10. clipping. ― Visions of Bodies Being Burned
2020 • RAP/HIP HOP/EXPERIMENTAL • SUB POP
One of the ways to define the clipping.’s latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is: a bloody and murderous orchestra. On their sixth studio album, the Los Angeles experimental Hip-Hop group takes the concept they had worked on a few years ago to an even higher and better level: in Visions, they turn all of their influences into larger units making the album become a kind of a long horror film where several scary themes are worked. 80’s series killers, Ouija board, bodies being buried, final girls and houses full of human bodies make their presence felt over the nearly one hour of Visions. However, all of this explicit violence is not only spoken, but rather worked in a special way. Sound effects deepen the scenes making the listener more and more immersed in the album and the lyrics are, in most cases, social critics in disguise. Visions is scary but fascinating too. ―Leonardo Frederico
9. Rina Sawayama ― SAWAYAMA
2020 • POP/ROCK • DIRTY HIT
Rina Sawayama did a hard, long and precise research before starting work on her debut. She traveled to Japan to interview family members about her childhood trauma and also spent almost a year just reading, watching and listening. She was filling a cardboard box with memories, feelings, political positions, revolt and half a dozen more souvenirs. Well, in a way, it paid off since her debut, SAWAYAMA, is catharsis of this whole box. She throws everything she collected on the floor, violently, shows it to you and talks a little about each of the things. You listen quietly, fascinated.
Without a doubt, SAWAYAMA is one of the best Pop records of recent years. The most amazing thing, however, is not how Rina does everything here stick to your head and make you addicted to those catchy hooks, but rather, the whole diversity of the album, both in lyrics and in sound. In the first case, Rina traces from her most intimate memories related to family plots ― as in the opening “Dynasty,” where she sings while Pop synthesizers mix with guitars and Metal vocals, “I’m a dynasty/The pain in my vein is hereditary” ― to the prejudice against her country of origin ― like “Tokyo Love Hotel.” But it is the sound of the album that is the strongest point. On several tracks, Sawayama unites Pop from different eras ― from Madonna to Britney Spears and Taylor Swift ― with Metal, Rock, Alternative, Punk and even some touches of Gospel music. The most impressive thing, however, is how she makes all this work, fitting each of these genres as pieces of a puzzle that assembles this incredible album that SAWAYAMA is. ―Leonardo Frederico
8. Adrianne Lenker ― songs/instrumentals
2020 • ROCK/FOLK • 4AD
In songs and instrumentals, Adrianne Lenker seems to show how to make a real breakup and heartbreak album. The lead singer of Big Thief, at the beginning of this pandemic, moved to a mountain hut in western Massachusetts, where she would spend time evading her obligations to compose, record and play. However, the situation of social isolation and almost loneliness in the middle of nowhere generated a privileged moment for creating songs… and that is what Lenker did.
While songs presents the strongest point as being Adrianne’s poetic, metaphorical and profound writing, instrumentals have the ability to convey the same feelings though only acoustic string. In the first, Lenker goes through the various stages of a relationship, or rather, the end of one. In “anything,” she shows her anxiety about spending the rest of her life with her lover without caring about the rest. She sings, “I don’t wanna talk about anyone/I don’t wanna talk about anyone/I wanna sleep in your car while you’re driving/Lay on your lap when I’m crying.” Other songs, like “zombie girl,” in which we can see the worst stage of depression, and “ingydar,” where we see the metaphor of time, also carry sharp lyrics. In instrumentals, by its turn, are two songs of almost 20 minutes, where Lenker plays his guitar is sometimes accompanied by wind chimes, bird noises and rain. One completes the other and they complete you. ―Leonardo Frederico
7. Fleet Foxes ― Shore
2020 • FOLK/ALTERNATIVE • ANTI
It is totally plausible to say that Shore is the most personal and intimate album that Fleet Foxes has ever released. According to Robin Pecknold, the vocalist, the idea and concept of the album emerged shortly after a near-death experience he went through: in 2017, he was surfing in California when a strong current caught him. In that, he was dragged away and was barely able to return to the beach. During the process, he really thought he was going to die. Fortunately, he arrived on dry land and when he did, he felt vibrations of great relief and Shore is the representation not only of those vibrations, but also, a thanks and a celebration of life.
