Welcome to May 2017’s edition of Recommended Albums, or as I’ve heard some like to call it, “Every Single Album Released From That Month, You No-Taste, Indecisive Loser.” Well, May 2017 isn’t going to repair my reputation of supporting every single release under the sun, because there was a whole bushel full of records that I just loved and just needed to talk about. Maybe two bushels. At least three records on this list have comfortably situated themselves in my Top 5 of 2017 and the rest are sitting pretty inside the Top 20. The other notable albums below my favorite ten are also to die for. Can you believe that? I’m sure you will after reading what’s in store for you. There’s some top-notch, real good stuff on here. If you disagree, maybe you should find whatever else is left from May that I didn’t talk about. Think about that.
Aldous Harding – Party [4AD]
I immediately got on the Aldous hype train after I saw her open for Deerhunter back in October. Her folk-leaning songs carry so much more weight thanks to her simple theatrics, like contorting her face and making intense, lasting eye contact with members of the audience. The songs on Party naturally hold that live energy, as heard on the shrill, alienating chorus of the title track and the sharply-delivered lines of “Living The Classics.” However, even without a previous mental picture of her live presence, her voice still conveys a deep, intense spectrum of emotion. We can see Aldous as a brooding lounge singer on “I’m So Sorry” & “What If Birds” or more of a Vashti Bunyan troubadour type on “The World Is Looking” & “Swell Does The Skull.” But Aldous really becomes something special on tracks like “Horizon,” “Blend” and “Imagining My Man,” where her voice and persona become something completely unique, free from comparison to other contemporaries. The whole album is something to marvel at, but there are certain moments on Party that completely blow other records of 2017 and beyond out of the water. This is truly a special, bewitching record that deserves your immediate attention and an artist who you should definitely see live if she comes to your town.
Chino Amobi – Paradiso [NON]
Let me fill you in on one important note before going into this: the name Paradiso is a misnomer in the case of this album, unless your version of paradise is a cacophonous, blistering hellscape. I’m not joking around here. Paradiso is an album that, while listening on the subway, made me feel like the world above ground was coming to a fiery end, only for me to remember that it was actually a gorgeous day upon coming above. It’s a gory meat grinder, brutally mashing together a heap of guest musicians with spoken word, poetry, harsh noise, industrial, hip hop, radio drops, abstract electronic, and pop music. It uses these ingredients and makes a massive world out of them, immediately placing the listener in this decrepit, lawless wasteland to watch events unfold. The centerpiece of the record is the hallucinatory title track, which plays out like a cumulative final exam. It brings in elements that the record touched on previously and throws them all at you in a dizzying fury. There are multiple points in the song where the level of chaos and unrest gets so high it reaches feelings of euphoria. It’s one of the best songs of the year and a perfect summation of this grand statement of a record. And what is that statement exactly? Well, I can’t parse something out completely, but it truly feels like one of the first great Tr*mp protest records. The apocalypse. Bringing to light a series of injustices. A form of resistance. True destruction.
Demen – Nektyr [Kranky]
Imagine a mad scientist’s lair located on the top floor of a spooky stone tower perched on a steep cliff. Dark storm clouds billow around the top. Angry waves crash at the rocks below. Inside, Demen is filling in values on the machine to make her luscious debut record, Nektyr. Proportioning the amount of elegant, gossamer vocals of Cocteau Twins. The appreciation of patience and silence of Grouper. The sonic depth and mood of Chelsea Wolfe. The slowness of This Mortal Coil. It’s a legion of influences, immaculately conceived in a den of darkness. It’s an arduous labor of love. A goth confession. It is devoid of hope, a flickering light lost in a sea of ink. A woozy heartbeat trapped in a maze. On first listen it might feel like a bit amorphous, a swath of dark ambiance with no arc. But the more you return the more melodies start to click together and the process becomes highly intoxicating. As sad and hopeless as it is, it sounds terribly beautiful.
