The best albums of May 2017

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best albums of May Slowdive

Summer’s almost here, but before we get to the summer jams, it’s time to survey the best music we’ve heard in the past month. In the last 31 days we’ve seen some truly remarkable new music from electronic innovators, art pop singer/songwriters, noise-rock weirdos and even a reunited band of shoegaze legends. Here are our picks for the best albums of May 2017, complete with streams of each record.

5-5-forest-swordsForest SwordsCompassion
(Ninja Tune)

The title Compassion initially seems a bit curious for a Forest Swords album; Matthew Barnes’ dense compositions to date have been far from upbeat affairs, instead leaning toward austere, eerie atmosphere to evoke a sense of mystique and darkness. Compassion is no different in that sense, but the melancholy use of vocal samples, not unlike Blanck Mass’ similar efforts earlier this year, finds Compassion headed toward a somewhat different aim. It’s an album about humanity and vulnerability, the likes of which are more crucial to protect than ever in an age when actual compassion is in short supply. It’s as intense and ominous an album as Barnes has ever released, but it’s also one that reminds us there’s a heart beating amid all that darkness. – Jeff Terich

Girlpool Powerplant reviewGirlpoolPowerplant

Girlpool’s second studio album, Powerplant, opens with “123.” The leadoff track is a natural bridge that picks up exactly where 2015’s Before the World Was Big left off. “123” initially sounds like a self knockoff of “Chinatown,” but the LA duo’s downtuned standard begins to bloom around the fifty second mark. Drums kick in and Powerplant kicks off, swelling through waves of feedback and distortion that fill the whitespace their debut left behind. Through gentle, whisper-sung harmonies, Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad trade stark angst for lyrical ambiguity, poetically developing their intense vulnerability and infectious melodies.- Patrick Pilch

Gnarwhal Crucial reviewGnarwhalCrucial
(Exploding in Sound)

In May, Nashville’s genre bending punk duo Gnarwhal graced us with Crucial, the band’s excellent third studio album. Reduced to a two-piece after numerous lineup changes over the course of almost a decade, drummer Tyler Coburn and guitarist/vocalist Chappy Hull remain as cornerstones for the math-oriented noise rock project. Crucial blends the sonic values of post-hardcore with knotted, turbulent arrangements, battered out through highly calculated riffs at lightning paces that beg for instant replays. The album transcends genres at the same rate Gnarwhal surpasses their contemporaries, making Crucial one of the most dynamic releases of 2017. – Patrick Pilch

best albums of May JlinJlinBlack Origami
(Planet Mu)

Between the emotive assemblages of Philadelphia’s Moor Mother and the footwork-as-catapult heard here from Jerilynn Patton, electronic music seems to finally wear a long overdue #blackgirlmagic label. Jlin stretches, distorts, folds, and redirects the component parts of high-speed juke music, resulting in a beautifully mutated creature ready to leave its Chicago nest and fascinate the world at large. Real talk, these beats change the game in a manner we haven’t seen since watershed moments from the likes of Aphex Twin and The Prodigy. – Adam Blyweiss

best albums of May ParamoreParamore After Laughter
(Fueled by Ramen)

In a bewildering turn of events, late 2000s mall punk mainstays Paramore mark their 12th year together with a revived lineup and a sleek new left-field pop record. Following multiple bitter breakups and departures, Paramore’s rebranding comes with a synth-pop overhaul. The new wave approach is daring and probably ill-advised, but somehow, it works. The band’s first dance-leaning record is packed with chart-worthy contenders like “Rose-Colored Boy” and “Idle Worship,” with lead single “Hard Times” already hitting number 90 on the Billboard Hot 100. – Patrick Pilch


best albums of May Perfume GeniusPerfume GeniusNo Shape

It’s remarkable to think that Mike Hadreas made such an impressive debut album with Learning in 2010, an album that comprised little more than voice and piano. Perfume Genius has come incredibly far since then, expanding in sound and ambition, hitting a personal best with 2014’s darkly electronic-tinged Too Bright only to challenge that peak with the newly released No Shape. The album finds Hadreas delivering some of his most affecting songs wrapped up in the biggest arrangements of his career, yielding an album that could reasonably be compared to Kate Bush and not set off any hyperbole alarms. This is as magnificent as art pop gets. – Jeff Terich

(Sandy) Alex G rocket review(Sandy) Alex GRocket

For the past seven years, Philadelphia native (Sandy) Alex G has churned out album after album of bedroom-born masterpieces in prolific fashion. Each release grows and implodes upon the singer songwriter’s self referential catalogue, yielding critical and cult praise among insightful fan analysis. Rocket is a thoughtful, introspective release, and quite possibly the 24-year-old Alex Giannascoli’s best yet. Through riveting lyrical storytelling and innate sense of melody, (Sandy) fashions out one of the most diverse and progressive statements for indie rock in recent memory. – Patrick Pilch

best albums of May SlowdiveSlowdiveSlowdive
(Dead Oceans)

My Bloody Valentine’s triumphant comeback album in 2013 proved that shoegaze could adapt to the 21st century well before Slowdive did, but the latter’s return was no less elegant and breathtaking. Their self-titled album, arriving 22 years after 1995’s Pygmalion, is both a classic Slowdive album in every respect and something different entirely. It’s an album of contrasts, rocking harder and booming with greater impact than past albums, yet in some of its prettiest moments it’s utterly weightless, like Sigur Rós with more of a pop sensibility. And about that pop sensibility: “Star Roving” is the catchiest song the band’s ever written, suggesting that not only did the band adapt with the times but develop some fun new skills in the process. – Jeff Terich

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