Once again, we reflect upon the best albums released over the past 12 months. While this task can be daunting, it has yielded some truly great recordings.
Despite the pandemic lockdown, music still thrived this year with artists finding their footing again. Some of the most exciting releases came from young artists and some classics made a return after an extended absence.
1. Gung Ho
Gung Ho, directed by Ron Howard, stars Michael Keaton as Hunt Stevenson – a union representative from an auto town who gets the chance to help an international Japanese car company save their factory in America. To do this, Hunt must work through cultural misunderstandings to find common ground and get the job done.
Though not perfect, the movie does a good job of exploring the distinctions between American and Japanese culture. Keaton’s character appears arrogant on the outside but insecure beneath. The Japanese leader is dedicated to his job but uncertain how to succeed in America.
Both men are capable of working together to form a unified team that can save the auto plant from bankruptcy. While they’re not perfect, they are far better than their coworkers at creating an atmosphere of winning that transcends national boundaries.
Thankfully, they manage to do it without losing their sense of humor or jeopardizing any of their characters’ integrity. As a result, this fun film has endured over time and remains an excellent choice for anyone searching for cross-cultural comedy.
Gung Ho is one of the few 1980s films to address cultural rivalry head-on. Keaton and Gedde Watanabe give strong performances, while the script provides a framework for these two groups to work together and overcome their differences.
Though some might find it crude and exaggerated, Gung Ho is a satire that takes political correctness to task. Fortunately, the film doesn’t go too far in that regard and does an effective job of highlighting cultural distinctions between America and Japan while tossing PC to the wind.
2. Bad Bunny
Bad Bunny has quickly become one of the most beloved artists in urban music, combining trap beats and reggaeton with his charming delivery that ranges from humor to pathos to heartbreak. Additionally, he’s an active social activist who speaks out on taboo topics within Latin culture such as gender violence.
His latest album, Un Verano Sin Ti, is one of his most memorable works. This collection of songs about love and relationships are beautifully sung in a way that gives listeners a sense of control over their own lives despite all the chaos around them.
He possesses a captivating voice that’s easy to connect with, and his lyrics are written in Spanish. This allows his fans around the globe to easily comprehend his messages.
Bad Bunny sings about his preference to dress differently from his mother in “Yo Visto Asi.” He emphasizes that this is simply an expression of himself and not a sign of weakness. Additionally, he pledges that this style will remain with him for as long as it pleases him.
The song was immensely popular and garnered millions of views on YouTube. Furthermore, it topped the charts in multiple countries around the world.
Bad Bunny recently released “Mia,” their collaborative track with Canadian rapper Drake. This upbeat romantic number reminds the singers that they will always be there for each other no matter what. This track has become a cornerstone in Bad Bunny’s music career and continues to resonate with fans around the world.
3. Topical Dancer
After their 2018 Zandoli EP, Belgian-Caribbean provocateur Charlotte Adigery and longtime musical partner Bolis Pupul have collaborated once more for Topical Dancer. Released today via Soulwax’s iconic label DEEWEE, the 13-track record is as creative and forward-thinking as it is fun.
The pair’s exceptional creative instinct and technical aptitude combine to craft a pop music record that is both politically engaged and easily accessible for everyone. Their lyrics tackle topics not typically associated with pop music, such as cultural appropriation and racism.
Topical Dancer is a refreshing change from the often depressing lyrics that often accompany contemporary political songs. Their cheerful tunes offer a welcome break from this sense of despair.
Adigery and Pupul are Belgians of immigrant backgrounds who understand discrimination firsthand. Drawing upon those experiences, their lyrics tackle topics such as cultural appropriation, misogyny, and racism to convey an impactful message.
Their sound is as diverse as their message, encompassing funk-disco, neo-soul, punk rock and industrial elements. While they’ve been compared to artists like Blondie and Art of Noise, theirs isn’t simply a throwback but an updated interpretation.
Topical Dancer’s ten songs are highlighted by two standout tracks that showcase the duo’s abilities. “Blenda” is an uptempo number featuring Adigery’s multilingual vocals along with Pupul’s heavy basslines, while the more somber “Thank You” offers up an up-tempo number full of subtle nuances. Finally, “Ceci N’Est Pas Un Cliche” sees Adigery stretch her voice out as she parodies a commercial hit as part of an album concept.
4. Cheat Codes
Black Thought and Danger Mouse have always been formidable lyricists, but their collaboration Cheat Codes is their most comprehensive work together. Guests include A$AP Rocky and Run The Jewels, Conway The Machine, Raekwon, Kid Sister, Joey Bada$$ and more; plus there’s an eclectic range of musical influences present throughout.
The duo wisely avoids following the latest trend by instead opting for an approach that seamlessly fuses their respective styles together. The outcome is a complex, hypnotic, and evocative album that’s an absolute treat for the ears.
Cheat Codes offers some of the finest examples of Black Thought’s powerful raps, coupled with intricate beats from Danger Mouse that evoke the textures of classic rock without feeling dated. Their chemistry works in their favor throughout, as they have a shared appreciation for subtle details which helps keep their songs fresh.
It’s an album filled with memorable moments, from the poignant coda of “Identical Deaths” to MF Doom’s posthumous feature on “Belize.” MF Doom’s distinctive wordplay and layered rhymes fit perfectly over the frenetic synth line of “Strangers,” while Black Thought’s more unconventional ideas are complimented by Raekwon’s backing vocals.
Cheat Codes’ most captivating moments come when Black Thought and Danger Mouse take a step back to reflect on their accomplishments, celebrate them, and learn from mistakes. It’s an admirable move because it shows they’re still capable of greatness while staying true to hip-hop’s essence.
5. King Garbage
King Garbage are a soul duo that’s been together for 16 years. Their music fuses various musical elements together to create an album full of positive vibes. Their new release Heavy Metal Greasy Love marks Mike Patton’s Ipecac Recordings debut and sees them mix soul, r&b, jazz, hip hop beats and blues to create an addictive sound you won’t want to stop listening to.
Zach Cooper and Vic Dimotsis have collaborated on numerous projects over the years, collaborating with artists such as The Weeknd, SZA and Leon Bridges to name a few. This has resulted in award-winning records that have been critically acclaimed; furthermore, they’ve shared stages with acclaimed artists like Leon Bridges and Jon Batiste.
King Garbage’s debut under the King Garbage name, Make It Sweat, was an exciting experiment that sought to combine soul revisionism with R&B beatscapes. They achieved this through collaborations with various outside musicians but it proved no easy feat.
With the release of Make It Sweat, Cooper and his collaborators decided to step it up a notch and begin using a hybrid guitar. This instrument is basically an electric guitar with built-in bass and separate amp for higher frequencies; this has allowed Cooper’s playing to resonate more fully across all frequencies.