Weathering the pandemic, music has been my ultimate coping mechanism. A combination of my need to drown out the semi-apocalyptic tone of the world and “online learning” being where focus goes to rot leaves me compulsively reaching for my headphones. Listening to a song for the first time is a precious experience of newness, a jolt in the monotony of socially distant living. Six months in though, I am scraping the bottom of my Spotify. If you are also on the hunt for fresh music, here are 11 albums we hope you enjoy.
— Kate Zegans, Managing Editor
Punisher, by Phoebe Bridgers
Released June 18, 2020
For fans of: Snail Mail, Faye Webster, Julien Baker
Image Courtesy of Dead Oceans
At the beginning of stay-at-home orders back in March, I immediately bought some noise cancelling headphones as my first (of many) panic purchases. I scoured through my Spotify to find something that fit the apocalyptic, dreary mood I was in — and would drone out the constant news cycle buzzing through every room in my family’s house. Phoebe Bridgers’ discography fit the bill, with her new release Punisher giving me that much needed boost of serotonin.
Compared to her first solo album Stranger in the Alps, Punisher has a broader instrumental base with prominent banjos, strings, piano, and even a collective chorus of screams in “I Know the End”. A cornerstone of Bridgers’ music is her leading vocals in each song, but in Punisher, she lets the instrumental swells carry her gently to each new verse. I found peace in this album’s slow, rumbling pace; and with each high, like in the fast-paced “Kyoto”, and with each low, such as “Moon Song”, it felt like she was holding my hand through the ride.
While the tone of the album is heavy, focusing on themes of loss, loneliness, and of course, a looming apocalypse and hope of an alien invasion, it doesn’t necessarily feel sad. It feels vindicating that somebody else is expressing this righteous anger, frustration, grief and apathy towards the state of the world. One of my personal favorites off this record is “Graceland Too”, which features a gorgeous interpolated banjo and backup vocals from Julien Baker, Bridger’s bandmate in Boygenius. Every time I listen to this album, I feel a little less lonely and a little more seen. Thanks Phoebe.
Standouts are: “I Know the End”, “Kyoto”, and “Saviour Complex”.
—Orianna Borrelli, Administrative Director
The Slow Rush, by Tame Impala
Released February 14, 2020
For fans of: Mac DeMarco, MGMT, Cage the Elephant
Image courtesy of GENIUS
Released five years after his previous album, The Slow Rush has been well worth the wait. Kevin Parker, the mastermind behind Tame Impala offers a sonic journey that is best described as psychedelic. Combining nostalgic rhythms of the 70’s with contemporary electric sounds, Parker unifiesachieves a unity of various music genres.
One of the album’s singles, “Borderline,” has a soft rock and disco influence reminiscent of Tame Impala’s well-loved breakout album, Currents. Certain songs on the album focus on electric melodies, like “One More Year,” which is composed of mostly instrumentals. While other songs like “On Track,” showcase the range of Parker’s vocals and acoustic abilities.
The lyrics throughout the album focus on doubt and uncertainty, feelings that seem all too relatable in quarantine. Although the album was released earlier this year, I still find myself listening habitually and seeking comfort in its the music’s aura. With a perfect mix of steady beats and groovy tunes, The Slow Rush is best for study sessions, long walks, or solo dance parties in your room.
Standouts are: “Lost In Yesterday”, “Instant Destiny”, and “Borderline”.
—Amanda Gonzalez, Staff Writer
Ungodly Hour, by Chloe x Halle
Released June 12, 2020
For fans of: Kehlani, Jhene Aiko, Ari Lennox
Image Courtesy of TIDAL
Chloe and Halle Bailey never miss! These melanated queens have created yet another hit album with unique harmonies and infectious beats that you can’t help dancing to.
Ungodly Hour sets the tone in its intro with the quote “Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness”. This message to their fans, to always be yourself regardless of the circumstances, is part of what makes the album so empowering.
