After indulging in several mellow pop-influenced EPs in the first half of 2020 and Albums that cut across various genres, I craved something different. I needed music that was hushed and easy on my senses to see me through the second half of the year. 2020 was a lot and I needed calm and ease as the year phased out.
Nevertheless, I kept my self open across genres. I mean, I don’t get how people can limit themselves to only one genre, must be quite boring. Variety will always remain the spice of life IMO.
On the Nigerian music scene, the big names in the industry started the second half of 2020 with album releases. It almost began to feel like a competition, and of course, the comparisons by the various fandoms raged on Twitter.
After a seemingly slow first half that was dominated by new artists, the second half saw the big names take center stage. While some decided to lose their sound and fine-tune it to please the Western world, (in search of a Grammy nod) it was nice having others stay true to their sound and core Afrobeats/Afropop, delivering albums that had spark and life. I’m not naming names, but if you followed the Nigerian music space, you’ll know just who and who I’m referring to.
The artists I anticipated albums from all delivered and most were worth the wait. As for Rihanna, it was apt to see a magazine refer to her as a part-time musician. This was funny to read. I didn’t expect an album from Adele despite all the rumors, though seeing her weight loss transformation was quite something. I’m expecting a fire album from her. Seems her divorce hit hard.
OneRepublic broke my heart. They yet again pushed back their album release a second time to the first quarter of 2021. I’m still anticipating this project. Despite the covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, it was impressive getting good music last year. Though on general terms, the quality of music these days is nothing to be compared to songs of the 2000s. R.I.P to the soft rock genre.
Now let’s explore into the countdown of my favourite albums from the Second half of 2020 –
13. CTV3: Cool Tape Vol 3 – Jaden Smith
I have never followed Jaden’s music, being that I’m not much of a Hip-hop/Rap fan. I heard a snippet of Cabin Fever on his Instagram page when he announced the release of the song as the first single from the album. The retro-influenced sound was fresh, different from his usual rap songs. The music video is also artistic in every right and got me anticipating the album.
The album thankfully followed the same pattern as the first single, leading to an aesthetically pleasing project. Everything about this album is art. From the retro-influenced production, the lyrics, and mellow sunny sound, Jaden deliver a new side of creativity that’s a testament to his growth.
CTV3: Cool Tape Vol 3 boasts of another Justin Bieber/Jaden Smith collaboration on the track ‘Falling for you’. This song is a refreshing deviation from their earlier pop-influenced Never Say Never track.
Favourite Tracks – Falling for you, Everything, Cabin Fever, Deep End, Photograph, Boys and Girls
12. Only Child – Sasha Sloan
One Sunday evening while cooking, mid-way through listening to this album, I remember telling myself the album reeks of loneliness. ‘Only Child’ is a follow up to her 2019 EP – ‘Self Portrait’. Sasha once again goes heavy on melancholic moody lyrics sung over mellow dark minimal instrumentals that make you feel the weight of every word.
The album is introspective, heavy on dark themes of loneliness, self-acceptance, and love. Sasha cements herself as an excellent songwriter on Only Child.
Favourite Tracks – House with No Mirrors, Lie, Is it Just Me?, Hypochondriac, Santa’s Real
11. A Better Time – Davido
The energy on this album is everything! Its hits back to back from the first track to the last. This album has spark! So much life and excitement on the album, way better than the bore-fest released by the other artist who can’t be named. When it comes to music, maturity doesn’t mean boring, please.
Two downsides with this album – unnecessary long track number and the opening track – ‘FEM’ doesn’t fit well on the album, the same way ‘Formation’ didn’t fit into Beyonce’s Lemonade album. ‘FEM’ should have been released as a buzz single and not included on the album, or at best, added as a bonus track.
Still, ‘A better Time’ is one of the no skip albums from Nigerian music space in 2020.
Favourite Tracks – Jowo, Something fishy, Holy Ground, Very Special, The Best, Tanana
10. How it used to feel – Phoebe Ryan
This is arguably one of the best-written Pop albums of 2020. Pop albums are usually a collection of songs with cheap lyrics over catchy beats. ‘How it used to feel’ proves that just because it’s Pop doesn’t mean it can’t have lyrical depth. I love everything about this debut album from Phoebe and how it follows through the theme of heartbreak yet still gives off an energetic vibe all through. This album sparkles.
