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Music Of The Month: The Best Albums And Tracks Of May 2021
Patrick Clarke , May 27th, 2021 23:56

From exuberant pop to all-out brutality, via everything in-between, here are tQ's favourite albums and tracks of May 2021

I received my first dose of Pfizer vaccine yesterday, having heard from a friend of a friend of a relative of my partner that an old function hall in Woodford had some spares for walk-ins. When I got home I checked my emails and saw that I was invited to a gig. Typically, after a year and a half of waiting for such an opportunity, I'm busy that day, but nevertheless if I were to stretch for a sign, it's fitting that it was the first day in weeks that the rain clouds that have been clinging over London for the last month finally went away, leaving a balmy blue sky in their place. Not to labour the point too much, but it feels like things might be getting better.

On the other hand, this dramatic upswing of optimism also leaves me reeling a little. As the Tories under whose unfeeling and incompetence well over a hundred thousand and counting have died bitch about each other in front of committees rather than face up to their failings, the fact that the end of the pandemic is in sight means that so too will be a moment of intense reckoning. All of which is to say that moods are still swinging pretty wildly. Given music has always acted as either a balm or an intensifier for those moods, I don't think it's glib to wonder if that's why the tracks and albums we've found most interesting this May, and compiled for you below, tend to exist at the extremes – whether that be CHAI's hyper-positive pop, or GNOD's unrelenting fury.

At this point, I'll ask that should you find anything you love in the list below, or have done so via tQ in the past, we would love for you consider becoming a paid subscriber. Perks include exclusive music, essays, podcasts, and an expanded, hours long playlist of the best music we've covered on the site this past month. You can sign up here. Otherwise, keep reading for the best music of May 2021, as selected by tQ's office staff.
Patrick Clarke


Special Interest - Trust No Wave

It's been a genuine thrill to discover the music of Special Interest over the last couple of years. The most exciting group I've heard from the US in quite some time, theirs is a heavy mix of noise, sex and politics that feels entirely different from anything else going on at the moment. As well as the pleasure of getting to know their two albums proper, 2018's Spiralling and last year's The Passion Of, there's been the filling of the gaps of where they're coming from, and how they got here.

In March, we were treated to a compilation of music from Ruth Mascelli's Psychic Hotline project, and now comes a wonderful collection of Special Interest's early demos. For most groups, demo versions are only for the collectors and geeks, but such is this band's adherence to passionate racket, this bunch of fiery tracks stand up as a terrific album in its own right. Drum machines rattle and flicker like an itchy locust pestilence ('Disco'), bass yomps ('(Fluid) Bound 2'), words are screamed and hollered ('Disease'), and brutally treated guitars loom and and howl (err… everywhere). However, as is the case throughout their essential oeuvre thus far, Special Interest's noise is never antagonistic, more febrile, randy and joyous. Oh, and Special Interest continue to show their knack for a title – first 'Young, Gifted, Black, In Leather', now Trust No Wave, 'Black Silk Stalking' and 'I'll Never Do Ketamine Again'. One of the best bands existing in 2021, I am desperate to see them live.
Luke Turner

GNOD - Easy To Build, Hard To Destroy
(Rocket Recordings)

Calling a band restless can imply a certain aimlessness. In the case of GNOD, whose synapse-searing noise has consistently declined to predict the future, it's been a deeply intuitive urge to eke out exultation from repetition. Much like Bardo Pond or Acid Mothers Temple at their most peaky, highlights from the band's catalogue (take 'Tony's First Communion' or 'Drop Out' with White Hills) hauls Pete Kember's edict of "three chords good, two chords better, one chord best" to the outer confines of autosuggestion. Across eight tripped-out tracks, totalling eighty minutes, Easy To Build, Hard To Destroy cracks light upon just how far they’ve gone.
Brian Coney – read the full review here

Jap Kasai - OWN °C

There's an idea in Japanese called 'onkochishin', roughly meaning to create new ideas from studying the past. It's this that drives producer Jap Kasai, aka Daisuke Iijima, on his new album OWN ℃. Cutting up vocals sourced from traditional Ondo folk music, and combining them with juke and footwork instrumentals, it makes for an intriguing push and pull between different tempos and rhythms. It's more than just two extremes clashed together, however. The vocal samples Iijima employs, which reverberate with deep soulfulness, are elevated, not dampened, by the skittering beats.
Patrick Clarke