The album starts off with layers of smooth harmonies and resonant melodies, and ends with a theme of female empowerment emphasizing that women are queens. Between all 13 songs, I love the catchy chorus and high energy in “Do It”. Most people know this song because it gained popularity through a dance on Tik Tok and I honestly can’t help but do that dance while listening to this song. “Ungodly Hour” is a vibe simply because of its soft, refreshing feeling. This is the type of song I would expect to hear at a fashion show or while I’m shopping. “Don’t Make It Harder on Me” is a great song to get ready to. It’s perfect for a glamourous trip to the grocery store. “ROYL” is a bop! This song reminds me of their last album The Kids Are Alright because it has a coming of age feeling to it. There’s something about this song that makes it easy to groove and move to. Overall, I would say that Ungodly Hour is an album with absolutely no skips. All the songs are amazing and you can definitely see how Chloe and Halle are growing musically because each song is special in its own way. This album is perfect for long drives, studying, painting, roller skating and living your best life.
—Kiyahna Brown, Assistant Arts & Culture Editor
Colour Vision by MAX
Released: September 18, 2020
For fans of: Party Pupils, PRETTYMUCH, and Quinn XCII
Image Courtesy of GENIUS
You may have first been exposed to MAX on Nickelodeon’s Rags and How to Rock, or heard a few songs of his going viral on Tik Tok. Regardless, he’s an interesting artist that became a Spotify playlist regular for me with his 2018 single, “Still New York.”
His 2020 album Colour Vision calls upon a wide array of artists to feature, including Quinn XCII and SUGA, K-Pop phenom of BTS fame. A first listen may leave one wondering if this album has a place within any one genre; this intentional ambiguity is one of the album’s greatest strengths.
His sophomore album boasts a different tone, mood, and approach than his debut; his titular track is a jarring wake-up call, with a beat drop, high vocals, and repetition. MAX plays up smoother sounds and lighter vocals later in the album, catchiness not coming at the expense of clicheness. “Acid Dreams” distances vocals behind a strong instrumental, facilitating a lofty listening experience, while the pop performance in “Blueberry Eyes” juxtaposes a fast-paced Korean rap a la SUGA. MAX’s reverent vocals in “Where Am I At” and “There Is A God” highlight more of his own range, rounding out both genre and style with songs that should fit anyone’s niche.
Personal standouts for me are “Blueberry Eyes”, “Love Me Less”, and “Circles.” Reasons include the peppy piano and bright vocals of Love Me Less and the stylistically circular sound in “Circles,” with a rounded beat and shorter phrases.
MAX plays up color throughout this album, with both subtle and overt references. “Missed Calls” feat. Hayley Kiyoko feels purple, “Acid Dreams” sounds like a fuzzy grey, “New Life” seems like a green rebirth, and “Working For The Weekend” embodies a groovy orange. His bright yellow album cover, something he explained in an interview as a decision made post-surgery, can be felt in the lively performances of “Love Me Less” and “Checklist”.
This album hits various music preferences of mine and so at the very least, humor me, and give it a listen…you might find yourself associating color with sound very quickly.
—Sahana Narayan, Assistant News Editor
Tradition by Monsune
Released: September 20, 2019
For fans of: Boy Pablo, Still Woozy, Omar Apollo
Image Courtesy of GENIUS
With a burst of tumultuous energy one second and a soothing melancholic cruise the next, MONSUNE perfectly captures the emotional turmoil of transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. I find myself returning to this album as I begin my last Fall quarter, once again faced with the unknown, not just of a new school year this time, but of life after graduation. While this album is a year old, MONSUNE’s message is timeless — he tackles the universal dilemma of “growing up” and leaving behind security for something new and uncertain through kaleidoscopic synths and powerhouse bass.
Tradition is MONSUNE’s first EP, a patchwork of 5 songs that are unapologetically rough and tumble. One song on the list has a special place in my heart — “OUTTA MY MIND,” which is about infatuation and the chase associated with a new crush. The song is almost cinematic in the way it perfectly blends indie grooves and R&B beats to give the audience a sense of being carried effortlessly through a dreamlike sequence of lyrics.
If you’re looking for an album that’ll make you feel equally sentimental and hopeful, check out Tradition by Monsune. It is both the last few steps in a maze that turn into excited anticipation for the exit, and the promise of beginning a newer, unknown, path.
