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Rewinding June | The Best Indies

From Black Midi to Thom Yorke, here are the albums I enjoyed the most.

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Liverpool oddballs, Colombian spellcasters, paisley-rock dream merchants and more — there was no shortage of essential indie rock to hear in May. Here’s the best of the bunch, listed in alphabetical order. Just click on the cover picture to find the original review page (where you can usually listen to the album in full):


Black Midi
Schlagenheim

These math-rock rule-breakers, noisy non-conformists and exciting experimenters from London are Britain’s latest buzz band — and one of the few that actually deserve the hype. Thank the art-school alums’ much-anticipated debut, which fuses seat-of-the-pants arrangements, everything-and-the-kitchen sink instrumentation, inspired improvisation, virtuoso musicianship, high-tension weirdness, whisper-to-shriek vocals and just about anything else they can cram in there. Ignore them at your peril.


The Minus 5
Stroke Manor

Just what the doctor ordered. Bouncing back from a debilitating 2017 mid-tour stroke that reportedly erased his musical memory, PacNorwest cult hero, longtime eccentric and all-around MVP Scott McCaughey is strangely wonderful as ever. Fusing idiosyncratic pop-rock and surreally poetic lyrics into a distinctive and dynamic disc that cunningly draws upon both his strengths and weaknesses, Stroke Manor is up there with anything he’s done.


Scattered Clouds
Take Away Your Summer

This duo of dark-hearted post-romantics and master synth manipulators dwell in the depths near the seventh circle of Hull. All the better to deliver brooding, bruised, bilingual electro-rock and synth-pop treatises on the exquisite tortures and torments of tainted love. The takeaway: It’s like Leonard Cohen and Suicide collaborating on an awesome soundtrack to an updated remake of Phantom of the Paradise. Not to put too fine a point on it.


Chris Stamey & The ModRec Orchestra
New Songs For The 20th Century

For him too. The power-pop veteran, indie-rock icon and former member of The dB’s takes an unexpected turn into Tin Pan Alley and The Great American Songbook here. And comes back with lovingly authentic tunes that serve as a sincerely rendered, superbly executed and richly rewarding tribute to a bygone musical era. They don’t write ’em like that anymore — but he does.


Kate Tempest
The Book of Traps and Lessons

The end is nigh. And London poet, playwright, spoken-word performer and unlikely rap star Kate Tempest has something to say about it. Her apocalyptic yet ultimately hopeful third album — tastefully underproduced by strange bedfellow Rick Rubin — is a stark masterwork propelled by her rapid-clip ruminates on the struggle to live, love, co-exist and remain human amid contemporary isolation and impending doom. Harsh lessons to be sure.


Thom Yorke
Anima

The third solo album from Radiohead’s frontman and resident genius is many things: An electronica concept piece about dreams, love, anxiety and technology. The soundtrack to an avant-garde modern-dance film. The score to a surreal fable about a sleepy dude who loses his lunch and finds love. And probably more besides. But best of all: This glitchy, twitchy, starkly tense tracks are the most enjoyable, satisfying and fully realized music he’s made without his revered bandmates.