The 5 Best Albums of June 2016

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The 5 Best Albums of June 2016

Even in the midst of our mid-year recaps—The Best Albums of 2016 (So Far) and The Best Songs of 2016 (So Far), in case you missed them—June saw a number of impressive LPs. While classic artists like Neil Young and Paul Simon still managed to uphold their prominence with recent releases, newer artists impressed us as well. Check out the highest rated albums we reviewed that were released in June (and one that was technically released at the end of May but missed the cutoff for our list that month), and let us know your favorites in the comments below.

5. High Water: Crush Review

Rating: 8.3
High Water, a project by Will Epstein, was created with help from electro-experimental genius Nicolas Jaar. This debut album, Crush, feels both serene and emotional; aggressive yet chilled. Every track and sound is there for a reason, and great thought has been put into the purpose for each element. Even the 58-second “Woman In The Dunes” is an interesting venture into noise-based electronic music, albeit a tad short to be considered anything other than a filler track to the average listener. Tracks like “Forecast” show the passionate side to Epstein’s songwriting, on which the electric piano and organ reign supreme. Ultimately, Epstein is aware of the balance required on an LP for it to be considered a masterpiece. —Ben Rosner

Read his full review here.

4. Whitney: Light Upon The Lake

Rating: 8.5
Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich, Whitney’s songwriting duo, have been preparing to release this debut album since shortly after their last band, the Smith Westerns, split in 2014. When writing songs together, Kakacek and Ehrlich developed a persona: Whitney is a lonely guy who drinks too much and lives alone. It was probably a pretty easy idea to embody. Both Max and Julien are quick to admit that the songs for Light Upon the Lake were written in the midst of consecutive breakups. They felt a little bit like Whitney, so they built this as a bit of a concept album.

But, the weird thing about labeling this record as a breakup album is that it’s both accurate and—paradoxically—widely off base. It’s not angsty, or hastily prepared in a few drunken nights off of some fit of red-eyed nostalgia. Sure, literally speaking all of the songs off of Light Upon the Lake conjure up failure to maintain a relationship with a loved one, but how can you relate a new band’s debut record—and one that’s so so fully realized to the point of even having a mission statement in the Whitney, as a man, as a writing prompt and concept—with a break up? If anything, it’s the start of something new. —Nikki Volpicelli

Read her full review here.

3. Neil Young and Promise of the Real: Earth

Rating: 8.8
No one is really surprised to hear animal sounds on Neil Young’s new live album—the cawing of a crow, the buzzing of bees, the distant howl of a lone wolf. Old Mr. Young has been singing about nature and Mother Earth for so long, that he probably felt that it was long past due to invite some of the creatures that have been his muses to step up and perform on one of his records.

The first thing to clear up is that Earth is no Pet Sounds, and it doesn’t sound like The Beatles’ “Good Morning” complete with roosters and barnyard animals thrown in for sonic effect. It’s not a pastiche or remix of Young’s music with animals playing leads and singing backups as some have feared. And, finally, don’t fear, this is not a Deep Forest-type of new age record with pleasing hanging keyboard washes decorated with the sounds of birds and waterfalls. Rather, Earth is a ferocious call out, a love song to the earth and its inhabitants. Other than on a few tracks like “Seed Justice” in which the nature sounds make perfect thematic sense and are heavily featured, the animal sounds are subtly integrated, with the effect that hearing Neil sing against this backdrop doesn’t sound that much different than listening to him outdoors at Red Rocks, The Gorge or at the end of a pier in Duncan, British Columbia.

But after releasing so many live albums, it’s understandable that many of Young’s fans might question whether they need to purchase Earth. The answer is a big resounding yes. Some fans credit Promise Of The Real with helping Young rediscover and reconnect with what is so good, beautiful and vital about his music. Others offer, instead, that intimations of his own mortality brought about by reaching the pivotal age of three score and 10 make him perform with such conviction. Whatever the reasons, Earth is an engaging, highly credible recording that burns with a fire of its own. From beginning to end, it is brave, uncompromising, cracked up and beautiful. Like the landscapes he sings of, Earth is a gnarly old oak tree of an album that is built to last. Not for saplings or the easily frightened. —Douglas Heselgrave

Read his full review here.

2. Paul Simon: Stranger To Stranger

Rating: 8.9
Folk rock legend Paul Simon’s latest album Stranger To Stranger is, as expected, a master course in songwriting. However, this LP is even more notable for its sound design and production techniques. Simon’s son, an avid music producer, introduced him to Italian underground electronic producer Clap! Clap! who collaborated with the legendary songwriter on a few tracks. This unique pairing of a folk icon and an underground electronic musician works so well that these collaborations with Clap! Clap! are the pinnacle of Stranger To Stranger. Ultimately, the album is a testament to an artist who refuses to be ordinary and pigeonholed. With this LP, Paul Simon has created his best work in many years. —Ben Rosner

Read his full review here.

1. Beth Orton: Kidsticks

Rating: 9.0
As charismatic in her own understated way as the flashiest rocker, Beth Orton makes albums rarely enough that it’s tempting to view each one as an event, not just another in a series. But Kidsticks feels genuinely special—it’s an exciting reboot and a tantalizing hint that new strategies may be on the horizon, never a bad thing when an artist has been on the job more than two decades.

Orton recently relocated from Britain to L.A., become a parent, and after detouring into actual folk music, revisited technology for KidsticksL. Co-producing and co-writing the songs on synths with Andrew Hung of Fuck Buttons, Orton sounds like she’s been set free. There’s a bracing, insistent physicality here that’s often lacking in her acoustic guitar-driven work, which can verge on wan. The songs are generally simple and direct, as indicated by such blunt titles as “Wave,” “Moon” and “Petals,” and Orton doesn’t try to hide the fact she’s no longer a kid, exploiting the occasional cracks and scrapes in her still-lovely voice to arresting effect. Don’t call it folktronica, though. Call it pop, with all the inclusiveness the word implies. —Jon Young

Read his full review here.