Standouts are: “OUTTA MY MIND”, and “CLOUD”.
—Nora Lyang, Staff Writer
Dedicated Side B by Carly Rae Jepsen
Released: May 21, 2020
For fans of: Charli XCX, Sigrid, MUNA
Image Courtesy of Pitchfork
A welcome follow-up to her 2019 album Dedicated, Carly Rae Jepsen’s Dedicated Side B is for anyone who needs an injection of straight serotonin to break the mind-melting confines of quarantine.
The standout track is the album’s first, “This Love Isn’t Crazy,” a soaring banger that vaults the listener out of whatever dank room they’re sitting in and straight into the middle of a large, open field, perhaps among a massive pre-pandemic crowd that has no qualms about brushing shoulders, breathing down people’s necks, or even accidentally spilling a little beer on a stranger’s shirt. Lyrics like “Who could believe that you’re holding my hand now?” hit a little different now, but even the simple idea of physical touch–the kind of intimacy you’d crave against the backdrop of normalcy, and even more so currently–feels precious in a different light.
Conversely, if you’re in the mood to relax, consider queuing up “Heartbeat” ad infinitum. The song builds to one of the best bridges on the album: “I don’t know if you should hear this/’Cause it’s a mess inside my head/Maybe you should go instead,” when layered with blooming, muted harmonies, it creates a sense of romantic urgency, communicating the million little uncertainties that come with passing from one stage of life to the next. It is, perhaps, a kind of fear that many of us hold right now, romantic entanglements aside. Jepsen’s talent lies in her ability to make each emotion, each phase, seem more beautiful than before.
—Rachel Seo, Staff Writer
Spilligion by Spillage Village
Released: Sept. 25, 2020
For fans of: 6LACK, Saba, Smino, JID, EARTHGANG, Mereba
Image Courtesy of GENIUS
Spilligion has the vibe of a bunch of hip-hop artists reminiscing about the singing circles in christian summer camp, but not missing christianity as an institution. The themes of unity, community and justice give the religious references more depth, and the instrumentals and mixing are soothing on the ear.
With the psychedelic headbanger “Baptize“, JID and Earthgang kick the album off with a thoughtful subversion with how rappers typically use religious imagery. The song “Hapi” is the highlight that made me feel like I got thrust onto a church pew. I can say as a muslim, I wouldn’t know what attending church feels like, but this makes me think that it’d be a sincere comfort. The group singing, spoken word and upbeat tone throughout the song let me feel like I was sitting at the proverbial singing circle. Big Rube sums up the themes of the project nicely with his smooth baritone performance on this track. It’s really the definitive song of the album.
Other highlights to note are “Shiva“, as a good piece of jazz-rap, and “Ea’alah” as a groovy folk-rap that’s very on the pulse of what’s going on in the globe without sounding gimmicky or exploitative. Johnny Venus saying “I ain’t a doctor, I don’t know, but I know rich folks dyin’ too/And I know they gon’ get their treatment first, when that shit gets approved, and that’s some BS” seems almost predictive of the first week of October, which is kind of chilling.
I’d take this album as a diving board into everyone’s solo discographies, as there’s a good blend of talent within the whole collective to seek out. For rap fans you have JID, Benji and Earthgang. For r&b and neo-soul fans, there’s Ari Lennox, 6LACK, and Mereba. They seem to be on the upward trajectory as solo artists, so even if the whole album isn’t perfect, consider this an appetizer for all of their future work.
—Nada Alami, Staff Writer
Making a Door Less Open by Car Seat Headrest
Released: May 1, 2020
For fans of: Tame Impala, Beck, The Flaming Lips
Image Courtesy of Matador Records
Car Seat Headrest’s most recent album is a mixed bag: fans can’t seem to agree whether the 47 minute electronic and synth heavy album is new ground or a return to frontman Will Toledo’s old, self-produced sound. A quick glance down r/indieheads exhibits the divisive nature of MADLO, with everyone agreeing that the album isn’t CSH’s best, but no clear consensus on which songs were the “good ones”.
