Discussion in 'Pop' started by Jark, Dec 6, 2020.
17. Annie - Dark Hearts
half a decade after her last EP and over a decade on from her second album, Annie returned in 2020 with the feel of a different artist—gone was the bubblegum electro, replaced by atmospheric stories of imagined Americana. Dark Hearts has the feel of its own cinematic universe, full of "storytelling" songwriting that feels both self-referential ("Annie, Annie") and outward-looking. nostalgia and wistfulness define this record, and most of the songs run close to five minutes, with breathing space for all the feelings only implicitly expressed by the lyrics. The Streets Where I Belong feels like an immediate Annie classic ("take it away, Johnny!"), while Miracle Mile and Forever '92 funnel her trademark optimistic boppery through a hazy lens of memories and youth lost. one I should probably buy on vinyl.
best single—The Streets Where I Belong
also bangers—Forever '92, Miracle Mile, Corridors of Time
16. Melanie C - Melanie C
I always find it a bit annoying/uninspired when artists release a self-titled album so deep into their career, but this short, sharp shock of a record makes a good case for it, effectively repositioning the most successful Solo Spice as an artist capable of competing in 2020 and beyond. the superb run of singles taken from this campaign, clearly her best since Northern Star, make a strong argument for an artist rejuvenated, with a couple of album tracks, like the relentless Good Enough, also screaming out for a release. at ten tracks the album leaves you wanting more, with only one concession (in the warm ballad closer End of Everything) to her earlier sound. my highlights are the house megabanger Blame It On Me (pls share the poppers immediately) and the rich, breezy disco-pop of Overload. welcome back hun!
best single—Blame It On Me
also bangers—Overload, Good Enough, Who I Am (Joe Goddard remix)
15. Ellie Goulding - Brightest Blue
the charts may not have welcomed Ellie with open arms in the year of our lorde 2020, but I personally felt nourished by this record, dropping as it did almost out of the blue after a good year or more or being stuck in limbo while she dropped random hit-chasing singles with only varying degrees of success. while those collab tracks are consigned to the "EG.0" disc here (the zero for artistic merit, presumably?), it's the main disc which stands up as a tight, concise, return-to-her-roots (kind of) record with songwriting very much at the forefront. the production shimmies between bare-bones/piano-driven (this is a ballad-heavy album) and electronic, and those sounds combine on opener Start, which finds Ellie meditating on the necessity of starting over even when that becomes routine ("I'm thinkin' bout how many times I've had to recover / all I do is start again") - it's a truly gorgeous song. my other peak is Tides, a Blaze-esque bleep-bloop house banger that commands you to the dancefloor, while Bleach could have made a terrific single with the right push. in the end nothing from this album found commercial success, but maybe being freed of those expectations will ultimately be a good thing for Ellie Goulding.
maxest tracks—Start, Tides
also bangers—How Deep is Too Deep, Love I'm Given, Bleach
14. The 1975 - Notes on a Conditional Form
clocking in at a fairly excessive 80 minutes long, the 1975's fourth album definitely feels on the surface like a "just for the fans" affair—which is not actually the case, because Notes has some of their most immediate tracks in ages, as well as several songs that musically explore slightly new territory for the band. it's sprawling but accessible. the album is roughly divided into stadium pop-rock, sparkly electronica and gentle acoustic pop, and the latter two sounds work best for them. Matty and Phoebe Bridges trade verses on Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America, and she delivers one of the best lines of the record with a straight face: "I'm in love with the girl next door / Her name's Claire / Nice when she comes round to call / I masturbate the second she's not there". Lovely. The Birthday Party stays on just the right side of twee, and What Should I Say is ambiant pitch-shifted electropop that harks back to A Change of Heart. if this is their last record in a while, it's a great way to go out.
best single—If You're Too Shy (Let Me Know)
also bangers—The Birthday Party, Having No Head, Jesus Christ 2005, What Should I Say
What were the reViews for Melanie C like? EXCLUDING Moopy's.