Thanks to Apple music playlist for helping me discover her.
Favourite Tracks – Talk to me, Try it sober, Little piece, Ring, Just like Me, A Thousand Ways
9. Apart – Leon
The sophomore album from Leon is centered on her breakup from her long-time boyfriend. What I love about this album is its distinct sound which is well complemented by Leon’s unique voice. The songwriting on this album is top-notch. The album always gets me in my feelings every time I listen to it.
On ‘and it breaks my heart’ she sings –
“Oh, where did love go?
It’s right in your hands, then it’s suddenly gone
Oh no, nobody knows where it disappears
And it breaks my heart”
This summarizes why I choose to be avoidant these days, it always ends in tears. So why bother?
Favourite Tracks – Head and Heart on Fire, In a Stranger’s Arms, Chasing a Feeling, Falling Apart, Who you lovin, Die for You
8. The love You Want – Lewis Watson
If anyone says alternative music is boring, kindly refer them to this album. The third album from the singer-songwriter – Lewis Watson is proof that folk-pop can be just as interesting and lyrically meaningful as other indie genres.
I can’t exactly remember how I discovered Lewis, but I’m glad I did. I didn’t only enjoy this album he released in 2020 which dissects every aspect around relationships, I explored his entire discography and fell in love with his art.
Favourite Tracks – take what you need, meant for me, castles of sand, roses, echoes, fly when I fall, loving arms
7. Wilted – Paris Jackson
I guess anyone would say the logical thing for Paris Jackson to do, is to follow in the footsteps of her father Michael, and go the way of Pop music. But I think the bravest thing is for her to follow her path, which she did perfectly well on her debut album – Wilted. To be honest, when I heard she released an album, I was expecting one of those cheaply written pop happy albums, but boy! She blew me away with her alternative indie album.
This is a break-up album, but what distinguishes it is the quietness that comes with each track and lyrics that connect with your past experiences of pain. Her pain feels so raw on ‘Let down’ where she sings – ‘you were my all/and now I fall to the ground/you hit the wall/and now, I crawl underground’
From the listen, it’s been one of my go-to albums when I need to quiet the voices in my head. Each track breathes calmness over me as her voice in almost whispers soars over minimal instruments. This album is peaceful and leads you to a place of quiet and clarity. Paris did great on this, and I know Michael would have been proud.
I love how after going through tracks and lyrics talking about loss, the ending tracks on the album speak of strength and building back up. On ‘wilted’ (the album title track) she declares – “can’t grow without your love to water my roots’’ before she draws strength from affirmations as the track fades out, singing repeatedly – ‘I’ll be my own sun…”
The next track following this song, and also the last track on the album – ‘another spring’ continues from where she stopped and centers on her rebirth. She sings – “cause seasons change/days dawn anew/I’ll rearrange and let my wounds shine through”.
My favourite lyrics on the album are on the track – ‘eyelids‘ which captures how I feel when I let myself go through pain inorder to move on –
“Cut my eyelids
So I can’t see you float out the door
Burn my tongue out
‘Cause I don’t want to taste you no more
Break my fingers
So your song can’t come out of my bones
Tear my heart out
So the feel of that memory is gone”
Favourite Tracks – repair, cosmic, let down, eyelids, freight train, wilted
6. Plastic Hearts – Miley Cyrus
This is one album that evokes two strong emotions in me. Depending on whose view you listen from, it’s sure going to stir something in you. At times, I’m strong and holding firm to my mantra of live life according to your terms, and I hear the album from Miley’s point of view. She can’t be tamed and she is no prisoner to love. She is a free spirit ready to roam free.
This she declared on Midnight sky (The first single off of the album) – “I was born to run/I don’t belong to anyone/I don’t need to be loved by you…”
And for those who chose to hate and judge people who are brave enough to follow their path, she tells them off on Golden G- String – “And you dare to call me crazy/have you looked around this place?”
Other times, I’m reeling from the PTSD of being walked out on and I’m in Liam’s shoes (her ex-husband who the album is about). The album breaks me and makes me hurt so badly. Is it a crime to fall in love with a free spirit?