Hundred Waters – Particle [OWSLA]
It’s always great when a surprise release from one of your favorite bands turns out to be a sweet treat rather than an unfortunate flop. On Hundred Waters’ new EP Particle, their biggest-sounding project yet, it’s a buffet of the sweetest treats for a fan like me. On their previous full-length, The Moon Rang Like A Bell, we saw Hundo drifting more towards a completely electronic sound rather than one with synthetic and organic elements mixed, as seen on their self-titled debut. This electronic framework is maxed out here, with a song like “Jewel In My Hands” utilizing an understated drop and “Particle” and “Currency” becoming two of the poppiest songs the band has made. But like always, the main draw to Hundo is Nicole Miglis’ graceful voice. It doesn’t even matter what’s underneath her; she shines on every song. In Particle‘s case, she pirouettes and sashays through the propulsive electronics surrounding her, igniting sparks and shooting arcs of lightning across the shifting digital landscape. I have yet to find one fault in this dang band for five years now. How is that even possible?
Land of Talk – Life After Youth [Saddle Creek]
I’d say that Life After Youth is the most unassumingly great record on this list. At first glance it might seem like another indie rock record from a band that was more notable seven years ago. On the contrary, it’s an indie rock record with some of the best songs of the year. Songs like “This Time,” “Loving” and “Heartcore” have been three that I’ve revisited time and time again. They’re songs that seem pretty plain compared to a lot of other records on this list, but have been stuck in my head multiple times this month. Something about this album, but especially those three songs, just feels so good. Something sounding good is easy, but when something feels good, that’s another story. This album hits the bullseye of “sounding good, feeling good.” Put this on and look cute, feel cute.
Pond – The Weather [Marathon Artists]
For those that mistake Pond as a side-project of Australian giant Tame Impala: Pond is actually the band that spawned the psych monster with ex-drummer Kevin Parker. Pond has been kicking around on and off my radar for a while now, but they’ve never totally hooked me. Thankfully I checked this one out and found myself very pleasantly surprised and quite hooked. The Weather is a big sounding, dynamic psych rock record with a great sense of humor that any fan of the genre should check out. If the freaky, experimental sides of Embryonic-era Flaming Lips melded with the blissed out grooviness of recent Tame Impala, you’d have a product that comes real close to this record. These guys also put on one hell of a live show, so if you have the opportunity, don’t pass it up.
Sam Amidon – The Following Mountain [Nonesuch]
The Following Mountain is Sam Amidon’s first album that’s solely based on his own compositions, rather than the rearrangements of traditional folk songs he’s done before. Here he’s able to tap into a more experimental, jazzy side to his songwriting, embracing sounds and rhythms unlike almost all his other records, which were previously locked beneath old world traditions. Here there’s plenty of drum machine, synthesizer and freeform improvisation popping up among the usual folk faire. This includes a morphing 11-minute jam in “April:” a mess of voice, banjo, saxophone, percussion, shrieking noise, fiddle, acoustic guitar and electric bass. The record has a large Arthur Russell vibe to it, but it’s executed in such a way that doesn’t feel biting. Amidon has already established his own voice on previous albums and here he ventures into a whole bunch of other artistic territories that set him a bit apart from Russell’s form of esoteric wizardry. It’s hard to say if this has already taken the place of my favorite Sam Amidon record, but it’s certainly up there.
(Sandy) Alex G – Rocket [Domino]
Formerly known as just Alex G, one of the easiest names in music is now one of the most inconvenient to type on (Sandy) Alex G’s new album, Rocket. Thankfully the album itself makes the name change worth it. The most obvious change on this record compared to his broad back catalog is the addition of country elements. The joke is that Sandy slapped on a cowboy hat and decided, “I’m gonna countrify the stuffing out of my next record.” That pretty much is the case with tracks like “Poison Root,” “Bobby” and “Powerful Man,” all featuring robust offerings of fiddle, much to my delight. But then the track “Brick” smashes through the previously rootsy landscape sounding like Death Grips, believe it or not. It’s brash and unrestrained, capturing an element usually exclusively found at Sandy’s live shows. After is the strangely autotuned “Sportstar,” and then back to the usual sound with “Judge.” With Rocket, Sandy has expanded his formula a bit and flexed some awesome instrumental creativity to grand results.