"The most astonishing return to form from a group member-turned-solo artiste since Cheryl Cole's landmark fourth album changed the pop landscape, again. While Melanie C doesn't scale quite those heights, it is a quiet storm of a masterpiece which elevates Chisholm into the rarified territory of Fiona Apple and peak Enya." - Pitchfork, 9.7
"Almost as seminal as Passion." - Geri, 4/5
Good for Mel. Always wondered why she had fans
Love Annie of course but still waiting for the right time/mood to properly consume this. I loved most of the pre-release tracks and Stay Tomorrow.
in other years it's been a struggle to compile ten genuinely strong albums. I had like 22 this year? amazing
13. The Killers - Imploding the Mirage
I had time for loads of acts in 2020 that I'd never really bothered with before. I've certainly never been a Killers fan outside of the big hits that everybody drunkenly bops to at events where straights are present or, worse, the DOMINANT FORCE. so what a lovely surprise that Imploding the Mirage (a title!) should turn out to be a tight, focused record packed at every turn with stadium-ready choruses, gorgeous melodies and super-sparkly production that rises and falls to accentuate every moment of explosion. right off the bat, My Own Soul's Warning announces that this is a record that means business—it's surely the only possible tour opener, whenever that happens—and everything that follows, from the blustery nonsense of Caution to sublime guest spots for kd lang and Weyes Blood, keeps the good times coming in propulsive forward motion. at its heart this is just a very likeable 40 minutes of music. what does any of it mean? how does one chew on fat for probable cause, or implode a mirage? answers on a postcard please.
also bangers—My Own Soul's Warning, Imploding the Mirage, My God, Fire in Bone
12. Ava Max - Heaven & Hell
you have to give props to Ms Koci, another of the Albanian-origin queens bringing back capital-P POP music, for her determination to play the game—unleashing a RedOne banger that sounds like a relic from 2009, getting a pan-European smash with it when she should've been a one-hit wonder, continuing to rock the "Max cut" AND insisting on placing a logo of it on every piece of artwork, and doing all of the above with a straight face. her hunger is clear to see, and it's endearing. she even brought back the "conceptual" pop album! never mind that Heaven & Hell's concept extends NO FURTHER than the title—this woman is serving popstar from a simpler time. Kings & Queens is the smasha but my personal favourite is Who's Laughing Now, the Ace of Base-aping summer jam that made #22 in my songs of the year countdown. other highlights include the shimmery eleganza of Rumors and the ludicrous OMG What's Happening, but no need to cherry pick really—the joy of Heaven & Hell lies in the ability to hit play and just go with it. AVA UP.
best single—Who's Laughing Now
also bangers—Born to the Night, Rumors, OMG What's Happening, Tattoo
11. Selena Gomez - Rare
how did it happen that Selena Gomez, whose role as jack of many trades—popstar/beauty product hawker/IG influencer/ASMR chanteuse—and master of none renders her nobody's fave, came so close to making one of 2020's ten best albums? I mean, she has form (Revival remains a truly fantastic pop record), but those days have seemed so far behind her for some time now. still, Selena confidently kicked off the Rare era with a big ballad (a brave choice for somebody who might only loosely be considered a "singer"), and that confidence extends to most of the album that followed. it's not balls-out, chart-topping pop in the way that Hands to Myself or Kill Em With Kindness were, but plenty on Rare feels like a good fit for Selena, particularly the brilliant title track, which sadly flopped as second single but remains one of her best songs. one criticism is that she really should try to push herself more vocally—too many of these songs could benefit from a vocal that sounds less like she just popped seven valium. but on the amusingly bitter Feel Me, the nonchalant Kinda Crazy or the dazzling Vulnerable (a clear "should've been a single" moment) it hardly matters. pop like this is not rare, per se, but it's certainly well done.
also bangers—Lose You to Love Me, Kinda Crazy, Feel Me, Vulnerable
I was surprised to see Killers so high for you! I didn't expect it. Sounds like it was as much of a surprise for you
I literally forgot that Selena album even exists. So did she I think? Revival it was not.
Glad I inspired you to pick this up again @Jark The Herald Angels Sing
As we get nearer to the top I'm agreeing with more and more.
