Back to School Album Playlist

Story posted October 1, 2019 in Arts & Entertainment by CommRadio Arts & Entertainment Staff.

As the first full month of the fall semester comes to an end, CommRadio’s Arts & Entertainment department has complied their list of the best albums of the summer and early part of the school year.

1. Lizzo – “Cuz I Love You”

Over the summer, you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing one of Lizzo’s excellent cuts from what has respectively become her finest album to date.

Rising in acclaim slowly over her career, Lizzo has paid her dues and is ready to start reaping the benefits of all of her hard work. The quality of her sound and aesthetic have risen dramatically alongside with her adoption of a fearless presence. Weaving in themes of self-love and female empowerment, Lizzo effectively utilizes her impressive voice to sound off on several current issues in our society and culture, while still keeping things light-hearted and up-beat.

Providing something for everyone to enjoy, “Cuz I Love You” blends a wide variety of genres and styles. Her sound transitions seamlessly from sultry to fizzy with ease. Each track has its own significant contribution to the album and Lizzo’s ability to inject her lyricism and sound with her effervescent personality is smoother than ever. With tracks like the vivacious “Juice” and the confrontational “Truth Hurts,” Lizzo has cemented her domination of the R&B, pop and soul mainstream. – Scott Perdue

Read our full “Cuz I Love You” review here.

2. Tyler, the Creator - “IGOR”

What else needs to be said about this album? Tyler, the Creator showed why so many people hold him near the top of modern rappers on “IGOR.” Easily one of the best breakup albums of the decade and the current frontrunner for album of the year, Tyler finally came through and delivered an album everyone knew he was capable of. The features, including Solange Knowles, Santigold, and Cee Lo Green are all deserving of being on the album, with the first two each appearing three times.

“IGOR” will be talked about for years to come. Tyler’s vocals are fantastic, in both his rapping and his singing, which is used more on “IGOR” than any of his previous albums. “Earfquake” is an amazing single that is the definition of an earworm, while “Igor’s Theme” sets the tone for the entire album. Following up the acclaimed “Flower Boy” with an even better album is nothing short of a masterstroke from Tyler and “IGOR” will find itself atop many, many lists at the end of this year. - Owen Paiva

Read our full “IGOR” review here.

3.   BROCKHAMPTON - “GINGER”

Helming one of the most anticipated and best albums of the summer, boy band and rap collective BROCKHAMPTON has stuck quite the landing with their newest release "GINGER." In just under a year after their previous release, the record itself shows that given a fresh set of tools, the group can put out a great collection of absolute bangers and extremely beautiful ballads.

The title track, aptly named "GINGER" is a composition that takes an angelic sound and turns it into an elongated and powerful piece. "NO HALO" is a similar track, blending the hard rap that they are known for with a more euphoric sounding hook. Other songs such as "DEARLY DEPARTED" and "I BEEN BORN AGAIN" focus more on the rap element and are successful in creating a fun, loud track to blast and go crazy to. The album itself is a great blend of both of these types and it proves that, with a little time, the group is capable of creating albums that are better than most. - Jack Grossman

4. Young Thug – “So Much Fun”

“So Much Fun” is exactly what the title says it is, an upbeat record that paired great with the hot weather. The album was colorful and full of energy with the Atlanta rapper’s personality on full display.

Young Thug is known for his unorthodox approach to rap, to the point where his masculinity has been questioned. Regardless, it is undeniable that he has had his influence on a new generation of hip-hop talents. “So Much Fun” proves that Young Thug will not conform to standards and will continue to push boundaries.

“So Much Fun” boasts some major guest collaborations, along with outstanding production to provide some of the best anthems to the summer of 2019. Young Thug was equally impressive on his solo tracks and showcases his developed wordplay. - Connor Trask

Read our full  “So Much Fun” review here.

5. Denzel Curry - “ZUU”

Carol City’s own Denzel Curry continues to show why he is one of the best modern rappers out there with “ZUU.” His love letter to Miami and South Florida hip-hop, “ZUU” differs greatly from his 2018 masterpiece “TA13OO,” which was the smartest thing Curry could do in this situation.

The energy on this project is amazing, a Denzel Curry trademark, and has just as much personality. Great hooks? Check. Comedic and witty lyrics? Check. Tracks from frequent Curry producers Charlie Heat and Ronny J? Check. This album has everything you could want from a Denzel Curry project.

