The Concordian’s albums of the year

The Concordian staff chooses their favourite albums of the year

Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher 

Louis Pavlakos – Music Editor

2020 has been an absolute mess of a year but thankfully our Lord and Saviour Phoebe Bridgers saved us with one of the most beautifully produced and deeply introspective albums of the year in the form of Punisher. From the sombre “Garden Song” to the explosive finale of “I Know the End,” Bridgers sings with a soft pain in her voice that echoes the brutality that this year has been. It sounds eerily apocalyptic — in tune with what’s been going on in the world. Truthfully there hasn’t been an album I’ve played more than this one. It’s peak “sad boy hours” music and I haven’t felt this way about an LP since Frank Ocean’s Blonde. Punisher is that good. Shoutout to Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist’s Alfredo, The Weeknd’s After Hours, Mac Miller’s Circles and Moses Sumney’s Grae, though.

Eternal Champion – Ravening Iron

Hunter Walwaski – Copy Editor

My fascination with metal music has naturally driven me to the darkest bowels of the genre, trying to find the noisiest and most ear-pummeling records ever released. Yet, as 2020 has already introduced far too much of that on its own, my ears have been longing for something a little more catchy and fun. Eternal Champion’s sophomore release, Ravening Iron, is the answer to my beckoning call. The album’s cheesy epic heavy metal concoction, filled with earworm riffs, glorious mighty vocals, and brotherhood chants, is exactly what listeners need to trudge through this pitiful time. Now grab your sword, turn Eternal Champion up to 11, and make 2021 your year.

Mac Miller – Circles

Maggie Morris – Head Copy Editor

When this album was released posthumously in January, it satisfied something I never thought I’d hear again: new music by one of my favourite artists. Not only is it a well fleshed-out album despite the circumstances, but it’s hauntingly beautiful. Mac lives on through these songs and I’m so, so grateful for it.

(Honourable mention to Taylor Swift’s Folklore which also came at a time where I desperately needed new music — unfortunately for my boyfriend it coincided with the week we started our camping road trip through Gaspésie).

Mac Miller – Circles

Victor Vigas – Staff Writer

Mac Miller was always evolving his style and that’s what Circles gave listeners, an evolution. After Swimming showed fans that Mac wasn’t afraid of singing as opposed to rapping, Circles sees Mac singing throughout most of the album with his limited vocal range. For a posthumous release this is as good as it gets, Jon Brion executed the production and tracklist on this album to perfection. Even though Mac never lived to see this album reach the light of day, a lot of the lyrics on this album make you feel like he’s still here, almost as though he’s winking at us through the music. Aside from the lyrics, this album is a different sound than what I’ve come to love about Mac. It relies more on synth and instruments such as guitar, bass, xylophone and drums are all prominently audible. Apart from the quality of the album itself, as a Mac Miller fan, I can say that this is a fitting sign off to Mac’s legacy.

Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind 

Adam Mbowe – Video Editor

I’ve loved Yves Tumor since their debut album Serpent Music, but when this album was released I developed an even greater appreciation for their work. From noise to ambiance to soul, Yves Tumor’s work tends to explore and blend a plethora of genres. Heaven to a Tortured Mind delves into the genre of rock with gentle ease yet is still reminiscent of all of Yves Tumors’ previous work. There are too many great songs to choose from but standouts on the album for me are “A Greater Love” and “Dream Palette”.

J Balvin – Colores

Alec Brideau – Sports Editor

I was already a huge J Balvin fan before the release of this album. Colores was, in my opinion, simply awesome. Each song on the album is named after a colour, and each song’s topic is based on its colour. It was simple, but original. I enjoyed every song and it felt like they all had their little “something.” The album’s videos are also really representative of the colours and their meanings. I really appreciated what J Balvin did there, and he exceeded my expectations by far with this album.

Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Abigail Candelora – Copy Editor

Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters was my favourite album of the year. It felt oddly apropos, this year of all years, to get a new album from Fiona, a musician I admire for many reasons — including how much she prefers to be at home. Her songs are unrestricted and expressive and honest; I don’t think there’s a bad song on the album, and I’m definitely not the only one. This album is great company. Definitely give it a listen!

