As the temperatures creep higher and barbecues start flaring up, musicians across every genre are dropping their summer albums and singles. From harmony-based girl rock to slacker guitar tunes to ultra-happy pop, May’s releases didn’t disappoint. If you’re looking for a sunny weekend playlist, we’ve got your starter songs right here.
Girlpool’s sophomore album Powerplant adds more layers, still slays with harmonies
The duo of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad have changed up their sound a bit since 2015’s Before the World Was Big. Girlpool’s first album was striking for the two women’s arresting harmonies — sometimes melding harshly together, sometimes weaving into a soft and sorrowful pair, backed only by a guitar and bass.
On Powerplant, Tividad and Tucker have added drummer Miles Wintner; while female harmonies are still the center, louder guitars and commanding drums now drive the direction of Girlpool’s songs. The difference is most fully felt on “Kiss and Burn,” where the women’s vocals soar above a driving instrumental melody.
After three years, Perfume Genius returns with the beautiful and sweeping No Shape
Mike Hadreas, a.k.a. Perfume Genius, is an expansive artist, with several highly rated albums already under his belt. But his May release, No Shape, might be his best yet. The album is gorgeous and big, swinging from full, layered tracks about love and joy (“Slip Away”) to the jazzy and brooding “Run Me Through.” And like all of Perfume Genius’s albums, No Shape is personal: This one is a declaration of love for his partner of eight years, Alan Wyffels, as well as a celebration of their triumph over addiction and an examination of all the challenges that come with it. For an in-depth and beautiful meditation on the record, check out Fader’s interview with Hadreas.
“Cut to the Feeling” by Carly Rae Jepsen is a pure audio treat
This track — originally meant for Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion Side B — is finally surfacing as the early summer hit it was always meant to be. “Cut to the Feeling” is on the soundtrack for the animated film Leap (where Jepsen voices the caretaker and coach of Elle Fanning’s ballerina character), coming to US theaters in September. The song is pure sugary pop, with undertones of determination and grit. A nice match for a ballet montage, perhaps?
Harry Styles’s Harry Styles has the former One Directioner off to a great solo start
Harry Styles’s long-awaited solo album is an interesting mix of sweet ballads and rock ’n’ roll — and a total transcendence of his One Direction boy band days. The self-titled record contains a few standout tracks: the “Blackbird”-like acoustic “Sweet Creature,” the raucous “Kiwi,” and the quiet and the contemplative closer, “From the Dining Table.”
In Vox’s review of the album, Sarah Sahim argues that by eschewing labels and dabbling in lots of musical styles, “Harry Styles is kind of punk” — in spirit, not in sound. He embodies this quality by “doing whatever he wants, in defiance of expectations.” And in listening to the variation in songs on Harry Styles, paired with Styles’s flawless voice, it’s hard to argue with this analysis.
Courtney Barnett’s singles are almost better than her albums
Courtney Barnett is back with another sunny-day rock song — just in time for cookout season. “How to Boil an Egg” is an A-plus breezy track from the Australian singer, whose 2016 album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, was full of songs with a similar charm. Barnett released “Egg” on a compilation for her label, Milk Records — she calls it “a songwriting experiment that doesn’t really belong anywhere else” — like she’s done before with other one-off singles “Pickles from the Jar” and “Three Packs a Day.” Her songs’ upbeat melodies can obscure some intricate and contemplative songwriting — they’re worth a close listen.
Mac DeMarco’s This Old Dog offers slacker rock with pristine sound
Indie rock’s favorite goofball has a new album, and it’s Mac DeMarco through and through. This Old Dog can be filed away as the ideal Sunday-afternoon listen for the rest of your summer — that’s what DeMarco does best. His music is loping and lazy, but pretty enough to be left on repeat without sounding stale. One more note: Compare This Old Dog to DeMarco’s first couple of albums and check out how impeccable his recording quality has gotten. His lilting voice and instrumentation sound full, adding more richness to his spare melodies and low-key lyrics.
Electronic artist Bibio’s groovy EP is essential for summer work
Even if the name Bibio doesn’t ring a bell, the band’s 2009 song “lovers’ carvings” might sound familiar — it’s a coffee shop playlist standard. Stephen Wilkinson, the experimental English music producer behind Bibio, is back this month with a new EP of synth-based tracks. Beyond Serious is a follow-up to 2016’s The Serious EP: May’s four-song release remixes vocals from the previous one. The tracks are groovy but subdued — they’re most at home as background music, perfect for listening to while you’re crunching away at a keyboard (if that’s something you’re looking for).
Selena Gomez + Talking Heads = a surprisingly awesome pairing
Selena Gomez is the queen of catchy — remember last year’s “Hands to Myself”? Her newest single, “Bad Liar,” slathers on an extra layer of earwormy goodness with the addition of the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” backbeat as the song’s base. Vox’s Caroline Framke calls this potentially strange mashup “a weirdly perfect fit for Gomez’s breathy pop,” and Talking Heads’ David Byrne loved it too.
Here’s a Spotify playlist of all the music featured above.