The Best Music of May 2016

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Homeboy Sandman

At its essence, May is spring. The harshness of winter has given way completely for the warmth of summer, and, in May particularly, the blossoming of life. In the same way, the Best Music of May reflects the lushness of existence. If there is a common theme among the releases this month, it would be inner reflection, with an expressive ear towards growth—many of the records this month were created by people in various other bands or backgrounds, who found new avenues of expression in May.

Though it is a veteran who brought the most flowers to the table, flipping the script on the adage that kindness equals weakness. May is a great time to start being a little bit stronger with our kindness.

THE BEST RECORD OF APRIL 2016

Homeboy Sandman kindness for weakness

Homeboy Sandman, Kindness For Weakness (Stones Throw)

Kindness For Weakness follows up Homeboy Sandman’s Lice collaboration with Aesop Rock, with production by K-Nite 13 who transforms tales of introspection and rap game perspectives into timeless, styling cinematic settings and scenes. Drawing from his own learned philosophical wisdom that revolves around the adage of “mistaking kindness for weakness is a weakness I need to have more kindness for,” Homeboy Sandman helps us to collectively open our eyes to have a greater empathy for both our surroundings and our own human weaknesses.

Mets tied for first. Weather’s getting nice I know I’m missing out on a lot of legs and midsections while I’m away on tour. —Homeboy Sandman on spring in Queens

You can check out Homeboy Sandman’s Week In Pop guest selections here.

Here are the rest of our favorites for May 2016, in no particular order.

CE Schneider Topical, Antifree (OSR Tapes)

I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Christina Schneider and Zach Phillips have recently been primed in dark magic. The music the OSR Tapes stalwarts produce as a duo is mystifying in the turns it takes, their wired melodies against the spinning cogs of many instruments working lightly in conjunction. Their 2014 debut Look Who Showed Up Out Here was an understated lo-fi collection of pick-me-ups—most of them fuzzy, on the sparser side but deeply inflected emotionally. A year and a half later, the duo’s forthcoming LP Antifree sees that attitude blown out. It’s gutsier, louder by a long shot, but it has the heart that CE Schneider Topical have given us cause to expect.

Chris Cohen, As If Apart (Captured Tracks)

The man who graced us back in the day with his contributions to Haunted Graffiti, Cass McCombs, and more continues on his own singer-songwriter path that finds more lush and ear expanding passages that will keep his work held in some of the highest regards around. The follow up to his Overgrown Path, Chris Cohen’s As If Apart finds the mysticism and mysteries that exist in our everyday worlds in sometimes plain site that instill a sense that one is existing within a modern day fantasia.

Dreamboy, Endings (Atelier Ciseaux)

You might already know Montreal’s Esther Isabel as the keyboardist from TR/ST, or by her solo handle Dreamboy, where visions cast from experiences and alternate states of consciousness are mixed together to create Endings. Isabel continues her own personal trajectories and narratives where the coldest synths and most atmospheric sequencing highlights the warmest sentiments that are often the hardest to convey. Isabel utilizes a very sparse approach to electronic-minimalism that allows the atmospheric and breathy arrangements to allow her feelings to shine forth further where the production further underscores the emotive underlying layers that may speak to you when you least expect it.

Kaytranada, 99.9% (XL Recordings)

Montreal Electronic wunderkind Kaytranada has the blogosphere buzzing with his 99.9% album, a long-awaited feature length which lives up to the hype for most. The project helped acquaint new listeners with a vibrant, versatile sound that Kaytranada’s been cultivating through myriad remixes over the past five-plus years. Now signed to XL, his first proper studio album features guest contributions from the likes of Anderson Paak, Vic Mensa, Little Dragon, Syd, Craig David, Aluna George, and BadBadNotGood over its 15-tracks.

Jazz Adam has been playing solo out of Philadelphia for the past two years as Old Maybe, curating thick atmospheres with a lo-fi setup that’s roomy and malleable. Now, with Ricardo Balmaseda and Nina Ryser on bass and drums, Old Maybe have translated the roominess and soft aggression of that record into something more straightforwardly abrasive. The first EP for the three-piece, Oblio combines the occasional softness of Old Maybe’s previous work with a more pungent insistence. What before might have been posed as questions are now ultimatums, and the layered voicings that form them are commanding. In the skronky push and pull of the instrumentation—which lands in a comfortably murky space between no wave and noise rock—the trio articulate a sense of sheer exasperation drawn to its brink.

