The Thunderbeat staff shares their favorite albums of 2020


Despite many inconveniences to the world of entertainment this year, 2020 has presented plenty of hit music albums of all genres. Below, The Thunderbeat staff and advisers Julie L. Rowse and AE Stueve shared their favorites.

Adviser Julie L. Rowse – “Gaslighter” by The Chicks 

I’ll be honest: what I love most about The Chicks is that lead singer Natalie Maines and I share a similar vocal range, so as I sing along to any Chicks album–something I do often–with Maines’ strong vocals backing me, I sound amazing. In my car.

I’d been relying on their previous four albums as soundtracks to cross-country and cross-town drives since 2007, so when word got out that The Chicks were back, I was thrilled, and after several listens, I’m not disappointed.

The Chicks have long mined their personal lives for content, and this album is no different. While I’m hesitant to believe that the title track details with 100% accuracy the demise of Maines’ marriage to actor Adrian Pasdar, there’s likely some truth to the overall story. But even with the righteous judgment I hear from the jump, The Chicks show their versatility in each track. From the political anger in “March March” to the earnest, hopeful tenderness of “Texas Man,” and even the somewhat conciliatory tone of “Young Man,”  The Chicks’ latest release stays true to their previous outings: catchy melodies, storytelling lyrics, and gorgeous harmonies. 

Adviser AE Stueve – “Wildflowers” by Tom Petty

Some have said that Tom Petty’s posthumous re-issue of his 1996 album, “Wildflowers, Wildflowers & All The Rest” is too long. Whoever says that is wrong. “Wildflowers & All The Rest” gives fans of Tom Petty a lasting goodbye to a singer-songwriter who will be missed for lifetimes after his untimely accidental overdose of oxycodone. But I’m biased. 

I’ve loved Tom Petty’s music since my father introduced him to me when I was a child. His song, “Wildflowers” took on a new meaning for me as I watched my daughter grow. A song that I had thought was only pleasant before became a symbol that reminded me of my girl because like the girl in the song, I feel she belongs amongst the wildflowers. But I digress. 

Tom Petty’s music means a lot to me. But it means a lot to everyone who listens to it. It’s solid rock and roll. It rejects not only authority but expectations. Because of this, because of his personality, and because of his unrivaled skill, I am not alone in my appreciation of Tom Petty and his music. 

After his death, artists from Jason Aldean to Bob Dylan to Emmylou Harris and many more all paid their own bittersweet tributes to him. His music makes me wish I could play more than a handful of chords on the guitar. His music soothes. His music is profound and this album, filled with live performances, private performances, and a library of beautiful sounds, is a gift.

Editor-in-Chief Meg Gross – “What You See Ain’t Always What You Get” by Luke Combs

Just under a year following the original release of his album, “What You See Ain’t Always What You Get,” country star Luke Combs released five new songs to be added on as a Deluxe edition. As a Luke Combs fan, I’d heard snippets of each song from teasers posted on Comb’s Instagram story, and I was as excited as ever to hear these songs fully released. 

My favorite song on the newest addition is “Six Feet Apart,” which was originally released mid-quarantine in May, and for everyone, it should hit close to home. In this song, Combs describes simple things we all have missed out on during the ongoing pandemic. Though filled with many relatable feelings toward the year 2020, one line in the song stands alone: “There will be light after a dark/someday when we aren’t six feet apart.” 

Along with “Six Feet Apart,” the four other new additions to the original album can support almost any mood. “Forever After All” and “The Other Guy” are love songs, and if you’ve listened to Combs before, you know that his country-style love songs are essentials. On the other hand, “My Kinda Folk” is a classic country listen. From “Tractor Drivin’” to “Catch a fish/hunt a deer,” this song hits every possible element of  “A county road philosophy.”  Whether you’re ‘in your feels’ or just in the mood for some good country, Combs covers all the bases in this album, making it a must-listen for any kind of country fan.