(Sub Pop)

WINK is CHAI's most comforting listen to date, but that doesn't mean they've left behind the fun or the bold, animated bite of it all. Instead, it's a record that builds on everything they've done before, understanding their strengths together as a group and then growing something more immersive and insightful from it – all while remaining deliciously joyful.
Tara Joshi – read the full review here

Gary Numan - Intruder
(Numan Music)

Intruder highlight 'The Gift' imagines coronavirus as a weapon, deployed by the Earth to wipe out the human race. "The idea of the Earth fighting back was already part of the ideas within Intruder. When COVID-19 came along it fitted seamlessly, in a very tragic way," Numan explains. "Nature as a system is inherently cruel, but it works – there's a brutal harmony to the whole thing, until you put people in it. I think we are one of those rare mistakes that nature makes: it made us too curious, too intelligent, too greedy." Numan's conflicted feelings – balancing hope for ecological progress with pessimism about humanity’s role in the natural world – manifest themselves in Intruder's double-ending. 'Now And Forever' presents the possibility of mankind's future existence, before its destruction in 'The End Of Dragons'. "If you look at it from the planet's point of view, the best thing that could happen is that we go," he resolves.
Alastair Shuttleworth – read the interview with Gary Numan and Ade Fenton here

Colleen - The Tunnel & The Clearing
(Thrill Jockey)

Inspired by African and Jamaican musicians' ethos of maximising creativity with a modest setup, Colleen's singular sound is informed by principles not the emulating of another's style. Influences like Arthur Russell, Lee Perry, or even Broadcast appear pleasantly oblique, like a washed-out collage. Following a particular instrumental focus on each album, her eighth centres the organ, enhanced by a carefully reduced set of analogue electronics. With just six items of gear, Colleen crafted the most intricate tapestry of minimally composed, contemplative moods with a beating heart underneath.
Danijela Bočev – read the full review here

Fatima Al Qadiri - Medieval Femme

It feels a touch wrong to call Medieval Femme an album, per se – not only do modern releases vary wildly from the forty-minute limit of the LP, but they also have singles and album cuts. This is rather a suite, a collection of pieces reflecting on a similar theme, in this case "the state of melancholic longing exemplified by the poetry of Arab women from the medieval period." Fatima Al Qadiri's approach to songwriting bears some similarities to classical form (exposition, development, recapitulation) – and very little to pop structures.
David Burke – read the full review here

Thomas Ankersmit - Perceptual Geography
(Shelter Press)

Perceptual Geography is music as actor, not scenery. It moves, it interacts, it plays a role and shifts the listener. The album is dedicated to Maryanne Amacher, the late American composer who was a friend and influence on Ankersmit. In Lisa Rovner's documentary Sisters With Transistors, Kim Gordon recalls meeting Amacher: "She said: 'I'm gonna make this whole house vibrate and come alive." That spirit of disrupting the domestic shines through in Ankersmit's composition when taken as a home listening experience. He suggests the listener plays it in on speakers, a bold request when so few of us have access to either the time or the equipment, but it makes sense. Although it's a fascinating listen on headphones, listen to it out loud and it becomes a different, all-encompassing beast.
Daryl Worthington – read the full review here

Seefeel - Rupt & Flex 1994-96

Rupt & Flex collates Seefeel's recordings from '94 to '96: two brilliant EPs (Starethrough and Fractured/Tied), their second and third albums Succour and (Ch-Vox) (the latter released on Aphex Twin’s Rephlex imprint) and a host of rarities and unreleased tracks, including an Autechre remix of 'Spangle'. It's not their full Warp history, since they returned in 2010 with an excellent, eponymous album, but it marks the point where Clifford in particular became both absorbed by the possibilities offered by digital tools and, in the time-honoured tradition of the production obsessive, disenchanted with touring and promotional duties.
David McKenna – read the full review here

Can - Live In Stuttgart 1975

There's no denying that this release, the first in a series of officially sanctioned live recordings cleaned up by Can founder Irmin Schmidt and producer-engineer Rene Tinner, has been a long time coming. I recall being excited by the project when Schmidt first mentioned it, during an interview I did with him way back at the tail end of 2015. Finally available on limited edition triple orange vinyl and double CD with notes by novelist Andy Warner, archivist Andy Hall and manager Sandra Podmore Schmidt, I can happily report that the long wait has been entirely worth it.

