A ranked selection of notable new recordings we heard in May.
1. Sturgill Simpson, “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music”
Great country music always has one boot planted in tradition, the other planted in something else. Sturgill Simpson‘s idea of something else is something else entirely: psychotropic encounters with higher powers, weepy covers of forgotten new wave hits, transcendence through bluegrass. We’ll be lucky to hear a stronger album – country or otherwise – this year.
2. Ben Frost, “A U R O R A”
Summer is the season to immerse ourselves in illusions of danger – roller coasters, bang-bang blockbusters, and for the bravest of ears, this searing recording from composer Ben Frost that violently seeks out the intersection of panic and bliss.
3. Chain and the Gang, “Minimum Rock N Roll”
Should an album about the collapse of rock-and-roll be allowed to rock this hard? Should it be this funny? Punk provocateur Ian Svenonius (a.k.a. Chain) is in top form here, finding new rules to break and new jokes to crack.
4. Fatima Al Qadiri, “Asiatisch”
The influence of video-game music on this 32-year-old’s album doesn’t result in the typical cosmetic bleeps and bloops. Like any great video game, “Asiatisch” is imaginative, evocative, immersive and highly addictive.
5. Kolley, “Real N— S—“
Straight outta Bassfield, Miss., this small-town rapper has lungs filled with propane and a throat that has been duly scorched. On his debut mix tape, he makes it sound like it hurts to rap this well.
6. Girls in Uniform, “.”
Because we’ll never truly know how it feels to be mauled by a pack of feral Beanie Babies, this electronic duo has invented a strand of maximalist dance music that is both menacing and adorbs.
7. Derek King, “Fake ID”
Thanks to the influence of DJ Mustard, the state of California is churning out super-sleek hip-hop and R&B at an astonishing clip. Just don’t let the terrific mix tape from this teenage singer slip through your fingers. The world could use a Chris Brown that isn’t Chris Brown.
8. Cher Lloyd, “Sorry I’m Late”
Is she on the verge of greatness or a tantrum? That’s the question lodged in Lloyd’s best songs – boilerplate radio pop sung in an irritated squawk. Against all odds, it’s delightful.
9. Lykke Li, “I Never Learn”
Describing the details of your busted-up heart can be intimate stuff, but this savvy Swede’s third album sounds as big as it does confessional, like she’s performing it in the town square at 3 a.m.
10. Vic Mensa, “Down on My Luck”
The annual debate over the Song of the Summer is upon us. Need an underdog to root for? Try the new tune from this Chicago rapper who sounds like he wandered into the wrong nightclub and started singing over a jouncing house track as if it were destiny.
11. Little Dragon, “Nabuma Rubberband”
Part ’90s Janet Jackson, part ’80s Sade, Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano has one of those voices that sounds good just reading the phone book. Alas, the songs she and her bandmates have penned for their fourth album aren’t all that more interesting than the phone book, but just enough.
Listen to samples of the month’s best music below:
WARNING: Some songs contain explicit lyrics.