The Monthly RecommNeds: May 2021
Greetings freaks and friends. We’re back with another round of under-the-radar new music recommendations for your ears. If you missed last month’s picks, the April column is here, and the accompanying playlist is here.
As a reminder, I’ll be using this column to highlight 10 new releases each month, mostly taken from new releases the preceding month, hopefully hitting at least one of your sweet spots along the way and probably a few bonus picks thrown in as well. I’m doing my best to mix these featured albums up to hit as much of the stylistic and genre spectrum as possible, while concentrating on the great shit that’s likely not on your radar.
I’m also putting together a special 25-track playlist each month: songs I’ve been digging, some from the monthly picks, some from albums that weren’t featured, some singles from upcoming releases and maybe a random blast-from-the-past favorite or two. This month’s playlist is here. I hope you enjoy it! With the still-kinda-new Monthly RecommNeds, there are lots of ways to discover new music in whatever form works best for you.
And a reminder that I’m always on the hunt for the good stuff that I might not be hip to, so never hesitate to reach out to me on Twitter @neddyo.
The Monthly 10
Ten under-the-radar albums released last month that I think you might dig.
This one actually came out back in January, but I only discovered it in the last month myself, and seems the only kind and proper thing to do is to get it into your soul right away, absolutely no delay. This Belgian outfit balances a worldly whirlwind of sound: from afrobeat to Turkish psychedelia to straight funky fire. File this one under must listen and, please do.
Somewhat unintentionally, this month’s RecommNeds seems to have turned into a sort of around-the-world affair, both in the origins of the bands and the sounds. These guys (including members of Goats and Hills) are from Sweden, and their sound is an interplanetary headtrip. Taking influences from spiritual jazz giants and lysergic explorers, this one is equal parts mysterious and groovy. Prepare to get your freak on, folks!
Grave Flowers Bongo Band: Strength Of Spring
For something a little more terrestrial, a little more local, but no less mind-expanding, may I introduce you to Grave Flowers Bongo Band out of Los Angeles. Finding a just-right Goldilocks sweet spot: just enough growling guitars, just enough stoner freak-out, killer songs that are meant to be played just loud enough and even their name is just the right amount of mysterious cool. This album feels like one we’ll be looking back on in a few years saying “we knew ’em when.” But that only works if you go listen, which you should do…now.
Khalab & M’berra Ensemble: M’berra
Back into our globe-circling balloon, we come upon Khalab (electronic musician from Italy), who here hooks up with M’berra Ensemble (Tuareg collective from Mali). The sound is a delicious fusion of cultures and styles, the kind of thing that could have maybe gone wrong at some point, but is all the more excellent for nailing it at every step. Breathing new life into familiar sounds, this one is a revelation.
Bill Mackay & Nathan Bowles: Keys
I always like to throw in at least one or two albums more on the folk side, and this one fits the bill. Bill Mackay on guitar and Nathan Bowles on banjo are the kind of guys who are all over the place, making their own music and working with others. Together, they yin each other’s yangs, mixing in ethereal instrumental whispers with scratch-the-earth folk songs. Each track is a self-contained treasure, dirty rocks cleaned up into lumps of gold. This one is special, enjoy it!
Justin Mazer: Discourse
Philly guitarist/composer Justin Mazer has somehow eluded my radar for a while, which seems difficult considering the top flight roster of musicians he’s played with. Well, no longer the case, as he put out two fantastic records on the same day and someone was kind enough to make sure I didn’t miss them. They’re both great, I chose one for its more striking artwork, frankly, but check out Controlled Burn as well. Both are master courses in instrumental music: pensive, engaging, expansive, emotional. All the good stuff. If you didn’t know, now you do.
That’s right, the album is called Jams. That’s what it is: six tracks of hair-raising, mind-blowing improvisation by one of the best Eurojam outfits in the land. Longtime readers of the RecommNeds will hopefully already know about our longtime obsession with Danish rockers like Papir, who, honestly, basically put out nothing but sick jams. But these ones manage to be somehow sicker, if that’s even possible. Dig it.
Renée Reed: Renée Reed
May I be the first to introduce you to Renée Reed? Her self-titled debut is of the “where did this come from?” variety, a soft-focus sound, hefty songwriting, a perfect dose of acoustic guitar and that certain special something that the lucky few have, a something you can feel from the opening notes here. Reed hails from Lafayette, Louisiana, and grew up steeped in Cajun music, a background that somehow manages to just very-lightly touch her singer-songwriter voice to excellent result. This one was love-at-first-listen for me, I hope you find the same.
Silver Synthetic: Silver Synthetic
After all that international travel, here’s another stellar self-titled debut from Louisiana, this time New Orleans rockers Silver Synthetic. Their record is out on Third Man, but that’s not what makes it noteworthy. It’s more of the easy-to-love, laid-back twang-rock. If your favorite cosmic country could get more easygoing, this is what they’d sound like. This is your summertime roadtrip soundtrack, and not a moment too soon.
Whatitdo Archive Group: The Black Stone Affair
This is either a long lost soundtrack to an even longer-lost film, or some dudes pretending their record is a long lost soundtrack (I’ll let you decide!), but regardless, it’s a groove-a-minute affair evocative of some of the great movie music. Somehow mixing Morricone’s spaghetti western vistas with some seriously Isaac-Hayes-ian Shaft soulfunk and plenty of other cinematic motifs, this one is a head-bob delight. Imagine your own plot twists, action-packed chase scenes and romantic interludes as you listen. Enjoy!
In addition to the Monthly 10, I’ll try to throw in a few other picks each month.
For my monthly live release pick, I think this concert recording from Bitchin Bajas is a perfect match for some of this week’s head-expanding jammers.
Once again, a couple EP’s worth listening to: Samantha Crain puts more magic into too-few four tracks than most songwriters can muster over a full-length or two and check out bluegrass up-and-comers out of New York City, Cole Quest and the City Pickers.
And finally five more recommendations that may not be on your radar but are well worth a listen, presented without comment: Bell Orchestre, Vijay Iyer Trio, Paul Jacobs, Mythic Sunship, Matthew E White & Lonnie Holley … what other good ones did I miss this month?
I think that’ll do, more next month.
All of the music mentioned in this column can be found in this May compilation playlist on Spotify. I’ll also keep up this running playlist with all the recommendations from 2021 so they’re all in one place for easy new music discovery at any time.