The 15 Best Songs of May 2021

Featuring Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen, TORRES, HEALTH & Nine Inch Nails, and more

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The 15 Best Songs of May 2021

Right on the heels of May’s best albums, we’re breaking down last month’s best tracks, from Cola Boyy’s effervescent “Don’t Forget Your Neighborhood” to TORRES’ joyously explosive “Don’t Go Puttin Wishes In My Head.” The story of the month was unexpected (and excellent!) collaborations: Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen; HEALTH and Nine Inch Nails; Danny Brown and the late Tony Allen; Cola Boyy and The Avalanches; and Park Hye Jin, Clams Casino and Take A Daytrip. Teamwork truly made the dream work in May, and you can hear it all via Paste Music’s picks below.

Listen to our Best Songs of May 2021 playlist on Spotify here.

Cola Boyy: “Don’t Forget Your Neighborhood” (feat. The Avalanches)

Southern California multi-instrumentalist and producer Matthew Urango, aka Cola Boyy, announced his debut album Prosthetic Boombox, due out June 18 on Record Makers/MGMT Records. The album, which follows years of EP and single releases, touches on Urango’s experience as a disabled person of color, and the way the dance floor can act as a sacred place of community for those disenfranchised under late-stage capitalism. Prosthetic Boombox features contributions from The Avalanches, MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden, John Carroll Kirby, Nicolas Godin of Air, Chairlift’s Patrick Wimberly, and Corentin “nit” Kerdraon. Cola Boyy also shared a music video for new single “Don’t Forget Your Neighborhood,” a cut featuring The Avalanches from the forthcoming album. Serving as an ode to the communities that lift us up, Cola Boyy says of the track, “This is one of my favorite jams on the record. I wanted a mix of the Beach Boys, French disco, house keys and a hint of the Cheers soundtrack for good measure! It’s a message to everyone: Don’t get lost in the petty capitalist dream that has us abandon the people & places that shaped us. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the masses of Oxnard, and no flashing lights can outweigh that.” —Jason Friedman

Durand Jones & The Indications: “Witchoo”

Throwback soul outfit Durand Jones & The Indications have a new album on the way: Private Space goes public July 30 via Dead Oceans and Colemine Records, but the video for lead single “Witchoo” is out now. “Witchoo” is a light-as-a-feather funk number powered by Mike Montgomery’s wiggly bassline, and Aaron Frazer and Durand Jones’ engaging high/low vocal harmonies, all imbued with a quiet, but unmistakable confidence. Jazzy keys and ambient conversation lend the song a smoothly celebratory vibe, as do its group-chant choruses: “Come through, bring the crew / I just wanna be witchoo!” Driven by effortlessly tight musicianship, “Witchoo” is an irresistible ode to getting together and having a good time—with a cathartic summer right around the corner in the States, the band’s timing couldn’t be better. Seeing Frazer, Jones and The Indications moving from isolation to joyous togetherness in the accompanying visual (dir. Weird Life) just hammers the excitement home. —Scott Russell

The Goon Sax: “In the Stone”

The lead track from The Goon Sax’s third album (and first for Matador Records), Mirror II (July 9), “In the Stone” is a particularly deft display of the buzzy Brisbane, Australia trio’s seamlessly dynamic jangle-pop. Riley Jones, Louis Forster and James Harrison are known to trade off writing, singing and instrumental duties; Forster takes lead on this particular track, leaning into the modern pop influences that seeped in during the band’s time in “Ubers, supermarkets, outside parties etc.” while recording their sophomore album We’re Not Talking in Berlin in late 2017. Over blunt guitar/bass interplay and upbeat handclaps, Forster and Jones swap intimately intertwined vocals, playing the parts of a couple learning to treat each other—and themselves—better, but feeling so much that they both wonder, “Do you think it’s better not feeling any of this at all?” Distorted guitar riffage mimics the melodies of their bruised and moody ruminations, the work of a young band in preternatural lockstep. —Scott Russell

HEALTH & Nine Inch Nails: “ISN’T EVERYONE”

