As it's becoming increasingly clear that live music as we know it won't return in 2020, a new slate of incredible albums and songs have come out to take our minds off our collective despair. Charli XCX dropped her quarantine release How I'm Feeling Now and Paramore's Hayley Williams came out with her debut solo effort Petals For Armor. There's also been some much-needed surprise drops from Jeff Rosenstock and Daniel Romano, who's been astoundingly prolific, releasing almost a dozen full-lengths in 2020. While it's easy to get lost in the overwhelming negatives permeating throughout the world, this month, these songs were a necessary balm to help us cope.
Daniel Romano, "If You Don't or If You Do"
The sheer magnitude of Daniel Romano's output this year is overwhelming. Since mid-March the Canadian rock 'n' roll polymath has pretty much released an album a week on Bandcamp, and they're all worth your while. From the pristine country rock of Content to Point the Way to the 22-minute psych-pop freakout Forever Love's Fool, which features Tool's Danny Carey of all people, he’s flirted with many genres in such a short amount of time. His latest, Wednesday's Dandelion, is his most immediately accessible of the bunch. Romano says it's “by me alone in a room for a week with a bunch of stuff" and the opening track is pure, blissed out pop-rock. Featuring flutes, trumpets, and golden harmonies, it's the best gateway to one of the hardest working musicians around today. —Josh Terry
Megan Thee Stallion, "Savage x Int'l Players Anthem"
"Savage" already made our list in March and the Beyoncé-blessed remix would've made our roundup again if only it was released a few days earlier. It's been months and somehow "Savage" gets better with every iteration. This month, producer Tu Breesy uploaded the UGK and Megan Thee Stallion mashup we desperately needed and unsurprisingly, the Houston rapper fits over the 2007 hit perfectly. We are prepared to put every version of "Savage" on every list if they're all this good. —Kristin Corry
Charli XCX, "Party 4 U"
Charli XCX has written unapologetically from a few different lenses about the concept of partying over the years. This is the one I've been waiting for.
"Party 4 U" is blatant, romantic, desperate, and its lyrics shamelessly celebrate "nervous energy." This is the saddest song on the album; it's an omission of longing for what the Queen of the party can't have: "Hit me right back. Why you treating me like someone who you never loved? I only threw this party for you."
Charli asks us to imagine her, in all her divine pop radiance, waiting by the window for someone who may or may not show up to her party, a difficult but refreshing image to channel. — Jaime Silano
Hayley Williams, "Simmer"
Post-divorce from Chad Gilbert (of New Found Glory and 00s hardcore outfit Shai Hulud), Paramore’s Hayley Williams has distanced herself from the riff-driven wails of her pop-punk days. She’s always had an incredible voice, and watching her wield it as a proper pop artist has been surprisingly refreshing. For her first solo album, Petals for Armor, Williams said she found the experience of coming out of her Paramore cocoon “scary” and “empowering,” but her vulnerability here is an asset. She opens the stunner “Simmer” with the line “Rage is a quiet thing,” a departure from Paramore’s shout-it-out arena-rock approach. Like the song’s title, its instrumentation is driving and understated, suggesting at moments that it might break into a rolling boil—but like the anger we, as women, often hold inside, it merely internalizes, lashing out with a precise beauty, like death by a thousand papercuts. (Side note: ICYMI, back in early April, Williams released a very charming, mercifully short workout video on her YouTube channel to "Over Yet," another tune from Petals for Armor. I've done it about a thousand times in quarantine to burn off my own simmering frustration, and I must recommend it here.) —Hilary Pollack
R&B has an interesting history with astrology. Tyrese gave us "Signs of Lovemaking," and a year later, Beyoncé tried her hand at horoscopes on her debut album. Now, Kehlani is using a similar template on "Water," a suggestive ode to Pisces, Scorpios, and Cancers—or water signs for the uninitiated. Co-written with Ambré, the It Was Good Until It Wasn't cut is a mixed bag of playful innuendoes for a late night rendezvous. —Kristin Corry
TALsounds is the synth-project of Chicago-based artist Natalie Chami, and her latest LP, Acquiesce, is patient, immersive, and fully-realized. The compositions are varied, meditative, and droney, with songs like the brooding and overwhelming "Else" and the lush "No Rise" taking minutes to build. At under two minutes, "Conveyor" is the leanest of the bunch, but it's densely-packed with evocative textures. One of two instrumentals on the album, the song's synths swirl around like an ambling carousel. This is music for dusk. —JT
Future featuring Lil Uzi Vert, "All Bad"
