May's Best New Music

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  • Publish Date: May 31, 2012

The best albums released this month

Here are the best-reviewed new studio LPs released during May (with a minimum of 7 reviews from professional critics):

R.A.P. Music 87 (Williams Street)
by Killer Mike


The month's best hip-hop album is the month's best-reviewed album, period. R.A.P. Music (the title stands for Rebellious African People) is the sixth album for Atlanta-based rapper Michael Render, and his first for the Adult Swim-affiliated Williams Street label after previously recording for T.I.'s Grand Hustle. Production is handled throughout by El-P (whose own album also drew rave reviews this month), while Bun B, T.I. and Trouble guest on the lead single "Big Beast."

RapReviews writes that the album "has the sound and feel of a classic," while All Music adds that not only does the production shine, but Killer Mike's rhymes strike "that perfect balance of persuasive and powerful." The disc is also drawing praise from multiple reviewers for its diversity of sound while also hearkening back to classic late-1980s hip-hop. More reviews...

Also by this artist:
PL3DGE 2011 75

Europe 86 (Slumberland)
by Allo Darlin'

The second album from the London-based indie-pop foursome is a hit with critics on both sides of the pond. Several reviewers note that Europe is a bit more mature and sophisticated and a bit less twee than the band's self-titled debut, while remaining "charming," "upbeat," and "warm." Pitchfork also notes that it "improves upon its predecessor in almost every way." More reviews...

Also by this artist:
Allo Darlin' 2010 75

Cancer 4 Cure 86 (Fat Possum)
by El-P


Fans of indie hip-hop legend El-P had plenty to choose from this month; not only did he produce Killer Mike's new album (see above), but, after spending much of his time in recent years running the label Definitive Jux, he finally had time to record one of his own, as well. Cancer for Cure is El-P's first true LP since 2007's I'll Sleep When You're Dead 80, and it features appearances by Killer Mike, Danny Brown, Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire, and Interpol's Paul Banks.

We've tabulated 27 reviews for the album so far, and every one of them is positive, many enthusiastically so. The Boston Globe finds the set "overflowing with bile and sonic invention," the A.V. Club deems it "a triumph of imagination and intelligence," and the BBC calls it "far ahead enough of that competition, intellectually and inspirationally, to exist on another plane of appreciation altogether." Anyone who likes their hip-hop simple, however, may be turned off by the "brainy" and "complicated" album, though Exclaim! does call it his "most accessible album yet." Several critics, however, noted that C4C doesn't quite live up to El-P's past high points, though that's not necessarily a fair comparison. More reviews...

Also by this artist:
I'll Sleep When You're Dead 2007 80
Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3 2010 75
High Water (Mark) 2004 71

Fear Fun 85 (Sub Pop)
by Father John Misty


Father John Misty is the new solo project for J. Tillman, whose previous gig was being the drummer for blogosphere favorites Fleet Foxes. (Tillman has released solo albums in the past, but this is his first under the new name). Will fans of that indie-folk group enjoy Fear Fun? The answer appears to be yes, as the new album offers more acoustic folk gems, while also being more "inventive" and "quirky," according to the Phoenix. Indeed, Under the Radar suggests that Fear Fun is "every bit a match for the brightest moments of Fleet Foxes' latest release." Other critics have praise for Tillman's vocal talents and sense of adventurousness, with only The Observer finding a bit too much filler to fully endorse the disc. More reviews...

Standing at the Sky's Edge 84 (Parlophone)
by Richard Hawley

English singer-songwriter Richard Hawley was once best described as a one-time member of the Britpop bands Longpigs and Pulp, but that was before a decade of success as a solo artist. Standing at the Sky's Edge, his seventh studio album, is his biggest hit to date in the UK (the album is not yet available in the States, except as an import), but it doesn't sound much like his previous solo work: instead of a softer, romantic, ballad-heavy approach (think Roy Orbison, to whom he is frequently compared), Hawley opts here for a harder psychedelic rock sound. Though unexpected, this change in sound suits Hawley, according to most reviewers. While a few, like The Observer and MusicOMH, consider psychedelic Hawley to be a work in progress, others such as The Guardian are awed that, "Despite the guitars crashing and howling around him ... he sounds exactly like Richard Hawley. The same, but different: a tough trick, pulled off in style." More reviews...

Also by this artist:
Cole's Corner 2005 85
Lowedges 2003 82
Truelove's Gutter 2009 79

Words & Music by Saint Etienne 84 (Heavenly/Universal)
by Saint Etienne


Speaking of classy, sophisticated British pop music, there are few better examples of the form than Saint Etienne, though the band hasn't been heard from since 2006's Tales From Turnpike House. That is, until this month, when the trio of Sarah Cracknell, Bob Stanley, and Pete Wiggs finally returned with a new album, their eighth overall.

