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Listening Ahead: Upcoming Music Releases for May 2015

Get the early word on new albums by My Morning Jacket, the Tallest Man on Earth, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra.

Purportedly marking a drastic change in direction from the neo-folk stylings that made them famous, Mumford & Sons' forthcoming album Wilder Mind will factionalize its listening public from critics with their knives out just as surely as it is to top the charts in May. This installment of "Listening Ahead", however, covers some better bets to go further in their development, be it Mikal Cronin adding more melodic layers to his power-pop compositions, the Tallest Man on Earth incorporating more instrumentation to his intimate folk songs, or Unknown Mortal Orchestra taking its psych-rock to the dance floor. Also highly anticipated this month is new work from mainstays like Hot Chip and My Morning Jacket, along with the return of Faith No More, with its first album in almost 18 years.


May 5

Artist: Mikal Cronin

Album: MCIII

Label: Merge


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Mikal Cronin

Progress is oftentimes taken for granted as part of a natural process, but Mikal Cronin shows that continuing to develop and finetune your craft doesn't just happen on its own without hard work and foresight. That's reflected in Cronin's career, as he's pushed himself to take another step with each of his full-length efforts, leading up to his new album MCIII. While the revelatory 2013 work MCII helped Cronin get beyond his reputation as a satellite in the orbit of Ty Segall by featuring some of the catchiest indie-rock offerings in recent memory, he's moved even further from his garage-rock roots to a lusher power-pop approach this time out. That's something Cronin announces right from the start of MCIII, saturating the opener "Turn Around" with more strings than probably appeared on the entirety of the last album. So even if Cronin's intuitive knack for an earworming melody is still what's most potent about his music -- "Made My Mind Up" occupies that sweet spot where psych-pop and AM-rock overlap that Cronin gets to like few can -- his ability to avail himself of all the resources at his disposal fleshes out what comes naturally to him. And Cronin's ambitions as a songwriter come through even more powerfully on the mini-concept album that makes up the second half of MCIII, an autobiographical song-suite that delivers personal lyrics along side piano, strings, horns, and the tsouras (a Greek stringed instrument). Outdoing himself while outpacing his influences and associations, Mikal Cronin keeps on making a name for himself.


Artist: METZ

Album: II

Label: Sub Pop


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Repetition, by its very definition, gets old, gets tired, but the exact opposite is true when you're talking about how Toronto-based power trio METZ is able to replicate its post-hardcore formula again and again. So even if most of METZ's new album II sounds mostly the same, don't confuse the band's uncanny ability to continually reproduce its sound as a case of going on autopilot because that's the furthest thing from your mind when you're being barraged by its fast-faster-fast, loud-louder-loud thrashers. Rather, describing METZ as repetitive is meant as the highest praise for how the group grinds out its combination of pummeling guitar, elastic bass, and bashed-up drums with assembly line-like precision -- and that goes extra for the way frontman Alex Edkins yells his guts out, time and again. It's hard not to marvel at METZ's ability to go back to what it does best over and over and over, considering how much effort and force the three must put in to achieve the heightened level of intensity they get across on record with each and every track. It's awe-inspiring the way Bleach-esque moshers like "The Swimmer" and "I.O.U." only pick up steam the more they churn, or how the slower, quieter -- by comparison -- closer "Kicking a Can of Worms" ends up being so dynamic as it lifts itself out of sludge and muck. In short, II is a physics-defying performance, with not an iota of energy lost on it from front to back.


Artist: My Morning Jacket

Album: The Waterfall

Label: ATO


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My Morning Jacket
The Waterfall

My Morning Jacket's sound is one that contains multitudes, something too vast and open-minded to be pigeonholed or easily accounted for. At least that's one way to describe how Jim James channels his broad, idiosyncratic imagination into MMJ's latest The Waterfall. While it may not offer up the "American Radiohead" forays or Prince-like meanderings that have been MMJ's biggest artistic gambles from 2005's Z onwards, The Waterfall is an impressively diverse album in its own right, ranging from big-gesture rock that can fill up the largest of stages to tender folk that seems like it's intended for no one except James and who he's singing about. In between, there's plenty of enigmatic hybrids that only MMJ can pull off -- or even try to -- be it the rootsy soul of "Compound Fracture" or the dystopian Americana of "Like a River". But what makes the inspired mix-and-match of stylings work is My Morning Jacket's ability to combine seemingly disparate tones on The Waterfall, signaled on the leadoff number "Believe (Nobody Knows)" as arena-rock flourishes punctuate James' brand of existentialism to make it feel hopeful rather than weary. It's hard to categorize The Waterfall by set standards, except to say that it's a My Morning Jacket album through and through, with the expansive sense of scale and intrepid attitude that goes with what that means.


