May brought with it warmer temperatures and hot new releases.
Read up on some of May’s standout albums and EPs we bet you’ll be adding to your rotation all year long…
Ibeyi – Spell 31
French-Cuban twins Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz delivered something really special with Spell 31. Their first album hinted strongly at the Yoruba religion, but this third offering dips deep into that water, while also delivering a satisfying blend of traditional sounds and slinky synths. In addition, they fold in inspiration from The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. I caught them performing these records in May and hearing “Made of Gold” live was out of this world.
– Ayana Contreras, content director and host of “Reclaimed Soul”
IDK – Simple.
This cat was not really on my radar before this project, but this EP was in collaboration with Canadian producer Kaytranada… which is really all I need to say for a lot of music heads these days. It did not disappoint (especially the first five cuts) and the vibe and jazz samples sort of felt like 1995 when I was a weird teen who was into Digable Planets’ Blow Out Comb and happily happened upon The Pharcyde. Extra credit for the Herbie Hancock sample on “Southeast to Paris.”
– Ayana Contreras
Jean Carne, Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad – Jazz Is Dead 12
Jean Carne is perhaps best known for her stint on Philadelphia International Records that resulted in perennial dance floor classics like “Don’t Let It Go To Your Head” and “Was That All It Was;” but before those hits, she recorded on Black Jazz Records with her then-husband Doug Carn (she added an “e” to her name later).
Her latest album (her first in decades) puts her back in that earlier, more spiritual vein. It’s a beautiful collection chock full of instant classics like “Children Of The Sun” and “Black Rainbows.” This is also, notably, the first of Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s Jazz Is Dead series to feature a woman artist. Here’s to more. In fact, I have some suggestions!
– Ayana Contreras
Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
It had been exactly 1,855 days since Kendrick Lamar released DAMN — as he points out toward the beginning of “United In Grief,” the first track on his fifth studio album Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. If you haven’t listened yet, make sure to set aside time to sit down with this album’s seamlessly-transitioning 18 tracks as Kendrick explores global-scale events (like the pandemic, protests against police brutality and the #MeToo movement) and his own life and experiences, painting an unflinching self-portrait. This description doesn’t even do the album justice, as it deserves a long-format, in-depth breakdown. Mr. Morale is a standout release for the month and, in my opinion, the year.
– Morgan Ciocca, digital media producer and editor of “The Goods”
Mahalia – Letter To Ur Ex EP
Mahalia’s poppy, punchy lyrics lamenting on love, heartbreak and moving on shine throughout her five-track EP Letter To Ur Ex. Opening up with a title track dedicated to a partner’s ex, each song offers a short vignette into a relationship’s rise and fall: fights over exes, needing space, expressing feelings, letting go and a warning to future partners. Though only about a minute long, “In The Club” is a standout track with a powerful bassline, honest lyrics and a dancey hook you’ll find stuck in your head. Letter To Ur Ex is streaming now on all platforms — and keep an eye out for her Chicago performance at Thalia Hall this fall.
– Morgan Ciocca
Ravyn Lenae – HYPNOS
Ravyn Lenae has been making a buzz in the Chicago scene and beyond since the release of her first EP in 2016, two years later releasing critically-acclaimed, Steve Lacy-produced EP Crush in 2018. After taking a hiatus from releases for the better part of the past four years, her highly-anticipated debut full-length HYPNOS finds listeners immersed in transcendent vocals and expertly layered production. The title sums up this album aptly: it’s hypnotic. Boasting collaborations with Smino, Steve Lacy, Mereba, Kaytranada and Foushée, plus elements of alternative R&B, soul and Afrobeats, this album stands out from the crowd and exhibits maturation from her previous, already incredible releases. As a Ravyn Lenae fan, I’m ecstatic to hear this album in full and I know I’m going to have it on repeat all year long…
– Morgan Ciocca
Tank and The Bangas – Red Balloon
The thing about Tank and The Bangas is that the unit shares the whimsical heartbeat of lead vocalist Tarriona “Tank” Ball (when I met her in 2019, she was getting ready to perform at The Shed in New York and was wearing an outfit that belonged on one of the witches in The Wiz (1978)); but just because they possess a streak of whimsy, that doesn’t mean that the band should be trifled with. Red Balloon covers a lot of bases: “Café Du Monde” is a tribute to finding respite at the iconic beignet/coffee-and-chicory spot of the same name in their native New Orleans, while “Where Do We All Go” featuring Lalah Hathaway and Jacob Collier deals with the hereafter. Meanwhile, “No ID” is a dance floor burner a’la 1982 in the best way.
– Ayana Contreras
Written by Ayana Contreras and Morgan Ciocca
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