I used the Selena album all of once I think. Maybe even less. Ariana levels of disappointment that one.
Ava Max has slowly but surely revealed herself as the one of the next big pop girls I will be looking at for future stanning. If the album was released sooner in the year it could seriously be competing with Dula Peep for my affections.
yeah she forgot immediately. then about 3 weeks later they reminded her and she reissued it. then she forgot again. it's HARD being a MOGUL!
off-topic but just LOOK at her hopeless application of a cat eye in this Vogue tutorial
she does it at 7:00 - her hands are shaking and the final result looks like SHIT! would YOU take make-up tips from this woman?!
The Killer's album was one of my absolute favorites of the year and such a return to form. The Ava Max album was surprisingly strong all the way through. Annie and the 1975 are on my list to listen to.
I understand rationally that Rare came out this year, but everything pre-lockdown feels like an entirely different year.
I still need to listen to the Killers album. Selena’s album has a lot of filler to me but I love the highlights you mentioned!
98 the animated "Jark In 2020" banner that expands upon clicking
"and more"? i need to roll a spliff before i start this. will it be followed by a PLAYLIST? would fit perfectly right after HOT RIGHT NOW_ and 2020_
peeping tom. a playlist will be provided, yes!
10. Tame Impala - The Slow Rush
after 5 years away, most artists might be expected to come back with something that constitutes slightly more than simply a gentle evolution in sound. most might think it necessary for their survival/continued relevance. but most artists are not Tame Impala. Kevin Parker's skillset and repertoire of references are so vast that he has no need to reinvent the wheel, and indeed The Slow Rush is a total sister record to Currents—equally obsessed with sprawling songs that feel like two-in-one, connected by interlude-y moments, a guitar break here, a synth breakdown there, all played by the man himself as if he was the curator of a museum whose current and permanent exhibit is "music of all genres from the 1970s to date". the man has music in his blood and innately just gets it, so it's no surprise that this fourth album feels more refined, more devoted in its references, but also more mature in its lyricism and themes. a fantastic work from a visionary with so much more to give—stick Breathe Deeper on and bathe in its exuberant glow.
best single—Lost in Yesterday
also bangers—Breathe Deeper, One More Year, It Might Be Time, Posthumous Forgiveness
09. Grimes - Miss Anthropocene
talking of artists who take their sweet time cooking up their latest masterpiece, Grimes (or "c" as she now likes to be known) entered 2020 pregnant with an album, a baby and a million ideas about the future of humanity. spoilers—we're utterly fucked in each and every one of them! at 10 tracks and 45 minutes, Miss Anthropocene is Grimes' shortest and tightest record, a loose "concept album" about climate change, or something, in which "each song is a different embodiment of human extinction". how jolly! best not to think too much about what it all means and just enjoy the music, which is some of Grimes' best ever (although she's probably THE artist most guaranteed to bring it every time, so no surprise there). on first single Violence she surrenders some control for once by collabing with i_o (RIP) on production duties, and the resulting glitterbanger is surely one of the best songs of her career to date, her voice rising to a pitch best heard by the angels on the shimmering chorus ("I am, like, begging for it baby"). the album is a total smorgasbard of sounds, and she dives into heavy rock (My Name Is Dark), warm guitar-pop (IDORU) and 4Æm (ethereal cyberpunk Bollywood/drum and bass) with equal aplomb. in truth Grimes can do anything, and on Miss Anthropocene she does. it's unclear what's next, but apparently she has a finished "club record" in the vein of Violence waiting to go. baptise me, earthly demon queen!