Maybe MADLO isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, especially for those that became enamored with Car Seat Headrest after Teens of Denial, their first commercial breakthrough released in 2016. Despite the weaker lyricism, and that one track everyone trashes (“Hollywood“), I unabashedly love CSH’s glorious experiment.
“Can’t Cool Me Down” creates a meditative atmosphere with a honey like chorus and well known CSH trope of Toledo muttering to himself throughout the song. “Weightlifters” and “Life Worth Missing” showcase catchy melodies encased by dreamy electronica.
This album is the soundtrack to skating around campus dangerously late at night, for those moments where solitude feels too close, its dramatic build ups and extended instrumental sections hit the spot for our main character moments. Quarantine has forced a lot of us to spend time with ourselves, and sometimes that’s not always welcome company. MADLO turns self contempt into something wonderful, ruminating on how terrific it can be to hit rock bottom and have nothing to lose.
Standouts are: Can’t Cool Me Down, There Must Be More Than Blood, Deadlines (Thoughtful)
—Emily Zou, Staff Writer
the underrated youth, by YUNGBLUD
Released October 28, 2019
For fans of: grandson, Badflower, Chase Atlantic
Image Courtesy of GENIUS
British singer YUNGBLUD has become more popular recently, creating songs with Machine Gun Kelly, Halsey, Denzel Curry, and more, as well as having his music featured in 13 Reasons Why and Hobbs & Shaw. His fame and popularity have grown despite a relatively small discography. Although not fitting into any particular genre, YUNGBLUD has been well-loved by the rock, rap, and indie music communities.
Like the rest of his music, the underrated youth is bold, unapologetic, and unique. Blending a variety of different genres and styles, this album has something for everyone. Starting the album off strong with “braindead”. This high-energy song comments on the unfounded hate that plagues society and the feeling of exhaustion we get trying to fight it.
The album’s namesake single, “hope for the underrated youth,” acknowledges the stressful, unprecedented draining time we are in, but reminds us all not to give up hope and that we are the generation of change. With an emphasis on mental health and political instability, this song sums up the album as a whole and is a motivating reflection on our current climate. In a time of mandatory isolation, YUNGBLUD reminds us we aren’t alone, and we will change our world and fix the problems we face.
—Maya Philipp, Staff Photographer
Dreamland by Glass Animals
Released August 7, 2020
For fans of: Alt-J, Two Door Cinema Club, Bastille
Image Courtesy of GENIUS
Standouts: Tangerine, Hot Sugar, Heat Waves
With a summer lost to the confines of quarantine, Glass Animals’ Dreamland, urges us to remember the good times and perfectly encapsulates the feeling of past summers: going to the beach with friends, blasting upbeat music from a portable speaker, and making unforgettable memories.
Dreamland is the band’s third studio album and is an autobiographical account of lead singer, songwriter, and producer, Dave Bayley’s childhood. With his own home movies woven in as interludes, Bayley really leans into the nostalgia of growing up. Opening with the title track, “Dreamland,” Bayley’s smooth vocals and melodic instrumental take us back in time, traveling through his mind and into his past. Although it’s not the catchiest tune, it almost feels like a lullaby, preparing us to dream the rest of the album. This song goes straight into the next called “Tangerine”; the sound is so vibrant you can almost taste the nectar in his voice as he reminisces about an old crush inevitably changing as they’ve gotten older. It’s one of those songs that sounds happy, but has lyrics that leave you feeling a little empty when you give it a good listen. Some of my other favorites are “Hot Sugar” and “Heat Waves” both of which have catchy beats and a vaporwave vibe to them. Bayley also plays with other genres in this album, with Denzel Curry on “Tokyo Drifting” adding a new layer of hip-hop to the generally alternative work.
Overall, Dreamland is an innovative take on Glass Animals’ typical sound but still manages to stay true to their roots. It gives a refreshing outlook on life, especially while in quarantine, and teaches us to appreciate the memories we’ve made so that we never take a moment for granted.
—Caitlyn Vilar, Assistant Arts and Culture Editor