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The release schedule for May may be the most eclectic one yet this year, headlined by chart-toppers who aren’t resting on their laurels and eccentrics bringing an audience to them rather than the other way around. The month is anchored by bestselling acts who’ve been unafraid to use their status at the top of the food chain to take risks, like the Black Keys, Coldplay, and the Roots. Perhaps more compelling are works for uncompromising artists who have gained greater acceptance even as they’ve stayed as quirky and complex as they’ve always been, as is the case with Owen Pallett and tUnE-yArDs. And that’s not to mention that May’s slate of releases also features new work by iconoclasts across generations and genres, from Swans to Tori Amos to a Brian Eno and Karl Hyde collaboration.


 
May 6

 


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tUnE-yArDs

Nikki Nack

(4AD)

Review [6.May.2014]
tUnE-yArDs
Nikki Nack


When it comes to an artist like tUnE-yArDs mad genius Merrill Garbus, it’s best to expect the unexpected, an axiom she proves true on her third full-length, Nikki Nack. With her latest effort, Garbus proves she’s constantly changing and growing as a songwriter, even if it can be hard to tell what’s new with someone as eclectic and mercurial as she is. But, really, tUnE-yArDs’ approach on Nikki Nack is as the title of the album’s opening number announces: “Find a New Way”. That new way, as the track suggests, is to tamp down and refine tUnE-yArDs’ signature clatter and shifting the spotlight just so on Garbus’ uniquely expressive voice, which rings through clearer and truer than before, accompanied by understated rhythms and the unobtrusive quirk of harpsichord-y keyboards. So even though tUnE-yArDs still throw the kitchen sink into their songs, the arrangements on Nikki Nack really draw out the urgency of Garbus’ socially conscious lyrics and the versatility with which she delivers ‘em, her vocals ranging from the nursery rhyme scatting of “Water Fountain” to the full-throated call-and-response chanting of “Real Thing” to the surprisingly smooth cadences floating through “Wait for a Minute”. By making more room for her voice to stand out, Garbus pulls off a neat sleight-of-hand on Nikki Nack, finding something to train her focus on without having to hold her hyperactive imagination back one bit. Arnold Pan


 
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Wooden Wand

Farmer’s Corner

(Fire)

Wooden Wand
Farmer’s Corner


James Jackson Toth has been twisting his Wooden Wand project into different shapes for years. But with the help of a group of fellow Birmingham musicians, his past couple of records—Briarwood, Blood Oaths of the New Blues, and Wooden Wand & the World War IV—have found a home in spacious rock and swampy textures. But if those albums were built on a sound as much of wanderlust as of comfort, Farmer’s Corner changes the formula a bit. These songs aren’t wandering so much as they are settled into some distant, pastoral corner of the world. There’s something bittersweet about “Alpha Dawn”, but also something firmly rooted. Songs like “When the Trail Goes Cold” melt at the edges with distant, atmospheric instrumentation, but at the heart it is Toth’s voice and guitar. “Dambuilding”, meanwhile, scrapes away the gauze and puts Toth’s weathered voice high in the mix, bringing us into the intimacy of the record, while jangling guitar and twanging riffs and vocals clash together on “Port of Call” like white-capped waves from a coming storm. Toth seems to be playing with texture here in a new way, not spreading out in every direction, but rather stretching a line from one point of entry and then returning back to it. These songs are still restless, still searching, but they seem to be searching for light in the corners of their new home. On its surface, it plays like a return to Toth’s folkier work, but really it’s just an intimate and excellent turn in his recent musical patterns. It’s no surprise that the shape-shifting Toth manages to make every album fresh, every album distinct, even as he strikes on a consistent musical vision. Matthew Fiander


 
May 13

 


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Agalloch

The Serpent & the Sphere

(Profound Lore)

