It’s nice to note that Covid-19 has got nothing on music releases. Well, even though it led to tours being cancelled or moved to next year, artists were still able to gift us with albums. Suck it covid!
For me, 2020 started a bit slow on the music scene. Mostly, it was EPs I was feeling before the ‘good’ albums started rolling in. I had already marked the release date for One Republic’s album, only to open apple music on the supposed release date and see they pushed it back to December 31!! My heart broke.
Sam Smith also pushed back his album release and scrapped the album name. Based off his released singles – ‘Dancing with a Stranger’, ‘How do you sleep?’ and ‘I Feel love’ (Donner Summer cover), I was expecting a different sound (Dance pop and Disco) from him.
However, he released – ‘To die for’ and also included the last year single – ‘Fire for fire’ on the album track list (these songs are his regular sound). He further released another single – ‘I’m Ready’ featuring Demi Lovato which was back to the Dance pop genre. The album was fast beginning to sound too experimental and a bit disjointed, besides he had released almost half the songs on the album as singles. I’m trusting his decision to rework the songs on the album will pay off real good.
I’m highly anticipating his new single with Bruna Boy titled ‘My Oasis’. It has to be nothing short of magic. I screamed when I saw Sam’s announcement on his Instagram. I doubt this paring ever crossed anyone’s mind.
After compiling this list I realized that it was comprised of majorly male artists/bands. I remember the uproar that greeted the Grammys a few years back over lack of representation of female artists in the nominations. I went through my last year list and saw it was male dominated as well. It got me wondering, were the women pulling the gender card or are they really not that great artists as the male folk or is there truly marginalization of female artists?
I mean, I’ll say most of the greatest voices in music are from female artists but when it comes to commercial success, the music industry is male dominated. Maybe the root cause is, record labels not signing enough ladies? Or what do you think? Even when shortlisting albums, the number of albums from the male folk almost doubled those released by females this year. Have you ever noticed this disparity in numbers amongst the sexes in music?
Without much further ado, here’s a countdown of my favourite albums from first half of 2020 –
12. Horizons – Surfaces
This is a feel good album sure to brighten your day. Even the album art breathes hope and positivity. The kind of album needed in these weird trying times. 2020 has been a lot and I personally have had moments of mental struggle with all that’s been happening and this album always has a way of lifting my mood. The album is a mix of pop, reggae, jazz and hip hop to give a collection of summer jamz one can listen to on a lazy day.
Favourite Tracks – Take it easy, Sunny side up, Remedy, Horizons, Keep it gold
11. How to be Human – Chelsea Cutler
I got to know Chelsea on her joint EP with Jeremy Zucker (Brent). Something about her voice always gets me. A bit coarse and perfect for emotional laden songs whether it’s a pop song like ‘Sad tonight’ or a heart wrenching ballad like ‘I was in heaven’. This album has a balanced mix of pop songs and ballads centred about losing love. Two things stand out on the album; Chelsea’s song writing prowess and her sincere vulnerable lyrics.
My favourite track off the album is ‘I was in heaven’. The lyrics – ‘you don’t see what you saw in me when you said you’ll never leave’ broke me and helped me process the pain of being walked out on.
Favourite Tracks – What would it take, I was in heaven, Are you listening, Nj, Somebody else will get your eyes, I miss you, Lucky, Crazier things
10. Lady Like – Ingrid Andress
I got to know Ingrid Andress and her debut album from Reward’s Favourite Country Albums/EPs of 2020, so far. The theme of this album bothers on Love and the timeline of relationships.
I feel this is a concept album in reverse. It sort of tells a story when you listen to the album from the last track to the first. She knows who she is on Track 8 (Lady Like) and won’t be put in a box. On Track 7 (Life of the party) she is at a party looking happy and fly, but within she is hurting because her lover left her. Track 6 (More Hearts than Mine) has her reminiscing about the disappointment the breakup will have on her folks who are also vested in her relationship, while Track 5 (Anything but love) has her struggling to forget her lover who has since moved on.
