WLUW’s Top Albums of 2020

Hooray! We made it through 2020! And what a year it was, with a pandemic and all the subsequent changes in the world. For us at WLUW, music helped the staff and listeners get through it all. New projects and albums from favorite and upcoming musicians were the highlight to our months in crisis and Zoom fatigue. Here are our favorite albums from 2020 that you may have heard spinning on 88.7 last year:

Andy Shauf – The Neon Skyline (January 24th)

The Neon Skyline is the perfect blend of folk, jazz, and soft rock to create a beautiful story of love and moving on. It’s the kind of music you listen to on a lazy Sunday when you want to dream, or in the evening when you want to reflect. What really stands out is the melancholy yet comforting storytelling throughout the entirety of the album. Shauf creates characters that we as listeners come to understand as causes of joy and heartbreak. His lyrics depict quiet moments such as holding on to someone’s jacket or waiting in vain for them to come home. Tracks such as, “Clove Cigarette” and, “Living Room” stand out with their striking chords and poetic lyrics that wrap you in their arms. The Neon Skyline is a feat of conceptual storytelling and a deep reflection on the feelings we all face when love has faded. – Josie Stahler

Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud (March 27th)

Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud is a beautifully comforting collection of songs that feel like being home. The relaxed tempo and Katie Crutchfield’s honey-sweet voice work together to share themes of love, change, and forgiveness. Her imagery is ever present, with scenes of lilacs and weather vanes flooding through. It seems reminiscent of the place she grew up, Waxahatchee Creek, Alabama, which is also what the band is lovingly named after. My favorite tracks are Hell and Arkadelphia, both filled with bright acoustics and artistically crafted lyrics. While I’m not always a fan of country music, Waxahatchee’s sweet and subtle songs make me want to crawl through the album cover and listen to Saint Cloud through the speakers of that pickup truck on a hazy afternoon. –Josie Stahler

Thundercat – It Is What It Is (April 3rd)

Has music ever made you feel like you were in outer space? The songs are so calming, and you can’t help but fight the feeling that you’re floating and vibing to the beat. As you continue on your otherworldly journey, you notice that the melodies have become almost intergalactic and an out of this world tune has now taken in every second of your consciousness. If you’ve never felt this way, well then there’s a perfect record to turn to, and that’s: ​Thundercat – It Is What It Is. On April 3rd, Thundercat ​released his 4th studio album, ​​It Is What It Is. Adding to his sound revolution, Thundercat takes you on a hypnotic journey through sound and lyrics. It Is What It Is, has a soulful and vibrant feel. Chock full of songs that will make anyone want to get up and dance, no matter where they are, all the while putting you into a deep meditative state. Thundercat continuously hits it out of the park and continues to refine his sound while remaining true to his origins. The auditory growth of Thundercat is why ​​WLUW has chosen it to kick off our favorite records of the decade. The album is filled with shorter songs-the average song amounting to 2.5 minutes. However, the album’s perfect wrap up song is “It Is What It Is”, over five minutes, this song perfectly concludes Thundercat’s body of work and gives you a complete sense of closure. One of my favorite parts of the album is the tie between balance and mixture. Concise mixes areused through every song, and Thundercat inflicts a feeling of happiness and out of this world imagination. You can’t help but feel like you on another planet whenever you listen to this album. – Genevieve Kyle

Favorite songs: “Funny Thing”, “Overseas”, “Dragonball Durag”

NNAMDÏ – Brat (April 3rd)

Just as the world shut down, Sooper Records cofounder and DIY artist Nnamdi Ogbonnaya released his fourth LP, Brat, to wide acclaim. Brat features his most self-aware and emotionally open lyrics on tracks like “Flowers to My Demons,” “Price Went Up,” and “It’s OK.” While many music outlets have continuously pigeon-holed the Chicago musician as a “weirdo” rapper for his reluctancy to adhere to the confines of genres, we interpret as Brat to be a testament to NNAMDÏ’s ability to self-produce and work through pain through his music. While promoting the new album, he performed a must-watch cover of Avril Lavigne’s “I’m With You.” Throughout the quarantine and the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, NNAMDÏ also released the projects KRAZY KARL and Black Plight on his Bandcamp. WLUW is excited to hear what is next of NNAMDÏ and (one day) watch his return to onstage performances at our favorite local venues. – Allison Lapinski

Buscabulla – Regresa (May 8th)

Incorporating elements of dream pop, synths, salsa, and experimental electronic, Buscabulla’s debut, Regresa, is a perfect album to put on while you celebrate the New Year. The title translates to “return”, a relatable notion that many long for at the moment. With all the insanity that is 2020, this album evokes those feelings of loss and rebuilding we’ve all gone through this year.  The upbeat tempo of songs such as, “Vámano”, mask the deeper meanings posed throughout the album that are particularly easy to miss if you are a non-Spanish speaker. The lyrics in the debut track off the album, express the longing to go, “A las millas sin mirar pa’ atrás” (“To the miles, without looking back”) back to the “Fuego en esta ruta tropical” (“Fire in this tropical route”). This is in reference to the duo’s move back to their native Puerto Rico in 2018, in the wake of Hurricanes Maria and Irma. 

