The 10 Best Albums of May 2019

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The 10 Best Albums of May 2019

There’s a direct correlation between the increasingly frequent sunshine and the arrival of some of the year’s biggest album releases. Throughout the month of May, music fans were blessed with releases from modern musical giants like Tyler, the Creator, Carly Rae Jepsen and Vampire Weekend, plus impressive offerings from fresher faces like Faye Webster, Empath and Dehd. Between the experimental genre fusion of hip-hop/electronic producer Flying Lotus, the sugary pop/rock stylings of Charly Bliss or the devastating, mystical ruminations of Big Thief, you’ll find something to accompany your wait for that glorious first day of summer. Check out 10 exceptional albums from the past month below.

Here are the 10 best albums of May, according to Paste’s music critics:

10. Vampire Weekend: Father of the Bride

If such a decree is not already at large, I hereby declare Father of the Bride the official album of summer 2019. If you’re skeptical, just listen to it outside, maybe while eating a popsicle. Let Danielle Haim and a choir of children sing you down the aisle on “Hold You Now;” let the bendy “Bambina” rock you into summer stupor. Let it be easy. It’s light without being too flighty, thoughtful but not esoteric and ripe with delicious little musical treasures. Peel back what some have perceived to be a cheesy lyrical facade, and Vampire Weekend’s fourth full-length is an album of rewarding moments. A record that’s roughly four songs too long and as many choruses too corny may not sound like the most enticing listen, but Ezra Koenig expertly spins even the shabbiest couplets into nuance—and he does it to the tune of pure sunshine. He adopted a passion for the Grateful Dead, intensified one for character studies and swapped boat shoes for Birkenstocks, and the result is the rare album that not only works as picnic music but also makes for a fine conversation topic. Vampire Weekend proved their talent with a run of three excellent albums in the early 2010s. With Father of the Bride, Koenig proves their potential for longevity. —Ellen Johnson

9. Flying Lotus: Flamagra

Flying Lotus’s sixth album is as much of a throwback to the bold, experimental productions that made him one of the most uniquely influential hip-hop/electronic crossover producers of the past decade as it is a new relic for other musical creatives to once again derive stylistic permutations from. And while the 27-track sprawl is decidedly innovative, Steven Ellison never wavers from his hallmark: instantly recognizable Flying Lotus harmonics, filled with the fragrance of experimental jazz that only a member of the Coltrane family tree could enact. The intention behind Ellison’s collab tracks is palpable, and there isn’t a hint of frivolity on dual-force gems like “Spontaneous” (Little Dragon), “More” (Anderson .Paak), “The Climb” (Thundercat) and an imaginative foray with off-kilter and equally atmospheric rapper Denzel Curry, on “Black Balloons (Reprise).” This one will be looked upon as yet another touchstone for furthering the fusion movement from FlyLo, and Flamagra isn’t leaving the turntable anytime soon. —Adrian Spinelli

8. Carly Rae Jepsen: Dedicated

Since we’re living in a post-Emotion world, it’s hard to remember a time when Carly Rae Jepsen wasn’t regarded as an accomplished pop icon. But before the sexual torment of “Emotion,” the sweet rush of “Gimmie Love” and all those “Run Away With Me” saxophone memes, Carly Rae Jepsen was, to most, “Call Me Maybe” and nothing more. 2015 became her moment, and Emotion the pop album to save them all. Now in her thirties, going on four years since then, Carly Rae Jepsen is perhaps even more the music media darling and pop culture mainstay. And while we’ve never really looked to her for lyrical profundity, she’s always been savvy when it comes to pure feelings, making her fourth LP Dedicated another beacon of emotional intelligence, and Jepsen a straight-A student of pop history. Dedicated is about relationships, but it’s also an examination of self. She sashays from one romantic identity (single, heartbroken, in love) to another, but as the record beams on, it becomes clearer they’re all one in the same—a trinity. If the bar for Carly Rae Jepsen—and maybe even 2010s pop as a whole—is the intellectual pop perfection of Emotion, then Dedicated falls only a little short, landing somewhere between effortless earworm territory and therapeutic ecstasy. —Ellen Johnson