May 12

Artist: The Tallest Man on Earth

Album: Dark Bird Is Home

Label: Dead Oceans


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The Tallest Man on Earth
Dark Bird Is Home

Being introspective doesn't have to feel self-conscious and solitary, which seems to be the lesson learned on the Tallest Man on Earth's new full-length Dark Bird Is Home. So even as Kristian Matsson digs deep, he's not doing so in a way that's meant to alienate himself or his audience. On the contrary, Dark Bird Is Home is a record that draws the listener in, as Matsson expands the scope of his post-Dylan folk with brighter, more open compositions while also maintaining the sense of immediacy he's been known for. The bigger, more welcoming sound is evident in the way Matsson brings in more elements than before, highlighting strings, horns, keyboards, and backing vocals. Songs that start according to form with just Matsson and his acoustic guitar ease their way into something more embracing, a tone that's set by the leadoff track "Fields of Our Home". More fully orchestrated offerings like "Darkness of the Dream" and "Sagres", which brings to mind Magnetic Fields in their more acoustic and less glib moments, are inviting from the get-go, allowing the listener in with a more accessible approach that emerges from the collaborative feel of Matsson working with a full band. In turn, even the album's quieter, more intimate moments come off richer and more resonant, as if suggesting Matsson isn't going it alone so much. On Dark Bird Is Home, Matsson comes into his own as a songwriter by letting others in.


May 19

Artist: Holly Herndon

Album: Platform

Label: 4AD/RVNG Intl


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Holly Herndon

Holly Herndon's Platform is the best-case scenario for practice meeting theory. A Ph.D. student at Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, Herndon obviously has a taste and the big brain for high-concept projects, and Platform certainly lives up to that expectation. In interviews leading up to Platform's release, Herndon has discussed how her music explores the experience of autonomous sensory meridian response, or the triggering of sensations from everyday sounds. While Platform is definitely heady stuff, keep in mind that the album is about physical, visceral responses and the kinds of connections experimental music can forge. In that pursuit, Platform offers a wide range of stimuli to elicit all sorts of reactions, from rapturous, transcendent electro hymnals, to ethereal pop passages, to too-intimate monologues recited in a pitch that can make you squeamish. Yet Platform is more than just a research project: It immerses you in its multivalent experiences by making you wonder where it's taking you next. That spirit is typified by the single "Interference", which doesn't draw lines between the organic and synthetic, but shows how they can be continuous with one another as floating, breathy voices bleed into blippy effects and rapid-fire beats. Setting aside its intellectual pleasures, Platform shows how Holly Herndon has grown as a composer, giving a greater sense of shape to her soundscapes than before, even as her palette of tones and moves has expanded.


May 26

Artist: Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Album: Multi-Love

Label: Jagjaguwar


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Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Unknown Mortal Orchestra gets ahead by going back to the future on the trippy disco-indebted Multi-Love. On his band's third album, mainman Ruban Nielson revisits familiar dance-rock themes only to update them, while also refreshing and opening up UMO's sound in the process. In effect, Nielson changes his group's destiny on Multi-Love, transforming what has up to now been a scrappy psych-pop outfit into a polished retro-futurist -- or would that be futuristic retro? -- act. While UMO gave hints at going in this direction on 2013's II, it would've been quite a stretch of the imagination to think that they could add so much oomph and color to their sound, with richer, contoured melodies bolstered by neon-saturated instrumentation and a more up-front production. That's apparent from the self-titled opener, which offered the first tease a few months ago of where UMO is headed on the new album with its bold mix sci-fi synths, strutting funk rhythms, and Nielsen's soulful falsetto. The new single "Can't Keep Checking My Phone" proves to be an even better example of how Multi-Love is anachronistic pop at the cutting edge, riding a rollerskatable '70s groove as Nielsen describes the most contemporary of everyday habits. With a foot in the past and another in the future, Multi-Love actually suggests that Unknown Mortal Orchestra's time is now.


