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Best Album and Songs of May 2017

Hi, Sputnik! Here's my personal favorite songs and albums of the month, like I usually do every month. I'd like to make a couple of notes before we start, though. UniqueUniverse rec'd me an amazing album last month called Bronze Mystic by a little band called Gallops. Unfortunately, I don't have time to extensively talk about it, but you, rec'er, have my regards. Also, Telstar won that one tournament, so, yeah, screw you ISS.
25Machine Gun Kelly

--- BEST SONGS ---
24Andy James

10. "Days Gone By": While I wasn't too impressed by this solo guitarist's new LP, I started to feel a little ways in that Mr. James could still make something memorable, and then this song played. Skill and beauty combine very well on this track, and somehow Andy “vocalizes” the guitar in the verse and chorus without making it sound overly cheesy. The drums aren't too overtaking or desperate, they instead let the guitar show off its skills as a vocalist and, well, a guitar.
23Siena Root
A Dream of Lasting Peace

9. "The Piper Won't Let You Stay": Early 70's psychedelia done right. Vocalist Samuel Bjoro gives a much needed intensity here with instruments that get increasingly harsher. The overused organ was an issue on this album, but on this song they thankfully kept it to short cuts while the less dramatic guitar took the stage during the solos. The lyrics are also handled well. By being about large and universal topics, they not only match the vastness of the vocal range, but they also add another layer of psychedelia to the song.
22The Afghan Whigs
In Spades

8. "Toy Automatic": Toy Automatic has songwriting that only comes around very rarely. If the very dense, but gradual song progression wasn't enjoyable enough to the listener, the lyrics are also gradually built, usually going around 2 syllables each line (think Swans). The endlessly elastic format of the time signatures and lyrical syllables gives this song a droning feel. This description might get some worried about potential boredom, but, again, the variation comes in the architecture of the brass instruments in the background. This also happens to be the most “epic” song on the album it's on, despite running under 4 minutes.
21Chris Stapleton
From A Room: Volume 1

7. "Up To No Good Livin'": Far and away the best country song of the year, this showcases a successful blend between modern and outlaw country. The awful kick-heavy and loud drumming in common bro country are completely replaced by a laid-back rhythm that Stapleton realizes is supposed to join the mid-tempo guitar. The female back-up singer really adds strength to the lyrics, taking the relationship battle depicted into a mirrored perspective. The occasional pauses this backup singer uses in the chorus is also a cool feature as it allows Chris's voice to be more raw and outstanding.
20The Mountain Goats

6. "Shelved": I guess one could say that this song is similar to “Rain in Soho”, but both songs are great so who cares tbh. Anyways, unlike the aforementioned track, this has a more artificial “elevator” sounding piano you might would hear on city sidewalk radios, and that's exactly the mood this song is trying to convey. This song goes through the bleak and bland lifestyle of struggling goth musicians that still wouldn't sell out their local culture for something bigger, or at least that's the message I got out of it. Another pretty awesome part of this song is the change-up vocalist for the final verse, considering this rarely happens for the rest of the album. Not only does he breathe new life in this song, but his unsubtle, yet specific predictions to come of this particular goth musician is very interesting.
19Do Make Say Think
Stubborn Persistent Illusions

5. "Bound": I mostly didn't care for the overly repetitive nature of Stubborn Persistent Illusions, especially the first three tracks. However, this song fortunately ceases that trend and goes into a combination of beauty and intensity that I was really looking for on here. This would continue a streak of songs that never improved from here, but was a step up from its first impression. Nonetheless, this song has a roaring breakdown that is greatly transitioned into by the sudden (but not interrupting) expansion of the instruments' potency. The ambiance that fills the first couple of minutes doesn't seem contrived or dull, but rather soothing, and fit for DMST's sound.
18Forest Swords

4. "Knife Edge": Arguably the most piano-driven track on Compassion just happens to be the best on that album. Despite how calm and one-note this song may sound on first listen, tons of different genre sounds are displayed when looked further into, with none of these sounds breaking the pacing, but rather giving them a flow that fits. The opening wind chimes connect to the main piano line without any distraction from the ambient atmosphere. Then, tribal and folk rhythms play, which have been a signature sound early on in the album. This, when connected to the newly introduced piano sound, makes the “classicalized” song all the more sweet.

