BTS, "Be" (Big Hit Entertainment)
February seems like an unfathomable lifetime ago. That's when BTS' "Map of the Soul: 7" — which trails only Taylor Swift's "Folklore" for the year's bestselling album — debuted at No. 1 around the globe.
This trim, eight-song album — often slower, more reflective and refined than its last — marks the coronation of the South Korean group as not just a commercial juggernaut but a driving force in American pop culture.
Without a worldwide stadium tour, BTS had much more time on its hands. That meant more original songwriting and production work from the band members. "Dynamite," the breakout single on "Be," has already topped the Billboard Hot 100 with its fizzy, throwback disco vibes. "Stay" and "Telepathy" are right in line with it, heavy on the post-EDM sizzle and funk bass driving hits like Dua Lipa's "Break My Heart."
But new songs like "Life Goes On" and "Dis-ease" — each driven by slow-rolling retro hip-hop beats — acknowledge the grind of the COVID-19 world while trying to keep fans resolved that better days are ahead. "Blue & Grey" is beautifully harmonized bedroom emo, and like Swift's "Folklore," a document of this homebound, lonely era of music where we're making the most with the tools we have at hand.
August Brown, Los Angeles Times
Nick Cave, "Idiot Prayer" (Bad Seeds Ltd.)
On the heels of last year's excellent album "Ghosteen," Cave had scheduled a tour with the Bad Seeds that got scuttled. Instead, we have a solo performance he filmed last June, seated at a grand piano in London's cavernous, empty Alexandra Palace.
This 85-minute soundtrack album serves as a toned-down Cave retrospective, including early Bad Seeds songs such as "Stranger Than Kindness" and "The Mercy Seat," Grinderman songs including "Palaces of Montezuma," such recent works as "Galleon Ship" and one new song, the brief "Euthanasia." Somber and stately, it highlights his thoughtful voice, romantic piano playing and poetic lyrics.
Steve Klinge, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Billie Joe Armstrong, "No Fun Mondays"
• Hatebreed, "Weight of the False Self"
• Miley Cyrus, "Plastic Hearts"
• Smashing Pumpkins, "Cyr"