Selected Releases for May 2015

(Release dates subject to change)

May 5

A Grave with No Name - Feathers Wet, Under the Moon (Lefse)

Actress - DJ Kicks (!K7)

And So I Watch You from Afar - Heirs (Sargent House)

Best Coast - California Nights (Harvest)

Boney James - futuresoul (Concord)

Braille - Mute Swan (Friends of Friends)

Breakage - When the Night Comes (Digital Soundboy)

Hollis Brown - 3 Shots (Jullian)

Ciara - Jackie (Epic)

Coliseum - Anxiety's Kiss (Deathwish, Inc.)

Colorway - the Black Sky Sequined

Crown and the M.O.B. - All Rise

Death and Vanilla - Where the Wild Things Are (Fire)

Deer Run Drifters - Restless Youth

Django Django - First Light (Ribbon)

Downtown Boys - Full Communism (Don Giovanni)

DRUDKH - A Furrow Cut Short (Season of Mist)

Simon Frick - Simon Frick Solo (Boomslang)

Gacha - Send Two Sunsets (Apollo)

Jacco Gardner - Hypnophobia (Polyvinyl)

Giant Sand - Heartbreak Pass (New West)

Hiatus Kaiyote - Choose Your Weapon (Sony Masterworks)

Hop Along - Painted Shut (Saddle Creek)

Howling - Sacred Ground (Monkeytown/Counter)

Van Hunt - The Fun Rises, the Fun Sets (Thirty Tigers/godless-hotspot)

Ivan & Alyosha - It's All Just Pretend (Dualtone)

Kelela - Hallucinogen EP

Jeremy Loops - Trading Change (Yebo)

Jethro Tull - Minstrell in the Gallery: 40th Anniversary La Grande Edition (Rhino)

Axel Krygier - Hombre de Piedra (Crammed Discs)

Annie Lennox - An Evening of Nostalgia with Annie Lennox CD+DVD (Blue Note)

Los Crema Paraiso - De Pelicula! (Cutupra)

Shelby Lynne - I Can't Imagine (Rounder)

Lyrics Born - Reap People (Mobile Home Recordings)

Mac McCaughan - Non-Believers (Merge)

Thomas Mapfumo - Lion Songs

Hannah Miller - Hannah Miller

Mumford & Sons - Wilder Mind (Glassnote)

Nosaj Thing - Fated (Innovative Leisure)

Oddisee - The Good Fight (Mello Music Group)

The Orange Peels - Begin the Begone (Mystery Lawn/Minty Fresh)

Other Lives - Rituals (tbd)

Palma Violets - Danger in the Club (Rough Trade)

Penguin Prison - Lost in New York (Downtown)

Rey Pila - The Future Sugar (Cult/Kobalt)

Pree - Rima (Paper Garden)

The Proclaimers - Let's Hear It for the Dogs (Compass)

Psychic Reality - Chassis (Intercoastal Artists)

Michael Raut - Living Daylight (Burger/Pirates Blend)

Corrina Repp - The Pattern of Electricity (Caldo Verde)

The Rifles - No Love Lost reissue (Cooking Vinyl)

Rose Windows - Rose Windows (Sub Pop)

Todd Rundgren/Emil Nikolaisen/Hans-Peter Lindstrom - Runddans (Smalltown Supersound)

Satan's Wrath - Die Evel (Metal Blade)

Ty Segall / King Tuff - Live at Pickathon (Easy Sound)

The Sideshow Tragedy - Capital (Old Soul)

Chris Stapleton - Traveller (Mercury Nashville)

Super Furry Animals - Mwng reissue (Domino)

Tech N9ne - Special Effects (Strange)

Torres - Sprinter (Partisan)

Andreya Triana - Giants (Counter)

Twinsmith - Alligator Years (Saddle Creek)

Warm Soda - Symbolic Dream (Castle Face)

Kamasi Washington - Epic (!K7)

The Word - Soul Food (Vanguard)

May 12

Banditos - Banditos (Bloodshot)

Bang on a Can All-Stars - Field Recordings (Cantaloupe)

Barbarossa - Imager (Memphis Industries)

Blanck Mass - Dumb Flesh (Sacred Bones)

