The 5 Best Albums of May 2016

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The 5 Best Albums of May 2016

Music is ageless. Albums released decades ago (and the artists who crafted them) can still sound right and fitting today. And sometimes, even the newest, youngest songwriters make music as road-worn and wise as their idols from generations prior. In May, we saw examples of both, from Bob Dylan to relative newcomer Car Seat Headrest. Check out the highest rated albums we reviewed that were released in May, and let us know your favorites in the comments below.

5. Bob Dylan: Fallen Angels
Rating: 8.5
If you look at it from a certain perspective, it’s tempting to consider Bob Dylan’s career as little more than a series of caprices, impulses and perverse shifts in direction, designed as much to baffle and infuriate his listeners as entertain them. But that would be a mistake and a terrible misreading of what’s driven Mr. Dylan for the past 50 years or so. Fallen Angels, his 37th studio album, is just one more in so many ways. No big deal.

Yet, Dylan takes on each song on this covers record with complete sincerity. When it works, he remains a great—if somewhat ragged—singer and interpreter of the emotions suggested by each work. What Dylan does with his voice is obviously different than what Sinatra set out to do with his, but their perspectives are equally interesting. Sinatra was silk and sophistication, making the hurts expressed by the narrator of his songs an error, a mistake of outrageous fortune. Singing the same lyrics, Dylan’s the down-and-out guy looking for an even break; victory would be a greater surprise than all the shit that’s raining down on him. Given all the bad luck the guy is singing about, we’re not surprised when he occasionally slides off-key. He doesn’t have Sinatra’s walls of polish and protection. They sing the same songs, but the outcomes are different. —Douglas Heselgrave

Read his full review here.

4. Fruit Bats: Absolute Loser
Rating: 8.5
Though it sounds perfectly natural in the line of succession of Fruit Bats albums, it’s the five-year hiatus preceding Absolute Loser that makes all the difference. That album, as cohesive and strong top to bottom as anything frontman Eric D. Johnson has made, gathers its sense of purpose from the sort of self-reflection and search for meaning that caused Johnson to put Fruit Bats on the shelf after 2011’s Tripper. But Absolute Loser unfolds as a rock-solid example of what Johnson has done best for more than 15 years. Although the album stacks more of its mellower songs toward the end—trading some of the enthusiastic spirit Johnson brings to Fruit Bats’ return for a finale that sounds thoroughly peaceful—in the end, anyone who’s tapped feet or nodded along to Fruit Bats in the past will find plenty to embrace with this new batch of familiar, comfortable tunes. —Eric Swedlund

Read his full review here.

3. Chance the Rapper: Coloring Book
Rating: 8.6
Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper’s third mixtape and his second project distributed via Apple, is deafeningly religious, brimming with testimonies, exaltations and blessings that are loud enough to rock a megachurch and its town-sized parking lot. Purged of the drug-addled skepticism of Acid Rap and pulsing with the free-wheeling spirit and zeal that bolstered Surf, Coloring Book is a breezy listen: direct and purposeful.

Forgoing a narrative of redemption, repentance or struggle, Chance spends the bulk of the album insisting that he’s already found salvation. But while the volume of Chance’s piety may feel like evangelism, Coloring Book is far from gospel rap. Chance The Rapper feels that he has been blessed with family, friends, talent and opportunity, and few things give him more joy than extolling those blessings. This isn’t the music of someone who’s been born again. It’s the music of someone who is constantly thrilled to still be living. —Stephen F. Kearse

Read his full review here.

2. Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool
Rating: 9.2
Radiohead have seemingly run out of reinventions—but that could be for the best. A Moon Shaped Pool, the quintet’s ninth LP, is more summary than new chapter. Thom Yorke’s oceanic piano loops, half-mumbled falsettos and reversed vocal wails recall the insular Kid A-Amnesiac era, while Greenwood’s dense string orchestrations echo the warmest stretches of The King of Limbs and its more organic predecessor, In Rainbows. Slow-burn synth-rock epic “Identikit” climaxes with their wildest guitar solo—arguably their only real guitar solo—since OK Computer. Collectively, A Moon Shaped Pool proves that Radiohead has resumed its greatest winning streak in modern popular music. Not by flaunting any new tricks—just by delivering their normal quota of catharsis.—Ryan Reed

Read his full review here.

1. Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial
Rating: 9.3
Will Toledo is the creative force behind this Bandcamp success story. The new album is out after his Matador debut, Teens of Style, which culled from his self-released records for songs he wanted to give a more official treatment too. Now though, he’s coming through clearer than ever. His voice isn’t shrouded by reverb and distortion, and his songwriting is crisp as can be. This style of indie rock can benefit from the lo-fi treatment, and it did for most of his career, but the clarity here puts on display that his talent really carries through as well if not better with a cleaner production style.

With Teens of Denial, Toledo has practically guaranteed himself a viable career for years to come. The fact he did it while still in his early twenties after laying a foundation of solid self-released records proves even further that his most creative days are probably still ahead of him. This is an album that makes you really fucking glad to be alive. For that matter, the very fact albums like this are coming out is enough reason alone to hope you get to stick around on this planet for a long, long time. —Mack Hayden

Read his full review here.

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