The sound quality is vibrant and the playing exemplary. No Can fan is going to want to miss out on the chance of listening in to the near-telepathic interplay of band members over long-form pieces that frequently reach points of almost elemental intensity. Recorded during the same year that Landed saw release, motifs from past recordings such as Future Days emerge at times from the maelstrom, as on the second track, but Can were uninterested in simply recreating studio recordings. These tracks have an irresistible power and a unique life all of their own that was never to be repeated in exactly the same form again. The prospect of further singular recordings yet to come is immensely exciting.
Sean Kitching

Olivia Rodrigo – Sour

Olivia Rodrigo is not the first teenager to write about her raw, corrosive feelings, and she makes little attempt to break the mould – 'SOUR' offers 11 angsty, vulnerable songs in which a girl sings about, and to, a boy who didn't deserve her, didn't respect her, yet still had an unshakeable hold on her. It works because those feelings are familiar, her voice is spectacular, and the guttural resentment of Alanis Morrisette's 'Jagged Little Pill' courses through this album like an IV drip. Rodrigo might seem like she has no reason whatsoever to be so distraught about such trivial things at 17, but that's the point: you can be as beautiful and pure and comfortable as the world might want you to be, there will always be one loser who will inadvertently ruin your life. Albums like this come around once every few years, but not all of them make such a mark. With Rodrigo's crystalline vocals and fearless desperation, the new generation's lucky to have this one.
Ella Kemp


Greentea Peng - 'Dingaling'

In a remarkably short while, Bermondsey-born Aria Wells has successfully dispelled any hint of wine bars and lift music from the laidback trip hop sound she has made her own. Like her earlier single 'Nah It Ain't The Same', new tune Dingaling amps up the dub and the blissed out psychedelia to produce something woozily compelling.
Robert Barry

Tirzah - 'Sink In'

With two new tracks having now emerged in as many months, Tirzah is clearly teasing something bigger to come – pleasing news for all of those, like me, who fell in love with 2018 album Devotion. On the evidence of 'Sink In', with its achingly beautiful jangly guitar chords and typically tender vocals from Tirzah, whatever is coming is going to be very good indeed.
Christian Eede

Caroline - 'Skydiving Onto The Library Roof'

I was having a bit of a shit one earlier this month, then I listened to this song about 17 times in a row and everything was OK again. The latest from hotly tipped London collective Caroline is nothing but stunning.
Patrick Clarke

BTS - 'Butter'

Only a few years ago, a song like 'Butter' would have been perfect Bruno Mars material – and probably have been a hit with it. It's a sign of the changing of the global pop guard that it's now almost impossible to imagine any European or American male pop stars singing this kind of slinky, funky neon soul tune and carrying it off with the kind of aplomb that BTS do here.
Robert Barry

A. G. Cook (with Charli XCX) - 'Xcxoplex'

A. G. Cook and Charli XCX's collaborations, frequently alongside the dearly-departed SOPHIE, have birthed some wonderful hyperpop over the last five years, and this new remix of Cook's 2020 track 'Xxoplex' is no different. Close your eyes and elevate!
Christian Eede

Audiobooks - 'The Doll'

Considering how brilliantly brash their first record was 'The Doll' is comparatively subtle for Evangeline Ling and David Wrench - the product of an increased focus on refinement for their newly announced second LP. That said, it's anything but meek – Ling's story-telling at peak off-kilter and unsettling as Wrench kindles a slow-burning synth line that ends as a raging blaze.
Patrick Clarke

LSDXOXO - 'Mutant Exotic'

'Mutant Exotic', the standout cut from LSDXOXO's recent Dedicated 2 Disrespect EP for XL, is a fiercely funky house music jam, complete with chopped-up horns and classic sampled 'whoops', that I simply can't wait to hear in a club when that day finally comes again.
Christian Eede

Six Organs Of Admittance - 'All That They Left You'

A far cry from the gorgeous cosmic arpeggios of his last LP Companion Rises, this cut from the forthcoming Six Organs Of Admittance record is an apocalyptic squalling guitar and robotic vocals freak-out of the highest order.
Patrick Clarke