Tyondai Braxton - Hive1 (Nonesuch)

Chappo - Future Former Self (Votiv)

Leonard Cohen - Can't Forget : A Souvenir of the Grand Tour (Columbia)

Loren Connors - Blues: Dark Paintings reissue (Family Vineyard)

Deep Purple - Long Beach 1971 (earMUSIC)

Della Mae - Della Mae (Rounder)

Die Wilde Jagd - Die Wilde Jagd (Bureau B)

David Duchovny - Hell or Highwater (ThinkSay)

Gnod - Infinity Machines (Rocket)

God Damn - Vultures (One Little Indian)

Andrew Gold - The Late Show: Live 1978 (Omnivore)

Grounders - Grounders (Nevado)

Hard Left - Red Flag (Future Perfect)

Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell - The Traveling Kind (Nonesuch)

Hinder - When the Smoke Clears (The End)

The Holydrug Couple - Moonlust (Sacred Bones)

Icky Blossoms - Mask (Saddle Creek)

Joy Wellboy - Wedding (BPitch Control)

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Quarters (Castle Face)

Basseku Kouyate & Ngoni Ba - Ba Power (Glitterbeat)

Jimmy LaFave - The Night Tribe (Music Road)

Lakker - Tundra (R&S)

Lauer - Borndom (Permanent Vacation)

Rhett Miller - The Traveler (ATO)

Thelonious Monk - The Complete Riverside Recordings (Concord)

Wes Montgomery - In the Beginning (Resonance) 2-CD collection of 1949-58 rarities

Sal Mosca - Talk of the Town (Sunnyside)

Roisin Murphy - Hairless Toys (PIAS)

Needs - Needs (File Under: Music)

Novella - Land Gone (Sinderlyn)

Pfarmers - Gunnera (Jurassic Pop Rocks)

Prefuse 73 - Rivington Não Rio (Temporary Residence)

Prurient - Frozen Niagara Falls (Profound Lore)

Steve Reich & Ensemble Signal - Music for 18 Musicians (Harmonia Mundi)

The Revelers - Get Ready

Buffy Sainte-Marie - Power in the Blood (True North)

Snoop Dogg - Bush (Columbia)

Surfer Blood - 1000 Palms (Joyful Noise)

Thunder - Wonder Days (earMUSIC)

Tipsy Oxcart - Upside Down

Francesco Tristano - Body Language 16 (Get Physical Music)

Turbowolf- Two Hands (Spinefarm)

Various Artists - Late Night Tales Presents After Dark Nocturne (Late Night Tales)

Various Artists - Pitch Perfect 2 soundtrack (Universal)

Steve Von Till - A Life Unto Itself (Neurot)

Patrick Watson - Love Songs for Robots (Domino)

Juan Wauters - Who Me? (Captured Tracks)

The Weather Station - Loyalty (Paradise of Bachelors)

Paul Weller - Saturns Pattern (Warner Bros.)

Dar Williams - Emerald

Winter Villains - Once There Were Sparks, Now There Are Ashes (Owlet)

Yardlets - Good Hangs (Hobo Slang)

May 19

A Troop of Echoes - The Longest Year of Record

The Acorn - Vieux Loup (Paper Bag)

Jeff Beck - Live+ (Rhino)

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Live in Paris

Ceremony - The L-Shaped Man (Matador)

Cheerleader- Sunshine of Your Youth (Bright Antenna)

Circuit des Yeux - In Plain Speech (Thrill Jockey)

Close Lobsters - Firestation Towers 1986-1989 (Fire)

Daptone - Look Closer

Death Alley - Black Magick Boogieland (Tee Pee)

Bryce Dessner - Music for Wood and Strings (Brassland)

Diamond Youth - Nothing Matters (Topshelf)

Dirty Fences - Full Tramp (Slovenly)

DMA - DMA EP (Mom + Pop)

Dommengang - Everbody's Boogie (Thrill Jockey)

DOOMSQUAD - Pageantry Suite EP (Hand Drawn Dracula)

Arnold Dreyblatt - Nodal Excitation (Drag City)

Ekoplekz - Reflekzionz (Planet Mu)

Mary Epworth - Dream Life (Highline)

Faith No More - Sol Invictus (Reclamation/Ipecac)

Filligar - Keepsakes of the Interior (Decade)

