One of the only vessels of solace in this year of desolation and torrent was music. Artists laid themselves bare despite a pandemic raging around us and against all odds, creativity not only prevailed, but thrived. Here at The Mic, we felt it more important than ever to shine a light on the artists that have kept the scene alive and kicking this year, along with those set to become the blazing voices of the future.
With the long-sought new year finally upon us, we are thrilled to share the results of the annual Mic Awards. Over the past month, our marvellous readers and members have been voting on the best albums that 2020 had to offer. In a tormented year, music has allowed us both to reflect on the state of the world and escape from it in equal measure, and the results reflect this in their inspiring miscellany. From glossy, power-pop escapism to devastatingly introspective singer-songwriting, here’s The Mic’s guide to the best LP’s that this testing year had to offer.
5. After Hours – the weeknd Four years on from his triple-platinum masterpiece, the Starboy has made a deal with the twilight zone – The Weeknd’s After Hours is a juxtaposition of his trademark seductive melancholy with genre-blending 80’s. We've been immersed in the Sin City lights, the smoke-filled bars, the transcendental intoxication – a night that never seemed to end. There was no question that this chapter was taking a hint from a past aesthetic, which in millennial hindsight appears overindulgent and debauched: but the music it birthed? Unparalleled in its influence. A mastery of production, After Hours proves that in the industry where artists are often swallowed by each other’s noise, hard work, refinement and consistency pay dividends. Even though Abel assures us from the start that he's removed ‘his disguise,’ the shadowy world he's created in Chapter Six is foregrounded by such an immersive narrative, that even he himself appears consumed by the red-jacketed character he has created. In such an uncertain time for our own society, it's uplifting to see an artist who is so obviously having fun with his work, and inviting us to escape into an intricate world, enchantingly more surreal than our own. Faye Nicholls (Full album review can be read here.)
4. Future Nostalgia – Dua Lipa
Lipa hoped to brighten these dark days of quarantine and self-isolation with her second studio album, Future Nostalgia, and boy, did she achieve just this. The record provides a contemporary twist on the retro-electric vibes of the 80s whilst allowing Lipa to voice her thoughts on important social issues such as gender disparity. Future Nostalgia features writing contributions from Tove Lo as well as Madonna’s producer Stuart Price, and this shows in the disco-like, dance-pop music reminiscent of Kylie Minogue and Madonna herself. Every track on this album makes you want to throw worries to the wind, get up and dance. Lipa truly channels her inner 80s diva in Hallucinate, Levitating and Love Again, tracks that shine as the perfect blend of contemporary and retro, demonstrating that it is indeed very possible to bring disco into 2020. There is a feeling that all generations can lovingly embrace during these stressful times – even my parents, whom I am now concerned will dig-up those forgotten neon leg warmers and attempt to bring back the mullet hair style. Joseph Alton (Full album review can be read here.)
3. Zeros – Declan Mckenna
The second studio album by British singer-songwriter Declan McKenna explores the haunting narrative of the crisis of modernity. A crisis that in 2020, has never felt so prevalent. Both harrowing and satirical, McKenna encapsulates what so many people are feeling in just ten songs. His use of contrast, narrative development and ambiguity is intoxicating, and summarises the tumultuous landscape in which we live with both style and ease. As an artist, McKenna is seldom shy of political and societal critique. Whilst his debut record, What Do You Think About The Car?, was loaded with protest and dissent, Zeros focuses on more general dystopian themes rather than specific political issues, and the result is the painting of a dark, rousing portrait of the difficulties surrounding contemporary life. Comparisons to the great David Bowie have therefore been thrown around the musical sphere and for good reason: the unconventional structure alongside haunting, highly emotive lyrics having unmissable echoes of Bowie’s work. McKenna’s energetic persona and charisma can easily be associated with the aesthetics of the icon, along with his attentiveness and grasp of the concerns of modern culture. Like Bowie, the twenty-one-year-old has every chance of becoming a similar cultural icon. Alex Duke (Full album review can be read here.)
2. Punisher – Phoebe Bridgers
Uplifting, funny and devastating in parts, Punisher is the work of an artist who can demolish her listener with almost comic ease. Its soundscape is oppressively heavy in places, disquietingly calm in others, but throughout retains the intimacy of her debut. You feel that Bridgers is sharing secrets, laying her life bare before you. We relive in bitter detail her breakup with her ex (Marshall Vore, the drummer in her band) on ICU, her friend’s committal to a mental ward on Graceland Too, and her longing to believe in something, anything, greater than herself on Chinese Satellite. This album feels more communal than Stranger In The Alps, and not just because of these intimate stories of her relationships. There’s an entire village’s worth of collaborators and features – most of the members of cult-icons Bright Eyes turn up on one track or another, along with all her boygenius bandmates – and this feels particularly evident on closer I Know The End, a track which finishes with an extended outro, with every collaborator on the album singing, and then screaming, together. Punisher will, indeed, punish you – but it is so, so worth it. Louis Griffin (Full album review can be read here.)
1. folklore – Taylor Swift
Released within twenty-four hours of its announcement, Taylor Swift’s surprise eighth record broke her previously predictable biannual album cycle in spectacular fashion. folklore sees a marked departure from the sugar-coated pop bops which have seemed to define Swift’s career thus far, instead delivering a collection of piano driven indie-folk ballads on which the pared back production allows her poetic lyricism to really shine. Though many of the themes are familiar – love (unrequited), relationships (dysfunctional) and innocence (lost) – she embellishes them with deeper emotional power, intertwining elements of her (in)famously autobiographical writing style with imagined characters, myths, and histories. Standout tracks include the trio cardigan, betty and august, each of which narrate the story of a painful teenage love triangle from a different perspective. Boasting masterful collaborations with Jack Antonoff, The National’s Aaron Dessner and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, folklore is an album on which whole life stories are encapsulated in a four-minute song. Written and recorded during lockdown, it’s perfectly attuned to the nostalgia and yearning which characterised those months, and the refuge from reality many of us found in fiction this year. For that reason alone, folklore is a deserved winner of The Mic’s Album of 2020. Daisy Carter
Edited by: Alex Duke, Dominic Allum and Louise Dugan
Designs by: Lara Gelmetti and Olivia Stock