The 10 Best Albums of May 2018

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The 10 Best Albums of May 2018

As we approach 2018’s halfway point, great new releases keep cropping up here at Paste. Some of our favorite records in May included reissues and returns (Liz Phair, Stephen Malkmus), exciting debuts (Cut Worms) and career-bests (Jess Williamson, La Luz). From psych to country to ambient, check out all our favorite albums of May 2018.

10. Cut Worms: Hollow Ground


Rating 7.8
Throughout the album, Max Clarke explores the intersection of early pop-rock and traditional country, with melody as top priority every step of the way. On the upbeat “How It Can Be,” Clarke’s vocal slides across the top of frolicsome piano and laser-guided electric guitar. “Coward’s Confidence” incorporates horns inside a deep canyon of echo and comes out sounding like a landlocked Beach Boys. And the lush vocal harmonies in the chorus of “Don’t Want to Have to Say Good-Bye” only enhance one of the album’s very best moments.—Ben Salmon


9. La Luz: Floating Features


Rating 7.9
Floating Features finds La Luz—singer/guitarist Shana Cleveland, drummer Marian Li Pino, keyboardist Alice Sandahl, and bassist Lena Simon—relocating from Seattle to Los Angeles. Now that Hollywood is their home, it’s fitting that Floating Features includes references to movement and travel, and overall, cultivates the vintage feel of a B-movie soundtrack. The album’s title track, a soaring instrumental opener, sets the scene for adventure, and fully embraces 60s kitsch via heavy organ, snappy beats and intricate, knotty riffs. —Loren DiBlasi


8. Tracyanne and Danny: Tracyanne and Danny


Rating 8.0
Tracyanne Campbell and Danny Coughlan are better known for their roles in other projects—the former in Scottish pop wonders Camera Obscura and the latter as a soulful British balladeer under the name Crybaby. But they’ll have you know that their first collaborative album Tracyanne & Danny will not be their last. “Tracyanne & Danny is not a diverting curio or a wee stop on the road to someplace else. It is a shared artistic aesthetic, forged over time,” says the duo’s official bio. “They have figured out how to fit round each other and work together, creating a rewarding musical synergy. There will be more songs.” —Ben Salmon


7. Frog Eyes: Violet Psalms


Rating 8.0
For all the moments of unsettling weirdness—and there are plenty—Violet Psalms is almost compulsively listenable. There are flashes of effusive melody: “Idea Man” starts as a bright, hooky tune with a burbling, frenetic beat and sunny vocals until it deflates into an extended come-down in the second half of the song. There are mesmerizing guitar parts, too: A terse and foreboding two-note riff cuts through a wash of noise on “Sleek as the Day Is Done,” then yields to trebly squibs that ring out like demented bell chimes. The pattern repeats as the song builds tension until a huge descending guitar line tumbles down with the force of a slow-motion rock slide. —Eric R. Danton


6. Jess Williamson: Cosmic Wink


Rating 8.2
“I See The White” opens the album like a warm summer breeze on bare shoulders; acoustic guitar and soft, shuffling drums cradling mystic-lite lyrics and a hooky chorus that rolls in like a foam-trimmed wave. “Awakening Baby” —the song you’ll find yourself going to play again as soon as the album’s over—perfectly distills the infatuated feeling of love’s first blossom. “Your hair in my bed is regarded as a relic / My past and my future envy me,” Williamson sings, the relaxed instrumentation and her sleepy voice brimming with cozy contentment.. —Madison Desler


5. Kelly Willis: Back Being Blue


Rating 8.3
Given the fact that Kelly Willis wrote six of these 10 songs and enlisted Rodney Crowell and Randy Weeks for two of the others, that level of proficiency qualifies her for some special distinction. Willis’ allegiance to country tradition and homespun homilies may not find her tampering with the formula, but they do suggest she’s a relevant player regardless. On songs such as “Don’t Step Away,” “Modern World” and “What the Heart Doesn’t Know,” she states her case with a conviction that all but guarantees her authenticity. —Lee Zimmerman


4. Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks: Sparkle Hard


Rating 8.7
As always, Malkmus and his mates have a way of making guitar-rock feel oblique and breezy. They offset the herky-jerky pace of “Future Suite” with synth zaps and a dizzying vocal coda. Lead single “Middle America” gets a lift from Malkmus’ falsetto, the album’s most likeable melody and the comfort of a strummed acoustic guitar. And “Brethren” starts out as a jumbled pile of dissonant parts, but soon forms into the kind of disheveled gem that would fit in perfectly on Pavement’s divisive 1995 album Wowee Zowee. “So you flip-flop over again,” Malkmus sings as an unexpected string section fades out behind him, “to the dark side of the coliseum. Down into a hole, into the cellar, here we go.”—Ben Salmon


3. Sarah Louise: Deeper Woods


Rating 8.8
On Deeper Woods, Sarah Louise fully finds her voice. Literally. It is as much a vocal album as a guitar album, and Louise’s voice is a ideal complement to her six-stringed wizardry, only heightening the beauty and deepening the mystic vibe of her songs. Louise’s voice is a versatile thing; strong and resonant on the low end, suffused with emotion on the high end, constantly sliding up and down between the two. She’s an impressive singer, especially for someone known as a guitar player.—Ben Salmon


2. GAS: Rausch


Rating 9.2
Heard as one unedited gush, Rausch is a thing of wonder. The experience, especially played through headphones or a great pair of speakers, is overpowering to the point of overload. Wolfgang Voigt starts off slow, with string and horn drones swarming together in a Ligeti-like sunrise. As it moves forward, more sounds and the 4/4 pulse of a kick drum come into view. They don’t necessarily complement what Voigt has set up. They instead move around the edges like counter-rhythms or little intrusions that refuse to let up. —Robert Ham


1. Liz Phair: Girly-Sound to Guyville: The 25th Anniversary Boxed Set


Rating 9.4
Taken as a whole, Girly-Sound to Guyville is a dizzying deep dive into Liz Phair’s world before her breakthrough, and at times, it comes off like one of those bulletin boards in a cop drama, covered in photos and colorful push pins, with string connecting the dots. For folks who’ve loved and lived with Phair’s music for the past quarter-century, it will be endlessly fascinating. But even for the unfamiliar, this is a foundational work of indie rock worthy of careful attention. —Ben Salmon

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