Similar to the previous list, here are the albums I loved this year but that didn't quite make the final cut. Enjoy!
Originally published on 12/29/20.
Arca – KiCk i
Alejandra Ghersi’s sound design and arrangement skills will never cease to amaze me; she has been one of my personal favorite artists in electronic music for some time now. Over the past several years, she has slowly but surely carved out her legacy in experimental music with her unique, bizarre sound effects and deconstructed club aesthetic. KiCk i is Arca’s “pop” album, of sorts; there’s more focus here on guest features, collaboration, and bassy club sounds than ever before. And for the most part, it’s another successfully mind-bending release from the Venezuelan producer, her unbound creativity as a musician and sound designer on full display yet again. Definitely give this one a listen if you want a good gateway album into Arca’s discography; this may turn out to be the most easily accessible album we’ll ever get from her.
Childish Gambino – 3.15.20
I know I originally gave this a 9 (and said it would end up on my year-end list), but now it’s more of a soft 8. Some of the mixing could have been improved. The transitions tend to be awkward and unnecessary. There are some musical passages here and there that either should have been fleshed out more or rethought entirely. Regardless, 3.15.20 is still a thoroughly underrated project, a musically eclectic album rife with unbound creativity. The sonic range here is impressive even by Donald Glover’s standards, moving from industrial to vocal R&B to gospel at the drop of a hat. And for the most part, he makes it work quite well. A lot of people dislike this record quite harshly, and I never quite understood that; to me it’s a highly enjoyable and imaginative album with occasional glaring problems.
Deftones – Ohms
The only things that are sure in life are death, taxes, and the fact that Deftones are pretty much incapable of making a bad album. Continuing the legendary act’s ongoing quality streak, Ohms is yet another helping of rich, crunchy, creative alt-metal. The musicianship here is as strong as ever, Stephen Carpenter’s bellowing guitars and Abe Cunningham’s always impressive drumming remaining highlights of the band’s output. Meanwhile, Chino Moreno proves that he hasn’t lost an ounce of his vocal chops in the last quarter-century, able to switch between gentle croons and blood-curdling shrieks without even trying. Deftones’ consistency has always surprised me, and Ohms is no different; it’s another strong release from one of my favorite bands ever.
Medhane – Cold Water
Some might refer to this record as nothing more than a Some Rap Songs clone. And yes, Cold Water does share a lot of characteristics with Earl Sweatshirt’s 2018 masterpiece: short track lengths, deadpan delivery, sample-heavy production, and a feature from Navy Blue. However, underground New York rapper Medhane manages to take that influence and do something different with it. For one, the production is generally more polished: nearly every instrumental here, while brief, is excellent, complimenting Medhane’s emotionally heavy lyrics very effectively. I found more and more of these tracks sticking with me the more I listened to the album, which is always a good sign. In the end, Cold Water is a formidable underground rap record that deserves more attention than it’s been getting.
Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud
I’ll be honest: the first time I heard this album, I found it to be unbelievably boring. But after a few more listens, it really started to stick with me; I found many of Saint Cloud’s songs stuck in my head on a regular basis. (I’m ashamed to admit I’m unfamiliar with Waxahatchee’s past work, but if it’s as good as Saint Cloud, I’ll check it out in the future for sure.) This is a record that works just as well in the background as it does in the foreground. The instrumentation is well-mixed and arranged, the vocals carry a lot of personality, and the lyrics are poetic and beautiful. It also boasts one of the most stunning closing tracks of the year, a somber ballad with an incredible amount of emotional power. Does Saint Cloud reinvent the wheel? Hardly. But it’s still a compelling 40-minute experience that I most certainly recommend.