FLOOD ESSENTIALS: May 2019 feat. The National, Vampire Weekend, Cate Le Bon, and More

The songs and albums from last month you should listen to immediately.

In search of new music? Look no further. From Dehd to Pile to Jamila Woods, here’s what we recommend from a month in which women’s rights were rapidly infringed upon and Game of Thrones finally reached an unsatisfactory conclusion. Winter has ended and summer is upon us.  


Vampire Weekend, Father of the Bride (May 3, Columbia)

With a spread such as this (jam sounds, outlaw country, samba, cinematic atmospheres) and songs written with contagion as a form of virus, this is Vampire Weekend’s White Album—all its baroque catchiness and experimentation in one not-so-neat double LP package, as produced by its main-man Koenig and one-time collaborator Ariel Rechtshaid. Now that Vampire instrumentalist and afro-pop enthusiast Rostam Batmanglij has split from the fold, Koenig is left to his own devices, and what comes out seems to pick up where the heavily processed and spooky Modern Vampires of the City left off in 2013. Only here, and now, the not-so-haunted proceedings are more theatrical and orchestrated—and with just a smidgen less quirk and busywork—than they were in the past. —A.D. Amorosi

Pile, Green and Gray (May 3, Exploding in Sound)

Pile’s seventh album and their fourth for every garage rock fan’s favorite truly independent label, Exploding in Sound, is the band’s first since Rick Maguire decided to make his band a full-time pursuit. Across the LP’s nearly hour-long runtime, Maguire reflects on growing older—he was twenty-one when he self-released Pile’s 2007 debut, Demonstration—and how he feels about committing so wholly to Pile at an age when some people leave music behind. —Max Freedman (Read our feature on Pile here.)

Lydia Ainsworth, Phantom Forest (May 10, Zombie Cat Records)

The new wave minimalism of the Los Angeles-via-Toronto songwriter’s third LP, Phantom Forest, explores the grim realities of nature and technology in an upbeat manner. With a voice not far descendent from Kate Bush, Ainsworth belts over synths glowing (“Diamonds Cutting Diamonds”), pulsing (“The Time”), or both (“Edge of the Throne”)—even enlisting S U R V I V E’s Kyle Dixon on a few numbers. —Dean Brandt (Read the playlist of musical influences Lydia Ainsworth put together for us here.)

Jamila Woods, LEGACY! LEGACY! (May 10, Jagjaguwar)

Woods’ sophomore record is a brazen response to America’s present political climate, full of wordplay and sarcasm and fury—but it’s also a rumination on black history and lineage. The R&B musician pays homage to artists of color who came before her, each track named after one of her heroes (Eartha Kitt, James Baldwin, Miles Davis). Woods fuses experiences from her own life—loss, regret, emotional abuse—with lessons she’s learned from the achievements of famous figures, assigning herself a place amongst their ranks and collective narrative. In addition to her trajectory as a singer-songwriter, Woods is an established poet and poetry teacher, something that’s apparent in many of her lyrics, including my personal favorite: on “Eartha,” of the patience required by women in relationships with men, Woods sings: “The curve of your learning that’s my labor, my love / Explaining myself again / I could have run a mile instead / I could have twist my ends instead.” —Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

Dehd, Water (May 10, Fire Talk)

You’d think a literal breakup between two dating band members would do the trick, but for Chicago’s breezy rockers Dehd, it only made their bond stronger. Dehd’s unique story is thoroughly documented on Water, with songs tracing the perspectives of both guitarist Jason Balla (NE-HI, Earring) and bassist Emily Kempf (Lala Lala) through the end of their relationship. These songs feel ironically weightless for an album dealing with tense moments of frustration and heartbreak, and mirrors the ever-shifting essence of water itself. —Sean Neumann (Read our feature on Dehd here.)

Charly Bliss, Young Enough (May 10, Barsuk)

Eva Hendricks’ voice calls to mind cherry chapstick and strawberry bubblegum, ice cream dripping down your hand on a hot day, driving around your hometown late at night listening to music and thinking that music could save you. Eva is the only lady of Charly Bliss’ power pop Brooklyn-hailing foursome, and her three bandmates’ male voices swirl flatteringly around her own in earworm harmonies on their second full-length, Young Enough. The title track tells a story of failed teen romance, with the resounding chorus “We’re young enough / To believe it should hurt this much,” ten words managing to convey both the masochism of starry-eyed youthful interactions and the age-earned knowledge that love shouldn’t be so painful. This record is one about growing up, detailing how expectations change and evolve as we experience disappointment and betrayal and heartbreak. The word “enough” rears its head once more on “Capacity,” in which Eva admits: “I used to think that I should be good at everything / Now I know I was wrong / A couple of things is enough.” Charly Bliss is certainly one of those things. —Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

