While this year may have sucked, the music that came out of it certainly did not. From the critically-acclaimed to the lesser-known treasures, here are Nü Sound’s favorite albums from this whirlwind of a year.
Stand Atlantic – Pink Elephant
I first stumbled across the Australian pop-punk four-piece in 2018 with their debut record Skinny Dipping with its title track becoming my failed-relationship-anthem. Even now I can see myself blaring the track in my care on repeat after the first time I heard it, aggressively finger-pointing out of the driver side window at innocent passersby. If those confused people knew I had just discovered my new favorite pop-punk band, I think they’d understand. These moments are irreplaceable, the ones where, years later, we remember what position the sun lay, how the air felt, the childish joy that bubbled in our stomachs. That record had a multitude of angst-fueled hits that brought me into their Aussie web of excitement like “Bullfrog” but after hearing vocalist Bonnie Fraser explode into a powerful pop chorus for both “Hate Me (Sometimes)” and “Shh!”, I knew their upcoming 2020 record ‘Pink Elephant’ was going to shake loose the reigns of covid sadness. The massive synth pop rhythms heard throughout this record comes as no surprise with producer Stevie Knight behind the band (With Confidence, Yours Truly) and does a wonderful job of using the band’s talent of combining light-hearted tones with meaningful lyrics.
Cait McMahon, Editor-in-Chief
All Time Low – Wake Up, Sunshine
With Wake Up, Sunshine, All Time Low tapped into their quintessential sound, and the result was glorious. The band went back to their roots with this record, creating the album together in Palm Springs with the help of Zakk Cervini, Phil Gornell, Andrew Goldstein, Colin Brittain, and Kevin Fisher (what a dream team). Everything that made middle school-me fall in love with Nothing Personal is present, but with the growth and maturity you always hope your favorite artists can find. WUS represents a true progression for the band. This was the first release in years that I listened to front to back for weeks on end after its release. From the opening track “Some Kind of Disaster” to the monster hit “Monsters” (featuring Blackbear) to the pop-punk glory of “Clumsy” and the self-deprecating nostalgia of “Basement Noise,” Wake Up, Sunshine deserves all the hype it’s gotten, and All Time Low has my undying gratitude for delivering such an incredible album during such an awful time. Also did I mention that “Monsters” earned ATL their first number one radio hit? Not too shabby.
Natalie DaRe, Assistant Editor
21 Savage & Metro Boomin – SAVAGE MODE II
There were “better” albums in 2020. There were “better” rap albums in 2020—Freddie Gibbs and the Alchemist’s ‘Alfredo,’ Pink Siifu’s ‘Negro,’ and R.A.P. Ferreira’s ‘Purple Moonlight Pages’ come to mind. But quite frankly, none of those projects brought the same bombastic, unreserved energy as this iconic trap pair. They made these months of disastrous isolation feel a little less depressing. During a year when everything felt cripplingly serious, 21 Savage and Metro Boomin put out an album full of “pussy” ad-libs, banging beats, and dizzying flows, all of it narrated by Morgan Freeman. I mean, the first time you hear 21 Savage on the album, he literally comes in with a maniacal supervillian laugh. There are weightier themes laced throughout the absurd accounts of wealth and violence (like 21 Savage’s high profile encounter with ICE and the emotionally destructive realities of a trap star lifestyle), but the album’s beauty stems from the simple joy of hearing two artists at the top of their game. 2020 forced the world into self-reflection, but SAVAGE MODE II reminded everyone to not take it all so seriously, at least for 45 minutes.