3. "Little Uneasy": This is one of the best examples of great indie pop songs that came out this month. The mixture between dream pop and shoegaze on this track makes this song such a treat. While the guitar does make a great melody, the bass is what actually drives riff. This bass riff also accompanied by shoegaze-styled drums, with light hits on the ride and with emphasis on the snare, but not so that the mixing gets muddled. What also helps is the monotoned chill of the vocals, which lets the song avoid unnecessary ferocity.
16White Ward
Futility Report

2. "Stillborn Knowledge": While the album opener “Deviant Shapes” had an epic guitar lead at the end that could already stomp all over other black metal peers, “Stillborn Knowledge” was the exactly needed improvements on that opener. The vocalist's punk-ish voice works very well here because he can make room for vocal rhythm change when the black metal blast beats turn into a more metalcore-styled sound. This change may sound kinda stupid, but the dense blending of the saxophone, piano, and guitar make this risky move all the more worthwhile. The piano line in the ambient break is excellent and not jarringly sudden, the guitar solo is amazing and non-wanked, and the jazz section fits the tuning perfectly with the background sax and piano that occurred earlier in the song.
15Low Roar
Once in a Long, Long While...

1. "Once in a Long, Long While" [Title Track]: Probably one of my favorite pop songs of the year so far. The industrial-like beginning already gave the track an elevated feel from the last few songs, which were mainly piano ballads. More powerful synths start to come in until the vocalist appears. From then, a harmonica-like line and a techno stutter appear to give a dreamy, but somehow humble feel to go along with the lyrics. The production on this song is absolutely perfect. Each instrument is there to serve a different characteristic of the song, but all have the same before-mentioned “real dream” sound to them. However, because of how contrasting these instruments are initially supposed to sound, the listener can hear each of them clearly without any instruments merging into themselves into obscurity.
14Linkin Park
One More Light

13Samsara Blues Experiment
One with the Universe

10. 7/10 Basically Elder if their new album came out in May instead of June. Do not let that fool you of how good this album is, though. The vocalist has an interesting Frank Zappa-ish “spoken word” approach on some moments of this album that easily separates him from other stoner rock singers. The guitar work is quite impressive here, between the sudden tempo changes in “Sad Guru Returns”, the organ play-along in “Eastern Sun & Western Moon”, and the whammying on the title track. The drummer and bass player also do really well, especially with “Vipassana” and the title track, respectively. The only thing that irked me about this was the constant “vintage” atmosphere it tried to use in its instruments. I just thought that maybe they could use a different core sound in some moments, particularly with the guitar.
12Chris Stapleton
From A Room: Volume 1

9. 7/10 This is my personal favorite country album of the year. That doesn't mean I've listened to much country so far, but there's still a lot of good stuff to find here. Most songs on here work very well with the mixture of old-fashioned outlaw country and modern country, particularly with the production. No song really sounds too “twangy” or like an overproduced pop-country single, but rather at a nice place in the middle. The use of the electric guitar is quite impressive, as it gives a soft rock vibe with songs such as “I Was Wrong” or “Without Your Love” that may not need the use of the twangy acoustic. The lyrics are fairly competent, excluding the terribly obnoxious “Them Stems” with references I wish were more cleverly used. Also, the last song “Death Row” felt oddly upbeat with a song about death row, and it's a pretty weird decision for a closer.
11Kingdom of Giants
All The Hell You've Got To Spare

8. 7.5/10 When dealing with metalcore that's rather contemporary, you have to nail the choruses, as the same with, surprisingly enough, radio pop songs. For the most part, AHYGS does extremely well with this. Songs like “Cash Out”, “Damaged Goods”, “Runaway”, “Tunnel Vision”, and “Lost Cause” have the very impressive and heavy choruses needed to carry this album. Kingdom of Giants also goes through an intriguing amount of styles without sounding to confused on what direction the songs want to go in. Sometimes it's done pretty terribly, like the awful rap verse in “Lowlife” and the bland pop tune in “Gray Area”, but this experimenting also works at times, with a post-hardcore sound in “Runaway”, the electronic number in “Shade”, and death metal style drumming in “Motif”. By far the greatest thing about this album is the guitar playing. It's tuned perfectly, and the droning riffs in most of the choruses don't really get tiring like it would in most metal albums.
10Kingdom of Giants
All The Hell You've Got To Spare

Also, the solo in “Lost Cause” is one of the best of the year, including the last hook.
9Day Wave
The Days We Had

7. 7.5/10 This album was yet another reason why May was so great for indie pop. The instruments pretty much take random turns with the lead, but the impressive part is that the transition of the change never really feels forced. The transitions between leads always feel comfortable and smooth, even down to the vocals. Speaking of singing, Jackson Phillips does an outstanding job on vocals, slightly changing his voice tune depending on the instrumentals, and even sounding like Paul Masvidal on the closer “I'm Still Here” (my personal favorite on this record).
8Forest Swords

6. 8/10 Quite a unique electronic record that goes in many different directions yet stays solidified in its sound. A lot of Compassion has elements of tribal folk combined with electronic drums and synths, like with “The Highest Flood”, “Arms Out”, and “Knife Edge”. Chimes and bells are also interesting percussion additions here, like with “Vandalism” and “Raw Language”. The vastness in genres here can also expand when comparing old-fashioned string sections to tracks that have a lot of trap influence in them, like the track “Raw Language”, which even has a string section as it's “beat”. Even with all the influences scattered about, somehow, there's a truly beautiful and mystical sound that stays through nearly all the album, making a helluva nice fantasy for the listener.
7Employed to Serve
The Warmth Of A Dying Sun

