Culture’s Choice is a series of articles where Roar’s culture writers share their reflections and recommendations of their favourite art of 2020.
Natalia Vasnier: Can’t Buy the Mood (Deluxe Edition) by Tora
The Australian group Tora, composed of four members, offers a unique electric pop album. The remake of the 2019 album Can’t Buy the Mood, it is composed of 21 songs, all written, produced and mixed largely by the band themselves.
This Deluxe Edition is in a more dynamic and collaborative than the 2019 album. The main songs have been remixed in collaboration with other independent artists, such as Two Another, allowing for a merge between Tora’s singular indie electro-pop style with other artists from the same genre.
Each song is constructed with the same musical elements: the calming voice of the main singer and electric instrumentalisation, giving life to a very soulful but at the same time a very modern style of electric pop.
Track ten, “Similar,” is my favourite one on the album, with its graceful vocals added to a simple arpeggio of the electric guitar. The song has a light and meditative style to it that Tora manages to portray. The most beautiful part of it emerges as the sound of sparks comes in, adding a retro side to the song.
If you enjoy music from Alina Baraz, Little Dragon, or any soulful electric music, you will find your happiness in this album.
Imogen Dixon: Folklore (Deluxe Edition) by Taylor Swift
A “collection of songs and stories that [flow] like a stream of consciousness” as described by Taylor Swift herself, Folklore is her 8th studio album. It is composed of 17 songs, largely written and produced by Swift, Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner.
Stepping away from the mainstream pop of her previous albums, Folklore was written in isolation during Covid-19, whose themes you can hear throughout the introspective album.
As a concept album, each Folklore’s track offers perspectives from different characters, with some telling the same story from multiple points of view. As such, the wistfulness and nostalgia is all the more powerful: everyone has a perspective and emotions that we will never get to know. Folklore, when listened to in its entirety, provides an interesting exploration into humanity; everyone will be able to empathise with something in each of the songs.
Track 8, “august”, is my favourite. A dream pop song, whose use of vocal reverb and Swift’s vocal leaps create a dreamscape of nostalgia for a summer fling.
If you like indie pop, alternative music or even just the ‘cottagecore’ aesthetic, you might find a new favourite album in Folklore.
Elena Veris Reynolds: In Sickness and In Flames by The Front Bottoms
The fifth studio album by folk-punk duo The Front Bottoms is their most mature release yet. The witty, angsty charm the band is known for is still there, but it’s now coupled with a more reflective outlook and thoughtful songwriting. The first three singles released earlier this year (‘camouflage,’ ‘everyone blooms’ and ‘montgomery forever’) are all contrasting anthems on personal growth and surviving in a rapidly changing world. Elsewhere on the album, the band pairs evocative guitar hooks, expansive production and catchy melodies with frontman Brian Sella’s meditations on addiction, love and self-reflection. “The world is so f*cked, I wanna go back in the house,” sings Sella on ‘jerk,’ a sentiment many of us can relate to at the moment. Keeping the best parts of their emo roots, The Front Bottoms bring candid lyrics to an updated, clean rock sound, and poignantly chart how it feels to be a barely functioning adult in 2020, a year of Sickness and Flames.
Shuprima Guha: Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple
Any Fiona Apple fan knows that she doesn’t release music often, but when she does, it’s an experience to behold. Released eight years after her last album, Apple gives us a tour of her home. Quite literally—you can hear her dog barking on the album’s title track.
Her music is at once introspective, performative and for herself. Apple makes music she likes, it’s deeply personal and sometimes seems like letters to people in her life. It’s not just the lyrics, however; the sound also plays an important part. It’s all loud and usually upbeat, even with sombre lyrics like “I resent you for being raised right.” She sings about important topics like sexual violence and society pitting women against each other, not shying away from such conversations. Apple will make you listen, veiling her powerful lyrics under an unassuming and commanding sound.
Her album will remind you of family dinners, with their strange and countless noises, questions and opinions that seem to be targeted at members of your extended family. She’s taking your side in a dinner table debate, and it almost makes you wonder: how does Fiona Apple know my home so well?
Ally Azizi: KAI (开) The First Mini Album by EXO’s Kai
Kai’s self-titled debut album consists of its title track, ‘Mmmh,’ and five other R&B songs that give the album its rich and dark colour.
‘Mmmh’ is simply sensual. From its visual representation to its lyrics, it feels as if you’re in a dangerous relationship that is a potential threat to your safety in a dark world. ‘The scent of a flower / Girl, is this yours?’ highlights the unique tone in Kai’s voice, as he finishes the line off with a slight quiver that acts as the imperfection in the perfection of this lyric.
My favourite from the album, ‘Amnesia,’ is an R&B and Trap song that expresses the love for your current partner while forgetting everything that came before them. For me, the main feature of this song are the frequent switches between the high and low registers of his voice, as well as falsettos and runs that show off his underrated vocal abilities.
His successful debut has definitely set the standard for other solo artists as he takes vocal, dance and rap to a higher level.