Now that we’re squarely in the middle of July, it’s time to start the great debate: What is the album of the summer? It’s a question posed annually by music aficionados and layfolk alike, one that attempts to define the unique sound of that year’s sultriest season. While it’s an approximate science at best, the challenge is all about identifying the records that have the plays, the staying power, the relevancy, and the goods to transport us back to that summer all year long, and beyond.
In an effort to join in on the conversation, I humbly submit my top picks for album of Summer 2020. Like all great summer records, they’re lush, highly danceable, infectious, energetic, wistful, and referential. They shimmer. They glow. They babble on like a clear mountain brook. And, most importantly, they all sound pretty great from the vantage point of a backyard pool.
Check out my selections below and sound off in the comments if you think I got it wrong!
If I’m ever on a road trip and someone asks me to take over the music, I always put on HAIM. The sister group produces some of the best summer rock out there, borrowing from the likes of Prince and Stevie Nicks to create sounds that are playful and infectious. In Women in Music pt. III, the group keeps this vibe going with an excellent assortment of new tracks. While the subject matter is certainly heavy, the lyrics and instrumentation are just as catchy as ever — i.e. it’s the perfect soundtrack for summer walks or lazy picnics at the park.
Standout Tracks: The Steps, Summer Girl, and Now I’m in It.
Three years after debuting the absolutely gorgeous album Glasshouse, Jessie Ware is finally back with new music. And it is d e l i c i o u s, my friends! I’m a sucker for a strong disco vibe, and What’s Your Pleasure? more than delivers. It’s bold, groovy, and guaranteed to get your tail feather shaking, even if your living room is the only dance floor you’re visiting these days. Plus, it’s a no-skip album for me, so I just put this baby on and let Ware’s seductive, sleek, and stylish beats take me for a ride.
Standout Tracks: What’s Your Pleasure?, Save a Kiss, and Spotlight.
Though released in March 2020, Future Nostalgia has had incredible staying power throughout our quarantined spring and into summer. In fact, lead single Don’t Start Now became a bit of an anthem for mask-wearing and social distancing at the height of lockdown, all but cementing Nostalgia as the music of the moment. Here, you’ll find a cohesive album that flirts with synths, R&B riffs, disco beats, and everything in between to produce that ephemeral and effervescent summer sound.
Standout Tracks: Physical, Cool, and Levitating.
I’m a big fan of Bad Bunny. The Puerto Rican artist is just so cool in a way that feels authentic, studied, and accessible. His second studio album YHLQMDLG (Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana, or “I do whatever I want”) perfectly embodies that spirit, rocking as it does with summer party vibes, reggaetón influences, and a percussive trap flow. It’s an exceptionally made record, which means it feels effortless and oh so very smooth. Long story short, this is exactly the kind of album you want to listen to when hyping up your pals at a poolside gathering.
Standout Tracks: Safaera, Vete, and Ignorantes.
Love her or loathe her, there’s no denying that Lady Gaga knows her way around a dance track. While her latest efforts have explored other facets of her musical personality, Chromatica is back to old-school Gaga form. What this means for me is that the album is chock-full of pumping beats, propulsive lyrics, and more hooks than you could ever dream of. There are also a ton of gag-worthy features, including assists from Ariana Grande, Blackpink, and Elton John. All in all, an excellent, pop-friendly summer album.
Standout Tracks: Free Woman, Replay, and Rain on Me.
After five years, Tame Impala is back with a new album that hits like waves of heat rising off the sidewalk. The Slow Rush is a lush album that combines driving beats with 70s style male falsetto for a psychedelic sound that is colorful, nostalgic, and vibe-y. Perfect for a long drive or smoking sesh in the backyard, this record is tailor-made for the sultry dog days of summer. And while you could skip around the album, I recommend listening all the way through from top to bottom.
Standout Tracks: Borderline, Lost in Yesterday, and It Might be Time.
Rina Sawayama is one of the most interesting new voices on the scene. Utilizing pop influences to interrogate her Japanese identity and family legacy, the artist has created a debut album that is at turns deeply profound and deeply fun. It’s the kind of chic sound that goes well with an ice-cold summer cocktail, one that you can quickly put down when you need to bust a move. If you’re a moody audiophile who likes your fresh dance beats laced with wist, anger, and a dash of ennui, this is the album for you.
Standout Tracks: STFU, Commes Des Garcon, and Dynasty.
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