It hurts watching the one you will move mountains for fade away and knowing no matter what you say, they’ll still leave. I don’t know how Liam would feel listening to this album but one thing’s for sure, he damn well won’t be smiling. Some of the lyrics sting.
On Never be me, she declares – “But if you are looking for stable, that’ll never be me/If you are looking for faithful, that’ll never be me/If you’re looking for someone to be all that you need, that’ll never be me…”
Miley Cyrus is a genius. There is no argument. After delivering perfectly on Pop, Country, and R&B genres, she has shown us the magic her raspy voice carries, shining on Rock genre. I stan a multi-talented diverse Queen. Her pre-album covers of classic rock songs (Zombie by Cranberries and Blondie’s Heart of Glass) were an inclination to what was coming on the album.
The production, track arrangement, lyrics all mix well to deliver an edgy album which I dare say is her boldest work to date. The album gives me chills every time.
Like someone stated in his review – if you don’t listen to this album just because it’s Miley Cyrus, you are doing yourself a disservice and should be ashamed that your taste is embarrassing.
Favourite Tracks – Angels like you, High, Never be me, Golden G String, Zombie (Cranberries cover)
5. Feelings – Chandler Moore
This album reeks of vulnerability and I’m here for it. This gospel album is a lifeline. I love the honesty it radiates, a deviation from hiding behind faith to act like some superhuman who lacks emotions.
From the spoken word on the album opener to the closeout track, I could feel his brokenness and shared humanity. This album got me in my feelings and helped me navigate through tough times last year. Special thanks to Makua for sharing one of the songs on his Instastory that ultimately led me to the album.
On the track – It’s okay, his emotion-laden voice cries out –
“I won’t pretend
I’ll say what I’m feeling
Emotions are raging
It’s okay not to be okay
I won’t try to hide
Love leaves room for me to say
I’m not okay”
Favourite Tracks – Feelings, It’s okay, He understands
4. Home – AG
This album is sonically pleasing. One of my top go-to albums when I need to shut the world out and calm my head. The five-track album delivers so much serenity and the instrumentals added as bonus make it a wholesome listen. This album saved my life in 2020.
The theme of the album focuses on finding your way home with the help of your support system, be it a lover or best friend. This album was indeed my anchor and led me home to peace whenever life got overwhelming.
Favourite Tracks – Found a home, Roots, Right Here, My Way Home, Anchor
3. Nothing is lost – Luca Fogale
Another quiet album that saw me through the hard times of 2020. The album is about figuring out yourself, your purpose, and navigating your way through this thing called life. In his interview with Artwood Magazine, he had this to say about his sophomore album – ‘the songs represent moments I’ve collected over the course of my life, as I continue to discover and understand the depths of what it means to be alive. This is about trying to understand my adult life, how to love myself and how we all love ourselves. Something I’ve really struggled with my entire life is feeling worthy and purposeful and that my life has value and purpose.
So a lot of these songs are just sort of meditations and reminders to myself of how I want to live my life; the ways in which I want to think about myself and think about the people in my life and how I want to be seen.’
We both share the same favourite song off the album – Unfolding. I think I have at this point turned the chorus into an affirmation of sorts –
“I am not breaking
I am not broken
I am unfolding…”
Another track I love so much is ‘Surviving’. This song is about what I preached all through last year – creating a life outside work. In Luca’s words – ‘this song is about me trying to convince myself that there is something more than just existing in the way that we feel like we have to; working our entire lives and then feeling like we deserve a break. I’ve believed that there is some sort of way to transcend the ordinary. I just feel as though there is a way – whether it is mentally or physically or psychologically – to transcend the idea that all we have to do on this planet is just work.
Favourite Tracks – Unfolding, Slow Correction, Surviving, Gloria continued, Half-saved
2. Love Goes – Sam Smith
My Half-year album review mentioned Sam Smith pushed back their hitherto named ‘To Die For’ album. They stated they were going to change the name and rework the songs. I thought it was a good move considering they had released half the songs as singles. What they eventually came up with turned out to be one of the best albums of 2020. Love Goes is growth from where they left off on their sophomore album – The thrill of it all.
Sam has finally settled into the voice they found on their previous album and is done struggling with embracing their identity. This they made clear on the opening track – Young, which I can boldly say is one of the best album openers of 2020.