Andrew Checchia, Senior Contributor
The Airborne Toxic Event – Hollywood Park
After five years, L.A. alt-rock band, The Airborne Toxic Event, returned to drop the most poignant and intensely written album of 2020: Hollywood Park. The group’s members include Mikel Jollett (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Steven Chen (guitar, keyboards), Daren Taylor (bass, backing vocals), and Adrian Rodriguez (drums). In the same week as the release, lead singer Jollett published a memoir of the same title. Listening to these songs immediately strikes as a concept album. Jollett accounts his chaotic childhood having been born into an infamous cult in California. Grasping onto each lyric almost seems like an invasion of privacy, as it peers deeply into an intimate and disorienting past. “Blue lights and shadows, we grew up way too fast. They stole our future. But they can’t steal our past” (“All The Children”). While the punk revival choruses in the beginning of the album shake your body and mind, the second half of the album brings you back to the surface by exploring empowering acceptance. For any other album, the inconsistent track flow would have bothered me, but given the wavering subject matter, it seems poetically fitting. Producer and mixing engineer, Mark Needham, deserves applause as well for his creative acoustic choices. It’s a shame that this band isn’t receiving a larger amount of acclamation. Regardless, they get my pick for 2020 album of the year.
Irene Baghdasaryan, Senior Contributor
Oneohtrix Point – Magic Oneohtrix Point Never
‘Magic Oneohtrix Point Never’ builds its sound out of a lush layering of synth, wacky samples, and distorted vocals, blending the best of their catalogue into a space-y, weird, and fun record. Following Oneohtrix Point’s Daniel Lopatin’s synth heavy score for the Safdie brothers movie Uncut Gems (2019), Abel Tesfaye (The Weekend), who worked on Uncut Gems, is featured as a co-producer on the record. Like going to the moon or back in time, this is the escapist music 2020 needs.
Katherine Andrews, Contributor
Halsey – Manic
There is little saving grace when it comes to rectifying this past year. Yet, one cherished blessing of 2020 was the release of Chloe x Halle’s second studio album, ‘Ungodly Hour.’ The R&B sister duo consecrated listener’s ears through the sensuously divine intervention of their 13-track album. ‘Ungodly Hour’ euphorically entrances the mind with an emotional state of hypotonic honesty. Each track is a relatable MOOD. Calling out boys for their bullshit in “Busy Boy,” to the suffocating feeling of stress in “Overwhelmed,” the tracks of ‘Ungodly Hour’ touch on a range of 21st century induced emotions that are consequences of modern relationships. The passionately playful bops, “Do It,” “Tipsy,” “Ungodly Hour,” and the Beyonce/ FKA twigs infused sound induced by “ROYL” (a collab between all of these musical goddesses needs to bless us in 2021!), are the standout tracks of the album. While we can all gladly leave 2020 in the dust, ‘Ungodly Hour’ can absolutely join us in the new year. As Chloe x Halle preach in their track “Lonely,” “you don’t have to be lonely being alone,” this is especially true while under the influence of ‘Ungodly Hour.’
P.S. To all the boys who foolishly hurt Chloe x Halle in the past, I first thank you for inspiring them to create the timeless bops that make up ‘Ungodly Hour.’ More importantly, please reevaluate yourself in the new year, because Chloe x Halle are angels and a blessing to us all.
Mackenzie Oravec, Contributor
AJJ – Good Luck Everybody
Nathaniel Hendricks, Contributor
Mac Miller – Circles
This album can be hard to listen to as it’s hard to imagine where the young artist would be today. Each song represents something very different–it varies from longing for love to struggling with drugs and addictive tendencies. Mac Miller is one of my all-time favorite artists but my bias does not diminish the magic that this album encompasses.
Jordan Edelman, Contributor
Taylor Swift – evermore
In July of 2020, Taylor Swift shocked her fans (and the world) with her surprise new indie folk album folklore. Swift kept the surprises coming with a second surprise record evermore on December 11th. The sister album to folklore, evermore finds Swift continuing her working relationship with Jack Antonoff, Aaron Dessner, and Justin Vernon, but this time with the addition of HAIM and Marcus Mumford. With all the fan theories surrounding these albums (is there in fact a third album coming this April?), T Swift would have deserved a spot on this list just for giving all us Swifties a way to stay busy during quarantine, but lucky for us the music is fantastic, too. From the immediate fan-favorite “champagne problems” to the narrative story-telling of “no body, no crime” and “cowboy like me,” evermore delivers a truly cohesive, entrancing sound for long-time fans and newbies who have jumped off the hate-train.
Natalie DaRe, Assistant Editor