Managing Editor Brooke Jones – “Good News” by Megan Thee Stallion

In a music industry where misogyny tops the charts, Megan Thee Stallion gave some “Good News.”  After a year of Billboard Top Ten hits and branding the ‘hot girl’ revolution, the Houston native dropped her third studio album with familiar features from DaBaby and some of her fellow female chart-toppers like SZA and City Girls. “Good News” is a much needed album for women of the 21st century who enjoy the hype of a good rap album without being objectified in every other line. 

The album includes one of her biggest hits, “Girls in the Hood,” a direct nod to its 1987 counterpart, “Boyz-N-The-Hood” by Eazy-E, but with a strong message of female empowerment and plenty of Instagram caption-worthy lines. Other songs like “What’s New” and “Work That” have the same type of danceable energy that brought her to the spotlight.

While the album focuses mostly on the body positive movement, Megan Thee Stallion doesn’t shy away from real world issues. Tracks like “Shots Fired” encapsulate her experiences over the past year and the outrage following the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. 

Not every album has the ability to make you want to simultaneously overthrow the government and hit the club, but “Good News” managed to do so and proved itself to be one of the best albums of 2020.

Copy Editor Gnally Boukar – “FRIDAY FOREVER” by Everything is Recorded 

I started listening to Everything is Recorded in late 2019. I was new to the indie scene and their music offered me a wide range of sounds to fall in love with. “FRIDAY FOREVER” came out during lockdown, and while this album can’t pick me up and take me out to dinner, it injects me into the nightlife that I so desperately crave.  

The “FRIDAY FOREVER” album has become the soundtrack of my life. 

The album is organized in chronological order, mimicking the events of a Friday night rave. It begins with a psychedelic intro called “09:46 PM / EVERY FRIDAY THEREAFTER” featuring Maria Somerville. The album transitions into the peak of the night with “03:15AM / Caviar”. While the reggae-esque beat in “02:56 AM / I DON’T WANT THIS FEELING TO STOP” is unimaginably different from “11:55 AM / THIS WORLD,”Richard Russell manages to tie it together and paint a vivid picture of the mortality of nightlife. 

It is hard to pick a favorite song. 03:15AM / Caviar has a rhythm that is so easy to fall into. “09:35AM / PRETENDING NOTHINGS WRONG” has a peaceful, almost spiritual, vibe. However, “05:10 AM/ DREAM I NEVER HAD” wins the crown. Its unique beats and serene vocals celebrate the night finally coming to an end. It’s place on the album marks the shift from end of the night to the morning after. And it is marvelous.

Entertainment Editor Owen Reimer – “Circles” by Mac Miller

There’s a simplicity to “Circles” that remains perplexing to me to this today. I’ve never fallen in love with a body of work as I have with Mac Miller’s posthumous record. Whether it’s his almost sleepy singing voice delivering powerful and existential messages on the world around us, or the acoustic production mixed with airy synths, it just feels like home.

I found Mac through his record “Swimming,” a wonderful mix of hip-hop, jazz, funk, and pop. It’s a project that goes big in every direction, with bold choices through songwriting and instrumentals throughout. “Circles” does the opposite. It feels intimate, like Miller is sharing his deepest thoughts to the listener, and them only.

With 14 tracks on the deluxe version, it paces perfectly as well. There are upbeat bangers such as “Blue World” and smooth, gorgeous songs like “Hand Me Downs.” Despite the variety in sounds, the lyrics on every single track show a true mastery of songwriting. It’s easily Miller’s most mature sounding album, and is a beautiful send off for the artist. It’s actually hard for me to use words to describe the experience you get while listening, but that just goes to show how impressive it truly is.

I listen to this record at least 3 times a week, sometimes more. Every time it hits me in the gut like a stack of bricks. It’s an addicting piece of art that is so simple, yet so intricately crafted, and thus creates a listening experience that’s so hard to describe.

Sports Editor Emily Mabbitt – “folklore” by Taylor Swift

I’ve been an avid Taylor Swift listener since I was introduced to “You Belong With Me” back when I was in kindergarten. All I had ever known from Swift was her lively pop albums as well as her country roots. Listening to this album made me realize that Swift has outgrown the pop genre with her seven preceding albums and “folklore” is the start of a whole new chapter of music, expanding the horizons for Swift as an artist. Submerging herself into the indie folk genre unveils how Swift has matured and where she is at currently in her career. 