Track 4 (The Stranger) has her wishing they could start over and meet afresh in a bar as strangers and rekindle the love, while on Track 3 (We’re not Friends), she finds herself in a situationship, likely a rebound. She says they may pretend to be just friends but kissing at 2am, is definitely not what friends do.
On Track 2 (Both), she gives her rebound guy an ultimatum, either he is in fully or he is out as he can’t do both. Track 1 (Bad advice) explains how the rebound was a bad advice from her friends and how she is always taking bad advice to move on from breakups.
This might not have been Ingrid’s idea about the album, but I think it fits perfectly well or it’s just my overzealous love for concept albums.
‘Both’ is my favourite track off the album because it depicts a situationship I recently walked away from. I was the indecisive one, not wanting to commit but wanting to enjoy the perks of a relationship. I knew it was not fair to the other and so I ended it.
“You’re blurring the lines
You’re playing two sides
Just make up your mind
You can tell me to stay
You can push me away
Have space or get close
But you can’t do both
You can kiss me goodnight
Or kiss me goodbye
Baby, love me or don’t
But you can’t do both”
Favourite Tracks – Both, The Stranger, Anything but love, Life of the party, Lady like
9. Walls – Louis Tomlinson
The last of the One Direction lads to release a solo album. The album opens with the punk rock genre track – ‘Kill my mind’ which tells the listener that he is setting his own path and not following the now defunct One Direction band’s britpop sound. Though tracks like ‘Don’t let it break your heart’, ‘Always you’ and ‘Defenceless’ sound like typical One Direction songs, his path is quite clear. It’s been interesting watching each of the ex-members of the band find their individual sound. I have always loved Louis for his unique somewhat cracked voice and always felt he will go the rock genre route.
This album is majorly Britpop and Indie rock. The album revolves around the theme of loss and hope. This is not surprising considering the tragedy Louis has had to deal with following the death of his mother and then his sister. ‘Two of us’ feels like the core of the album, a song he wrote about his late mother.
Sadly the release of the song was followed by the death of his sister. Knowing this makes the pain in the song even achier.
Favourite Tracks – Don’t let it break your heart, Two of us, Walls, Habit, Always you
8. Kid Krow – Conan Gray
I was on music explore on twitter one night when I came across Conan’s tweet announcing the release date for his debut album. He stated the songs were a reflection of his life story. Being a sucker for art emanating from personal experiences, I took note of the date. Getting this album was worth it. The album is filled with bold production different from the commercial sound out there. I love how each song tells a story about a group of friends growing up together. Mostly, it’s his unconventional sound and song writing prowess that gets to me.
Favourite Tracks – Comfort crowd, The cut that always bleeds, Fight or flight, Affluenza, Little Leauge, The Story
7. Love is not dying (Deluxe Edition) – Jeremy Zucker
After 8 EPs, Jeremy finally released his debut full length LP and it is everything. I remember feeling different range of emotions the first time I listened to the album. The 24year old has built his art around dark lyrics and moody sound which sometimes sounds way too mature for someone that young, you begin to wonder what lemons life must have thrown him. His joint EP ‘Brent’ with Chelsea Cutler is one of my favourite EPs.
Love is not dying album (Deluxe edition) takes you on a complete emotional ride with a theme around heartbreak. This album is sad and beautiful with powerful moments ranging from pain to resilience and then surrender.
What stands out on this LP is Jeremy’s perfect mastery of the use of silence/quietness in the production. This shows up heavily on tracks like ‘Orchid’, ‘Full stop’ and ‘Julia’, giving the songs a weightier feel. On ‘Full stop’, sad lyrics about struggling with letting go of lost love flows perfectly with initial slow minimal production that builds all through the track until the bridge where marching bands rise to a crescendo and then comes to a halt, fading into a quiet ending that transitions safely into the next track. This is one track sure to take you on an emotional journey.
