Best things we heard in May…

Matt Paul – Jorja Smith – Be Right Back: The new EP from Jorja Smith is just supposed to be a stopgap, until she gets round to making a full length record. Even though Be Right Back is not a full release, it manages to be rich and engaging and does enough on its own merit. In fact it has some of her finest music to date.

Over the 8 tracks there is a full range of Jorja’s skills. From the vocal and musical interplay of the first few tracks, to the chilled middle songs in which her singing takes centre stage.

Jorja Smith said this collection of songs wouldn’t make the cut for her full length album. After sitting with Be Right Back for the past few weeks, either she has crazy high standards or that is one hell of humblebrag.

Fran Slater: It’s been something of a bumper month. Releases from the likes of Dodie, Jorja Smith, Julia Stone, Topaz Jones, and Johnny Flynn all hit the mark and probably would have got my nod in any other monthly highlights package.

But, instead, I want to give my shouts to two new discoveries for me – both of whom actually released their albums earlier in 2021:

Maassai is a Brooklyn based rapper who packs more into the 17 minutes of her album With The Shifts than most artists do with a record that’s three times the length. It’s savage, intense, and fun. Give it a listen.

There aren’t many similarities between Maassai and my other recommendation, other than that they’re both fucking great. Ryan Sambol fills Gestalt with 9 sumptuous and inviting folk songs, his growled-tone sitting beautifully on top of a sparse yet lush instrumentation. It’s a gorgeous, beautiful album and you should all have it in your faces right this second.

Tom Burrows: I moved house this month, readers, and all of the upheaval put paid to my normal listening habits. I gave cursory listens to a bunch of saved Spotify albums. Jazmine Sullivan’s Reality Show while shoving possessions into countless boxes. Pulp’s Different Class while unpacking them. The new St. Vincent when I remembered to feed myself. Squid while doing the washing up. That Anna B Savage album soundtracked endless vacuuming. The Leon Vynehall one helped me to focus on work. They all sounded decent to varying degrees, but I couldn’t wholeheartedly recommend any of them in my distracted state. So what was the highlight? By default it’s the one that I’ve got round to playing more than twice, DEACON by Serpentwithfeet. I’ve heard odd songs of his before, but this is a nice little record full of what I’d describe as ‘thirsty love songs’. I’ll give it another play now, as I drive down to Wilko for the FOURTEENTH TIME THIS MONTH.

Sam Atkins – Olivia Rodrigo – Sour: Yes. I am about to turn 30. I fully appreciate that Olivia Rodrigo does not make music for me, I’m not a Tik-Tokker or a teenager who finally feels heard by a singer who’s still a teenager herself. But this is surely the pop debut of 2021?

Influences from the likes of Taylor Swift to Alanis Morrisette to Avril Lavigne get mentioned in every piece about Olivia, but what’s most striking is how unique her perspective and style is in the current pop scene. There’s no one that sounds quite like her right now, especially on the storming ‘good 4 u’. It’s not a question of if she’s to become the next teen star. 2 #1 singles and the biggest album of the year so far with just one live performance is staggering. She’s already the star of 2021. I’m just glad the music is as enjoyable as this.

James Spearing: In a month when I listened to exciting new music from the likes of LUMP, India Jordan, Sons of Kemet, Leon Vynehall and Charlotte Adigery, it was unexpectedly the new short album/long EP Be Right Back from Jorja Smith that I kept coming back to. ‘Addicted’ and ‘Bussdown’ with Shaybo come together to make one the biggest opening statements of any album this year so far. Her already mature-beyond-her-years voice is getting better and better, too.

Lisa Whiteman: I’ve spent a lot of time this month revisiting Prince‘s Diamonds and Pearls. What. A. Record. I mean I love him a lot, but this a stunner.  Parade will remain my favourite for reasons not touched on now, but this might be a close second. I’ll double check with my neighbours who have enjoyed my ‘singing’ along to ‘Daddy Pop’ I’m sure. All killer, no filler, the mucky little genius.  Might need to do a feature on Prince? Editors? Yes?

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