It’s been a long year here at WRBC.
Planning for this past semester began as soon as campus shut down last spring. Thanks to the hard work of everyone at the station and in the office of campus life, students were once again able to broadcast live from 31 Frye. With an almost complete lack of live shows this year, we (the board) had a lot of time to sit down with our favorite records. A lot of cool new albums came out this year, and members from our faithful WRBC board are here to tell you what their favorites were. Take a listen, and a deep breath.
how i’m feeling now – Charli XCX
The first few months of quarantine saw disorder sweeping the streets as people were endlessly concerned with where to get a mask, playing with Zoom backgrounds, and how much toilet paper they could pile onto a shopping cart. This disorient is particularly unique to the Spring of 2020, as now folks are mostly acquainted with the lockdown lifestyle. No album truly encapsulated this widespread sentiment, with its highs and very low lows, other than “how i’m feeling now” by Charli XCX.
The name of this release alone allows for the listener to be vulnerable with Charli as they go through the tracklist. The first song on this album, “pink diamond,” speaks entirely in the first person as Charli expresses the loneliness, as well as empowerment, found in social isolation. The production on this song gives it a brutalist sound, very orderly yet blaring in the ears. This introduction to the album allows the listener to truly embrace its absurdity since the time it came out was absurd. Transitioning this self-centered song into “forever” is a stark contrast, going from a song solely about shining alone into a sappy pop song about Charli yearning to be with the person she loves and will love… forever. Personally, I found myself being empowered by all the new time I had on my hands, while simultaneously wanting any sort of human contact that was not from my family (no offense). The beginning of this album personifies the many conflicting feelings of loneliness, self-empowerment, yearning, and just wanting to drink White Claws and be completely enamored with nothing (as expressed in “claws”).
The rest of the album explored a great mix of pop-y beats, EDM, and Charli’s powerful delivery. “how i’m feeling now” makes great use of Charli’s high-pitched and emotional voice as they pair perfectly with the heavily produced beats and melodies. “detonate” is a good example of this, as her voice and the actual production become indiscernible as the song develops.
This quarantine album is not just heartbreak and longing for the time before the pandemic. “party 4 u” reminds the listener that parties, which have become impossible due to obvious reasons, were really always just to spend precious time with special people. In the second half of this track, Charli takes us on a dream-like expedition of heavy autotune and a slow knocking beat. To me, this development is her realizing that the human contact that comes from parties is the best part of any social gathering.
The tracks “anthem” and “visions” leave the album with the restless and bored feeling people know all too well in quarantine. All in all, “how i’m feeling now” allows the listener to lay and wallow while listening to its songs, have a one-person dance party in their bathroom, or blast it in their car with someone in their tight circle. Or, all three! The versatility, vulnerability, and strong voice on this album makes it the best of 2020.
– Najá Crockett ’23
Hannah – Lomelda
Hannah is the fourth studio album by Hannah Read, who performs under the stage name Lomelda. To say this record has its ups and downs would be an understatement; Hannah moves powerfully in waves of emotion that are both frank and deeply felt. It isn’t pure melancholy, however. Over the course of Hannah, Read seems to reflect on a journey that is ongoing– no sad moment is without hope, and no joyous one without a hint of regret. I think the fourth track, titled “Wonder” is a perfect example. Read wails the lines “you’ve got a lot / give it your all” like a mantra over soaring instrumentals, and in this moment it seems like she is truly singing to herself.
The sounds of Hannah reflect a vast range of emotion while being remarkably honest and simple. Hannah remains graceful and sensitive, even as it swings from gentle indie crooning on its third single “Hannah Sun,” to warbling synths lines on “Stranger Sat By Me,” to “Both Mode’s” plodding slowcore riffs. “It’s Infinite” might be my favorite track on the album, capturing perfectly the feelings of awe and profound gratitude that now seem few and far between. Like so many songs on this album, “It’s Infinite” captures the beauty of a glittering pool of water or a bright patch of sunlight in an incredible way. In this particularly distressing year, Hannah shows me what it might be like to look in the mirror and truly get to know the person that I see. It feels like a strong hug, a shoulder to cry on, and an ode to the fact that we are all works in progress, and how that is in itself a cause for celebration.
– Cyan Hunte ’22
Hair of the Dog — Arthur
What’s with this dog motif? Do you have something against dogs? “Arthur makes music for ghosts” according to his self-posted Spotify bio, and I think Arthur’s sophomore album is emblematic of 2020. It’s a panic attack, it’s an admission, it’s a sparkling hangover. It’s discordant and out of key, but so sweet to listen to. Something about the pop elements with the pitched up voice and oddly synchronous samples. Album of the year for me.
– Grey McGloon ’21
Forever, Ya Girl – KeiyaA
My favorite record of the year is called Forever, Ya Girl, the debut full-length from Chicago-based producer-singer-songwriter KeiyaA. I have had a really hard time writing about this album. I’ll do my best here, but I genuinely don’t think I have the words for it.