also bangers—My Name is Dark, 4Æm, So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth, IDORU
08. Sam Smith - Love Goes
after Operation Stan Sam Smith was kickstarted with last year's pair of 11/10 singles, 2020 sealed the deal with more superb music and, eventually, an album that wipes the floor with Sam's two previous full-length efforts. it's actually been a pretty bumpy year for Sam—lots of false starts, a couple of flop singles (Demi Lovato truly does ruin everything), an album that was due in Spring and never materialised... sometimes though all it takes is one great song to turn things around, and that song for Sam is called Diamonds. the Shellback-written/produced uptempo banger about letting a materialistic lover leave with your jewels is such an undeniable smash (it eventually made #11 UK, but clearly deserved a Midnight Sky-esque run) that the two-disc Love Goes (new material/2018-19 smashes) claims one of the strongest singles runs from any artist in recent memory. some may be disappointed not to discover more slinky, dancefloor-friendly midtempos in the vein of Strangers/Sleep/Diamonds, but the songwriting across Love Goes is superb, and even the more stripped-down ballads are far more impressive and emotional than anything on the distinctly unthrilling The Thrill of It All. consider this record a serious step up and a sign of even better things to come.
also bangers—Another One, Young, So Serious, My Oasis
07. Miley Cyrus - Plastic Hearts
it hurts me slightly to place this album at #7 as it's my current obsession, but I need more time with it. however it settles, I think Plastic Hearts is clearly Miley's best work to date, a really self-assured step up that positions her as an artist to be taken seriously, and also as one who doesn't take herself too seriously. her rock credentials shine through on inspired collabs with the likes of Joan Jett (who brings some grit to the cheeky Bad Karma) and Billy Idol, while Miley's trademark growl obliterates Dua Lipa's altogether more polished vocal on the brilliant Physical homage of Prisoner. A live cover of Blondie's Heart of Glass got so much love that it now has 60m+ streams on Spotify, which is insane, but Miley's originals can sound like new classics too, and Midnight Sky feels like a song that will come to define a major turning point in her career. it's simply a pleasure to see the Party in the USA chanteuse finding and owning lane in the way she has with Plastic Hearts.
best single—Midnight Sky
also bangers—Plastic Hearts, Prisoner, High, Golden G String, Heart of Glass (live)
06. Róisín Murphy - Róisín Machine
on her most accessible, most danceable and most joyful record since 2007's stone cold classic Overpowered, Róisín Murphy puts her own spin on disco, working exclusively with DJ Parrott to get people moving and grooving in a year in which the living room became the new club. Róisín Machine is a 10-track, no-filler affair which has the feel of a DJ set that you might hear soundtracking a pool party in the suburbs, where the cocktails are flowing freely and the clientele are artsy liberals who haven't forgotten how to have fun. "never had a broken heart / am I incapable of love?", she ponders on the thrilling cosmic disco of Incapable, criminally cut down to a 3:45 edit here—this is a track which demands to be enjoyed in its full 8 minute glory. much of the album finds Ro in the mood to look back on her impressive career, asserting on the self-referential Murphy's Law that "my story's still untold". she might have outgrown this old town, but whether she's head to the disco or a makeshift dancefloor, she's determined to take us with her. sign me up!
best singles—Incapable, Murphy's Law
also bangers—Shellfish Mademoiselle, We Got Together, Narcissus
05. Kylie Minogue - Disco
is there a greater pleasure for the average gay than seeing Kylie dominate like it's 2001 all over again? Disco ended 2020 as the year's fastest-selling album by a solo act in the UK, which neatly summarises the extent to which her comeback from the career low of Kiss Me Once six years ago has been engineered. it helps that Disco is also her best work at least since that album, and perhaps further back still, an entirely mid-to-uptempo collection of songs that command the listener to focus on the little joys of life. if the reference points feel limited sometimes, the sheer ecstasy of it all is difficult to resist. each of the singles is superb, particularly the laid-back roller disco sheen of Magic, while the Mediterranean tempo of I Love It absolutely basks in sunset flirtation, soundtracked in its outro by triumphant brass and a "can't get enough of this!" adlib that feels like the perfect nod to Kylie's resurgent status as the nation's sweetheart and eternal princess of pop. special nod to the bonus track Till You Love Somebody for bottling those vintage '70s soul-disco feels.
also bangers—Say Something, Miss a Thing, I Love It, Till You Love Somebody
can't remember what the AND MORE was but it may be JANCELLED just so I can actually FINISHING THIS FUCKING THING.
keep slaying Miss J :
the write-ups are sending me.
yeah they're sending me too. sending me ARTHRITIS.
