It has been a strange year for the world, and it has been no different for the music industry.
No touring and not being able to travel for promotion has introduced a whole new set of challenges for artists releasing an album.
However, the tough times still gave us some great music.
Here are some of the best.
Polaris – Aitch
Manchester rapper Aitch returned this year with his second full-length album, continuing from the success of his debut album Aitch2O in 2019.
With only eight tracks on the album, there was pressure on Aitch to deliver on every track, and he duly obliged rapping over a variety of different beats with the smooth flow and hard bars we have come to expect from him.
Some of his best work comes on the tracks like Moston and 30 which have more typically American sounding beats, ironic as Moston is an ode to the area of Manchester he is from, but this does not mean Aitch has forgotten his UK roots.
He dips his toes into the drill genre on Raw and never sounds out of place even firing some shots at London rapper Russ of Gun Lean fame. The highlight of the album comes on the track Rain featuring AJ Tracey.
The track was a huge hit in the spring so its presence at the end of this album is much appreciated.
Polaris has helped cement Aitch as one of the best rappers the UK has produced in the last few years, and at only 21, the future looks bright for the Manchester man.
Best track: Rain ft AJ Tracey
Wake Up Sunshine – All Time Low
In April, American pop-punk rockers All Time Low released their eighth studio album, their second with the Fueled By Ramen label.
On Wake Up Sunshine the band manages to stay true to their pop-punk roots without falling into the trap of trying to emulate the sounds of the mid-2000s in the name of nostalgia.
The band do a very good job of evolving their sound to keep it fresh, some 15 years after they were dominating the charts alongside the likes of Paramore and My Chemical Romance.
The album focuses heavily on love with lead singer Alex Gaskarth singing about various failed relationships and not being able to get over them.
The opener Some Kind Of Disaster sounds like it could have been a Green Day song and Getaway Green is a classic 2000s sounding tune.
The track Melancholy Kaleidoscope sounds like a mashup of Paramore on the verses and Fall Out Boy on the chorus in the best way possible.
The band diverts from the pop-punk sound on the track Monsters featuring blackbear relying more on a heavy bassline to carry the track.
The band has a more modern sound on tracks like Safe and Glitter and Crimson showing their versatility.
Overall, this album shows us that pop-punk is not dead, even if many of the bands that defined the genre have either broken up or experimented with new genres.
Wake Up Sunshine shows that the pop-punk sound can be evolved and can still sound fresh even after all these years.
Best track: Melancholy Kaleidoscope
Foolish Loving Spaces – Blossoms
In January, Blossoms returned with their third studio album following on from 2018’s Cool Like You.
Foolish Loving Spaces focuses heavily on the theme of love using piano melodies and synth lines to create a very eighties feel to the record.
The third track on the album, The Keeper, gives the audience an Elton John-like piano verse as frontman Tom Ogden sings about wanting to be together with someone until they are bones.
Blossoms were clearly inspired by David Bowie on tracks such as My Swimming Brain and Falling For Someone fitting in with the on-stage persona that Ogden has been crafting for himself in recent years.
There is even room for some funky basslines on the album particularly on the lead single Your Girlfriend.
This album is another step in the right direction for Blossoms in terms of defining their own sound, with this album representing their biggest departure from the guitar anthem indie genre that defines so many bands from the North West.
If you like music from the eighties, this is the album for you.
Best track: Sunday Was A Friend Of Mine
More. Again. Forever – Courteeners
The sixth studio album from Manchester indie rockers Courteeners sees the band take their boldest step away from the stereotypical guitar-driven anthems that they have produced in the past.
In truth, the band has been moving away from that genre ever since their debut album St Jude but More. Again. Forever is the most different of their albums.
Frontman Liam Fray sings about love and loss and mental health struggles over more synth and bass-driven instrumentals like on the track Previous Parties.
Fray even takes a step into disco on the title track with spoken vocals over a heavy bassline and repetitive drums.
There is still a number of stadium anthems sure to have crowds bouncing like Heavy Jacket and Better Man, but even these tracks are less guitar centred.
Fray’s lyrics and vocals really shine on the track Hanging Off Your Cloud which is a much slower cut with a beautiful string arrangement.
Overall this album shows us a new side to Courteeners, and while this new direction for the band is different from their previous work, it is just as good.
Best track: Hanging Off Your Cloud
Future Nostalgia – Dua Lipa
Future Nostalgia is the second studio album from British singer Dua Lipa, and it continues from her successful debut album in 2017.
This album shows us a different side of Dua Lipa with a lot of bass-driven songs.
Much of the album seems to be influenced by the work of Nile Rodgers and Chic, and this influence is seen on songs like Levitating and Don’t Start Now.
Don’t Start Now is by far and away the best song on this album with Dua Lipa’s vocals perfectly complimenting the heavy funk bass.
Physical is another highlight with a much more pop sound than other cuts on the album.
There is still room for some slower cuts such as the closer Boys Will Be Boys which features a lovely string arrangement.
Overall if you like bass-heavy songs, this is the album for you.
The bass lines on this album are some of the best we have heard this year, and they make this album very listenable.
