Late spring and early summer are pop music primetime, as Song of the Summer contenders start to jostle on the charts. In terms of albums, there’s no shortage either, particularly this week with the release of Major Lazer and Florence + the Machine’s new (and extra poppy) ones, plus anticipated debuts from Jamie xx and Girlpool. The rest of the month isn’t too shabby, either: Jenny Hval, Hudson Mohawke, Kacey Musgraves, Miguel, and more.
Florence + the Machine — How Big How Blue How Beautiful (June 2, Island)
For her third album, Florence Welch aims to rein in her Florence Welchisms: fewer references to the sea and the stuff of Stevie Nicks records, fewer sweeping ballads with the full-blown gospel choir dramatics for which she’s known. While How Big How Blue How Beautiful provides a refreshing range across pop and rock, it’s certainly the weakest Florence + the Machine album to date. Still, when Welch flings herself into her music’s utter bigness and her heartbreak’s total sorrow — like on single “What Kind of Man” or psychedelic closing track “Mother” — she reminds us that her voice is a force of nature.
Girlpool — Before The World Was Big (June 2, Wichita)
“Do you feel restless when you realize you’re alive?” wonders Girlpool’s Cleo Tucker or Harmony Tividad on “Chinatown,” the standout track from Before The World Was Big, one of the year’s strongest debuts to date. As it turns out, the album is as complicated as the existential questions Tucker and Tividad ask on it, mostly with regards to growing up. The music, not just the lyrics, raises questions, chief among them, “How does one make a quiet punk record?” The answer: by foregoing percussion altogether and harmonizing on some cosmic level not easily achieved.
Jamie xx — In Colour (June 2, Young Turks)
On his long-awaited solo debut, Jamie Smith of The xx offers up a sample-heavy array of electronic sounds that range from, “I need to be alone,” to “I need to be alone yet here I am in a crowded room,” to finally “Fuck it, I might as well enjoy myself while I’m here.” Years in the making, In Colour features three songs involving his associates in The xx — Romy and Oliver Sim — that show his past and give In Colour its quieter moments. But despite Smith’s ability to craft some of the most understated and contemplative dance music in the mainstream, his debut’s finest moments are when he turns his tasteful eye towards bangers and emerges with the dancehall-heavy group jam “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” and the breakbeat-fueled “Gosh.”
Major Lazer — Peace Is the Mission (June 2, Mad Decent)
When Diplo side project Major Lazer debuted with Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do in 2009, it would have been hard to envision the Jamaican-made dancehall project’s current direction: hip-hop-inspired bangers and ear-wormy EDM ballads led by female vocalists like Ellie Goulding, Ariana Grande, and MØ. Diplo has proven himself as one of pop’s go-to producers in the last five years, particularly for pop that’s as interesting, at least production-wise, as it is hedonistically satisfying. With Peace Is the Mission, Diplo’s talents fully reflect within Major Lazer.
Jenny Hval — Apocalypse, girl (June 9, Sacred Bones)
If 2013’s Innocence Is Kinky is the album that essentially introduced American audiences to Norwegian art-pop musician, artist, and writer Jenny Hval, then Apocalypse, girl is the album that will allow her to be truly heard. An orchestral exploration of the self that navigates through childhood memories and gender struggles, Apocalypse, girl poses such questions as, “What is the deepest human longing?”, “What is it to take care of yourself?” and most crucially, “What is soft-dick rock?”
Giorgio Moroder — Déjà Vu (June 12, RCA)
Thanks to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, disco’s greatest producer shimmied his way back into pop music two years ago. Now, at the age of 75, Giorgio Moroder turns this comeback into a full-blown third act with Déjà Vu. He taps a bevy of current stars for roles that would have previously been played by the imitable Donna Summer and her peers; naturally, some — like Sia and Kylie Minogue — fare better than others (Charli XCX, an even-more-robotic-than-usual Britney Spears on a “Tom’s Diner” cover). Still, there’s a certain curiosity in hearing a living legend trying to keep up in an electronic music landscape that’s embraced him in recent years — and more or less, succeeding.
Hudson Mohawke — Lantern (June 16, Warp)
Though hip-hop heads may forever remember Ross Bichard as the one of the producers who helped make GOOD Music’s Cruel Summer and Kanye West’s Yeezus sound so forward-thinking, the Glasgow native’s second album, Lantern, aims to rewrite the HudMo history. Lantern just may be the definitive album when it comes to blurring the lines between hip-hop and electronic music — a quest not unfamiliar to everyone from Drake to Flying Lotus. It’s HudMo who masters this balancing act, however; Antony Hegarty, Miguel, Jhené Aiko, and more assist.
Bully — Feels Like (June 23, StarTime International/Columbia)
In the last year, Nashville rockers Bully have quickly become a band to watch — a promise on which their punchy debut LP of melodic punk and ‘90s alt-revivalism delivers. Singer Alicia Bognanno’s expressive rasp teeters between angelic and bratty, rising to heights that elevates Bully’s sound.
Kacey Musgraves — Pageant Material (June 23, Mercury Nashville)
Since 2013’s Same Trailer Different Park, Kacey Musgraves has been angled as a mainstream country star that non-country fans can appreciate. But, to be sure, she is still a mainstream country star. For every Real Talk track about smoking dope, marrying whoever one damn well pleases, and bucking the pageantry required of women daring to infiltrate the bro-country ranks, Musgraves has another about more down-home, family-minded concerns. As far as the music’s concerned, Musgraves hasn’t exactly reached Lucinda heights of fucking shit up, so her route’s more in line with classic country reverence her on Pageant Material, recorded live and with loads of energy.
Miguel — Wildheart (June 30, RCA)
Of all the albums coming out this summer, the third LP from Miguel is the one I’m excited to hear the most. With 2012’s Kaleidoscope Dreams, he pushed the creative limits of what mainstream R&B could be, by making the electronic and psychedelic touches more prominent without totally abandoning the genre’s traditions. Oftentimes, his approach also involved turning up the volume on what’s expected; it’s “fucking,” not “making love.” While I haven’t heard Wildheart yet, I’m hopeful based on the sounds coming from his surprise 2014 EP and the news that he’s working with DJ Premier and Pharrell (in addition to Kaleidoscope Dreams producers).
Also out this month:
Daughn Gibson — Carnation (June 2, Sub Pop)
Sun Kil Moon — Universal Themes (June 2, Calo Verde)
Ryn Weaver — The Fool (June 16, Mad Love/Interscope)
Neil Young — The Monsanto Years (June 30, Reprise)