I think Plastic Hearts as #7 is about right. CERTAINLY not higher than DISCO.
Hiya @Jark The Herald Angels Sing love, will we get a playlist of your countdown at some point? As Moopy’s #1 tasteful queen I’m keen to pop it on for an afternoon at home during the festive gooch, or for my drive back to Manchester.
I always enjoy your suggestions in the new music Friday thread so I want to invest some time here and audibly pleasure myself on your treats
because flattery will get you very far in this world, I'd be thrilled to do that for you dear
I'll add the top 20 this week as I update this thread!
04. Lady Gaga - Chromatica
her name isn't Alice—and it AIN'T Dua Lipa either, so don't expect her to PROMOTE HER ALBUM. The queen of jockstraps and flourescent sugary treats blessed the gays by briefly resuming her career as the world's previous greatest pop chanteuse at the top end of 2020. if this countdown was at all based on the quality of campaign built around these albums, you'd best believe Chromatica would finish DEAD LAST, just behind the imaginary record Rihanna did not release this year, because from the moment Stupid Love leaked a month before it hit Spotify, everything about the release and promotion of this project has screamed "WILL THIS DO?". And frankly, Gags, no, it will not.
the reason any of this is worth ranting about is that Chromatica is actually a pretty excellent pop album—hardly the boundary-pushing, genre-bending stuff of The Fame Monster or Born This Way, or the pleasure-or-punish-your-eardrums ethos of Artpop, but in its own very streamlined way a superb and almost uniformly high-quality collection of songs. in some ways it feels like a full circle moment for Gaga, a celebration of big pop melodies and hooks unconcerned with being high-brow—but in the years since The Fame, her voice has matured delightfully and her vocals on most of these songs (Fun Tonight, Plastic Doll, Enigma, Sine From Above) are a complete pleasure to behold. she's never been more in control, or sounded more confident in her instrument, as on this record. lyrically, the opposite is true—she drops the facade to reveal a woman consumed by insecurity and demons, but determined nonetheless to go on. When she sings I can't see me cry, can't see me cry ever again on 911, Chromatica's driving principle of pop music as therapy reveals itself clearly.
but even if the themes are heavy, the music is often light, and mostly just loads of fun. from the thrill of the orchestral transitions (HOW many gunnies have spontaneously combusted at the precise moment of Chromatica II ROBOTICALLY STOMPING INTO 911 like a DERANGED, LEATHER DADDY CYBERPUNK BOUNTY HUNTER charging down a catwalk in outer space, I wonder?) to the homages to late '90s europop and early '90s house—surely there's no way Babylon is not intended as a cheeky Vogue redux after the BTW/Express Yourself saga—this is a musical menagerie defined by the desire to dance, even if just to forget the pain (in Gaga's case, physical as much as mental). my favourite album track is Free Woman, a song built on some of her most towering, celebratory melodies and joyous hooks ever. that it's an ode to the trans community is the icing on a cake baked by one of our wider community's greatest allies.
it will be interesting to see where she goes from here. clearly her passion for pop music has not subsided, but her passion for the hustle very much has—and this kind of music generally needs the promo, the perfs, the videos, the tours. I would expect a sharp u-turn into more stripped-back territory for the next project. still, if Chromatica is Gaga's last pop record in a while, it's a fitting way to leave things. she's on top of the world—just not this one.
best single—Stupid Love
also bangers—Free Woman, Rain On Me, Chromatica II/911, Replay, Babylon
best remixes—911 (Sofi Tukker), 911 (WEISS)
You gorgeous human. Thank you for doing this, I gave it a listen for a bit yesterday, very good. I shall continue to investigate the list.