7. Dehd: Water

Dehd may be a side project, but they’re the furthest thing from an afterthought. The trio was formed by Chicago DIY veterans Jason Balla (NE-HI and Earring) and Emily Kempf (Vail and formerly with Lala Lala), plus first-time drummer Eric McGrady. Their new LP, Water, was largely composed by Balla and Kempf in live improvisation with McGrady in their practice space, though you don’t get the feeling that any songs were hastily constructed on autopilot or needlessly drawn out. Following their 2016 self-titled debut and 2017 EP Fire of Love, Water tracks the romantic dissolution of Balla and Kempf, and though most breakups would send one into a sobering isolation, Dehd decided to plow on and go on tour, and it’s easy to see why they wanted to see this project through. On paper, the idea of another scruffy, reverb-drenched indie rock album about failed romance is worthy of scoff, but Water is much more charming, wonky and economical than the lion’s share of lo-fi indie rock offerings. Their scratchy sonics might be a sticking point for some listeners, but their ravishing, radiant melodies seal the cracks of their rough imperfections, deliberately left unpolished, much like the real-life circumstances that ground this album. Water has the charm of a scuzzy ’80s indie-pop record, a breezy ’60s surf rock venture and a wonderfully skeletal bedroom rock album, and it’s in this misty intersection that Dehd earn their stripes. —Lizzie Manno

6. Tyler, the Creator: IGOR

On “IGOR’S THEME,” the opening track on Tyler’s highly anticipated follow-up to Flower Boy, he shows that even with the heightened expectations, he can still surprise us. Relying on heavy, ominous low synth tones and complex percussion—a combination that’s featured prominently throughout the album—the mainly instrumental song is a bit of a change-up from his past work, essentially combining the best aspects of Cherry Bomb with the emotionality and relative absence of Tyler’s rapping presence on Flower Boy to create a hangover record of sorts from the flamboyance of his last record. Perhaps the Yeezus to Flower Boy’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, he continues to push the themes of loneliness and his inability to be fully loved found on his previous record, only this time largely twisting the knobs in a louder and darker direction. Tyler warned us to not “go into this expecting a rap album,” but some of the best tracks on IGOR are when he does give into these tendencies. The slowthai-aided “WHAT’S GOOD” largely follows suit, proving that he can make hard-hitting hip-hop better than almost anyone else. —Steven Edelstone

5. Empath: Active Listening: Night on Earth

Philadelphia four-piece Empath aren’t your everyday noise-pop band. They masterfully and curiously juggle bubblegum pop sweetness, ear-splitting noise guitar tornadoes, off-kilter synths and ambient nature sound effects. On last year’s cassette EP Liberating Guilt and Fear (which made Paste’s list of the 10 Best EPs of 2018), they intentionally overwhelm with discordant noise-punk rumbling, charm with tuneful pop melodies and baffle with experimental hues. Their highly-anticipated debut album, Active Listening: Night on Earth, released on DIY label Get Better Records, is further proof that you can achieve the highest highs of pop via unconventional musical vehicles. It contains mystifying weirdo symphonies that defy all previously existing musical states of matter, and Empath are nothing if not for their ability to push sonic, musical and lyrical envelopes. The album is both a resplendent listen and an acquired taste. Not every listener will take pleasure in the band’s blustery dissonance, but those who do will be rewarded with dense pop riches and deeply poignant, poetic lyrics. —Lizzie Manno

4. Faye Webster: Atlanta Millionaires Club

If she prefers to stay inside, then Webster makes music for her own kind: With all its droopy pedal steel, unhurried funk and a breezy island air that could sub in for your AC, Atlanta Millionaires Club is the perfect summer album for indoors-y types. Drawing on both her Americana roots and the bendy R&B of artists like Aaliyah (one of her cited inspirations), Webster creates a dramaticized retelling of romantic shortcomings that sounds like the sun crying. After her debut album Run and Tell and high school, Webster did what any aspiring songwriter would: moved to Nashville. There, she studied songwriting at Belmont University before trying out graphic design, but when she found herself jonesing for a trip home every other weekend, decided to abandon collegiate life altogether and made plans to return to Atlanta, where she has since stayed put. Since then she’s spent considerable time photographing various ATL stars like Offset and Lil Yachty. Webster released her second, self-titled album after college, which contains her first Spotify hit, the groovy “She Won’t Go Away,” a hazy country dream. But dreamier still is Webster’s third solo LP, Atlanta Millionaires Club, a steamy brush with R&B flourished with lots of twang and retro grooves. It’s weird and sleepy and full of droll one-liners like “I should get out more,” the chorus from “Room Temperature.” —Ellen Johnson