The choice for a more fun and energetic album to follow the somber and introspective “TA13OO” was brilliant. “WISH” might have one of the best backing tracks to any song this year, with Charlie Heat doing what he does best. Denzel brings his A game, and gives one of hip-hop’s more prominent cities its anthem in the same way that both New York and Atlanta have. - Owen Paiva

Read our full “ZUU” review here.

6. Steve Lacy - “Apollo XXI”

In his first studio album, Steve Lacy kept his unique style and combined influences from indie rock, soul, jazz, and R&B. The 21-year-old from Compton made a name for himself, producing for rappers such as J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar as well for his contributions on Vampire Weekend’s recent album, “Father of the Bride,” and as a member of the band The Internet.

Lacy continues his strong start in the music world, writing and producing “Apollo XXI” by himself. The album showcases Lacy’s ability as a musical all-rounder, best shown on songs such as “Playground,” “Only If,” and “Love 2 Fast.”

The songwriting, which has not been Lacy’s strongest skill has improved. Delving into issues such as sexualiy, love, and self worth, Lacy is raw, vulnerable, and poignant. A prime example of such improvement is on the song “Like Me,” where the singer wonders if other people have experienced the same issues and inner feelings as he has.

The album, however, is not without its flaws. Albeit understandable for a first solo project, “Apollo XXI” has inconsistencies in production and some ideas are not fully realized and fall flat. Despite this, Steve Lacy created a formidable debut, one that indicates a strong future as a solo artist. - Jim Krueger

7. EarthGang - “Mirrorland”

When a project attempts to create a sonic world that is inspired by “The Wiz,” it is obvious that the album is going to be some form of adventure. The Atlanta duo comprised of Olu and WowGr8 are your tour guides on a sonic trek through a world that is comprised of trap drums and eccentric vocals. The project generated comparisons to OutKast, one that is obviously unfair to either parties. But OutKast’s influence is surely felt considering both members of “EarthGang” enjoy tinkering with their voice and rhyme schemes to make head-nod inducing track like “Top Down” that simultaneously invites the listener to sing the catchy chorus.

“Mirrorland” can be characterised by its free-flowing and fun sound that will propel the group to mainstream notoriety as they continue to craft infectious songs like “Proud of U” and “Tequila,” which feature Young Thug and T-Pain respectively. Tracks like this highlight the duo’s ability to make songs with mainstream appeal while also staying their eccentric selfs, which will be important as the group ascends the hip-hop rankings.  - Jerome Taylor

8. King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard — “Infest the Rat’s Nest”

King Gizzard’s fifteenth studio album, their second of the summer, is a rip-roaring foray into 80s-style thrash metal. Though previous releases like 2016’s “Nonagon Infinity” and 2017’s “Murder of the Universe” displayed the group’s metal chops, none of them explore the genre as thoroughly as this record.

On “Rats’ Nest,” Gizzard explores a not-too-distant dystopian future in which the world has been made uninhabitable by disease and greedy corporatists. While the rich are able to flee to colonies on Mars, the poor are left to die on Earth or launch themselves on a suicide mission to Venus. It is an ambitious premise for an album, both thematically and musically, but the boys managed to pull off one of their best so far.

There is not a track here that is out of place or boring. Each one has a distinctive sound influenced by historic metal giants. The lead single “Planet B” brings to mind the technical guitars of a group like Megadeth. The bluesy “Mars for the Rich” sounds very Motörhead, boasting a gritty baseline and lead guitars to supplement it. The lengthiest cut, “Superbug,” is a much slower, gloomier song reminiscent of Black Sabbath or Sleep.

It is the closer, “Hell,” that stands out as the most unique in the bunch. The Metallica influence is pretty clear but the track takes on a whole new life in the final minute. It emerges from a decent conclusion with an entirely new sound unlike anything else coming out this summer. All in all, “Infest the Rats’ Nest” is the most electric and accessible metal album to come out this summer and remains a must-listen for fans of heavier music. - Billy Jackson

9. Lana Del Rey - Norman F****** Rockwell!

For not releasing an album in two years, “Norman F****** Rockwell!” is everything a Lana Del Rey fan deserves. Bringing the same sophistication and depth as her previous releases, she does not skimp on anything. The instrumentals are mysterious and are perfect for the summer. The lyrics are quirky and specific. It is everything a fan wants it to be.