Los Angeles noise-rock trio HEALTH collaborated with none other than Nine Inch Nails, sharing a stunner titled “ISN’T EVERYONE” via Loma Vista Recordings in early May. “It’s fucking Nine Inch Nails. That speaks for itself. You don’t need a clever quote to encapsulate it,” HEALTH said of the collaborative track in a statement. Produced by both bands, and mixed by Atticus Ross, “ISN’T EVERYONE” is a dark and brutal electronic epic. Trent Reznor takes the first verse, growling “All the little piggies cannot help themselves” over pulsating bass and electric guitar grind before joining voices with HEALTH’s Jake Duzsik on the song’s bleakly nihilistic choruses: “Nothing matters / We’re all to blame / We lie surrendered to those we serve / We get the world we all deserve.” But it’s Duzsik who delivers the song’s ultimate kicker: “Are you alone? / Isn’t everyone?” —Scott Russell

Isaiah Rashad: “Lay Wit Ya” (feat. Duke Deuce)

It has been five long years since TDE’s Isaiah Rashad has released an album, and his hype is sustained by Instagram live recordings and countless leaks, to the point where you can’t discuss hip-hop leaks without his name coming up. His first offering of 2021 is “Lay Wit Ya,” a sleazy, sinister and minimalist deconstruction of Southern rap made to fit into Rashad’s mold. His lackadaisical delivery is juxtaposed against rising Memphis Crunk star Duke Deuce, whose aggressive, energetic flow transforms the song from playlist staple to club banger. It’s a reminder of Rashad’s charisma and musicianship that shows through even the most bare of production, and the Three 6 Mafia sample flip doesn’t hurt, either. —Jade Gomez

Laura Mvula: “Got Me”

Laura Mvula has spent the past five years doing some serious reinvention. Since 2016’s The Dreaming Room, Mvula swapped her elegant R&B for a brighter homage to ’80s funk and dance with her latest single “Got Me.” With her other singles “Church Girl” and “Safe Passage” channeling the likes of Diana Ross and Madonna, “Got Me” is an infectious throwback inspired by Michael Jackson, with hints of George Michael and ‘80s dance-pop queens. It’s a song that respects its lineage and channels it effortlessly as opposed to being lightly inspired, setting up one of the most anticipated records of the summer. —Jade Gomez

Mdou Moctar: “Taliat”

Tuareg songwriter and guitarist Mdou Moctar and his band shared “Taliat,” the final single ahead of their latest album Afrique Victime, released May 21 on Matador Records. A kaleidoscopic array of guitars mixed with the groovy bass and expressive vocals the project has been known for, the track finds Moctar pleading in his native Tamasheq to “never experience unrequited love and the pain of a broken heart.” The tender spirit driving the catchiness of “Taliat,” mixed with the vibrant virtuosity of its creator, lends the track an immediate and potent buoyancy. —Jason Friedman

N0V3L: “GROUP DISEASE”

The unnerving lead single from Canadian post-punks N0V3L’s recently released debut album NON-FICTION, “GROUP DISEASE” pairs broken-glass guitars with shuffling low end and peaky keys. Vocalist Jon Varley sings from what sounds like his deathbed, traversing groupthink’s slippery slope—how easily the desire for order can turn to exclusion, and exclusion to violence. “A group disease to ease despair / Submit, believe, no cross to bear,” he moans, offering respite in oblivion while the track’s queasy bassline staggers by in the background. “GROUP DISEASE” is peppered here and there with fleeting moments of luminous piano, as if to say, “Look what beauty’s underneath it all.” N0V3L’s dark and compelling debut is filled with songs like this, rock music as gnarled and unrecognizable as our current world. —Scott Russell

Park Hye Jin: “Y DON’T U” (feat. Clams Casino and Take A Daytrip)

Park Hye Jin is a superstar in the making. The Korean multi-hyphenate is not content with sticking to one genre, instead building her own universe full of influences ranging from hip-hop to house. On her latest single “Y DON’T U,” which enlists the help of renowned producers Clams Casino and Take A Daytrip, the stuttering, cloud rap-inspired single is a minimalist exploration into the Korean star’s magnetic nonchalance that effortlessly captures her talent. —Jade Gomez

Pond: “America’s Cup”

Australian psych-rockers Pond have announced their forthcoming studio album 9, out Oct. 1 via Spinning Top Records and Secretly Distribution, accompanied by their newest single. “America’s Cup,” is a psychedelia-tinged funk groove evocative of grainy ‘70s and ‘80s club footage with the warmth of nostalgia washed over it. The thumping bass and harmonies dancing behind frontman Nick Allbrook’s sing-talk make for an infectious summer earworm. —Jade Gomez