Favourite Tracks – Somebody loves you, Orchid, Not your friend, Full Stop, Julia, Always I’ll care, you were good to me (bonus track), comethru (bonus track)
6. Heartbreak Weather – Niall Horan
This album didn’t sit well with me on first listen. I felt disappointed that after delivering an outstanding debut folk album, he went the way of commercial pop on his sophomore album.
However, being a champion of artistic freedom, diversity and growth, I gave the album another listen, this time with an open mind. I realized that same way I initially dismissed Taylor Swift’s first pop album (1989) which later turned out to be an excellent pop album, Niall’s Heartbreak Weather album also turned out to be a good typical pop album – catchy songs lacking lyrical depth.
The theme of the album can easily be deduced from album title. However, due to the loud pop funky production on most of the songs, the emotions that should carry the album theme are lacking. Niall did well on songs like ‘Dear Patience’, ‘Bend the rules’, ‘Put a little love on me’ and ‘Still’. I think these songs saved the album for me.
The closing track – ‘Still’ feels like it was taken off his previous Flicker album. ‘No judgement’ is one of my favourites though it has striking similarities with ‘I don’t care’ by Ed Sheeran ft Justin Bieber off of the former’s last EP – No 6 Collaborations project.
This album is not an artistically great album but it’s definitely that album you keep listening to repeatedly even though it’s not your typical poison. It’s supposed to be an album about heartbreak, but ironically it’s more of a feel good album.
Heartbreak weather could easily be another One Direction album. I’ll love him to go back to singing folk songs because that makes him standout as an artist, especially as it’s very distinguishable from the typical One Direction sound.
Favourite Tracks – Dear Patience, Bend the rules, Put a little love on me, Arms of a stranger, No Judgement, San Francisco, Still
5. Boo of the Booless – Chike
After wowing everyone with his rendition of James Arthur & Emeli Sande’s Roses on his blind audition for The Voice (Nigeria), Chike gifts us with one hell of a decent album that perfectly blends a bit of pop and RnB while maintaining the afrobeat sound. The first half of the album is comprised of mid tempo jams that is sure to get you moving your body, while the other half comprises mostly ballads that accentuates the effect of his unique vocals. Everything about the album is almost perfect; song arrangement, lyrical content, production and track length.
The opening track serves as an appetizer as to what is to come, a bit slower in tempo than most of the first half songs. However, from track two, the album sort of peaks and begins a pleasant ride till the closing high life track that has him singing mostly in Igbo dialect. The change in genre on this track gives the album a refreshing closing.
For an album filled with great lyrical content, the album title feels like a lazy effort. The album is centred on love. The track ‘Forever’ is that song you send to bae to reassure them about how much you love them. I remember hearing ‘Faithful’ for the first time on my way to work and thinking to myself that the song felt like a letter from my ex to me.
The lyrics fit perfectly in relation to how we felt about each other at a point, but one of us had already moved on to a new relationship.
“Your smile still lightens up the day
Your voice still ringing in my brain
I hope your memory will fade
And cheating is a sin
Especially with someone who really loves me
So I’ll make sure not to fall to day
I can’t be the one for you
I have someone who loves me
Even though I think that I love you”
This is not your typical album from a Nigerian artiste. It falls in the same category of new age singers who have chosen to follow the less commercial path and deliver songs with lyrical depth and less radio friendly sounds.
Boo of the booless is an impressive debut album which was released independently without the backing of a record label. The quality of the album has been its selling point and I think Chike deserves all the success for this body of art. It was hard to pick my favourite tracks as I actually love all the songs. This is a no skip album.
Favourite Tracks – Nakupenda, Forever, Amen, Finders Keepers, Insecure, Forgive, Faithful, Watching over me
4. Remember to Remember Me – Isak Danielson
I found out about the sophomore album from Isak on someone’s Insta story. The person used ‘Remember to remember me’ as backing music on her picture. Hearing his emotion filled vocals as the music played, reminded me of how good his debut album was.