Agalloch
The Serpent & the Sphere


There’s a lesson at the start of The Serpent & the Sphere. If you want to title your opening track “Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation”, it better be impossibly grand. And, if you want that grandeur to be staggering and excellent, there’s one more rule: be Agalloch. The Portland, Oregon protean-metal band has always had big ideas and big sounds housed in epic albums, and The Serpent & the Sphere is no exception. It’s an album that does not wilt in the shadow of its excellent predecessor, Marrow of the Spirit, but rather doubles down on that album’s ambition. And so you get the giant sliding riffs and impossible space of that opening track. You get the taut edges of “The Astral Dialogue”. You get the haunting corners and surprisingly bittersweet textures of “Dark Matter Gods”. And you also get 12 minutes of “Plague of the Ages”, a song as ambitious as the opener, but in a more propulsive way that meshes acoustic elements with tight-wire riffs and intrepid drumming. There is around these also the interesting folk breakdowns that more than ever feel like their own movements, their own songs, and not just interludes or soft counterplays to the band’s harder real songs. Everything here carries equal weight, and in that way The Serpent & the Sphere finds Agalloch achieving a new, sturdier balance. The real triumph here, though, is the way the band hones its craft yet expands on it, and polishes its sound without losing its edge. If anything, it’s gotten sharper here. So sharp you won’t feel the slice. You’ll just see the scar later. Matthew Fiander


 
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Amen Dunes

Love

(Sacred Bones)

Review [13.May.2014]
Amen Dunes
Love


Starting out operating as the most solitary of lo-fi solo artists, Amen Dunes’ Damon McMahon has taken steps to open up his psych-folk sound, which comes to full fruition with the more expansive scope of his latest release, Love. While he started working with a full band on his previous album, 2011’s Through Donkey Jaw, those previous efforts feel cooped up compared to the approach Amen Dunes take this time around. Some of that impression has to do with the cast of indie luminaries McMahon assembled to help him record Love, an eclectic bunch that includes members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Colin Stetson, and Elias Rønnenfelt of Iceage. Yet even with all the strong musical perspectives involved here, McMahon’s songwriting vision is clearly the center of gravity on something that feels as unified as Love does, with his collaborators coming in to add richness and depth to his resonant soundscapes. So while McMahon’s introspective, creaking vocals and patiently building strum provide the backbone for Love, what should be intimate compositions bloom into panoramic pieces layered with wobbly background noise, off-kilter piano, and interlaced guitar accompaniments. Often, it’s just a slight touch that adds size and scale to the songs, be it some twangy drone thickening “Lonely Richard” and “Everybody Is Crazy” or traces of backing vocals shading McMahon’s leads on “Lilac in Hand” and “I Know Myself”. Amen Dunes’ subject matter on Love may still seem personal and intimate, but those feelings are expressed through a musical imagination that comes across bigger and broader than before. Arnold Pan


 
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Swans

To Be Kind

(Young God)

Review [12.May.2014]
Swans
To Be Kind


Considering the success of 2012’s The Seer, it’s easy to forget that Swans kind of always made really long records. And so To Be Kind isn’t tied to that album any more than it’s tied to any other record in the Swans catalog. The amazing thing about the band’s past three records, after Michael Gira left behind Angels of Light to re-form Swans, is how the group has both reimagined its old more industrial sound and expanded on it. The Seer was an album that scraped out huge craters of sound and songs stretched past their breaking point, ringing out into some sort of eternal silence. To Be Kind achieves a similarly staggering effect, but in a wholly different way. If the size of these songs is still overwhelming, the charms in them are perhaps more immediately identifiable. The sinister shuffle and cool piano fills of “Screenshot”. The towering rock breakdown of “Just a Little Boy”. The brittle funk lines of “A Little God in My Hands”. The breakneck shambling rhythms of “Oxygen”. Even the 34-minute “Sun/Toussaint” moves satisfyingly from dense, dark pressure to diamond-like astral spaces in which Gira howls like a wild dog at some celestial body or another. These songs are rocket-hot, malleable things, the parts laid on the anvil of Thor Harris’ drums and Chris Pravdica’s bass and hammered into shape—sometimes with sledgehammer force, others with ball-peen precision—by guitars and atmospherics and, of course, Gira’s commanding presence. To Be Kind is a grinding, troubling wonder of a record, but under all that grit-toothed tension, this album uncovers, perhaps more than any other Swans album to date, the main thrust of the band’s energy: pure, shaking joy. Matthew Fiander


