In true 2020 fashion, May has brought more confusion, civil unrest and worry. There are two things we know here at Natural Music — these are strange trying times, and music helps. We've assembled our favorite releases of the month for those exact reasons.
Whether you're an essential worker who needs music to keep your mind off the possibility of infection, working from home with nobody to stop you from blasting your favorite music, or were recently laid off and need new music to get you through hard times, we hope there's something here that suits your taste.
This month we decided it was time for dance music to take its rightful spot with a separate Best Electronic of May list.
Charli has used her time in quarantine to give us the best pop record of the year, and arguably of her career. The pandemic we are living through and the accompanying isolation provides the thematic backdrop for introspective ballads and cathartic bangers. The forward-thinking production done by AG Cook and a number of PC music adjacent producers gives us plenty to dance along to, even if it’s by ourselves for a while.
Perfume Genius has manifested himself as a celebrated queer icon on the margins of the art pop mainstream. Set My Heart On Fire Immediately is pop made better, an album straight from the heart of the artist that embraces versatility and experimentation in ingenious fashion.
Sumney explores uncertainty and ambiguity in græ, which he self describes as "a concept album about grayness.” The album balances personal and public messages working to directly address people’s emotionality. græ asks questions and provides answers to unexplainable phenomena in society. It is a musically and lyrically demanding work that once again proves Sumney's creative genius.
Ka has proved time and time again, that above all else, he is a student. When he’s showcasing his wordplay, and constructing minimalist songs out of a handful of samples, he’s not doing so from a place of arrogance. On Descendants Of Cain, Ka’s stylistic and conceptual choices meld into a foundational record, one that feels both potently intimate and stoically aware of its influences.
An impressive solo debut album under the Cecile Believe moniker from Caila Thompson-Hannant who co-wrote and recorded vocals for many songs on Sophie’s Oil Of Every Pearl's Un-Insides. With its fragile moments and sparing moments of PC maximalism, Made in Heaven is peculiar and surprising in a way pop rarely is these days. [Alek]
Hakim drenches neo-soul in reverb, dressing modern anxieties in sweet R&B and psychedelic fuzz. Compared to his 2017 debut Green Twins, this project has less form and takes a shape more difficult to define. Tracks like “BOUNCING” and “QADIR” unwind slowly as Hakim experiments and expands on his sound. [Wade]
Taking its name from a biblical quote in Romans, this electronic project from Drew Daniel of Matmos blurs the line between house and ambient soundscape. The album’s chimes, bells, piano and chanty choir vocals give it an ethereal quality, almost to the point of being eerie. One track flows seamlessly into the next, shaping a sonic pilgrimage that will intrigue active and passive listeners alike. [Wade]
On his third full length, Medhane looks inward, where there's no shortage of ideas to unpack. Nearly all of the fifteen tracks on Cold Water are under three minutes, like quick poetic sketches in a notebook packed with rhymes. The artist brings cerebral raps in spades, delivered in the tough-but-cool timbre that’s only born out of Brooklyn. [Wade]
Smith concocts another new organism, mixing her voice with a stream of bubbling and flowing synths. This album offers a calm vision of transformation but does not hint at what is on the other side.
Strange to Explain is a triumphant return to form from the psychedelic folk group Woods. The album is comforting and familiar, while still confronting sadness, mystery, and the unknown. The new album is strong, streamlined, and offers a certain level of escapism as Jeremy Earl’s falsetto vocals cut through a swirling landscape of laid back percussion and thoughtful instrumentation.
Recorded at London’s infamous Abbey Road Studios with the help of the London Contemporary Orchestra, Island is all-enveloping and all-consuming – filled to the brim with strings and sonic twists and turns. Pallett refuses to do the expected; and chords are rarely resolved, but roll off into new directions instead.
Elysia Crampton opts for a mixture of Latin percussion and discordant synth washes on this latest release. ORCORARA 2010 is a lively album that creates a strong amount of imagery, incorporating spoken word on many of its tracks to paint an impressive and powerful picture. [Brock S]
After dropping one of the best rap records of last year, Little Simz graces us with the short but punchy EP. The lo-fi production is sparse but snappy, with the clear highlight of the EP being her impressive rapping. Her bars are smart, and the flow is sharp and keep us eager to hear what she has coming next.
London’s own Portico Quartet blends the most delicate aspects of ambient electronica and jazz into an hypnotic, orchestral trance. Aerial horns and strings float like vapors in the wind and add to the EP’s melancholic, yet tranquil climate. [Wade]
Following a successful string of seemingly effortless dance cuts and extended plays, UK producer India Jordan returns with their most refined effort yet. These fast-paced, woozy house tracks are constructed as one part pure euphoria, one part thoughtful introspection. On the titular “You,” India brings to the table a daring combination of careful cogitation and care-free movement.
"It’s been a lot of fun to work in a new genre. George has a masterful way of twisting and bending sounds to make them sound vintage. He manages to create soundscapes that are both retro and futuristic. I added guitar and vocals to George’s lush soundscape for this stoney side project. Enjoy!” - Nick Hexum of 311