The 10 Albums You Need to Hear in May


If you’re not listening to something new this May, do me a favor and ask yourself this: do you even like music? That’s how jam-packed the month is with new albums. It was difficult to pick just ten, so our “also out” section on the last page really is worth your time. Let’s start with the beginning of the month and work our way toward June.

Lykke Li — I Never Learn (May 5)

With each new album, Lykke Li invents new ways to musically mourn botched romances. On her third LP, the Swedish dark-pop witch tries to find the light like her name’s Olivia Pope. The buoyancy of these woes, of course, is in large part due to the big-ballad synth pop within which Li shines brightly. “Just Like a Dream” is like standing in the sun, wind whipping through your hair, arms out like you’re Jack and Rose. “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone” is like the early morning sunshine that creeps through the bedroom blinds when you’d rather it still be night, where your acoustic-strummed sadness would be better suited. — Jillian Mapes

tUnE-yArDs — Nikki Nack (May 6)

There’s no doubt that Merrill Garbus is a remarkable talent — her hyperactive, all-action music sounds like pretty much no one else, and she has a voice that’s more soul diva than bedroom indie experimentalist. If she’s undermined by anything, it’s her studied, determined quirkiness (that band name, for Christ’s sake). Both her talents and her faults are out in full force on this album, which is streaming at NPR right now. It’s both exhilarating and exhausting. Garbus’ work is definitely an acquired tastes, but this isn’t a bad place to start. — Tom Hawking

Nikki Lane — All or Nothin’ (May 6)

From Kacey Musgraves to Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Alynda Lee Segarra, there’s been no recent shortage of female country singers who far transcend the genre by tackling tough topics and keeping their songs candid. Musically, Nashville’s Nikki Lane leans more rock than Musgraves and Segarra. Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach, who guests on and produces her sophomore LP, All or Nothin’, aids with that onslaught of 1970s Laurel Canyon guitars, but it’s the attitude that makes Lane worth your time. Lyrically, she doesn’t shy away from the hard-livin’, tail-chasin’ antics of her outlaw country elders. Imagine Dolly Parton wore spurs and had one-night stands. — JM

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart — Days of Abandon (May 13)

Indie-pop purities Pains return this month with their third album and a new lineup surrounding frontman Kip Berman. What hasn’t changed, however, is the Brooklyn band’s slavish commitment to pep and hooks. The Pains still sound like your favorite ‘80s jangle-pop band in the midst of a sugar rush, the soundtrack to the 21st-century John Hughes teen rom-com we’ll never get. The dramatic builds on songs like “Eurydice” pair nicely with the quirkiness you’d expect from a track called “Art Smock,” making for a nicely paced, well-rounded jaunt. — JM

Little Dragon — Nabuma Rubberband (May 13)

Why isn’t there a name for this genre of music? Little Dragon’s music falls somewhere into a space that includes artists like Glasser and Toro y Moi — it’s all spacious, reverb-laden production and shiny pop melodies, leaning at times toward the downtempo end of the spectrum, but still with plenty of thrills for those who love a catchy melody and a danceable beat. Your tolerance for this Swedish quartet will ultimately depend on your tolerance for slick, highly produced pop, but if such things are your cup of tea, there’s a lot to like here. — TH

Swans — To Be Kind (May 13)

Swans haven’t really put a foot wrong since their 2010 renaissance, but the first we heard of this record — single “A Little God in My Hands” — was distressingly reminiscent of ’90s funk metal, a genre that the world never really needs to hear again. The good news is that the rest of To Be Kind doesn’t follow suit — there’s impressive diversity demonstrated, although there’d have to be, since this album is two hours long. It doesn’t have the coherence and/or relentless intensity of The Seer, but there’s enough here — especially the half-hour-long “Bring The Sun / Toussaint L’Ouverture” — to reward devotees of music that sounds like a large angry man punching you in the head repeatedly. — TH

Amen Dunes – Love (May 13)

