May 2021 was an overwhelmingly good music month, spearheaded by a handful of highly anticipated albums that lived up to, and in some cases surpassed, my lofty expectations for them. The first one here is my Album Of The Year so far!
Along with the blog, here’s a playlist of some of my favorite songs from May.
Allison Russell, Outside Child
This Montreal-born artist blessed some of the best folk and roots projects of the 2010s (like Birds of Chicago and Our Native Daughters), but her solo debut is her crowning achievement thus far. A musical chronicle of Russell’s real life self-emancipation from her abuser, and her journey toward healing, peppered with magical overtones and departures, is as inspiring and triumphant as music gets. Highlights: “4th Day Prayer,” “Hy-Brasil,” “Nightflyer”
St. Vincent, Daddy’s Home
A musical futurist pivots toward the past. Annie Clark explores her roots, on an album full of Bowie-esque tributes to gospel- and R&B-tinged 70s rock, in which she uses her father’s return from prison as a thematic center from which to examine herself, her past, and society, with her usual wry acuity. Highlights: “…At the Holiday Party,” “Down,” “Down and Out Downtown”
Squid, Bright Green Field
Forming a bridge between the mainline UK post-punk revival and its more experimental edge, the debut of this Brighton-based band is as punchy as it is ambitious, and makes satisfying, long-form heavy art rock out of sharper moments of angular, manic revelry. Highlights: “Narrator,” “Pamphlets,” “Paddling”
Sons of Kemet, Black to the Future
Activist jazz from London, Sons of Kemet is the fiercest and generally most frenetic of saxophonist and bandleader Shabaka Hutchings’s projects. On their third album that passion is vivid and unflinching, and yet many of the instrumental pieces are full of playful nuance, and take time to explore. Highlights: “Pick Up Your Burning Cross,” “Hustle,” “Let The Circle Be Unbroken”
Mdou Moctar, Afrique Victime
An increasingly prominent Tuareg singer, guitar virtuoso and bandleader from Niger, Mdou Moctar’s first album on American indie rock label Matador buzzes with life. Like most Saharan desert rock, it is protest music, and also full of joy and celebration. Highlights: “Chismitten,” “Tala Tannam,” “Afrique Victime”
Kasai Allstars, Black Ants Always Fly Together, One Bangle Makes No Sound
This giant supergroup, basically composed of five entire bands from different Congolese ethnic groups, makes complex but pleasant music with guitars, a variety percussive instruments, and electronic flourishes too. Highlights: “Olooh, a War Dance for Peace,” “Like a Dry Leaf on a Tree,” “The Ecstasy of Singing”
Black Midi, Cavalcade
The enigmatic South London band’s second album is a blend of noise rock, prog and jazz (with a bit of Primus thrown in), more melodic and approachable than their debut but still managing to be just as experimental and marvelously strange. Highlights: “Chondromalacia Patella,” “Slow,” “Ascending Forth”
Weezer, Van Weezer
What could’ve been a terrible idea is actually pretty well-executed here, as Weezer’s tribute to early 80s guitar virtuosity simply colors and informs their own sound rather than overpowering it. It’s actually more fun than it should be. Highlights: “Beginning of the End,” “The End of the Game,” “Sheila Can Do It”
Morcheeba, Blackest Blue
Three albums into the third incarnation of Morcheeba, with vocalist Skye Edwards and producer/multi-instrumentalist Ross Godfrey as a duo, their mix of chillout, blues and miscellany is as seamless and smooth as ever. Highlights: “Sounds of Blue,” “Namaste,” “The Moon”
Namir Blade & L’Orange, Imaginary Everything
A Nasvhille rapper and a North Carolina producer find incredible chemistry on this collaboration. Blade’s bars play off L’Orange’s blues, rock and funk beats so dynamically it sounds like he’s rapping over a live band. Highlights: “Nihilism,” “Corner Store Scandal,” “Pipe Dream”
Bachelor, Doomin’ Sun
The debut of his singer/songwriter super-duo sounds happily more or less just like what you’d expect from a combination of Ellen Kempner’s grunge-folk (aka Palehound) and Melita Duterte’s indie pop (aka Jay Som). Highlights: “Stay in the Car,” “Anything at All,” “Sick of Spiraling”
Gruff Rhys, Seeking New Gods
A concept album centering on a North Korean volcano, about which legends are told and which the artist anthropomorphizes here, is a robust and colorful psych-pop record with a few key standout tracks. Highlights: “Can’t Carry On,” “Loan Your Loneliness,” “Hiking in Lightning”
The all-woman Japanese indie pop group removes most of the guitars in favor of more synths, and it works for them. With a much higher signal-to-noise ratio than their first two, the band’s third album is more focused, and ultimately more engaging. Highlights: “Action,” “End,” “Maybe Chocolate Chips”
Czarface & MF Doom, Super What?
An unlikely posthumous album for legendary underground rapper MF Doom on which he shares the stage with (but more often cedes it to) fellow comic book-themed rappers Czarface, winds up being a fun li’l bonus album that nobody expected. Highlights: “Jason and the Czargonauts,” “This Is Canon Now,” “Czarwyn’s Theory of People Getting Loose”
Lord Huron, Long Lost
After the rock and distortion of 2018’s Vide Noir, the band re-establishes itself as an indie folk outfit and heads nostalgically for the Old West, on a sprawling song cycle cut with old-timey radio interludes. Highlights: “Long Lost,” “Not Dead Yet,” “Mine Forever”
Bladee, The Fool
Swedish rap pioneer Benjamin Reichwald’s 4th album is a deep dive into sad boy hip hop with subdued, melodic vocals over dynamic electro-pop instrumentation. Highlights: “Thee 9 Is Up,” “BBY,” “Wett (Water 2)”
While we’re here…
Did you enjoy this article? Awesome! It was written by a white guy privileged enough to have time listen to like 40 albums every month and write a blog as a passion project, for free.
If you are white and you are also are privileged enough to have some time on your hands, or some money to donate, please check out some anti-racism resources and help fight the good fight.
Nerding out over music is fun, but let’s not forget that we live in a burning world that needs our help! Black Lives Matter.