Throughout its duration, Shore joins songs about love, mental health, greetings to great singers, hope and unity. This, in addition to making it the most personal album the band has released to date, makes it their boldest album. At the opening, we are introduced to Uwade Akhere, who sings beautifully. In tracks like “Maestranza,” for example, we see a sharp production betting on more stripped instrumentation. However, although Pecknold brought several people together on the project and bet on several different things, he still manages to make Shore extremely personal ― and these are the best moments. In “Can I Believe You,” he paints his two faces and each one asks the other one if it is trustworthy, and in “Sunblind,” he honors the singers who mattered to him. However, the best moment ends up being “Young Man’s Game,” where Pecknold sounds the most pure, true and honest he has ever sounded. During Shore, you feel the breeze and seem to get lost but are constantly reminded of being safe. ―Leonardo Frederico
6. Bruce Springsteen ― Letter To You
2020 • ROCK • COLUMBIA
Bruce Springsteen came to a point in his career that he once was and did everything possible. In the 1970s, he was a young man who wanted to run fiercely on Born To Run. However, he quickly became a political adult on Born In the U.S.A., and, during the 1990s he increasingly assumed an even more mature personality. Now 70, he sits in a chair and looks at everything with pride on his twentieth studio album, Letter To You. In a way, there’s not much to say other than that Letter To You is a conscious, deep and sentimental self-analysis of Springsteen’s life and career. Accompanied by the E Street Band for the first time in six years, Bruce traces lyrics about death, loss, past, memories and yearnings for a short future alongside a simple sound of Rock, Folk and Country, holding guitars, pianos and drums. While on tracks like “Last Man Standing” and “Ghosts” he deals with grief and the fact of death. In “Janey Needs a Shooter” and “If I Was the Priest,” written in the 1970s, he sings about romance and politics in an undeniably creative and unstrung way. What he did here, contemplates his entire career and life in a way that has never been seen before and that, for sure, will never be copied. ―Leonardo Frederico
5. Run the Jewels ― RTJ4
2020 • RAP/HIP-HOP • JEWEL RUNNERS
First of all, it’s good to make it clear that Run the Jewels never made a bad album. I can take my chances too and say that they will never do something that will not be great. Since the beginning of their career, Killer Mike and El-P have been throwing grenades across society with their wide-open truths: they talk about racism, xenophobia, political and economic crisis, historical problems and much more alongside their bold, creative, original and visionary sound. However, what already seemed to be excellent reaches an even higher level in their latest album, RTJ4.
It is rare when an album meets perfectly the historical and social context to which it is being released, however, this happens with Run the Jewels and it is not the first time. In the case of their last album, this happens on the best track on the album, “walking in the snow,” in which Killer Mike sings one of the phrases that, unfortunately, most represents the year 2020, “And you so numb, you watch the cops choke out a man like me/Until my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, “I can’t breathe”/And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV.” Although this phrase was written with Eric Garner in mind, when it came out, it was also for George Floyd who had been murdered by a white policeman a few days before the album was released. So, in this way, the album finds all the current context, making it even stronger.
However, as much as this is the album’s strongest point, the other moments are also incredible. In the other songs, the duo continues their struggle to play the truth in everyone’s face. One of the moments when they not only do it very well, but also do it in a very creative way is in “JU$T,” with Zack de la Rocha and Pharrell Williams, where the whole group talks about racism using the fact that all the men on the money bills are men and whites. They all sing, “Look at all these slave masters (Ayy) posin’ on yo’ dollar (Get it? Yeah).” For the rest of the album, they remain the same: being bold in their speeches that impresses anyone. But the album is not only excellent in these aspects as RTJ4 presents the most visionary and innovative sound that Run the Jewels has ever experienced. “Ooh la la,” is one of the best on the entire album. Together with Greg Nice and DJ Premier, they created one of the most addictive, captivating and unforgettable hooks of the year: using Greg’s verse in Gang Darrck’s “Dwyck,” they created a very cool and stripped-down vibe remnant of the 90s. In the end, it’s basically what it’s like singing on one of the tracks, “You hate Run the Jewels, you don’t love the troops.” ―Leonardo Frederico
4. Perfume Genius ― Set My Heart on Fire Immediately
2020 • ROCK/ALTERNATIVE • MATADOR
Michael Hadreas is almost 40 years old and his fifth studio album, Set My Heart on Fire Immediately, couldn’t be more appropriate for him at the moment he is living. So, just like him who has gone through countless things that shaped him, Set My Heart is graceful, mature, sharp and has a resolved vision on any topic that Hadreas wants to work on, performing exceptionally in everything. This thematic variety is, in turn, one of the strongest points of the album. While in the mythology “Jason,” Michael tells the story of how he had sex with an unresolved straight guy (“Jason undressed me/Lying on his sheets/He did not do the same/Even his boots were on”), in the violently captivating “Describe” he asks for a cry for help: would you, the listener, be able to describe happiness to him? He doesn’t remember how it is. All tracks are gorgeous, accurately written, but also seem to be an organic formation that came easily to Hadreas’ head. Here he is mature and well resolved in everything he says ― you cannot disagree with him at all here.
However, the sound of the album is also an exemplary piece: it is without barrier, bold and visionary. At the end of “Leave,” for example, a synthetic dramatic orchestra mixes with distorted wolf howls on a scary night, while Hadreas, in turn, murmurs like a spirit in our ears. Meanwhile, “Describe,” the best of the album, features violent and aggressive guitar solos that quickly turn into a dramatic underwater scene and “On the Floor” appears with retro beats that play on industrial rhythms. Oh, it’s worth remembering that on all tracks Michael delivers exceptional vocals, whether he creates church choirs with his own superimposed voice or when he makes his voice I came straight from the spiritual plane. He couldn’t have gone any further and you’re happy that he went and took you. ―Leonardo Frederico
3. Phoebe Bridgers ― Punisher
2020 • FOLK/ALTERNATIVE • DEAD OCEANS
On her second album, Punisher, Phoebe Bridgers seems to create a musical genre just for her. With the help of a great Folk instrumentation that plays between analog and digital instruments ― a big step forward from her emo-folk debut in 2017, Stranger in the Alps ― and of lyrics that seem to be torn pages from a teenager’s diary full of drama and emotion, Bridgers outlines and polishes an emotionally sharp album that is alternative, but sounds more Pop than anything else due its catchy and striking lyrics and hooks that stick to your head. A kind of sound that is great. A type of sound that only Bridgers seems to know how to make.
