May's Best New Music

  • Comments: ↓ 9 user comments
  • Publish Date: May 31, 2011

The best albums released this month

Below, we look at the past month's best-reviewed new LP releases. For each album below, we list the percentages of "great" critic reviews (with an individual critic score above 80), "good" critic reviews (61-80), "mixed" reviews (40-60), and "bad" reviews (below 40).

Helplessness Blues 86 (Sub Pop)
by Fleet Foxes

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Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 18
Good bar 18
Mixed bar 3
Bad 0

Two years in the making, this Phil Ek-produced second album for the Seattle-based harmonic folk group -- a favorite of the blogosphere -- arrives with a bigger dose of British folk influences, a greater diversity of instrumentation, a slightly less polished sound, and more "existential" subject matter than on the band's debut.

Listen to "Helplessness Blues"

What the critics are saying: Nearly half of reviewers love the album, calling it "sophisticated," "mature," "lush," and "gorgeous." The Independent praises the giant creative strides the band has taken since 2008, while several reviewers pay particular attention to frontman Robin Pecknold's "flawless" singing as well as his improved songwriting and complex arrangements. Other critics, while generally liking the album, are less enthusiastic in their praise, finding that Blues sacrifices memorable content for sustained atmosphere and mood. Dissenters include NME, which describes the band's "fake-rustic rootsiness" as "bland," and NOW, which finds the album too precious and too much of the same.

Also by this artist:
Fleet Foxes 2008 87

Smother 86 (Domino)
by Wild Beasts

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Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 10
Good bar 11
Mixed bar 2
Bad 0

The third album for the eccentric and distinctive English indie rock band is a bit more restrained than previous efforts, sacrificing some of the group's usual wildness for a mature, complex, and subtle approach with an emphasis on synths instead of guitars.

Listen to "Albatross"

What the critics are saying: The British music press loves Smother, while American critics are receptive, if not quite as blown away by the disc. No Ripcord describes the album as "an exercise in moderation" -- and one that the band successfully pulls off -- while Pitchfork finds that the new approach encourages "close listening" which results in an intimate and "deeply, deeply sensual" album. BBC declares Smother to be an album of the year candidate, and many critics seem nearly as enamored with it, using terms like "timeless," "essential," and "singular." However, a few publications, like Under the Radar, find the band's new maturity too "tame," while Prefix also bemoans the lack of dance-friendly numbers, calling the result monotonous and "a slog."

Also by this artist:
Two Dancers 2009 83
Limbo, Panto 2008 79

Stone Rollin' 85 (Columbia)
by Raphael Saadiq

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Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 7
Good bar 9
Mixed bar 1
Bad 0

Few albums contain guest appearances by members of Earth, Wind, and Fire and Little Dragon, but Raphael Saadiq's fifth solo album is one of them. Finally available in the U.S. after a two-month delay, Stone Rollin' continues the veteran producer and artist's obsession with vintage 1960s and 70s soul, but is by no means stuck in the past, or even confined to a single genre. In addition to writing and singing on the ten tracks, Saadiq plays multiple instruments -- from drums to guitar to mellotron -- throughout.

Listen to "Stone Rollin'"

What the critics are saying: All Music Guide calls Stone Rollin' the "high point of Saadiq's career," and it is certainly his best reviewed album in recent years. Nearly every critic focuses on Saadiq's creativity and the album's diversity of sound -- which the AV Club calls "dizzying," in a good way -- as well as the artist's ability to both recapture classic R&B sounds and turn them into something new. Before you start thinking that Saadiq is a superman, however, the New York Times finds that his voice is the weak link, while a few other critics find his soul revival approach a bit too reverent and overindulgent; Slant compares the album to "an off-Broadway revue of yesteryear's R&B."

Also by this artist:
The Way I See It 2008 79
Ray Ray 2004 66

Eye Contact 85 (4AD)
by Gang Gang Dance

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Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 7
Good bar 15
Mixed 0
Bad 0

After a drummer switch, the decade-old experimental music outfit from New York return with their first album for new label 4AD.

Stream the entire album:

What the critics are saying: Eye Contact is the band's most accessible album yet (or, depending on whom you ask, their only accessible album to date). Slant feels that this accessibility is the result of careful self-editing, stating that "the album discards much of the group's redundant experimentation, instead concentrating on their lush, tropical sound." Pitchfork generally agrees, but still calls the album the band's "weirdest" yet, and clarifies that "this is not a pop record, per se, but the stuff of pop records collected, melted down, and then dribbled Jackson Pollock-style onto a canvas." Still, other reviewers highlight the disc's "danceability," calling it "ecstatic," "welcoming," "blissful," and "catchy" even as it remains "challenging" and not necessarily for casual listeners.

Also by this artist:
Saint Dymphna 2008 78

Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2 84 (Capitol)
by Beastie Boys

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Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 11
Good bar23
Mixed bar 3
Bad 0

Though Part One was shelved when MCA (Adam Yauch) was diagnosed with cancer (he is healthy again now), most of its tracks were moved to this album, the group's first non-instrumental set in seven years and probably their best album since 1998's Hello Nasty. Included are collaborations with Nas and Santigold.