Kate Bollinger – A word becomes a sound

Lily Cowper – Production Assistant

I’ve pretty much retired from keeping tabs on the music scene but one great album that came out this year was Kate Bollinger’s A word becomes a sound. I know Bollinger through a friend at University of Virginia, where she first started playing and gained traction in the last few years. “A Couple Things” is my favourite track and I promise all the songs will make you tingle if you are an ASMR-loving freak. However good this album is, I need to be honest; I have only been listening to Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On” on repeat since March, to keep the mood light.

HMLTD – West of Eden

Aviva Majerczyk – Commentary Editor

West of Eden sounds like the coolest party you’ve ever been invited to. On this album, HMLTD’s glitzy gothic glam rock is in full effect, with a mix of 80s-inspired radio-friendly dance beats, as well as a couple slow-burners. The lyrics of West of Eden hold no punches either. The fist track of the album, “The West is Dead,” is a cutting critique of far-right ideology, where the band kills all these artifacts we problematically consider “western culture.” The following songs maintain that same eerie almost apocalyptic tone. Even on tracks like “Satan, Luella, and I” and “Blank Slate,” HMLTD are able to package intensely dark tones with danceable tunes. If you’re looking to have fun during this current apocalyptic hellscape, this album is definitely worth a listen!

The Weeknd – After Hours

Wesley McLean – Assistant Music Editor

Ever since Abel Tesfaye launched into pop superstardom, he’s always tried to bridge the gap between his two worlds: the melancholic and hedonistic tone of his pioneering mixtape trilogy, and the universal appeal of the pop hits that made The Weeknd a household name. After Hours is the first time he has been able to fully realize this vision, and it’s a glorious and extremely cinematic experience. The unique blend of new wave, synthpop, R&B and electronic sounds serve as the perfect score for Tesfaye as he melodically croons through tales of excess, self-loathing and loneliness. It’s an album that’s grandiose sound would fit perfectly in a sold-out stadium, but its content still lends itself to binge-listening on a lonely night at home, and it’s definitely an album that warrants several GRAMMY nominations.

(It was extremely hard to narrow it down to one album this year, so it’s essentially a four-way tie between this, Mac Miller’s Circles, Andy Shauf’s Neon Skyline and Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher for my AOTY).

The Weeknd – After Hours

Jacob Carey – Managing Editor

I hate to piggyback on Wesley’s album of the year, but you have to give credit where credit is due. While After Hours isn’t even the best album in the Weeknd’s discography, it is certainly one of the best albums of this year. And, it’s actually gotten better with time. The amount of hits that have come out of that album is ridiculously impressive, with “Blinding Lights” being one of the most successful songs in Billboard history. The Weeknd also needs credit for remaining in character all damn year, in his signature burgundy suit and banged up face — either from a street brawl or fresh plastic surgery. Regardless, some of the tunes deriving from this album will be club singalongs for years to come, as will a large majority of The Weeknd’s constantly evolving discography.

Don Toliver – Heaven or Hell

Juliette Palin – News Editor

This album provided me with all the trap moments I needed during quarantine. Fittingly, it was released on a day we will all remember as an infamous one: March 13, 2020. With a mix of well-written raps and R&B, it has been phenomenally successful. It had roaring success, in part due to the release of the album JACKBOYS, a collaboration between a group of rappers featuring Travis Scott, his DJ, Chase B, Sheck Wes, Don Toliver, and Luxury Tax. This album features some of the same songs as Heaven or Hell. I highly recommend listening to this album in your car on full blast, specifically “Company,” “Had Enough,” featuring Quavo and Offset, and — a classic — “No Idea.”  Don Toliver is one of the biggest breakout artists of 2020.

I Don’t Know How But They Found Me – Razzmatazz

Elyette Levy – Assistant Commentary Editor

IDKHow is a music duo spearheaded by two members of one of my favourite bands of all time, the now-defunct The Brobecks. I discovered them while I was in high school, and I have no shame in saying they stood by me through the entirety of my emo phase. I even spent over $50 for a CD of one of their older albums on eBay (in my defence, those albums are super rare). You can imagine my reaction when I found out about the creation of IDKHow; let’s just say I was ready to take out the black pencil eyeliner again. Razzmatazz is the band’s first studio album, a long-awaited work since their first EP came out in 2018. Adding a colourful modern indie twist to the members’ 2010s pop-punk attitude, the album blends youthfulness with nostalgia, electricity with emotivity. As a cheeky nod to their Brobecks days, they include a re-recorded version of their previously unreleased “Cluster Hug.” Beautiful chord combinations, poetic excellence, choice topics that range from politics to family; IDKHow gives us everything in this album.