Prior to moving back to Puerto Rico, Buscabulla came together in New York City in the early 2010’s. The husband and wife duo, Raquel Berríos and Luis Alfredo Del Valle, began producing experimental bedroom pop, working with Dev Hynes on their first release, EP I. After the release of their second EP, Berríos and Del Valle yearned to go back home and left New York for good. It is in Puerto Rico where they created Regresa. This intimate debut portrays a reflection of resolve and uncertainty in the context of crises. Although some of the lyrical content is ominous, the colorful production and neo-salsa influence piece together a danceable soundtrack fit for the New Year. – Lauren Neher

Moses Sumney – græ (February 21st, May 15th)

Released in two parts, half in February and half in May, græ marks some of the most boundless, in-your-face, genre bending music that Sumney has ever released. This 20-song, double album is the product of an army of creative minds including collaborations with Thundercat, Shabaka Hutchings, Adult Jazz, Rob Moose, Taiye Selasi, and many more. Stretching just over an hour in total length, græ, is truly a journey. From the quiet jazzy intimacy of  “Keep Me Alive” to the driving electronic maximalism of “Conveyor”, Sumney dips his toes in a vast array of unique and sometimes competing moods.This R&B, folk, jazz, glitch-hop masterpiece showcases Sumney’s elasticity between genres creating a sound and atmospheric landscape that is truly unlike any other. Sumney touches on themes of romance, race, and toxic masculinity throughout while carefully depicting the multiplicity of his own identity. The tracks “Cut Me”, “Keeps Me Alive”, and “Me in 20 Years” stand out as favorites from this 20-track sprawling adventure. – Mat Shiley

Ohmme – Fantasize Your Ghost (June 5th)

Ohmme’s sophomore album, Fantasize Your Ghost, is a simultaneously haunting and in-your-face experience. The songs are full of almost operatic harmonies reminiscent of Queen, but with a hint of frustration. The tension is ever present throughout each song’s lyrics and is met by a strangely soothing dissonance. The fourth track, The Limit, best captures this feeling: “Words fumble and fall around/But my river recedes/A famine for following/An acre full of weeds.” Other tracks such as Twitch are dramatic and ethereal with its use of a string section to convey pain and heartbreak. Each song is a thematic piece of the puzzle that makes this album, but they all seem to have their own unique personalities and perspectives to give. My favorite tracks are Ghost and 3 2 4 3, which stand out as spunky and feral, the type of music you could play on a road trip through the desert. Fantasize Your Ghost is the perfect combination of experimental sounding music and universally felt feelings of frustration. – Josie Stahler

Lomelda – Hannah (September 4th)

Lomelda’s Hannah is a deeply emotional look at identity and feelings of disconnection. It walks the line between angry catharsis and quiet reflection, and is the perfect album for driving late into the night. Lomelda’s lyrics are full of questions and confusion, sometimes wondering what it is she’s supposed to be doing. She works to answer these questions in comforting affirmations, promising to try and give it her all. The soothing strumming of the guitar matched with hard-hitting harmonies work to express these feelings in a beautiful way. My personal favorite tracks off the album are, “Kisses” which is the perfect mood-setting opening, “Reach” which captures the anxiety and anger of who you are, and “It’s Infinite” which feels as if you’re taking a quiet walk. Hannah is the comforting and freeing album we needed this year. – Josie Stahler

Adrianne Lenker – songs (October 23rd)

Out of a one-room cabin in the woods of Western Massachusetts, Adrianne Lenker delivers a solo acoustic album of reflective folk tunes bearing the weight of her recent breakup. Recorded directly to tape, the Big Thief frontwoman explores themes of independence, regret, longing, pain, and solitude hitting the hearts of a world coping with the difficulties of a widespread pandemic. The intimacy of songs is captured through the embrace of every fine detail from the sounds of rain, to chairs creaking, to feet brushing up against the ground. Lenker’s poetic vulnerability on this record is mimicked in the recording process seeming to welcome the restless wanderer into the safety of her wooded cabin. Some of the stand out tracks from this record are “anything”, “two reverse”, and “zombie girl”. Adrianne Lenker’s songs is an album that captures the raw, and simplistic honesty that has become a trademark of her art. – Mat Shiley

In entering this new year, many people are motivated to forget the agony of 2020. We sincerely hope that all this great music of the tumultuous year is not erased from the collective memory. Cheers to 2021!

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