From Future's last album, High off Life, "All Bad" fits into a recent pattern of futuristic and sugary hip-hop production, like Lil Uzi Vert's "Celebration Station," and Playboi Carti's "@ MEH." Producers Brandonfinessin and Outtatown provide jabbing synths, skipping hi-hats, and an ascending bass drum, capturing the perfect soundtrack for bouncing through a daisy field in JNCO jeans. It's a refreshing contrast to reality to hear a beat that sounds optimistic, even as Future and Uzi take turns saying, "I am way smarter than you." — Ashwin Rodrigues
Jeff Rosenstock, "Nikes (Alt)"
Jeff Rosenstock's anxious punk rock has always grappled with how to live ethically when everything in the world seems like an unfixable mess. From the "we're tired and bored" refrain of his POST- highlight "USA" to his latest surprise effort NO DREAM, Rosenstock is asking some difficult questions of himself and his country. On the scorching second track "Nikes (Alt)," he yelps, "Looking down the barrel of a shitty future / Throwing back whatever we can to avoid the dread." For Rosenstock, his escape comes in online shopping: "So I scour the internet for a new pair of Nikes / Status symbol shit that I say I'm above." But whatever joy that brings, it's futile and temporary, as he sings, "Stinkin' rich hypocrite / No, it's not gonna bring no happiness." —JT
With his second project of the year in Cold Water, Brooklyn Medhane solidifies his case as one of the strongest new rappers in 2020. Clocking in at just over two minutes, album standout "Late" boast's Medhane's icy flow paired with a disorienting and mesmerizing loop. It's deceptively simple on first listen, but he packs a lot of expressive wordplay in the efficient track. He raps, "You cried rivers when I dipped / In that deep water trying to swim / Holdin on to strength lost grip/ Movin with the wind seekin truth within." —JT
Zaia, "ON GOD"
Since 2017, Zaia has sprinkled a few short releases through streaming services but VERY ALONE appears to be the EP that will catapult the Atlanta artist into a different stratosphere. The 9-track project finds Zaia deep in thought, and he brings that introspection to "ON GOD," a brooding track that evokes an earlier version of Kid Cudi. "Looking for the one but I know / I'ma push away her love and never call," he raps. When other people are running from the ways they sabotage their life, Zaia is embracing them. — KC
Cass McCombs, "The Wine of Lebanon"
The best Cass McCombs songs are sprawling doses of weird, pastoral Americana. Few songwriters are able to be as evocative and cryptic as the folk-rock journeyman. His music can be unhurried and languid, like his best known song, 2011's "County Line," but there's still a sense of urgency in the intricacies of his vocal inflection. His latest, the easygoing and gorgeous "The Wine of Lebanon" is another example of this. Quietly released on streaming services with no PR campaign or album announcement, the song stands on its own with a warm soft-rock arrangement and McCombs singing lines as inscrutable as, "What's left when harvest tugs upon her yoke? / Cruel garters around her, choke / What's left to hope?" —JT
Necrot, "Stench of Decay"
Ever just feel like the world—or, IDK, powerful world leaders who stoke violence against their own people in acts of police militarization and authoritarianism—makes you fucking sick? Same! There are days when you smile at hummingbirds, and then there are days when everything stinks like the morning breath of Satan. Bay Area death metal outfit Necrot have been serving macabre riffs for nearly a decade, but those seen on “Stench of Decay” are some of their very best. With its manic speed and stadium-worthy solo, the track signifies that Necrot is heading in a bigger and badder direction. As bassist and vocalist Luca Indrio told Brooklyn Vegan, "'Stench Of Decay' is the smell of our world falling under the greed and senseless pride of men. It is the stench you smell in the morning when you realize that outside your door is nothing but ugly humans ready to deceive, steal, or even kill for a little more power or money.” While their new album, Mortal, won’t drop until August 28, we can, unfortunately, assume that “Stench of Decay” will remain a highly relevant anthem between now and then. —HP
Ian Isiah, "N.U.T.S"
The hook of Ian Isiah's Chromeo-produced single feels like sage advice passed down from generations: "You gotta make some room / For people that wanna love you." Each lyric on "N.U.T.S" could be a positive affirmation until you realize Isiah is singing over a recording of a homophobic rant. Flipping what was meant to be degrading, Isiah includes all of the pangender experience, even the hurtful stuff. "N.U.T.S" finds the Brooklyn singer sees the beauty in repurposing those moments. —KC