 
May 27

 


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Owen Pallett

In Conflict

(Domino)

Review [28.May.2014]
Owen Pallett
In Conflict


Between an Oscar nomination for collaborating with Arcade Fire on the Her original score and making waves for writing a series of pieces extolling pop music on musicologist terms, Owen Pallett has already made his breakthrough into the popular consciousness in 2014. But those accomplishments are just a prelude to the main event, the release of Pallett’s much awaited new album, In Conflict: While Pallett’s used his music theory background to justify the merits of Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, his own work on In Conflict might be best appreciated as doing the inverse, taking classical music themes and making them palatable and accessible to a mainstream audience. Even if there’s undoubtedly some art-music chin-stroking that goes right over your head on In Conflict, Pallett’s compositions beam with a bright pop-like tone that makes it easy to absorb the highbrow, high-concept elements by osmosis. Though it hardly shrinks from complexity and its intellectual side, In Conflict is a warm and organic work, the by-product, as Pallett has noted, of playing with a band and recording much of the album live. Indeed, when you hear the chamber-electro hybrid of “I Am Not Afraid” and “Song for Five & Six” or the way the bracing percussion adds drama to the soaring string arrangement on the lead single “The Riverbed”, it hardly matters whether Pallett’s music is classical turned pop or vice versa. Rather, In Conflict validates its own existence on its own terms, no explanation necessary. Arnold Pan


 
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Sharon Van Etten

Are We There

(Jagjaguwar)

Review [28.May.2014]
Sharon Van Etten
Are We There


There’s a track on Sharon Van Etten’s upcoming album Are We There titled “Taking Chances” and it’s as good a way as any to account for her mindset on her latest outing. So it’s probably not a coincidence that the first sampling of Are We There comes with “Taking Chances”, on which Van Etten makes a statement by shifting from her trademark indie-folk aesthetic to a smoother, more downbeat sound, one that relies more on neon-lit synths and pulsing bass than the shimmery strumming she made her name with. Indeed, “Taking Chances” is indicative of an album that’s a gamble for a rising artist who could’ve kept climbing up the ranks simply doing what she does best better. Instead, the risks Van Etten takes on Are We There yield more surprising rewards in music that’s more composed at the same time it’s more spare and subdued, built as much on floating strings, melancholy piano, and insinuating keyboard lines as her intricate guitar melodies. And more significantly, Are We There finds Van Etten’s vocals at her most unflinching and vulnerable, her resonant voice standing front and center before patient, atmospheric soundscapes. Even if Sharon Van Etten takes her listeners on a road less traveled by her up to this point, there’s no question she’s got a clear vision of getting to where she wants to go on Are We There. Arnold Pan


 

Selected Releases for May 2014
(Release dates subject to change)


