The 10 Best Albums You May Have Missed in May 2020
Our latest celebration of records that might have slipped under your radar in the past month.
Music you may have missed in May’s maelstrom. The Maylstrom, if you will.
It’s testament to the sheer amount of quality music in the world that this month’s round-up of hidden gems, overlooked records and albums that simply haven’t had the shine that they deserve features acts as prestigious as Blanck Mass, The Magnetic Fields and Christoph De Babalon. Whatever way you split it, whatever your taste, it’s a great time to be a music fan. For those of you who want to go a little deeper than May’s flagship releases, allow us to direct you towards ten delightful curiosities.
A Colourful Storm’s latest trick is a dream link-up between Christoph de Babalon & Mark, both doyens of righteously innovative drum ‘n’ bass. ‘Split’ finds a trio of new takes from de Babalon bolstered by a pair of Markies on the B-side, and each artist’s contributions serve to bring the other’s into greater focus. Bookended with two terse, murky jungle innovations, the middle of ‘Split’ pushes this aesthetic in bold directions - either de Babalon’s eerie MPC warpings or Mark’s spare, haunting organic incantation ‘Duet For Melodica And Claves’. Anyone who likes their music with an ‘anti’ disposition should check ‘Split’ without delay.
The Magnetic Fields records greet you like an old friend. Sure, it might not be an ideal friend - the music made by Stephin Merritt et al is frequently grumpy, curmudgeonly and cynical. But Magnetic Fields LPs are also witty and melodious and, in their own warped way, full of life’s joys. It’s what makes them such an enduring group, and also what makes record store clerks who weren’t even born when they released their earliest LPs so excited about new material like ‘Quickies’. These songs are miniature marvels which, in their brevity (the longest song here barely tops 100 seconds), speak broad truths.
Even when they’re not the main event, Blanck Mass LPs remain an event. ‘Calm With Horses’ may be a film score - the first that Blanck Mass has made, no less - but this is still music that demands and deserves your attention. After all, it’s not really in the Blanck Mass wheelhouse to take one's foot off the gas - lest we forget that the one born Benjamin Power has made his name forging furious, end-of-days electronic screes which make Fuck Buttons look like Maribou State. So, while ‘Calm With Horses’ may largely swap out the more caustic elements of Power’s music in deference to the on-screen action, this is still a magnificent and unflinching collection of coarse synthetic vistas.
‘Oh Yeah?’ You ready for this? Better strap yourself in, it’s a wildie. This Norman Records™ word-gurgler wasn’t familiar with New York’s Sunwatchers at the beginning of May, but the group’s new LP ‘Oh Yeah’ has catapulted them to the front of both my consciousness and my most-played list. We’ve remarked elsewhere on the similarities between Sunwatchers and Horse Lords - another recent favourite of ours here at Norman - but, unlike the latter’s ‘The Common Task’, the fervid post-rock of these tracks really allow you to get in touch with your wilder side. Imagine a more loose-limbed take on Melt Yourself Down.
After releasing through labels like Taut, Avian and Noise Manifesto, Copenhagen’s SØS Gunver Ryberg now rocks up on Whities for another bold vision in electronics. Those who enjoyed the formidable combination of power-techno, IDM and dark ambient of Ryberg’s recent ‘Entangled’ LP will get more joy from ‘Whities 030’. Two crashing, contorted rhythm tracks jostle next to a triptych of foreboding weightless synthscapes here. Ryberg’s brow remains furrowed throughout.
Lithuania’s Patricia Kokett drops his debut LP ‘Bizarr’ via Knekelhuis, the label on which his 2018 EP ‘Diabel’ also emerged. The Dutch imprint is known for releasing off-beat techno, electronics and wave music from artists like Maoupa Mazzocchetti and De Ambassade, and ‘Bizarr’ expands this aesthetic into a set of ultra-trippy, highly potent techno explorations. Some of these tracks sound like Balearic house joints which have been so dosed with peyote that they have mutated into something altogether headier and heavier, their third eyes fully open.
In the vein of fellow Swiss imprint WRWTFWW, High Jazz are building up a strong reputation as a go-to in reissues of obscure jazz. While WRWTFWW records often look to Japan, High Jazz has largely kept to the U.S.A., and the label’s latest drop is a new edition of Dawan Muhammad’s ultra-rare 1979 LP ‘Deep Stream’. The saxophonist leads his band through a set of vibrant spiritual excursions here, some of which soften up when vocals are introduced - ‘Is That You’ and ‘Deep Stream’s title-track swoon delightfully.
Speaking of WRWTFWW, the label’s latest treat is a set of re-releases focusing on Japanese bassist/composer/bandleader Motohiko Hamase. ‘#Notes of Forestry’ was originally released in 1988 and exists in a strange hinterland beyond ambient, fourth world and jazz fusion. When Hamase sets his sound free in the wheel, as he does on seventeen-minute-long closer ‘Nude’, a momentum is whipped up akin to Steve Reich and Arthur Russell in ‘Tower Of Meaning’ mode. Be sure to check WRWTFWW’s other Hamase reissues too - ‘Technodrome’ and ‘Anecdote’ build on the sound of ‘#Notes of Forestry’ in highly imaginative ways.
While Kooba Tercu’s sound falls more in line with noise-rock and Krautrock than techno, ‘Proto Tekno’ is a pretty good signpost for the eight tracks within here. There is a primordial kinship between techno and the lumbering, brute-force rhythms that power so many of these numbers, an effect which is heightened by the grinding industrial tones which clang and clatter all over ‘Proto Tekno’. Those who know about Leeds legends Cattle should turn their attentions Kooba Tercu’s way.
Yeah, this is dope. The Mystery Of The Bulgarian Voices, for those who don’t know, is a long-running project which reinvigorates traditional Bulgarian choral music. Mind you, this is no mere revivalism - the stunning folk harmonies are combined with modern textures in a manner which is brilliantly contemporary. ‘Shandai Ya / Stanka’ unites the group with Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard, and the music within is richly emotive and full of rhythmic vigour. A collaboration with beatboxer SkilleR is particularly excellent.