When Noisey interviewed Dehd in 2019, lead singers Emily Kempf and Jason Balla detailed how their 2019 album Water grappled with the dissolution of their romantic relationship and a newfound commitment to their band. While Water proved the trio as their city's foremost indie rockers making optimistic breakup songs, their upcoming follow-up Flower of Devotion takes the band to new heights both musically and conceptually. Single "Loner" is perfect moody jangle-pop, with Kempf's emotive howl singing, "I want nothing more than to be a loner.” Throughout, the pogo-ing harmonies between Kempf and Balla are so strong they'll stick with you after just one listen. With their next LP dropping in July, Dehd have a early case for having the indie rock record of the summer. —JT
Choir Boy, "Complainer"
“Oh, my life / What a pitiful thing to hear / It's a phrase so funny / When it's spoken so sincere” Choir Boy’s angelic-voiced singer Adam Klopp sings on “Complainer.” As we wrap up our third (!) month of life in quarantine, still trying to understand what the hell is going on, the lyrics here feel like our diary pages after 60 straight nights of pasta and RuPaul’s Drag Race. We’d all love to complain, but it’s such a tiresome look on others. There’s a Smiths-like quality to this tune, both in its melodic appeal and its depression-pop theme. Like DAIS Records labelmates Drab Majesty and Riki, Choir Boy offers an escape to the goth club via your headphones. At a time when we don’t know the next time we’ll be able to bop to Depeche Mode or Pet Shop Boys with our black-clothed, winged-eyeliner brethren under some strobes, at least we can still live in the fantasy of 80s-style dream pop. – HP
Perfume Genius, "Your Body Changes Everything"
From his fifth studio album Set My Heart on Fire Immediately, "Your Body Changes Everything" is a song that honors the balance of intimacy. “Give me your weight, I'm solid. Hold me up, I'm fallin' down now babe,” the hook calls on the ways we switch roles in intimacy and take turns depending on one another in relationships.
With the help of Blake Mills, acclaimed producer of pop’s avant-garde who has worked with the likes of Fiona Apple, Alabama Shakes, Dawes, and Laura Marling, Perfume Genius has released another body of work that is overwhelmingly cognizant of age, movement, the body, and the ephemeral nature of it all. "Your Body Changes Everything" is a warm reminder that intimacy should be anchoring, honest, and open to change. — JS
Lila Iké, "Stars Align"
The ExPerience is a valiant induction of Iké not only as a force to be reckoned with as a rising reggae artist in Jamaica, but a global one. With the media blindly categorizing reggae as merely songs that "channel summer," The ExPerience is a reminder that Jamaican artists aren't singing about a season. They're singing about their entire lives. "Stars Align" is teeming with infatuation, likening Iké's feelings to a favorite song. We totally get it, because we can't stop thinking about "Stars Align" either. — Kristin Corry
Varsity, "Shaking Hands"
Over the past decade, few Chicago artists have been able to write hooks as delectable as Varsity. Through three albums, including Friday's just released Fine Forever, the guitar pop outfit has combined shimmering riffs with dreamy melodies and massive choruses. On LP highlight "Shaking Hands," lead singer Stephanie Smith opens the track singing, "Shut-in city / Pillars scared of the community." Though the song's themes of isolation and disillusionment and even its title feel eerily relevant in the coronavirus reality, the arrangement is still a potent serving of breezy escapism. —JT
Esoctrilihum, "Amenthlys (5th Passage -Through the Yth Whtu Seal)"
There’s a lot to unpack on French black metal band Esoctrilihum’s new record, Eternity of Shaog, both in its complex music that reveals such an array of instrumentation that it’s often difficult to recognize WHAT is making that SOUND, and in its narrative. Esoctrilihum describes itself as “unholy music inspired by chaotic visions of an unknown dimension"; even as a moderately OK French speaker, I couldn’t tell you what the hell mastermind Astaghul is singing about—this is black metal, after all, and the vocals are characteristically goblin-esque, growling, shrieking, and wailing—but it feels safe to say that “Amenthlys (5th Passage - Through the Yth Whtu Seal)” is mythical and otherworldly in its substance as well as its song. It’s a highlight on the album, which is an imaginative epic that is at times haunting and soothing, at other times terrifying. Last year, Blood Incantation’s Hidden History of the Human Race compellingly merged psychedelia and death metal; here, Esoctrilihum do the same for black metal, adding kaleidoscopic layers of ancient heaviness and shimmering eclecticism, like it was all composed by cloaked druids on one of Saturn’s moons.
Breland, "Hot Sauce"
"Hot Sauce" is the type of song that could do very well on TikTok. Breland combines caption-worthy lyrics ("Pretty, but she ain't afraid to pop off") with a beat poised for a new line dance to add some heat to his country rap appeal. We wouldn't be surprised if the tune soundtracked every cookout in America this summer, because Breland's right: "Everything's better with the hot sauce." —KC