Best albums of the summer

The summer heat has reached peak levels, but these albums can withstand the warmth. Here are the best albums released this summer

Elder – Reflections of a Floating World (Armageddon Record Shop)

On Reflections of a Floating World, Boston stoner metal outfit Elder encompasses cinematic grandiosity with a tightly-wound, six-song barrage. The result is an album which encapsulates boundless creativity through a refined sense of mood and composition.

Opening tracks “Sanctuary” and “The Falling Veil” counteract bullet-proof guitar riffs with ethereal post-rock fingerpicking. The sounds that echo throughout the album transport listeners to sonic realms where nothing is familiar, but the surrounding environment nonetheless begs observation.

SZA – Ctrl (Top Dawg Entertainment)

SZA’s remarkable second outing with Top Dawg Entertainment shines like a beam from heaven. At its core, Ctrl is an R&B album. Upon closer listening, however, subtle embellishments are revealed that draw nods from all genres of music. Tinges of neo soul and guitar pop permeate these tracks about love and loss. Sonically, the album channels a pristine quality of its own, but really, it’s SZA’s disarming and ever-confident vocals that take centre stage.

Billy Woods – Known Unknowns (Backwoodz Studioz)

Known Unknowns is a bleak exploration of the black American experience. A New York native, Billy Woods’s strident honesty regarding the history of grief in black America is akin to Kendrick Lamar’s masterful To Pimp A Butterfly. But whereas the latter album relies on empathy, the unmitigated expressionism of Known Unknowns feels strikingly tangible. For Woods, it’s not enough for the listener to experience his anguish. He wants you to feel dejection. The album plays into the fact that every generation of artists in every medium tries to be more authentic than the artists before them. And in hip hop, that loosely translates into whose experiences hold more validity and weight. This, in addition to the rhythmic staccato Woods raps with, results in a brutally sincere and accomplished album.

DJ Sports – Modern Species (Firecracker)

Modern Species is a hotchpotch of enigmatic sounds coupled with a devout reverence for 90s house music. What really ties these influences together, though, is the laser-sharp production savvy of Milán Zaks and his brother, Central. Don’t be fooled — Modern Species is more than just a charming throwback. The album harnesses familiar motifs, but its tracks are executed with a varied sonic palette that combines equal parts from the past and not-so-distant future. These guys are tinkering their fingers to the proverbial bone.

Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up­ (Nonesuch Records Inc.)

After a six-year hiatus, Fleet Foxes return with its most ambitious statement yet. Crack-Up is equal parts challenging and engrossing, but still serves as a welcome addition to the Fleet Foxes canon. The album delves into experimental territory by way of long-winding guitar noodling that usually finishes with a lofty crescendo. Sure, these moments are pretentious, but the Seattle band tackles this messy splendor with natural finesse. This is thanks to the album’s sprawling instrumentation, which is beefed up by gorgeously ornate strings and woodwinds. Yet, despite all its over-inflated moments, Crack-Up manages to establish a newfound artistic maturity in Fleet Foxes.


Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory (Def Jam Recordings)

Synthesizing U.K. electronic textures with his singular rap flow, Vince Staples’ triumphant Big Fish Theory chronicles the ennui that comes with transcending amateur status — specifically in the rap game. Enlisting the warped stylings of producers Sophie and Flume, as well as feature spots from Juicy J and Kendrick Lamar, Big Fish Theory just goes to show that Vince Staples is the most hopeful nihilist working in the industry.

Laurel Halo – Dust (Hyperdub)

Laurel Halo’s Dust defies classification but distills her diverse gamut of influences with seamless precision. While her electro-centric sound remains intact, there’s a free-for-all attitude to Dust that feels completely organic. Dexterous-free jazz freakouts and funk instrumentation intermingle on these tracks like peanut butter and jelly. Halo’s electronic flourishes still manage to navigate the album with ease, which really come through in the album’s production.