“Get a little wild/Get a little high/Kiss a hundred boys and not feel like I’m tied to them/if you wanna judge me, then go and load the gun/I’ve done nothing wrong/I’m young…”
Every year, it feels like I subconsciously looking out for that album that comes with a spark. For the second (non-consecutive year) Sam has delivered that album for me. Love Goes is a breakup album, which is no new territory for Sam Smith. I guess we have Brandon Flynn (Sam’s ex) to thank for this album.
Two drawbacks of this album are – they shouldn’t have included the previously released old songs, adding them as bonus tracks were unnecessary and they didn’t fit with the flow of the new album. For me, the album stops at track 11 – Kids again.
Also, I don’t think their falsetto fits well on disco/dance tracks. Dance (‘Till you love someone else) is another hot mess, like the previously released ‘I feel love’ cover they did. Sounds like the noise mosquitoes make when they buzz close to your ears.
It was quite interesting hearing them blend well with Burna Boy on My Oasis (way better than their feature on Tiwa Savage’s Temptation where each person’s verse sounds like different songs). The build-up of the instrumentation towards the ending of the album title track – ‘Love Goes’ which features Labrinth is everything.
Favourite Tracks – Young, Another One, Forgive Myself, Love Goes, Kids Again
1. Folklore – Taylor Swift
This album couldn’t have come at a better time. Just when I was in deep longing for that album I could seat with and let my thoughts flow out of me into the music, Taylor gifted the world a surprise album – Folklore. This is her most mature project yet and it’s a masterpiece. The album is nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys and I think it will win. It’s going to be the perfect record-breaking third AOTY for her, as she will now have this for three genres – Country, Pop, and Alternative.
I have come to accept Taylor as that cross over artist who not only explores genres but seems to want to milk it before moving on. She did that with Country and Pop. After her Lover album, I knew her next album wasn’t going to be Pop. I secretly hoped she would go back to country, but she went with Alternative and she did so well. But then she decided to release Evermore, which she termed the sister album to Folklore. Hmmm…my reservation? This is something Ariana Grande will do.
The moment I saw her tweet announcing Evermore barely five months after the release of Folklore, I knew it was going to be filled with left over tracks. Even the lead single from Evermore – ‘Willow’ sounds like a rip-off of the track ‘Invisible string’ on Folkore. The accompanying Willow video feels like a rip-off of Cardigan’s video as well. Super Taylor fans say it’s a continuation, but deep down we know what it really is.
It’s hard not to compare both albums. I wish she tweaked the sound on Evermore, may be switched to proper folk genre or something. While Evermore boasts of good songs (Champagne problems, Tolerate it, No body No crime, Happiness, Dorothea, and the two bonus tracks on the deluxe) I can’t help but feel like it’s a watered-down version of Folklore and a bit boring. Some of the songs on Evermore sound like slow poetry with no rhythm. Folklore will forever remain the standard.
Artists should understand that albums are just like books, they are a sum-up of the artists’ experience. You need to give time between albums; live and experience life before you start a new era. But hey, who made the rules, right?
Two issues I have with Folklore are – the extremely long track length. 17 tracks are a bit too much for an alternative album. I get this is her usual pattern on her albums but mehn, not for alternative genre, please.
Also, the album doesn’t have a peak. The songs are on the same frequency that drags along with no particular center track that gives a spark that feels like the album core. This could have been ‘Cardigan’ but it doesn’t exactly nail it.
Still, Folkore is the album of 2020 for me. The lyrical depth is beautiful and the songs make my soul float in eternal bliss. It’s nice to hear a grown up Taylor.
Favourite Tracks – the 1, cardigan, exile, my tears ricochet, mirrorball, august, this is me trying
- No Stranger – Natalie Grant (Genre – Gospel)
- Things I Choose to Remember – Rhy Lewis (Genre – R&B/Soul)
- Hey, I’m Here for You – Harry Hudson (Pop)
- Afropop Vol. 1 – Adekunle Gold (Genre – Afrobeats)
- No One Else Can Wear Your Crown – Oh Wonder (Genre – Pop)
- Apollo – Fireboy DML (Afro pop)
- Southern Symphony – Russell Dickerson (Genre – Country)
TOP EPs FROM 2ND HALF of 2020 (July – December)
- Home Work – Sam Fischer
This EP boasts of my favourite song of 2020 – ‘This City’. Though I don’t personally relate with the song from the angle he wrote it (it’s about him struggling to find his creative path in Los Angeles), I love everything about the song, mostly his vocals. In my head, it’s a breakup song.