3. Charly Bliss: Young Enough

Recording an excellent debut album is mostly a blessing, of course. But there’s some curse involved, too, in that you have to figure out how to follow it up. That’s not easy to do. Usually, it means refusing to stagnate, lest you be labeled a one-trick pony. So you must try to record a set of songs that showcase some artistic growth and aesthetic ambition, but at the same time, you don’t want to stray too far from what worked so well the first time out. On their second album Young Enough, Charly Bliss navigates these various pressures and pitfalls without overthinking them. The hotly tipped New York City combo broke through nationally in 2017 on the strength of its debut album Guppy, a perfect—yeah, I said it—10-track blast of sweetly serrated pop-rock supercharged with punky energy and plentiful hooks. Two years later, Young Enough introduces new moods and textures without tamping down the band’s irrepressible likeability. There is unquestionably a centerpiece song on Young Enough, and that’s the title track, which clocks in at five minutes and 20 seconds long—an epic by this band’s standards. It’s time well-spent: slow-burning, dynamic, emotionally resonant and representative of Charly Bliss in 2019. Here, you can hear how the synthetic sounds better contextualize frontwoman Eva Hendricks’ desperate words by drawing out their meaning and feeling rather than running roughshod over them like Guppy’s rollicking arrangements. In doing so, they also open up a promising path forward for the band. That sophomore album challenge? Charly Bliss nailed it. —Ben Salmon

2. The National: I Am Easy to Find

For all intents and purposes, Matt Berninger is a New Yorker. He’s been there long enough to write about the city with authority. So when he sings “You were never much of a New Yorker / It wasn’t in your eyes,” alongside This Is The Kit’s Kate Stables on the title track of The National’s new album, I Am Easy to Find, he knows what he’s talking about. But for the first time in quite a while, Berninger went back to his hometown of Cincinnati on “Not in Kansas,” I Am Easy to Find’s keystone track. Instead of writing about his negative memories of the place (“I never married but Ohio don’t remember me” he sang on 2010’s “Bloodbuzz Ohio”), he experienced firsthand how both he and the Midwest had changed, particularly since the election of Donald Trump, launching into a full and abstract stream of consciousness about his journey home. From the plucky and frenzied guitars on lead single “You Had Your Soul With You” to the pulsating percussion of fan-favorite “Rylan” to the dazzling orchestral strings on album closer “Light Years” (another track that could be argued as one of The National’s best to date), I Am Easy to Find doesn’t radically change the formula they developed over the past couple of releases, but it nearly perfects it, resulting in a record as elegant as the suits Berninger routinely wears onstage. —Steven Edelstone

1. Big Thief: U.F.O.F.

New York indie-folk outfit Big Thief have been touring constantly for four years in conjunction with their first two full-lengths—2016’s Masterpiece and 2017’s Capacity—and their third album U.F.O.F. was largely informed by their relentless touring schedule and the band’s heightened personal and musical synergy. Some of the songs were recorded just hours after they were written, while others were “perfected moments of dynamic feedback and spiritual, rhythmic togetherness.” As a result, this album’s blustery whooshes contribute to an otherworldliness not yet wholly strung together on a Big Thief album. The sonic wisp of “Contact,” the celestial lyrics of “U.F.O.F.” and the cacophonies that close “Cattails” and “Jenni” all contribute to an incorporeal sheen. On U.F.O.F., Big Thief embrace their more subtle and mystical sides while capturing a wider array of landscapes—the cosmic (“U.F.O.F.”), bucolic (“Cattails”), domestic (“From”) and urban (“Betsy”). —Lizzie Manno

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