10 Albums You Need to Hear in May

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As we stare down May, let’s take a look at which albums are worth your time, your ears — and hey, let’s be hopeful — your money this month. With excellent sophomore albums on deck from Torres, Joanna Gruesome, Tanlines, and METZ, May seems to be the time for getting better acquainted with indie bands who’ve been around and buzzing for a few years. Also worth a listen: Killers frontman Brandon Flowers’ second solo jaunt back to the future, Shamir’s post-genre debut, Holly Herndon’s latest experiment, and Best Coast’s most ambitious album yet.

Torres — Sprinter (May 5, Partisan)

On her second full-length, Mackenzie Scott — who records as Torres — abandons the quieter folk-rock inclinations of her promising 2013 self-titled debut in favor of a blistering distortion-rock record, co-produced by PJ Harvey associate Rob Ellis. The task at hand, however, calls for this treatment: it is here that Scott cuts painfully deep into the isolation, fear, and anger that so often accompanies the journey to find oneself, oftentimes on the way out youth’s door. (Listen to Sprinter now via NPR First Listen.) — Jillian Mapes

Best Coast — California Nights (May 5, Harvest Records)

“I’m a big girl now, but I don’t feel much older,” Best Coast singer and guitarist Bethany Cosentino declares on “When Will I Change,” a song that sits at the crux of her band’s third full-length. If the music is any indication, Cosentino has matured quite a bit in the five years since her lo-fi surf-rock celebration of weed-smoking, cat-loving, crush-filled youth, Best Coast’s debut Crazy For You. Cosentino and her partner in crime, Bobb Bruno, get back to some of that unfiltered frustration on California Nights, but the music has abandoned the bedroom for the arena. (Listen to California Nights now via Tumblr.) — JM

Mac McCaughan — Non-Believers (May 5, Merge)

Mac McCaughan — Merge co-founder, Superchunk leader, and solo songwriter under the Portastatic alias — has somehow found the time to record a proper solo debut under his given name, and it’s unlike anything he’s ever done: it’s an ’80s record complete with drum machines and synthesizers. Mixed with his classic take on indie rock in its most traditional incarnation, Non-Believers flips the script on what you’d expect from McCaughan without abandoning what he does best: power-pop gems. (Listen to Non-Believers now via NPR First Listen.) — JM

METZ — II (May 5, Sub Pop)

The experience of seeing Metz live is best approximated by standing in front of a jet engine with a stonking hangover, so it’s unsurprising that II — which is, as the name might suggest, their second full-length album — is not something to tackle if your ears are feeling fragile. Happily, though, this album is a lot more interesting than its predecessor, in that it contains actual songs, which are good! That might feel unfair to their previous work, but until now Metz have been, first and foremost, about sound — II feels like the next step in the evolution of a band who might yet prove more interesting than they appeared at first sight. (Listen to II now via NPR First Listen.) — Tom Hawking

The Tallest Man on Earth — Dark Bird Is Home (May 12, Dead Oceans)

Though the most frequent comparison he’s received throughout his career has been early Bob Dylan, Kristian Matsson — who records as The Tallest Man on Earth — sounds more like orchestral, folk-tinged rockers like The National and The War on Drugs on his cathartic new album than ever before. Of course, this is not to say that Matsson isn’t skilled at a more stripped-down, finger-picked folk tale (“Singers” and “Beginners” the best among these) or a banjo-tinged stomper, but over the course of four albums, Matsson has carved out a more complex sound that serves him well. (Listen to Dark Bird Is Home now via NPR First Listen.) — JM

Shamir — Ratchet (May 19, XL)

On his first LP, Vegas-bred newcomer Shamir Bailey finishes what he started on the post-genre menagerie that was his promising debut EP, last year’s Northtown. Ratchet is one of the year’s most energizing and eclectic listens, straddling the lines between disco, house, punk, pop, and R&B, all led by Bailey’s captivating and androgynous vocals. Just 20, Shamir captures the extreme highs and lows of youth by alternating Sylvester-esque polish with James Murphy’s raw approach to dance music. — JM

Holly Herndon — Platform (May 19, RVNG Intl/4AD)

One of the most fascinating things about electronic music is that it is, very literally, attempting to render human emotions through cold, dead machines. In lesser hands, the sort of abstract, intellectual sounds that Holly Herndon produces would feel more like an exercise in science than music, the way that some of the work produced by someone like, say, Stockhausen does. But there’s something about Herndon’s production that imbues even the most arhythmic and strange noises with a sort of warmth, a feeling that there is humanity underpinning even the most mechanical of sounds. What we’ve heard of Platform so far — singles “Home,” “Chorus” and “Interference” — suggest that this album will be taking this idea further, exploring the idea of making music on computers, of finding self-expression through the same machines that are in many ways tools of subjugation and control. TH

Joanna Gruesome — Peanut Butter (May 19, Slumberland Records)

If you thought feminist punks Joanna Gruesome packed it all in on their 2013 debut, the Welsh band’s second album might make you dizzy. With the majority of tracks under two minutes each, Joanna Gruesome work in hyper-speed to make their sound both more melodic, hook-filled, jangly, and yet, totally turbulent, oftentimes all at once (see: “I Don’t Wanna Relax,” “Jerome”). Singer Alanna McArdle’s vocals have never sounded prettier, which is no easy feat when your band’s half hardcore. — JM

Tanlines — Highlights (May 19, Matador)

In addition to the best band website to ever exist, Tanlines have readied a great new album that shows off the New York duo’s rock’n’roll chops more than ever. On Highlights, Tanlines becomes less of a dance band exploring the existential unknown through global beats, instead focusing confidently on love songs led by guitar and accompanied by subtle and stylish electronics. — JM

Brandon Flowers — The Desired Effect (May 19, Island)

Killers frontman Brandon Flowers returns with his second solo record, following up 2010’s Flamingo with a synth-driven pop-rock album that feels decidedly modern in that’s it sounds decidedly Eighties. With the assistance of ‘It’ producer Ariel Rechtshaid (Haim, Vampire Weekend, Charli XCX) and an eclectic cast of appearances (Bruce Hornsby, a Pet Shop Boy, and a Dirty Projector), Flowers lets his dramatic whims run wild through pop’s most over-the-top decade. — JM

Also out this month:

My Morning Jacket — The Waterfall (May 4, ATO/Capitol)

Mumford and Sons — Wilder Mind (May 4, Glassnote)

Django Django — Born Under Saturn (May 5, Ribbon Music)

Snoop Dogg — BUSH (May 12, Doggystyle/I Am OTHER/Columbia)

A$AP Rocky — At.Long.Last.A$AP (May 12, A$AP Worldwide/RCA)

Hot Chip — Why Make Sense? (May 19, Domino)

The Vaccines — English Graffiti (May 26, Columbia)