From Summer 2020 by Reece Hollowell
Updated: Jan 27, 2021
Looking back at some of the albums that made quarantine slightly more bearable
As summer draws to a close, it feels like the past three months went by in a total blur. In a normal year, summer would be the time to relax, party, maybe even go on vacation. But 2020 has been as far from a normal year as possible, and as quarantine restrictions finally start to lift and the country attempts to return to some semblance of normalcy, it seems appropriate to look back on what people used more than anything to cope with spending all their time inside. And with the film industry pretty much shutting down, many people turned to music for their escape, which has been pretty easy to do as 2020 has been a pretty fantastic year for music all around. Thanks to smash singles by up-and-comers and solid projects from established artists, the musical scene of the year has been as diverse and interesting to follow as the constant barrage of terrible news. With all that being said, this is a list of six albums that stood out from the pack and provided memorable experiences that were otherwise impossible outside of them. From younger artists perfecting their sound to more experienced performers reinventing theirs, calls for revolution to posthumous farewells, these are the albums that everyone should give a listen to from the past summer.
Car Seat Headrest - Making a Door Less Open
Released: May 1
Essential Tracks: Can’t Cool Me Down, Hollywood, There Must Be More Than Blood
For those familiar with the sound that originally drew eyes towards the band, Making a Door Less Open seems like a sudden swerve for Car Seat Headrest. Gone are the lo-fi aesthetics and subdued choruses, replaced here by more electronic influences and a greater emphasis on lush, layered production. But these changes are ultimately for the better, as this album feels like a logical evolution of what the band has been doing on their past few projects. Will Toledo’s voice is still as recognizable as ever, as are his biting lyrics offering commentary on American culture and the hypocrisies he sees within himself. And each track feels distinctly different in both tone and sound, from the chill grooves on “Can’t Cool Me Down” to the aggressive and hilarious “Hollywood” and the ever-building elements that form “There Must Be More Than Blood.” While the shift in focus may turn off some longtime fans, Making a Door Less Open offers the most accessible album to date for those looking to familiarize themselves with Car Seat Headrest while still providing enough details to notice upon further listens.
Charli XCX - how i’m feeling now
Released: May 15
Essential Tracks: forever, claws, i finally understand
Crafted entirely in quarantine and sonically acting as a direct follow-up to her impeccable album Charli released just last year, how i’m feeling now finds Charli XCX getting introspective, offering a direct feed into the mind of someone scared to be alone forced into a situation where they pretty much have to do just that. Over punchy production provided by her usual collaborators, Charli gives listeners pretty much exactly what the title implies, with tracks like “i finally understand” and “forever” finding her at her most vulnerable in regards to both her relationship status and mental state. Even so, Charli still finds time to have fun, as tracks like “claws” bring the chaotic energy to further develop the future-pop sound that has come to define her. how i’m feeling now may seem like business as usual to those following Charli’s career up to this point, but that can hardly be labeled a complaint when no one else is doing what she does quite as well as she does it.
Run The Jewels - RTJ4
Released: June 3
Essential Tracks: ooh la la (feat. Greg Nice & DJ Premier), walking in the snow, JU$T (feat. Pharrell Williams & Zack de la Rocha)
Despite being scheduled for release before the protests surrounding the horrific death of George Floyd, in many ways RTJ4 feels like a direct response to the current political climate, offering the perfect soundtrack to societal discontent. Killer Mike and El-P have never been afraid to get political in their music, and here they sound more focused than ever, delivering hard-hitting bangers that dissect every aspect of systematic racism in America. “walking in the show” tackles the privilege of people who can afford to ignore the issues facing the country, while “JU$T” calls on Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine to tackle capitalism and how it unfairly disenfranchises minorities. Even the more upbeat tracks like “ooh la la” still have an unsettling air around them as the good times the duo raps about seem so far away. RTJ4 is one of the most necessary albums of the year thus far, and represents the general mood of 2020 perfectly; one of unrest, disappointment, and a clear recognition of the need for change.
Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher
Released: June 18
Essential Tracks: Garden Song, Kyoto, Halloween
It can be difficult to try and describe the appeal of Phoebe Bridgers; in part because she is perhaps the least well-known artist on this list, but also due to the disconnect between her public image and her music. Scrolling through her Twitter or Instagram accounts suggests that she is another indie artist trying to troll or joke her way into the spotlight, but actually listening to her sophomore solo record Punisher reveals someone using comedy and absurdity to mask the very real pain they feel. The intricate lyrics of tracks like “Garden Song” and “Halloween” paint a picture of melancholic unrest with themes of wanting to live a better life but not being able to commit to actually doing it, and the mix of bright indie-rock production and subtle storytelling on “Kyoto” frames a trip to Japan not as a vacation but instead as a coping mechanism. Punisher is an album about being a broken person trying to put the pieces back together, and in no other year could this resonate as much as it does right now.
Taylor Swift - folklore
Released: July 24
Essential Tracks: the 1, the last great american dynasty, exile (feat. Bon Iver)
Rarely do certified superstars switch up or experiment with the sound that made them famous; even less attempt it as much as Taylor Swift has. Over the past decade she has gone from thoughtful yet guarded country singer to bigger than life pop sensation, and yet folklore, her latest album, represents perhaps the biggest left hook of her whole career. Right from the opening track “the 1” is a completely new vibe, one more Lana Del Rey than Ariana Grande, and one that brings a much-needed clarity to the often muddled world Taylor seems to exist in. folklore has a calmness to it, one that manifests itself both in the sonic direction of chill guitar and soft piano as well as in the lyrics, shifting between intricate storytelling like with “the last great american dynasty” and deeply existential loss-of-love tracks like “exile,” a heartbreaking duet with Bon Iver. Taylor has come a long way from her country music days, but folklore shows that she still can still tell stories that people relate to, creating some of the most mature music in the current pop sphere.
Aminé - Limbo
Released: August 7
Essential Tracks: Compensating (feat. Young Thug), Pressure In My Palms (feat. slowthai & Vince Staples), Fetus (feat. Injury Reserve)
Best known for his breakout hit single “Caroline” from 2016, Aminé is someone many people may have written off as a one-hit wonder, a rapper who makes silly music and who has very little staying power. But with his sophomore studio record Limbo, he evolves into a mature artist with a voice all his own. His sense of humor is still there, as shown on songs like “Compensating” with an equally charismatic feature from Young Thug, as well as “Pressure In My Palms” with support from Vince Staples and UK up-and-comer slowthai, but the album as a whole is largely focused on the fears that come with adulthood and striking out on ones one. This theme is explored in various ways, most impactfully on “Fetus” where Aminé runs through the pros and cons of raising a child, which hits incredibly hard when paired with a sadly poetic feature from Injury Reserve (RIP Groggs). Both lyrically and sonically, Limbo finds Aminé as a fully formed artist, one finally comfortable with himself and his platform enough to tell his story, and one with something to actually say.