Five Best Albums of May
Tori Amos, Haley Bonar and the Roots are three of the best.
The most satisfying feeling I get from listening to music is not joy; it is astonishment. I like to be caught out. This works in a negative sense, too: I reeled with spiteful delight, for example, when subsequent listens to Kid Rock’s 2007 disc Rock N Roll Jesus proved it was even viler than I had initially reckoned.
Here’s hoping this list of May’s Top Five albums provides you more than one surprise:
1. Tori Amos, Unrepentant Geraldines (Mercury Classics). It was kind of fun to sniff the pianist, singer and songwriter’s recent exhalations of classical gas. It is more fun to take big reckless bites of this spiced and spiked meal of what first made Tori rave: arched-eyebrow songs whose quirky hooks are laced with pretty poison.
2. Haley Bonar, Last War (Graveface). Midwestern twang and English postpunk ought to be star-crossed lovers or at least a mismatched couple from an odious romantic comedy. Bonar, a South Dakota native now living in St. Paul, makes them entwine gracefully on her fifth full-length, which flashes like heat lightning that illuminates a pale face filled with wonder.
3. Röyksopp & Robyn, Do It Again (Cherrytree/Interscope). Before the ampersand: a Norwegian duo specializing in intelligent electronica; after: a Swedish vocalist specializing in clever pop. They’ve collaborated before, a fact that doesn’t leach this five-song EP of either its buoyant pleasures, like the thrilling title track, or its dark surprises, like the moody ten-minute opener, “Monument.”
4. The Roots, …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin (Def Jam). Yeah, they’ve been Jimmy Fallon’s talk-show house band for five years, but the Roots need street and artistic cred about as much as their native Philadelphia needs another Liberty Bell. Nevertheless, their latest album earns its Nina Simone introduction with a half-hour of deep trawling into tracks that cohere like jazz fantasies and fall apart like inner-city dreams.
5. tUnE-yArDs, Nikki Nack (4AD). Merrill Garbus, frontwoman of tUnE-yArDs, is an ambivalent indie seductress, pulling in with one hand and pushing away with the other. (The typography of tUnE-yArDs, simultaneously intriguing and annoying, symbolizes the contradiction.) On the project’s third LP and follow-up to 2011’s critically feted WHOKILL, Garbus achieves her most potent confusion of sonic density and accessible simplicity to date.
…AND ONE TO SHUN
1. Lily Allen, Sheezus (Warner Bros.). It didn’t seem like a good sign when the Britpop songbird dissed the singles that were supposed to promote her third long-player. And it was not, in fact, a good sign: ending a career hiatus she began in 2009, the social-media snark siren has become a reflexively heckling harpy, and the charm of her songs has curdled.