5. 8/10 Pretty much a slightly less chaotic version of Converge, but in no way does that mean this album's bad. Much like Jacob Bannon, Justine Jones is absolutely ferocious in almost every song here, but she brings different kinds of viciousness depending on tempo and guitar tuning. Songs with a post-metal atmosphere are sung with slow growls while there's songs with grind influence that have the rapid punches of shrieks. The production of the guitars is great. It provides a heavy boom of sound when downtuned and the high-pitched riffs are clean, but not artificial.
6Low Roar
Once in a Long, Long While...

4. 8/10 Another great indie pop album that, unlike Day Daze's more shoegaze influenced instrumentals, Low Roar goes for a electronic sound that really works with the polished voice of Ran Karazija. This album actually goes through about three “phases”, as I call it. The first third is 4 songs of “straightforward” indie pop with repetitive title choruses, like in “Don't Be So Serious” or “Give Me An Answer”. The second third is the “ballad trio”, with “Waiting (10 Years)”, “Without You”, and “Gosia”, and the last act is the experimental side of the album, starting with the title track to the closer. An undeniable characteristic about this album is the amount of intriguing instrumentals. This ranges from the electronica bases in “Don't Be So Serious” and “Waiting (10 Years)”, industrial influences in the title track and “Crawl Back”, piano leads in “Poznan” and “13” among a few others, and even an acoustic guitar lead in “St. Eriksplan”. Even when these songs have lead instruments,
5Low Roar
Once in a Long, Long While...

they still have tons of layers built under them for support so nothing feels dead.
4The Afghan Whigs
In Spades

3. 8.5/10 This is exactly how to do an indie-rock-second-comeback album. Not very significant, I know, but what is important is how great this album is. The opener, “Birdland”, is amazing and the transition between it and “Arabian Heights” is perfectly smooth. The cool, classicish riffs in “Arabian Heights” and “Light As A Feather” make the guitar feel as prominent as it should be. Vocalist Greg Dulli has a gruff, Dan-Reynolds-if-he-actually-had-any-power voice that fits the rough and static guitars and drums. This album also gets quite emotional at the end with a couple of ballads, and while I don't care for the closer so much, “I Got Lost” is a great example of a stylized indie ballad.
3White Ward
Futility Report

2. 8.5/10 Jazzy black metal isn't an unheard of concept, but man is it satisfying when a band, especially a small indie band, pulls it off with such accuracy and delight. The jazz here isn't played just to shove another genre down the songs' throats, but it's there to give true atmosphere with dark tones of the piano and saxophone. The first two tracks on this album showcase that in great fashion. White Ward doesn't just stop there either because they also include Ulver-like electronica and industrial sounds to accompany the black metal riffage and raw shouting coming from the vocalist. There's even a little mixture of industrial jazz in the “break track” “Rain as Cure”. Electronic sounds can be heard blending in with the static of the blast beats, mainly in the title track, that just gives those crashes much more intensity.
2The Mountain Goats

1. 8.5/10 It's really hard for me to talk about this album. I've spent a couple of hours thinking of material to write here because, to be honest, I've never experienced much of the goth lifestyle or any of its positive/negative features. Nonetheless, let's first look at the musical aspect of this album. Much like my discussion on the track “Shelved”, many of the additional components here are “everyday” themed, from the fluttering, yet non-concerting, woodwind on “Andrew Eldtrich...” to the humble horns on “Paid in Cocaine” and “Rage of Travers”. Again, this is obviously supposed to emphasize the everyday goth lifestyle, but the muic as a whole is The Mountain Goats sound blended in with actual goth rock, which was very much the best decision for the band. This way, The Mountain Goats doesn't lose the its indie rock identity, yet it make its music more goth influenced specifically for the story of this album. Speaking of the story, let's now get into the vast and expansive thematic
1The Mountain Goats

context of the album. Many characteristics told of goth culture here are pulled off extremely well and more than good enough not to make the amount of subjects an overbearing on the album's runtime. There's the understandable following of local groups in “Andrew Eldtrich...”, the difference in goth subcultures in “We Do It Different...”, the goths' embrace, yet comprehension of fantasy in “Unicorn Tolerance”, and the struggling lowlife chapters on “Paid in Cocaine”. Let's be fair, there's a lot of reasons why I listen to music, and education usually isn't one of them; however, the songwriting of this album captivated me to learn more about the exaggerated and too-oft-stereotyped goth culture. You can learn a lot about that lifestyle just by listening to this album, though, because lyrics are clever, but not so where they fall into pretentiousness. I don't think another album is going to cause me to gain such appreciation of another world this year.
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