One track I think everyone can relate to is ‘I got to live’. This song is about living life to the fullest before our time on earth elapses.
Sam’s vocals are on fire, easily my best EP of 2020, looking forward to his full debut album
2. Get Layd – Omah Lay
Most persons associate Afrobeats/afropop with noisy instrumentals. Omah Lay on his first EP proves this wrong. I love how well-produced the songs are and how his voice blends calmly with the instrumentals to give a slow summer sort of vibe, a pleasant listening experience.
3. I Love You, You’re The Worst – Emily Burns
I got to know about Emily from the remix of Is it just me? Where she featured Jp Saxe. After hearing the song I checked her out and found she had an EP out. This EP is so good. It centers on losing love. Is it just me? Reminds me of the time I thought I was the only one hurting from my break up.
I think most persons feel this way, thinking the other party has it easy and has moved on. It was until a mutual friend send me tweets of my ex before I realized we were both burning after trying the breakup and no one had it easy moving on.
4. Too Close – JP Cooper
At first glance at JP Cooper, one would easily judge him as a reggae artist. It was a pleasant surprise hearing his amazing vocals soar through soul/R&B songs. This four-track EP is about love. I have no favorite track, all are perfect but what shines the most is his soaring vocals.
5. Minor – Gracie Abrams
Gracie Abrams shows a lot of potential on her debut EP. The seven-track EP navigates the feelings that one deals with after a breakup. The reminiscing on the past, missing the person and trying to move on and the messy emotions one had to process. The tracks –‘Long sleeves’ and ‘I miss you, I’m sorry’ snatches my soul every time, her emotional laden vocals on minimal instrumentals give me chills every damn time.
6. Wake Up Sleeper – Austin French
Feeling down? Overwhelmed by life? This is the EP to run to. The standout track is Rest for your soul. This song has healing powers.
- In My Mind – Clide (Genre – Pop)
- When It’s All Said & Done – Giveon (Genre – R&B/Soul)
- Alt Therapy Session 1: Disillusion- Emanuel (Genre – R&B)
- Art of Closure – Gracey (Genre – Pop)
- Be Slow – Harrison Storm (Genre – Alternative)
- Positions – Ariana Grande
This album feels like one step forward, ten steps backward. This album feels like a remnant of Sweetener album and there’s nothing new on it. I get she stated in a recent interview she wants to be releasing music the way rappers do. But she needs to understand rappers do this via mixtapes and not full-length albums. Albums are an artist’s legacy. If this is what she wants, then I think it’s best she goes the way of EPs.
She seems to have taken the baton from Rihanna with the frequency of album releases and also rate of getting Number one singles on the charts, but as Beyonce stated – being number one doesn’t necessarily mean the work is great, the focus is building a legacy.
2. Smile – Katy Perry
This album should have been titled cringe. I don’t know where Katy lost it. Her last two albums have been a bore-fest. To think this is the same artist that had a record-tying six number one singles from an album. Babe seriously needs to go back to the drawing board before her career dies.
MISSED OUT ALBUMS FROM 2019
1. In Her Feelings – Omawumi
I used to follow her music but after a while, I lost track. Early last year, Henry referred me to her 2019 album, and on first listen I was blown away. Her vocals are still on point, but what’s noteworthy is the improved quality and cohesiveness of her album.
I love how she nailed the heavily Fella influenced Afrobeats genre on the track – Away, a rare feat for a female artist. The reggae-influenced Mr. Sinnerman track is also worth mentioning. I love when an artist switches genres to give a much richer body of work.
2. Nights Like This (EP) – Jack Gray
The debut EP from Jack Gray centers on issues we face while going through life. For a 20-year-old, it takes raw talent to write all songs and produce them as well and come up with a loaded EP filled with relatable songs. My favorite on the EP is Bullet, which talks about suicide, both from the victim and those left behind.