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Murder of the Universe (ATO Records)

Murder of the Universe is a concept album divided into three epics. Each story is tied together by an idiosyncratic narrative that’s read aloud by a lethal female cyborg. The album’s fried-out progressive rock aesthetic is augmented by the raw and disjointed psych-rock King Gizz is known for.

Jay-Z – 4:44 (ROC Nation LLC)

Jay-Z’s 13th studio album reads like a comprehensive confession. In 2016, Jay-Z’s wife Beyoncé released her breakthrough masterwork, Lemonade. In a lot of ways, 4:44 is a response to Lemonade. On it, Jay-Z laments his personal faults while addressing intergenerational friction in modern hip hop. The album draws its power from Jay-Z’s dissatisfaction with the artificiality of mainstream rappers. It’s an intensely personal effort, but at the same time, the artist’s bars feel like anecdotes finding redemption in vulnerability. 4:44 is very much an ode to marital fidelity, but Jay-Z doesn’t leave room for listeners to scrutinize his mistakes. He already did it for us.

Broken Social Scene – Hug Of Thunder (Arts & Crafts)

On Broken Social Scene’s first album in seven years, the band condenses their best attributes into a titan-sized album. Hug Of Thunder, like its name implies, is replete with infectious hooks and sparkling neon synths. It’s a surprisingly solid effort, especially for a band that hit its stride in the midst of the early 2000s indie wars between contemporaries such as Arcade Fire and Interpol. The album bleeds confidence and is bulletproof indie pop at its best. I guess you have to reinvent the wheel every once in a while to find new artistic essence.

Graphics by ZeZé Le Lin


Top 10 albums of 2013

1. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

Arcade Fire’s follow-up album to their Grammy-award winning album, The Suburbs, is dark yet surprisingly danceable. The band knows how to take risks and challenge themselves all while keeping with their signature style. Reflektor is Arcade Fire’s most musically complex effort to date.

2. HAIM- Days Are Gone

The debut album from the California sister-trio is the perfect mix of nostalgia and modernity. It’s refreshingly bold yet familiar, boasting influences from Stevie Nicks and Wilson Philips. Days Are Gone is melodic and a real treat for any ’90s child.

3. Cecile McLorin Salvant – WomanChild

Pulling inspiration from jazz legends like Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald, Salvant offers something fresh and original all while steeped in tradition. Her technical ability, tempo and charisma displayed in WomanChild are evidence that she is far from a novelty act, but a true original in a re-emerging genre.

4. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

With their third album, Vampire Weekend have finally shed their ivy-league peppiness and demonstrated their full potential. Modern Vampires of the City is their most concise work and displays a sense of confidence and playful sophistication that was lacking from their previous albums.

5. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Random Access Memories was well worth the eight years since the last studio album from French electronic duo, Daft Punk. Boasting a mix of dance, electronic, soul and disco, the lead single, “Get Lucky,” was in heavy rotation all summer.

6. James Blake – Overgrown

With his sophomore release, James Blake is stepping out of his electronic shell and revealing his humanity. Overgrown showcases a raw and soulful side to the minimalist post-dubstep sweetheart. With several tracks produced by Brian Eno and a strong focus on songwriting and melody, Blake’s sophomore release is experimental yet accessible.

7. Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe

In between writing songs for Sky Ferreira, Solange and Britney Spears, the Essex born street punk turned Brooklyn hipster recorded his sophomore album. With a clear influence from early ‘90s Prince, new wave, dance and R&B, Cupid Deluxe was inspired by the alienation and heartbreak of the New York underground LGBT community.

8. Emilíana Torrini – Tookah

Tookah showcases the essence of who Emilíana Torrini wants to be as an artist. Atmospheric synthesizers soar over her folky indie pop melodies to create a richly layered, evocative experience.

9. M.I.A. – Matangi

Initially reworked because it was deemed “too positive,” the fourth studio album from the outspoken English-Sri Lankan is creative and playful. The songs are chaotic and fly by at a brisk pace, creating the sense of excitement and exoticism that we’ve come to expect from M.I.A..

10. Jon Hopkins – Immunity

Having previously worked with Coldplay, Imogen Heap and Brian Eno, Jon Hopkins certainly knows a thing or two about versatility. With his fourth studio album, we are immersed in Hopkins’ intriguing fusion of modern classical, techno and ambient musical styles. Immunity is both energetic and contemplative.

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