Carly Rae Jepsen, Dedicated (May 17, School Boy/Interscope)

Dedicated is fun, it’s frivolous, it’s insightful—but most importantly, we’re hearing Jepsen continue the story she started with Curiosity’s innocent flirtation and developed through Emotion’s self-actualization, resulting in Jepsen knowing her worth and settling for no less, personally or romantically. She went through a damn lot of heartache to get to this point, but this record shows us what she’s become: optimistic, unapologetic, head-over-heels in love with herself. —Maria Lewczyk

The National, I Am Easy to Find (May 17, 4AD)

At sixteen tracks, I Am Easy to Find is always at risk of losing itself, but at this point, The National are embracing chaos and chance in their music. They’ve long been maximalists in philosophy, if not always in sound, and that’s mostly how they operate here. There are fewer layers, less fireworks; every part coalesces quietly. So often, The National’s music exists outside of time and space because Berninger’s words are so impressionistic. This time, they’re grounded in our reality. We finally share the world they do. It’s album number eight, and the band has gotten a little weirder, a little more like the rest of us.
—Will Schube

Olden Yolk, Living Theatre (May 17, Trouble in Mind)

Last year, Caity Shaffer and Quilt’s Shane Butler put out a neo-psychedelic folk album as Olden Yolk, which went over so well they’re doing it again this year. Living Theatre is a notably denser, dreamier, and more eclectic batch of songs than those found on their self-titled debut, recalling recent releases from their Trouble in Mind family, including Doug Tuttle, Ultimate Painting (R.I.P.) and the extended Woods family. —Dean Brandt (Read the playlist of musical influences Olden Yolk put together for us here.)

Megan Thee Stallion, Fever (May 17, 300 Entertainment)

Less than a year after becoming the first female rapper to sign with 300 Entertainment (who rep rappers like Young Thug), Megan Thee Stallion released her raunchy debut Fever. All fourteen tracks showcase her indisputable dominance. Even Da Baby devotes his feature on “Cash Shit” to honouring the Houston-born rapper: “This lil’ thing here a stallion / Look how she walk / Look how she talk / she sexy.” By mirroring lyricists like CupcakKe and flowing over fast, bass-heavy beats that rival her Texan counterpart, Big K.R.I.T, Megan proves she has a penchant for pumping out club-ready bangers with a boss bitch streak. Grab a wet towel or a hand-held fan before you start bumping this one, because Fever will make you sweat. —Anya Zoledziowski

Tyler, the Creator, IGOR (May 17, Columbia)

Although some sounds here are familiar to Tyler’s arsenal, IGOR is a different beast. The record is both a fleshed-out story and a vibrant character study, with Tyler opening up about new facets of himself and blurring the line between fiction and autobiography—one of the songwriting techniques he does best. He raps less here than on previous projects, but the minimal wordplay is masterful. Take, for instance, the decadent “A Boy Is a Gun,” where jewel-toned piano strokes brush against gunshots. A source of both security and violence, Tyler uses the metaphor to express fear of his lover’s rejection. “You’re a gun ’cause I like you on my side at all times,” he says on the bridge. “You keep me safe, no you shoot me down.” —Margaret Farrell

Cate Le Bon, Reward (May 24, Mexican Summer)

Reward is immaculately sculpted and full of life. Its ten songs are Le Bon’s most direct, delicate, and precisely rendered to date. Her signature art-rock surreality is still present, but it’s relegated to the music’s margins in favor of slowly poured brass, leering chimes, diamond-clear guitars, deeply reverberant pianos, simmering but tranquil bass lines, shapeshifting percussion, and, of course, Le Bon’s unmistakable voice. Her light Welsh accent, as ever, punctuates her odd, drawn-out vocal delivery, which often exists exactly halfway between a resigned sigh and a theatrical wail. —Max Freedman (Read our feature on Cate Le Bon here.)

Amyl & The Sniffers, Amyl & The Sniffers (May 24, ATO)

The debut from this explosive Aussie outfit sounds like a first wave punk band from 1977 with ’50s rock and roll leads lifted from the AC/DC school of streamlined heavy music. The songs are short, loud, relentless, and full of fantastic cursing—vocalist Amy Taylor harangues the listener with a pure Antipodean yawp that sounds like Beastie Boys’ Mike D but with broken bottles in his hands, ready to fight. —Jon Pruett

The Glow, Am I (May 24, Double Double Whammy)

