It’s been a year in which a week can feel like a year within itself, given the crazy-ass state of our world right now. But we’ve made it to June, and so we are at the midpoint of the year. You know what that means…LISTS! And you’re probably saying to yourself, “But Dan, it’s not the end of the year yet?” Yeah, I know, but why not talk about some of the best album releases so far.
In a year that’s been rife with amazing records, these are my top 15 albums released from January to May. My hope is that a lot of these choices flew under your radar, and that I can do my job properly by presenting you with new music. But if not, then hey, weren’t these records great? I also like the prospect of doing a list like this, simply because it will be interesting to see how drastically this list will change by December. It’s sure to be affected both by upcoming releases and the chance to dive deeper into some albums I previously missed.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, here are a few honorable mentions for y’all:
- The Courtneys: II – Great all-female indie pop from Canada, perfect for slow drives in the summer. And hey, it’s summer now. Fancy that.
- Nnamdi Ogbonnaya: Drool – Fucking awesome experimental hip-hop from my hometown of Chicago.
- Uniform: Wake In Fright – Loud-ass, no wave from this New York band that’s a frightening, angry whirlwind.
- Pissed Jeans: Why Love Now – The ever-sarcastic punk outfit takes on the ever-present menace of “masculinity” and the male gaze with furious and amazing songs.
- Foxygen: Hang – A major step in the right direction after a huge misstep with their previous album, the psych-pop duo is back and as goofy as ever with amazing string sections and 70s-tinged a.m. pop ballads to boot.
- Paramore: After Laughter – Shut up, it’s amazing.
- Father John Misty: Pure Comedy – The sad, sarcastic balladeer is back with another set of songs as witty and smarmy as his last release, I Love You Honey Bear. This album is filled with tunes that almost rival its near-perfect predecessor.
#15 Album: Jesca Hoop – Memories Are Now
A gigantic step forward and breakthrough for the singer-songwriter, who is responsible for some of the year’s most haunting melodies and warmest ballads.
#14 Album: Xiu Xiu – Forget
Dark, disturbing, spastic, and as vitriolic as ever, 13 albums into their career, Xiu Xiu have lost no steam, continuing as one of the most distinct and interesting voices in indie rock.
#13 Album: Gorillaz – Humanz
Tunes that are addictive as crack, and some of my favorite and most effective features on any Gorillaz record. This has become many people’s favorite record to shit on for this year (well, until that new Arcade Fire album comes out), but dammit, I like it a lot.
#12 Album: Blanck Mass – World Eater
Power-electronic sophomore album from the solo project of John Powers (one half of the much-beloved electronic duo The Fuck Buttons). Any trace of this being a “side project” is gone. This record helps Blanck Mass stand out as its own beast, and what a noisy — and at times beautiful — one it is.
#11 Album: Perfume Genius – No Shape
Declaring any of Perfume Genius’ records as one of his most beautiful is no easy feat, but damn does No Shape make for a strong contender. Instead of being stripped back and bare, No Shape is a much richer and more bombastic experience in comparison to his other records, with string sections and pounding drums consuming most of the sound. The only thing that’s stripped back on No Shape is the level of despair you’d usually find on a Perfume Genius record, which is instead replaced with unrelenting hope and optimism.
#10 Album: JLIN – Black Origami
Just two albums into her career, Jerrilynn Patton is becoming something of an IDM legend, and most definitely an icon of the footwork genre — and for good reason. Black Origami is an electronic odyssey pulling from many different genres of electronic and hip-hop at once, throwing it in your face with staggering velocity. It’s impossible to not get lost in it.
#9 Album: Dirty Projectors – S/t
Although David Longstreth lost his girlfriend and the entire backing band he had with him recording under the Dirty Projectors moniker, he sounds just as poised as ever in his new self-titled album. Dirty Projectors is all at once the saddest record Longstreth has put out, but also his most accessible and contemporary pop-minded effort.
#8 Album: Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 3
Killer Mike and El-P — the most furious hip-hop duo on the planet — return when we needed them most with another set of songs that are full of the bombast and hot spit we’ve come to expect. The wheel hasn’t been reinvented on RTJ 3 when compared to their first two records, but a sleeker set of production tricks and confidence makes this album just as important and great as the two that preceded it.