=03. Taylor Swift - folklore
what a journey Taylor Swift has taken us on in the last 3 years. it's actually quite insane to think that it was only 3 years (and 1 month) ago that she released Reputation, which (at least in terms of her popstar trajectory) was basically the difficult second album. the sense with that album and with last year's Lover that she had spent a little too long pandering to radio and her pop audience, while becoming lazy with her lyricism and songwriting, was palpable. there's a very telling scene in her Netflix documentary in which she receives a phone call on Grammy nominations day informing her that Reputation received zero nods. she tells the camera that she'll just have to work harder to make sure the next album is better. trouble is, she's people-pleasing. and while a little less hell-bent on avenging her critics, Lover was not a particular improvement. where does an artist go at that point?
the turnaround from that situation to where Taylor finds herself now is kind of astonishing when you think about it. at the age of 30, in the middle of a pandemic which halted plans for a huge world tour, Taylor seems almost by accident or chance to have found the perfect opportunity to hit a soft reset. it feels like, with the weight of expectations and her "reputation" (which was never exactly bad, it has to be said) lifted, and a new creative partnership with Aaron Dessner to explore, she's liberated. and that's what folklore is—the sound of an artist who wants to turn down the noise and go, if not back to where she began, at least back to a place that's more like home. this is not exactly a country record but the songwriting, at least, is country to a tee—sophisticated storytelling which turns her gaze outward, after too long spent looking in, and finds tales to tell in characters that range from young kids to long-dead east coast socialites.
sometimes it's not exactly clear from whose perspective she's singing. she imbues the last great american dynasty, the album's best song, with sharp wit to tell the story of Rebekah Harkness: "Bill was the heir to the Standard Oil name, and money / and the town asked, how did a middle class divorcée do it?". when the middle 8 comes around, she reveals with a wink that she's now resident in the dead woman's house, neatly drawing a parallel between Rebekah and herself as women who "had a marvellous time, ruining everything." with topics other than doomed relationships to approach and no need to settle for radio-friendly rhymes, Taylor finds herself on her richest lyrical form since the best moments of Red. Jack Antonoff's contributions in the record's middle section don't quite hit the heights of Dessner's work, but across sixteen songs Taylor becomes a chameleon happy to move between worlds and perspectives, all while grounding her travels in the disappointments and thrills of lives lived—a popstar rejuvenated, and a human being reborn.
also bangers—the last great american dynasty, the 1, exile, epiphany, peace
=03. Taylor Swift - evermore
don't tell me I'm cheating. although most of evermore was recorded during or after folklore's release, these two albums are such companion pieces it feels fair to judge them together. for my money, evermore is actually a little stronger across the board than folklore—continuing her fruitful collaboration with Aaron Dessner (Antonoff's only song here, gold rush, seems to be a folklore leftover), Tay Tay gifts us another seventeen tracks of cerebral melodrama and low-key heartbreak. the majority of this record is bathed in a certain sadness, but on happiness, she finds comfort in the idea that the golden times are not invalidated by the way things ended.
there'll be happiness after me
but there was happiness because of me
both of these things I believe, there is happiness
in our history...
across our great divide
there's a glorious sunrise
this is self-reflection on a beautiful level, a degree of maturity that seemed to have deserted her songwriting just a year ago when she extolled the virtues of spelling. and it's repeated across this album: those little heartbreaking moments of realisation or the ironies of growth. when she sings "all you want from me now is the green light of forgiveness", she resists the temptation to cackle and yell "I can't even say it with a straight face!", and instead muses: "you haven't met the new me yet, and I think that she'll give you that." when HAIM pop up to cameo on no body, no crime, the country twang spills out and Taylor's Tuesday night glass of wine with Este Haim suddenly escalates to murder scenes and life insurance policies—premeditated revenge killings never sounded so sexy. the easy, sedate groove of cowboy like me suggests that if Taylor does end up going back to country, nobody will have the nerve to call it a retreat. inside a year, she's become an artist with the world at her hands—again—and while a break might be well deserved, I think I'm not alone in hoping Miss Tay Tay stays on her musical growth path—and keeps inviting us along for the ride.
maxest tracks—no body no crime, happiness, champagne problems, cowboy like me, evermore
any guesses on the 2 albums still to come, and their order? shouldn't be hard
Jessie Ware and erm Niall Horan
Paul Heaton & Jackie Abbott
André Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra
Cwej’s greatest hits - part 1