Bloomington’s Amy Oelsner and Erin Tobey are ones to branch out, having each grown roomy solo catalogs that call on punk rock, pop, and folk in varying proportions. Brenda’s Friend feels like a natural convergence point for the two songwriters. As a pair, Oelsner and Tobey make music that’s big and scuzzy, rhythmic even where there’s no guiding percussion. Full of crunchy guitars and gorgeous two-part vocal lines with the occasional thump of a drum. House Down is a punchy six-song EP that’s both reckless and perfectly impure in the sound.

Greenova South, Kome Ryde With Us (Mishka)

Little Rock, Arkansas’ own Pepperboy combines delivery craft with his Green Ova comrade Squadda Bambino with Young God (aka Ian Taggart of Blue Sky Black Death) production to catapult the Greenova South project to reality. Squadda stands as one-half of the influential cloud-rap duo Main Attrakionz with Pepperboy (oka Jerry Davie) delivering further stories and inspirations from Little Rock’s southern side as heard in his works chronicled from his Bangin’ in the Rock origins. These South by the Bay combinations are further brought under the same umbrella courtesy of Taggard’s hazy production cadences. The Greenova South celebrates the southern connect, Pepperboy delivers words and modes of inspiration in subdued breaths while Squadda speaks learned gospel, that signature gravelly delivery carying the weight of a gavel slam.

“You coulda been an A, but you’d rather be a D”—in perfectly irreverent form, Colleen Green continues her streak of confronting painful truths on the opener of her new self-titled CS. Though the admission is harsh, there’s comfort in hearing it said out loud. Hearing Colleen Green is like hearing from your best friend. The Colleen Green CS is this year’s final entry in an Infinity Cat cassette series curated for the past two years by friend and collaborator Casey Weissbuch. Co-produced by Green and Unkle Funkle (of The Memories and White Fang), it resurrects the gritty guitar and drum machine setup of her earlier records to match the maturity she’s cultivated since her debut LP in 2011.

Maria Usbeck, Amparo (Cascine)

You idolized and adored her in Selebrities, play your Soda Shop records and singles obsessively, and now we’re graced with the debut solo album from Maria Usbeck. Amparo alludes to Maria’s mother’s name and her own middle name where the Brooklyn-based artist draws upon her upbringing in Quito, singing in Spanish, combining fusions with various cultural linguistic tongues; Catalan, Costa Rica’s Bribri, Ecuador’s Quichua, Easter Island’s Rapa Nui, and more can be heard on the soul-seeking sanctuary of the sacred unities between parties that has the power to reach down to the most guarded sections of the heart.

Fusilier, “Make You” [single] (Brassland)

“Make You” straps you on for a boat ride into the uncharted channels, watery bunkers, and utilidor corridors of the unknown on the dare of your life. Fusilier takes the routes of the abandoned industrial exclusion zones in search of possibilities, the raw wreckage wastelands that humankind leaves behind that break out of blinders of status-quo conformity to ponder things like the long term effects of actions now and the impact that has on future possibilities. Blake brings this in a ferocity of post-apocalyptic stripped-down blues that breaks apart the many pieces of the many individual fabrics, and tissues that make up the constructs that much of the defeated and half-asleep world takes for granted.

Philadelphia’s Domenica Pileggi released their debut record two springs ago as i tried to run away when i was 6, and the delicate but commanding songs stuck. Since then they’ve released handfuls of records short and long. In the fall they changed the project’s name to Microsoft Saint, and with the shift they kept and refined all the resonance that’s made the project so incisive. Microsoft Saint’s second release is chilling. The six-song EP bubblegum bubblegum swaps previous feelings of comfort for an uncloaked, raw apprehension—it feels like the furrowing of a brow, a deeply concentrated asking unto a world that might not answer back.

Chance The Rapper, Coloring Book (Apple Music)

Chance the Rapper continues to be the maverick of rap, with well-coordinated mixtape releases that don’t charge the listener, but pays back ten-fold in quality and inspiration. The Chicago rapper has never shied away from Christian ideology, but his third self-released mix (though through a marketing endeavor with Apple Music) continues his legacy towards the moral aspects of religion, while simultaneously asserting himself as the game’s shining star; “This is my part/Nobody else speak.”

“Art rock” may be a frequent catch-all for a band like this, but use of the word “art” risks implying a distancing from experience or “reality,” and Maher Shalal Hash Baz possess an immediacy and a commitment to the spirit of onstage or on-the-floor improvisation even in their recordings. Besides, Maher’s sounds are too fluid not to slip through the holes in any net of genre. Hello NewYork traverses a spread of 24 tracks of varying length (and another 10 bonus) with nearly as many collaborators behind them, including OSR’s own Zach Phillips, who engineered and mixed the record. The extension of a 30th anniversary gig in the city, it testifies to the ever-shifting group’s ear toward Western sounds and words.

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