Listen to "Make Some Noise"

What the critics are saying: Nearly every reviewer agrees that Hot Sauce Committee is a strong return to form, echoing back to the "classic sound" of the trio's 1980s and '90s output. Critics find the new LP to be a "lighthearted" and "irreverent" party album filled with humor and old-school raps. Rolling Stone declares it to be "the sound of master musicians in their comfort zone," while The Phoenix calls the band "as sharp, hilarious, funky, and escapist as they've ever been." But some critics bemoan a lack of depth, while others wish the Beasties would have been more adventurous.

Also by this artist:
To The 5 Boroughs 2004 71
The Mix-Up 2007 61

Burst Apart 84 (Frenchkiss Records)
by The Antlers

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Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 5
Good bar 11
Mixed bar 2
Bad 0

The fourth album for the Brooklyn indie rockers is a self-produced follow-up to their critically acclaimed 2009 concept album Hospice.

Listen to "Parentheses"

What the critics are saying: While there are plenty of Radiohead comparisons floating around on the web, professional critics are mostly avoiding such comparisons, though the AV Club does cite Thom Yorke & co. as a major influence on this album. While the new album isn't without a few missteps (especially "Putting the Dog to Sleep," cited by several critics), reviewers seem both happy and impressed that the band didn't try to duplicate their Hospice success, but instead opted to expand their sound and showcase their growth as songwriters and performers, resulting in music that is "pretty" while also coming across as "desolate" and "unnerving." Spin, however, feels that Burst Apart lacks substance, while No Ripcord wishes for more emotional range.

Also by this artist:
Hospice 2009 83

Past Life Martyred Saints 83 (Souterrain Transmissions)
by EMA

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Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 4
Good bar 12
Mixed bar 2
Bad 0

Erika M. Anderson, formerly of the band Gowns, makes her solo debut with the much blogged about Past Life Martyred Saints, a compact (37-minute) collection of varied art-rock.

Listen to "Milkman"

What the critics are saying: Many critics are captivated by an ambitious album they are describing as "dramatic," "interesting," "raw," "powerful," "emotional," and "fiercely individual." Though PJ Harvey seems an obvious touchstone (others cited include Cat Power, Kristin Hersh, Sonic Youth, and Patti Smith), Slant notes that the former's most recent album "could not be more dissimilar" to EMA's debut, which several reviewers find deeply personal, intense, and unsettling; Dusted, for example, admires how PLMS " touches raw nerves that create discomfort as well as joy." But while No Ripcord agrees that EMA is "confident" and "exciting," that publication also notes that her music can be "hollow" and "dull," adding that many songs feel "flimsy and unfinished."

Follow Me Down 83 (Sugar Hill)
by Sarah Jarosz

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Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 1
Good bar 6
Mixed 0
Bad 0

This is the second release of acoustic bluegrass, folk, and roots music for the 20-year-old Texas native, who earned a Grammy nomination following her 2009 debut. Jarosz sings in addition to playing banjo, mandolin, and guitar, and also writes her own songs, which range from the highly traditional to modern; her tracklist here includes a cover of Radiohead's "The Tourist."

Listen to "Ring Them Bells"

What the critics are saying: The Austin Chronicle notes the "giant steps" her songwriting has taken since her debut, and PopMatters agrees, citing her expanded musical palette and a versatility that "suggests she is wise beyond her years." Paste, too, is transfixed by Jarosz's ability to explore "the possibilities of acoustic/roots music," while American Songwriter adds, "Follow Me Down is the work of an artist who both understands her music’s roots but has a clear vision of the potential of those roots’ capacity to spread and transform." Several critics praise her collaborative spirit on tracks that showcase guests ranging from Dan Tyminski to Bela Fleck.

Also by this artist:
Song Up In Her Head 2009 79

Diaper Island 82 (Sub Pop)
by Chad VanGaalen

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Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 1
Good bar 5
Mixed bar 1
Bad 0

Canadian singer-songwriter VanGaalen returns with his fourth studio LP, a self-produced, reverb-heavy, 12-track set of low-fi (but not quiet) indie rock, with a greater emphasis on guitar than on his prior album.

Listen to "Sara"

What the critics are saying: All Music Guide is impressed by VanGaalen's production skills, declaring, "It's almost laughable how much his abilities have improved behind the board in only three years." The A.V. Club concurs, adding that "VanGaalen has refined his style, resulting in a focused, cohesive album with a rocker's confidence powering through each track ... Diaper Island still sounds scratched out of a vintage tape machine, but VanGaalen is clearly no longer a basement amateur." Pitchfork praises his songwriting in addition to his production talent, but Prefix finds a few misfires, such as when he tries to branch out into Pavement-style noise rock.