Clocking in at an hour and seven minutes, with not one song being under three minutes. She’ll make you want to drive down to the beach with the top down all year long. Some stand out tracks being “Venice B***h,” “The Next Best American Record,” and the ominous track “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – but I Have It,” she is a key highlight of the summer. She brings meaning to her songs, and with each listen, the listener will ask more questions and find answers from the questions they had from the last time they listened. - William Roche

10. Dreamville - Revenge Of The Dreamers 3

It is not often that label collaboration albums make “best of” lists but most of these albums don’t execute on the level of third installment of Dreamville’s “Revenge Of The Dreamers” series. The project executes like an All-American game as the project includes young talent from across the country showcasing what they do best on a major platform provided by J. Cole.

Songs like “Wells Fargo (interlude)” plays the role of the all-American dunk contest as JID, EarthGang, Buddy and Guapdad 4000 throw off the backboard alley oops to each other creating one of the most enjoyable and energetic songs of the year. There are moments where the new guard of talent shows they can be conceptual when Lute and Reason connect for “LamboTruck” and, of course, one of the most talked about moments of the project is when DaBaby steals the show on “Under the Sun.” “Revenge of the Dreamers 3” is a showcase of talent and listeners will find themselves adding new artists to their library after the first listen. - Jerome Taylor

11. Vampire Weekend - “Father of the Bride”

In 2013, indie rock band Vampire Weekend released “Modern Vampires of the City” one of the decade’s hallmark albums. Then, the New York based band made its fans wait six years.

In that time, Rostam Batmanglig, one of the Vampire Weekend’s main creative forces, left the group. With that came uncertainty about what kind of album “Father of the Bride” would be.

That uncertainty was validated. The album is a complete departure from their prep school rock fused with African rhythm, a style the band was revered for. “Father of the Bride” is stripped down and as minimalist the band has ever gotten.

This, however, is not a bad thing. Some of the band’s best work comes on this album, notably the three duets lead singer Ezra Koenig has with Danielle Haim. The two have incredible chemistry. Additionally, songs such as “Harmony Hall” and “This Life” are in the upper echelon of Vampire Weekend singles.

While the 18-track album is a bit too long for its own good, all in all, “Father of the Bride” is not an album that should not disappoint long-time fans. - Jim Krueger.

12. Big K.R.I.T. - K.R.I.T. IZ HERE

Big K.R.I.T. used his fourth studio album to be a sequel to his 2010 mixtape “K.R.I.T. Wuz Here” and it did not disappoint. The Mississippi rapper has been known over the course of his career to be a do-it-all artist when it came to creating a project, but he took a different approach on this album and delegated much more than normal. The result is K.R.I.T delivering his powerful voice over soulful beats a combination that goes perfectly with favorable weather.

Some of K.R.I.T’s best work on the project comes toward the tail end where he truly differentiates himself from other rappers because of his electric ear for beats most notably on “Life In The Sun” and “M.I.S.S.I.S.S.I.P.P.I.” Hopefully, K.R.I.T. continues on this path of collaboration to continue to create new sounds and continue to perfect his familiar sound. - Jerome Taylor

13. Willow Smith - “Willow”

Willow Smith comes from a family of extreme and esteemed success in the entertainment industry. Coming from such an accomplished family in all aspects of both acting and music, Willow’s personal music and acting has a bit of an expectation to live up to. Her latest third studio album, eponymously titled "Willow," moved beyond those expectations. The album is beautifully crafted, being produced by Willow herself and boyfriend Tyler Cole, as well as featuring her brother Jaden Smith. 

The album dives into many different themes in it’s 22 minute runtime, mainly focusing on women empowerment, nostalgia for a generation she has never lived in, and relationships; both with others and herself. While simultaneously diving into these topics, the album keeps a soft dreamy tone that deserves to be listened to and experienced. "Willow" is an amazing accomplishment for the young musician, and audiences can only expect her to get better. - Lilly Adams

14. Jonas Brothers — “Happiness Begins”

“Happiness Begins” is the Jonas Brothers’ fifth studio album and it was a completely revamped sound from their other albums. It came to a shock for a lot of Jonas Brother fans. There was no telling whether the Jonas Brothers were ever going to reunite to make music together since their split in 2013.

“Happiness Begins” is truly the perfect name for this album because of the positive vibes that this album brings. It has done very well for a comeback album with hits including “Sucker,” “Only Human,” “Cool,” and “Rollercoaster,” to name a few. This album shows that as the Jonas Brothers have matured and evolved as people, including their music. In this case, time off for the brothers did them well and that shows in their music, in their voices, and in their attitude. They are currently touring the U.S. and Europe to promote the album. - Emily Mugno

15. Oh Sees — “Face Stabber”

The San Francisco-turned-Los Angeles psych-garage-rock band return for their twenty-second album under their fifth name. As confusing as their band’s formation and history can seem, Oh Sees’ newest album reflects that conflict with a potluck of musical styles and genres to choose from.