May 6
Lily Allen, Sheezus (Parlophone/Warner)
Rodrigo Amarante (Little Joy), Cavalo (Easy Sound)
Andrew Jackson Jihad, Christmas Island (SideOneDummy)
Antwon, Heavy Hearted in Doldrums (Unif)
Atmosphere, Southsiders (Rhymesayers)
Black Stone Cherry, Magic Mountain (Roadrunner)
Rachel Taylor Brown, Falimy (Penury Pop)
Cheap Girls, Famous Graves (Xtra Mile)
Clear Plastic Masks, Clear Plastic Masks (Serpents and Snakes)
Cloud Seeding, Mirage (Bleek)
Comrades, Safekeeper (Blood & Ink)
Thomas Dybdahl, What’s Left Is Forever (Strange Cargo/Manhattan)
Brian Eno and Karl Hyde, Someday World (Warp)
FinleyKnight, FinleyKnight
Liam Finn, The Nihilist (Yep Roc)
Fujiya and Miyagi, Artificial Sweeteners (Yep Roc)
The Generators, Life Gives-Life Takes (Randale)
Kina Grannis, Element
Curtis Harding, Soul Power (Burger)
Ben and Ellen Harper, Childhood Home (Prestige Folklore)
The Horrors, Luminous (XL)
In Hearts Wake, Earthwalker (UNFD)
Josef K, The Only Fun in Town (Les Disques du Crepuscule)
King Dude, Fear (Not Just Religious Music)
Kite Party, Come On Wondering (Animal Style)
Ray LaMontagne, Supernova (RCA)
Nikki Lane, All or Nothin’ (New West)
Lykke Li, I Never Learn (LL Recordings/ Atlantic)
Lil Wayne, Tha Carter V
Matrimony, Montebello Memories (Columbia)
Sarah McLachlan, Shine On (Verve)
Natalie Merchant, Natalie Merchant (Nonesuch)
Papercuts, Life Among the Savages (Easy Sound)
PAWS, Youth Culture Forever (FatCat)
Quantic, Magnetica (Tru Thoughts)
Gruff Rhys, American Interior
Robelledo, Memento Drive (Kompakt)
Jenny Scheinman, The Littlest Prisoner (Sony Masterworks)
Mike Sempert, Mid-Dream
Shlomo, Everlast deluxe edition (Friends of Friends)
Silkworm, Libertine deluxe reissue (Comedy Minus One)
Jarekus Singleton, Refuse to Lose (Alligator)
Smoke Fairies, Smoke Fairies (Full Time Hobby)
Stick Against Stone, The Oregon Bootleg Tapes (MediaGroove)
Stone Cold Fox, Memory Palace
Wesley Wolfe, Numbskull (Tangible Formats)
Wussy, Attica (ShakeIt)
Yesway, Yesway
Young Magic, Breathing Statues (Carpark)


May 13
9Bach, Tincian (Real World)
Tori Amos, Unrepentant Geraldines (Mercury Classics)
Joseph Arthur, Lou (Lou Reed songs) (Vanguard)
The Black Keys, Turn Blue (Nonesuch)
Chromeo, White Women (Atlantic)
The Clientele, Suburban Light deluxe reissue (Merge)
Cousins, The Halls of Wickwire (Ba Da Bing!)
Cremation Lily, Fires Frame the Silhouette (Alter)
Douglas Dare, Whelm (Erased Tapes)
Kris Delmhorst, Blood Test (Signature Sounds)
Jesse DeNaro, Dear, Love
John Escreet, Sounds, Space and Structures (Sunnyside)
Radney Foster, Everything I Should Have Said (Devil’s River)
Geronimo!, Cheap Trick (Exploding in Sound)
Guided By Voices, Cool Planet (GBV)
Hallelujah the Hills, Have You Ever Done Something Evil? (Discrete Pageantry)
Collin Herring, Some Knives
Hiss Tracts, Shortwave Nights (Constellation)
The Howlin’ Brothers, Trouble (Thirty Tigers)
Hunterchild, Hunterchild (Temporary Residence)
Ice Cube, Everything’s Corrupt (Lench Mob)
Michael Jackson, XSCAPE (Epic)
Kadavar, Abra Kadavar (Nuclear Blast)
Kishi Bashi, Lighght (Joyful Noise)
Kreidler, ABC (Bureau B)
La Sera, Hour of the Sawn (Hardly Art)
K. Leimer, A Period of Review—Original Recordings: 1975-1983 (RVNG Intl)
Little Dragon, Nabuma Rubberband (Loma Vista)
Walter Martin (Walkmen), We’re All Young Together (Family Jukebox)
Dave Mason, Future’s Past (Something Music)
Mirah, Changing Light (Absolute Magnitude/K)
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Days of Abandon (Yebo)
Dolly Parton, Blue Smoke (Sony Masterworks)
Planning for Burial, Desideratum (The Flenser)
Rebel Tumbao, Rebel Tumbao (Sacred Rhythm)
Marc Ribot Trio, Live at the Village Vanguard (Pi)
The Roots, ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin (Def Jam)
Roto’s Magic Act, Into the Unknown
Sculpture, Membrane Pop (Software)
Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (High Top Mountain)
Sylar, To Whom It May Concern (Razor and Tie)
Sylvian Esso, Sylvian Esso (Partisan)
The Shilohs, The Shilohs (Light Organ)
Thunderegg, C’mon Thunder
Tiny Ruins, Brightly Painted One (Flying Nun)
Tobacco, Ultima II Massage (Ghostly International)
Tropic of Pisces, Symmetry (Ooh La La)
The Trouble with Templeton, Rookie (Bella Union)
Weatherbox, Flies in All Directions (Triple Crown)
Mark Weinstein, Latin Jazz Underground (Zoho)
The Westerlies, Wish the Children Would Come on Home: The Music of Wayne Horvitz (Songlines)
Wreckless Eric, Le Beat Group Electrique and The Donovan of Trash reissues, (Fire)
Kristeen Young, The Knife Shift