I went to check out the single and found out he had actually released a full length album with that track as the Album title. Well, that’s the standout track on the album.
This album is honest and vulnerable. Isak is not afraid to bare his weakness in letting go of an elusive lover who though toxic, still has a strong hold on him. The opening track – ‘Religion’ gives an insight to his ex-lover’s manipulative ways.
People make statements of leaving a relationship that no longer serves you, like it’s a switch you can just flip on all the memories and walk away without feeling any pain or struggle. This album portrays the cycle of frustration, as well as the back and forth you go through trying to let go of someone you are still in love with.
On ‘Remember to remember he sings solemnly –
“I don’t like the part of moving on
I hate to say goodbye
I can’t stand this bedroom all alone
When everything reminds me of you laying by my side”
Songs like ‘Part of me’, ‘Love me wrong’, ‘I don’t need your love’ and ‘Feel something’ perfectly covers his turmoil, almost like he is losing his sanity trying to reason with himself on why letting go is the right thing to do, but yet his heart fails him and he still wants the lover to rescue him.
The closing track ‘Last song’ is a tired and defeated Isak accepting his pain and reality, he says his final goodbye as he watches his lover fade away. I think this is one of the lowest points, to watch someone you love dearly slip away from you. Even when you are ready to ignore their faults, knowing that no words you say or actions can prevent them from leaving. To watch it all fall apart helplessly, tragic.
The album also covers his struggle with anxiety on songs like ‘Silence’ and ‘Light up’. The quality of this album makes it so hard to believe Isak is just 22 years old.
Favourite Tracks – Remember to remember me, Light up, Feel Something, Last song
3. Bigger Love – John Legend
I have always loved John Legend’s albums in small bits. I find his full length albums a bit boring. A couple of songs sound great but listening to the entire album? I’ll sleep off half way.
However that’s not the case on his seventh studio album – Bigger love, which as the title clearly infers is about love in all its spheres. From the opening track – ‘Ooh Laa’ (which samples The Flamigos’s I Only Have Eyes for You), the loud production (reminisce of his last album – Darkness and Light) keeps you alert as his creamy voice pleasantly drools over each note.
When I heard the first single off the album – ‘Conversations in the dark’, I thought this was going to be the peak of the album. But the album boasts of deep cuts that gives the song a run for its shine. The album has a good mix of up-tempo songs and ballads.
This album would have been much stronger if he had pruned the track length, I mean 16 tracks is quite a lot.
Favourite Tracks – Wild, U move I move, Focused, Conversations in the dark
2. Graves into Gardens – Elevation Worship
For me, this album starts from track 3. The first two tracks feel out of place on the album. They have strong messages, but the tempo of the tracks doesn’t feel right with the switch in flow from track three till the album closes out.
Reward shared ‘Graves into Gardens’ track with me early in the year. The song is about restoration and it moved me. I heard the first single off the album – ‘The Blessing’ on Television one evening and I had to shazam it, it was a pleasant surprise seeing it was by Elevation worship. These two tracks had me anticipating the album.
The album is a blessing and gives one this unexplainable calm, reminding us of God’s sovereignty. This album is a call for us to surrender and hold on to God during these weird times because He’s never lost a battle.
I fell in love with this album on first listen. A true worship experience that leaves your soul watered.
This is one of the most beautiful gospel albums out there. Songs sure to give you chills are ‘Graves into Gardens’ and ‘What would you do’. I’m thankful for this album, especially in a year like 2020 that has been filled with a roller coaster of emotions.
Favourite Tracks – Graves into Gardens, The Blessing, Available, Never lost, What would you do
1. One Day at a Time – Kodaline
This album could not have come at a better time. With all that’s been happening around the world, this album breathes hope and brings light into what has seemingly been a dark year.
The theme of the album is hope and it preaches the importance of a support system, having someone to lean on when things are not so good. The track ‘Sometimes’ is about dealing with anxiety and loss.
I love how precise and straight to the point the 10 tracks on the album are. All songs complement each other in preaching the message of hope and unconditional love.