Forever, Ya Girl is essentially a deconstructed r&b album, featuring sparse, gorgeous singing over dense, synth-based instrumentals. The production on this album draws from funk, r&b, muzak, and jazz, creating a unique sound that is forward-thinking and familiar at the same time. “A Mile Away” has some of the punchiest and most forward-thinking production I’ve heard in a long time, and has gorgeous, falling vocals that slow and speed with the tempo changes towards the end of the song. My favorite track on this record is probably “Hvnli”, which features a wobbly synthesizer lead that recalls something you might hear on an early 2010s vaporwave record. KeiyaA’s sparse and catchy vocal refrains give the instrumental space to breathe, while creating a distinct sense of slow, forward motion. Forever, Ya Girl has a lot of variation in songwriting, production, and vocals across the tracklist, but still maintains a consistent overall tone and energy. You can certainly zone out and listen to this record with friends, but you can also really zero in on the music if you want. The production continues to amaze me listen after listen, and the lyrics are political, relevant, and beautiful. I’m not sure how people feel about the label “post-r&b”, but it sounds right for this record.
– Owen Schmidt ’21
Reunions – Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
The latest album by Jason Isbell continues his tradition of beautiful arrangements, deeply personal lyrics, and absolutely killer guitar by both Isbell and guitarist Sadler Vaden (oh and it’s produced by Dave Cobb). It’s hard to pick a favorite song, but I can pick a favorite lyric: “We don’t take requests/We won’t shut up and sing,” a reference to the Dixie Chicks. After speaking out against the Iraq War and George Bush, the Chicks faced death threats and were completely shut out of the country music industry. Isbell and his whole band, including his wife Amanda Shires, carry on country music’s activist tradition as outspoken critics of the President, and frequently face backlash from fans and the industry for voicing their progressive views. Perhaps that is why Reunions is the first Isbell album to be snubbed from the Grammy awards since 2015’s Something More than Free won for Best Americana Album… sus. Anyways, Reunions is a great mix of contemplative songs about Isbell’s past (“Only Children”, “River”) and rocking calls to action for the present (“Be Afraid”, “What’ve I Done to Help”).
– Grace Acton ’24
how i’m feeling now – Charli XCX
Everyone assumed someone else would choose this as their album of the year – it’s that good – and so, ironically, it almost got left out of the list all-together (and now it’s on there twice). But, like the brave soul I am, I will officially say that Charli XCX’s how i’m feeling now is my pick for album of the year. The quintessential quarantine album made by and for the chronically online, it’s like Charli looked at me personally and said, “I know exactly what you need.” The dreamy first single “forever” is imbued with just the right amount of bubblegum-flavored melancholy for my favorite pastime of driving around aimlessly with nowhere to go, while Dylan Brady’s (of gecs fame) production on both “claws” and “anthems” has a high-energy party feeling that’s perfect for party-of-ones. Created and released in early quarantine, how i’m feeling now captures the insecurity and distress of a brand-new lockdown that now seems like it will never end. To quote Charli: “I just want to go to parties, up high want to feel the heat from all the bodies” and, when we finally can again, I want them to be playing this album.
– Anna Truman-Wyss ’21
Strange Timez – Gorillaz
Strange Timez is a nice collection of music that came during our fall at Bates. I like this album because it’s fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously, something we all should do too. And because it’s a solid collection of great songs. As usual with Gorillaz there’s a visual component to the songs along with skits that appeared on the single releases, but I think the album can stand on its own two legs simply as an eclectic tracklist. The songs “Aries” and “Desole” might be my favorites, and you’ll like them if you like rocky grooves and catchy hooks and riffs. The drum sounds on these two are according to me the best things about them— the “Aries” drums bring a nice and energetic eighties influence to an otherwise more modern sounding indie tune (check out “Pink Phantom” for more nice 80s vibes). The drums on “Desole” are acoustic but beautifully dampened and tight, and still retaining some ambience and bite.
Songs like “Pac-Man” and “Dead Butterflies” are pretty much pure hip-hop tracks and they’re a lot of fun to listen to, and they remind me of what I like most about Damon Albarn and Gorillaz, which is how freely they mess around in different genres. Sorta like Damon already did with Blur. Some other favorites of mine are “MLS”, “Strange Timez”, “The Lost Chord”, and “How Far”. Definitely check those out.
Anyway, on the whole, this album is a great bunch of songs worth listening to. But maybe it’s the strangeness of this album that makes it my pick for album of the year. Everyone says it all the time, but in our young lives this is definitely the weirdest year yet for a lot of us. So its pretty cool to hear this unstructured, fun, and genre bending album this year in particular.
– Oliver Todreas ’23
Folklore – Taylor Swift
This is not a hot take. Everyone from music critics at Rolling Stone to 12-year-old girls around the world will tell you that Taylor Swift’s Folklore is the best album of the year. While many share that opinion, they all have different reasons why.
For me, the most striking thing about Folklore—and its sister album, Evermore—is Swift’s attention to detail. There are lyrical parallels between songs that can only be discerned by a careful ear. For example, songs “Betty” and “August” tell the story of a high school cheating scandal, but from two very different perspectives. “Betty” is sung from the point of a teenage boy, James, who has cheated on his girlfriend and deeply regrets it. “August” tells the story of August, the girl with who James cheated on his girlfriend. She fell in love only to be let down when James leaves her. The connection between the two songs is not explicit, and fans speculated about it on many social media platforms before it was eventually confirmed by Swift herself. This, plus the wonderful guest appearances, including powerful vocals of Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and the stripped-down music production draws you into the richness of the songs and into the collection as a whole.
In a year when many of us had so much unanticipated free time, Folklore was the perfect puzzle to contemplate.
– Fiona Cohen ’23