May20
American Football, American Football deluxe reissue (Polyvinyl)
Archie Bronson Outfit, Wild Crush (Domino)
Bo Ningen, III (Stolen Recordings)
Haley Bonar, Last War (Graveface)
Brian Jonestown Massacre, Revelation (A)
The Capsules, The Long Goodbye (Saint Marie)
Chatham County Line, Tightrope (Yep Roc)
Coldplay, Ghost Stories (Parlophone/Atlantic)
Comet Control, Comet Control (Tee Pee)
Saul Conrad, a tyrant and a lamb (A Mountain of Leopards)
Crow Bait, Halls of Fate (Don Giovanni)
The Echo Friendly, Love Panic (Yebo)
The Everymen, Givin’ Up on Free Jazz (Ernest Jenning)
Erik Friedlander, Nighthawks (Skipstone)
Hercules & Love Affair, Feast of the Broken Heart
Jolie Holland, Wine Dark Sea (Anti-)
Billy Joel, A Matter of Trust: The Bridge to Russia (Legacy)
Kate Tempest, Everybody Down (Big Dada)
LCD Soundsystem, The Long Goodbye: LCD Soundsystem Live at Madison Square Garden (DFA)
Les Big Byrd, They Worshipped Cats (A)
Tyson Meade, Tomorrow in Progress
Mesa Ritual, Mesa Ritual (Sige)
Mr. Scruff, Friendly Bacteria (Ninja Tune)
Oasis, Definitely Maybe 20th anniversary reissue (Big Brother)
Conor Oberst, Upside Down Mountain (Nonesuch)
Roy Orbison, Mystery Girl deluxe (Legacy)
Plaid, Reachy Prints (Warp)
PUJOL, KLUDGE (Saddle Creek)
Ernest Ranglin, Bless Up (Avila Street)
RBTS WIN, Palm Sunday
Edward Rogers, Kaye (Zip)
Emma Ruth Rundle, Some Heavy Ocean (Sargent House)
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Goin’ Home (Concord)
Malka Spiegel, Gliding (Swim)
Trans Am, Volume X (Thrill Jockey)
Various Artists, Hyperdub 10.1 Hyperdub 10th anniversary compilation (Hyperdub)
Various Artists, Strange Breaks & Mr. Thing III (BBE)
Bry Webb, Free Will (Idée Fixe)
Yann Tiersen, (Mute)


