Each year, I try to make a conscious effort to explore a lot of new music in the hope of finding new favorites to add to my music rotation. This usually means listening to a ton of music that I don't end up liking at all, but it is all worth it for when I find some hidden gems! This year was a mix of old and new, with each entry currently sitting at an 8/10 in my personal ratings (admittedly, my 9s and 10s are rare). Let's take a look!
All 'n All - Earth, Wind & Fire (1977)
My father will be pleased to see Earth, Wind & Fire (arguably his favorite band) make the list this year. I grew up hearing a lot of their greatest hits, but it wasn't until recently that I revisited some of their highest-rated albums. Their music has a lot of elements that I tend to like, especially when they lean more into their funk grooves. All 'n All is Earth, Wind & Fire at their best, and several listens has moved it from simply "nostalgic" to inclusion in my active rotation.
A Charlie Brown Christmas - Vince Guaraldi Trio (1965)
I, like everyone, was familiar with the "Linus and Lucy" Peanuts theme that is found on A Charlie Brown Christmas. But what I didn't realize is how great of a jazz Christmas album it is! I gave it a listen while seeking out Christmas music that could be regulars in our holiday rotation, and I am confident that it will see playtime for many years to come.
Dreamland - Glass Animals (2020)
After Glass Animals' 2016 album How to Be a Human Being becoming one of my favorite albums of all time, I eagerly awaited the release of their next album. And I like it! But there was simply no way it was going to live up to my enjoyment of their previous album. They lean a lot more into their pop tendencies on Dreamland, and while the result is really catchy and still has much of their signature sound, I do find myself missing some of the more creative arrangements found on their previous albums. By no means a negative review though; it still made this year's list!
Future Nostalgia - Dua Lipa (2020)
I do not tend to gravitate to much pop music, and when I do find pop that I enjoy, it is often hard to pinpoint why I like it while disliking other similar artists. In the case of Dua Lipa's album Future Nostalgia, it is clear that the bass-driven arrangements are really what push it into the realm of my tastes. While I don't care for the last two songs on the album, the rest are a great combination of catchy, groovy, and just fun to listen to. I can thank juliaplaysgroove for getting me to listen to the full album after she continued posting amazing bass covers from it... I'd probably rate the album even higher if her basslines were in the original songs.
Hamilton - Lin-Manuel Miranda (2015)
When I shared my favorite movies watched in the last year a few months ago, Hamilton made the list as I really enjoyed watching the Broadway production. Since the entire musical consists of songs and no other dialogue, naturally, I really like the original soundtrack as well! Listening to it is a similar experience to watching the musical as I can picture so much of what is happening, but it also gives me a chance to focus on the music and notice things I hadn't before.
Fetch the Bolt Cutters - Fiona Apple (2020)
Before this year, I was unfamiliar with Fiona Apple, and only found this album when I was seeking out top-rated albums for 2020. My first listens seemed to alternate between enjoying it and finding some of it challenging, but by the time I listened to the full album a few times, I really found myself liking it. She has a very distinct sound, and the arrangements feel very creative while still having compelling hooks that get stuck in your head long afterward. Fetch the Bolt Cutters won't be for everyone, for sure, but it was a welcome new addition to my music rotation.
Speaking in Tongues - Talking Heads (1983)
Talking Heads made my list last year as I was just beginning to explore their discography, and I have now listened to all of their albums. Speaking in Tongues probably lands somewhere in my top 3, and contains a handful of my favorite Talking Heads songs. It took me a little while to warm to Talking Heads in general, but now that I have listened to them a lot and checked off all of their albums, they have grown on me to the point where a lot of their music has secured a place in my collection.
My music tastes are ever-shifting, and it isn't uncommon that an album that makes one of these lists is completely out of my music rotation within a couple of years! But right now these were the albums that stood out to me, and I am thankful to live in an age of music-streaming that makes it so easy to explore so much new music.