Best track: Don’t Start Now
The Bonny – Gerry Cinnamon
The second album from Glaswegian solo artist Gerry Cinnamon, the follow up to his 2018 album Erratic Cinematic, sees Cinnamon step up the production value of his music while staying true to his indie-folk sound.
The album features a number of stadium anthems, like Canter and Mayhem, sure to have crowds bouncing up and down at festivals as well as a number of slower tracks which make the listener think.
Roll the Credits is perhaps the saddest of these tracks, with Cinnamon singing about losing battles.
The increased production value is seen best on tracks like Where We’re Going, with Cinnamon dropping his loop pedal and simple drum patterns for more complex rhythms and live drums.
The Bonny is a natural evolution of an artist receiving more recognition and stepping up their game production-wise.
However, this album still has the same characteristics that made tracks like Belter and Sometimes so popular.
Gerry Cinnamon still retains the ability to have complete control of a crowd with just his acoustic guitar and harmonica, but this album shows he is not just a one-trick pony.
Best track: Head in the Clouds
Petals For Armour – Hayley Williams
Completely leaving behind her pop-punk roots, the first solo album from Paramore frontwomen Hayley Williams deals with themes of loss, grief, anger and depression.
Taking inspiration from the likes of Radiohead and Bjork, Petals For Armour has more of a pop feel seen on tracks like Dead Horse and Over Yet and a real funky feel on songs like Pure Love and Taken.
Radiohead’s influence can really be seen on tracks like Leave It Alone, where Williams sings about losing her grandmother, or Roses/ Lotus/ Violet / Iris where she sings about not wanting to compare herself to others.
Williams also takes on the disco genre on the track Sugar On The Rim and excels.
On the last leg of the album, Williams allows herself to sing more hopefully about the future on tracks like Watch Me Bloom, and this makes for a very compelling end to a well-written album.
Overall, this is a very good first solo project for Williams and certainly shows potential if she decides to do more music away from Paramore.
Best track: Dead Horse
EDNA -Headie One
In October this year, Tottenham drill rapper Headie One gave us his debut album EDNA.
After seven mixtapes, four solo and three collaborations with fellow OFB rapper RV, Headie One finally decided to do a full album following his fourth stint in prison and was rewarded with his first UK number one.
On the album, Headie talks in-depth about his tough upbringing and less than legitimate lifestyle all while delivering a compelling selection of tracks.
Headie One has always been a versatile artist, and he continues to showcase this on EDNA with the way he seamlessly transitions from one genre to the next.
The album includes some trap bangers like Psalm 35 and Bumpy Ride. The latter comes with a killer feature from M Huncho, as well as heavy-hitting drill tunes like Triple Science and The Light.
Headie even successfully tries his hand on a dancehall beat on the song Princess Cuts with Young T and Bugsey and never feels out of place.
The album also comes with a host of big features including the likes of Future on Hear No Evil and Drake on Only You Freestyle as well as big UK features like AJ Tracey and Stomzy on Ain’t It Different and Skepta on Try Me.
Overall this album is very good for a debut and shows that Headie One should be considered as one of the UK’s best up and comers with potential to grow even bigger.
Best track: Ain’t It Different ft AJ Tracey and Stormzy
Razzmatazz – I Don’t Know How But They Found Me
The first full-length album from former Panic! at the Disco bassist Dallon Weekes and former Falling In Reverse drummer Ryan Seaman is an interesting entry for the alternative genre.
The band’s previous singles Choke and Modern Day Cain have been successful as well as their EP – 1898 Extended Play, so this album was much anticipated.
The band continues their bass-heavy sound on tracks like Leave Me Alone and Sugar Pills while also having beautiful piano melodies on tracks like Nobody Likes The Opening Band.
The album focuses heavily on themes of love on tracks like Clusterhug and From The Gallows with Weekes singing about potential lovers with a dark twist.
Perhaps the highlight of the album is the track Need You Here.
This song is an ode to Weekes’ daughter and how he misses her when he is working. It even features a cameo from his daughter.
Razzmatazz is a very pleasant album to listen to. Weekes’ vocals over the good bass and synth lines, as well as lovely piano melodies, make this album an enjoyable listen.
Best track: Need You Here
Folklore – Taylor Swift
In August of this year, Taylor Swift gave fans a surprise album, her eighth studio album, following on from the success of her album Lover last year.
However, in complete juxtaposition to her previous album, Folklore has a more sombre tone with stripped back instrumentation.
The album relies on a lot of storytelling with Swift telling stories from a third-person perspective.
This is best shown on the track The Last Great American Dynasty where Swift recounts the story of the woman who owned a house before she bought it.
The track is accompanied by a quiet piano melody and some simple drums which really tie the track together.
The highlight of the album comes on the track Betty where Swift goes for a more country feel, something more akin to her earlier work.
The album features more soft piano melodies on tracks like Mirrorball and My Tears Ricochet which continues the more stripped back feel of the album.
Overall, Folklore is a lovely album which tells lots of intriguing stories and certainly worth a listen.
Best track: Betty
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