Group Feature: ACRN’s Top 10 Disappointing Albums of 2020

10. Machinedrum — A View of U, [Ninja Tune; 2020]
By Lane Moore, Reviews Editor

Machinedrum’s A View of U is perhaps the greatest illusion of the millennium. It’s pretty tough to catch, but if you peer into the soul of this album––or make it past track three or four––you will find that A View of U is actually just an insanely boring assortment of sequences and arpeggios masquerading as an IDM-juke hybrid. It’s a good soundtrack if you fancy activities like mowing your lawn with scissors or being stuck in traffic, but otherwise I’d recommend listening to any other dance music. 

“1000 Miles” and “Wait 4 U (Feat Jesse Boykins III)” are two of the more entertaining tracks, each featuring a minimalistic breakbeat that gives the tracks a greater feeling of movement. “1000 Miles” in particular evokes chills on occasion. Aside from those standouts, though, if you were to make me distinguish between the GTA V soundtrack and this album for my life, I would simply allow you to kill me. 

The abrasive kick present throughout the album becomes less interesting with each passing second of runtime, and the exact same bass “wub wub” is used probably 30,000 times. There is no album better at being disguised as interesting than A View of U is. 

Listen for yourself:

9. Justin Bieber – Changes, [RBMG/Def Jam; 2020]

By Hannah Burkhart, Contributor

Throughout his career, Justin Bieber has released plenty of feel-good pop albums consisting of hit after hit. However, on Changes, it is clear Justin was experimenting with a new sound, as many artists do at some point in their careers. Of course, new songs with Bieber’s soothing voice are always great to hear, but Changes was a bit of a hot mess. First off, the singles he released leading up to the album, “Yummy,” “Get Me” and “Intentions (feat. Quavo)” were extremely generic-sounding. The album as a whole sounds like a plethora of old Motorola ringtones with basic trap beats over them. The lyricism and range were not exactly at Bieber’s full potential either. Bieber resorted to begging for streams on Instagram Live, Instagram posts and Twitter. Since the release of Changes, Bieber has expressed his true emotions on some great tracks, including “Lonely (with benny blanco)” and “Monster (with Shawn Mendes).” Hopefully, this new raw side of him is a sign of better creativity for Bieber’s next project.

Listen for yourself:

8. Bruce Springsteen – Letter To You, [Columbia; 2020]

By RJ Martin, Music Director

Bruce Springsteen’s 20th album Letter To You perhaps defined the word “disappointing” when it comes to music released this year. The album isn’t offensively bad, or even bad to begin with, and has a lot of touching storytelling about aging and loss. However, the sounds presented by The Boss and his E Street Band are depressingly stale for a man who has 19 studio albums and almost 50 years of experience under his belt. The themes expressed on the album are no different than those that we heard on the late and great John Prine’s final record Tree of Forgiveness, or even Leonard Cohen’s 2016 album You Want It Darker. The difference between Springsteen’s effort and those records lies in the delivery, the musical innovation, that creates a profound impact on the listener. Springsteen has done about all you can do with rock and roll at this point, and maybe a unique or interesting sound that supported the tragic lyricism could’ve saved the album. 

Listen for yourself:

7. IDLES – Ultra Mono, [Partisan; 2020] By Jonah Krueger, News Editor

Mid-2020 was a strange time to be an IDLES fan. After years of steady growth, quality output, a spot on the 2019 Mercury Prize shortlist and increasingly successful tours, music-Twitter turned against them in one fell swoop. Seemingly overnight, timelines were full of IDLES hot takes and memes. There were allegations of class appropriation, attacks from other English post-punk acts and an overall dismissal of the cheeky British lads and their messaging—the band was getting dunked from all angles.

Then came the album, Ultra Mono, which had quite a bit resting on its shoulders. While it is IDLES’ third full-length album, it’s the first after their breakthrough Joy as an Act of Resistance, inspiring worries of a pseudo-sophomore-slump. Early signs seemed to contradict such a worry, as singles like “Mr. Motivator” and “Grounds” provided similar thrills as their previous work and the inclusion of producer Kenny Beats implied increased ambition. 

Yet, where their previous albums had the impact of a cannonball, Ultra Mono hit like a damp rag hitting a tile kitchen floor. The songs weren’t terrible and the wild performances remained, but there was an undeniable lack of oomph. Nothing on the album came close to being as genuinely blood-pumping as “Colossus” or “Mother” and, while IDLE’s politics have always been simplistic, the political sloganeering was limp enough to bring to mind the aforementioned Twitter dunk contest. Ultra Mono is not “career-ending” bad, but it is disappointing enough to cast doubt on both their past and future.

Listen for yourself:

6. Selena Gomez Rare, [Interscope; 2020]
By Hannah Burkhart, Contributor

Selena Gomez has released her fair share of hit pop love ballads, although she has released just three studio albums. The most recent album Gomez released before Rare was Revival in 2015, including catchy and relatable relationship-related tracks such as “Good for You (feat. A$AP Rocky),” “Same Old Love” and “Perfect.” Following Revival, fans had high expectations for Rare, but it did not do well in sales and streams because it did not exactly have any memorable tracks. Much like her ex-boyfriend Justin Bieber, Gomez and her fanbase resorted to begging for streams. She actually went to stores and bought copies of the album herself. Rare was only on the Billboard 200 for 25 weeks. The best songs on the album are her featured tracks, “Crowded Room (feat. 6LACK)” and “A Sweeter Place (feat. Kid Cudi).” This album may be displaying her maturation transition in music, as it is not full of songs with repetitive hooks and catchy beats. Her lyrics are maturing, but she and her producers could work on constructing the lyrics and instrumentals in a more mellifluous manner.

