The 10 Best Albums of June 2019

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The 10 Best Albums of June 2019

So far, summer 2019 has brought forth albums as cool and inviting as an air-conditioned movie theater in the middle of a scalding June afternoon. We dipped our toes in Mark Ronson’s slick collaborative album, waded through Freddie Gibbs’ unfurling verses and Madlib’s distinct production and basked in the charmed pop of Hatchie’s first LP. Thom Yorke surprised us with a impeccable new solo effort, and newcomers black midi confused and amazed us with a one-of-a-kind debut. We marked 2019’s halfway point with a ranking of the year’s best albums so far, and we flashed back to the best music of 1989, just in time for another crunchy, ’80s inspired season of Stranger Things. So roll down the windows, find a frozen treat and dive into our favorite albums of June.

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

10. Hatchie: Keepsake

In September of last year, Alvvays invited tour openers Snail Mail and Hatchie onstage for a cover of The Hummingbirds’ “Alimony.” That moment felt a bit like a passing of the torch: As Alvvays were transitioning into indie veteran status following two critically acclaimed records, Snail Mail was the artist of the moment, the “now” of the trio. But also on that stage was rising Australian dream pop artist Hatchie, the moniker of Harriette Pilbeam: Keepsake, her debut record arriving nine months after that night, proves her inclusion on that bill wasn’t some sort of a fluke—she deserves to be on that stage every bit as much as those other artists, releasing an album that stands just as tall as the best of Snail Mail, Alvvays, or, quite frankly, anyone else in indie rock these days. Catchy and well-produced, nearly every song hits with a major sing-along chorus, the kind that could easily soundtrack any teen rom-com in the near future. The blueprint that Pilbeam follows throughout works extremely well for her. Most artists at this point in their careers would give anything for the ability to write one pop song as good as the upbeat, guitar-driven “Obsessed,” let alone 10 similar versions of it. She doesn’t experiment much throughout her debut, but Pilbeam knows what she does best and sticks to it throughout. Her dream pop niche in the indie rock world is sure to win her loads of new fans going forward, and with her debut, she establishes herself as not only one of its rising stars, but also one of its best songwriters. —Steven Edelstone

9. Bruce Springsteen: Western Stars

The knock on Bruce Springsteen since the peak of his ’80s success has been that he’s a rich guy masquerading as a working-class stiff. It’s a silly criticism because it discounts the value and the power of imagination that has fueled him since the beginning. Springsteen wasn’t born wealthy, but he is a born storyteller, and he’s managed to hold on to whatever it is that makes him a dreamer. So while Springsteen has never been a state trooper, or a firefighter charging into the South Tower on 9/11, or a washed-up wrestler, he can sing persuasively about them because he has enough intuition and empathy to see the world through their eyes. That’s exactly what he does with a host of different characters on Western Stars, his first studio album since High Hopes in 2014, a grab bag of reimagined songs from earlier albums, covers and unreleased tunes he had recorded during the preceding decade. By contrast, Western Stars is a self-contained, thematic collection of songs. Though Springsteen’s latest is said to be indebted to the sound of southern California pop records from the late ’60s and early ’70s, the more prominent California influence seems to be film scores from Hollywood epics. Western Stars is full of sweeping symphonic passages that evoke the endless skies and open spaces of the American West. —Eric R. Danton

8. Crumb: Jinx

It’s hard to imagine a better title for Crumb’s self-released debut album than Jinx. Across 10 songs and a brisk 28-minute runtime, the Brooklyn-based indie quartet twine hazy production with bewitching lyrics, crafting mesmerizing psych-pop that feels equally indebted to the lounge aesthetics of mid-’90s Stereolab as it does Madlib’s jazz-sampling hip-hop production. Perhaps it’s unfair to immediately compare Crumb to legendary forebears. To their credit, Crumb is making music that sounds utterly their own, thanks in no small part to lead singer and guitarist Lila Ramani’s lilting vocals. Singing with a cadence that is simultaneously domineering and subdued, Ramani pulls you closer, almost whispering over instrumentation that’s both droning and engaging. When everything clicks, it’s nearly impossible to not be enraptured by Jinx. —Harry Todd