She-Devils – She-Devils [Secretly Canadian]
You might remember She-Devils from my first-ever Recommended Albums post in January 2016. That was for their self-titled debut EP, which I enjoyed, but its lack of polish kept me from returning to it as the year progressed. This doesn’t seem to be an issue with their self-titled debut record here, as it builds upon everything I liked from the EP and takes the band into zones that I didn’t think they’d be in this quick into their existence. She-Devils is a colorful burst of retro pop, placing my mind in some kind of 60s mod fashion/ John Waters trash utopia / jangle pop time warp, with plenty of bright patterns smashing all over the place. Lead singer Audrey Ann Boucher said that they want to make music that immerses and acts as sonic furniture for the listener to explore. Even though compositionally the music is quite simple, the overall sound is very detailed, aptly achieving what Boucher set out to do. The production is lush and provides little treats for the listener to find on repeated listens, as compared to the ragtag, bedroom sound of the EP. Overall, I gotta be pretty pleased when a band I remotely enjoy follow up with something that improves on their formula in every way.
Slowdive – Slowdive [Dead Oceans]
Ah, the time honored classic of the shoegaze revival. In 2013, we had My Bloody Valentine. In 2016, we had Lush. Now in 2017, we finally have Slowdive back. This tradition comes with a bevy of complex emotions: elation, skepticism, betrayal, confusion, excitement; the list goes on. I was skeptical about this album, but Slowdive passes the emotional gauntlet, but not right off the bat. On first listen I was pretty bored and disappointed. Nothing stuck out to me. But even after I thought I had put it away for good, something about it was calling back to me. I decided to try listening again and it seemed to unlock an auxiliary hatch in my sweet tooth, making my pleasure centers go wild. I remember not being able to listen to anything else for a few days besides this record. Tracks like “Don’t Know Why,” “Everyone Knows” and “No Longer Making Time” are beautiful and feel so good to the ears. The singles “Sugar For The Pill” and “Star Roving” are good too, but those previous three are as smooth as silk. There are a few of moments of snore-town here along with the brilliance, but for a comeback record, I’m definitely in the elated part of the gauntlet.
OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES::
- Alex Napping – Mise En Place : Getting a big Chastity Belt feeling from this. Loose rock with some floaty vocals. Sounds like a cool hang out with some good friends.
- Danny L Harle – 1UL : HUGE DANNY has four more huge bangers here. I don’t like it as much as the Broken Flowers EP from 2015, but the title track is absolute fire. He is by far my favorite member of the PC Music group.
- First Hate – A Prayer For The Unemployed : Danish duo First Hate establish themselves as the new go-to for moody, Depeche Mode mixed with Tough Alliance synth pop. Totally Euro.
- Forest Swords – Compassion : These dudes make a brand of dark ambient/electronic that no one else makes. I was turned off of these guys after seeing a really boring live show in 2014, but this album is still pretty interesting to listen to.
- Hoops – Routines : Starting with glittering sunlight and ending in a neighbor’s unlit pool, Hoops’ debut LP Routines is a lovely reminder to the yonder days of 2010, a year ripe with hazy, summer-friendly indie rock like this.
- J Hus – Common Sense : London rapper brings grime, caribbean beats, and a casual swagger on his debut album. Probably my favorite record from the UK scene. Really dynamic and fun with a great variety of beats and guest artists.