Provoker: “Spell Strike”

Los Angeles-based Provoker evoke early post-punk and dark wave on their newest single “Spell Strike,” which premiered alongside an unsettling, reality-bending music video. The single accompanied the band’s announcement that they’ve signed with YEAR0001, an independent record label based out of Sweden that is home to the likes of Viagra Boys, Bladee, Ecco2k and Yung Lean. The band is expected to release their debut LP via YEAR0001 sometime this year. “Spell Strike” recontextualizes atmospheric guitars evocative of The Cure and mixes them with modern R&B lyricism for an unnerving juxtaposition that defies time. It is written from the perspective of an RPG character encountering a fairy boss, with the title referring to the boss’ special move. Directed by Actual Objects (Yves Tumor, Young Thug), the accompanying visual is hypnotizing and menacing, with car chases in the forest and a faceless, jointless figure on the hunt. “It’s about falling in love with someone, and you’re not sure if those feelings are reciprocated,” said singer Christian Petty of the track. “It destroys you trying to figure that out.” —Jade Gomez

Sam Gellaitry: “Games”

On his new IV EP, Sam Gellaitry, known primarily for producing room-shaking quasi-trap beats a la fellow Scottish producer Hudson Mohawke, steps in front of the mic and crafts some of the most unique and exciting bedroom-pop tracks of the year so far. “Games,” a standout from the EP, finds the producer using his voice as an integral sonic element. Marrying his crooning falsetto with a swirling prog-rock guitar arpeggio, Gellaitry unveils a singular sonic canvas, one that builds up to a raucous and exhilarating conclusion. —Jason Friedman

Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen: “Like I Used To”

Two titans of the indie world—songwriters Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen —shared a new collaborative track, “Like I Used To,” out now on Jagjaguwar. The product of a long-shared admiration between the two artists, the electrifying and anthemic single finds the pair at the top of their craft, constructing walls of tender guitar chords over which their voices soar. Fundamentally a song about the reclamation of one’s own space and personal identity, “Like I Used To” lyrics such as “Lighting one up like I used to / Dancing all alone like I used to” feel like an echo of personal catharsis, especially among the dramatic arpeggios and synth pads at the song’s emotional peak. —Jason Friedman

Tony Allen & Danny Brown: “Deer in Headlights”

If Detroit rapper Danny Brown is an unstoppable force, the late Nigerian drummer Tony Allen is an immovable object. Answering the age-old paradox, the result of the two meeting is “Deer in Headlights,” a hypnotic clash of Brown’s sharp-edged raps and Allen’s fluid-like drumming. Each syllable and drum hit creates a larger dialogue between Allen’s mastery and Brown’s agility. The two mix like oil and water, sliding against one another as they play off each other like well-seasoned jazz musicians should. Brown’s skill for resting in the pockets of even the strangest beats lends itself to commemorating Allen’s incredible legacy as one of the most gifted drummers of our time, and two of the most inimitable figures in music have found their match with each other. —Jade Gomez

TORRES: “Don’t Go Puttin Wishes In My Head”

This summer, indie singer/songwriter TORRES (moniker of Mackenzie Scott) will be releasing Thirstier, a follow-up to 2019’s Silver Tongue. Out July 30, this will be Scott’s second album with Merge Records. In addition to the album announcement came its first single, “Don’t Go Puttin Wishes In My Head.” The track is a heartbreaking explosion of emotions as Scott reflects on a relationship built on empty promises, yearning for a sign she should keep going. Scott’s bright guitars and vocals that sneak into blissful high notes feel like being on the brink of tears. The accompanying visual is a candid look into domestic bliss with Scott and her partner, artist Jenna Gribbon. The two cook, kiss and brush their teeth in a simple, heartwarming video. The new single marks a stylistic change for Scott, who was inspired by the dynamic sounds of Butch Vig’s work with Nirvana and Garbage. Of this new direction, Scott said in a statement: “I wanted to channel my intensity into something that felt positive and constructive, as opposed to being intense in a destructive or eviscerating way. I love the idea that intensity can actually be something life-saving or something joyous.” —Jade Gomez