On his fifth album under the Amen Dunes pseudonym, Sacred Bones’ Damon McMahon learns to stop worrying and embraces a more positive strand of woozy folk-rock. It’s as wide open as you’d hope an album titled Love would be, filled with sweet piano tracks that nod to Brian Wilson, early AnCo-style freak-folk, lo-fi power garage, and lush instrumental menageries from Colin Stetson and Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Efrim Menuck and Dave Bryant. It’s deeply personal music, the sort of thing to soundtrack introspective walks where you’re content to get lost. But this music also harkens back to when folk and rock met for the first time, and it feels so immensely communal. — JM

White Sea — In Cold Blood (May 22)

On her LP debut as White Sea, M83’s Morgan Kibby mixes a flair for the eerie side of drama with pop sounds from throughout the ages. She uses her powerhouse voice to detail the uglier details of a traumatic breakup and the subsequent healing of scars, complete with the kinds of lines you replay in your head as you drift off to sleep. But it’s powerful pop, and not just in its themes. Cementing the effort are Kibby’s self-produced synth melodies, which teeter between disco drama, Prince’s most playful work, and the darkness of Nine Inch Nails. It would be easy for Kibby to go overboard here, musically speaking, but In Cold Blood is just enough. — JM

Owen Pallett — In Conflict (May 27)

You never really know what to expect from an Owen Pallett record: titles that end in “.exe”? Narratives set in a fake country called Spectrum? Songs named after the circles of magic in Dungeons & Dragons? In Conflict has none of that — indeed, it’s probably the most accessible thing that Pallett has ever done. This isn’t any sort of veiled criticism; this album is a thoroughly enjoyable ride, reminiscent at times of the similarly erudite pop of Flavorwire favorite Kishi Bashi (who also has a joyful new album, Lighght, out May 13). It should continue the rise and rise of one of the music world’s more idiosyncratic talents. — TH

Also out this month

Lily Allen — Sheezus (May 6) Allen’s third album is a smug collection of cultural critiques and blissful domesticity that proves that both go down a little smoother with her signature sarcasm.

Michael Jackson — Xscape (May 9) Timbaland and L.A. Reid team up for yet another posthumous MJ album; yeah, I’m not enthused.

Chromeo — White Women (May 12) Smart people need goofy, hedonistic tunes to dance to, too. Solange, Toro y Moi, Solange, and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig make appearances.

Sylvan Esso — Sylvan Esso (May 13) Durham duo Sylvan Esso have a knack for matching up ass-shaking beats with moody, stripped-down vocals, making for that perfect combination of sweet and salty, hard and soft on its strong debut. Great tunes for getting a party started without assaulting your guests.

La Sera — Hour of the Dawn (May 13) Ex-Vivian Girl Katy Goodman’s third album under the La Sera name is a flurry of surf-pop and lo-fi garage punk that’ll keep the smile on your face even after you fall off your bike and skin your knee.

The Black Keys — Turn Blue (May 13) The pride of Akron, Ohio return with their eighth album, which mines ’70s-rock album cuts more than the radio-friendly pop hooks of the Keys’ recent history.

Tom the Lion — Sleep (May 13) Emotional British singer-songwriter fare with a slant towards big U2 choruses and quieter electronic moments à la James Blunt.

Coldplay — Ghost Stories (May 19) Chris Martin’s heart got Gooped; it seems like he made a Bon Iver-esque break-up album to work through it.

Conor Oberst — Upside Down Mountain (May 20) The Bright Eyes leader offers up candid observations of what is no longer a tortured life, but merely a slightly aching one. Nature imagery is employed; guitar jamming a la Paul Simon and George Harrison is out in full force; brass, back-up singers, and touches of vintage country round things out.

Robyn and Royksopp — Do It Again EP (May 26) While we continue to breathlessly await another entry in Robyn’s Body Talk series, her new EP with Norwegian electronic duo Royksopp will hold us over.

— JM