- JLin – Black Origami : Earth-shattering footwork, a style of electronic music native to Chicago. An orchestra of jackhammers, a total overload. Sounds come from an array of vibrant, unique samples. Can’t say I’ve heard another electronic album like it. Not completely for me, but clearly something worth mentioning.
- Joan Shelley – Joan Shelley : A majestic & peaceful record. Nothing that reinvents the wheel, but if you want that grade-A, real smooth & gentle, guitar-centric folk, this is that gooooooood stuff.
- Kettenkarussell – Insecurity Guard : Troublingly a vinyl-only release, this is a really pretty house record with a lot of ambient features. Fantastic organic samples interwoven throughout. Think Boards Of Canada with more of a house mindset. Think… a not-boring Tycho? Is this considered micro-house? Find it & listen.
- Leon – Bird World : Ultra fun and bright electronic album with plenty of retro video game samples throughout. A real friendly place to get lost in. Would make for an amazing soundtrack to an actual video game. Like a Yoshi’s Island made in 2017.
- Mac DeMarco – This Old Dog : Everyone’s most/least favorite slacker boy genius gets as lyrically and YMO-worship-deep as he’s ever been. Not as immediately striking as his previous records, but I can’t not love the charm of this guy.
- Natalia Lafourcade – Musas : The Mexican musician who won me & the world over in 2015 with legit monster hit “Hasta La Raíz” returns with a folkier-sounding record with Los Macorinos that’s a homage to Latin-American musical roots. Lafourcade’s voice melts me and the Spanish lyrics help maintain the reason I got a minor in the language. Gotta love a pleasant pop record that moms listen to, right?
- Nite Jewel – Real High : Silky smooth synth pop jams. Nothing that’s an immediate hit, but more a slow burner that gets under your skin and makes ya move. Although “2 Good 2 Be True” is a pretty good banger.
- Perfume Genius – No Shape : Probably the largest sounding and most sonically diverse LP in Perfume Genius’ collection. Grows on me with every listen. The strings on “Choir” are the full moon in the sky that turns me into a werewolf. As soon as I hear them I perk up and morph into a teen wolf that plays violin and is a big old nerd.
GR8 SONGS OF MAY::
I’m featuring more than one song per artist because May was that good. Also it’s my stinkin’ blog, so I can do whatever I please.
Reminder that you can follow my Best Of 2017 Spotify playlist HERE!
- Aldous Harding – “Living The Classics”
- Aldous Harding – “Swell Does The Skull”
- Carly Rae Jepsen – “Cut To The Feeling”
- Chino Amobi – “Blood Of The Covenant”
- Chino Amobi – “Paradiso”
- Danny L Harle – “1UL”
- Demen – “Illdrop”
- Domenique Dumont – “+371”
- Fazerdaze – “Lucky Girl”
- First Hate – “The One”
- Girlpool – “Your Heart”
- Grizzly Bear – “Three Rings”
- Hoops – “Burden”
- Hundred Waters – “Currency”
- Hundred Waters – “Particle”
- J Hus – “Bouff Daddy”
- J Hus – “Did You See”
- Joan Shelley – “If The Storms Never Came”
- Kirin J. Callinan – “S.A.D.”
- Land Of Talk – “This Time”
- Laurel Halo – “Jelly”
- LCD Soundsystem – “Call The Police”
- Leon – “Green Tea Forest”
- Mac DeMarco – “For The First Time”
- Natalia Lafourcade – “Tú Sí Sabes Quererme”
- Nite Jewel – “Had To Let Me Go”
- Perfume Genius – “Choir”
- Pond – “Paint Me Silver”
- Pond – “Sweep Me Off My Feet”
- Sam Amidon – “Another Story Told”
- Sam Amidon – “Juma Mountain”
- (Sandy) Alex G – “Bobby”
- (Sandy) Alex G – “Witch”
- She-Devils – “Darling”
- Slowdive – “Everyone Knows”
- Slowdive – “No Longer Making Time”
- Yaeji – “Passionfruit”