This album feels like I’m reading the storybook that is Taylor Swift’s life and career which gives it another level of complexity that pulls me in even deeper. With 17 tracks on the deluxe edition, the absence of any sort of upbeat pop song is surprisingly not missed. With songs like “my tears ricochet,” rumored by fans to be about Swift’s never ending legal battle with record executive Scooter Braun, and “Teenage Love Triangle” songs “betty”, “cardigan”, and “august” telling the story of characters James and Betty, Swift has really outdone herself with this album both musically and lyrically.

Every time I listen to this record I find myself making deeper connections with the tracks that I first listened to on that July day when the album was originally released. ‘folklore’ is truly a timeless record that I will confidently call one of my favorite albums for many years to come.

Broadcast Manager Kristin Kennedy – “Man On the Moon lll” by Kid Cudi

Since Kid Cudi’s first release of “ Man On the Moon” in 2009, the slower hip-hop style has helped shape his career, especially with his most famous “Pursuit of Happiness.” I admire his ability to adapt through the years to the changes in popular music and artists which he was able to incorporate into his now third “Man On the Moon” album. This album came as a shock to me because I wasn’t expecting it to be as filled with different feelings and styles that absorbs me into a different world. 

The appeal that this album gives isn’t just based off of its colorful cover but the variety of song choices that I can choose from based on my mood. Songs such as “Show Out” featuring artists like Skepta and Pop Smoke caught my attention when I needed a mood booster to get me through the day. It makes me feel as if I’m a different person and the world is in my hand. This album accommodates for when it’s time to think about life, which is what I feel Kid Cudi represents with his song “4 da Kidz.” The slower beat matched with his free feeling spirit has a domino effect on how I envision ruling the nights. 

Although I’m not Kid Cudi’s number one fan, this album really has me trapped in a loop of “Man On the Moon lll”. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I’ve been listening to this album the minute I open my phone and I’ll definitely be continuing following his music because my future is leading down the path of becoming his biggest fan.

Reporter Jimmy Gow – “Visions of Bodies Being Burned” by clipping.

clipping. is new to me, but has made a lasting impact on the horrorcore lover within me. 

Speaker-splitting synthetic sounds and incredible spit game and lyricism come together to create a profound listening experience. This album is TV static given musical form, molded into an audioscape that scratches and skitters, clawing at the listeners’ eardrums in the most enticing way possible. “Say the Name” has sinked its talons in me as its hook hasn’t left my head since I first listened to the album days ago. Daveed Diggs delivers detailed descriptions of ghastly scenes and horrid events reminiscent of Stephen King’s writing, but more poetic.  I can’t help but feel that this music is the embodiment of the newer generation’s agitations, and I love it.

Reporter Claire Wood- “After Hours” by The Weeknd

Quite honestly, my favorite thing about this album is the mixture of songs that I can bop my head too, dance around the room, or just sit and take a break from everything going on at the moment. “After Hours” lets me escape our reality for a little while, which is something we all need at times. Usually albums have their one song that gets really popular while the rest drown in the background, that was the case with me and The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” and until I listened to all the other songs, I had no idea how much I liked his music all together. 

I close my eyes for a little each time I listen to the songs in his album, and it puts me at peace. It gives me a feeling that’s so hard for me to explain on paper, but it can be compared to feeling rain on my face when I walk outside. (If you don’t like rain, disregard my comment, but find what feeling his songs give you.) The mix of satisfying sounds that go into the songs, especially in “In Your Eyes” makes me smile a little every time. 

I’m not exactly one who listens to albums, I listen to the hits. However, the past few months I’ve found myself actually listening to those drowned songs, and by far The Weeknd’s album “After Hours” is my favorite. From now on, I can promise that I’ll be listening to the full albums, listening for those satisfying sounds, and coming up with a new favorite for 2021.