The Best Albums of May 2021

Best albums of may 2021

Five months through the year and a future with live music is once again in sight. We’re feeling optimistic right now, but maybe that’s just because we have so much excellent music flooding our way at the moment. No need to make it any more complicated than that, so here are 12 great new albums and one outstanding reissue to check out from May, in case you missed any of them.


black midi – Cavalcade

(Rough Trade)

What We Said: Aurally, Cavalcade is nearly always dense, experimental and full of tempo fluctuations—a feast for the ears. – Emily Reily

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CHAI – WINK

(Sub Pop)

What We Said: WINK is full of life, hope, and an excitement for what’s still to come. – Virginia Croft

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Crumb – Ice Melt

(Self-released)

On their second album, Ice Melt, Crumb lean deeper into their cocoon of dreary, jaded bedroom pop. It’s perfect for hiding out from the rain, impending doom, the real world—everything that casts a gloomy shadow. Opener “Up & Down” features their signature wavy take on pop, weaving in and out of synths and dreamy vocals. “BNR” introduces a more retro tone, almost presenting an upbeat track through a constant major key and washed out guitars. Ice Melt paints a landscape exclusive to the band, providing a full musical escape. – Virginia Croft


Esoctrilihum – Dy’th Requiem for the Serpent Telepath

(I, Voidhanger)

Chalk it up to a roster full of overachievers, but Italy’s artful metal label I, Voidhanger is having a hell of a year—the second in a row, truthfully, which saw albums like Esoctrilihum’s Eternity of Shaog end up on our very own Best Metal Albums of 2020 list. Its follow-up is seemingly even bigger, weirder and more diverse in its approach, fusing black metal with death metal, gothic rock with ambience and noise, resulting in an epic journey through supernatural darkness. It’s a work of grand vision from a French artist whose identity has primarily been shrouded in mystery. But the persona doesn’t seem so significant when the end result is a work of metal that aims for something this exploratory and boundless. – Jeff Terich


Fucked Up – Year of the Horse

(FU/Tankcrimes)

What We Said: There is mystery here, certainly, elements that would be impossible to describe but instead must be ruminated upon, symbols and developments that are for the innermost heart and not the critic’s pen, but the purpose of this mystery is never obscure. You know in minutes why this record exists and what they are trying to convey. – Langdon Hickman

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Grave Miasma – Abyss of Wrathful Deities

(Dark Descent)

What We Said: Grave Miasma deftly move between genre-minted rapid fire blast beats, thunderous crash cymbal hits, and spine shattering distortion. Every guitar pummeled, wrangled into a soundscape that’s suffocating in dexterity and articulation. – Brian Roesler

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Iceage – Seek Shelter

(Mexican Summer)

What We Said: As Iceage continue to evolve as a band, they’re no longer content to remain stoic in the face of the chaos around them. The songs on Seek Shelter seem to invite the audience to lean in a little closer, even as they aim for something bigger. – Jeff Terich

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Sunny Jain – Phoenix Rise

(Sinj)

The lead drummer in the band Red Baraat, Sunny Jain uses music as a platform to promote social justice, education and musical diversity while stuck in lockdown. A very loose album, Phoenix Rise started as fragments of improvisations and collaborations with other artists like Vijay Iyer and Joe Russo and turned into a multi-cultural experience of colors and musical flavors. From opening track “Heroes,” the album offers up African-, Middle Eastern-, Indian-, and Asian-inspired elements and themes. Each song is energetic and exciting; global music at its best—sharing and cultivating styles and mixing genres to create new sounds to sink into or jam out to. Phoenix Rise is never dull, pushing forward and being unapologetic in what Jain believes in, both in terms of the music and the message of social justice. – Konstantin Rega


Manchester Orchestra – The Million Masks of God

(Loma Vista)

What We Said: Lyrically, thematically, The Million Masks of God is an album that is split between dualities. On one half, there is the apparent countenance of death and grief, loss and sorrow, yet on the other there’s kinder musings, the nature of being a parent, and examining who exactly we are. – Brian Roesler

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Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime

(Matador)

What We Said: As much as Afrique Victime nods to the rock ‘n’ roll canon, its unique fusion more importantly adds something new to it, which is as much the sound of the music as the community behind it. It’s Mdou Moctar’s name on the album, but as guitar heroes go, he’s less interested in drawing the focus on himself as he is that of his home city of Agadez, its men, women and children, its needs and its struggles, as well as the sense of family among Tuareg people. – Jeff Terich

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Sons of Kemet – Black to the Future

(Impulse!)

What We Said: At their core, Sons of Kemet is a quartet, and it’s what they create between the four of them that ultimately make the 11 stunning songs on Black to the Future what they are. But they’re not fixed either, proving that the size and shape of the ensemble can expand and contract, ebb and flow, but the power and poignancy of what they craft doesn’t waver. – Jeff Terich

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Zao – The Crimson Corridor

(Observed/Observer)

Zao is a band with an unusual history, having shown a profound growth from metalcore devotees to blackened/death/prog madness. The Crimson Corridor represents a year of frustration spent during the pandemic—the senselessness, vitriol, and existential terror of it all came together to make an album that is both truly terrifying and somber. From pinch harmonics guitars to gutting double bass inclusion, The Crimson Corridor has a specific and peculiar texture to it. One that helps it stand leagues above its contemporaries, pushing past any allusions of metal core and landing squarely in the bowels of metal itself. – Brian Roesler

Best Reissues

Can – Live in Stuttgart 1975

(Mute)

Live albums tend to be most appealing when they capture a uniquely special event that won’t or even can’t be replicated, or depending on what generation in which you fall, live shows you never would have been able to see in your lifetime. The first installment of Mute Records’ newly unearthed series of previously unreleased Can live albums, Live in Stuttgart 1975, is essentially both. Recorded on Halloween night in 1975, following the release of the band’s album Landed, Live in Stuttgart isn’t merely a live adaptation of the band’s studio material, but something else altogether. Its five lengthy pieces find the band engaged primarily in improvisational psychedelic freakout mode. You can pick up pieces of grooves here and there that recall bits of “Bel Air” or “Oh Yeah,” but by and large Can ride a cosmic wave whose gravitational pull is created by their psychic musical chemistry. You truly get the sense of how in tune with each other these musicians were when given the freedom to explore wholly uncharted terrain. At its most abstract it feels like an electric Miles Davis performance without any traditional jazz instruments, and at its most accessible, it’s an expression of freedom and joy. Much of Can’s time spent together was spent making music that had no direct predecessors in rock, and to hear Live in Stuttgart, that seemingly included their own catalog as well. – Jeff Terich


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