Also by this artist:
Infiniheart 2005 80
Soft Airplane 2008 74
Skelliconnection 2006 72

Director's Cut 81 (Fish People)
by Kate Bush

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Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 3
Good bar 10
Mixed bar 2
Bad 0

Acclaimed British singer-songwriter Kate Bush takes 11 tracks from her mid-career albums The Sensual World (1989) and The Red Shoes (1993) and has drastically re-mixed some, while partially or completely re-recording others, adding new vocals to each. One song ("The Sensual World") even appears with new lyrics and a new title ("Flower of the Mountain"). The overall result is a warmer, more organic sound.

Listen to "Deeper Understanding (Director's Cut version)"

What the critics are saying: Critics mostly like Bush's reworkings of earlier songs, though many point out that the album will likely appeal to fans only, with some suggesting that it is more interesting for what it reveals about the singer-songwriter and her process than it is as a stand-alone album. Still, Entertainment Weekly feels that even "if Director's Cut is a tad superfluous, it's also gorgeous." As for how the new recordings sound, the Telegraph finds that there is "much more air around the songs, which can reduce their original, raw intensity but also gives them a more mature, lingering potency," while the Independent hears a "warmer, more reflective tone." But Mojo wishes she had been bolder in her reinventions.

Also by this artist:
Aerial 2005 81

Everything's Getting Older 81 (Chemikal Underground)
by Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat

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Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 3
Good bar 7
Mixed bar 1
Bad 0

Scottish composer Bill Wells, who has previously appeared on recordings with The Pastels and Isobel Campbell, teams with former Arab Strap frontman Aidan Moffat for an album that has been under development for the past eight years.

Listen to "(If You) Keep Me In Your Heart"

What the critics are saying: "It's neither an easy nor a joyful listen," writes MusicOMH, but that's par for the course as fans of Moffat's past work will know. But the album's gloominess isn't necessarily a negative; critics are finding the disc "stunning," "absorbing," "tender," and "entertaining." All Music Guide finds Wells' arrangements "excellently matched" with Moffatt's performances, while the BBC feels that the music adds an "unsettling atmosphere" that offers plenty of "uneasy pleasures throughout."

More Well-Reviewed May Albums
Album Label Metascore
Celebration, Florida by The Felice BrothersFat Possum80
I Am Very Far by Okkervil RiverJagjaguwar79
Gob by DelsBig Dada79
Roadkill Rising - The Bootleg Collection: 1977-2009 by Iggy PopShout! Factory79
Life Fantastic by Man ManAnti / Epitaph78
The Double Cross by SloanYep Roc78
Cat's Eyes by Cat's EyesPolydor78
Codes and Keys by Death Cab for CutieAtlantic78
Submarine (Original Songs from the Motion Picture) by Alex TurnerDomino78
Circuital by My Morning JacketATO77
Demolished Thoughts by Thurston MooreMatador77
Turtleneck & Chain by The Lonely IslandUniversal Republic77
Diamond Mine by Jon HopkinsDomino77
The Road From Memphis by Booker T. JonesEpitaph77
Own Your Ghost by 13 & GodAnticon77
Feel It Break by AustraDomino76
Attention Please by BorisSargent House76
Kitty Wells Dresses: Songs of the Queen of Country Music by Laura CantrellSpit & Polish76
Avoid these:
Moment Bends by Architecture in HelsinkiDowntown59
Love? by Jennifer LopezIsland46

The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good). User scores represent an average of scores assigned by Metacritic.com site visitors on a scale from 0 (bad) to 10 (good). All scores are from the morning of May 31, 2011.

What do you think?

What new albums or songs are in heavy rotation on your MP3 player? Let us know in the comments section below.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (9)

  • DJ  

    I love that the best new music is just a bunch of indie rock that seems dead before even the first chorus hits your ears like a sudden stop on a freight train.

  • ANGRY FANBOY  

    FIX!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ADD THAT ALLMUSIC SCORE TOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! CIRCUITAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • ANGRY FANBOY  

    FIX IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AND MARKO, METACRITIC GIVES MORE WEIGHT TO THE SCORES OF BETTER PUBLICATIONS. NONE OF THE MUSIC METACRITIC COMPILES IS WEIGHTED EVENLY, DUH!

  • Marko  

    Actually if you eighted every score for that album evenly, you would get an average of 72 for that album, not 77. So you're right Angry Fanboy. It does need to be fixed.

  • ANGRY FANBOY  

    FIX THAT FILTER SCORE FOR MY MORNING JACKET"S CIRCUITAL. IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE AN 83.

  • Christopher  

    I can't foresee any album this year beating Helplessness Blues. For a band that has already put out one AOTY before, they may just have another this year. It's fantastic.

  • Listen to this  

    the score is incorrect i mean.

  • Listen to this  

    Circuital is amazing. Metacritic needs to fix the Filter magazine review for Circuital because it is incorrect.

  • MH  

    Didn't expect Goblin to be included
    Kinda did expect Born This Way to be an honorable mention at least
    Circuital was alright, MMJ isn't my favorite band but it was pretty good for psychedelic rock . Turtleneck and Chain was hilarious, and Hot Sauce Committee Pt 2 was a good return to form for the Beastie Boys

    much better month than April for music IMO

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