And what a comeback it is; Words & Music by Saint Etienne is earning the band their best reviews since their mid-1990s peak. A love letter to pop music itself, the album is "a masterclass of pop theory and practice in perfect harmony," reports The Independent. Only FACT hates the album (calling it "totally vapid"); otherwise, it seems safe to suggest that any previous fans of the band should have no regrets jumping back on board here. More reviews...

Also by this artist:
Sound of Water 2000 80
Tales From Turnpike House 2006 79
Interlude 2001 76
Finisterre 2002 73

Galaxy Garden 83 (R&S)
by Lone


English electronica producer Matt Cutler—again recording under the name Lone—makes his debut for indie dance label R&S Records with Galaxy Garden, and it's a good one. The new album sheds any hip-hop influences present in his earlier work for an emphasis on 1980s Detroit techno and acid house and early-1990s rave music, and a few tracks even feature vocals (courtesy of Machinedrum and Anneka). Mixmag calls it an "instant classic" and Pitchfork "his most complete statement yet," while Resident Advisor notes, "The album's appeal is all about texture: Galaxy Garden is glossy and reflective where his past work was all flat matte, despite its technicolour bursts." More reviews...

Heaven 82 (Fat Possum)
by The Walkmen


The Walkmen have grown up, and it suits them. That appears to be the consensus of reviewers after hearing the indie rock band's Phil Ek-produced seventh album, which features vocals from Fleet Foxes' Robin Pecknold on a few tracks. True, a few publications like Under the Radar miss the "palpable sense of urgency" that was a hallmark of the band's previous albums, but that doesn't stop others like Filter from calling it "simply one of the best rock records" of the year so far. The A.V. Club finds the band addressing "big adult themes" but sounding "warmer and more optimistic" than in the past, while Paste agrees, suggesting that their newfound maturity gives The Walkmen "hope and confidence" on Heaven. More reviews...

Also by this artist:
Lisbon 2010 83
Bows & Arrows 2004 78
You & Me 2008 78
A Hundred Miles Off 2006 70
"Pussy Cats" Starring The Walkmen 2006 67

Nootropics 81 (Ribbon Music)
by Lower Dens


The Baltimore indie band fronted by Jana Hunter returns with a follow-up to 2010 debut Twin Hand Movement. There are plenty of comparisons to fellow Baltimoreans Beach House, but don't expect such straightforward prettiness here; as The Phoenix notes, Lower Dens "keeps things weird." The words "minimalist" and "experimental" certainly seem to apply to Nootropics, so much so that the album can be "challenging at first," according to The Fly, but, as musicOMH adds, "If you're willing to put the effort in, then you will be rewarded with an achingly beautiful and immersive album." Indeed, many reviewers suggest multiple listens are required to fully appreciate the set, and even if not every song is successful, Nootropics "also produces moments of astonishing splendour," according to Drowned in Sound. More reviews...

More good May releases ...

Album Label Metascore
Bloom by Beach HouseSub Pop79
Out of the Game by Rufus WainwrightPolydor / Decca79
Death Dreams by PS I Love YouPaper Bag Records78
Passage by ExitmusicSecretly Canadian77
2:54 by 2:54Fat Possum77
Prophet by Ramona FallsBarsuk77
OFF! by OFF!Vice77
A Different Ship by Here We Go MagicSecretly Canadian76
Macaroni by Bobby ConnFire Records76
Master of My Make-Believe by SantigoldAtlantic76
I Predict a Graceful Expulsion by Cold SpecksArts & Crafts75
Vows by Kimbra Warner Bros. 75
True by ViolensSlumberland75
Drokk by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury Invada75
Evans the Death by Evans the DeathSlumberland75
World, You Need a Change of Mind by KindnessTerrible Records75
... and a few to avoid:
Strangeland by KeaneCherrytree Records60
This is PiL by Public Image Ltd.Redeye Music Distribution59
Born Villain by Marilyn MansonCooking Vinyl / Downtown59
Lateness of the Hour by Alex ClareUniversal Republic58
A Joyful Noise by GossipColumbia58

Albums are ranked by Metascore prior to rounding. The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good). Albums with fewer than seven reviews are excluded. All scores are from May 31, 2012.

What do you think?

What new albums do you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

Comments (2)

  • RickFlairbombed  

    Yep. Both Killer Mike and El-P's albums slay. Put them on.

  • LamontRaymond  

    I'd recommend Heavy Cream's Super Treatment. A true departure from their last album, Danny, but it's hard, post-punk, and raw. Worth a listen.

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