#7 Album: Joey Bada$$ – All-Amerikkan Bada$$
Sounding vastly matured following his first two records, on All-Amerikkan Bada$$, the rebel has found a cause, and Joey provides the first great anti-“President” Trump rap record that perfectly captures the confused feeling of our nation with equal parts anger and grace.
#6 Album: Sampha – Process
Following memorable features on records by SBTRKT and Solange, just to name a few, Sampha Sissay’s debut solo record was finally released earlier this year — and my god, it does not disappoint. Process is a perfect combination of kinetic, memorable tunes under an electronic umbrella by way of experimental R&B, and Sissay’s incredible voice makes this a must-listen that you’ll want to return to again and again.
#5 Album: (Sandy) Alex G – Rocket
One of the most interesting singer-songwriter records I can recall in recent memory, coming from exactly the source I would expect. Alex G presents his most stylistically scattershot and uneven record, which gives way to one of the most compelling things he’s ever done. You get gentle indie-pop balladry on “Proud” and “Bobby,” then a staggering right hook with the hip-hop inspired “Brick,” and then disturbing pop in “Sports Star.” It’s rough around the edges, brutally earnest, and perfect in every way.
#4 Album: Thundercat – Drunk
Thundercat’s new record is an acid-jazz piece by way of a yacht rock masterpiece that is all at once one of the goofiest and most hilarious records you will listen to this year. But it’s also one of the most heartbreaking. It’s like everything you wanted to know about Thundercat but were too afraid to ask. Thematically, no stone is left unturned on this album, and musically it shows off the best of Thundercat’s entire career. From Thundercat’s musings on what it would be like to actually be a cat (“A Fan’s Mail”), to a week away in what he deemed to be a childhood fantasy (“Tokyo”), or to much deeper musings, such as the public’s unhealthy reliance on technology (“Bus In These Streets”) and the uncertainty of trust in police currently facing black America (“Jamal’s Space Ride”). This is a record whose heart is as big and infectious as the rhythms that inhabit it.
#3 Album: Priests – Nothing Feels Natural
The most ferocious, hungry, post-punk record you are sure to hear this year. All of the promise that was shown on their debut EP is fully realized here, and it gives way to the best rock record so far this year.
#2 Album: Sun Kil Moon – Common As Light And Love Are Red Valleys of Blood
The latter half of Mark Kozelek’s career has been quite interesting to watch. From delivering devastating indie folk masterpieces such as 2014’s Benji, to the unapologetic controversy he stirs with some of his opinions in the music press, Kozelek always manages to keep his audience on their toes. What makes Red Valleys of Blood so great is that it’s the best of both of these aspects. It’s an expertly crafted indie-folk record that features some of the best instrumentation on a Sun Kil Moon record yet, and Kozelek continues speaking his mind, unfiltered, about the state of the world around him now. The results are thoroughly enjoyable, and I would argue that this is maybe the best thing Kozelek has ever done. Well, maybe if Benji wasn’t so perfect.
#1 Album: Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
NEW KUNG-FU KENNY! WHILE DAMN. IS PROBABLY ONE OF LAMAR’S MOST STRAIGHTFORWARD EFFORTS SINCE SECTION 80, IT’S STILL GENIUS BECAUSE IT BORROWS FROM AND PAYS RESPECT TO 30-PLUS YEARS OF EVERYTHING THAT MAKES POPULAR HIP-HOP GREAT, AND IT PUTS IT THROUGH KENNY’S LENS! KUNG-FU KENNY MAKES EVEN TRAP MUSIC A WORK OF ART HERE, MAKING IT SEEM AS THOUGH NO SUB-GENRE OF RAP SHOULD BE CAST OFF AS ANYTHING SUCH! EVEN THOUGH HE’S NOT AS HEADY OR CREATIVE LYRICALLY ON THIS THAN HE WAS ON TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY, THAT’S NOT THE POINT! THIS IS A RECORD ABOUT RAW EMOTION, SENSE OF SELF, AND INTERNAL STRUGGLE; A THEME ANYONE CAN STILL RELATE TO! AIN’T NOBODY PRAYING FOR HIM! BUT YOU DAMN WELL SHOULD! BECAUSE KUNG-FU KENNY IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ARTISTS OF OUR GENERATION!
— Dan Fiorio, Music Blogger