Damon Albarn, Everyday Robots
It’s 2014, and Damon Albarn still sounds exhausted. That’s good news: The Blur frontman brings plenty of downer energy to what’s technically his solo debut, trying to make some sense out of the 21st century in an world-worn baritone. Where his Britpop band nailed ‘90s malaise perfectly, this album aims to do the same for the iPhone age (the titular robots are us). Out now.
Essential track: “Everyday Robots”
tUnE-yArDs, Nikki Nac
In terms of musical ideas per square album-minute, Nikki Nac is chock-full, overflowing with dubby bass, looped rhythms, 8-bit bleeps and the commanding voice of Merrill Garbus bellowing above it all. As a singer, the one-woman-band is impressive and impossible to ignore, able to deliver bold proclamations about body image and violence, as well as sweet, nursery-rhyme earworms. Her third album is a hugely ambitious collage of influences and sounds, but one that offers plenty of entry points (see “Wait for a Minute,” or the clapping-game-based “Water Fountain”). Out May 5.
Essential track: “Wait for a Minute”
Mirah, Changing Light
There are basically two types of people in the world: Those who love Mirah and those who haven’t heard Mirah. This record follows the indie-pop chanteuse after a move to Brooklyn from the West Coast, riffing on breakups and environmental catastrophes and dabbling in some new sounds. Yes, those are vocoder-laced vocal harmonies, and yes she totally nails it. Out May 13.
Essential song: “Oxen Hope”
Swans, To Be Kind
Swans are, in a word, brutal, grinding out post-punk grooves built around bludgeoning guitar stabs, throbbing drums and frontman Michael Gira’s menacing proclamations. It’s not the type of thing you’d throw on at a picnic or a dinner party—but the two-disc album, which ends as it has to in a maelstrom of chaos and noise, is the sort of world-building album that can put you in a holy trance. Out May 13.
Essential track: “Oxygen”
Sharon Van Etten, Are We There
For newcomers, I’d recommend spending some time with Sharon Van Etten’s back catalog, if only to trace her progress from acoustic-guitar balladeer (“For You”) to full-band commander (“Serpents”). You’ll notice a through-line in the songwriting, which is some of the most direct and honestly delivered out there. Are We There is the next step into a more orchestrated direction, with touches of lush atmospherics and alt-country twang. Out May 27.
Essential track: “Taking Chances”