We are fast approaching the end of what has been a long, challenging year. COVID-19 has changed life as we know it in many ways.
The music industry has been hit hard as concert venues have been closed and tours and shows have been postponed or outright cancelled. I had tickets to see Hyukoh for the first time back in June. Now it’s uncertain how long the wait may be until anyone gets to see their favorite band on stage in person…
But of course, live performances aren’t the only way to enjoy good music. Many of the artists we love have been busy creating great new content for us to listen to from wherever we’ve been surviving this year. Here’s my list of the top 10 ten albums and EPs released in 2020.
HYUKOH – through love
Release Date: January 30, 2020
Details: 사랑으로 (Through Love) is the band’s 4th extended play release, containing 6 tracks (just like the last 3 EPs)
What’s Good: The flow of this EP is excellent. The lyrics are minimal throughout much of it, haunting at moments (“Suddenly, they all disappeared / Take a look and no one is there” – Help). Through Love was released some time before the harsh reality of 2020 would start to set in, but somehow the prolonged mood of much of the year is captured quite nicely (“Morning sun set back to normal / Waiting is always here, it never ends / But what are we waiting for? / The end is here” – Hey Sun). Listening to this album feels like hiking along a winding path through the woods, a path that ends abruptly at the mouth of some wide, empty clearing. Yeah… Flat Dog is the climactic end of the trail, World of the Forgotten is the sudden emerging into open space, and New born (“Everything is gone in the end / Everything is gone gone away”) is the long, pensive drive home.
Favorite track(s): Hey Sun, New born
Watch This: The band performing the song ‘Hey Sun’ at the 2020 World Tour in Seoul (performances of the all the songs from this EP are on Youtube).
SE SO NEON – Nonadaptation
Release Date: February 18, 2020
Details: 비적응 (Nonadaptation) is Se So Neon’s 2nd album. The seven-track release made Pitchfork’s list of 35 best rock albums of 2020.
What’s Good: Everything. Seriously. With a run time of 24 minutes and 17 seconds, Nonadaptation is a wonderful album to sit and immerse yourself in.
Favorite track(s): It’s hard to choose, but if there was a way to see stream tallies on Spotify (you know, like play counts in iTunes?) Stranger would probably be the song I’ve listened to the most.
Read This: Se So Neon Interview with I-D VICE – New Faces of Korean Indie Rock
DPR Live – IS ANYBODY OUT THERE?
Release Date: March 3, 2020
Details: This is DPR Live’s first studio album, consisting of 11 tracks, all produced by himself in collaboration with Dream Perfect Regime members DPR Cream (Tracks 2-10) and DPR Ian (Track 1 and Track 11).
- The narrative nature of the album; To Whoever offers a brief autobiography of the man behind the music.
- This album is so well-constructed, best experienced by listening to it continuously from beginning to end. Here Goes Nothing and No Rescue Needed are the best intro and outro of an album I’ve heard in a long time.
- The accompanying visuals are stunning in the way we’ve come to expect from the DPR team.
Favorite track(s): Out of Control, Neon
Read This: Billboard DPR Live Interview – Is Anybody Out There
Watch This: The music video for Kiss Me and Neon.
CODE KUNST – PEOPLE
Release Date: April 2, 2020
Details: This is the producer’s 4th studio album, his first album release since signing with AOMG.
What’s Good: Compared to Muggles’ Mansion, this time around the production and the artist features feel more cohesive. I’m not always a fan of long collaborative releases that tend to feel crowded with too many artists. However, People is great and in my opinion, the best compilation album released this year. View the full track list here.
Favorite track(s): O, Rollin’, Bronco, PEOPLE
pH-1 – X
Release Date: May 8, 2020
Details: This is pH-1’s second full length album comprised of 10 songs, with features from several of his fellow hip hop artists.
- pH-1 is one of the most consistent, talented and hard-working artists in the game right now. Every song he drops and every project he’s featured on is a reminder of this.
- I love the way pH-1 manages to switch up his style and flow from track to track without losing his unique color.
- pH-1 is never lazy when it comes to his lyrics. I particulary enjoyed the relentless call-outs loaded into PACKITUP! Check out the lyrics here.
Favorite track(s): Very difficult to narrow down but my top picks are Meet N Greet, Okay, PACKITUP! and I Can Tell.
Agust D – D-2
Release Date: May 22, 2020
Details: The second mixtape from Agust D aka artist Min Yoongi (best known by his stage/producer moniker SUGA). The lyrics are essential to appreciating what the 10 tracks have to offer.
Notably, D-2 landed at No. 9 on the Billboard Top Rap Albums chart, making Min Yoongi the first artist from South Korea to place in the top 10.
What’s Good: Honestly, there are plenty of well-written pieces about this album out there so I’m just going to direct your attention to a couple. Read this Time Inteview and this in-depth album breakdown. One of the best things about D-2 is that when it comes to genre, this mixtape has no boundaries. Out of all the solid features, I especially love the collaboration with Kim Jong Wan from Nell on 어땠을까 (Dear my friend).
Favorite track(s): Not even going to attempt to choose this time…just listen to the whole mixtape.
george x Cosmic Boy – Love in summer
Release Date: September 23, 2020
Details: A collaboration EP from R&B artist and producer george and rapper and producer Cosmic Boy, two members of the WYBH crew.
What’s Good: This EP delivers warm and sunny poolside vibes no matter where or when you’re listening. I’ve been a huge fan of george since listening to his LEEEE EP last year. I realized later that this was the same george featured on ‘The Graduate’ from Giriboy’s Graduation album, which I covered in a post back in 2017.
Favorite track(s): Water (because you simply can’t go wrong with a track pH-1 is featured on)
jeebanoff – GOOD THING. [remix]
Release Date: September 29, 2020
Details: jeebanoff released GOOD THING. at the end of October last year. This remix of the original album features the same 10 songs with new features from various artists. Check out the tracklist here.
What’s Good: We love a quality remix album! If you didn’t listen to GOOD THING. last year, go do that first. Then enjoy this version. The features are top tier.
Favorite track(s): The clouds (featuring THAMA) and Callin’ (featuring Defsoul)
Giriboy – Like a Film : 4 Songs
Release Date: October 4, 2020
Details: Like a Film: 4 Songs is an EP made up of four songs filled with reflections on relationship woes. Read the lyrics here.
What’s Good: Another great creation from Giriboy, contuining in the same vein as Fatal Album III and ‘Traffic Control’ in terms of production style. Giriboy is one of my favorite artists and he has put out a LOT of music over the span of his career, but I think his most recent work is some of his best.
Favorite track(s): LASIK. Every once in a while there are songs that you can’t get enough of no matter how often you listen to them. This is one of those for me.
Watch This: A live band performance of Let’s Not Love Each Other.
Crush – with HER
Release Date: October 20, 2020
Details: This is the R&B artist’s 4th extended play release. Fun fact: Crush’s sister (artist NOV) has writing credits on 춤 (Love Encore).
What’s Good: This album is a GIFT. It doesn’t get much better than Crush working with some of the Korean music industry’s leading ladies. It has been a pleasure to watch Crush grow and mature in his artistry. We’ll definitely feel his absense in the R&B scene while he completes his military service.
Favorite track(s): Tip Toe (featuring Lee Hi) and Step By Step (featuring Yoonmirae)
Thanks for reading! Any albums or EPs you enjoyed this year? Share in the comments!