Music Suitcase: Favorite Albums of May 2022
Summer approaches, and so do the albums that will help define it. Quite a few celebrated, established artists dropped new albums this month and did not disappoint. It was a particularly good month for hip hop, though my wheelhouse of indie rock is well-represented here too, and there’s a good mix overall.
Along with the blog, here’s a playlist with 42 of my favorite songs from May!
Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers
The most important rapper of his generation uses his 5th album to dig deep into musical adventurism and self-exploration. Black trauma, personal blindspots, family historiess, and the influence of Eckhart Tolle are at the fore lyrically. The beats — adventurous, frenetic, challenging, and sometimes chaotic — are less radio-friendly 2017's DAMN., and that much more fun for it. Highlights: “United in Grief,” “Mr. Morale,” “Worldwide Steppers,” “Mother I Sober”
Dehd, Blue Skies
Chicago trio Dehd play deceptively simple, unprentious, surf punk-y indie pop, with some ineffable secret ingredient that turns their songs into magical earworms that never let go. And they just keep getting better. All three members do some lead vocals, but Emily Kempf takes the lion’s share this time, which is a great move. These are songs you sing along to before you’ve even heard the whole chorus. Highlights: “Bad Love,” “Clear,” “Window”
Ibeyi, Spell 31
Witchy, feminist, multi-lingual Afro-Cuban art pop from Paris, the third album from twins Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz may be their most concentrated blast of talent yet, as they dig into themes of sisterhood — Ibeyi means “twins” in Yoruba — over the course of just 25 minutes of magic. Highlights: “Made Of Gold,” “Sangoma,” “Lavendar & Red Roses”
Florence + The Machine, Dance Fever
I’m a hard sell on Jack Antofoff production but in this case, it’s led to a fantastic fusion of Florence Welch’s indie rocker and pop star sensibilities. Most exciting of all, tough, is that Welch is writing lyrics that feel just as potent as her voice, on her most personal and direct record yet. Highlights: “Daffodil,” “Heaven Is Here,” “Choreomania”
Belle and Sebastian, A Bit of Previous
Aging gracefully, the Scotish band uses its bright, colorful melodies to compliment and elucidate, rather than contrast, the weight of its themes. Their 10th album is all over the indie pop shop, musically speaking; each song is just what it needs to be. Highlights: “Do It For Your Country,” “Unneessary Drama,” “Sea of Sorrow”
Arcade Fire, WE
The Montreal band’s back-to-basics 6th album thrives on lyrics that embody universal struggles, and melodies that cut right through them. The sounds is clean, and clear, and the band’s return to multi-part songs, recalling their debut, and that adds to the album’s sense of cohesion. Highlights: “The Lightning,” “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid),” “Age of Anxiety”
Kevin Morby, This Is A Photograph
The Texan singer/songwriter explores his roots, on an album centered around family, aging and time, and digs into his southern heritage as well, sprinkling in more Americana as usual. He retains his captivating Cohen-meets-Dylan mystique throughout. Highlights: “This Is A Photograph,” “Rock Bottom,” “A Random Act of Kindness”
700 Bliss, Nothing To Declare
On their second album together, Zubedya Muzeyyen (aka DJ Haram) elevates Camae Ayewa’s fierce, avant-garde hip hop with beats that are as hard-hitting as they are experimental, and punchier and more infectious than a lot of Ayewa’s more abstract work as Moor Mother. Highlights: “Sixteen,” “Bless Grips,” “No More Kings”
Everything Everything, Raw Data Feel
Moving almost entirely into electronic instrumentation, the Manchester band blends lush, colorful art rock with high energy, synth-driven indie pop on an album that becomes even more fascinating when you learn that the lyrics were partly written by an AI — you really wouldn’t know it otherwise. Highlights: “My Computer,” “Bad Friday,” “Leviathan”
Wilco, Cruel Country
Having spent much of the 21st century morphing into an all-American straightahead rock band, Wilco return to their alt-country roots, and they take their time with it. This double album is a slow burn — reflective, and often regretful and sad, but artful, and patient in its yearning for a kinder world. Highlights: “Sad Kind of Way,” “Falling Apart (Right Now),” “The Universe”
Monophonics, Sage Motel
The sophomore album of this San Francisco retro R&B act cranks up the psychedelia, almost splitting the differenece between soul and psych rock on this concept album about a fictitious motel. Highlights: “Love You Better,” “Shape Of My Teardrops,” “Warpaint”
Jukebox The Ghost, Cheers
The Washington DC trio’s 6th album of colorful, emotional, piano pop is the first they’ve recorded and produced themselves. They continue to be pretty obsessed with Queen, and it looks good on them. Highlights: “Ramona,” “Brass Band,” “Cheers!”
Tank and the Bangas, Red Balloon
While much of this New Orleans outfit’s debut is full of party-friendly, summer-y hip hop, its edges are just quirky enough, soulful enough and off-kilter enough to transcend the party scene and say something special. Highlights: “Stolen Fruit,” “Oak Tree,” “Communion In My Cup”
Sharon Van Etten, We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong
Like her last one, the singer/songwriter’s 6th album is an emotionally resonant, atmospheric indie folk-pop record with a broad sonic palate. On this one, she played almost every instrument, and recorded it in her home studio. Highlights: “Home To Me,” “Born,” “Come Back”
Quelle Chris, Deathfame
This slow-rolling, lo-fi underround hip hop album showcases Chris’s talents as a beatmaker as much as an emcee. Muddy, dub-heavy, quirky production rules the day, though the lyrics are a nice mixture of humor and social comentary too. Highlights: “Alive Ain’t Always Living,” “Cui Prodest,” “King in Black”
Porridge Radio, Water Slide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky
Theatrical, gothic post-punk from Brighton, this band‘s 3rd album offers a more expansive sound and devotes it entirely to supporting the dramatic and emotive vocals of Dana Margolin. Highlights: “Trying,” U Can Be Happy If You Want To,” “Rotten”
If you’d like to hear just the best of the best, here’s a playlist with 42 of my favorite songs from May, which includes selections from the albums above, and some great songs from albums that didn’t make onto my list too — Playlists: Music Suitcase May ‘22
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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.