Best Albums of May 2017

18

1Tiny Engines

Adult Mom

Adult Mom, a garage band of the bedroom pop genre, made their album debut in 2013 with “i fell in love by accident.” The success of their EP “Sometimes Bad Happens”, featured by Rolling Stone in 2014, was followed by the recent release of their newest album, “Soft Spots,” in May. Its alluring cover, featuring warm soft tones and sensual subject matter, plays to the nature of the compiled tracks. While lead singer Stephanie Knipe’s voice carries dreamy and textured qualities, the songs often feature unexpected lyrics simultaneously naive and provocative. The band doesn’t appear to shy away from often taboo topics such as porn and gender ambiguity. Knipe’s sound, reminiscent of 90’s fem idols such as Natalie Imbruglia and Dolores O’Riordan, compliments the more current sound of the accompanying new wave beats.

“Soft Spots,” while collectively and intimately poetic, is composed of a vast array of styles. For example, stand out songs  “Full Screen” and “Ephemeralness” are so uniquely different from one another, as to warrant a listener’s check that they are, in fact, tracks of the same album. “Full Screen,” quick, catchy, and controversial featuring lyrics speaking of a past summer love is utterly polar to “Ephemeralness,” a hushed, acoustic tribute to fears of abandonment and isolation, featuring simple and transparent lyrics.

Twenty-five minutes of variety, “Soft Spots” is no doubt a fresh summer find. [Meagan Whalen]

Recommended if you like: Jessie Ware, Frankie Cosmos, Free Cake For Every Creature

Listen to: Full Screen

 

78

Rhymesayers

Brother Ali

“All The Beauty in This Whole Life” by Brother Ali is considerably woke. In an industry fueled by mainstream interpretations of Black America, Brother Ali brings a fresh, positive message to (especially the men) of the culture. Despite being blind, Ali can truly see the problems with all of American culture today. From social justice issues (see: “Dear Black Son”), to the concept of love and lust in our generation (see: “Can’t Take That Away”), this album has exceeded far beyond my expectations at delivering something almost unheard of in today’s rap industry: substance.

This is a truly raw album. Each song correlates under a general theme, yet conveys its own unique message.  Aspects of Ali’s personal life from fatherhood to his religion have created messages that are not only for us, but for those closest to him. “All The Beauty in This Whole Life” is fresh. It goes back to the origins of the craft, where the music is about the message as opposed to the “beats” and flashy lifestyles.

Ali has created yet another politically charged collection that is truly fitting of America’s political and social climate. This album symbolizes what it means to use your gifts to try and implement change. In a world of Facebook arguments and controversial media, Ali uses “All The Beauty in This Whole Life” not to complain, but simply to comment and to make listeners empathize with the uncommon opinion. [Brianna Nobles]

Recommended if you like: Immortal Technique, R.A. The Rugged Man, Atmosphere

Listen to: “Dear Black Son”

2

ATO

Nick Hakim

From the minute I heard Hakim open his mouth, I knew I found a new artist to add to my chill playlist. His melodic beats, coupled with an earthy voice literally gave me chills. The album is a composition of love songs, each one having a fresh sound. Hakim’s Latin American roots shine in some of the tracks, but are still paired with an overall undertone of contemporary R&B.  “Green Twins” is a very relaxing album to listen to. I would highly recommend listening to it for some good vibes on a long drive, your next beach trip, or if you need some chill study music. [Brianna Nobles]

Recommended if you like: The Hics, Silk Rhodes, Moses Sumney

Listen to: “Roller Skates”

3Matador

Perfume Genius

First, there was nothing, then there was everything. Singer-songwriter and producer Mike Hadreas, also known as Perfume Genius, takes a sonic boom into his new release on the first track “Otherside,” as a simple string and piano melody turns into a giant dynamic blast of hyperbole. From then on, the album is a ship that sets sail on an unapologetic path through the adversity of being queer in America.

The songs on “No Shape” are perfectly compacted to create a sense of importance, but aren’t eager to be heard. Not that this record is inaccessible in any way, and, in fact, I would say it is very accessible. However, the tracks are action packed with clear meanings even to the passerby but seem to cut themselves off short of ballads. Just like on his previous records, Perfume Genius adds color from a plethora of instrumentations. There isn’t a pop-formula that he follows to every song which makes it all the more intriguing and juicy. From “Too Bright,” there is a huge display of growth as a producer: something I had already admired him for. If you are ever able to see Perfume Genius live, it is definitely time well spent. This album was well timed and well received by myself and others. [Jake Keisler]

Recommended if you like: Xiu Xiu, Kate Bush, Weyes Blood

Listen to: “Valley”
4

Dead Oceans

Slowdive

In 2014, when Slowdive reunited it seemed to be part of the now annual tradition of a band reuniting to go on the music festival circuit.  I don’t say that to try to diminish their intentions or the quality of the three incredible albums they released in the 90’s, but at the time it seemed like it was a nostalgia tour. I am happy to say that I was dead wrong.