Listen for yourself:

5. Green Day – Father of All Motherfuckers, [Reprise; 2020]
By Ethan Bloomfield, Staff Writer

This record could have been Green Day’s moment. With such a rich discography and a penchant for political anger, this record should have been a blank check in the Trump era. Instead, we were treated to one of the most vapid, empty Green Day releases ever, topping even the trilogy albums. It is entirely forgettable, sporting several songs under two minutes in length, awful production, and any semblance of a message forsaken in the name of maximum radio hit potential. This album marks a sort of wit’s end for Green Day, as they have boiled away all the fat, all the edge, all the bite that American Idiot, 21st Century Breakdown, or even Revolution Radio displayed; it is completely toothless and shameful. 

Even the album cover, a bastardization of the American Idiot cover, seems to make a parody of itself. This record is Green Day tired, greedy, and completely out of ideas. A Swedish songwriter, a trap beat, or a feature would have been preferable. “100% pure uncut rock”? The handclaps, lazy lyrics, and 26-minute length all say otherwise. Maybe next time, Billie

Listen for yourself:

4. Hum – Inlet, [Earth Analog; 2020]
By Lane Moore, Reviews Editor

After 23 years of waiting for Hum to craft a third LP, Inlet is merely another example of something ruined by middle-aged men. How did the dudes who created ~space rock~ manage to mess it up? Well, it’s just not the same. Waaaah.

Inlet is a better example of butt rock––lame hard rock––than shoegaze, and though the project contains a few gems, it’s largely a bore. It’s a solid, well-made album with chunky guitars, and it is certainly nice to listen to a well-mastered Hum album, but the band’s youthful energy and melancholy is gone along with their ability to make shoegaze, apparently. Why do half of the songs have the guitar tone of Beartooth or something? It’s like someone told them they aren’t heavy enough so they overcompensated by getting the same distortion pedals as Attack Attack!

The only song on Inlet that conveys the sensibility instilled on their early records is “Step Into You”, but even it lacks the invisible sentiment that makes You’d Prefer an Astronaut one of the best shoegaze records of all time. Is it their age? Are they disconnected? Do they just like butt rock? They didn’t just miss the train to mars, they missed the mark entirely. Please forgive me, Hum.

Listen for yourself:

Father Come Outside, We Not Gone Jump You, [Awful; 2020]
By Kwase Lane, Features Editor

With Father’s track record one wouldn’t be foolish in expecting that his latest project would be just as endearing as his previous output. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Come Outside We Not Gone Jump You is a rare miss from the master of aural glitter and grime. It feels like Father was going for a more stripped-back sound on this album, but he ultimately cut too much away. The hushed energy that one would find on earlier Father tracks is almost entirely gone and is replaced with a sound that feels more tarnished than twinkling. What’s worse is that the final track, “Uncut”, is devoid of almost all of the issues that plague the other pieces and stands as a subtle mockery, hinting at what this album could have been. Come Outside We Not Gone Jump You is a hollow shadow of past projects rather than a collection of songs that can stand on their own merit.

Listen for yourself:

2. Conan Gray – Kid Krow, [Republic; 2020]
By Maddie James, Staff Writer

Conan Gray’s rise to fame has been anything but subtle. Over the course of two years, he’s gone from naive indie art student, mostly known for his laid back YouTube videos, to a Billie Eilish wannabe TikTok star. Kid Krow was clearly written with this new, edgy, e-boy persona in mind, but unfortunately, the album falls short of this new image. Instead of being progressive and unique, this rapid change in aesthetic comes off as oddly insincere. The album portrays cliché, coming-of-age themes that Gray, at 22 years old, has long outgrown, accompanied by a music style that would sound more at home in a JC Penney’s than a stadium performance. The music is safe and predictable, easy to enjoy, but certainly not the groundbreaking work it’s often portrayed as. Though Kid Krow is often placed beside Harry StylesFine Line in terms of quality, it doesn’t live up to the reputation. Despite Gray’s undeniably impressive journey from small YouTuber to radio-friendly pop star, it sadly feels as though he’s relying more on trends than real individuality.

Listen for yourself:

  1. Car Seat Headrest – Making a Door Less Open, [Matador; 2020]
    By Kwase Lane, Features Editor

Car Seat Headrest’s latest project, Making a Door Less Open, leaves so much to be desired. There’s no way following up Teens of Denial would be easy, but the attempt should have been better than this. There are a few good tracks on the album, but they’re scattered between pieces that sound terribly artificial. “Deadlines (Thoughtful)” starts with a mess of whirring synths and when Will Toledo begins singing the lines he delivers mean far too little for the space they’re afforded in the composition. I guess the real problem is none of the songs on Making a Door Less Open make me feel anything. That’s not always a bad thing, but it definitely is when discussing this group. Car Seat Headrest makes music that makes you cry and grin and consider leaving everything that makes you, you on the side of the road before convincing you not to, but this isn’t that. This doesn’t feel like anything.

Listen for yourself:

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