It seemed like a huge loss nearly a year ago when LVL UP, the group behind Double Double Whammy and the presumed heirs to Robert Pollard’s eclectic lo-fi throne, called it quits after only three albums. But in the same way that band heroically rose from the ashes of the also-great Dave Benton–led Spook Houses, its split has led to a slew of promising recordings from several of its four members. On the heels of a stellar 2018 debut from Benton’s Trace Mountains, Am I is the first release from Mike Caridi’s project The Glow, and it doesn’t sound too far removed from the output of his former band. But as a solo endeavor, it’s evident from opener “Am I Good” that the project is an outlet for experimentation with sonic textures left unexplored by Caridi’s previous band—even “Orchard,” the single LVL UP released to announce their breakup, feels totally fresh here, redone with a more prominent drum beat and less tamed guitar riffs, along with the recurring flourish of higher-pitched vocal harmonies. Despite its brief runtime, Am I feels entirely less claustrophobic than the equally brief Space Brothers, which crammed thirteen songs—not to mention three vocalists—into twenty-four minutes.
Mike LeSuer

Katie Dey, Solipsisters (May 31, Run for Cover)

A Katie Dey record isn’t quite like anything else. Somewhere buried in countless loops of warped-beyond-recognition effects lies the songwriter’s voice, manipulated to sound inhumanly tiny—though by no means peripheral. It seems that at some point before lavish post-production, these recordings were ordinary pop songs, but rather than undergoing meticulous remixing they were instead the result of some sort of happy accident, like, say, playing your Alvin and the Chipmunks LP on 16 speed. On her much-anticipated follow up to 2017’s Flood Network, Dey reaches a new level of opulent, near-Björkish production, while her vocals sound more subdued than ever. —Mike LeSuer (Read Dey’s track-by-track analysis of Solipsisters here.)

Denzel Curry, ZUU (May 31, Loma Vista)

Less than a year after dropping the hard-hitting TA13OO LP with guest appearances from the rap and pop crops’ creamiest—Billie Eilish, JPEGMAFIA, J.I.D., GoldLink—it was a bit of a surprise when Denzel Curry announced ZUU last week with a track list nearly devoid of recognizable guest spots. Instead, the emcee enlisted the best of a burgeoning Miami scene (oh, and Rick Ross, of course), and the result is entirely more focused than last year’s fractured three-part opus. Early cuts “RICKY” and the Boss-featuring “BIRDZ” go harder than previously thought possible, while later in the album’s brief thirty-minute runtime the level-headed Ice Billion Berg collab “CAROLMART” and excessively sobering “SPEEDBOAT” sound mature beyond Curry’s mere twenty-four years of age. Christened with an album cover displaying his city’s confounding aqua and green color scheme, ZUU is a stream-of-conscious dispatch from a rocky upbringing in the 305. —Mike LeSuer

Sleater-Kinney, “Hurry on Home”

A mere twenty-four hours afters after sharing a spooky new band photo, the ladies of Sleater-Kinney messed around and released scorcher “Hurry on Home.” The first song from the band’s highly anticipated album—featuring Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, on production—turns on the bright lights when the super-charged chorus hits the spot, complete with laser-beam guitars and ghostly, disembodied voices floating in the mix. It’s an inspired collaboration, and bodes well for the forthcoming full-length. —Scott T. Sterling

Lana Del Ray, “Doin’ Time”

As Lana herself has observed (“Summertime Sadness”), summer is a uniquely despondent month. The days are hazy, lazy, and long; the sun never sets, it’s hot, it’s buggy. When you are a kid, you feel sad because you know summer will eventually be over and school will return; and when you’re an adult, you probably regret working too much and not taking advantage of the nice weather. Since summer always has a sting to it, who better to cover Sublime’s 1996 “Doin’ Time” than the dreamy, steamy Del Ray? We’re still waiting with baited breath on her full-length Norman Fucking Rockwell, but in the meantime, to hear Lana’s langorous iteration of “summertiiiime and the livin’s easy” is a real treat. —Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

Phantogram, “Into Happiness”

Phantogram are back, and they definitely mean business. Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter released “Into Happiness,” their first new song since last year’s dual single, and it’s quite the return to form. Featuring trip-hop aesthetics and the bombastic power of a symphony orchestra at their backs, it’s an electro-goth anthem for a cruel kind of summer. —Scott T. Sterling

Fury, “Crazy Horse Running Free”

So far this year, Boston’s Run for Cover Records has proved they can do it all—ambient drone, hypnagogic dream pop, emo trap—but it was Southern Californians Fury’s Failed Entertainment that reminded us of the label’s roots in hardcore punk. The record met the high expectations set by lead single “Angels Over Berlin,” with closer “Crazy Horses Running Free” proving the perfect finale to a blistering thirty minutes of eloquent rage. With a punchy, subtle chorus lined with well-placed backing vocals, here’s hoping the band stands by their closing statement: “We’re here to stay.” —Mike LeSuer

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