With the release of this new self-titled album Slowdive not only picked up right where they left off without missing a beat, but they also gave themselves a reason to exist in 2017.  That is more than most of the contemporaries can say.  Nothing about this album would indicate that they had not been writing and recording music together for over 20 years.  They continue to push their signature ethereal sound into new directions while retaining their identity.  Every one of the eight tracks on “Slowdive” is unique from one another and makes every one of the forty-six minutes rewarding.

“Star Roving,” the lead single showcases a Slowdive hungrier than before making it a perfect pick for their comeback anthem.  It is preceded on the album with the opener “Slomo” which can be seen not only as a gorgeous opener but also as a transition from the old to the new.  It is a seven-minute barn burner which gradually builds to a flurry of glistening guitars with Rachel Goswell’s falsetto emerging from the organized chaos.  It calls back to all which made Slowdive such a special band to so many people while simultaenously displaying the maturity of a group of people who have been making music across three decades.  

A mark of a truly great album is when your favorite song frequently changes.  For me, “No Longer Making Time” currently holds that title.  It masters dynamics as it starts off reserved and is able to smoothly segue back and forth between robust choruses and soft tranquil verses.  Heavenly only begins to describe the sound of this song justly and that can be said for the album too.  “Slowdive” is an atypical comeback album and a testament to its merits is the fact that before I saw them live earlier this month I was hoping they would play all of the new songs. That proves Slowdive are beyond nostalgia and this album should blow away old fans and earn them quite a few new ones too. [Thomas Coogan]

Recommended if you like: Beach House, Ride, Grouper

Listen to: “No Longer Making Time”

5Columbia

Harry Styles

Harry Styles coasted into the solo artist scene on the wave of his One Direction fame, but there are very few signs of his former boy band’s catchy pop tunes in his debut album “Harry Styles.” His first single, “Sign of The Times,” which hit number one on the Billboard music charts, was a sneak preview of Style’s new sound. Gone are the days of clean lyrics geared towards children and their parents — with rock songs that have a hint of raunchiness like “Kiwi” some parents will be reluctant to take their preteens and teenagers to Styles’ tour in the fall. By rolling out the screams and skinny jeans Harry Styles crafted an album that combines chill late night jams, such as “Two Ghosts,” funky head-bopping beats such as “Carolina”, and rock-inspired melodies such as “Only Angel.” Harry Styles’ debut album “Harry Styles” fuses together a unique combination of pop and rock that gave me goosebumps. If you were unaware of Harry’s vocal talent before, the showcase of his vocals on this album will leave you in awe.

Although the songs on Harry Styles’ album swap between relaxed ballads and rocking head-bangers the songs mainly feature smooth beats from acoustic and electric guitar, drums, and the occasional piano. Chorale voices accompany some of the tracks as well, lending a hand to Harry Styles’ vocals and adding a chillingly beautiful tone to songs like “Only Angel.” The album’s first track “Meet Me in the Hallway” sets the stage for the mellow songs on the album, such as “Sweet Creature” and “Two Ghosts.”  “Just let me know I’ll be at the door, at the door, hoping you’ll come around,” Styles sings in this melancholy song about unrequited love. His vocals are hauntingly beautiful in this first song, making this song the perfect background music for late night drives.

The album then shifts to the hit single “Sign of the Times” which I consider to be pop with a healthy dosage of rock. The only quip I have with this album is that some of the songs seem a bit too long, which made me feel a bit restless at times. Therefore, I was not so keen on this song at first, because I considered it to be too long, but with several more listens I came to appreciate the necessity of the song’s length — to show off Styles’ vocal skills, the highlight of “Sign of the Times,” as he hits high pitches with ease. The ending of this song really seals the deal as Styles sing-screams “We go to, we got to run”. The passion in Harry’s voice as he sings these lyrics leaves the listener with chills running up their spine. Similar to “Sign of the Times,” “Two Ghosts” has a chilling effect due to Styles’ soft vocals and the sleep-inducing vibes in the song that stem from the strumming of an electric guitar.

There is no shortage of songs about relationships and love in this album; almost every song on this album is in the same vein topic wise. “Sweet Creature” is a sing-along song, in so much as you may find yourself singing it while walking around the house, taking a shower, or driving in the car. This song is a slow jam that references the impediments of young love, “Sweet creature, had another talk about where it’s going wrong. But we’re still young. We don’t know where we’re going, but we know where we belong” Styles croons. This ballad-esque love song is followed up by “Carolina” which is full of funky guitar beats, clapping, some screeching from Styles’, and a skosh of violin. This song has a fun for-the-heck-of-it vibe, which is perfectly encapsulated in its lyrics such as, “I met her once and wrote a song about her.” All in all, it is hard not to tap your feet a little, or have a full out dance party, while jamming to “Carolina.”

