As July comes to a close, we look back on all the great music given to us this month by a wide range of artists. Maybe it’s our waning attention spans in the heart of summer, but it was a particularly good month for the EP, that extended player that’s longer than a single but shorter than a full-length album. Three of our top 10 albums this month were under the 25-minute mark, including our favorite album—10 songs that clocked in at just 15 minutes.
Here are the 10 best albums of July, according to Paste’s music critics.
For years, Dirty Projectors have been making innovative, glitchy, experimental art-pop. With their eighth studio album—produced by frontman David Longstreth—they prove they have no shortage of ideas or creative ways of executing them, though some wind up working better than others. Daring, interesting, and never simple, kudos must be given for thinking outside of the box. Though not always successful, Lamp Lit Prose is rarely dull, turning corners and switching gears when you least expect it—even within the same song. Channeling earlier releases, longtime fans will be pleased, while newbies will eat up the poppier offerings and Longstreth’s tastier melodies. —Madison Desler
As it seems the album format is on its last legs in the playlist-centric world of modern music, Lovehoney aren’t spending a lot of time making albums. Instead, Brooklyn blues-rockers release a three-song EP every three months, which is a great idea: it lets the quartet’s growing fanbase watch the band develop almost in real time, while providing a steady flow of new material without any of the filler that sometimes ends up on full-lengths. There’s certainly no weak spot on the band’s latest, which is Lovehoney’s fourth EP since last year. Dig This! burns with restless energy, thanks in large part to guitarist Tommy White and singer Alysia Quinones. He throws down scorching riffs that she matches with runaway-train vocal intensity, while the rhythm section—bassist Matt Saleh and drummer Tom Gehlhaus—keeps the whole thing on the rails. —Eric R. Danton
8. Ty Segall and White Fence – Joy
Another month, another Ty Segall album. The newest entry in the rapidly growing catalog is Segall’s second collaborative album with veteran Los Angeles psych-pop experimenter White Fence, aka Tim Presley, formerly of The Nerve Agents and Darker My Love, and more recently Cate Le Bon’s partner in DRINKS. Joy is a little more messy than their 2012 collaboration Hair but almost as glorious. With track times mostly clocking in under 120 seconds, it’s a series of quick hits that are warped but relentlessly tuneful, like a Beatles LP that’s spent a blazing hot afternoon lying on a busy freeway. With Segall, it’s worth hearing the occasional clunker if it means he’ll keep making music at his preferred dizzying pace, because his hit-to-miss ratio is so high. And collaborating with Presley doesn’t dent that ratio. In fact, it brings out good things in both men. Here’s hoping their next album isn’t another six years away. —Ben Salmon
Naomi Hamilton pursues an unusual strategy on her new EP as Jealous of the Birds: Four of the five songs appeared on her 2016 album Parma Violets, in slightly different form. The changes are subtle, but the songs are excellent, so think of it as a second chance to discover the singer from Belfast, Northern Ireland, before she breaks out. Hamilton writes literary lyrics, delivering precise, evocative images with the confident air of someone who thinks a lot about words and their meanings and how they fit together. Though her songs have a vintage feel, it’s filtered through a wide-ranging sensibility with modern touches. Along with the sitar-like guitar drone on “Plastic Skeletons,” she dials in pastoral woodwinds on “Miss Misanthrope” and a shaggy combination of acoustic guitars and drums on “Trouble in Bohemia.” There are dark glimmers of electric piano on “Tonight I Feel Like Kafka” and punky, overdriven guitars on “Russian Doll.” Whatever the musical accompaniment, Hamilton sings with poise and self-assurance in a voice equally capable of whiskey-toned murmurs and full-throated melodicism. Either way, she has a magnetic presence that makes these songs mesmerizing, even the second time around. —Eric R. Danton
6. Cody Jinks -Lifers
Cody Jinks is a traditionalist in any number of ways. His roughhewn, homegrown country sound borrows from the usual forebears—Waylon, Willie, Kris, Merle and Johnny among them—while sounding perfectly in sync with today’s current breed of Americana insurgents. His lyrical interests ride the party line, too: tears-in-your-beer ballads; songs about booze, honkytonks and lost love; expressions of remorse and regret; and the obligatory ode to solitary surroundings. No surprise then that “Colorado” offers the same sentiments expressed by the Flying Burrito Brothers in a song with the same name. Lifers is the kind of album that ought to find a receptive audience with those that like their roots music honest, straightforward and unpretentious. It affirms those values with every note and nuance. —Lee Zimmerman
On Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, Deafheaven gets back to being exactly what it wants to be, and they waste no time diving way down into the deep end. Opening track “You Without End” is more or less a piano-pop song with a vaguely ’80s vibe, adorned with a spoken-word piece by Nadia Kury, decidedly non-blast drum beats and guitars that swoop and soar. Deafheaven, without question, has a distinctive sound. Here, however, they don’t sound like themselves until Clarke comes in halfway through, howling about dark tunnels and glowing orbs and love. Later, “Night People” and “Near continue the band’s explorations; the former a goth-rock duet with Chelsea Wolfe, and the latter a pillowy psych number reminiscent of Pink Floyd. Clarke sings cleanly on both; no snarls, no growls, and so on. The guitars have always been Deafheaven’s bleeding edge, even when they were obscured by black metal vocals or handsome haircuts or bright pink album cover art. Deafheaven is a ambitious heavy rock band, a gathering of innovative musical minds, and one of the very best guitar bands on Earth. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is strong evidence of all three.
