We've reached the halfway point of 2020. It's been a tumultuous year, but we have plenty of good music to encourage and inspire us. Here are some of our favorites!
Each "Studio One Tracks" host came up with three picks for the year so far, plus one unanimous consensus pick, Run The Jewels "RTJ4." The duo of El-P and Killer Mike have been releasing critically acclaimed hip-hop since 2013 and dropped their fourth album digitally on June 3. It's a tour de force.
Fiona Apple - Fetch The Bolt Cutters
Since her first album in 1996 established her career, Fiona Apple has forged her own path in her own time. "Fetch The Bolt Cutters" is only her fifth full-length album. The record is full of well-crafted songs and a bit rough around the edges, but that only adds to its appeal. Apple's vocals are powerful and evocative on these personal songs of hard-won life wisdom.
Shabbaz Palaces - The Don of Diamond Dreams
Shabazz Palaces is often described as "alternative" or even "experimental" hip-hop. The Seattle based duo of Ishmael Butler (of Digable Planets fame) and multi-instrumentalist Tendai "Baba" Maraire have been around for about a decade. Utilizing language that is both street and enlightened, "The Don Of Diamond Dreams" is a sonic trip through Butler's head. I love the line "my phone's really not that smart," and I love the way Butler delivers it in this song.
Algiers - There Is No Year
Atlanta, Georgia's Algiers have always been about social awareness, particularly as it relates to the struggle against racism. But their ealy 2020 release "There Is No Year" seems downright prescient with its apocalyptic imagery of conflict and streets on fire. Algiers' sound is like supercharged R&B, an intriguing mix of soul and post-punk.
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down - Temple
For her long-awaited fifth album with the band, frontwoman Thao Nguyen has whipped up some spectacular songwriting. "Temple" features some of her most personal lyrics yet, paired with punchy, sometimes experimental alt-rock instrumentals that just ooze cool. Each track holds up on its own, but together creates an energetic, emotional, yet fun-spirited listen.
Porridge Radio - Every Bad
British four-piece Porridge Radio's sophomore release is brilliant. Its chant-like, sing-along-ready lyrics are both apathetic and insecure, backed by a 2010's indie rock sound that is both familiar yet unpredictable. That contradictory combination of hard and soft that creates Porridge Radio's post-punk "sadcore" is what makes this album so fun to listen to. It doesn't hurt that the songs are effortlessly snappy too.
NNAMDI - BRAT
Chicago based 80/35 alum Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, under the new moniker NNAMDI, released his fourth solo studio album back in April. "BRAT" showcases rhe artist's multidimensionality; it is simultaneously orchestral, rap, R&B, and undeniably indie. "BRAT" may be more low-key than NNAMDI's earlier music, but it is an experimental reflection on the prolific musician's personal journey and incredibly musically intriguing all the while.
Bridget Kearney and Benjamin Lazar Davis - Still Flying
Iowa native Bridget Kearney is the bassist and chief songwriter for Lake Street Dive, and Davis is a multi-instrumentalist who plays in Okkervil River. Together, they've made a record that neither could make on their own. Ghanian musicians Stevo Atambire and Aaron Bebe Sukura both appear on several songs as well. "Still Flying" is a breath of fresh air from start to finish.
Devon Gilfillian - Black Hole Rainbow
The debut album from Nashville soul singer Devon Gilfillian is one of the most electrifying and assured debuts in years. Gilfillian draws from classic influences, but his sound is totally fresh, and he's a wonderful singer and guitarist. It's exciting to think about where Gilfillian might go from here, but he's already made one classic album.
Tame Impala - The Slow Rush
Kevin Parker definitely took his time putting out this record, the first in five years under his solo music project Tame Impala. Once again, Parker wrote all the songs and played all the instruments and was still tinkering with the sound of the album up until the last minute. One song, "Borderline," was even changed from its single version that was released several months earlier. The result is a perfect summer album that also happens to feature some of Parker's most personal lyrics to date.