Campbell's top 5 albums of 2020 so far
California Cursed (Revelation Records)
Thrashy hardcore has never been so satisfying -- I never realized what was missing in my life until I discovered Drain. They balance their bona fide DIY ethics with the top-notch production they display on California Cursed, which may host the most poignant anthem of the double-edged sword that is being a native Californian in its title track. It would be absurdist for me to dub this an instant classic if it wasn’t my favorite record of the year so far.
Man Alive! (True Panther Sounds / Matador Records)
The enigmatic young Londoner released this sleeper hit back in February and it hasn’t left my rotation since. Fuzzy post-punk and infectious surf rock guitar tones weigh against Archy’s unique raspy vocals, resulting in a dazed dream filled with fearful introspection and loneliness. It’s a fully realized vision; as distant and disjointed as Man Alive! may appear, it takes tact and artistic integrity to keep these ideas controlled enough that they shine through the chaos. If the melodies of the lead single “(Don’t Let the Dragon) Draag On” don’t speak to your own summertime despondency, then you might be too emotionally stable to appreciate this record.
Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist
Alfredo (ESGN / ALC / EMPIRE)
The past few months have given us a surplus of high-profile rap albums, but Alfredo cuts through this oversaturation and is more than worthy of the hype. I honestly don’t know if rapper or producer gets more credit here; this is truly one of the most potent combinations of the past decade, with impeccably curated features and absolutely zero filler. Freddie and Al easily could have slapped something together in their sleep and still dropped an amazing record, but this is a rare time when expectations are exceeded this far.
This album is an experience unto itself, but you need to be willing to go on the journey and take the time to process its stories and messages, and honestly, I still haven’t fully grasped those myself. This is undeniably a punk record made by underground rapper-producer extraordinaire Pink Siifu, and its early April release date makes it one of the most timely representations of the unfettered pain and struggle of the African American experience in recent memory. NEGRO is brash, brave, and ambitious; it deserves to be applauded as a singular project from an astounding, versatile artist.
Ronin (Pure Noise Records)
I probably said it most concisely in my full review: “Now what you’ll find here is polished, forceful, mosh-inducing hardcore, served up across a perfectly proportioned 24 minutes. But at its core, Ronin is a brutally honest story of family trauma, constant loss, and bottom-dwelling reflection.” I think most of us are pining after hardcore in a live format, and Rotting Out should be leading the way to bring that energy back when the time comes.
Stephanie Thornton's top 5 albums of 2020 so far
Love in High Demand (Sister Polygon Records)
This new supergroup from D.C. makes the most dance-able music. Awad Bilal's incredible range flies over electronic polyrhythms and groovy basslines. Their fun and sexy tunes are reminiscent of dancehall and 90's pop.
All of Nothing (FatCat Records)
The fourth album from Shopping stays true to their dance-punk roots while endeavoring to explore the realm of synths, both dark and bright. The new tunes are polished and catchy while weaving creative vocal harmonies from all three members. Rachel Aggs' talent as a keyboardist has expanded further on this album, as she steers the band's sound further towards dark-wave. Meanwhile she still offers her fun piccolo guitar lines, all backed by Billy Easter's deep bass lines and Andrew Milk's fierce drumming which has an added motorik tinge.
Run the Jewels
RTJ4 (Jewel Runners/ BMG)
I know this is on someone else's Top 5 list, but it bears repeating. Killer Mike and El-P's new album is crucial right now as it brilliantly speaks on systemic racial injustices in the U.S. The lyrics are chilling and clever while the beats are catchy as always; my personal favorite "The Ground Below" samples Gang of Four's "Ether". Cameos from Zach de la Rocha, 2 Chainz, and Mavis Staples add to the flair.
After 22 years, Hum surprised us with Inlet, which offers their signature brand of shoegazey hard rock and emo. The heavily distorted chords modulate with the layers of effects and Matt Talbott cuts us to the core with his emotional croons.
Antarctica (God? Records)
LA rockers Flat Worms venture into psychedelia on their latest release. Vocalist and guitarist Will Ivy really showcases his talents here as he bends and solos all over the fretboard. This album is hard-hitting and the effects are fun.