We’ve been without new music from The Essex Green for a dozen years. The new album is called Hardly Electronic, and after the long hiatus, the Brooklyn band doesn’t miss a beat. The first track, “Sloane Ranger,” makes that clear, with its bouncing bass line, its sprightly keyboard melody, its male/female vocal interplay and the horn part flawlessly threaded through the arrangement. Elsewhere, The Essex Green engage in their typical exploration of other musical avenues, from a blurry, jazz-tinged folk song spiked with a noisy interlude to vaguely vintage-feeling pop ’n’ soul to harmony-heavy post-punk-pop and a big-city take on country music. —Ben Salmon
3. Lori McKenna: The Tree
Every Lori McKenna album has at least one song that will make you cry—and depending on who you are, and where you are in life, it could be any of them that gets you choked up. It’s not that McKenna is trying to put a lump in your throat. The Massachusetts songwriter is just singing the truth as she knows it, which is well enough: she’s a mother of five who has been married to the same man for 30 years and still lives in the town where she was born. She has a well-informed perspective, then, on growing up and growing older and watching the world change around you. Like most of her work, McKenna’s latest is a family-centered collection of rootsy folk songs, and as usual, she finds profundity in the ordinary moments of everyday life. McKenna’s attention to detail, and the way she makes universal sentiments suddenly, and piercingly, specific, are why her songs are special enough to have earned the deep respect of her fellow folk singers, and to have caught the ear of the big-ticket country stars who have recorded them, including Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and Little Big Town. Wistful songs about love and family would be deeply uncool in the wrong hands, but McKenna seems more interested in being honest than hip. Her voice is warm and frank, and her understated, mostly acoustic musical arrangements never overshadow lyrics in which she almost always manages to say the right thing. —Eric R. Danton
On Los Angeles collective The Internet’s first album since the breakthrough of 2015’s GRAMMY-nominated third LP, Ego Death, the vibe is crowd-pleasing—an intelligent, studied mix of funk, hip-hop, R&B and jazz textures. Dynamic but relaxed, each track rolls in on an inherently summery energy, filled with fresh air, an escape from the city’s stifling energy and out onto the breezy fire escape. Hive Mind goes down easy as a whole; an even-keeled, laid-back drift in and out of The Internet’s signature and sophisticated soundscape. Sprinkled with codas and half-songs, the effect is natural, not jarring, like turning down an alley, or rounding a city street and stumbling into another story. —Madison Desler
Tony Molina has mastered the old showbiz axiom of leaving ’em wanting more. The Bay Area singer/songwriter cut his teeth playing hardcore punk, recording bite-sized noise-pop blasts with the Ovens, before going solo with 2014’s Dissed and Dismissed, a 12-track album of pitch-perfect Weezer worship that lasts less than 12 minutes. Kill the Lights is almost as short: 10 tracks in under 15 minutes. The longest song is actually two in one, “Look Inside Your Mind/Losin’ Touch,” which features a woozy psych-pop melody, a delicately plucked interlude and a bluesy solo within it’s two and a half minutes. What’s interesting and impressive about Molina’s songs is that they rarely feel unfinished or even hurried. The guy usually packs a verse and a chorus, maybe a guitar solo and/or some fingerpicking, and he paces it all perfectly across 26 or 57 or 91 seconds. He is seemingly unbound by verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus conventions, and yet his mini-masterpieces always feel complete. —Ben Salmon