Five Knives - FVKNVS (Red Bull)

Brandon Flowers - The Desired Effect (Island)

Jamie Foxx - Hollywood (RCA)

Galley Beggar - Silence & Tears (Rise Above)

Gilmore Trail - The Floating World (Chasmata)

The Helio Sequence - The Helio Sequence (Sub Pop)

Hot Chip - Why Makes Sense? (Domino)

Ironsword - None But the Brave (Shadow Kingdom)

Joanna Gruesome - Peanut Butter (Slumberland)

Boeoes Kaelstigen - Overcomes Love, Time & Space (Adrian)

Kanaku y el Tigre - Quema Quema Quema (Strut/Tiger's Milk)

The Knack - Zoom, Normal as the Next Guy, Live from the Rock'n'Roll Funhouse reissues (Omnivore)

Kopecky - Drug for the Modern Age (ATO)

Lifehouse - Out of the Wasteland (Ironworks/Kobalt)

Christian Lopez Band - Onward (Blaster)

Mbongwana Star - From Kinshasa (World Circuit)

The Milk Carton Kids - Monterey (Anti-)

Holly Miranda - Holly Miranda

Annique Monet - Phantom Letters (Beyond Beyond Is Beyond)

Jim O'Rourke - Simple Songs (Drag City)

Graham Parker - Mystery Glue (Universal)

Luis Perdomo & Controlling Ear Unit - Twenty Two (Hot Tone)

Pet Symmetry - Pet Hounds (Asian Man)

Pinact - Stand Still and Rot (Kanine)

Shamir - Ratchet (XL)

Shark Week - Beach Fuzz

Talk in Tongues - Talk In Tongues (Fairfax)

Tanlines - Highlights (True Panther)

Thee Oh Sees - Mutilator Defeated at Last (Castle Face)

Henry Threadgill - In for a Penny, In for a Pound (Pi)

Total Babes - Heydays (Wichita)

Vaadat Charigim - Sinking as a Stone (Burger)

Valkyrie - Shadows (Relapse)

Various Artists - Nu Yorica! Culture Clash in New York City: Experiments in Latin Music 1970-77 (Soul Jazz)

Venomous Maximus - Firewalker (Shadow Kingdom)

Virginia Wing - Measures of Joy (Fire)

Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear - Skeleton Crew (Glassnote)

Weedeater - Goliathan (Season of Mist)

Whitesnake - The Purple Album (Frontiers)

Yes - Live from Seventy-Two (Rhino)

May 26

A Projection - Exit (Tapate)

Jennie Abrahamson - Gemini Gemini

Anti-Flag - American Spring (Spinefarm)

Ash - Kablammo! (Edel/earMusic)

The Bad Plus & Joshua Redman - The Bad Plus Joshua Redman (Nonesuch)

Ran Blake/Sara Serpa - Kitano Noir (Sunnyside)

Thomas Brinkmann What You Hear (Is What You Hear) (Editions Mego)

The Fall - Sub-Lingual Tablet (Cherry Red)

Beny Green - Live in Santa Cruz! (Sunnsyide)

Rachel Grimes - The Clearing (Temporary Residence Ltd.)

Eilen Jewell - Sundown Over Ghost Town (Signature Sound)

Little Richard - Directly from My Heart to You: The Best of Specialty & Vee-Jay Years (Specialty/Concord)

Little Wings - EXPLAINS (Woodsist)

Modestep - London Road (Max/INgrooves)

Monoswezi - Monoswezi Yanga (Riverboat)

Nneka - My Fairy Tales (Bushqueen Music)

Nocturnal Sunshine - Nocturnal Sunshine (I/AM/ME)

NOW Ensemble - Dreamfall (New Amsterdam)

Paquito & Quinteto Cimarron - Aires Tropicales (Sunnyside)

Norah Rendell - Spinning Yarns

Shopping - Consumer Complaints reissue (FatCat)

Snarky Puppy & Metropole Orkest - Sylva (Impulse!/Universal Music Classics)

Summer Camp - Bad Love (Moshi Moshi)

The Vaccines - English Graffiti (Columbia)

Various Artists - Unheart Songs by Karen Dalton (Tompkins Square)

The Wheel Workers - Citizens

The Winter Passing - A Different State of Mind (6131)

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