Aaron's top 5 albums of 2020 so far
Fetch the Bolt Cutters (Epic)
Often times, you can tell when an artist is at their creative peak. it's rare when an artist appears to be at their peak state of self-expression. Fiona Apple uses music as a tool of expression like never before on Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Her vocals sound like they're flowing independently from the piano keys or drum beats but in the end, it all sounds so organic.
You or Someone You Know (6131)
Worriers' Survival Pop is probably my favorite pop-punk album of the past 5 years. You or Someone You Know is like its mature older sibling. Lauren Denitzio has a knack for writing incredibly tight songs that leave little to no room for improvement. They're pretty much perfect just the way they are.
Run the Jewels
RTJ4 (Jewel Runners/BMG)
This one is squeaking in at the last minute, but that's just how good it is. Probably the record the world needed most right now. Loaded with the same charged and direct lyrics you could expect from Run the Jewels and considering the current movement, every word just hits harder.
The Fallen Crimson (Temporary Residence Limited)
Envy continues to do what they do best by blending screamo and post-hardcore, even after losing two of their original members. Very few bands can go from chaotic to absolutely majestic and serene all in one song. The Fallen Crimson continues to push this band forward after nearly three decades.
NO DREAM (Polyvinyl)
While I enjoy Jeff Rosenstock, NO DREAM was the first of Jeff's solo efforts to really "click" with me. I'm not sure why. It's not particularly different from past albums. Still loaded with boisterous punk songs as well the catchy slower jams. Sometimes, that's all you want, and it finds you at the right time.
Mick's top 5 albums of 2020 so far
I can't lie. The hype around this one got its claws into me, bad. I knew that it was going to be one of my top albums of the year before I even heard it. Now for the real spoilers: It's good. So freakin' good. Objectively and undeniably so. Underneath not only met, but exceeded my expectation. Simp? Fanboy? Maybe. But I would put Code Orange's latest record up against any other rock released this year, and I guarantee that Underneath will CRUSH IT! Don’t believe me. Read my review and listen for yourself. If you don’t agree that this is the best record of the year, that's fine. You’ll be wrong, but you’re entitled to be. It’s a (purportedly) free country.
My brain basically shuts down when I hear mean, chewy metal riff. Those chords come rushing in and it's like I'm in a trance. The sound just slides between the wrinkles and contours of my brain, finds the vestigial reptilian bits at the core, and wraps a marionette string around them. From that point forward, I'm at the band's mercy until the last note fades in the air. One album that did this to me with every track this year was Kvelertak’s Splid. Splid is a bad, blackened-punk, black leather-clad, chimera daddy, lashing you with one monster riff, one killer chorus after another. A perfect rock and metal hybrid that I will gladly relinquish my will to again, and again, and again.
Carnivore (Century Media)
Body Count honestly get better with each release. Ice T and Ernie C made the band a household boogieman with their infamous (and still relevant) “Cop Killer” back in the early ‘90s, but it really wasn’t until 2017’s Bloodlust that their Slayer-core assault really seemed to hit its stride. This year’s Carnivore now sees the band in a full-on sprint, closing in on their prey, and leaping for the kill. It’s a bloody good time and easily their best record to date.
In the Beginning (Mission Two Entertainment)
If there was ever any doubt about the relevance of the Cro-Mags in 2020, Harley Flanagan has put these concerns in the ground with the band’s first record in twenty years, In the Beginning. Cro-Mags are already one of the most influential bands in heavy music, and a new record from them doesn’t have to do much to secure their legacy. Thankfully Flanagan and co. aren’t content to rest on their laurels, instead delivering thirteen tracks of powerful, groove-centric hardcore with a much needed and uplifting message. In the Beginning, is far from the end of the Cro-Mags story, and sees the band seized opportunity by the horns and putting it in a headlock.
The Black Dahlia Murder
Verminous (Metal Blade)
I couldn’t do a top 5, 10, top whatever albums for 2020 without talking about at least one death metal release, and the one that I’ve listened to the most this year is The Black Dahlia Murder’s Verminous. They’ve spun back the clock on their sound for this one a bit, bring up the NWOBHM and speed metal aspects of the mix, while flattening out some of the punk or “core” elements. The result is an extremely engaging retooling of melodic death metal, which updates the formula by exhuming its roots. I’m very satisfied with this record and plan to spin it again as soon as I’m done typing out my endorsement.