The album is named, according to Phoebe, after a type of fan obsessed by its idol. In her case, the idol would be Elliott Smith, her favorite artist. This is clear on the emotional “Punisher,” which sounds like a teenage cry, however, in the most mature way possible. She sings, in front of unsteady dreamy synthesizers muffled by her voice, “What if I told you/I feel like I know you?/But we never met.” However, this is still not the strongest track since, “Kyoto,” which dances in parallel between a trip to the Japanese city (“You called me from a payphone/They still got payphones/It cost a dollar a minute”) and relationship problems with her father (“He said you called on his birthday/You were off by like ten days/But you get a few points for tryin’“), is a very structured hit, and “Chinese Satellite” is the most sentimental of the entire album showing Bridgers in an internal crisis. Punisher is strangely endearing and terribly emotional. ―Leonardo Frederico
2. Taylor Swift ― folklore
2020 • POP/ALTERNATIVE • REPUBLIC
Many people tend to say that Taylor Swift is a mercenary person. Well, in a way, she is. But I’m not talking about her need to always get more money, but rather, her need to always be able to do the best in any circumstance to which she is put. With Fearless, for example, she hasn’t only remodeled the entire Country market at the time, it also made it the most awarded Country album in history. Likewise, in 1989, she reinvented not only the sound patterns of the following years of Pop, but also changed an entire industry ― oh, by the way, 1989 is the most awarded Pop album in history. Now, with folklore, Swift’s eighth album released by surprise in the middle of the year, she presents us with the same characteristics as before, but at an even sharper, more refined and mature level.
In fact, folklore is better than all of Swift’s recent work ― perhaps, just behind 2012’s Red ― and this is due to its unmistakable uniqueness in the midst of her entire career and the current music industry. First, the singer abandoned all of her Pop tendencies that fill stages by vocals from a haunted cabin in the middle of a B&W forest. Then, her lyrics are no longer only about her experiences and she starts to look at the world. Finally, her sound turns her efforts towards atmospheric instruments that seem to sound like mystical and elegant sounds from ages ago. All of these features seem to come out of an alternative album. Indeed, it is, but Swift made it work as well as the strongest Pop album of the year.
However, although folklore sound is probably Swift’s most radical change to date, it is the lyrics that are most striking ― or rather, the rich stories that Taylor tells. In “cardigan,” “august” and “betty” she narrates a love triangle where each track presents a perspective. Although each follows a different sound trend, they seem to be completed in a way that even Swift could not imagine. In “the last great american dynasty,” in turn, the singer tells a story and builds a thread that links this story decades ago with her. In “my tears ricochet” she talks about death and betrayal, while in “exile,” Bon Iver’s thick vocals resonate atmospherically. folklore is an important point not only in Swift’s career, but also throughout the music industry at this point. In the end, Taylor told us these precious folk stories and it is our mission to pass them on. ―Leonardo Frederico
1. Fiona Apple ― Fetch The Bolt Cutters
2020 • ROCK • EPIC
When was the last time we witnessed such a strong, iconic, impactful and memorable album release? When did Kanye West release My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy? Perhaps. When did Beyoncé stop the world with her visual albums, BEYONCÉ and Lemonade? Possibly. Or, for those older and lucky ones, when the classics Born In the U.S.A. by Springsteen and Thriller by Jackson hit stores in the 1980s? Certainly. The fifth and first album in eight years by the American singer Fiona Apple, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, is just like these albums: a project without barriers that becomes memorable since its first chords, beats and words.
In Fetch the Bold Cutters, in which Apple replaces backing vocals with barking from her dogs, writes tracks in her bedroom and produces the sound by playing percussions while walking and jumping around her house, she presents something never seen before. In its lyric content, the album is without any barriers, painting songs about anything that Fiona wants to sing ― and she does it very well. From songs that talk just about love (“I Want You To Love Me”) feminism and empowerment (Under The Table”) to cautious stories told about school bullies (“Shameika”) and even a campaign for rape victims report their rapists (“For Her”). However, in the same way, the album is rich in its sound too. Composed of spoonfuls, frantic pianos, stripped strings, excellent Apple’s vocals and synthesizers that at one time or another resemble something from Bjork. Fetch is an exciting and intriguing sonic experience that leaves you breathless.
At the end of the day, there is not much to talk about Fetch the Bolt Cutters for the simple fact that it is not a project that is possible to link a description to it. It is one of those projects that you will only understand its full potential when you hear it completely. Its sound it’s perfect. Its lyrics its perfect. A perfection that does not come from beauty but from freedom. In a nutshell, Fetch the Bolt Cutters is an album that was born classic and we are lucky enough to witness it. ―Leonardo Frederico