The Round-Up: The Best Albums of May 2017

After a pair of phenomenal months of music, May’s slate looked decidedly more low-key. However, now as I look back at it, there was still a handful of solid releases that deserve your time. Here are a few of my favorites.

untitled-article-1444923100J Hus
Common Sense
Black Butter

When I looked at the release schedule back in April, the Londoner’s proper debut was the only thing that really jumped off the page. Unsurprisingly, Hus came through with a classic — a diverse, razor sharp collection of the kind of worldly, melodic bangers that made him one of the UK’s real rising stars.

Every one of the disc’s 17 tracks features at least a couple of tasty hooks, and Hus effortlessly handles a dizzying array of beats that touch on Afrobeats, grime, dancehall, 90’s American rap, and pure pop (to name a few). His voice can shift from booming to soothing in an instant. And lyrically, he’s also impressive, speaking on all elements of his life with his tone changing from playful to serious to menacing to grateful. In short, he does just about everything well and is a true original who is only just getting started.

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 3.59.01 PMLil Yachty
Teenage Emotions
Quality Control
Speaking of originals, let’s talk about the 19 year-old Atlanta native. His debut “studio album” (whatever that means) picks up where his excellent mixtapes left off, digging deeper into the gleeful, creative world that he built for himself and his friends. Besides the music, the best thing about Teenage Emotions is that Yachty simply refuses to change — to bow to naysayers, gatekeepers, or major label demands. If anything, he’s even weirder, more sincere, and making more divisive music than ever before.

From ecstatic opener, “Like a Star” to heartfelt closer “Momma,” he charges headfirst into a variety of styles and ideas with reckless abandon. Many of them work. Some do not. I think it’s pretty obvious which songs fit into each category. While many have opted to focus on the latter batch, I prefer to focus on the former. I promise it’ll be a hell of a lot more fun if you do.

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 4.08.13 PMJlin
Black Origami

Planet Mu
To my ears, the Gary, IN footwork deconstructor’s second LP is even more powerful than her critically-acclaimed debut, Dark Energy. Along with being rhythmic savant, Jerrilynn “Jlin” Patton’s melodic chops have grown so much. On standouts like “Kyanite,” “Holy Child,” and “Nandi,” the harmonic interplay between the samples and synths are actually just as engaging and unexpected as her signature percussive magic. And though there still aren’t really “hooks” in any traditional sense, there are more footholds in this project than previous ones, which hopefully will open even more people’s ears to her fascinating, singular sound.

Stream it on Spotify.


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Slowdive
Slowdive
Dead Oceans
After more than 20 years away, the legendary British shoegazers returned with their fourth album. The disc is beautiful and sprawling, and it showcases their rare ability to use a few, simple parts to craft moods that stick with you long after the music stops. Its haunting closer, “Falling Ashes,” best sums up that quality, as the groups repeats a simple piano melody and a soothing vocal mantra (“thinking about love”) for more than eight minutes. Somehow, it doesn’t feel one second too long and gently carries you away.

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 4.15.38 PMForest Swords
Compassion
Ninja Tune
The experimental club producer has kept a pretty low profile since his excellent 2013 debut, Engravings. However, the understated Liverpool native’s second LP was well worth the wait, expounding on his abstract, stripped sound. Though few tracks stand out, they combine to form an affecting statement that both mirrors the uncertainty of our world and demonstrates the power of human compassion.

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 4.31.14 PMJohnny Jewel
Windswept

Italians Do It Better
Let’s be real, Dear Tommy is probably never coming out. Sure, JJ teased us with some news about it recently, but I’ve basically given up hope at this point. However, as a goodwill gesture, the ever-slippery producer dug into his archives and tossed us this hodgepodge collection of goodies. And while more than half of it is sort of aimless synth riffing, there’s some tasty neon, Italo morsels on here.

The stylish, heartfelt ballad “Saturday” is one of my favorite IDIB tracks of recent years, and “Missing Pages” and “Slow Dreams” are two of Jewel’s most lyrical instrumental pieces. Plus, we get an updated version of Ruth Radelet doing Elvis, which is always fun. In short, it’s an inconsequential collection that Jewel probably scrounged together after dinner one night, but when your archives are as strong as his, you’re bound to find something that sticks.

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 4.21.06 PMNite Jewel
Real High

Gloriette
From one Jewel to another, the always under-appreciated Ramona “Nite Jewel” Gonzalez’s second LP of the last 12 months is a strong collection of slick electro-pop that is made more for the bedroom than the dancefloor. Always an explorer, Gonzalez digs deep into classic R&B and quiet storm. And those kinds of arrangements fit her graceful, potent vocals to a T. Tracks like “Obsession” and “Part of Me” are more seductive and emotionally raw than much of her previous work, highlighting her power and vulnerability in equal measure.

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 4.37.44 PMSun Kill Moon / Jesu
30 Seconds to the Decline of Planet Earth
Caldo Verde
Being a Mark Kozelek fan is a simultaneously frustrating and rewarding experience. Since 2013, the 50 year-old has cranked out more than 10 releases. Three of them — Perils from the Sea, Benji, and Mark Kozelek & Desertshore — are legitimate classic albums and incredible feats of songwriting and storytelling. On the other hand, two of them — Universal Themes and Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood — are horribly uneven with borderline unlistenable songs. The rest range somewhere between “meh” and “alright, I guess.”

Though its inconsistency keeps 30 Seconds far from the classic category, its highlights elevate it above much of his recent output. “A Dream of Winter” is a gorgeous, nylon-stringed love song that feels like something from 2010’s Admiral Fell Promises, and “You Are Me and I Am You” is a powerful rumination about how we become our parents. And the meandering, Red House Painters-recalling guitarwork of “Twenty Something” will give any long-time Koz fan some warm fuzzies. It’s far from his best work, but he’s also not the joke many make him out to be.

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 4.29.51 PMThunder Dreamer
Capture

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In a musical landscape obsessed with quick characterization, the Evansville, IN quartet doesn’t play ball. Mixing traces of heartland indie rock, second wave emo, folk, and 90’s alt-rock, Thunder Dreamer’s sounds is both familiar and difficult to put your finger on. The disc’s eight tracks are ultra-tuneful and full of hooks yet still retain a little bit of edge. The interplay between the dual guitars and Steven Hamilton’s strained, dulcet vocals is the disc’s standout quality, resulting in a collection that is consistently compelling and full of sonic footholds.

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 4.27.57 PMNightlands
I Can Feel the Night Around Me

Western Vinyl
While his main band, the War on Drugs, was whipping up one of the most-anticipated albums of 2017, David Hartley quietly released this gorgeous collection of windswept dream-pop. His third LP as Nightlands features some of TWOD’s nostalgic, AM radio tendencies, but Hartley’s ultra-lithe falsetto gives the disc an even more wistful feel. The vocal harmonies are also insanely rich and often recall groups like the Beach Boys and the Eagles.

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 4.29.09 PMCroatian Amor
Finding People

Posh Isolation
Throughout Danish producer/musician Loke Rahbek’s career, he’s been nearly impossible to tie down. He’s made dark synth-pop with Lust For Youth, droning industrial noise with Damien Dubrovnik, and deconstructed dance music with Croatian Amor. The latter is my favorite LK project, and this recent four song EP is the most cohesive of his career. Finding People has many of the nuts and bolts of dance music, but they are rearranged in a totally unexpected order. Percussion dips in and out, and vocal samples pop up in strange places. The resulting world is often disorienting but always worth stumbling deeper into.

Stream it on Spotify.

Posted on by TP1.COM in Featured, The Round-Up

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