Everything from rubber duckie squeaks to a 20-minute Grateful Dead-style jam finds its way here in a loosely organized collection of excellent musicianship.

The standout tracks here are "The Daily Heavy" and "Snickersnee," each of which perform the band's trademark experimental rock style. "Poisoned Stones" brings a delicious synth pop flavor to the table, while "Gholü" is striking and imagistic.

The notorious final cut, "Henchlock," is a loose jam that winds and evolves across its generous run time. While some may find it tedious, others will be completely absorbed by its groove.

"Face Stabber" is not a very focused album but it offers many ideas and experimentation from one of the most bold groups in modern rock. - Billy Jackson

16. Ed Sheeran — “No. 6 Collaborations”

It’s rare when artists break out of their respective genres to create something completely new and unexpected — which is exactly what Ed Sheeran chose to do this past summer. In the midst of wrapping the two year long “Divide” tour, Sheeran surprised fans by dropping a full length studio album...with collaborations with 22 artists.

While “No. 6 Collaborations” never exceeded expectations by any means and included a few songs that seemed a little questionable, Sheeran’s concept is something unmatched in the modern music industry. However, it is an idea he had already played with in 2011. The singer decides against settling for one genre, but experiments with as many as he possibly can — many of which were outside of his own usual style.

The album has the potential to change the way musicians think about creating music, as Sheeran used it as a learning opportunity to invent with those who knew more than he did. Additionally, “No. 6 Collaborations” also raises the question of whether an artist needs to write deep, introspective lyrics in order to create good music. Sometimes good music can simply be fun. Sheeran’s latest feat was an incredible way of bringing people together through all genres of music — it was just so much fun.  - Jade Campos

17. Dirty Heads – “Super Moon”

The California-based Dirty Heads have slowly been perfecting their music across their career. Each album has steadily sounded better and better with “Super Moon” being a continuation of this trend.

Shameless about their party and marijuana infused aesthetic, the Dirty Heads have exploited their niche of care free de-stress music since their debut “Any Port in a Storm” back in 2008. Fast-forward to 2019 and the Dirty Heads’ sound has evidently risen in quality and purpose. Although they still need longer to perfect their style, the group’s charming interweaving of several genre influences such as ska, rock, alternative, rap, and reggae has never sounded more cohesive.

“Super Moon” presents a track listing that is highly effective at engaging its listener. While some of their lyricism isn’t necessarily anything to look twice at, their soundscape creation has become incredibly immersive. This dynamic is evident on several of the record’s relaxing tracks, such as the soothing “Tender Boy,” mellowing “Horsefly” and the light-hearted “Lift Me Up.”

While it is evident that “Super Moon” is an album that attempts to be an appeal more so to your ears as opposed to your brain, there isn’t exactly an issue with that. The Dirty Heads are not trying to be something they’re not and their music has never sounded better thanks to their commitment to their formula. – Scott Perdue

18. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - “Bandana”

Sequels tend to be underwhelming. You wait for what feels like an eternity for a follow up to your favorite album or film, and its return is almost always disappointing. So naturally, five years after the duo of rapper Freddie Gibbs and producer Madlib teamed up to crack skulls on their debut collaborative album, "Piñata," it would be fair to expect the long-awaited sequel to be a regression.

However, Gibbs and Madlib prove that their chemistry is still intact as "Bandana" is just as cohesive and essential as its predecessor.     

From the way Gibbs harmonizes over a Kanye-esque beat circa "College Dropout" on “Freestyle S***,” to the entirety of “Crime Pays,” which features a dreamy, keyboard-driven foundation courtesy of Madlib, the album pulls no punches when it comes to establishing a tangible atmosphere with each track.    

“Palmolive” is another highlight, smacking the listener in the face for four straight minutes as Pusha T delivers one of the verses of the year, only to be matched by Black Thought’s guest verse on “Education.”

Some of the songs have a soulful, introspective feel and sound like they’d fit right at home on Piñata, while others feel like new territory for the tandem, despite Gibbs’ affinity for rapping over varied production in his solo work. 