May 27
1, 2, 3, Big Weather (American Hermitage)
Artifex Pereo, Time in Place (Tooth & Nail)
Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires, Dereconstructed (Sub Pop)
Beaty Heart, Mixed Blessings (Nusic Sound)
Black Anvil, Hail Death (Relapse)
Broken Twin, May (Anti-)
Buffalo Killers, Heavy Reverie (Sun Pedal)
Challenger, Back to Bellevue
Anansy Cisse, Mali Overdrive (Tugboat)
Hollie Cook, Twice (Mr. Bongo)
Jerry David DeCicca (Black Swans), Understanding Land
Joakim, Tropics of Love (Because/Tigersushi)
Foxing, The Albatross (Triple Crown)
Ben Frost, A U R O R A (Mute)
John Fullbright, Songs (Blue Dirt/Thirty Tigers)
Future Death, Special Victim (Bloodmoss)
Yonatan Gat, Iberian Passage EP (Joyful Noise)
GusGus, Mexico (Kompakt)
Haunted Hearts (Dee Dee of Dum Dum Girls and Brandon Welchez of Crocodiles), Initiation (Zoo)
Hundred Waters, The Moon Rang Like a Bell (OWLSA)
Kiss, Kiss 40 (UME)
Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, A Long Way to the Beginning (Partisan)
Amy Lavere, Runaway’s Diary (Archer/Thirty Tigers)
Mayhem, Esoteric Warfare (Season of Mist)
The Meatmen, Savage Sagas (Self Destructo)
Metsatöll, Karjajuht (Spinefarm)
Miniature TIgers, Cool Runnings (Yebo)
moe., No Guts. No Glory (Sugar Hill)
Napolian, Incursio (Software)
OBN III, Third Time to Harm (Tic Tac Totally)
Officer!, Dead Unique (Blackest Ever Black)
Popstrangers, Fortuna (Carpark)
PRISM Quartet, People’s Emergency Center (Innova)
REDREDRED, Pattern Completion (Dark Entries)
Roll the Tanks, Till Midnight (Epitaph)
Rush Midnight, Rush Midnight (Last Gang)
Chris Schlarb, Making the Saint (Asthmatic Kitty)
Serpentine Path, Emanations (Relapse)
Silverbird, Surface Life EP
Spanish Gold, South of Nowhere (BMG/Del Mar)
They Might Be Giants, Idlewild compilation of music from last ten years (Idlewild(
Sumerian Fleet, Just Pressure (Dark Entries)
This Wild Life, Clouded (Epitaph)
Three Legged Race, Rope Commercial Vol. 1  EP (Underwater Peoples)
Trash Talk, No Peace (Odd Future)
Aurelio Valle, Acme Power Transmission
Various Artists, The Rough Guide to Indian Classical Music (World Music Network)
Various Artists, The Rough Guide To Psychedelic Cambodia (World Music Network)
Various Artists, Sound of Siam 2 (Soundway)
Gina Villalobos, Sola
Watter, This World (Temporary Residence)
Craig Wedren, Jefferson Friedman, ACME, On in Love (New Amsterdam)
Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison, Our Year (Thirty Tigers)
YAITW, When Life Comes to Death (Deathwish Inc.)

Related Articles
23 Jul 2014
Forecastle rounded out its 2014 installment with aplomb, proving that it is only going to get bigger and better from here on out.
4 Jun 2014
Wooden Wand’s bread and butter: elliptical, leisurely paced gothic folk-rock, custom-made for slate-gray Sunday afternoons.
28 May 2014
When not doing strings for the likes of Grizzly Bear or Arcade Fire, Owen Pallett is putting out his own gorgeous string- and synth-laced pop, like his latest, In Conflict, which he gives PopMatters a guided tour of.
27 May 2014
With Brian Eno and the FILMHarmonic Orchestra Prague in tow, In Conflict proves to be Owen Pallett's most confident artistic expression thus far.
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