Three of the songs on the album, “Only Angel,” “Kiwi,” and “Woman” primarily point to Styles’ dabbling in the genre of rock. “Only Angel” begins with a euphoric piano, violin, and vocal interlude that points to the vibes of “Sign of the Times.” This interlude transitions into more rock and roll sounds. With echoing vocals, even more screaming, and lyrics such as “Couldn’t take you home to mother in a skirt that short,” “Only Angel” helps to pave the way for Harry’s new sound. “Kiwi” is the somewhat “raunchy” song on the album, through the lens of the younger audience that Styles’ inevitably drew in due to his boy band days. Screaming “I’m having your baby, it’s none of your business,” will have that kind of a deterring effect on younger crowds. Although, “Kiwi” is a song that you must listen to on this album. The song’s rock and roll vibes will make you feel awake and alive like never before. “Woman” is another great nod to the genre of rock in this album. I slid into this song with the brief piano scale at its beginning and became hooked from that moment on. The song begins with the spoken words, “Should we just search Romantic Comedies on Netflix and see what we find,” and it is a complete bop. “Woman” hints about jealousy, with Styles’ singing, “he’s right where I should, where I should be.”

The track “From the Dining Table,” which is the follow-up to “Woman,” alludes to similar feelings of jealousy, although “From the Dining Table” has a much more mellow mood to it than “Woman”. Harry’s voice in “From the Dining Table” is so quiet it feels as though he is singing directly to you through your headphones. It is also to be noted that there is a gorgeous combination of vocals and strings in this song that particularly emphasizes Styles’ voice as he sings, “Maybe one day you’ll call me and tell me that you’re sorry too.”

Considerably one of the best songs on this album is “Ever Since New York.” There is some seriously awesome usage of drums and guitar in this song that helps to paint the picture of wandering around New York City alone. I adore the line “Oh tell me something I don’t already know” in this song because it is matched so well by the incredible drums in this song. This song, as well as this whole album, is a great example that Styles has his own unique sound that is completely different from One Direction band mates such as Liam Payne, Niall Horan, and Louis Tomlinson. With the combination of Styles’ vocals, guitar, piano, chorales, screaming, violins, and the fusion of pop and rock, Harry has gone his own direction in the music scene, and it is hard to not be impressed by what he has turned out. [Lizzy Weber]

Recommended if you like: George Ezra, The Beatles, Lorde

Listen to: “Ever Since New York”
6

Ghost Ramp

Wavves

LA rockers Wavves recently bought their latest studio album, You’re Welcome, to fruition. You’re Welcome has served as a vehicle for Wavves to sonically transcend beyond their surf-rock roots, in which they succeed by a large margin.

The album adopts more of a musical and lyrical edge than their pre-existing body of work. Whereas previous tracks such as “Way Too Much” and “King of The Beach” tackled the more simplistic nuances of life, You’re Welcome adopts a more biting and welcomely caustic essence. “A Million Enemies,” which is currently ranked as the album’s most popular track according to iTunes, perfectly epitomizes this fantastic artistic divergence. The track undertakes a delightfully malicious attitude while simultaneously exuding a mesmerizing electric zing that appeals to the ear in the same manner in which a good book appeals to the mind. The track is addictively resonant and rhythmic, gritty, and an overall explosion of sonic energy and craftsmanship that one simply cannot turn away from.

Of a similar artistic vein is the album’s title track, “You’re Welcome.” The track is compellingly rhythmic, causing its melody to linger in the brain like a fond childhood memory. Moreover, the lyrical repetition implemented in the chorus exemplifies the innate power that simplicity and repetition can yield when successfully integrated within a musical work and Wavves does just that.

“Dancing while the world is burning down” is a line within the track “Exercise” that perfectly represents the type of response the response it generates when performed live. It exudes astounding levels of intensity and energy and is enthralling from start to finish. Moreover, it radiates the inherently human emotions of angst and exhaustion; it encapsulates the unapologetic rawness that drew people to the punk movement in the ‘70s and ‘80s  like moths to a flame.

As an entity, You’re Welcome begins to sonically match the refreshing levels jadedness and restlessness that had always been present within the musical work of Wavves. As a result, each working musical component has reached an artistically harmonious state – resulting in You’re Welcome being work of utter dynamite. [Lindsay Teske]

Recommended if you like: FIDLAR, Together Pangea, Dune Rats

Listen to: “A Million Enemies”

Be sure to check out our Best of May Spotify Playlist which features all of these artists and many more!

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