Overall, when you get a helping of Madlib beats that bend soul, funk, rock, and reggae to his will, paired with Gibbs’ effortless delivery and wordplay, you get one of the best albums of the year. - Caleb Wilfinger

19. Rapsody - “Eve”

No matter how many times “greatest modern rapper” debates come up, one person always finds themself being snubbed consistently and that person is Rapsody. On her latest offering “Eve,” Rapsody makes use of powerful black women for her song titles as a way to thank them for the contributions to the world but also to bring their names into a space where they are too often forgotten about.

Simultaneously, Rapsody showcases her ability to be one of the best rappers in contemporary hip-hop whether she's floating on a track like she does on “Oprah” or if she flexing her rap prowess on “Ibtihaj,” Rapsody reminds the world that no contemporary “Top MC” list is valid if she's not in the top tier. - Jerome Taylor

20. Taylor Swift — “Lover”

Taylor Swift has remained one of the most dynamic musicians in the forefront of the industry since she broke her way onto the scene in 2006. Every Taylor Swift album is even stronger than the one preceding it, and exponentially more creative. “Lover” proves to be no different. In fact, it feels as if the singer has gathered her greatest musical accomplishments in the past 13 years and bundled them into one 18-track album.

“Lover” is defiantly strong yet breathtakingly raw at the same time. Swift refuses to hold back after years of hiding behind the curtain. A common theme on the album is admitting to her fears — fears of losing a relationship or a parent. It’s a vulnerable look into her own life that many artists rarely choose to explore, and certainly her most powerful attempt at doing so.

Yet, the album is also incredibly clever and timely. Many of the songs have subtle (yet sometimes not so much) political commentary about the past few years. Perhaps the most cunning track on “Lover” is “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince,” which disguises a conversation about politics with lyrics about a high school football game, proving Swift is so much more than background music. Instead, listeners must pay attention to catch all of the symbolic references in her intricate lyrics. - Jade Campos

 

 

Scott Perdue is a junior majoring in secondary education. To contact him, email rsp5246@psu.edu.

Owen Paiva is a Junior majoring in film/video. To contact him, email owenpaiva@sbcglobal.net

Connor Trask is a senior majoring in telecommunications and minoring in business liberal arts. To contact him, email cst5140@psu.edu.

Jim Krueger is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email kruegerjim19@gmail.com.

William Roche is a junior majoring in film/video. To contact him, email wtr5043@psu.edu.

Jerome Taylor is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him email jerome.taylor.jr97@gmail.com.

Lilly Adams is a junior majoring in film/video studies. To contact her, email lillyadams11@gmail.com.

Jade Campos is a sophomore majoring in print/digital journalism. To contact her, email jmc7727@psu.edu.

Jack Grossman is a senior majoring in telecommunications. To contact him, email jackdgrossman@gmail.com.

Emily Mugno is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, e-mail esm6@psu.edu.

Billy Jackson is a senior majoring in film/video production. To contact him, email wjj5064@psu.edu.

Caleb Wilfinger is a senior majoring in print journalism and political science. To contact him, email caleb.wilfinger@gmail.com.

About the Contributors

Owen Paiva's photo

Owen Paiva

Junior / Film-Video

Owen Paiva is a Writer and Contributor for the Arts Department at CommRadio. Owen is one of the co-hosts of CommRadio’s Movie, Television, and Video Game Discussion Talk Show, Reel Talk, along with Lilly Adams, airing Tuesdays from 7:00 - 8:00. To contact, Owen, feel free to send a message to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Jerome Taylor's photo

Jerome Taylor

Senior / Broadcast Journalism

Jerome Taylor currently serves as one of two Arts & Entertainment Managers for CommRadio. He currently serves as a host for the department’s flagship radio show, “The Nittany Record Club.” He has also written several album reviews and has contributed to several lists that the department has produced. Jerome has also served as a beat writer and producer for several Penn State sports including, lacrosse, volleyball, and basketball. After graduation Jerome hopes to work in the broadcast journalism field covering sports or entertainment. Follow him on twitter (@ThatGuy_Rome) or email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Jade Campos's photo

Jade Campos

Sophomore / Journalism

Jade Campos is a sophomore from Caroline, Virginia. She is a Director of the Arts and Entertainment department of CommRadio and a co-host on the talk show “The Nittany Record Club.” Along with CommRadio, Jade has written for the Daily Collegian, College Magazine and The Virginia Connection. Currently, she is a social strategy intern with CommAgency. To contact her, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).