This album was love on first listen for me, another no skip album from 2020 with deep social message. I felt most of the songs deeply. The track – ‘Saving grace’ ignited a spark in me. Just as the album title goes, this period we all have to take it one day at a time till it all blows over and we are back to the normal we are familiar with.
I know how hard it is to reach out to others when life gets overwhelming, personally I struggle with this. The lyrics of ‘Say something’ captures this feeling so well –
“When it cuts so deep when you try to speak
But the words don’t come out right
You can lean on me when it’s hard to breathe
You can call me anytime
Say something to me”
See, this album is a life saver. I think this is what they were going for on their previous album – Politics of living, however that album got a bit incohesive.
Favourite Tracks – Wherever you are, Sometimes, Saving Grace, Say something, The Evening, Heart open
- Dear Happy – Gabrielle Aplin (Genre – Pop)
- South Side – Sam Hunt (Genre – Country pop)
- Manic – Halsey (Genre – Pop)
- Now or Never – Brent Kissel (Genre – Country)
- Yellow – Brymo (Genre – World)
Looking for the Good – Jason Mraz
This is not a bad album per say. I’m actually impressed Jason decided to release a reggae album. However, like someone once said – reggae is one beat over which different musicians sing different lyrics. Not entirely true though, UB40, Bob Marley and even new age reggae artist – Jah Cure don’t have all their songs having similar production. The one major flaw on the 7th studio album from Jason Mraz, is the similar production on all songs, making the album lacklustre.
Chromatica – Lady Gaga
persons thought Lady Gaga will continue from the massive success of ‘Shallow’
on her next studio album, but the first single – ‘Stupid Love’ buried that
thought. It was a taste of what was to come; another
Comparing this album with The Fame or The Fame Monster will be a long shot. Born this way is the last good album by Lady Gaga. What confuses me is, she is not new to this genre. Her first three albums which were superb were also dance/electropop. They had depth and melody. Chromatica is a complication of similar sounding overproduced songs with most of the songs lacking melody. Something is not working anymore, her songs are now so easily forgettable and boring. She needs to go back to the drawing board for real.
Velvet – Adam Lambert
I thought when Adam finally releases the side B of Velvet, it will have more of the retro mid tempo sound he went for on the first two released singles. Sadly, I think Adam lost the plot he initially had for this album. Turned out to be a very huge let down and his worst album ever. I’m not sure his touring with Queen is having any good effect on his solo career. It’s sad to watch him lose identity and take up the band’s persona.
MISSED OUT FAVOURITE ALBUMS FROM 2019
Onwards to Zion – Vancouver Sleep Clinic
I was aware of the sophomore album from Vancouver
Sleep Clinic but I had not yet
let go of my poverty mentality embraced
streaming. I couldn’t find a link for download. However, this was one of the
first albums I streamed after I signed up on Apple music, thanks to the nudges
A follow up to his superb debut album – Revival, Tim Bettinson who makes up the band – Vancouver Sleep Clinic, shows growth on his sophomore. Honestly, you won’t even think for a second that it was released by a 24yr old. I love his sound and it’s perfect for times when I want to shut the world out and tune into myself and feelings.
Lessons in Love – Sinead Harnett
I was talking with an ex, and I asked what albums helped in healing from our breakup. This was one of the albums listed. Standout track for me is ‘Him too’. The words felt like it was directed at me. I realized that while I listened to albums that made me drown in my pain, the other was listening to albums that helped forget me. I guess we all heal differently, huh? Anyway this is one beautiful RnB album I didn’t know existed till that conversation early this year.
Royal Soldier – Jah Cure
I listened to this album last year and loved it but it didn’t make my year end list. I’m putting it on this list due to Jason Mraz’s underwhelming ‘Looking for the Good’ album. Royal Soldier is how to do a contemporary reggae album. All the songs have their own distinct reggae sound and persona. This album is pleasant to the ears and will have you jamming to the energetic beats.