7. Mark Ronson: Late Night Feelings

Mark Ronson has gotten really good at sounding ubiquitous. In 2018, the British songwriter, producer, and DJ co-wrote “Shallow,” the power ballad that glues Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper together at the mic in the latest Star Is Born remake. Before that, Ronson wrote and produced “Uptown Funk” featuring Bruno Mars, a song that spent a good chunk of 2015 atop the Billboard Hot 100 and appears to have acquired an obligatory slot on wedding band set-lists since its release. Between smash singles, Ronson casually drops tracks with the likes of Adele, A$AP Rocky and Paul McCartney at an impressive clip. Those who’ve either sung along or rolled their eyes to Ronson’s hit singles, however, may have missed the four solo albums he’s more quietly released along the way. The fifth and newest, Late Night Feelings, is his sharpest, sturdiest effort yet, made so by its cohesive, downer-dance sound and its hip slate of all-female featured vocalists. Given his platinum-tinted track record, one would think Ronson could produce grabby hooks and retro-nodding soundscapes in his sleep. But he’s a known perfectionist, having reportedly suffered panic attacks while trying to get the guitars right on “Uptown Funk.” Late Night Feelings moves with the swagger of someone who’s practiced cool so relentlessly that it starts to look tossed-off. One could get away with lazily DJ-ing a late-night party by hitting play and letting Late Night Feelings run all the way through, a possibility that attests to the record’s consistency and the comfort it offers despite its darker themes. —Annie Galvin

6. Palehound: Black Friday

“And if you quit smoking / Will you just start drinking?” Ellen Kempner sings on “Company,” the opening track of her band Palehound’s third album, Black Friday, setting a tone of curiosity and concern about close friendships that drives the songs to follow. Singing these lines, Kempner doesn’t sound like a narc or a buzzkill, but rather like the friend who’s willing to call you on your BS and then dwell with you in the rejection, shame or embarrassment that self-awareness often produces. Black Friday floats inside these currents of love and risk that churn through relationships—especially platonic ones—which involve serious, prolonged leaning on other people. Throughout, the band explores how we move toward and away from people we care about, and how both orientations strain the resources we have available for love. Thanks in part to co-producer Gabe Wax (Soccer Mommy, Speedy Ortiz, Adrienne Lenker), it’s tempting to compare Palehound’s current sound to that of other whip-smart women and queer folks who are remaking rock for the 21st century. A band doesn’t need to be truly distinct, however, to contribute mightily to a movement, and Kempner brings a candid mix of insecurity and strength to topics like complicated friendships (“Black Friday,” “Bullshit”), self-acceptance (“Worthy”), and taking up physical space (“The City”). Ultimately, Black Friday is a constantly modulating love song to the very human experience of clinging to other people, but through her sharp writing, Kempner offers insight on how to rely on ourselves when everyone else leaves: “Nothing worth loving ever sticks around / But you.” —Annie Galvin

5. Stef Chura: Midnight

Stef Chura sings “If only you can hear me scream” 10 full times on “Scream” before she, well, screams. Bizarrely, it’s one of the few instances on Midnight, Chura’s sophomore release and first full-length release on Saddle Creek, where she shows restraint, a fleeting respite for her vocal chords that take hit after hit throughout the entirety of the record’s 43 minutes. Howling throughout with a confident vibrato, it’s perhaps the most impressive raw vocal performance since Hop Along last put out an album, reminiscent at times of a young Karen O. A major step up from her 2017 debut Messes (which was reissued in 2018 by Saddle Creek), Midnight is the complete realization of the Detroit-based artist’s solo project, chock full of perfectly fuzzed-out guitars on one of the best-recorded DIY-leaning records in quite some time. That’s thanks in large part to Car Seat Headrest frontman Will Toledo, who helps mold Chura’s songs into ones that sound like his own. “Scream” resembles the song structure of Teens of Denial’s “Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An),” though potentially even exceeding it as Chura’s guitar solo provides a fist-in-the-air moment before she brings the house down for one final chorus. Chura has been one of the more buzzed-about rising artists in the indie rock community for quite some time; Midnight more than delivers on that initial hype, surpassing virtually all expectations en route to becoming one of her genre’s biggest breakouts. This an indie record for the ages, a wonderful listen where each song is completely essential to the project as a whole. Midnight is an incredible record, owing, but in no way indebted to her pitch perfect partnership with Toledo, one that’s further catapulted by Chura’s distinctive voice and extraordinary songwriting chops. —Steven Edelstone

4. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib: Bandana

Freddie Gibbs has only been releasing music for the past decade, but it feels like he’s been churning out classics for as long as legendary producer Madlib has. The duo are sublimely suited to one another: Madlib’s crate-digging jazz and R&B samples bring out the crooning in Gibbs’ snarl, while uncompromising, cocaine-slinging verses imbue the chopped instrumentals with newfound intensity. Mid-album cut “Palmolive” sets a high watermark for their new album and Piñata follow-up, Bandana, finding Gibbs linking up with Pusha T and Killer Mike, bemoaning the current state of American politics and spewing one-liners with laser precision over a broodingly soulful Sylvers sample. Across Bandana’s 15 tracks, it’s hard to tell who is more locked in to their craft, but it’s clear that Madlib and Gibbs bring out the best in one another. —Harry Todd

3. Mannequin Pussy: Patience

It’s been three years since Mannequin Pussy released a full-length, so patience is what brought us Patience—the Philadelphia punk outfit’s new album and one of the best rock releases of 2019 so far. The band’s first two albums—2014’s GP and 2016’s Romantic—are both under 20 minutes and feature speedy jolts of punk along with the occasional glimmer of dulcet-toned pop. But their new LP is crisper, poppier, longer and more fully realized than anything they’ve released before. In a still-modest 26 minutes, Mannequin Pussy, led by frontwoman Marisa Dabice, dish out punk-pop that will make you want to hug your teenage self, but also fight on behalf of the adult you’ve become. Dabice opened up on this record in a way she hasn’t before. She sings about abusive relationships, self-hatred, and personal inadequacies, revelations she struggled with for years before ever talking about them. It’s a record that simultaneously pierces while forcefully standing its ground, rightfully taking up space. Patience begins with anxious heart racing, but concludes with the kind of heart racing we all strive for—that lovey dovey tingle you wish you could bottle and save for when you’re feeling cynical. —Lizzie Manno

2. Thom Yorke: ANIMA

Thom Yorke’s biggest fault—if there is one—on ANIMA, his first proper solo album since 2014’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, is his inclusion of “Dawn Chorus,” a song so devastatingly gorgeous it threatens to overshadow the eight other tracks’ ingenious advances in glitchy electronica. “Dawn Chorus” is so mind-numbingly beautiful it doesn’t just distract from the rest of the album—it places the listener in a different world entirely, one seemingly hundreds of miles away from the late-night dancefloor occupied by tracks like “Not the News” and “Traffic.” If it seems like I’m wholly disregarding ANIMA in exchange for a single song that has already forced its way into the best songs of the year conversation, that’s beside the point. Yorke knowingly chose “Dawn Chorus” as the record’s centerpiece, a respite from the darker electronic tones populating the four tracks on either side of it. There’s a good chance ANIMA will be remembered as “The Album With Dawn Chorus On It,” and that’s not a bad problem to have, just one that unfortunately makes it much easier to ignore the other incredible tracks on here. It’s just what happens when you make the centerpiece of your album one of the best songs you’ve ever written. —Steven Edelstone

1. black midi: Schlagenheim

It may be hard to write about, but Schlagenheim is a record you feel more so than anything else. Case in point: First track “953” features one of the hardest hitting lead guitar riffs in recent memory, an opening salvo that makes you want to drop everything and go run a mile—something I actually did, resulting in my fastest time ever. Within mere seconds of hitting play on their debut album, Geordie Greep and Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin make their case as two of our most inventive contemporary guitarists, all while you try your hardest to keep time with a beat that will still elude you after 10 listens. There’s a high barrier to entry for Schlagenheim, a record by a band who refuses to meet you halfway. Pedantic and pretentious all the way through, Schlagenheim showcases why black midi are generationally great instrumentalists despite our inability to follow what they’re doing and why. Schlagenheim is like Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica in this way—it doesn’t always sound aurally pleasing, and it’s often tough to keep up, but it rewards those who try. By the end of “Ducter’s” anarchic pandemonium, you won’t know what hit you, but you’ll find yourself quickly returning to “953” for another go around of an album that showcases some of the most talented musicians around, coalescing behind an experimental, genre-less and extremely noisy sound to exceptional results. Schlagenheim is beyond weird. Schlagenheim is a legitimate one of a kind record. Schlagenheim is a masterpiece. —Steven Edelstone

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